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Stories All-New Tales

Edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio

For all the storytellers and tale spinners who entertained the public and kept themselves alive, for Ale andre !umas and "harles !ickens, for #ark Twain and $aroness %rc&y and the rest, and most of all, for Schehera&ade, who was the storyteller and the story told'

(ntroduction) *ust Four +ords Neil Gaiman $lood) ,oddy !oyle Fossil-Fi-ures) *oyce "arol %ates +ildfire in #anhattan) *oanne .arris The Truth (s a "ave in the $lack #ountains) Neil Gaiman /nbelief) #ichael #arshall Smith The Stars Are Fallin-) *oe ,' 0ansdale *uvenal Ny ) +alter #osley The 1nife) ,ichard Adams +ei-hts and #easures) *odi 2icoult Goblin 0ake) #ichael Swanwick #allon the Guru) 2eter Straub "atch and ,elease) 0awrence $lock 2olka !ots and #oonbeams) *effrey Ford 0oser) "huck 2alahniuk Samantha3s !iary) !iana +ynne *ones 0and of the 0ost) Stewart %3Nan 0eif in the +ind) Gene +olfe /nwell) "arolyn 2arkhurst A 0ife in Fictions) 1at .oward 0et the 2ast $e-in) *onathan "arroll The Therapist) *effery !eaver 2arallel 0ines) Tim 2owers The "ult of the Nose) Al Sarrantonio .uman (ntelli-ence) 1urt Andersen Stories) #ichael #oorcock The #aiden Fli-ht of #c"auley3s $ellerophon) Eli&abeth .and The !evil on the Staircase) *oe .ill About the "ontributors Acknowled-ments About the Editors %ther $ooks by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio "redits "opyri-ht About the 2ublisher

JUST FOUR WORDS A0 SA,,ANT%N(% AN! ( +E,E !(S"/SS(NG antholo-ies of short stories' .e had edited a hu-e antholo-y of cuttin--ed-e horror, and another of cuttin--ed-e fantasy, each book, in its way, definitive' And in talkin-, we realised that we had somethin- in common) that all we cared about, really, were the stories' +hat we missed, what we wanted to read, were stories that made us care, stories that forced us to turn the pa-e' And yes, we wanted -ood writin- 4why be satisfied with less56' $ut we wanted more than that' +e wanted to read stories that used a li-htnin- flash of ma-ic as a way of showin- us somethin- we have already seen a thousand times as if we have never seen it before' Truly, we wanted it all' And slowly, the wish becomes the deed7 +hen ( was a child, ( pestered my elders for stories' #y family would improvise, or read me stories from books' As soon as ( was old enou-h to read, ( was one of those children who needed to have a book within reach' ( would read a book a day, or more' ( wanted stories, and ( wanted them always, and ( wanted the e perience that only fiction could -ive me) ( wanted to be inside them' Television and cinema were all very well, but these stories happened to other people' The stories ( found in books happened inside my head' ( was, in some way, there' (t3s the ma-ic of fiction) you take the words and you build them into worlds' As time passed, ( became a more discriminatin- reader 4( remember the first time ( realised ( did not have to finish readin- a book8 the first time ( realised that the way a story was told was -ettin- in the way of the story6' $ut even as ( became more discriminatin- as a reader ( started to feel that the thinthat kept me readin-, the place the ma-ic occurred, the drivin- force of narrative was sometimes beinoverlooked' ( would read beautiful prose, and ( would simply not care' (t came down to four words' There are the kind of readers who read only nonfiction) who read bio-raphies, perhaps, or travel writin-' ,eaders who read nothin- but concrete poetry' There are those who read thin-s that will improve them and their lot, who only read books that tell them how to survive the comin- financial crisis, or have confidence in themselves, or play poker, or build beehives' ( myself can sometimes be found readin- books about beekeepin- and, because ( write fiction, am always happy to read stran-e factual thin-s' +hatever we read, we are part of the community of the story' There are nonreaders, of course' ( knew a man in his nineties who, when he learned that ( was a writer, admitted to me that he had tried to read a book, once, lon- before ( was born, but he had been unable to see the point of it, and had never tried a-ain' ( asked him if he remembered the name of the book, and he told me, in the manner of someone who tried to eat a snail once and did not care for it, and who does not need to remember the breed of the snail, that one was much like another, surely' Still' Four words' And ( didn3t realise it until a couple of days a-o, when someone wrote in to my blo-)

Dear Neil, If you could choose a quoteeither by you or another authorto be inscribed on the wall of a public library childrens area, what would it be? Thanks! Lynn ( pondered for a bit' (3d said a lot about books and kids3 readin- over the years, and other people had said thin-s pithier and wiser than ( ever could' And then it hit me, and this is what ( wrote) (3m not sure (3d put a 9uote up, if it was me, and ( had a library wall to deface' ( think (3d :ust remind people of the power of stories, of why they e ist in the first place' (3d put up the four words that anyone tellin- a story wants to hear' The ones that show that it3s workin-, and that pa-es will be turned) ;7and then what happened5< The four words that children ask, when you pause, tellin- them a story' The four words you hear at the end of a chapter' The four words, spoken or unspoken, that show you, as a storyteller, that people care' The :oy of fiction, for some of us, is the :oy of the ima-ination, set free from the world and able to ima-ine' Talkin- to Al Sarrantonio ( realised that ( was not alone in findin- myself increasin-ly frustrated with the boundaries of -enre) the idea that cate-ories which e isted only to -uide people around bookshops now seemed to be dictatin- the kind of stories that were bein- written' ( love the word fantasy, for e ample, but ( love it for the almost infinite room it -ives an author to play) an infinite playroom, of a sort, in which the only boundaries are those of the ima-ination' ( do not love it for the idea of commercial fantasy' "ommercial fantasy, for -ood or for ill, tends to dra- itself throu-h already e istin- furrows, furrows du- by *' ,' ,' Tolkien or ,obert E' .oward, leavin- a world of stories behind it, e cludin- so much' There was so much fine fiction, fiction allowin- free rei-n to the ima-ination of the author, beyond the shelves of -enre' That was what we wanted to read' (t seemed to us that the fantastic can be, can do, so much more than its detractors assume) it can illuminate the real, it can distort it, it can mask it, it can hide it' (t can show you the world you know in a way that makes you realise you3ve never looked at it, not looked at it' G' 1' "hesterton compared fantastic fiction to -oin- on holiday=that the importance of your holiday is the moment you return, and you see the place you live throu-h fresh eyes' And so the call went out from #r' Sarrantonio and from me, and the stories be-an to come back to us' +riters rose to the challen-e' +e learned to e pect only the une pected' ;7and then what happened5< The real ma-ic of this little invocation is that it has inspired hundreds of millions of words, has made people who never ima-ined themselves as storytellers into tale-tellers who could have -iven Schehera&ade or !unsany3s *oseph *orkens a run for their money or their whiskey or their lives' +e turn the pa-e, and the adventure be-ins' There is somethin- waitin- for you' So turn the pa-e' Neil Gaiman December 2009

BLOOD Ro ! Do!le

.E G,E+ /2 (N !,A"/0A3S "(T>' .e3d walked past $ram Stoker3s house every day on his way to school' $ut it had meant nothin- to him' .e3d never felt a thin-, not the hand of a -host or a shiver, not a lick on his neck as he passed' (n fact, he was nearly ei-hteen, in his last year at school, before he3d even noticed the pla9ue beside the door' .e3d never read the book, and probably never would' .e3d fallen asleep durin- "oppola3s !racula' %ne minute his wife was screamin-, -rabbin- his knee8 the ne t, she was -rabbin- the same knee, tryin- to wake him up' The cinema li-hts were on and she was furious' -.ow can you do that5 -+hat5 -Sleep durin- a film like that' -( always fall asleep when the film3s shite' -+e3re supposed to be out on a date' -That3s a different point, he said'?For that, ( apolo-ise' .ow did it end, anyway5 -%h, fuck off, she said, affectionately=that was possible in !ublin' So the whole thin-, the whole !racula business, meant absolutely nothin- to him' Nevertheless, he wanted to drink blood' $adly' The badly was recent, and dreadful' The itch, the ur-e, the leakin- ton-ue=it was absolutely dreadful' .e wasn3t sure when it had started' .e was, thou-h=he knew when he3d become aware' -.ow d3you want your steak5 -,aw' .is wife had lau-hed' $ut he3d been tellin- her the truth' .e wanted the slab of meat she was holdinover the pan, raw and now=fuck the pan, it wasn3t needed' .e could feel muscles holdin- him back, and other muscles fi-htin- for him=neck muscles, :aw muscles' Then he woke' $ut he was awake already, still standin- in the kitchen, lookin- at the steak, and lookin- forward to it' -,are, so, he said' She smiled at him' ->ou3re such a messer, she said' .e hid behind that, the fact that he acted the ee:it, that it was him, as he bent down to the charred meat on the plate a few minutes later, and licked it' The kids copied him and they all ended up with brown -ravy on their noses' .e made himself for-et about his achin- :aws and the need to bite and -rowl' They all watched a !@! after dinner, and everythin- was -rand'

And it was8 it was fine' 0ife was normal' For a while' For 9uite a while' +eeks=he thou-ht' .e opened the frid-e one day' There were two fillet steaks on a plate, waitin-' (t must have been weeks later because she=her name was @era=she wouldn3t have bou-ht steak all that fre9uently' And it wasn3t the case that @era did all the shoppin-, or even most of it8 she :ust went past the butcher3s more often than he did' She bou-ht the food8 he bou-ht the wine' She bou-ht the soap and toilet paper=and he bou-ht the wine' >ou3re such a messer' .e -rabbed one of the steaks and took it over to the sink' .e looked behind him, to make sure he was alone, and then devoured it as he leaned over the sink' $ut he didn3t devour it' .e licked it first, like an ice-pop8 it was cold' .e heard the drops of blood hit the aluminum beneath him, and he felt the blood runnin- down his chin, as if it=the blood=was comin- from him' And he started to suck it, 9uickly, to drink it' (t should have been warm' .e knew that, and it dis-usted him, the fact that he was already plantin- his disappointment, settin- himself up to do it a-ain=this=feedin- a need, an addiction he suddenly had and accepted' .e -rowled=he fuckin3 -rowled' .e looked behind him=but he didn3t care' >ou3re such a messer' .e chewed till it stopped bein- meat and spat the pulp into the bin' .e rubbed his chin8 he washed his hands' .e looked at his shirt' (t was clean' .e ran the hot tap and watched the black drops turn red, pink, then nothin-' .e took the remainin- fillet from the frid-e and slid it off the plate, into the bin' .e tied the plastic liner and brou-ht it out to the wheelie bin' -+here3s the dinner5 @era wanted to know, later' -+hat5 -( bou-ht fillet steaks for us' There' She stood in front of the frid-e3s open door' -They were off, he said' -They were not' -They were, he said'?They were min-in-' ( threw them out' -They were perfect, she said'?Are they in here5 She was at the bin' -The wheelie, he said' .e hadn3t e pected this8 he hadn3t thou-ht ahead' -(3m brin-in- them back, she said, as she moved to the back door'?The fucker' She was talkin- about the butcher' -!on3t, he said' .e didn3t stand up, he didn3t char-e to block her' .e stayed sittin- at the table' .e could feel his heart =his own meat=hoppin-, thumpin-' -.e3s always been -rand, he said'?(f we complain, it3ll=( don3t know=chan-e the relationship' The customer-client thin-' .e en:oyed listenin- to himself' .e was winnin-' -+e can have the mince, he said' -(t was for the kids, she said'?$ur-ers' -( like bur-ers, he said'?>ou like bur-ers'

The back door was open' (t was a hot day, after a week of hot days' .e knew) she didn3t want to open the wheelie and shove her face into a -an- of flies' They had small bur-ers' The kids didn3t complain' That was that' %ut of his system' .e remembered=he saw himself=attackin- the meat, han-in- over the sink' .e closed his eyes, snapped them shut=the idea, the thou-ht, of bein- cau-ht like that' $y a child, by his wife' The end of his life' .e3d killed it=the ur-e' $ut it came back, days later' And he killed it a-ain' The frid-e a-ain=lamb chops this time' .e sent his hand in over the chops, and -rabbed a packet of chicken breasts, one of those polystyrene trays, wrapped in clin--=lm' .e put a fin-er throu-h the film, pulled it away' .e slid the breasts onto a plate=and drank the pink, the near-white blood' .e downed it, off the tray' And vomited' "ured' Sickened=revolted' Never a-ain' .e stayed home from work the ne t day' @era felt his forehead' -#aybe it3s the swine flu' -"hicken po , he said' >ou3re such a messer' ->ou must have had the chicken po when you were a boy, she said'?!id you5 -( think so, he said' She looked worried' -(t can make adult males sterile, she said' -( had a vasectomy, he told her'?Three years a-o' -( for-ot, she said' -( didn3t' $ut he was cured8 he3d sorted himself out' The thou-ht, the memory=the taste of the chicken blood, the polystyrene tray=it had him retchin- all day' .e wouldn3t let it -o' .e tortured himself until he knew he was fi ed' (t was iron he was after' .e decided that after he3d done a bit of Goo-lin- when he went back to work' (t made sense8 it was fresh air across his face' Somethin- about the taste, even the look, of the cow3s deep red blood=it was metal, rusty' That was what he3d craved, the iron, the metal' .e3d been lookinpale8 he3d been fallin- asleep in front of the telly, like an old man' Anaemia' (ron was all he needed' So he bou-ht himself a carton of -rapefruit :uice=he knew the kids would never touch it=and he went into a chemist on his way home from work, for iron tablets' .e re-retted it when the woman behind the counter looked at him over her specs and asked him if they were for his wife' -+e share them, he said' She wasn3t movin-' -(3d need to see a letter from your G2, she said' -For iron5 ->es' .e bou-ht condoms and throat lo&en-es, and left' $y the time he -ot home he knew his iron theory was

shite and he3d pushed the -rapefruit :uice into a hed-e, with the condoms' The kids were ri-ht8 -rapefruit :uice was dis-ustin-' There was nothin- wron- with him, e cept he wanted to drink blood' .e had kids' That was the point' A boy and a -irl' .e had a family, a wife he loved, a :ob he tolerated' .e worked in one of the banks, not hi-h enou-h up to 9ualify for one of the mad bonuses they3d been handin- out in the boom days, but hi-h enou-h to have his family held hosta-e while he went to the bank with one of the bad -uys and opened the safe=althou-h that event had never occurred' The point was, he was normal' .e was a forty-one-year-old heterose ual man who lived in !ublin and en:oyed the occasional pint with his friends=Guinness, loads of iron=played a -ame of indoor football once a week in a leakin- school hall, had se with his wife often enou-h to 9ualify as re-ularly, :ust about, and would like to have had se with other women, many other women, but it was :ust a thou-ht, never a real ambition or anythin- ur-ent or mad' .e was normal' .e took a fillet steak into the -ents3 toilet at work, demolished it, and tried to flush the plastic ba- down the toilet' $ut it stayed there like a parachute, on top of the water' .e fished it out and put it in his pocket' .e checked his shirt and tie in the mirror, even thou-h he3d been careful not to let himself -et carried away as he went at the meat in the cubicle' .e was clean, spotless, his normal self' .e checked his teeth for strin-s of flesh, put his face ri-ht up to the mirror' .e was -rand' .e went back to his desk and ate his lunch with his collea-ues, a sandwich he3d made himself that mornin-, avocado and tomato =no recession in his frid-e' .e felt -ood, he felt -reat' .e was controllin- it, feedin- it' .e was his own doctor, in very -ood hands' .e3d soon be ironed up and back to his even more normal self' So he was 9uite surprised when he went over the wall, even as he went over' +hat the fuck am ( doin-5 .e knew e actly what he was doin-' .e was -oin- after the ne t-door nei-hbours3 recession hens' At three in the mornin-' .e was -oin- to bite the head off one of them' .e3d seen the hens=he wasn3t sure if you called them hens or chickens=from one of the upstairs windows' .e saw them every ni-ht when he was closin- his dau-hter3s curtains, after he3d read to her' 4See5 .e3s normal'6 There were three of them, scrabblin- around in the -arden' .e hated them, the whole idea of them' The world economy wobbled and the middle classes immediately started -rowin- their own spuds and carrots, buyin- their own chickens, and denyin- they had property portfolios in Eastern Europe' And they stopped talkin- to him because he3d become the enemy, and evil, because he worked in a bank' The shiftless bitch ne t door could pretend she was busy all day lookin- after the hens' +ell, she3d have one less to look after, because he was over the wall' .e3d landed neatly and 9uietly=he was fit8 he played football=and he was homin- in on the hens' .e knew what he was up to' .e was hopin- a li-ht would -o on, upstairs=or better, downstairs=or ne t door, in his own house' Fri-hten the shite out of him, send him scramblin- back over the wall' ( was :ust lookin- to see if ( could see the space shuttle' (t3s supposed to be comin- over (reland toni-ht' .e3d bluff his way out of it=Althou-h it won3t be stoppin-=while his heart thumped away at his ribs' (t would sort him out for another few days, a week8 it would -et him over the weekend' $ut no li-ht went on' And the chickens cluck-clucked) +e3re over here' .e -rabbed one' (t was easy, too easy' (t was a lovely ni-ht8 they were as clear there as they could have been, standin- in a row, like a -irl band, the Supremes' Shouldn3t they have been cooped up=was that the phrase5=and let out a-ain in the mornin-5 The city3s fo es were famous8 everyone had seen one' .e3d seen one himself, strollin- down the street when he was walkin- home from the station a few months before' .e -rabbed his hen, e pected the protest, the pecks' $ut no, the hen settled into his arms like a fuckin3

kitten' The little head in one hand, the hard, scrawny le-s in the other, he stretched it out like a rubber band and brou-ht it up to his mouth' And he bit=kind of' There was no burst of blood or even a clean snap' The neck was still in his mouth' .e could feel a pulse on his ton-ue' The hen was terrified8 he could feel that in the le-s' $ut he didn3t want to terrify the bird=he wasn3t a cruel man' .e :ust wanted to bite its head off and hold his mouth under its headless neck' $ut he knew) he didn3t have it in him' .e wasn3t a vampire or a werewolf' And he needed a fillin-=he could feel that' ( was bitin- the head oA a chicken, !octor' .e3d put the hen down now and -et back over the wall' $ut a li-ht went on=and he bit' !ownstairs, ri-ht in front of him=and the head came clean off' There was no blood, not really, :ust=well=bone, -ristle, somethin- wet' .e wouldn3t vomit' They3d be starin- out at him, the nei-hbours, him or her or him and her=*im and $arbara' $ut he was 9uick, he was calm' .e knew they couldn3t see him because the li-ht was on in the kitchen and it was dark out here' Althou-h, now that he thou-ht of it=and he was thinkin-=they mi-ht have seen him before they turned on the li-ht' And now the chicken, the headless, dead chicken, decided to protest' A s9uawk came out of somethinthat couldn3t have been its beak, because the head, detached or at least semidetached, was in one of his hands' .e was holdin- the body by the neck and it was wri--lin-' 0et me down, let me down' .e dropped the hen, heard it runnin- away, and he char-ed' .e ran at the wall' Not his own wall=he was thinkin-' The wall on the other side, two houses down from his own' .e was up, no sweat, and he was over' .e sat down for a while, to -et his breath back, to work out his route home' .e listened' .e hadn3t heard the kitchen door bein- opened and the hen seemed to have accepted that it was dead' The other two hadn3t noticed, or they were in mournin-' (t was very 9uiet' .e was safe=he thou-ht he was safe' .e was stupid, e hilarated, appalled, ashamed, fuckin3 deli-hted, and safe' .e looked up at the sky' And he saw it, the shuttle' The bri-htest star, movin- steadily across the ni-ht' The Endeavour=he remembered the name' .e was back in the bed' She woke=half woke' .is cold feet, his wei-ht on the mattress' -+hat3s wron-5 -Nothin-, he said'?( -ot up to see the shuttle' -Great' She was asleep already' -(t was ama&in-, he said, addressin- her back'?Ama&in-' .e kissed her neck' .e actually slept' (t was Friday ni-ht, Saturday mornin-' The bed was empty when he woke' (t was a lon- time since that had happened, since she3d been awake before him' .e felt -ood=he felt -reat' .e3d flossed and brushed before he3d -ot back into bed, no trace of the hen between his teeth' .e3d -ar-led 9uietly till his eyes watered' No bad taste, and no -uilt' .e shouldn3t have done what he3d done, but a more important consideration 9uickly smothered any -uilt' (t was the thou-ht he3d fallen asleep with, clutchin- it like a teddy bear, :ust after he3d kissed his wife3s neck' Necks' (t was as simple as that'

The blood was a red herrin-, so to speak, sent to distract him=by his psyche or whatever, his conscience=to stop him from seein- the much healthier obvious' (t was necks he3d been cravin-, not blood' .e didn3t want to drink blood and he was no more anaemic than a cow3s le-' The simple, dirty truth was, he wanted to bite necks' (t was one of those midlife thin-s' And that was -rand, it was fine, because he was in the middle of his life, -ive or take a few years' Se ' Simple' .e wanted to have se with everythin- livin-' Not literally' .e wanted to have se with most thin-s' Some thin-s=most women' .e was a normal man, slippin- into middle a-e' .is days were numbered' .e knew this, but he didn3t think it' A year was BCD days' Ten years was B,CDE' Thirty years -ave him FG,CEE' >ou have FG,CEE days to live' That3s fine, thanks' As he lay on the bed, he felt happy' The ur-e was -one, because he understood' .is mind was fine, but somethin- in him had been runnin- amok' .is biolo-y, or somethin- like that' Not lon- a-o, only a few -enerations back, he3d have been dead already or at least droolin- and toothless' #iddle a-e and the autumn years were modern concepts' .is brain understood them, but his biolo-y=his manhood=didn3t' .e only had a few years of ridin- left= that was what biolo-y thou-ht' #ore to the point, a few years of reproducin-' And maybe the vasectomy had made thin-s worse, or more drastic, sent messa-es haywire=he didn3t know' The human mind was a funny thin-' .e3d been dyin- for a ride, so he bit the head off a nei-hbour3s chicken' .e went downstairs' -A fo -ot one of $arbara3s hens last ni-ht, said @era' -+ell, that was kind of inevitable, wasn3t it5 -That3s a bit heartless' -(t3s what fo es do, he said'?+hen5 -+hat5 -!id the fo strike5 -0ast ni-ht, she said' =!id you hear anythin- when you were lookin- at the shuttle5 -Not a thin-, he said' =*ust the astronauts chattin-' She smiled' >ou3re such a messer' -About what5 -%h, :ust about how much they love (reland' .ow3s $arbara5 -(n bits' -!id she say she felt violated5 -She did, actually, but you3re such a cynical bastard' She was lau-hin-' And he knew) he was home and dry' (t was later now, ni-ht a-ain, and he kissed her neck' .e bit her neck' They were a pair of kids for half an hour, and still -iddy half an hour after that' -+ell, she said' =(3m ready for afters' .er hand went e plorin-'

-$ack in a minute, he said' .e went downstairs, went to the frid-e=two mackerel on a plate' .e looked in the free&er, pulled out a likely ba-' A couple of pork chops' .e put the ba- under the hot tap, till the plastic loosened' Then he tore away the plastic and went at one of the chops' $ut it was too hard, too cold' .e -ave it thirty seconds in the microwave and hoped=and dreaded=that the din- would brin- her downstairs' .e stood at the kitchen window and nibbled at the ed-es of the chop and hoped=and dreaded=that she3d come in and see his reflection=the blind was up=before she saw him, that he3d turn and reveal himself, some kind of vampire havin- a snack, and she3d somehow find it se y or at least reasonable, and for-ive him, and put her hands throu-h his hair, like she did, and maybe even :oin him in the chop, and he3d brin- her over the wall so they could -et $arbara3s last two hens, one each' .e binned the rest of the chop, shook the bin so it would disappear under the other rubbish' .e3d wait for the ri-ht moment' The visuals were important8 there was a hu-e difference between beincau-ht devourin- raw steak and lickin- a fro&en pork chop, or invitin- your life partner to do the same' There was no hurry, no mad rush' No madness at all8 he was normal' .e went back upstairs' She was waitin- for him' $ut not in the bed, or on the bed' She was standin- far away from the bed' -+hat3s this5 she asked' She turned on the li-ht' She was holdin- a head on the palm of her open hand' A small head' -A chicken3s head, he said' -+here did you -et it5 -( found it' .e was a clown, an ee:it8 he3d hidden it under his socks' -(t3s $arbara3s, she said'?(sn3t it5 -$arbara3s head would be a bit bi--er, he said' (t didn3t work8 she didn3t smile' -!id the fo drop it in the -arden5 she asked' She was -ivin- him an escape route, offerin- him a reasonable story' $ut it was the wron- one' .e3d found a chicken3s head and hidden it5 .e wasn3t -oin- to admit to the lie' (t was sad, perverse' -No, he said' -+ell, she said, and looked away'?+hat happened5 -( bit it off, he said' She looked at him a-ain' For 9uite a while' -+hat was that like5 -Great, he said'?Great'

FOSSIL"FIGUR#S Jo!ce Carol Oates

F' (NS(!E T.E G,EAT $E00> where the beat beat beat of the -reat heart pumped life blindly' +here there should have been one, there were two) the demon brother, the lar-er, ravenous with hun-er, and the other, the smaller brother, and in the li9uidy darkness a pulse between them, a beat that 9uivered and shuddered, now stron-, now lapsin-, now stron- a-ain, as the demon brother -rew even lar-er, took the nourishment as it pulsed into the womb, the heat, the blood, the mineral stren-th, kicked and shuddered with life so the mother, whose face was not known, whose e istence could only be surmised, winced in pain, tried to lau-h but went deathly pale, tryin- to smile -rippin- a railin- AhH #y baby' #ust be a boy' For in her i-norance the mother did not yet know that inside her belly there was not one but two' Flesh of my flesh and blood of my blood and yet not one but two' And yet not two e9ually, for the demon brother was the lar-er of the two, with but a sin-le wish to suck suck suck into his bein- the life of the other, the smaller brother, all of the nourishment of the li9uidy-dark womb, to suck into himself the smaller brother about whom he was hunched as if embracin- him, belly to curvin- spine and the forehead of the demon brother pressed a-ainst the soft bone of the back of the head of the smaller brother' The demon brother had no speech but was purely appetite +hy there be this other here =this thin-H +hy this, when there is meH There is me, me, me, there is only me' The demon brother did not yet feed by mouth, had not yet sharp teeth to tear, chew, devour and so could not swallow up the smaller brother into his -ut, and so the smaller brother survived inside the swollen belly where the beat beat beat of the -reat heart pumped life blindly and in i-norance until the very hour of the birth, when the demon brother forced his way out of the womb headfirst, a diver, a plun-er, ea-er for o y-en, thrustin-, s9uawlin-, stru--lin- to declare himself, drew his first breath in a shudder of astonishment and be-an to bawl loudly, hun-rily, kickin- his small le-s, flailin- his small arms, a furious purpleflushed face, half-shut -larin- eyes, strands of startlin-ly dark and coarse hair on the flushed infant scalp A boyH Nine-pound boyH A beautiful=perfect=boyH Swathed in mother3s oily blood, -listeninlike pent-up fire, a sharp scream and fren&ied kickin- as the umbilical cord attached to his navel was deftly severed' And what shock then=was it possible5=there was yet another baby inside the mother, but this was not a perfect baby, a runt, cloaked in oily blood, a tiny a-ed man with a wi&ened face e pelled from the mother after fourteen -runtin- minutes in a final spasm of wanin- contractions AnotherH There is another boy yet so tiny, malnourished, five pounds nine ounces, most of this wei-ht in the head, bulbous blue-veined head, purple-flushed skin, the skull forceps dented at the left temple, eyelids stuck to-ether with bloody pus, tiny fists weakly flailin-, tiny le-s weakly kickin-, tiny lun-s weakly drawin- breath inside the tiny rib ca-e %h but the poor thin- won3t live=will he5 Tiny cavedin chest, somethin- twisted about the tiny spine, and only faintly, as if at a distance, came the choked bleatin- cries' (n contempt the demon brother lau-hed' From his place at the mother3s breast suck suck suckin- the mother3s rich milk yet the demon brother lau-hed in contempt and an-er for +hy there be this other here, why this, why ;brother,< why ;twin,< when there is me' %nly be one of me' >et not one) two' AT A FE@E, 2(T". childhood passed for the demon brother who was first in all thin-s' At a -lacial pace childhood passed for the smaller brother who trailed behind his twin in all thin-s' The demon brother was :oyous to behold, pure infant fire, radiant thrummin- ener-y, every molecule of his bein-

9uiverin- with life, appetite, me me me' The smaller brother was often sick, lun-s filled with fluids, a tiny valve in his heart fluttered, soft bones of his curvin- spine, soft bones of his bowed le-s, anemia, weak appetite, and the skull subtly misshapen from the forceps delivery, his cries were breathy, bleatin-, nearly inaudible me5 me5 For the demon brother was first in all thin-s' (n the twins3 crib the first to roll onto his stomach, and the first to roll onto his back' The first to crawl' The first to rise on shaky baby le-s' The first to toddle about wide eyed in triumph at bein- vertical' The first to speak) #ama' The first to drink in, to swallow up, to suck nourishment from all that he encountered, eyes widened in wonder, in -reed, his first word #ama not an appeal or a plea but a command) #amaH $elatedly the smaller brother followed the demon brother, uncertain in his movements, poorly coordinated in his le-s, his arms, the very tilt of his head 9uestionable, and his head 9uiverin- on frail shoulders, the eyes rapidly blinkin-, watery, seemin-ly weak as the facial features were less defined than those of the demon brother of whom it was claimed proudly .e3s all boyH while of the smaller brother it was murmured 2oor thin-H $ut he is -rowin-' %r it was murmured 2oor thin-H $ut what a sweet sad smile' (n these early years the smaller brother was often sickly and several times had to be hospitali&ed 4anemia, asthma, lun- con-estion, heart-valve flutter, sprained bones6 and in these interims the demon brother did not seem to miss the smaller brother but basked in the full attention of their parents and -rew yet taller and stron-er and soon it could scarcely be claimed that the brothers were twins=even ;fraternal< twins=for observers would react with baffled smiles Twins5 .ow can that be possible5 For by the a-e of four, the demon brother was several inches taller than the smaller brother whose spine curved, and whose chest caved in upon itself, and whose eyes blinked, teary and va-uely focused, and it came to seem that the brothers were not twins but, simply, brothers) the one older than the other by two or three years, and much healthier' +e love the boys e9ually' %f course' At bedtime the demon brother sank into sleep with the abruptness of a rock sinkin- into dark water, come to rest in the soft dark mud below' At bedtime the smaller brother lay with opened eyes and stem-thin limbs twitchin-, for he feared sleep as one mi-ht fear sinkin- into infinity Even as a youn- child ( understood that infinity is a vast fathomless chasm inside the brain into which we fall and fall throu-h out lives, fall and fall unnamed, faceless and unknown where even, in time, the love of our parents is lost' Even the love of our mothers is lost' And all memory wakin- from a thin tormented sleep like frothy water spilled across his face and he3s stru--lin- to breathe, chokin- and cou-hin-, for the demon brother has sucked up most of the o y-en in the room, how can the demon brother help it, his lun-s are so stron-, his breath so deep and his metabolism so heated, naturally the demon brother will suck up the o y-en in the brothers3 room where each ni-ht at bedtime their parents tuck the boys in, in twin beds, kissineach, declarin- their love for each, and in the ni-ht the smaller brother is wakened from a ni-htmare of suffocation, his weak lun-s unable to breathe, panicked and whimperin-, in a plea for help mana-in- to crawl from his bed and out of the room and into the hall, collapsed partway between the brothers3 room and their parents3 room where in the early mornin- the parents will discover him' Such mea-er life, yet such life stru--les to save itselfH=so the demon brother would recall, in contempt' %F "%/,SE +E 0%@E Ed-ar and Edward e9ually' They are both our sons' This declaration the demon brother knew to be a lie' >et was an-ered by the thou-ht that, when the parents uttered the lie, as they did fre9uently, those who heard it mi-ht believe' And the smaller brother, the sickly brother, with his caved-in chest, crooked spine, whee&y asthmatic breath, yearnin- teary eyes and sweet smile wished to believe' To rebuke him, the demon brother had a way of turnin- on him when they were alone, for no 4evident6 reason pushin- him, shovin- him, wrestlin- him to the floor, as the smaller brother drew breath to protest straddlin- him with his knees, -rippin- the breakable rib ca-e like a vise, thump-thump-thumpin- the little freak3s head a-ainst the floor, the moist hard palm of a

hand clamped over the little freak3s mouth to prevent him from cryin- for help #ama mama mama faint as a dyin- lamb3s bleatin- and so unheard by the mother in another part of the house downstairs in her bliss of i-norance not hearin- the thump-thump-thump of the smaller brother3s head a-ainst the carpeted floor of the boys3 room until at last the smaller brother -oes limp, ceases to stru--le, ceases to stru--le for breath, his pinched little face has turned blue, and the demon brother relents, releases him pantin- and triumphant' "ould3ve killed you, freak' And ( will, if you tell' For why were there two and not one5 As in the womb, the demon brother felt the in:ustice, and the illo-ic' SchoolH So many years' .ere the demon brother, who was called Eddie, was first in all thin-s' As the smaller brother, who was called Edward, la--ed behind' (mmediately in elementary school the brothers were not perceived to be twins but only :ust brothers, or relatives sharin- a last name' Eddie +aldman' Edward +aldman' $ut you never saw them to-ether' At school, Eddie was one of the popular boys' Adored by -irls, emulated and admired by boys' .e was a bi- boy' A husky boy' .e was a natural leader, an athlete' +aved his hand, and the teachers called upon him' .is -rades were never less than a $' .is smile was a dimpled smile, sly-sincere' .e had a way of lookin- you frankly in the eye' $y the a-e of ten Eddie had learned to shake hands with adults and to introduce himself .iH (3m Eddie provokin- smiles of admiration +hat a bri-ht precocious childH and, to demon brother3s parents .ow proud you must be of your son as if in fact there was but one son, and not two' (n si th -rade, Eddie ran for president of his class and was elected by a wide mar-in' ( am your brother, remember meH >ou are nothin- of mine' Go awayH $ut ( am in you' +here can ( -o5 Already in elementary school the smaller brother Edward had dropped behind his twin' The problem wasn3t his schoolwork=for Edward was a bri-ht, intelli-ent, in9uisitive boy=his -rades were often As, when he was able to complete his work=but his health' So fre9uently absent from his fifth--rade classes, he3d had to repeat the year' .is lun-s were weak, he cau-ht respiratory infections easily' .is heart was weak, in ei-hth -rade he was hospitali&ed for weeks followin- sur-ery to repair the faulty heart valve' (n tenth -rade he suffered a ;freak accident<=observed only by his brother Eddie, in their home=fallin- down a fli-ht of stairs, breakin- his ri-ht le- and kneecap and his ri-ht arm and several ribs and in:urin- his spine and thereafter he had to hobble about stricken with shyness, wincin- in pain, on crutches' .is teachers were aware of him, the youn-er +aldman boy' .is teachers re-arded him with sympathy, pity' (n hi-h school, his -rades became ever more erratic) sometimes As but more often "s, !s, (ncompletes' The smaller brother seemed to have difficulty concentratin- in his classes, he fid-eted with pain, or stared open eyed in a ha&e of painkillers, scarcely aware of his surroundin-s' +hen he was fully awake, he had a habit of hunchin- over his notebooks, which were unusually lar-e, spiral notebooks with unlined pa-es, like sketchbooks, and in these notebooks he appeared to be constantly drawin-, or writin-8 he frowned and bit his lower lip, lost in concentration, i-norin- the teacher and the rest of the class Slippin- into infinity, a pleat in time and a twist of the pen and there3s freedomH The pen had to be a black felt-tip with a fine point' The notebooks had to have marbled blackand-white covers' The teacher had to call upon ;Edward< several times to -et the boy3s full attention and in his eyes then, a 9uick flarin- up, like a match li-hted, shyness supplanted by somethin- like resentment, fury' 0eave me alone why can3t you, ( am not one of you' $y the time the brothers were ei-hteen, Eddie was a senior bound for colle-e, president of his class and

captain of the football team and in the school yearbook ;most likely to succeed< and Edward was trailin- behind by a year, with poor -rades' .e3d be-un to arrive at school with a wheelchair, brou-ht by his mother, now in the throes of spinal pain from a slipped disk, and in this wheelchair he was positioned at the front, ri-ht-hand corner of his classes, near the teacher3s desk, a broken, freaky fi-ure with a small pinched boy3s face, wa y skin and slack lips, drowsy from painkillers, or absorbed in his spiral notebooks in which he only pretended to take notes while in fact drawin- bi&arre fi-ures= -eometrical, humanoid=that seemed to sprin- from the end of his black felt-tip pen' (n the sprin- of his :unior year, stricken with bronchitis, Edward didn3t complete his courses and never returned to school) his formal education had ended' (n that year, Eddie +aldman was recruited by a do&en universities offerin- sports scholarships and, shrewdly, he chose the most academically presti-ious of the universities, for his -oal beyond the university was law school' ,esemblin- each other as a shadow can be said to resemble its ob:ect' Edward was the shadow' $y this time the brothers no lon-er shared a room' The brothers never lon-er shared=evenH=the old, cruel childish custom of the demon brother3s wish to harm his smaller twin8 the demon brother3s wish to suck all the o y-en out of the air, to swallow up his smaller twin entirely' +hy be this other here= this thin-H +hy this, when there is meH .ere was the stran-e thin-) the smaller brother was the one to miss the bond between them' For he had no other so deeply imprinted in his soul as his brother, no bond so fierce and intimate' ( am in you, ( am your brother, you must love me' $ut Eddie lau-hed, backin- away' Shook hands with his sickly brother for whom he felt only a mild repu-nance, the mildest pan- of -uilt, and he said -ood-bye to his parents, allowed himself to be embraced and kissed and went away, smilin- in anticipation of his life he went away with no plan to return to his hometown and to his boyhood house e cept for e pediency3s sake as a temporary visitor who would be, within hours of his return, restless, bored, ea-er to escape a-ain to his ;real< life elsewhere' I' N%+ (N T.E(, T+ENT(ES the brothers rarely saw each other' Never spoke on the phone' Eddie +aldman -raduated from law school' Edward +aldman continued to live at home' Eddie e celled, recruited by a prominent New >ork "ity law firm' Edward suffered a succession of ;health crises'< The father divorced the mother, abruptly and mysteriously it seemed for the father, too, had a ;real< life elsewhere' Eddie entered politics, under the tutela-e of a prominent conservative politician' Edward, sufferinspinal pain, spent most days in a wheelchair' (nside his head calculatin- numbers, ima-inin- e9uations in which the numerical, the symbolic, and the or-anic were combined, inventin- music, rapidly fillinlar-e sheets of construction paper with bi&arre yet meticulously detailed -eometrical and humanoid fi-ures in settin-s resemblin- those of the surrealist painter de "hirico and the visionary artist #' "' Escher' %ur lives are #Jbius strips, misery and wonder simultaneously' %ur destinies are infinite, and infinitely recurrin-' (n the affluent suburb of the -reat American city, on a residential street of lar-e, e pensive houses, the +aldman house, a clapboard colonial on a two-acre lot, be-an by de-rees to fall into disrepair, decline' The front lawn was unmowed and spiky, moss -rew on the rottin- shin-le boards of the roof and newspapers and flyers accumulated on the front walk' The mother, once a sociable woman, be-an to be

embittered, suspicious of nei-hbors' The mother be-an to complain of ill health' #ysterious ;he es'< The mother understood that the father had divorced her as a way of divorcin- himself from the misshapen broke-backed son with the teary yearnin- eyes who would never -row up, would never marry, would spend the rest of his life in the fevered e ecution of eccentric and worthless ;art'< Fre9uently the mother called the other son, the son of whom she was so proud, whom she adored' $ut Eddie seemed always to be travelin-, and rarely returned his mother3s messa-es' (n time, within a decade, the mother would die' (n the now derelict house 4visited, infre9uently, by a few concerned relatives6 Edward would live as a recluse in two or three downstairs rooms, one of which he3d converted into a makeshift studio' The embittered mother had left him enou-h money to enable him to continue to live alone and to devote himself to his work8 he hired help to come to the house from time to time to clean it, or to attempt to clean it8 to shop for him, and to prepare meals' FreedomH #isery and wonderH %n lar-e canvases Edward transcribed his bi&arre dream-ima-es, amon-ala ies of hiero-lyphic shapes in a se9uence titled Fossil-Fi-ures' For it was Edward3s belief, which had come to him in a paro ysm of spinal pain, that misery and wonder are interchan-eable and that one must not predominate' (n this way time passed in a fever heat for the afflicted brother, who was not afflicted but blessed' Time was a #Jbius strip that looped back upon itself, weeks, months and years passed and yet the artist -rew no older in his art' 4(n his physical bein-, perhaps' $ut Edward had turned all mirrors to the wall and had not the sli-htest curiosity about what Edward now ;looked like'<6 The father, too, died' %r disappeared, which is the same thin-' ,elatives ceased to visit, and may have died' (nto infinity, which is oblivion' $ut it is out of that infinity we have sprin-) why5 (t be-an to be, as if overni-ht, the era of the (nternet' No man need be a recluse now' .owever alone and cast off by the world' @ia the (nternet E'+' communicated with companions=soul mates=scattered in cyberspace, of whom, at any -iven time, there were invariably a few=but E'+'3s needs were so minimal, his ambition for his art so modest, he re9uired only a few=fascinated by the Fossil-Fi-ures he displayed on the +eb, who ne-otiated to buy them' 4Sometimes, biddin- a-ainst one another, for une pectedly hi-h sums'6 And there were -alleries interested in e hibitin- the works of E'+' =as the artist called himself=and small presses interested in publishin- them' (n this way, in the wanin- years of the twentieth century, E'+' became somethin- of an under-round cult fi-ure, rumored to be impoverished, or very wealthy8 a crippled recluse livin- alone in a deterioratin- old house, in a deterioratin- body, or, perversely, a renowned public fi-ure who -uarded his privacy as an artist' Alone yet never lonely' For is a twin lonely5 Not so lon- as his twin-self continues to e ist' The brothers were never in contact now, yet, on T@, by chance as sometimes Edward flicked throu-h channels like one propellin- himself throu-h the chill of inter-alactic space, he came upon ima-es of his lost brother) -ivin- impassioned speeches 4;sanctity of life<=;pro-life<=;family values<=;patriotic Americans<6 to adorin- crowds, bein- interviewed, smilin- into the camera with the fiery confidence of one ordained by God' There was the demon brother elected to the /'S' "on-ress from a district in a nei-hborin- state the smaller brother hadn3t known he was livin- in8 there, the demon brother beside an attractive youn- woman, -rippin- the youn- woman3s hand, a wife, a #rs' Ed-ar +aldman, the smaller brother hadn3t known he had married' The demon brother had been taken up by rich, influential elders' (n a political party, such elders look to youth to further their political herita-e, their ;tradition'< (n this political party the ;tradition< was identical with economic interests'

This was the triumphant politics of the era' This was the era of the self' #e, me, meH There is me, me, me there is only me' "ameras panned rapturous audiences, fervently applaudin- audiences' For in me, there is the blind wish to perceive we' As in the most primitive, wrathful, and soulless of -ods, humankind will perceive we' (n the most distant -ala ies, infinities of mere emptiness, the ancient yearnin- we' So Edward, the left-behind brother, hunched in his wheelchair, re-arded the demon brother -limpsed on T@ with no bitterness nor even a sense of estran-ement as one mi-ht feel for a bein- of another species but with the old, perverse yearnin- ( am your brother, ( am in you' +here else can there be, that ( am5 .E,E +AS T.E (NES"A2A$0E fact) the brothers shared a sin-le birthday' Even beyond their deaths, that fact would never chan-e' *anuary IC' The dead of winter' Each year on that day the brothers thou-ht of each other with such vividness, each mi-ht have ima-ined that the other was close beside him, or behind him, a breath on his cheek, a phantom embrace' .e is alive, ( can feel him Edward thou-ht with a shiver of anticipation' .e is alive, ( can feel him Ed-ar thou-ht with a shiver of revulsion' B' T.E,E "A#E A *AN/A,> IC that marked the brothers3 fortieth birthday' And a few days later there came to an e hibit of E'+'3s new e hibit Fossil-Fi-ures in a storefront -allery in the warehouse district near the .udson ,iver at +est and "anal streets, New >ork "ity, /'S' "on-ressman Ed-ar +aldman, who3d -iven a political speech that afternoon in midtown, alone now, a limousine with /'S' federal plates waitin- at the curb' Notin- with satisfaction that the e hibit rooms were nearly deserted' Notinwith dis-ust how the old, cracked linoleum stuck a-ainst the bottom of his e pensive shoes' The handsome con-ressman wore very dark -lasses, he looked at no one, in dread of bein- reco-ni&ed in this sordid place' Especially he was in dread of seein- the crippled brother=;E'+<=whom he had not seen in nearly twenty years but believed that he would reco-ni&e immediately thou-h by this time the twins=;fraternal twins<=looked nothin- alike' Ed-ar anticipated the stunted broken fi-ure in a wheelchair, yearnin- teary eyes and wistful smile that maddened, made you want to strike with your fists, that offer of for-iveness where for-iveness was not wanted' ( am your brother, ( am in you' 0ove meH $ut there was no one' %nly E'+'3s work, pretentiously called by the -allery ;colla-e paintin-s'< These Fossil-Fi-ures lacked all beauty, even the canvases upon which they were painted looked soiled and battered and the walls upon which they were 4unevenly6 hun- were streaked as if the hammered-tin ceilin- leaked rust' +hat were these artworks covered in dreamKni-htmare shapes, -eometrical, yet humanoid, shiftin- into and out of one another like translucent -uts, deeply offensive to the con-ressman who sensed ;subterfu-e<=;perversion<=;subversion< in such obscure art, and what was obscure was certain to be ;soulless<=even ;traitorous'< #ost upsettin-, the Fossil-Fi-ures seemed to be tauntin- the viewer, anyway this viewer, like riddles, and he had no time for Goddamned riddles, the rich man3s dau-hter he3d married to advance his career was awaitin- him at the St' ,e-is, this visit to +est and "anal streets was an 4unmarked6 stop in "on-ressman +aldman3s itinerary for the day' +ipin- his eyes to better see an artwork depictin- the ni-ht sky, distant -ala ies, and constellations, almost there was beauty here, suns like burstin- e-- yolks swallowin- up smaller suns, comets shaped like=was it male sperm5=bla&in- male sperm5=collidin- with luminous bluish-watery planets8 and, protrudin- from the rou-h surface of the canvas, a thin- so une pected, so u-ly, the con-ressman stepped back in astonishment) was it a nestlike -rowth of some kind5 a tumor5 composed of plasticine flesh and dark crinkly hairs and=could it be baby teeth5 arran-ed in a smile5=and a scatterin- of baby bones5

A fossil, it was' A thin- removed from the human body' Somethin- very u-ly discovered a cavity of a survivin- twin3s body' The fossil-soul of the other, which had never breathed life' Stunned, 9uiverin- with dis-ust, the con-ressman turned away' +alked on, in a ha&e of denunciations, denials' Seein- that some of the canvases were beautiful=were they5=or were they all u-ly, obscene, if you knew how to decode them5=he was made to think that he was endan-ered, somethin- was -oin- to happen to him, there was a blunt statistical fact that in the last election he3d been reelected to his seat in "on-ress by a smaller ma:ority than in any of the precedin- elections, in such victory there is the presentiment of defeat' Throu-h the ma&e of rooms circlin- back to the start of the e hibit and at a -lass-topped counter there was a bored-lookin- -irl with dead-white skin and a face -litterin- with piercin-s who seemed to be workin- for the -allery and he asked of her in a voice that 9uavered with indi-nation if these ridiculous ;fossil-fi-ures< were considered ;art< and she told him politely yes of course, everythin- the -allery e hibited was art and he asked if the e hibit was supported by public funds and seemed but partly mollified to learn that it was not' .e asked who the ;so-called artist< E'+' was and the -irl spoke va-uely sayin- nobody knew E'+' personally, only the proprietor of the -allery had ever seen him, he lived by himself outside the city and never came into the city, not even to oversee the e hibit, didn3t seem to care if his artworks sold, or what prices they were sold for' ;.e3s -ot some Lwastin--away3 disease, like muscular dystrophy, or 2arkinson3s, but last we knew, E'+' is alive' .e3s alive'< AN! ( +%N3T G% away' >ou will come to me instead' EA". >EA,) *AN/A,> IC' %ne year, one insomniac ni-ht, Edward is flickin- restlessly thou-h T@ channels and is surprised to see a sudden close-up of=is it Ed-ar5 The demon brother Ed-ar5 T@ news foota-e from earlier in the day, rerun now in the early hours of the mornin-, suddenly this ma-nification of a man3s head, thick-:awed face, an a-in- face obscured by dark -lasses, skin -leaminwith oily sweat, an arm lifted to shield the dis-raced con-ressman from a pack of pursuin- reporters, photo-raphers and T@ camera crews, there3s "on-ressman Ed-ar +aldman bein- briskly walked into a buildin- by plainclothes police officers' (ndicted on multiple char-es of bribe-takin-, violations of federal campai-n laws, per:ury before a federal -rand :ury' Already the rich man3s dau-hter has filed for divorce, there3s a 9uick smile, a su--estion of bared teeth' (n the brothers3 childhood house in which Edward lives in a few downstairs rooms Edward stares at the T@ screen from which his lost brother has faded, uncertain if the thumpin- sensation in his head is a profound shock, a pan- of hurt that must beat within the brother, or his own e citement, ea-erness' .e will come to me now' .e will not deny me, now' Epilo-ue (T +AS S%' T.E demon brother would return home, to his twin who awaited him' For he knew himself now Not one but two' (n the lar-er world he3d -ambled his life and lost his life and would retreat now, to the other' (n retreat a man sets aside pride, dis-raced, divorced, bankrupt and a -listen of madness in the washed-out blue eyes' .is heavy :aws were silvery-dark with stubble, a tremor in his ri-ht hand that had been lifted in a federal court to swear that Ed-ar +aldman would tell the truth the whole truth and nothin- but the truth >es ( swear and in that heartbeat it was all over for him, a taste like bile risin- at the back of his mouth' Still the wonder' !isbelief' The corroded ruin of a face like clay that has been worn down by rivulets of

water, wind' And that -listen of madness in the eyes) #e5 (n retreat now returnin- to his childhood home he had shunned for years' The left-behind, brokebacked youn-er brother who3d been livin- alone since their mother3s death, now many years a-o' As a youn- man he3d never considered time as anythin- other than a current to bear him aloft, propel him into his future, now he understood that time is a risin- tide, implacable ine orable unstoppable risintide, now at the ankles, now the knees, risin- to the thi-hs, to the -roin and the torso and to the chin, ever risin-, a dark water of utter mystery propellin- us forward not into the future but into infinity, which is oblivion' ,eturnin- to the suburban town of his birth and to the house he3s shunned for decades, seein- now with a pan- of loss how the residential nei-hborhood had chan-ed, many of the lar-e houses converted to apartment buildin-s and commercial sites, and most of the plane trees linin- the street severely trimmed or removed alto-ether' And there was the old +aldman home that had once been their mother3s pride, once so splendidly white, now a weatherworn -ray with sa--in- shutters and a rottinroof and a lush :un-lelike front lawn awash in litter as if no one had lived there for a lon- time' Ed-ar had been unable to contact Edward by phone, there was no directory listin- for a phone under the name Edward +aldman, now his heart pounded in his chest, he felt a wave of dread .e has died, it is too late' .esitantly knockin- at the front door and listenin- for a response from within and knockin- a-ain, more loudly, hurtin- his knuckles, and at last there came from within a faint bleatin- sound, a voice askin- who it was and he called out (t3s me' Slowly as if with effort the door opened' And there, in his wheelchair, as Ed-ar had ima-ined him, but not so rava-ed as Ed-ar has ima-ined him, was his brother Edward whom he hadn3t seen in more than two decades) a shrunken individual of no obvious a-e with a narrow, pale, pinched yet unlined face, a boy3s face, and his hair threaded with -ray like Ed-ar3s, and one bony shoulder hi-her than the other' 2ale blue eyes fillin- with moisture he swiped at with the ed-es of both hands and in a scratchy voice that sounded as if it hadn3t been used in some time he said Eddie' "ome in' 7+.EN (T .A22ENE! "%/0! never be determined precisely since the bodies were fro&en and preserved from decay found to-ether on a leather sofa made up as a bed pulled up to within a foot of a fireplace heaped with ashes in a downstairs room of the old clapboard colonial crowded with furniture and what appeared to be the accumulated debris of decades but which may have been materials for artworks or the very artworks themselves of the eccentric artist known as E'+', the elderly +aldman brothers in layers of bulky clothin- must have fallen asleep in front of a fire in the otherwise unheated house, the fire must have burnt out in the ni-ht and the brothers died in their sleep in a protracted *anuary cold spell) the brother to be identified as Ed-ar +aldman, ei-hty-seven, embracin- his brother Edward +aldman, also ei-hty-seven, from behind, protectively fittin- his body to his brother3s crippled body, forehead tenderly pressed to the back of the other3s head, the two fi-ures coiled to-ether like a -narled or-anic material that has petrified to stone'

WILDFIR# IN $%N&%TT%N Joanne &arris

(T3S N%T #> NA#E=+E00, N%T M/(TE=but you can call me 0ucky' ( live ri-ht here in #anhattan, in the penthouse suite of a hotel :ust off "entral 2ark' (3m a model citi&en in every way, punctual, polite and orderly' ( wear sharp suits' ( wa my chest hair' >ou3d never think ( was a -od' (t3s a truth often overlooked that old -ods=like old do-s=have to die sometime' (t :ust takes lon-er, that3s all8 and in the meantime citadels may fall, empires collapse, worlds end and folk like us end up on the pile, redundant and lar-ely for-otten' (n many ways, (3ve been fortunate' #y element is fire, which never 9uite -oes out of style' There are Aspects of me that still wield power=there3s too much of the primitive left in you Folk for it to be otherwise, and althou-h ( don3t -et as many sacrifices as ( used to, ( can still -et obeisance if ( want it 4who doesn3t56=after dark, when the campfires are lit' And the dry li-htnin- strikes across the plains =yes, they3re mine=and the forest fires8 and the funeral pyres and the random sparks and the human torches=all mine' $ut here, in New >ork, (3m 0ukas +ilde, lead sin-er in the rock band +ild=re' +ell, ( say band' %ur only album, $urn (t /p, went platinum when the drummer was tra-ically killed on sta-e by a freakish blast of li-htnin-' +ell, maybe not so freakish' %ur only /'S' tour was stalked by li-htnin- from be-innin- to end8 of fifty venues, thirty-one suffered a direct hit8 in :ust nine weeks we lost three more drummers, si roadies and a truckload of -ear' Even ( was be-innin- to feel (3d taken it :ust a little too far' Still, it was a -reat show' Nowadays, (3m semiretired' ( can afford to be8 as one of only two survivin- band members ( have a nice little income, and when (3m feelin- bored ( play piano in a fetish bar called the ,ed ,oom' (3m not into rubber myself 4too sweaty6, but you can3t deny it makes a terrific insulator' $y now you may have -athered=(3m a ni-ht person' !ayli-ht rather cramps my style8 and besides, fire needs a ni-ht sky to show to best advanta-e' An evenin- in the ,ed ,oom, playin- piano and eyeinthe -irls, then downtown for rest and recreation' Not a scene that my brother fre9uents8 and so it was with some surprise that ( ran smack into him that ni-ht, as ( was checkin- out the nicely flammable back streets of the /pper East Side, hummin- ;0i-ht #y Fire< and contemplatin- a spot of arson' ( didn3t say5 >es, in this present Aspect, ( have a brother' $rendan' A twin' +e3re not close8 +ildfire and .earth Fire have little in common, and he rather disapproves of my flamboyant lifestyle, preferrinthe more domestic :oys of bakin- and -rillin-' (ma-ine that' A fire-od runnin- a restaurant=it makes me burn with shame' Still, it3s his funeral' Each of us -oes to hell in his own way, and besides, his flame--rilled steaks are the best in the business' (t was past midni-ht, ( was a little li-ht-headed from the boo&e=but not so drunk that you3d have noticed=and the streets were as still as they -et in a city that only ever shuts one eye' A huddle of washouts sleepin- in cardboard bo es under a fire escape8 a cat raidin- a !umpster' (t was November8 steam plumed from the sewer -rates and the sidewalks were shiny with cold sweat' ( was :ust crossin- the intersection of Ei-hty-First and Fifth, in front of the .un-arian meat market when ( saw him, a familiar fi-ure with hair the colour of embers tucked into the collar of a lon- -rey coat' Tall, slim and ballet 9uick8 you mi-ht almost have been for-iven for thinkin- it was me' "lose

scrutiny, however, reveals the truth' #y eyes are red and -reen8 his, on the other hand, are -reen and red' Anyway, ( wouldn3t be seen dead wearin- those shoes' ( -reeted him cheerily' ;!o ( smell burnin-5< .e turned to me with a hunted e pression' ;ShhH 0istenH< ( was curious' ( know there3s never been much love between us, but he usually -reets me, at least, before he starts with the recriminations' .e called me by my true name' 2ut a fin-er to his lips, then dra--ed me into a side alley that stank of piss' ;.ey, $ren' +hat -ives5< ( whispered, correctin- my lapels' .is only reply was a curt nod in the direction of the near-deserted alley' (n the shadows, two men, bo y in their lon- overcoats, hats pulled down over narrow, identical faces' They stopped for a second on the kerb, checked left, checked ri-ht and crossed over with swift, effortless choreo-raphy before vanishin-, wolfish, into the ni-ht' ;( see'< And ( did' (3d seen them before' ( could feel it in my blood' (n another place, in another Aspect, ( knew them, and they knew me' And believe me, they were men in form alone' $eneath those cartoondetective overcoats they were all teeth' ;+hat d3you think they3re doin- here5< .e shru--ed' ;.untin-'< ;.untin- who5< .e shru--ed a-ain' .e3s never been a man of words, even when he wasn3t a man' #e, (3m on the wordy side' ( find it helps' ;So you3ve seen them here before5< ;( was followin- them when you came alon-' ( doubled back=( didn3t want to lead them home'< +ell, ( could understand that' ;+hat are they5< ( said' ;Aspects of what5 ( haven3t seen anythin- like this since ,a-narNk, but as ( recall=< ;Shh=< ( was -ettin- kinda sick of bein- shoved and shushed' .e3s the elder twin, you know, and sometimes he takes liberties' ( was about to -ive him a heated reply when ( heard a sound comin- from nearby, and somethin- swam into rapid view' (t took me a while to fi-ure it out8 derelicts are hard to see in this city, and he3d been hidin- in a cardboard bo under a fire escape, but now he shifted 9uick enou-h, his old overcoat flappin- like win-s around his bony ankles' ( knew him, in passin-' %ld man #oony, here as an Aspect of #ani, the #oon, but mad as a coot, poor old sod 4it often happens when they3ve been at the :uice, and the mead of poetry is a heady brew6' Still, he could run, and was runnin- now, but as $ren and ( stepped out of his way, the two -uys in their lonovercoats came to intercept him at the mouth of the alley' "loser this time=( could smell them' A rank and feral smell, half rotted' +ell, you know what they say' >ou can3t teach a carnivore oral hy-iene' At my side ( could feel my brother tremblin-' %r was it me5 ( wasn3t sure' ( was scared, ( knew that= thou-h there was still enou-h alcohol carousin- in my veins to make me feel sli-htly removed from it all' (n any case ( stayed put, tucked into the shadows, not 9uite darin- to move' The two -uys stood there at the mouth of the alley, and #oony stopped, waverin- now between fi-ht and fli-ht' And= Fi-ht it was' %kay, ( thou-ht' Even a rat will turn when cornered' That didn3t mean ( had to -et involved' ( could smell him too, the underpinnin- stench of him, like boo&e and dirt and that stinky

sickly poet smell' .e was scared, ( knew that' $ut he was also a -od=albeit a beat-up Aspect of one= and that meant he3d fi-ht like a -od, and even an old alky -od like #oony has his tricks' Those two -uys mi-ht yet have a shock comin-' For a moment they held their position, two overcoats and a mad poet in a dark trian-le under the sin-le streetli-ht' Then they moved=the -uys with that slick, fluid motion (3d seen before, #oony with a lurch and a yell and a flash from his fin-ertips' .e3d cast TOr=a powerful rune=and ( saw it flicker throu-h the dark air like a shard of steel, hurtlin- towards the two not-9uite-men' They dod-ed=no pas de deu could have had more -race=partin-, then comin- to-ether a-ain as the missile passed, movinin a ti-ht a e-head formation towards the old -od' $ut throwin- TOr had thrown #oony' (t takes stren-th to cast the runes of the Elder Script, and most of his -lam was already -one' .e opened his mouth=to speak a cantrip, ( thou-ht=but before he could, the overcoats moved in with that spooky superhuman speed and ( could smell their rankness once more, but so much stron-er, like the inside of a bad-er3s sett' They closed in, unbuttonin- their coats as they ran=but were they runnin-5 (nstead they seemed to -lide, like boats, unfurlin- their lon- coats like sails to hide and envelop the belea-uered moon-od' .e be-an to chant=the mead of poetry, you know=and for a second the drunken voice cracked and chan-ed, becomin- that of #ani in his full Aspect' A sudden radiance shone forth=the predators -ave a sin-le -rowl, barin- their teeth=and for a moment ( heard the chariot chant of the mad moon-od, in a lan-ua-e you could never learn, but of which a sin-le word could drive a mortal cra&y with rapture, brin- down the stars, strike a man dead=or raise him back to life a-ain' .e chanted, and for a beat the hunters paused=and was that a sin-le trace of a tear -leamin- in the shadow of a black fedora5=and #ani san- a -lamour of love and death, and of the beauty that is desolation and of the brief firefly that li-hts up the darkness=for a win-3s beat, for a breath=before it -utters, burns and dies' $ut the chant did not halt them for more than a second' Tears or not, these -uys were hun-ry' They -lided forward, hands outstretched, and now ( could see inside their unbuttoned coats, and for a moment ( was sure there was no body beneath their clothes, no fur or scale, no flesh or bone' There was :ust the shadow8 the blackness of "haos8 a blackness beyond colour or even its absence8 a hole in the world, all-devourin-, all-hun-ry' $rendan took a sin-le step, and ( cau-ht him by the arm and held him back' (t was too late anyway8 old #oony was already done for' .e went down=not with a crash, but with an eerie si-h, as if he3d been punctured=and the creatures that now no lon-er even looked like men were on him like hyenas, fan-s -leamin-, static hissin- in the folds of their -arments' There was nothin- human in the way they moved' Nothin- superfluous' They .oovered him up from blood to brain=every -lamour, every spark, every piece of kith and kindlin-=and what they left looked less like a man than a cardboard cutout of a man left lyin- in the dirt of the alleyway' Then they were -one, buttonin- up their overcoats over the terrible absence beneath' A silence' $rendan was cryin-' .e always was the sensitive one' ( wiped somethin- 4sweat, ( think6 from my face and waited for my breathin- to return to normal' ;That was nasty,< ( said at last' ;.aven3t seen anythin- 9uite like that since the End of the +orld'< ;!id you hear him5< said $rendan' ;( heard' +ho would have thou-ht the old man had so much -lam in him5< #y brother said nothin-, but hid his eyes'

( suddenly reali&ed ( was hun-ry, and thou-ht for a moment of su--estin- a pi&&a, but decided a-ainst it' $ren was so touchy nowadays, he mi-ht have taken offence' ;+ell, (3ll see you later, ( -uess,< and sloped off rather unsteadily, wonderin- why brothers are always so damned hard, and wishin- (3d been able to ask him home' ( wasn3t to know, but ( wish ( had=(3d never see that Aspect of him a-ain' ( S0E2T T(00 0ATE the ne t day' Awoke with a headache and a familiar post-cocktail nauseous feelin-, then remembered=the way you remember doin- somethin- to your back when you were in the -ym, but didn3t reali&e how bad it was -oin- to be until you3d slept on it=and sat bolt upri-ht' The -uys, ( thou-ht' Those two -uys' ( must have been drunker than (3d thou-ht last ni-ht, because this mornin- the memory of them fro&e me to the core' !elayed shock8 ( know it well, and to combat its elects ( called room service and ordered the works' %ver coffee, bacon, pancakes and rivers of maple syrup, ( worked on my recovery, and thou-h ( did pretty well, -iven the circumstances, ( found ( couldn3t 9uite -et the death of old #oony out of my mind, or the slick way the two overcoats had crawled over him, -obblin- up his -lam before buttonin- up and back to business' 2oetry in motion' ( pondered my lucky escape=well, ( -uessed that if they hadn3t sniffed out #oony first, then it would have been >ours Truly and $rother $ren for a double servin- of !ish of the !ay=but my heart was far from li-ht as it occurred to me that if these -uys were really after our kind, this was at best a reprieve, not a pardon, and that sooner or later those overcoats would be sharpenin- their teeth at my door' So ( finished breakfast and called $ren' $ut all ( -ot was his answerin- machine, so ( looked up the number of his restaurant and dialled it' The line was dead' ( would have tried his mobile, but, like ( said, we3re not close' ( didn3t know it, or the name of his -irl, or even the number of his house' Too late now, ri-ht5 *ust -oes to show' "arpe diem, and all that' And so ( showered and dressed and went off in haste under -atherin- clouds to the Flyin- 2i&&a, $ren3s place of work 4but what a dumb nameH6, in the hope of -ettin- some sense out of my twin' (t was there that ( reali&ed somethin- was amiss' Ten blocks away ( knew it already, and the sirens and the en-ines and the shoutin- and the smoke were :ust confirmation' There was somethin- ominous about those -atherin- thunderclouds, and the way they sat like a ,ussian hat all spiky with needles of li-htnin- above the scene of devastation' #y heart sank lower the closer ( -ot' Somethin- was amiss, all ri-ht' 0ookin- around to ensure that ( was unobserved, ( cast the visionary rune $:arkPn with my left hand, and s9uinted throu-h its spy-lass shape' Smoke ( saw8 and li-htnin- from the -round8 my brother3s face lookin- pale and strained8 then fire8 darkness8 then, as (3d feared, the Shadow=and its minions, the wolves, the shadow hunters, bo ed into their heavy overcoats' Those -uys, ( thou-ht, and cursed' A-ain' And now ( knew where (3d known them before=and they were pretty bad in that Aspect, too, thou-h ( had more on my plate at that time than ( do nowadays, and (3ll admit ( didn3t -ive them my full attention' ( did now, thou-h, castin- runes of concealment about me as ( skirted the funnel of black smoke, the funeral pyre of my brother3s restaurant=and for all ( knew, of $rendan himself, who had looked pretty wasted in my vision' ( -ot there at last, keepin- an eye out for overcoats, to find fire en-ines and cop cars everywhere' A line had been cordoned off at the end of the road, and there were men tryin- to spray water over the -reat

fi&&in- spume of fire that had already du- its roots deep into the Flyin- 2i&&a' ( could have told them they were wastin- their time' >ou can3t put out the work of a fire-od=even a -od of hearth fire=like it was :ust a s9uib' The flames sheeted up, thirty, forty, fifty feet hi-h, clean and yellow and shot throu-h with -lamours that would probably have looked like dancin- sparks to your kind, but which, if they3d touched you, would have stripped you, flesh to bone, in one' And $rendan5 ( thou-ht' "ould he still be alive somewhere5 +ell, if he was, he must have run' There was no way anyone could have survived that bla&e' And it wasn3t like $ren to flee the scene' .e had turned and fou-ht8 (3d seen as much in my vision, and my brother was so dead set a-ainst the use of -lamours amon- the Folk that he wouldn3t have used them if he3d had any kind of choice' ( used Qs=the rune of mystery=to scry my brother3s fate' ( saw their faces, thin and wolfish8 saw his smile, teeth bared, so that for a second in my vision he could have been me, wild and furious and filled with killin- ra-e' .e could be okay, my brother, you know8 it :ust took more time to fire him up' ( saw him draw his mindsword=flamin-, it was, with an ed-e that shivered translucent li-ht' A sword that could have cut throu-h -ranite or silk with the same easy slice8 a sword ( hadn3t seen since the last time the world ended, a flickerin- flame of a fire-od3s sword that :ust touched the shadow inside an unbuttoned overcoat and went out like a puff of smoke' Then, in the dark, they were on him' Muestion answered' +ell, at least my brother went out in style' ( wiped my face and pondered the points' 2oint one) ( was now an only twin' 2oint two) unless he3d taken his assailants with him 4which ( doubted6, by now the two coats would be on my tail' 2oint three = ( was :ust embarkin- on point three when a heavy hand fell onto my shoulder, another -rasped my arm :ust above the elbow and then both applied a painful pressure, which soon became e cruciatin- as the :oint locked and a low, familiar voice rasped in my ear' ;0ucky' ( should have known you were in this somehow' This shambles has -ot your mark all over it'< ( yelped and tried to free my arm' $ut the other bastard was holdin- me too ti-ht' ;#ove, and (3ll break it,< snarled the voice' ;.ell, perhaps ( ou-ht to break it anyway' *ust for old times3 sake'< ( indicated to him that (3d rather he didn3t' .e locked my arm a little further=( felt it be-in to -o and screamed=then he shoved me hard towards the alley wall' ( hit it, bounced, spun round with mindsword ready, half drawn, and found myself starin- into a pair of eyes as -rim and colourless as a rainy day' *ust my luck=a friend with a -rievance, which is the only kind ( tend to have nowadays' +ell, ( say friend' .e3s one of our kind, but you know how it is' Fire and rainstorm=we don3t -et alon-' $esides, in his present Aspect he stood taller, wei-hed heavier, hit harder than me' .is face was a thundercloud, and any thou-ht ( had of fi-htin- the -uy evaporated like cheap perfume' ( sheathed the sword and took the better part of valour' ;.ey,< ( said' ;(t3s %ur Thor'< .e sniffed' ;Try anythin-, and (3ll douse you cold,< he said' ;(3ve -ot an army of stormclouds ready to roll' >ou3ll be out like a li-ht before you can blink' +ant to try it5< ;!id ( ever5 Nice -reetin-, friend' (t3s been a lon- time'< .e -runted' ;Arthur3s the name in this present Aspect' Arthur 2luviRse=and you3re dead'< .e made it sound like some weird kind of namin- ceremony'

;+ron-,< ( said' ;$rendan3s dead' And if you think (3d be a party to the murder of my own brother=< ;+ouldn3t put it past you,< Arthur said, thou-h ( could tell the news had shaken him' ;$rendan3s dead5< he repeated' ;3Fraid so'< ( was touched=(3d always thou-ht he hated us both' ;Then this wasn3t you5< ;#y, you3re fast'< .e -lowered' ;Then how5< ;.ow else5< ( shru--ed' ;The Shadow, of course' "haos' $lack Surt' "hoose your own damn metaphor'< Arthur -ave a lon-, soft si-h' As if it had preyed on his mind for such a lon- time that any news=even bad news=even terrible news=could come as a relief' ;So it3s true,< he said' ;( was be-innin- to think =< ;Finally=< .e i-nored the -ibe and turned on me once more, his rainy-day eyes -leamin-' ;(t3s the wolves, 0ucky' The wolves are on the trail a-ain'< ( nodded' +olves, demons, no word e ists in any ton-ue of the Folk to describe e actly what they were' ( call them ephemera, thou-h ( had to admit there was nothin- ephemeral about their present Aspect' ;SkNl and .aiti, the Sky-.unters, servants of the Shadow, !evourers of the Sun and #oon' And of anythin- else that happens to be in their way, for that matter' $rendan must have tried to tackle them' .e never did have any sense'< $ut ( could tell he was no lon-er listenin-' ;The Sun and=< ;#oon'< ( -ave him the abrid-ed version on the events of last ni-ht' .e listened, but ( could tell he was distracted' ;So, after the #oon, the Sun' ,i-ht5< ;( -uess'< ( shru--ed' ;That is, assumin- there3s an Aspect of SNl in #anhattan, which, if there is=< ;There is,< said Arthur -rimly' ;.er name3s Sunny'< And there was somethin- about his eyes as he said it, somethin- even more ominous than the rain-swelled clouds above us, or his hand on my shoulder, horribly pally and heavy as lead, that made me think ( was in for an even lousier day than (3d had so far' ;Sunny,< ( said' ;Then she3ll be ne t'< ;%ver my dead body,< said Arthur' ;And yours,< he added, almost as an afterthou-ht, keepin- his hand hard on my shoulder and smilin- that dan-erous, stormy smile' ;Sure' +hy not5< ( humoured him' ( could afford to=(3m used to runnin-, and ( knew that at a pinch, 0ukas +ilde could disappear within an hour, leavin- no trace' .e knew it too' .is eyes narrowed, and above us the clouds be-an to move softly, -atherinmomentum like wool on a spindle' A dimple appeared at its nadir=soon, ( knew, to become a funnel of air, stitched and barbed with deadly -lamours' ;,emember what they say,< said Arthur, addressin- me by my true name' ;Everywhere you -o, you always take the weather with you'<

;>ou wron- me'< ( smiled, thou-h (3d never felt less like it' ;(3ll be only too happy to help your friend'< ;Good,< said Arthur' .e kept that hand on my shoulder, thou-h, and his smile was all teeth' ;+e3ll keep to the shadows' No need to involve the Folk any more than we have to' ,i-ht5< (t was a dark and stormy afternoon' ( had an idea that it was -oin- to be the first of many' S/NN> 0(@E! (N $,%%10>N .ei-hts, in a loft apartment on a 9uiet street' Not a place ( visit often, which accounts for my not havin- spotted her sooner' #ost of our kind take the discreet approach8 -ods have enemies too, you know, and we find it pays to keep our -lam to ourselves' $ut Sunny was different' For a start, accordin- to Arthur 4what a dumb nameH6, she didn3t know what she was anymore' (t happens sometimes8 you :ust for-et' >ou -et all wrapped up in your present Aspect8 you start to think you3re like everyone else' 2erhaps that3s what kept her safe for so lon-8 they say -ods look after drunks and half-wits and little children, and Sunny certainly 9ualified' Transpires that my old pal Arthur had been lookin- after her for nearly a year without her knowin- it, makin- sure that she -ot the sunshine she needed to be happy, keepin- sniffers and prowlers away from her door' $ecause even the Folk start -ettin- suspicious when someone like Sunny lives nearby' (t wasn3t :ust the fact that it hadn3t rained in months8 that sometimes all of New >ork "ity could be under a cloud but for the two or three streets surroundin- her block8 or the funny northern li-hts that sometimes shone in the sky above her apartment' (t was her, :ust her, with her face and her smile, turnin- heads wherever she went' A man=a -od=could fall in love' Arthur had dropped his rain-od Aspect, and was now lookin- more or less like a re-ular citi&en, but ( could tell he was makin- a hell of an effort' As soon as we crossed the $rooklyn $rid-e ( could see him be-innin- to hold it in, the way a fat man holds in his -ut when a pretty -irl comes into the room' Then ( saw her colours=from afar, like li-hts in the sky, and the look on his face=that look of truculent yearnin-=intensified a little' .e -ave me the critical once-over' ;Tone it down a bit, will you5< he said' +ell, that was offensive' (3d looked a lot flashier as 0ukas +ilde, but lookin- at Arthur ri-ht then ( thou-ht it a bad time to say so' ( turned down the volume on my red coat, but kept my hair as it was, hidin- my mismatched eyes behind a pair of snappy shades' ;$etter5< ;>ou3ll do'< +e were standin- outside the place now' A standard apartment at the back of a lot of others8 black fire escape, small windows, little roof -arden throwin- down wisps of -reenery into the -utterin-' $ut at the window there was a li-ht, somethin- rather like sunli-ht, ( -uess, occasionally strobin- here and there=followin- her movements as she wandered about her flat' Some people have no idea of how to -o unnoticed' (n fact, it was astonishin- that the wolves hadn3t sei&ed on her before' She3d not even tried to hide her colours, which was frankly beyond unwise, ( thou-ht=hell, she hadn3t even pulled the drapes' Arthur -ave me one of his looks' ;+e3re -oin- to protect her, 0ucky,< he said' ;And you3re -oin- to be nice' %kay5< ( made a face' ;(3m always nice' .ow could you possibly doubt me5<

S.E (N@(TE! /S (N strai-htaway' No checkin- of credentials8 no suspicious -lance from behind the open drapes' (3d had her down as pretty, but dumb8 now ( saw she was a -enuine innocent, a little--irllost in the bi- city' Not my type, naturally, but ( could see what Arthur saw in her' She offered us a cup of -insen- tea' ;Any friend of Arthur3s,< she said, and ( saw his painful -rimace as he tried to fit his bi- fin-ers around the little china cup, all the while tryin- to hold himself in so that Sunny could have her sunshine7 Finally, it was too much for him' .e let it out with a -asp of release, and the rain started to come down in snakes, hissin- into the -utters' Sunny looked dismayed' ;!amn rainH< Arthur looked like someone had punched him hard, ri-ht in the place where thunder -ods keep their e-o' .e -ave that feeble smile a-ain' ;(t doesn3t make you feel safe5< he said' ;>ou don3t think there3s a kind of poetry in the sound, like little hammers beatin- down onto the rooftops5< Sunny shook her head' ;>uck'< ( lit the fire with a discreet cantrip and a fin-erin- of the rune 1aen' 0ittle flames shot out of the -rate and danced winsomely across the hearth' (t was a -ood trick, thou-h ( say it myself=especially as it was an electric fire' ;Neat,< said Sunny, smilin- a-ain' Arthur -ave a low -rowl' ;So=have you seen anythin- stran-e around here lately5< Stupid damn 9uestion, ( told myself' #ove a sun -oddess onto the third floor of a #anhattan brownstone, and you3re apt to see more than the occasional pyrotechnics' ;No -uys in suits5< ( went on' ;!ark overcoats and fedora hats, like someone from a bad fifties comic strip5< ;%h, those -uys'< She poured more tea' ;>eah, ( saw them yesterday' They were sniffin- around in the alleyway'< Sunny3s blue eyes darkened a little' ;They didn3t look friendly' +hat do they want5< ( was -oin- to tell her about $ren, and what had happened to %ld #an #oony, but Arthur stopped me with a -lance' Sunny has that effect, you know8 makes -uys want to do stupid thin-s' Stupid, noble, self-sacrificin- thin-s=and ( was be-innin- to understand that ( was -oin- to be a part of it, whether or not ( wanted to be' ;Nothin- you need to worry about,< Arthur said with a bi- smile, clampin- a hand on my upper arm and marchin- me onto the balcony' ;They3re :ust some -uys we3re lookin- for' +e3ll camp out here toni-ht and keep an eye out for them for you' Any trouble, we3ll be here' No need for you to worry' %kay5< ;%kay,< said Sunny' ;%kay,< ( said between -ritted teeth 4my arm felt like it had been pounded several times with a hammer6' ( waited until we were alone, and Sunny had drawn the curtains, then ( turned on him' ;+hat3s the deal5< ( said' ;+e can3t hold back the Shadow-wolves' >ou must know that by now, ri-ht5 >ou saw what they did to #oony and $ren' %ur only chance is to outrun them, to take your lady friend with you and to run like the bla&es to another city, to another continent if we can, where the Shadow has less influence=< Arthur looked stubborn' ;( won3t run'< ;Fine' +ell, it3s been a blast=%wH #y armH<

;And neither will you,< said %ur Thor' ;+ell, if you put it that way=< ( may be a trifle impetuous, but ( know when to surrender to force ma:eure' Arthur had his mind set on both of us bein- heroes' #y only remainin- choice was whether to set my mind to helpin- him, thereby possibly savin- both our hides, or to make a run for it as soon as the bastard3s -uard was down= +ell, ( mi-ht have -one down either path, but :ust then ( cau-ht si-ht of our boys in the alleyway, sniffin- and snarlin- like wolves in suits, and ( was down to no choice at all' ( drew my mindsword, he drew his' Glamours and runes distressed the ni-ht air' Not that they would help us, ( thou-ht8 they hadn3t helped my brother $ren, or the mad old moon-od' And Shadow=or "haos, if you prefer=had plenty of -lamours of its own with which to strike down three rene-ade -ods, fu-itives left over from the End of the +orld= ;.eyH /p hereH< yelled %ur Thor' Two pairs of eyes turned up towards us' A hiss like static as the ephemera tuned into our whereabouts' A -lint of teeth as they -rinned=and then they were crawlin- up the fire escape, all pretence of humanity -one, slick beneath those bo y black coats, nothin- much in there but tooth and claw, like poetry with an appetite' %h, -reat, ( thou-ht' +ay to keep a low profile, %ur Thor' +as it an act of self-sacrifice, a ploy to attract their attention, or could he possibly have a plan5 (f he did, then it would be a first' #indless selfsacrifice was about his level' ( wouldn3t have minded that much, but it was clear that in his boundless -enerosity he also meant to sacrifice me' ;0uckyH< (t was rainin- a-ain' Great ropes and coils of thunderous rain that thrashed down onto our bowed heads, all -leamin- in the neon li-hts in shades of black and oran-e=from the static-ridden sky, -reat flakes of snow lumbered down' +ell, that3s what happens around a rain-od under stress8 but that didn3t stop me -ettin- soaked, and wishin- (3d brou-ht my umbrella' (t didn3t stop the ephemera thou-h' Even the bolts of li-htnin- that crashed like stray missiles into the alleyway 4( have skills too, and ( was usin- them like the bla&es by then6 had no effect on the wolves of "haos, whose immensely slick and somehow snakelike forms were now poised on the fire escape beneath us, ten feet away and ready to pounce' %ne did=a mindbolt flew' ( reco-ni&ed the rune .a-all' %ne of my collea-ue3s most powerful, and yet it passed ri-ht throu-h the ephemera with a s9ueal of awesome feedback, then the creature was on us a-ain, unbuttonin- its overcoat, and now ( was sure there were stars in there, stars and the mindless static of space= ;0ook,< ( said' ;+hat do you want5 Girls, money, power, fame=( can -et all those thin-s for you, no problem' (3ve -ot influence in this world' Two handsome, sin-le -uys like yourselves=hey, you could make a killin- in showbi&'< 2erhaps not the wisest choice of words' The first wolf leered' ;1illin-,< it said' $y then ( could smell it a-ain, and ( knew that words couldn3t save me' First, the thin- was ravenous' Second, nothin- with that level of halitosis could possibly hope to make it in the music business' Some -uys, ( knew, had come pretty close' #y dau-hter .el, for instance, has, in spite of her=shall we say alternative=looks, a serious fan base in certain circles' $ut not these -uys' ( mean, Ew' ( flun- a handful of mindrunes then) TOr8 1aen8 .a-all8 Sr=but none of them even slowed it down' The other wolf was onto us now, and Arthur was wrestlin- with it, cau-ht in the flaps of its black coat'

The balcony was pullin- away from the wall8 sparks and shards of runeli-ht hissed into the torrential rain' !amn it, ( thou-ht' (3m -oin- to die wet' And ( flun- up a shield usin- the rune SNl, and with the last, desperate sur-e of my -lam ( cast all the firerunes of the First Aettir at the two creatures that once had been wolves but were now -rim incarnations of reven-e, because nothin- escapes from "haos, not Thunder, not +ildfire, not even the Sun= ;Are you -uys okay out there5< (t was Sunny, peerin- throu-h a -ap in the curtains' ;!o you want some more -insen- tea5< ;Ah=no thanks,< said Arthur, now with a demon wolf in each hand and that stupid -rin on his face a-ain' ;0ook, ah, Sunny, -o inside' (3m kinda busy ri-ht now=< The thin- that %ur Thor had been holdin- at bay finally escaped his -rasp' (t didn3t -o far, thou-h8 it spran- at me and knocked me backwards a-ainst the rail' The balcony -ave way with a screech, and we all fell to-ether, three floors down' ( hit the deck=damned hard=with the ephemera on top of me, and all the fi-ht knocked out of me and ( knew that ( was finished' Sunny peered down from her window' ;!o you need help5< she called to me' ( could see ri-ht into the creature now, and it was -rim=like those fairy tales where the sisters -et their toes chopped off and the bad -uys -et pecked to death by crows and even the little mermaid has to walk on ra&or blades for the rest of her life for darin- to fall in love7E cept that ( knew Sunny had -ot the !isney version instead, with all the happy endin-s in it, and the chipmunks and rabbits and the -oddamned s9uirrels 4( hate s9uirrelsH6 sin-in- in harmony, where even the wolves are -ood -uys and no one ever really -ets hurt= ( -ave her a sarcastic smile' ;>eah, wouldya5< ( said' ;%kay,< said Sunny, and pulled the drapes and stepped out onto the balcony' And then somethin- very weird happened' ( +AS +AT".(NG .E, from the alleyway, my arms pinned to my sides now and the ephemera straddlin- me with its overcoat spread like a vulture about to spear an eyeball' The cold was so intense that ( couldn3t feel my hands at all, and the stench of the thin- made my head swim, and the rain was poundin- into my face and my -lam was bleedin- out so fast that ( knew ( had seconds, no more= So the first thin- she did was put her umbrella up' (-nored Arthur3s desperate commands=besides, he was still wrestlin- with the second ephemera' .is colours were flarin- -arishly8 runeli-ht whirled around them both, warrin- with the drivin- rain' And then she smiled' (t was as if the sun had come out' E cept that it was ni-ht, and the li-ht was, like, si ty times more powerful than the bri-htest li-ht you3ve ever known, and the alley lit up a luminous white, and ( screwed my eyes shut to prevent them from bein- burnt there and then out of their sockets, and all these thin-s happened at once' First of all, the rain stopped' The pressure on my chest disappeared, and ( could move my arms a-ain' The li-ht, which had been too intense even to see when it first shone out, diffused itself to a -reenishpink -low' $irds on the rooftops be-an to sin-' A scent of somethin- floral filled the air=stran-est of all in that alleyway, where the smell of piss was predominant=and someone put a hand on my face and said)

;(t3s okay, sweetie' They3ve -one now'< +ell, that was it' ( opened my eyes' ( fi-ured that either (3d taken more concussion than (3d thou-ht, or there was somethin- %ur Thor hadn3t told me' .e was standin- over me, lookin- self-conscious and bashful' Sunny was kneelin- at my side, heedless of the alleyway dirt, and her blue dress was shininlike the summer sky, and her bare feet were like little white birds, and her su-ar blond hair fell over my face and ( was -lad she really wasn3t my type, because that lady was nothin- but trouble' And she -ave me a smile like a summer3s day, and Arthur3s face went dan-erously red, and Sunny said) ;0ucky5 Are you okay5< ( rubbed my eyes' ;( think so' +hat happened to SkNl and .aiti5< ;Those -uys5< she said' ;%h, they had to -o' ( sent them back into Shadow'< Now Arthur was lookin- incredulous' ;.ow do you know about Shadow5< he said' ;%h, Arthur, you3re so sweet'< Sunny pirouetted to her feet and planted a kiss on %ur Thor3s nose' ;As if ( could have lived here this lon- and not have known ( was different=< She looked at the illuminated sky' ;Northern li-hts,< she said happily' ;+e ou-ht to have them more often here' $ut ( really do appreciate it,< she went on' ;>ou -uys lookin- out for me, and everythin-' (f thin-s had been different, if we hadn3t been made from such different elements, then maybe you and ( could have=you know=< Arthur3s face went, if possible, even redder' ;So, what are you -oin- to do now5< she said' ;( -uess we3re safe=for a while, at least' $ut "haos knows about us now' And the Shadow never really -ives up7< ( thou-ht about it for a while' And then an idea came to me' ( said) ;.ave you ever thou-ht of a career in entertainment5 ( could find a :ob for you with the band7< ( wondered if she could sin-' #ost celestial spheres can, of course, and anyway, she3d li-ht up the place :ust by steppin- onto the sta-e= we3d save a fortune on pyrotechnics7 She -ave that me-awatt smile of hers' ;(s Arthur in the band, too5< ( looked at him' ;.e could be, ( -uess' There3s always room for a drummer'< "ome to think of it, there3s a lot to be said for -oin- on the road ri-ht now' New people, new lineup, new places to -o= ;That would be nice'< .er face was wistful' .is was like that of a sick puppy, and it made me even more relieved that (3d never been the romantic type' ( tried to ima-ine the outcome) sun -oddess and thunder -od on sta-e to-ether, every ni-ht= ( could see it now, ( thou-ht' +ild=re, on tour a-ain' ( mean, we3re talkin- rains of fish, e9uatorial northern li-hts8 hurricanes, eclipses, solar flares, flash floods=and li-htnin-' 0ots of li-htnin-' #i-ht be a little risky, of course' $ut all the same=a hell of a show'

T&# TRUT& IS % C%'# IN T&# BL%C( $OUNT%INS Neil Gaiman

>%/ AS1 #E (F ( "AN F%,G(@E #>SE0F5 ( can for-ive myself for many thin-s' For where ( left him' For what ( did' $ut ( will not for-ive myself for the year that ( hated my dau-hter, when ( believed her to have run away, perhaps to the city' !urin- that year ( forbade her name to be mentioned, and if her name entered my prayers when ( prayed, it was to ask that she would one day learn the meanin- of what she had done, of the dishonour that she had brou-ht to my family, of the red that rin-ed her mother3s eyes' ( hate myself for that, and nothin- will ease that, not even what happened that ni-ht, on the side of the mountain' ( had searched for nearly ten years, althou-h the trail was cold' ( would say that ( found him by accident, but ( do not believe in accidents' (f you walk the path, eventually you must arrive at the cave' $ut that was later' First, there was the valley on the mainland, the whitewashed house in the -entle meadow with the burn splashin- throu-h it, a house that sat like a s9uare of white sky a-ainst the -reen of the -rass and the heather :ust be-innin- to purple' And there was a boy outside the house, pickin- wool from off a thorn-bush' .e did not see me approachin-, and he did not look up until ( said, ;( used to do that' Gather the wool from the thornbushes and twi-s' #y mother would wash it, then she would make me thin-s with it' A ball, and a doll'< .e turned' .e looked shocked, as if ( had appeared out of nowhere' And ( had not' ( had walked many a mile, and had many more miles to -o' ( said, ;( walk 9uietly' (s this the house of "alum #ac(nnes5< The boy nodded, drew himself up to his full hei-ht, which was perhaps two fin-ers bi--er than mine, and he said, ;( am "alum #ac(nnes'< ;(s there another of that name5 For the "alum #ac(nnes that ( seek is a -rown man'< The boy said nothin-, :ust unknotted a thick clump of sheep3s wool from the clutchin- fin-ers of the thorn-bush' ( said, ;>our father, perhaps5 +ould he be "alum #ac(nnes as well5< The boy was peerin- at me' ;+hat are you5< he asked' ;( am a small man,< ( told him' ;$ut ( am a man, nonetheless, and ( am here to see "alum #ac(nnes'< ;+hy5< The boy hesitated' Then, ;And why are you so small5< ( said, ;$ecause ( have somethin- to ask your father' #an3s business'< And ( saw a smile start at the tips of his lips' ;(t3s not a bad thin- to be small, youn- "alum' There was a ni-ht when the "ampbells came knockin- on my door, a whole troop of them, twelve men with knives and sticks, and they demanded of my wife, #ora-, that she produce me, as they were there to kill me, in reven-e for some ima-ined sli-ht' And she said, L>oun- *ohnnie, run down to the far meadow, and tell your father to come back to the house, that ( sent for him'3 And the "ampbells watched as the boy ran out the door' They knew that ( was a most dan-erous person' $ut nobody had told them that ( was a wee man, or if that had been told them, it had not been believed'< ;!id the boy call you5< said the lad' ;(t was no boy,< ( told him, ;but me myself, it was' And they3d had me, and still ( walked out the door

and throu-h their fin-ers'< The boy lau-hed' Then he said, ;+hy were the "ampbells after you5< ;(t was a disa-reement about the ownership of cattle' They thou-ht the cows were theirs' ( maintained the "ampbells3 ownership of them had ended the first ni-ht the cows had come with me over the hills'< ;+ait here,< said youn- "alum #ac(nnes' ( sat by the burn and looked up at the house' (t was a -ood-si&ed house) ( would have taken it for the house of a doctor or a man of law, not of a border reaver' There were pebbles on the -round and ( made a pile of them, and ( tossed the pebbles, one by one, into the burn' ( have a -ood eye, and ( en:oyed rattlin- the pebbles over the meadow and into the water' ( had thrown a hundred stones when the boy returned, accompanied by a tall, lopin- man' .is hair was streaked with -rey, his face was lon- and wolfish' There are no wolves in those hills, not any lon-er, and the bears have -one too' ;Good day to you,< ( said' .e said nothin- in return, only stared8 ( am used to stares' ( said, ;( am seekin- "alum #ac(nnes' (f you are he, say so, ( will -reet you' (f you are not he, tell me now, and ( will be on my way'< ;+hat business would you have with "alum #ac(nnes5< ;( wish to hire him, as a -uide'< ;And where is it you would wish to be taken5< ( stared at him' ;That is hard to say,< ( told him' ;For there are some who say it does not e ist' There is a certain cave on the #isty (sle'< .e said nothin-' Then he said, ;"alum, -o back to the house'< ;$ut da=< ;Tell your mother ( said she was to -ive you some tablet' >ou like that' Go on'< E pressions crossed the boy3s face=pu&&lement, hun-er, happiness=and then he turned and ran back to the white house' "alum #ac(nnes said, ;+ho sent you here5< ( pointed to the burn as it splashed its way between us on its :ourney down the hill' ;+hat3s that5< ( asked' ;+ater,< he replied' ;And they say there is a kin- across it,< ( told him' ( did not know him then at all, and never knew him well, but his eyes became -uarded, and his head cocked to one side' ;.ow do ( know you are who you say you are5< ;( have claimed nothin-,< ( said' ;*ust that there are those who have heard that there is a cave on the #isty (sle, and that you mi-ht know the way'< .e said, ;( will not tell you where the cave is'< ;( am not here askin- for directions' ( seek a -uide' And two travel more safely than one'< .e looked me up and down, and ( waited for the :oke about my si&e, but he did not make it, and for that ( was -rateful' .e :ust said, ;+hen we reach the cave, ( will not -o inside' >ou must brin- out the -old yourself'<

( said, ;(t is all one to me'< .e said, ;>ou can take only what you carry' ( will not touch it' $ut yes, ( will take you'< ( said, ;>ou will be paid well for your trouble'< ( reached into my :erkin, handed him the pouch ( had in there' ;This for takin- me' Another, twice the si&e, when we return'< .e poured the coins from the pouch into his hu-e hand, and he nodded' ;Silver,< he said' ;Good'< Then, ;( will say -ood-bye to my wife and son'< ;(s there nothin- you need to brin-5< .e said, ;( was a reaver in my youth, and reavers travel li-ht' (3ll brin- a rope, for the mountains'< .e patted his dirk, which hun- from his belt, and went back into the whitewashed house' ( never saw his wife, not then, nor at any other time' ( do not know what colour her hair was' ( threw another fifty stones into the burn as ( waited, until he returned, with a coil of rope thrown over one shoulder, and then we walked to-ether away from a house too -rand for any reaver, and we headed west' T.E #%/NTA(NS $ET+EEN T.E rest of the world and the coast are -radual hills, visible from a distance as -entle, purple, ha&y thin-s, like clouds' They seem invitin-' They are slow mountains, the kind you can walk up easily, like walkin- up a hill, but they are hills that take a full day and more to climb' +e walked up the hill, and by the end of the first day we were cold' ( saw snow on the peaks above us, althou-h it was hi-h summer' +e said nothin- to each other that first day' There was nothin- to be said' +e knew where we were -oin-' +e made a fire, from dried sheep dun- and a dead thorn-bush) we boiled water and made our porrid-e, each of us throwin- a handful of oats and a fin-erpinch of salt into the little pan ( carried' .is handful was hu-e, and my handful was small, like my hands, which made him smile and say, ;( hope you will not be eatin- half of the porrid-e'< ( said ( would not and indeed, ( did not, for my appetite is smaller than that of a full--rown man' $ut this is a -ood thin-, ( believe, for ( can keep -oin- in the wild on nuts and berries that would not keep a bi--er person from starvin-' A path of sorts ran across the hi-h hills, and we followed it and encountered almost nobody) a tinker and his donkey, piled hi-h with old pots, and a -irl leadin- the donkey, who smiled at me when she thou-ht me to be a child, and then scowled when she perceived me to be what ( am, and would have thrown a stone at me had the tinker not slapped her hand with the switch he had been usin- to encoura-e the donkey8 and, later, we overtook an old woman and a man she said was her -randson, on their way back across the hills' +e ate with her, and she told us that she had attended the birth of her first -reat--randchild, that it was a -ood birth' She said she would tell our fortunes from the lines in our palms, if we had coins to cross her palm' ( -ave the old biddy a clipped lowland -roat, and she looked at my palm' She said, ;( see death in your past and death in your future'< ;!eath waits in all our futures,< ( said' She paused, there in the hi-hest of the hi-h lands, where the summer winds have winter on their breath, where they howl and whip and slash the air like knives' She said, ;There was a woman in a tree' There will be a man in a tree'<

( said, ;+ill this mean anythin- to me5< ;%ne day' 2erhaps'< She said, ;$eware of -old' Silver is your friend'< And then she was done with me' To "alum #ac(nnes she said, ;>our palm has been burned'< .e said that was true' She said, ;Give me your other hand, your left hand'< .e did so' She -a&ed at it, intently' Then, ;>ou return to where you be-an' >ou will be hi-her than most other men' And there is no -rave waitin- for you, where you are -oin-'< .e said, ;>ou tell me that ( will not die5< ;(t is a left-handed fortune' ( know what ( have told you, and no more'< She knew more' ( saw it in her face' That was the only thin- of any importance that occurred to us on the second day' +e slept in the open that ni-ht' The ni-ht was clear and cold, and the sky was hun- with stars that seemed so bri-ht and close ( felt as if ( could have reached out my arm and -athered them, like berries' +e lay side by side beneath the stars, and "alum #ac(nnes said, ;!eath awaits you, she said' $ut death does not wait for me' ( think mine was the better fortune'< ;2erhaps'< ;Ah,< he said' ;(t is all nonsense' %ld-woman talk' (t is not truth'< ( woke in the dawn mist to see a sta-, watchin- us curiously' The third day we crested those mountains, and we be-an to walk downhill' #y companion said, ;+hen ( was a boy, my father3s dirk fell into the cookin- fire' ( pulled it out, but the metal hilt was as hot as the flames' ( did not e pect this, but ( would not let the dirk -o' ( carried it away from the fire, and plun-ed the sword into the water' (t made steam' ( remember that' #y palm was burned, and my hand curled, as if it was meant to carry a sword until the end of time'< ( said, ;>ou, with your hand' #e, only a little man' (t3s fine heroes we are, who seek our fortunes on the #isty (sle'< .e barked a lau-h, short and without humour' ;Fine heroes,< was all he said' The rain be-an to fall then, and did not stop fallin-' That ni-ht we passed a small croft house' There was a trickle of smoke from its chimney, and we called out for the owner, but there was no response' ( pushed open the door and called a-ain' The place was dark, but ( could smell tallow, as if a candle had been burnin- and had recently been snuffed' ;No one at home,< said "alum, but ( shook my head and walked forward, then leaned my head down into the darkness beneath the bed' ;+ould you care to come out5< ( asked' ;For we are travellers, seekin- warmth and shelter and hospitality' +e would share with you our oats and our salt and our whisky' And we will not harm you'< At first the woman, hidden beneath the bed, said nothin-, and then she said, ;#y husband is away in the hills' .e told me to hide myself away if the stran-ers come, for fear of what they mi-ht do to me'< ( said, ;( am but a little man, -ood lady, no bi--er than a child, you could send me flyin- with a blow' #y companion is a full-si&ed man, but ( do swear that we shall do nothin- to you, save partake of your hospitality, and dry ourselves' 2lease do come out'< All covered with dust and spiderwebs she was when she emer-ed, but even with her face all be-rimed,

she was beautiful, and even with her hair all webbed and -reyed with dust it was still lon- and thick, and -olden red' For a heartbeat she put me in the mind of my dau-hter, but that my dau-hter would look a man in the eye, while this one -lanced only at the -round fearfully, like somethin- e pectin- to be beaten' ( -ave her some of our oats, and "alum produced strips of dried meat from his pocket, and she went out to the field and returned with a pair of scrawny turnips, and she prepared food for the three of us' ( ate my fill' She had no appetite' ( believe that "alum was still hun-ry when his meal was done' .e poured whisky for the three of us) she took but a little, and that with water' The rain rattled on the roof of the house, and dripped in the corner, and, unwelcomin- thou-h it was, ( was -lad that ( was inside' (t was then that a man came throu-h the door' .e said nothin-, only stared at us, untrustin-, an-ry' .e pulled off his cape of oiled sackin-, and his hat, and he dropped them on the earth floor' They dripped and puddled' The silence was oppressive' "alum #ac(nnes said, ;>our wife -ave us hospitality, when we found her' .ard enou-h she was in the findin-'< ;+e asked for hospitality,< ( said' ;As we ask it of you'< The man said nothin-, only -runted' (n the hi-h lands, people spend words as if they were -olden coins' $ut the custom is stron- there) stran-ers who ask for hospitality must be -ranted it, thou-h you have a blood feud a-ainst them and their clan or kind' The woman=little more than a -irl she was, while her husband3s beard was -rey and white, so ( wondered if she was his dau-hter for a moment, but no) there was but one bed, scarcely bi- enou-h for two=the woman went outside, into the sheep pen that ad:oined the house, and returned with oatcakes and a dried ham she must have hidden there, which she sliced thin, and placed on a wooden trencher before the man' "alum poured the man whisky, and said, ;+e seek the #isty (sle' !o you know if it is there5< The man looked at us' The winds are bitter in the hi-h lands, and they would whip the words from a man3s lips' .e pursed his mouth, then he said, ;Aye' ( saw it from the peak this mornin-' (t3s there' ( cannot say if it will be there tomorrow'< +e slept on the hard-earth floor of that cotta-e' The fire went out, and there was no warmth from the hearth' The man and his woman slept in their bed, behind the curtain' .e had his way with her, beneath the sheepskin that covered that bed, and before he did that, he beat her for feedin- us and for lettin- us in' ( heard them, and could not stop hearin- them, and sleep was hard in the findin- that ni-ht' ( have slept in the homes of the poor, and ( have slept in palaces, and ( have slept beneath the stars, and would have told you before that ni-ht that all places were one to me' $ut ( woke before first li-ht, convinced we had to be -one from that place, but not knowin- why, and ( woke "alum by puttin- a fin-er to his lips, and silently we left that croft on the mountainside without sayin- our farewells, and ( have never been more pleased to be -one from anywhere' +e were a mile from the place when ( said, ;The island' >ou asked if it would be there' Surely, an island is there, or it is not there'< "alum hesitated' .e seemed to be wei-hin- his words, and then he said, ;The #isty (sle is not as other places' And the mist that surrounds it is not like other mists'< +e walked down a path worn by hundreds of years of sheep and deer and few enou-h men'

.e said, ;They also call it the +in-ed (sle' Some say it is because the island, if seen from above, would look like butterfly win-s' And ( do not know the truth of it'< Then, ;LAnd what is truth53 said :estin2ilate'< (t is harder comin- down than it is -oin- up' ( thou-ht about it' ;Sometimes ( think that truth is a place' (n my mind, it is like a city) there can be a hundred roads, a thousand paths, that will all take you, eventually, to the same place' (t does not matter where you come from' (f you walk toward the truth, you will reach it, whatever path you take'< "alum #ac(nnes looked down at me and said nothin-' Then, ;>ou are wron-' The truth is a cave in the black mountains' There is one way there, and one only, and that way is treacherous and hard, and if you choose the wron- path you will die alone, on the mountainside'< +e crested the rid-e, and we looked down to the coast' ( could see villa-es below, beside the water' And ( could see hi-h black mountains before me, on the other side of the sea, comin- out of the mist' "alum said, ;There3s your cave' (n those mountains'< The bones of the earth ( thou-ht, seein- them' And then ( became uncomfortable, thinkin- of bones, and to distract myself, ( said, ;And how many times is it you have been there5< ;%nly once'< .e hesitated' ;( searched for it all my si teenth year, for ( had heard the le-ends, and ( believed if ( sou-ht ( should find' ( was seventeen when ( reached it, and came back with all the -old coins ( could carry'< ;And were you not fri-htened of the curse5< ;+hen ( was youn-, ( was afraid of nothin-'< ;+hat did you do with your -old5< ;A portion ( buried and ( alone know where' The rest ( used as bride-price for the woman ( loved, and ( built a fine house with it'< .e stopped as if he had already said too much' There was no ferryman at the :etty' %nly a small boat, hardly bi- enou-h for three full-si&ed men, tied to a tree trunk on the shore, twisted and half dead, and a bell beside it' ( sounded the bell, and soon enou-h a fat man came down the shore' .e said to "alum, ;(t will cost you a shillin- for the ferry, and your boy, three pennies'< ( stood tall' ( am not as bi- as other men are, but ( have as much pride as any of them' ;( am also a man,< ( said' ;(3ll pay your shillin-'< The ferryman looked me up and down, then he scratched his beard' ;( be- your pardon' #y eyes are not what they once were' ( shall take you to the island'< ( handed him a shillin-' .e wei-hed it in his hand, ;That3s ninepence you did not cheat me out of' Nine pennies are a lot of money in this dark a-e'< The water was the colour of slate, althou-h the sky was blue, and whitecaps chased one another across the water3s surface' .e untied the boat and hauled it, rattlin-, down the shin-le to the water' +e waded out into the cold water, and clambered inside' The splash of oars on seawater, and the boat propelled forward in easy movements' ( sat closest to the ferryman' ( said, ;Ninepence' (t is -ood wa-es' $ut ( have heard of a cave in the mountains on the #isty (sle, filled with -old coins, the treasure of the ancients'< .e shook his head dismissively'

"alum was starin- at me, lips pressed to-ether so hard they were white' ( i-nored him and asked the man a-ain, ;A cave filled with -olden coins, a -ift from the Norsemen or the Southerners or from those who they say were here lon- before any of us) those who fled into the +est as the people came'< ;.eard of it,< said the ferryman' ;.eard also of the curse of it' ( reckon that the one can take care of the other'< .e spat into the sea' Then he said, ;>ou3re an honest man, dwarf' ( see it in your face' !o not seek this cave' No -ood can come of it'< ;( am sure you are ri-ht,< ( told him, without -uile' ;( am certain ( am,< he said' ;For not every day is it that ( take a reaver and a little dwarfy man to the #isty (sle'< Then he said, ;(n this part of the world, it is not considered lucky to talk about those who went to the +est'< +e rode the rest of the boat :ourney in silence, thou-h the sea became choppier, and the waves splashed into the side of the boat, such that ( held on with both hands for fear of bein- swept away' And after what seemed like half a lifetime the boat was tied to a lon- :etty of black stones' +e walked the :etty as the waves crashed around us, the salt spray kissin- our faces' There was a humpbacked man at the landin- sellin- oatcakes and plums dried until they were almost stones' ( -ave him a penny and filled my :erkin pockets with them' +e walked on into the #isty (sle' ( am old now, or at least, ( am no lon-er youn-, and everythin- ( see reminds me of somethin- else (3ve seen, such that ( see nothin- for the first time' A bonny -irl, her hair fiery red, reminds me only of another hundred such lasses, and their mothers, and what they were as they -rew, and what they looked like when they died' (t is the curse of a-e, that all thin-s are reflections of other thin-s' ( say that, but my time on the #isty (sle, that is also called, by the wise, the +in-ed (sle, reminds me of nothin- but itself' (t is a day from that :etty until you reach the black mountains' "alum #ac(nnes looked at me, half his si&e or less, and he set off at a lopin- stride, as if challen-inme to keep up' .is le-s propelled him across the -round, which was wet, and all ferns and heather' Above us, low clouds were scuddin-, -rey and white and black, hidin- each other and revealin- and hidin- a-ain' ( let him -et ahead of me, let him press on into the rain, until he was swallowed by the wet, -rey ha&e' Then, and only then, ( ran' This is one of the secret thin-s of me, the thin-s ( have not revealed to any person, save to #ora-, my wife, and *ohnnie and *ames, my sons, and Flora, my dau-hter 4may the Shadows rest her poor soul6) ( can run, and ( can run well, and, if ( need to ( can run faster and lon-er and more sure-footedly than any full-si&ed man8 and it was like this that ( ran then, throu-h the mist and the rain, takin- to the hi-h -round and the black-rock rid-es, yet keepin- below the skyline' .e was ahead of me, but ( spied him soon, and ( ran on and ( ran past him, on the hi-h -round with the brow of the hill between us' $elow us was a stream' ( can run for days without stoppin-' That is the first of my three secrets, and one secret ( have revealed to no man' +e had discussed already where we would camp that first ni-ht on the #isty (sle, and "alum had told me that we would spend the ni-ht beneath the rock that is called #an and !o-, for it is said that it looks like an old man with his do- by his side, and ( reached it late in the afternoon' There was a shelter beneath the rock, which was protected and dry, and some of those who had been before us had left firewood behind, sticks and twi-s and branches' ( made a fire and dried myself in front of it and took

the chill from my bones' The woodsmoke blew out across the heather' (t was dark when "alum loped into the shelter and looked at me as if he had not e pected to see me that side of midni-ht' ( said, ;+hat took you so lon-, "alum #ac(nnes5< .e said nothin-, only stared at me' ( said, ;There is trout, boiled in mountain water, and a fire to warm your bones'< .e nodded' +e ate the trout, drank whisky to warm ourselves' There was a mound of heather and of ferns, dried and brown, piled hi-h in the rear of the shelter, and we slept upon that, wrapped ti-ht in our damp cloaks' ( woke in the ni-ht' There was cold steel a-ainst my throat=the flat of the blade, not the ed-e' ( said, ;And why would you ever kill me in the ni-ht, "alum #ac(nnes5 For our way is lon-, and our :ourney is not yet over'< .e said, ;( do not trust you, dwarf'< ;(t is not me you must trust,< ( told him, ;but those that ( serve' And if you left with me but return without me, there are those who will know the name of "alum #ac(nnes, and cause it to be spoken in the shadows'< The cold blade remained at my throat' .e said, ;.ow did you -et ahead of me5< ;And here was (, repayin- ill with -ood, for ( made you food and a fire' ( am a hard man to lose, "alum #ac(nnes, and it ill becomes a -uide to do as you did today' Now, take your dirk from my throat and let me sleep'< .e said nothin-, but after a few moments, the blade was removed' ( forced myself neither to si-h nor to breathe, hopin- he could not hear my heart poundin- in my chest8 and ( slept no more that ni-ht' For breakfast, ( made porrid-e, and threw in some dried plums to soften them' The mountains were black and -rey a-ainst the white of the sky' +e saw ea-les, hu-e and ra--ed of win-, circlin- above us' "alum set a sober pace and ( walked beside him, takin- two steps for every one of his' ;.ow lon-5< ( asked him' ;A day' 2erhaps two' (t depends upon the weather' (f the clouds come down then two days, or even three7< The clouds came down at noon and the world was blanketed by a mist that was worse than rain) droplets of water hun- in the air, soaked our clothes and our skin8 the rocks we walked upon became treacherous and "alum and ( slowed in our ascent, stepped carefully' +e were walkin- up the mountain, not climbin-, up -oat paths and cra--y sharp ways' The rocks were black and slippery) we walked, and climbed and clambered and clun-, we slipped and slid and stumbled and sta--ered, and even in the mist, "alum knew where he was -oin-, and ( followed him' .e paused at a waterfall that splashed across our path, thick as the trunk of an oak' .e took the thin rope from his shoulders, wrapped it about a rock' ;This was not here before,< he told me' ;(3ll -o first'< .e tied one end of the rope about his waist and ed-ed out alon- the path, into the fallin- water, pressin- his body a-ainst the wet rock face, ed-inslowly, intently throu-h the sheet of water' ( was scared for him, scared for both of us) holdin- my breath as he passed, only breathin- when he was on the other side of the waterfall' .e tested the rope, pulled on it, motioned me to follow him,

when a rock -ave way beneath his foot, and he slipped on the wet rock, and fell into the abyss' The rope held, and the rock beside me held' "alum #ac(nnes dan-led from the end of the rope' .e looked up at me, and ( si-hed, anchored myself by a slab of cra-, and ( wound and pulled him up and up' ( hauled him back onto the path, drippin- and cursin-' .e said, ;>ou3re stron-er than you look,< and ( cursed myself for a fool' .e must have seen it on my face for, after he shook himself 4like a do-, sendin- droplets flyin-6, he said, ;#y boy "alum told me the tale you told him about the "ampbells comin- for you, and you bein- sent into the fields by your wife, with them thinkin- she was your ma, and you a boy'< ;(t was :ust a tale,< ( said' ;Somethin- to pass the time'< ;(ndeed5< he said' ;For ( heard tell of a raidin- party of "ampbells sent out a few years a-o, seekinreven-e on someone who had taken their cattle' They went, and they never came back' (f a small fellow like you can kill a do&en "ampbells7well, you must be stron-, and you must be fast'< ( must be stupid, ( thou-ht ruefully, tellin- that child that tale' ( had picked them off one by one, like rabbits, as they came out to piss or to see what had happened to their friends) ( had killed seven of them before my wife killed her first' +e buried them in the -len, built a small cairn of stackin- stones above them, to wei-h them down so their -hosts would not walk, and we were sad) that "ampbells had come so far to kill me, that we had been forced to kill them in return' ( take no :oy in killin-) no man should, and no woman' Sometimes death is necessary, but it is always an evil thin-' That is somethin- ( am in no doubt of, even after the events ( speak of here' ( took the rope from "alum #ac(nnes, and ( clambered up and up, over the rocks, to where the waterfall came out of the side of the hill, and it was narrow enou-h for me to cross' (t was slippery there, but ( made it over without incident, tied the rope in place, came down it, threw the end of it to my companion, walked him across' .e did not thank me, neither for rescuin- him, nor for -ettin- us across8 and ( did not e pect thanks' ( also did not e pect what he actually said, thou-h, which was) ;>ou are not a whole man, and you are u-ly' >our wife) is she also small and u-ly, like yourself5< ( decided to take no offence, whether offence had been intended or no' ( simply said, ;She is not' She is a tall woman, almost as tall as you, and when she was youn-=when we were both youn-er=she was reckoned by some to be the most beautiful -irl in the lowlands' The bards wrote son-s praisin- her -reen eyes and her lon- red--olden hair'< ( thou-ht ( saw him flinch at this, but it is possible that ( ima-ined it, or more likely, wished to ima-ine ( had seen it' ;.ow did you win her, then5< ( spoke the truth) ;( wanted her, and ( -et what ( want' ( did not -ive up' She said ( was wise and ( was kind, and ( would always provide for her' And ( have'< The clouds be-an to lower, once more, and the world blurred at the ed-es, became softer' ;She said ( would be a -ood father' And ( have done my best to raise my children' +ho are also, if you are wonderin-, normal-si&ed'< ;( beat sense into youn- "alum,< said older "alum' ;.e is not a bad child'< ;>ou can only do that as lon- as they are there with you,< ( said' And then ( stopped talkin-, and (

remembered that lon- year, and also ( remembered Flora when she was small, sittin- on the floor with :am on her face, lookin- up at me as if ( were the wisest man in the world' ;,an away, eh5 ( ran away when ( was a lad' ( was twelve' ( went as far as the court of the 1in- over the +ater' The father of the current kin-'< ;That3s not somethin- you hear spoken aloud'< ;( am not afraid,< he said' ;Not here' +ho3s to hear us5 Ea-les5 ( saw him' .e was a fat man, who spoke the lan-ua-e of the forei-ners well, and our own ton-ue only with difficulty' $ut he was still our kin-'< .e paused' ;And if he is to come to us a-ain, he will need -old, for vessels and weapons and to feed the troops that he raises'< ( said, ;So ( believe' That is why we -o in search of the cave'< .e said, ;This is bad -old' (t does not come free' (t has its cost'< ;Everythin- has its cost'< ( was rememberin- every landmark=climb at the sheep skull, cross the first three streams, then walk alon- the fourth until the five heaped stones and find where the rock looks like a sea-ull and walk on between two sharply :uttin- walls of black rock, and let the slope brin- you with it7 ( could remember it, ( knew' +ell enou-h to find my way down a-ain' $ut the mists confused me, and ( could not be certain' +e reached a small loch, hi-h in the mountains, and drank fresh water, cau-ht hu-e white creatures that were not shrimps or lobsters or crayfish, and ate them raw like sausa-es, for we could not find any dry wood to make our fire, that hi-h' +e slept on a wide led-e beside the icy water and woke into clouds before sunrise, when the world was -rey and blue' ;>ou were sobbin- in your sleep,< said "alum' ;( had a dream,< ( told him' ;( do not have bad dreams,< "alum said' ;(t was a -ood dream,< ( said' (t was true' ( had dreamed that Flora still lived' She was -rumblin- about the villa-e boys, and tellin- me of her time in the hills with the cattle, and of thin-s of no conse9uence, smilin- her -reat smile and tossin- her hair the while, red--olden like her mother3s, althou-h her mother3s hair is now streaked with white' ;Good dreams should not make a man cry out like that,< said "alum' A pause, then, ;( have no dreams, not -ood, not bad'< ;No5< ;Not since ( was a youn- man'< +e rose' A thou-ht struck me) ;!id you stop dreamin- after you came to the cave5< .e said nothin-' +e walked alon- the mountainside, into the mist, as the sun came up' The mist seemed to thicken and fill with li-ht, in the sunshine, but did not fade away and ( reali&ed that it must be a cloud' The world -lowed' And then it seemed to me that ( was starin- at a man of my si&e, a small, humpty man, his shadow, standin- in the air in front of me, like a -host or an an-el, and it moved as ( moved' (t was haloed by the li-ht, and shimmered, and ( could not have told you how near it was or how far away' ( have seen miracles and ( have seen evil thin-s, but never have ( seen anythin-

like that' ;(s it ma-ic5< ( asked, althou-h ( smelled no ma-ic on the air' "alum said, ;(t is nothin-' A property of the li-ht' A shadow' A reflection' No more' ( see a man beside me, as well' .e moves as ( move'< ( -lanced back, but ( saw nobody beside him' And then the little -lowin- man in the air faded, and the cloud, and it was day, and we were alone' +e climbed all that mornin-, ascendin-' "alum3s ankle had twisted the day before, when he had slipped at the waterfall' Now it swelled in front of me, swelled and went red, but his pace did not ever slow, and if he was in discomfort or in pain, it did not show upon his face' ( said, ;.ow lon-5< as the dusk be-an to blur the ed-es of the world' ;An hour, less, perhaps' +e will reach the cave, and then we will sleep for the ni-ht' (n the morninyou will -o inside' >ou can brin- out as much -old as you can carry, and we will make our way back off the island'< ( looked at him, then) -rey-streaked hair, -rey eyes, so hu-e and wolfish a man, and ( said, ;>ou would sleep outside the cave5< ;( would' There are no monsters in the cave' Nothin- that will come out and take you in the ni-ht' Nothin- that will eat us' $ut you should not -o in until dayli-ht'< And then we rounded a rockfall, all black rocks and -rey half-blockin- our path, and we saw the cave mouth' ( said, ;(s that all5< ;>ou e pected marble pillars5 %r a -iant3s cave from a -ossip3s fireside tales5< ;2erhaps' (t looks like nothin-' A hole in the rock face' A shadow' And there are no -uards5< ;No -uards' %nly the place, and what it is'< ;A cave filled with treasure' And you are the only one who can find it5< "alum lau-hed then, like a fo 3s bark' ;The islanders know how to find it' $ut they are too wise to come here, to take its -old' They say that the cave makes you evil) that each time you visit it, each time you enter to take -old, it eats the -ood in your soul, so they do not enter'< ;And is that true5 !oes it make you evil5< ;7No' The cave feeds on somethin- else' Not -ood and evil' Not really' >ou can take your -old, but afterwards, thin-s are,< he paused, ;thin-s are flat' There is less beauty in a rainbow, less meanin- in a sermon, less :oy in a kiss7< .e looked at the cave mouth and ( thou-ht ( saw fear in his eyes' ;0ess'< ( said, ;There are many for whom the lure of -old outwei-hs the beauty of a rainbow'< ;#e, when youn-, for one' >ou, now, for another'< ;So we -o in at dawn'< ;>ou will -o in' ( will wait for you out here' !o not be afraid' No monster -uards the cave' No spells to make the -old vanish, if you do not know some cantrip or rhyme'< +e made our camp, then8 or rather we sat in the darkness, a-ainst the cold rock wall' There would be no sleep there' ( said, ;>ou took the -old from here, as ( will do tomorrow' >ou bou-ht a house with it, a bride, a -ood name'< .is voice came from the darkness' ;Aye' And they meant nothin- to me, once ( had them, or less than

nothin-' And if your -old pays for the 1in- over the +ater to come back to us and rule us and brinabout a land of :oy and prosperity and warmth, it will still mean nothin- to you' (t will be as somethinyou heard of that happened to a man in a tale'< ;( have lived my life to brin- the kin- back,< ( told him' .e said, ;>ou take the -old back to him' >our kin- will want more -old, because kin-s want more' (t is what they do' Each time you come back, it will mean less' The rainbow means nothin-' 1illin- a man means nothin-'< Silence then, in the darkness' ( heard no birds) only the wind that called and -usted about the peaks like a mother seekin- her babe' ( said, ;+e have both killed men' .ave you ever killed a woman, "alum #ac(nnes5< ;( have not' ( have killed no woman, no -irls'< ( ran my hands over my dirk in the darkness, seekin- the wood and center of the hilt, the steel of the blade' (t was there in my hands' ( had not intended to ever tell him, only to strike when we were out of the mountains, strike once, strike deep, but now ( felt the words bein- pulled from me, would ( or never-so' ;They say there was a -irl,< ( told him' ;And a thorn-bush'< Silence' The whistlin- of the wind' ;+ho told you5< he asked' Then, ;Never mind' ( would not kill a woman' No man of honour would kill a woman7< (f ( said a word, ( knew, he would be silent on the sub:ect, and never talk about it a-ain' So ( said nothin-' %nly waited' "alum #ac(nnes be-an to speak, choosin- his words with care, talkin- as if he was rememberin- a tale he had heard as a child and had almost for-otten' ;They told me the kine of the lowlands were fat and bonny, and that a man could -ain honour and -lory by adventurin- off to the southlands and returninwith the fine red cattle' So ( went south, and never a cow was -ood enou-h, until on a hillside in the lowlands ( saw the finest, reddest, fattest cows that ever a man has seen' So ( be-an to lead them away, back the way ( had come' ;She came after me with a stick' The cattle were her father3s, she said, and ( was a ro-ue and a knave and all manner of rou-h thin-s' $ut she was beautiful, even when an-ry, and had ( not already a younwife, ( mi-ht have dealt more kindly to her' (nstead ( pulled a knife, and touched it to her throat, and bade her to stop speakin-' And she did stop' ;( would not kill her=( would not kill a woman, and that is the truth=so ( tied her, by her hair, to a thorn tree, and ( took her knife from her waistband, to slow her as she tried to free herself, and pushed the blade of it deep into the sod' ( tied her to the thorn tree by her lon- hair, and ( thou-ht no more of her as ( made off with her cattle' ;(t was another year before ( was back that way' ( was not after cows that day, but ( walked up the side of that bank=it was a lonely spot, and if you had not been lookin-, you mi-ht not have seen it' 2erhaps nobody searched for her'< ;( heard they searched,< ( told him' ;Althou-h some believed her taken by reavers, and others believed her run away with a tinker, or -one to the city' $ut still, they searched'< ;Aye' ( saw what ( did see=perhaps you3d have to have stood where ( was standin-, to see what ( did see' (t was an evil thin- ( did, perhaps'< ;2erhaps5< .e said, ;( have taken -old from the cave of the mists' ( cannot tell any lon-er if there is -ood or there

is evil' ( sent a messa-e, by a child, at an inn, tellin- them where she was, and where they could find her'< ( closed my eyes but the world became no darker' ;There is evil,< ( told him' ( saw it in my mind3s eye) her skeleton picked clean of clothes, picked clean of flesh, as naked and white as anyone would ever be, han-in- like a child3s puppet a-ainst the thorn-bush, tied to a branch above it by its red--olden hair' ;At dawn,< said "alum #ac(nnes, as if we had been talkin- of provisions or the weather, ;you will leave your dirk behind, for such is the custom, and you will enter the cave, and brin- out as much -old as you can carry' And you will brin- it back with you, to the mainland' There3s not a soul in these parts, knowin- what you carry or where it3s from, would take it from you' Then send it to the 1in- over the +ater, and he will pay his men with it, and feed them, and buy their weapons' %ne day, he will return' Tell me on that day that there is evil, little man'< +.EN T.E S/N +AS up, ( entered the cave' (t was damp in there' ( could hear water runnin- down one wall, and ( felt a wind on my face, which was stran-e, because there was no wind inside the mountain' (n my mind, the cave would be filled with -old' $ars of -old would be stacked like firewood, and ba-s of -olden coins would sit between them' There would be -olden chains and -olden rin-s, and -olden plates, heaped hi-h like the china plates in a rich man3s house' ( had ima-ined riches, but there was nothin- like that here' %nly shadows' %nly rock' Somethin- was here, thou-h' Somethin- that waited' ( have secrets, but there is a secret that lies beneath all my other secrets, and not even my children know it, althou-h ( believe my wife suspects, and it is this) my mother was a mortal woman, the dau-hter of a miller, but my father came to her from out of the +est, and to the +est he returned when he had had his sport with her' ( cannot be sentimental about my parenta-e) ( am sure he does not think of her, and doubt that he ever knew of me' $ut he left me a body that is small, and fast, and stron-8 and perhaps ( take after him in other ways=( do not know' ( am u-ly, and my father was beautiful, or so my mother told me once, but ( think that she mi-ht have been deceived' ( wondered what ( would have seen in that cave if my father had been an innkeeper from the lowlands' >ou would be seein- -old, said a whisper that was not a whisper, from deep in the heart of the mountain' (t was a lonely voice, and distracted, and bored' ;( would see -old,< ( said aloud' ;+ould it be real, or would it be an illusion5< The whisper was amused' >ou are thinkin- like a mortal man, makin- thin-s always to be one thin- or another' (t is -old they would see, and touch' Gold they would carry back with them, feelin- the wei-ht of it the while, -old they would trade with other mortals for what they needed' +hat does it matter if it is there or no if they can see it, touch it, steal it, murder for it5 Gold they need and -old ( -ive them' ;And what do you take, for the -old you -ive them5< 0ittle enou-h, for my needs are few, and ( am old8 too old to follow my sisters into the +est' ( taste their pleasure and their :oy' ( feed, a little, feed on what they do not need and do not value' A taste of heart, a lick and a nibble of their fine consciences, a sliver of soul' And in return a fra-ment of me leaves this cave with them and -a&es out at the world throu-h their eyes, sees what they see until their

lives are done and ( take back what is mine' ;+ill you show yourself to me5< ( could see, in the darkness, better than any man born of man and woman could see' ( saw somethinmove in the shadows, and then the shadows con-ealed and shifted, revealin- formless thin-s at the ed-e of my perception, where it meets ima-ination' Troubled, ( said the thin- it is proper to say at times such as this) ;Appear before me in a form that neither harms nor is offensive to me'< (s that what you wish5 The drip of distant water' ;>es,< ( said' From out of the shadows it came, and it stared down at me with empty sockets, smiled at me with wind-weathered ivory teeth' (t was all bone, save its hair, and its hair was red and -old, and wrapped about the branch of a thorn-bush' ;That offends my eyes'< ( took it from your mind, said a whisper that surrounded the skeleton' (ts :awbone did not move' ( chose somethin- you loved' This was your dau-hter, Flora, as she was the last time you saw her' ( closed my eyes, but the fi-ure remained' (t said, The reaver waits for you at the mouth of the cave' .e waits for you to come out, weaponless and wei-hed down with -old' .e will kill you, and take the -old from your dead hands' ;$ut (3ll not be comin- out with -old, will (5< ( thou-ht of "alum #ac(nnes, the wolf--rey in his hair, the -rey of his eyes, the line of his dirk' .e was bi--er than ( am, but all men are bi--er than ( am' 2erhaps ( was stron-er, and faster, but he was also fast, and he was stron-' .e killed my dau-hter, ( thou-ht, then wondered if the thou-ht was mine or if it had crept out of the shadows and into my head' Aloud, ( said, ;(s there another way out of this cave5< >ou leave the way you entered, throu-h the mouth of my home' ( stood there and did not move, but in my mind ( was like an animal in a trap, 9uestin- and dartin- from idea to idea, findin- no purchase and no solace and no solution' ( said, ;( am weaponless' .e told me that ( could not enter this place with a weapon' That it was not the custom'< (t is the custom now, to brin- no weapon into my place' (t was not always the custom' Follow me, said the skeleton of my dau-hter' ( followed her, for ( could see her, even when it was so dark that ( could see nothin- else' (n the shadows it said, (t is beneath your hand' ( crouched and felt it' The haft felt like bone=perhaps an antler' ( touched the blade cautiously in the darkness, discovered that ( was holdin- somethin- that felt more like an awl than a knife' (t was thin, sharp at the tip' (t would be better than nothin-' ;(s there a price5< There is always a price' ;Then ( will pay it' And ( ask one other thin-' >ou say that you can see the world throu-h his eyes'< There were no eyes in that hollow skull, but it nodded'

;Then tell me when he sleeps'< (t said nothin-' (t melded into the darkness, and ( felt alone in that place' Time passed' ( followed the sound of the drippin- water, found a rock pool, and drank' ( soaked the last of the oats and ( ate them, chewin- them until they dissolved in my mouth' ( slept and woke and slept a-ain, and dreamed of my wife, #ora-, waitin- for me as the seasons chan-ed, waitin- for me :ust as we had waited for our dau-hter, waitin- for me forever' Somethin-, a fin-er ( thou-ht, touched my hand) it was not bony and hard' (t was soft, and humanlike, but too cold' .e sleeps' ( left the cave in the blue li-ht, before dawn' .e slept across the cave-mouth, catlike, ( knew, such that the sli-htest touch would have woken him' ( held my weapon in front of me, a bone handle and a needlelike blade of blackened silver, and ( reached out and took what ( was after, without wakin- him' Then ( stepped closer, and his hand -rasped for my ankle and his eyes opened' ;+here is the -old5< asked "alum #ac(nnes' ;( have none'< The wind blew cold on the mountainside' ( had danced back, out of his reach, when he had -rabbed at me' .e stayed on the -round, pushed himself up onto one elbow' Then he said, ;+here is my dirk5< ;( took it,< ( told him' ;+hile you slept'< .e looked at me, sleepily' ;And why ever would you do that5 (f ( was -oin- to kill you ( would have done it on the way here' ( could have killed you a do&en times'< ;$ut ( did not have -old then, did (5< .e said nothin-' ( said, ;(f you think you could have -ot me to brin- the -old from the cave, and that not brin-in- it out would have saved your miserable soul, then you are a fool'< .e no lon-er looked sleepy' ;A fool, am (5< .e was ready to fi-ht' (t is -ood to make people who are ready to fi-ht an-ry' ( said, ;Not a fool' No' For ( have met fools and idiots, and they are happy in their idiocy, even with straw in their hair' >ou are too wise for foolishness' >ou seek only misery and you brin- misery with you and you call down misery on all you touch'< .e rose then, holdin- a rock in his hand like an a e, and he came at me' ( am small, and he could not strike me as he would have struck a man of his own si&e' .e leaned over to strike' (t was a mistake' ( held the bone haft ti-htly, and stabbed upward, strikin- fast with the point of the awl, like a snake' ( knew the place ( was aimin- for, and ( knew what it would do' .e dropped his rock, clutched at his ri-ht shoulder' ;#y arm,< he said' ;( cannot feel my arm'< .e swore then, foulin- the air with curses and threats' The dawn li-ht on the mountaintop made everythin- so beautiful and blue' (n that li-ht, even the blood that had be-un to soak his -arments was purple' .e took a step back, so he was between me and the cave' ( felt e posed, the risin- sun at my back' ;+hy do you not have -old5< he asked me' .is arm hun- limply at his side' ;There was no -old there for such as (,< ( said'

.e threw himself forward, then, ran at me and kicked at me' #y awl blade went flyin- from my hand' ( threw my arms around his le-, and ( held on to him as to-ether we tumbled off the mountainside' .is head was above me, and ( saw triumph in it, and then ( saw sky, and then the valley floor was above me and ( was risin- to meet it and then it was below me and ( was fallin- to my death' A :ar and a bump, and now we were turnin- over and over on the side of the mountain, the world a di&&yin- whirli-i- of rock and pain and sky, and ( knew ( was a dead man, but still ( clun- to the le- of "alum #ac(nnes' ( saw a -olden ea-le in fli-ht, but below me or above me ( could no lon-er say' (t was there, in the dawn sky, in the shattered fra-ments of time and perception, there in the pain' ( was not afraid) there was no time and no space to be afraid in, no space in my mind and no space in my heart' ( was fallinthrou-h the sky, holdin- ti-htly to the le- of a man who was tryin- to kill me8 we were crashin- into rocks, scrapin- and bruisin- and then7 7we stopped' Stopped with force enou-h that ( felt myself :arred, and was almost thrown off "alum #ac(nnes and to my death beneath' The side of the mountain had crumbled, there, lon- a-o, sheared off, leavin- a sheet of blank rock, as smooth and as featureless as -lass' $ut that was below us' +here we were, there was a led-e, and on the led-e there was a miracle) stunted and twisted, hi-h above the treeline, where no trees have any ri-ht to -row, was a twisted hawthorn tree, not much lar-er than a bush, althou-h it was old' (ts roots -rew into the side of the mountain, and it was this hawthorn that had cau-ht us in its -rey arms' ( let -o of the le-, clambered off "alum #ac(nnes3s body, and onto the side of the mountain' ( stood on the narrow led-e and looked down at the sheer drop' There was no way down from here' No way down at all' ( looked up' (t mi-ht be possible, ( thou-ht, climbin- slowly, with fortune on my side, to make it up that mountain' (f it did not rain' (f the wind was not too hun-ry' And what choice did ( have5 The only alternative was death' A voice) ;So' +ill you leave me here to die, dwarf5< ( said nothin-' ( had nothin- to say' .is eyes were open' .e said, ;( cannot move my ri-ht arm, since you stabbed it' ( think ( broke a le- in the fall' ( cannot climb with you'< ( said, ;( may succeed, or ( may fail'< ;>ou3ll make it' (3ve seen you climb' After you rescued me, crossin- that waterfall' >ou went up those rocks like a s9uirrel -oin- up a tree'< ( did not have his confidence in my climbin- abilities' .e said, ;Swear to me by all you hold holy' Swear by your kin-, who waits over the sea as he has since we drove his sub:ects from this land' Swear by the thin-s you creatures hold dear=swear by shadows and ea-le feathers and by silence' Swear that you will come back for me'< ;>ou know what ( am5< ( said' ;( know nothin-,< he said' ;%nly that ( want to live'< ( thou-ht' ;( swear by these thin-s,< ( told him' ;$y shadows and by ea-le feathers and by silence' ( swear by -reen hills and standin- stones' ( will come back'< ;( would have killed you,< said the man in the hawthorn bush, and he said it with humour, as if it was

the bi--est :oke that ever one man had told another' ;( had planned to kill you, and take the -old back as my own'< ;( know'< .is hair framed his face like a wolf--rey halo' There was red blood on his cheek where he had scraped it in the fall' ;>ou could come back with ropes,< he said' ;#y rope is still up there, by the cave mouth' $ut you3d need more than that'< ;>es,< ( said' ;( will come back with ropes'< ( looked up at the rock above us, e amined it as best ( could' Sometimes -ood eyes mean the difference between life and death, if you are a climber' ( saw where ( would need to be as ( went, the shape of my :ourney up the face of the mountain' ( thou-ht ( could see the led-e outside the cave, from which we had fallen as we fou-ht' ( would head for there' >es' ( blew on my hands, to dry the sweat before ( be-an to climb' ;( will come back for you,< ( said' ;+ith ropes' ( have sworn'< ;+hen5< he asked, and he closed his eyes' ;(n a year,< ( told him' ;( will come here in a year'< ( be-an to climb' The man3s cries followed me as ( stepped and crawled and s9uee&ed and hauled myself up the side of that mountain, min-lin- with the cries of the -reat raptors8 and they followed me back from the #isty (sle, with nothin- to show for my pains and my time, and ( will hear him screamin-, at the ed-e of my mind, as ( fall asleep or in the moments before ( wake, until ( die' (t did not rain, and the wind -usted and plucked at me but did not throw me down' ( climbed, and ( climbed in safety' +hen ( reached the led-e, the cave entrance seemed like a darker shadow in the noonday sun' ( turned from it, turned my back on the mountain, and from the shadows that were already -atherin- in the cracks and the crevices and deep inside my skull, and ( be-an my slow :ourney away from the #isty (sle' There were a hundred roads and a thousand paths that would take me back to my home in the lowlands, where my wife would be waitin-'

UNB#LI#F $ic)ael $ars)all Smit)

(T .A22ENE! (N $,>ANT 2A,1, a little after si o3clock in the evenin-' .e was sittin- by himself in lamp shadow amon-st the trees, at one of the rickety -reen metal tables alon- the north side, close to where the $arnes T Noble library area is durin- the day' .e was warmly dressed in nondescript, casual clothin- and sippin- from a Starbucks in a seasonally red cup, ac9uired from the outlet on the corner of Si th, ri-ht opposite one of the entrances to the park' .e 9ueued, :ust like any normal person) watchinthrou-h the window you3d have no idea of who he was, or the power he wielded over this and other nei-hbourhoods' .e had done e actly the same on the precedin- two evenin-s' (3d followed him down from Times S9uare both times, watched him buy the same drink from the same place and then spend half an hour sittin- in the same chair, or near enou-h, watchin- the world -o by' Evidently, as ( had been assured, it was what this man always did at this time of day and this time of year' .abit and ritual are some of our -reatest comforts, but they3re a -ift to people like me' .e mi-ht as well have tied himself up with a bow' %N T.E 2,E@(%/S %""AS(%NS ( had merely observed, lo--ed his actions, and walked on by' The thin- had been booked for a specific date, for reasons ( neither knew nor cared about' That day had come, and so ( entered the park by the ne t entrance alon-, by the restrooms, strollin- in casually and without evident intent' ( paused for a moment on the steps' .e didn3t appear to be there with protection' There were other people sparsely spread over the park, perched at tables or walkin- in the very last of the twili-ht, but there was no indication they were anythin- more than standard-issue New >orkers, takin- a little time before battlin- the subway or brid-es and tunnels or airports, headin- home to their families or friends or real partners for the holidays' Grabbin- a last few seconds3 blessed solitude, an unwitnessed ci-arette, or an illicit kiss and a promise not to for-et, before enterin- a day or two of enforced incarceration with the people who populated their real lives' Their presence in the park did not concern me' They were either absorbed in their companions or in somethin- within themselves, and none would notice me until it was too late' ( have done harder :obs under more difficult conditions' ( could have :ust taken the shot from twenty feet away, kept on walkin-, but ( found ( didn3t want it to happen like that' Not with this -uy' .e deserved less' ( watched him covertly as ( approached his position' .e appeared rela ed, at ease, as if savorin- his own few private moments of peace before tacklin- some -reat enterprise' ( knew what he thou-ht that was -oin- to be' ( also knew it wasn3t -oin- to happen' There was an empty chair on the other side of his table' ( sat down on it' .e i-nored me for a couple minutes, peerin- in a va-uely beni-n way at the skeletal branches of the tall trees that stand all around the park3s central -rassy area) at them, or perhaps at all the buildin-s around the s9uare revealed by the season3s dearth of leaves' $ein- able to see these monoliths makes the park seem both bi--er and yet more intimate, stripped' !efenseless'

;.ello, 1ane,< he said, finally' (3d never actually seen him before=not in the flesh at least, only in pictures=so ( have no idea how he3d mana-ed to make me strai-htaway' ( -uess it3s his :ob to know thin-s about people' ;>ou don3t seem surprised,< ( said' .e -lanced at me finally, then away a-ain, seemin-ly to watch a youn- couple perched at a table twenty yards up the path' They were bundled up in thick coats and scarves and neckin- with cautious optimism' After a few minutes they separated, tentatively smilin-, still with their arms around each other3s shoulders, and turned to look at the li-hts strun- in the trees, to listen to the sound of cars honkin-, to savour bein- where they were' A recent liaison, the le-acy of an office party, perhaps, destined to be a source of embarrassed silences in the office by @alentine3s !ay' Either that, or pre-nancy and marria-e and all the silences after that' ;( knew it could happen,< the man said, takin- the lid off his coffee and peerin- inside, as if -au-inhow lon- he had left' ;(3m not surprised it3s you sittin- there'< ;+hy3s that5< ;Acceptin- a :ob for this evenin-5 That3s cold' Takes a certain kind of person' +ho else they -oin- to call5< ;That supposed to be a compliment5 >ou think if you butter me up then ( won3t do it5< The man looked calmly at me throu-h the steam of what smelt like a -in-erbread latte' ;%h, you3ll do it' ( have no doubt of that'< ( didn3t like his tone, and ( felt the thin- start to uncurl inside me' (f you3ve ever tried to -ive up smokin-, you3ll have felt somethin- like it=the sudden, lurid desire to lay waste to the world and everythin- in it, startin- ri-ht here, ri-ht now, and with the person physically closest to you' ( don3t know what this thin- is' (t doesn3t have a name' ( :ust know it3s there, and ( feel it when it wakes' (t has always been a very li-ht sleeper' ;No, really,< ( said' ;*ust because ( live in a bi- house these days, and ( -ot a wife and a child, you think ( can3t do what ( do5< ;>ou3ve still -ot it' >ou3ll always have it'< ;Fuckin- ri-ht ( will'< ;And that3s somethin- to be proud of5< .e shook his head' ;Shame of it is, you were a -ood kid'< ;(sn3t everyone5< ;No' Some people come out of the womb broken' >ou can nurture all you want, sooner or later they3re -oin- to pass the dama-e on' +ith you, it could have been different' That makes it worse, somehow'< ;( am who ( chose to be'< ;,eally5 Everyone in the nei-hbourhood knows the kind of person your father was'< #y hands twitched, involuntarily' ;.e had no faith in anythin-,< the man said' ;.e was a hater' And a hurter' ( remember watchin- him when he was youn-, knowin- how he3d -row up' Either dead inside, or affectionate in inappropriate ways' #aybe both' Am ( ri-ht5< ;(f you3d like this to play out in a civilised fashion,< ( said, my voice ti-ht, ;you want to drop this line

of discussion'< ;For-ive me' $ut you3ve come here to kill me, 1ane' That3s pretty personal too, wouldn3t you say5< ( knew ( should -et on with it' $ut ( was also aware that this was the bi--est :ob of my career, and when it was done, it would be over' ( was also simply curious' ;+hat the fuck makes you think you3re better than me5< ( said' ;+hat you do isn3t so different'< ;>ou really think so5< ;>ou put yourself in a position of power, made it so you -et to choose who -ets what' +ho prospers, who -ets nothin-' And then you point the fin-er and lives -et fucked up forever' Same as me'< ;( don3t see it that way'< .e looked into his cup a-ain' The habit was be-innin- to -et on my nerves' ;>eah, drink up,< ( said' ;Time3s runnin- out'< ;%ne 9uestion'< ;.ow3d ( find you5< .e nodded' ;2eople talk'< ;#y people5< ( shook my head, irritably' The truth was, his own soldiers had held the line' (3d tracked down a couple of them 4one slurpin- pho in a noodle bar under a brid-e in Mueens, the other sleepin- in a tree deep in "entral 2ark6 and leaned on them hard=to the point where one of them would not be workin- for him, or anyone else, ever a-ain' $oth had merely looked up at me with their cold, stran-e eyes and waited for whatever ( was -oin- to do' (t was not they who3d told me to -o and stand in Times S9uare at the end of any !ecember afternoon, and wait there until this man appeared, arrivin- there from directions unknown' ;So, who, then5< ;(t3s too late for you to be takin- names,< ( said, with some satisfaction' ;That3s all over now'< .e smiled a-ain, but more coldly, and ( saw somethin- in his face that had not been there before=not on the surface, at least' The steady calm of a man who was used to makin- :ud-ment calls, decisions upon which the lives of others had hun-' A man who had measured, assayed, and who was now about to pay the price, at the behest of people who had fallen on the wron- side of the line he had believed it was his God--iven ri-ht to draw' ;>ou think you3re this bi-, bountiful -uy,< ( said' ;Everybody3s old man' $ut some understand the real truth' They realise it3s all bullshit'< ;.ave ( not made my rules clear5 .ave ( not looked out for the people who deserved it5< ;%nly to make them do what you want'< ;And what do you want5 +hy are you really here toni-ht, 1ane5< ;Someone paid me to be' #ore than one, in fact' A syndicate' 2eople sayin- that enou-h is enou-h' Gettin- back for what you did to them'< ;( know about that,< he interrupted, as if bored' ;( can even -uess who these people are' $ut ( asked why you3re here'<

;For the money'< ;No' %therwise you3d have done it from ten yards away and be on your way home by now'< ;So you tell me why, if you3re so fuckin- wise'< ;(t3s personal,< he said' ;And that3s a mistake' >ou3ve made a -ood livin- out of what you do, and have somethin- of a life' %n your terms' That3s because you3ve merely been for hire' $ut you want this one for yourself' Admit it' >ou hate me on your own account'< This man was smart enou-h to know a lie when he heard it, so ( said nothin-' ;+hy, 1ane5 !id somethin- happen, some ni-ht, when there was snow on the -round outside and everythin- should have been carols and fairy li-hts5 !id your presents come with conditions, or costs5 2ayments that came due in the middle of the ni-ht, when #om was asleep5< ;That3s enou-h'< ;.ow many people have you killed, 1ane5 "an you even remember5< ;( remember,< ( said, thou-h ( could not' ;+hen you let it -et personal, the cost becomes personal too' >ou3re openin- your own heart here' >ou sure you want to do that5< ;(3d do it for free' For the bullshit you are, and have always been'< ;!isbelief is easy, 1ane' (t3s faith that takes coura-e, and character'< ;>ou3re out of time,< ( said' .e si-hed' Then he tipped the cup, drained the last of his coffee, and set it down on the table between us' ;(3m done,< he said' (n the fifteen minutes we3d been talkin-, nearly half the people had left the park' The neckin- couple had been amon-st them, departin- hand in hand' The nearest person was now about si ty yards away' ( stood up, reached in my :acket' ;Anythin- you want to say5< ( asked, lookin- down at his mild, rosy face' ;2eople do, sometimes'< ;Not to you,< he said' ( pulled out the -un and placed the silenced end in the middle of his forehead' .e didn3t try to move' ( took hold of his ri-ht shoulder with my other hand, and pulled the tri--er once' +ith all the traffic around the s9uare, ( barely even heard the sound' .is head :erked back' ( let -o of his shoulder and he sa--ed slowly around the waist, until the wei-ht of his bi-, barrel chest pulled his body down off the chair to slump heavily onto the path, nearly face-first' A portion of the back of his head was -one, but his eyes were still open' .is beard scratched a-ainst the pavement as he tried to say somethin-' After a couple of times ( realised it was not words he was forcin- out, but a series of sounds' ( put the barrel to his temple and pulled the tri--er a-ain' A portion of the opposite temple splatted out onto the stones' >et still he was tryin- to push out those three short syllables, each the same' ( pulled the tri--er a final time, and he was 9uiet' ( bent down close to make sure, and to whisper in the remains of his ear'

;"heck it twice, ri-ht, asshole5< Then ( walked out of the park' A few blocks away ( found a cab, and started the lon-, slow :ourney home to New *ersey' ( +%1E EA,0> T.E ne t mornin-, like most fathers, to the sound of my son hurryin- past our bedroom and down the stairs' %n his way to the fireplace, no doubt' Good luck with that, ( thou-ht, thou-h ( knew his stockin- would be full nonetheless' A few minutes later 0auren levered herself into a sittin- position' She pulled on her robe and went to the window, yankin- aside the drapes' She smiled at somethin- she saw out there, then turned and 9uickly left the room' $y the time (3d -ot my own robe on and -one down to the kitchen to make coffee, ( knew what she3d seen throu-h the window' (t had snowed overni-ht, coverin- the yard and han-in- off the trees' The whole nine yards of +inter +onderland set dressin-' 2robably ( would have to help build a snowman later, whether ( felt like it or not' (n the livin- room my wife and child were sittin- to-ether (ndian style in the middle of the floor, cooin- over the stockin-s they3d already taken down from the fireplace' "andy, little -ifts, pieces of :unk that were supposed to mean somethin- :ust because they3d been found in a sock' ( noticed that the cookie left on the table near the hearth had a lar-e bite taken out of it' 0auren has always been -ood with detail' ;.appy "hristmas, -uys,< ( said, but neither of them seemed to hear' ( stepped around them and went to the fireplace' ( took down the remainin- stockin-' ( knew somethinwas different before it was even in my hand' (t was empty' ;0auren5< She looked up at me' ;.o ho, ho,< she said' There was nothin- in her face' Then she smiled, briefly, before -oin- back to chatterin- with our son, watchin- for the third or fifth time as he e citedly repacked and then unpacked his stockin-' .er smile went strai-ht throu-h me' $ut then they always have' ( left the stockin- on the arm of one of the chairs and walked out into the kitchen' ( opened the back door, and went to stand outside in the snow' (t was very 9uiet, and it was nothin- but cold'

T&# ST%RS %R# F%LLING Joe R* Lans ale

$EF%,E !EE0 A,,%+S#(T. "A#E $A"1 from the dead, he was crossin- a field by late moonli-ht in search of his home' .is surroundin-s were familiar, but at the same time different' (t was as if he had left as a child and returned as an adult to e amine old property only to find the tree swin-one, the apple tree cut down, the -rass -rown hi-h, and an outhouse erected over the mound where his best do- was buried' As he crossed, the droppin- moon turned thin, like cheap candy licked too lon-, and the sun bled throu-h the trees' There were spots of frost on the droopin- -reen -rass and on the taller weeds, yellow as ripe corn' (n his mind3s eye he saw not the East Te as field before him or the dark rows of oaks and pines beyond it, or even the clay path that twisted across the field toward the trees like a ribbon of blood' .e saw a field in France where there was a lon-, deep trench, and in the trench were bloodied bodies, some of them missin- limbs and with bits of brains scattered about like spilled oatmeal' The air filled with the stin-in- stench of rottin- meat and waftin- -un smoke, the residue of poison -as, and the bu&& of flies' The back of his throat tasted of burnin- copper' .is stomach was a knot' The trees were like the shadowy shades of soldiers char-in- toward him, and for a moment, he thou-ht to meet their char-e, even thou-h he no lon-er carried a -un' .e closed his eyes, breathed deeply, shook his head' +hen he opened them the stench had passed and his nostrils filled with the nip of early mornin-' The last of the moon faded like a meltin- snowflake' 2uffy white clouds sailed alon- the heavens and li-ht tripped across the tops of the trees, fell between them, made shadows run low alon- the trunks and across the -round' The sky turned li-ht blue and the frost dried off the droopin- -rass and it spran- to attention' $irds be-an to sin-' Grasshoppers be-an to :ump' .e continued down the path that crossed the field and split the trees' As he went, he tried to remember e actly where his house was and how it looked and how it smelled, and most important, how he felt when he was inside it' .e tried to remember his wife and how she looked and how he felt when he was inside her, and all he could find in the back of his mind was a cipher of a woman youn-er than he was in a lon-, colorless dress in a house with three rooms' .e couldn3t even remember her nakedness, the shape of her breasts and the len-th of her le-s' (t was as if they had met only once, and in passin-' +hen he came throu-h the trees and out on the other side, the field was there as it should be, and it was full of bri-ht blue and yellow flowers' %nce it had been filled with tall corn and -reen bursts of beans and peas' (t hadn3t been plowed now in years, most likely since he left' .e followed the trail and trud-ed toward his house' (t stood where he had left it' (t had not improved with a-e' The chimney was black at the top and the unpainted lumber was strippin- like sheddin- snakeskin' .e had cut the trees and split them and made the lumber for the house, and like everythin- else he had seen since he had returned, it was smaller than he remembered' $ehind it was the smokehouse he had made of lo-s, and far out to the left was the outhouse he had built' .e had read many a ma-a&ine there while havin- his mornin- constitutional' %ut front, near the well, which had been built up with stones and now had a roof over it supported on four stout poles, was a youn- boy' .e knew immediately it was his son' The boy was probably ei-ht' .e had been four years old when !eel had left to fi-ht in the Great +ar, sailed across the vast dark

ocean' The boy had a bucket in his hand, held by the handle' .e set it down and raced toward the house, yellin- somethin- !eel couldn3t define' A moment later she came out of the house and his memory filled up' .e kept walkin-, and the closer he came to her, standin- framed in the doorway, the ti-hter his heart felt' She was blond and tall and lean and dressed in a li-ht-colored dress on which were printed flowers much duller than those in the field' $ut her face was bri-hter than the sun, and he knew now how she looked naked and in bed, and all that had been lost came back to him, and he knew he was home a-ain' +hen he was ten feet away the boy, fri-htened, -rabbed his mother and held her, and she said, ;!eel, is that you5< .e stopped and stood, and said nothin-' .e :ust looked at her, drinkin- her in like a cool beer' Finally he said, ;+orn and tired, but me'< ;( thou-ht7< ;( didn3t write cause ( can3t'< ;( know7but7< ;(3m back, #ary 0ou'< T.E> SAT ST(FF0> AT the kitchen table' !eel had a plate in front of him and he had eaten the beans that had been on it' The front door was open and they could see out and past the well and into the flower-covered field' The window across the way was open too, and there was a li-ht bree&e rufflinthe ed-es of the pulled-back curtains framin- it' !eel had the sensation he3d had before when crossinthe field and passin- throu-h the trees, and when he had first seen the outside of the house' And now, inside, the roof felt too low and the room was too small and the walls were too close' (t was all too small' $ut there was #ary 0ou' She sat across the table from him' .er face was clean of lines and her shoulders were as narrow as the boy3s' .er eyes were bri-ht, like the blue flowers in the field' The boy, +inston, was to his left, but he had pulled his chair close to his mother' The boy studied him carefully, and in turn, !eel studied the boy' !eel could see #ary 0ou in him, and nothin- of himself' ;.ave ( chan-ed that much5< !eel said, in response to the way they were lookin- at him' $oth of them had their hands in their laps, as if he mi-ht leap across the table at any moment and bite them' ;>ou3re very thin,< #ary 0ou said' ;( was too heavy when ( left' (3m too skinny now' Soon ( hope to be :ust ri-ht'< .e tried to smile, but the smile dripped off' .e took a deep breath' ;So, how you been5< ;$een5< ;>eah' >ou know' .ow you been5< ;%h' Fine,< she said' ;Good' ( been -ood'< ;The boy5< ;.e3s fine'< ;!oes he talk5< ;Sure he talks' Say hello to your daddy, +inston'<

The boy didn3t speak' ;Say hello,< his mother said' The boy didn3t respond' ;That3s all ri-ht,< !eel said' ;(t3s been a while' .e doesn3t remember me' (t3s only natural'< ;>ou :oined up throu-h "anada5< ;0ike ( said ( would'< ;( couldn3t be sure,< she said' ;( know' ( -ot in with the Americans, a year or so back' (t didn3t matter who ( was with' (t was bad'< ;( see,< she said, but !eel could tell she didn3t see at all' And he didn3t blame her' .e had been cau-ht up in the enthusiasm of war and adventure, -one up to "anada and -ot in on it, left his family in the lurch, thinkin- life was passin- him by and he was missin- out' 0ife had been ri-ht here and he hadn3t even reco-ni&ed it' #ary 0ou stood up and shuffled around the table and heaped fresh beans onto his plate and went to the oven and brou-ht back cornbread and put it ne t to the beans' .e watched her every move' .er hair was a little sweaty on her forehead and it clun- there, like wet hay' ;.ow old are you now5< he asked her' ;.ow old5< she said, returnin- to her spot at the table' ;!eel, you know how old ( am' (3m twentyei-ht, older than when you left'< ;(3m ashamed to say it, but (3ve for-otten your birthday' (3ve for-otten his' ( don3t hardly know how old ( am'< She told him the dates of their births' ;(3ll be,< he said' ;( don3t remember any of that'< ;(7( thou-ht you were dead'< She had said it several times since he had come home' .e said, ;(3m still not dead, #ary 0ou' (3m in the flesh'< ;>ou are' >ou certainly are'< She didn3t eat what was on her plate' She :ust sat there lookin- at it, as if it mi-ht transform' !eel said, ;+ho fi ed the well, built the roof over it5< ;Tom Smites,< she said' ;Tom5 .e3s a kid'< ;Not anymore,< she said' ;.e was ei-hteen when you left' .e wasn3t any kid then, not really'< ;( reckon not,< !eel said' AFTE, !(NNE,, S.E GA@E him his pipe the way she used to, and he found a cane rocker that he didn3t remember bein- there before, took it outside and sat and looked toward the trees and smoked his pipe and rocked' .e was thinkin- of then and he was thinkin- of now and he was thinkin- of later, when it would be

ni-httime and he would -o to bed, and he wasn3t certain how to approach the matter' She was his wife, but he hadn3t been with her for years, and now he was home, and he wanted it to be like before, but he didn3t really remember how it was before' .e knew how to do what he wanted to do, but he didn3t know how to make it love' .e feared she would feel that he was like a man-y cat that had come in throu-h the window to lie there and e pected pettin-' .e sat and smoked and thou-ht and rocked' The boy came out of the house and stood to the side and watched him' The boy had the -old hair of his mother and he was built sturdy for a boy so youn-' .e had a bit of a birthmark in front of his ri-ht ear, on the :awline, like a little strawberry' !eel didn3t remember that' The boy had been a baby, of course, but he didn3t remember that at all' Then a-ain, he couldn3t remember a lot of thin-s, e cept for the thin-s he didn3t want to remember' Those thin-s he remembered' And #ary 0ou3s skin' That he remembered' .ow soft it was to the touch, like butter' ;!o you remember me, boy5< !eel asked' ;No'< ;Not at all5< ;No'< ;3"ourse not' >ou were very youn-' .as your mother told you about me5< ;Not really'< ;Nothin-'< ;She said you -ot killed in the war'< ;( see7+ell, ( didn3t'< !eel turned and looked back throu-h the open door' .e could see #ary 0ou at the washbasin pourinwater into the wash pan, water she had heated on the stove' (t steamed as she poured' .e thou-ht then he should have brou-ht wood for her to make the fire' .e should have helped make the fire and heat the water' $ut bein- close to her made him nervous' The boy made him nervous' ;>ou -oin- to school5< he asked the boy' ;School burned down' Tom teaches me some readin3 and writin3 and cipherin3' .e went ei-ht years to school'< ;>ou ever -o fishin35< ;*ust with Tom' .e takes me fishin3 and huntin3 now and then'< ;.e ever show you how to make a bow and arrow5< ;No'< ;No, sir,< !eel said' ;>ou say, no, sir'< ;+hat3s that5< ;Say yes, sir or no, sir' Not yes and no' (t3s rude'< The boy dipped his head and moved a foot alon- the -round, pilin- up dirt' ;( ain3t -ettin3 on you none,< !eel said' ;(3m :ust tellin3 you that3s how it3s done' That3s how ( do if it3s someone older than me' ( say no, sir and yes, sir' /nderstand, son5<

The boy nodded' ;And what do you say5< ;>es, sir'< ;Good' #anners are important' >ou -ot to have manners' A boy can3t -o throu-h life without manners' >ou can read and write some, and you -ot to cipher to protect your money' $ut you -ot to have manners too'< ;>es, sir'< ;There you -o7About that bow and arrow' .e never tau-ht you that, huh5< ;No, sir'< ;+ell, that will be our plan' (3ll show you how to do it' An old "herokee tau-ht me how' (t ain3t as easy as it mi-ht sound, not to make a -ood one' And then to be -ood enou-h to hit somethin3 with it, that3s a whole nuther story'< ;+hy would you do all that when you -ot a -un5< ;( -uess you wouldn3t need to' (t3s :ust fun, and huntin3 with one is real sportin3, compared to a -un' And ri-ht now, ( ain3t all that fond of -uns'< ;( like -uns'< ;Nothin3 wron- with that' $ut a -un don3t like you, and it don3t love you back' Never -ive too much attention or affection to somethin3 that can3t return it'< ;>es, sir'< The boy, of course, had no idea what he was talkin- about' !eel was uncertain he knew himself what he was talkin- about' .e turned and looked back throu-h the door' #ary 0ou was at the pan, washinthe dishes8 when she scrubbed, her ass shook a little, and in that moment, !eel felt, for the first time, like a man alive' T.AT N(G.T T.E $E! seemed small' .e lay on his back with his hands crossed across his lower stomach, wearin- his faded red union suit, which had been ra--ed when he left, and had in his absence been attacked by moths' (t was ready to come apart' The window ne t to the bed was open and the bree&e that came throu-h was cool' #ary 0ou lay beside him' She wore a lon- white ni-ht-own that had been patched with a variety of colored cloth patches' .er hair was undone and it was lon-' (t had been lon- when he left' .e wondered how often she had cut it, and how much time it had taken each time to -row back' ;( reckon it3s been a while,< he said' ;That3s all ri-ht,< she said' ;(3m not sayin3 ( can3t, or ( won3t, :ust sayin3 ( don3t know (3m ready'< ;(t3s okay'< ;>ou been lonely5< ;( have +inston'< ;.e3s -rown a lot' .e must be company'< ;.e is'<

;.e looks some like you'< ;Some'< !eel stretched out his hand without lookin- at her and laid it across her stomach' ;>ou3re still like a -irl,< he said' ;.ad a child, and you3re still like a -irl7>ou know why ( asked how old you was5< ;3"ause you didn3t remember'< ;+ell, yeah, there was that' $ut on account of you don3t look none different at all'< ;( -ot a mirror' (t ain3t much of one, but it don3t make me look youn-er'< ;>ou look :ust the same'< ;,i-ht now, any woman mi-ht look -ood to you'< After she said it, she cau-ht herself' ;( didn3t mean it that way' ( :ust meant you been -one a lon- time7(n Europe, they -ot pretty women, ( hear'< ;Some are, some ain3t' Ain3t none of them pretty as you'< ;>ou ever7you know5< ;+hat5< ;>ou know7+hile you was over there'< ;%h7,eckon ( did' "ouple of times' ( didn3t know for sure ( was comin3 home' There wasn3t nothin3 to it' ( didn3t mean nothin3 by it' (t was like fillin- a hun-ry belly, nothin3 more'< She was 9uiet for a lon- time' Then she said, ;(t3s okay'< .e thou-ht to ask her a similar 9uestion, but couldn3t' .e eased over to her' She remained still' She was as stiff as a corpse' .e knew' .e had been forced at times to lie down amon- them' %nce, movinthrou-h a town in France with his fellow soldiers, he had come upon a woman lyin- dead between two trees' There wasn3t a wound on her' She was youn-' !ark haired' She looked as if she had lain down for a nap' .e reached down and touched her' She was still warm' %ne of his comrades, a soldier, had su--ested they all take turns mountin- her before she -ot cold' (t was a :oke, but !eel had pointed his rifle at him and run him off' 0ater, in the trenches he had been side by side with the same man, a fellow from +isconsin, who like him had :oined the Great +ar by means of "anada' They had made their peace, and the +isconsin fellow told him it was a poor :oke he3d made, and not to hold it a-ainst him, and !eel said it was all ri-ht, and then they took positions ne t to each other and talked a bit about home and waited for the war to come' !urin- the battle, wearin- -as masks and firin- rifles, the fellow from +isconsin had cau-ht a round and it had knocked him down' A moment later the battle had ceased, at least for the moment' !eel bent over him, lifted his mask, and then the man3s head' The man said, ;#y mama won3t never see me a-ain'< ;>ou3re -onna be okay,< !eel said, but saw that half the man3s head was missin-' .ow in hell was he talkin-5 +hy wasn3t he dead5 .is brain was leakin- out' ;( -ot a letter inside my shirt' Tell #ama ( love her7%h, my -od, look there' The stars are fallin-'< !eel, respondin- to the distant -a&e of his downed companion, turned and looked up' The stars were bri-ht and stuck in place' There was an e plosion of cannon fire and the -round shook and the sky lit up bri-ht red8 the redness clun- to the air like a veil' +hen !eel looked back at the fellow, the man3s eyes were still open, but he was -one' !eel reached inside the man3s :acket and found the letter' .e reali&ed then that the man had also taken a

round in the chest, because the letter was dark with blood' !eel tried to unfold it, but it was so damp with -ore it fell apart' There was nothin- to deliver to anyone' !eel couldn3t even remember the man3s name' (t had -one in one ear and out the other' And now he was -one, his last words bein-, ;The stars are fallin-'< +hile he was holdin- the boy3s head, an officer came walkin- down the trench holdin- a pistol' .is face was darkened with -unpowder and his eyes were bri-ht in the ni-ht and he looked at !eel, said, ;There3s -ot to be some purpose to all of it, son' Some purpose,< and then he walked on down the line' !eel thou-ht of that ni-ht and that death, and then he thou-ht of the dead woman a-ain' .e wondered what had happened to her body' They had had to leave her there, between the two trees' .ad someone buried her5 .ad she rotted there5 .ad the ants and the elements taken her away5 .e had dreams of lyin- down beside her, there in the field' *ust lyin- there, driftin- away with her into the void' !eel felt now as if he were lyin- beside that dead woman, blond instead of dark haired, but no more alive than the woman between the trees' ;#aybe we ou-ht to :ust sleep toni-ht,< #ary 0ou said, startlin- him' ;+e can let thin-s take their course' (t ain3t nothin3 to make nothin3 out of'< .e moved his hand away from her' .e said, ;That3ll be all ri-ht' %f course'< She rolled on her side, away from him' .e lay on top of the covers with his hands a-ainst his lower belly and looked at the lo- rafters' A "%/20E %F !A>S and ni-hts went by without her warmin- to him, but he found sleepin- with her to be the best part of his life' .e liked her sweet smell and he liked to listen to her breathe' +hen she was deep asleep, he would turn sli-htly, and carefully, and rise up on one elbow and look at her shape in the dark' .is homecomin- had not been what he had hoped for or e pected, but in those moments when he looked at her in the dark, he was certain it was better than what had -one before for nearly four horrible years' The ne t few days led to him takin- the boy into the woods and findin- the ri-ht wood for a bow' .e chopped down a bois d3arc tree and showed the boy how to trim it with an a e, how to cut the wood out of it for a bow, how to cure it with a fire that was mostly smoke' They spent a lon- time at it, but if the boy en:oyed what he was learnin-, he never let on' .e kept his feelin-s close to the heart and talked less than his mother' The boy always seemed some yards away, even when standin- ri-ht ne t to him' !eel built the bow for the boy and strun- it with stron- cord and showed him how to find the ri-ht wood for arrows and how to collect feathers from a bird3s nest and how to feather the shafts' (t took almost a week to make the bow, and another week to dry it and to make the arrows' The rest of the time !eel looked out at what had once been a plowed field and was now twenty-five acres of flowers with a few little trees be-innin- to -row, twistin- up amon- the flowers' .e tried to ima-ine the field covered in corn' !eel used an a e to clear the new trees, and that afternoon, at the dinner table, he asked #ary 0ou what had happened to the mule' ;!ied,< #ary 0ou said' ;She was old when you left, and she :ust -ot older' +e ate it when it died'< ;+aste not, want not,< !eel said' ;+ay we saw it,< she said' ;>ou ain3t been farmin3, how3d you make it5<

;Tom brou-ht us some -oods now and then, fish he cau-ht, ve-etables from his place' A s9uirrel or two' +e raised a ho- and smoked the meat, had our own -arden'< ;.ow are Tom3s parents5< ;.is father drank himself to death and his mother :ust up and died'< !eel nodded' ;She was always sickly, and her husband was a lot older than her7(3m older than you' $ut not by that much' .e was what5 Fifteen years5 (3m7+ell, let me see' (3m ten'< She didn3t respond' .e had hoped for some kind of confirmation that his ten-year -ap was nothin-, that it was okay' $ut she said nothin-' ;(3m -lad Tom was around,< !eel said' ;.e was a help,< she said' After a while, !eel said, ;Thin-s are -onna chan-e' >ou ain3t -ot to take no one3s charity no more' Tomorrow, (3m -onna -o into town, see ( can buy some seed, and find a mule' ( -ot some muster-out pay' (t ain3t much, but it3s enou-h to -et us started' +inston here -oes in with me, we mi-ht see we can -et him some candy of some sort'< ;( like peppermint,< the boy said' ;There you -o,< !eel said' ;>ou ou-ht not do that so soon back,< #ary 0ou said' ;There3s still time before the fall plantin3' >ou should hunt like you used to, or fish for a few days7>ou could take +inston here with you' >ou deserve time off'< ;Guess another couple of days ain3t -onna hurt nothin3' +e could all use some time -ettin3 reac9uainted'< NEUT AFTE,N%%N +.EN !EE0 came back from the creek with +inston, they had a couple of fish on a wet cord, and +inston carried them slun- over his back so that they dan-led down like ornaments and made his shirt damp' They were small but -ood perch and the boy had cau-ht them, and in the process, shown the first real e citement !eel had seen from him' The sunli-ht played over their scales as they bounced a-ainst +inston3s back' !eel, walkin- sli-htly behind +inston, watched the fish carefully' .e watched them slowly dyin-, out of the water, -aspin- for air' .e couldn3t help but want to take them back to the creek and let them -o' .e had seen in:ured men -asp like that, on the field, in the trenches' They had seemed like fish that only needed to be put in water' As they neared the house, !eel saw a rider comin- their way, and he saw #ary 0ou walkin- out from the house to meet him' #ary 0ou went up to the man and the man leaned out of the saddle, and they spoke, and then #ary 0ou took hold of the saddle with one hand and walked with the horse toward the house' +hen she saw !eel and +inston comin-, she let -o of the saddle and walked beside the horse' The man on the horse was tall and lean with black hair that hun- down to his shoulders' (t was like a waterfall of ink tumblin- out from under his slouched, -ray hat' As they came closer to-ether, the man on the horse raised his hand in -reetin-' At that moment the boy yelled out, ;TomH< and darted across the field toward the horse, the fish flappin-' T.E> SAT AT T.E kitchen table' !eel and #ary 0ou and +inston and Tom Smites' Tom3s mother

had been half "hickasaw, and he seemed to have -athered up all her colorin-, alon- with his Swedish father3s -reat hei-ht and broad build' .e looked like some kind of forest -od' .is hair hun- over the sides of his face, and his skin was walnut colored and smooth and he had balanced features and bihands and feet' .e had his hat on his knee' The boy sat very close to Tom' #ary 0ou sat at the table, her hands out in front of her, restin- on the planks' She had her head turned toward Tom' !eel said, ;( -ot to thank you for helpin3 my family out'< ;Ain3t nothin3 to thank' >ou used to take me huntin3 and fishin3 all the time' #y daddy didn3t do that sort of thin-' .e was a farmer and a ho- raiser and a drunk' >ou done -ood by me'< ;Thanks a-ain for helpin3'< ;( wanted to help out' !idn3t have no trouble doin3 it'< ;>ou -ot a family of your own now, ( reckon'< ;Not yet' ( break horses and run me a few cows and ho-s and chickens, -row me a pretty -ood-si&e -arden, but ( ain3t -rowin3 a family' Not yet' ( hear from #ary 0ou you need a plow mule and some seed'< !eel looked at her' She had told him all that in the short time she had walked beside his horse' .e wasn3t sure how he felt about that' .e wasn3t sure he wanted anyone to know what he needed or didn3t need' ;>eah' ( want to buy a mule and some seed'< ;+ell, now' ( -ot a horse that3s broke to plow' .e ain3t as -ood as a mule, but ( could let him -o cheap, real cheap' And ( -ot more seed than ( know what to do with' (t would save you a trip into town'< ;( sort of thou-ht ( mi-ht like to -o to town,< !eel said' ;>eah, well, sure' $ut ( can -et those thin-s for you'< ;( wanted to take +inston here to the store and -et him some candy'< Tom -rinned' ;Now, that is a -ood idea, but so happens, ( was in town this mornin3, and=< Tom produced a brown paper from his shirt pocket and laid it out on the table and carefully pulled the paper loose, revealin- two short pieces of peppermint' +inston looked at Tom' ;(s that for me5< ;(t is'< ;>ou :ust take one now, +inston, and have it after dinner,< #ary 0ou said' ;>ou save that other piece for tomorrow' (t3ll -ive you somethin3 to look forward to'< ;That was mi-hty nice of you, Tom,< !eel said' ;>ou should stay for lunch,< #ary 0ou said' ;!eel and +inston cau-ht a couple of fish, and ( -ot some potatoes' ( can fry them up'< ;+hy that3s a nice offer,< Tom said' ;And on account of it, (3ll clean the fish'< T.E NEUT FE+ !A>S passed with Tom comin- out to brin- the horse and the seed, and cominback the ne t day with some plow parts !eel needed' !eel be-an to think he would never -et to town, and now he wasn3t so sure he wanted to -o' Tom was far more comfortable with his family than he was

and he was :ealous of that and wanted to stay with them and find his place' Tom and #ary 0ou talked about all manner of thin-s, and 9uite comfortably, and the boy had lost all interest in the bow' (n fact, !eel had found it and the arrows out under a tree near where the woods firmed up' .e took it and put it in the smokehouse' The air was dry in there and it would cure better, thou-h he was uncertain the boy would ever have anythin- to do with it' !eel plowed a half-do&en acres of the flowers under, and the ne t day Tom came out with a wa-onload of cured chicken shit, and helped him shovel it across the broken -round' !eel plowed it under and Tom helped !eel plant peas and beans for the fall crop, some hills of yellow crookneck s9uash, and a few mounds of watermelon and cantaloupe seed' That evenin- they were sittin- out in front of the house, !eel in the cane rocker and Tom in a kitchen chair' The boy sat on the -round near Tom and twisted a stick in the dirt' The only li-ht came from the open door of the house, from the lamp inside' +hen !eel looked over his shoulder, he saw #ary 0ou at the washbasin a-ain, doin- the dishes, wi--lin- her ass' Tom looked in that direction once, then looked at !eel, then looked away at the sky, as if memori&in- the positions of the stars' Tom said, ;>ou and me ain3t been huntin3 since well before you left'< ;>ou came around a lot then, didn3t you5< !eel said' Tom nodded' ;( always felt better here than at home' #ama and !addy fou-ht all the time'< ;(3m sorry about your parents'< ;+ell,< Tom said, ;everyone3s -ot a time to die, you know' (t can be in all kinds of ways, but sometimes it3s :ust time and you :ust -ot to embrace it'< ;( reckon that3s true'< ;+hat say you and me -o huntin35< Tom said, ;( ain3t had any possum meat in a-es'< ;( never did like possum,< !eel said' ;Too -reasy'< ;>ou ain3t fi ed 3em ri-ht' That3s one thin- ( can do, fi up a possum -ood' 3"ourse, best way is catch one and pen it and feed it corn for a week or so, then kill it' #eat3s better that way, firmer' $ut (3d settle for shootin3 one, showin3 you how to -et rid of that -amey taste with some vine-ar and such, cook it up with some sweet potatoes' ( -ot more sweet potatoes than ( know what to do with'< ;!eel likes sweet potatoes,< #ary 0ou said' !eel turned' She stood in the doorway dryin- her hands on a dish towel' She said, ;That ou-ht to be a -ood idea, !eel' Goin3 huntin3' ( wouldn3t mind learnin3 how to cook up a possum ri-ht' >ou and Tom ou-ht to -o, like the old days'< ;( ain3t had no sweet potatoes in years,< !eel said' ;All the more reason,< Tom said' The boy said, ;( want to -o'< ;That3d be all ri-ht,< Tom said, ;but you know, ( think this time (3d like for :ust me and !eel to -o' +hen ( was a kid, he tau-ht me about them woods, and (3d like to -o with him, for old time3s sake' That all ri-ht with you, +inston5< +inston didn3t act like it was all ri-ht, but he said, ;( -uess'< T.AT N(G.T !EE0 0A> beside #ary 0ou and said, ;( like Tom, but ( was thinkin3 maybe we could

somehow -et it so he don3t come around so much'< ;%h5< ;( know +inston looks up to him, and ( don3t mind that, but ( need to -et to know +inston a-ain7 .ell, ( didn3t ever know him' And ( need to -et to know you7( owe you some time, #ary 0ou' The ri-ht kind of time'< ;( don3t know what you3re talkin3 about, !eel' The ri-ht kind of time5< !eel thou-ht for a while, tried to find the ri-ht phrasin-' .e knew what he felt, but sayin- it was a different matter' ;( know you ended up with me because ( seemed better than some was askin3' Turned out ( wasn3t 9uite the catch you thou-ht' $ut we -ot to find what we need, #ary 0ou'< ;+hat we need5< ;0ove' +e ain3t never found love'< She lay silent' ;( :ust think,< !eel said, ;we ou-ht to have our own time to-ether before we start havin3 Tom around so much' >ou understand what (3m sayin3, ri-ht5< ;( -uess so'< ;( don3t even feel like (3m proper home yet' ( ain3t been to town or told nobody (3m back'< ;+ho you missin35< !eel thou-ht about that for a lon- time' ;Ain3t nobody but you and +inston that ( missed, but ( need to -et some thin-s back to normal7( need to make connections so ( can set up some credit at the store, maybe some farm trade for thin-s we need ne t year' $ut mostly, ( :ust want to be here with you so we can talk' >ou and Tom talk a lot' ( wish we could talk like that' +e need to learn how to talk'< ;Tom3s easy to talk to' .e3s a talker' .e can talk about anythin- and make it seem like somethin3, but when he3s throu-h, he ain3t said nothin37>ou never was a talker before, !eel, so why now5< ;( want to hear what you -ot to say, and ( want you to hear what ( -ot to say, even if we ain3t talkin3 about nothin3 but seed catalo-s or pass the beans, or ( need some more firewood or stop snorin-' #ost anythin- that3s -ot normal about it' So, thin- is, ( don3t want Tom around so much' ( want us to have some time with :ust you and me and +inston, that3s all (3m sayin3'< !eel felt the bed move' .e turned to look, and in the dark he saw that #ary 0ou was pullin- her -own up above her breasts' .er pubic hair looked thick in the dark and her breasts were full and round and invitin-' She said, ;#aybe toni-ht we could -et started on knowin- each other better'< .is mouth was dry' All he could say was, ;All ri-ht'< .is hands trembled as he unbuttoned his union suit at the crotch and she spread her le-s and he climbed on top of her' (t only took a moment before he e ploded' ;%h, God,< he said, and collapsed on her, tryin- to support his wei-ht on his elbows' ;.ow was that5< she said' ;( feel all ri-ht5< ;Fine, but ( -ot done too 9uick' %h, -irl, it3s been so lon-' (3m sorry'< ;That3s all ri-ht' (t don3t mean nothin3'< She patted him stiffly on the back and then twisted a little so that he3d know she wanted him off her'

;( could do better,< he said' ;Tomorrow ni-ht'< ;#e and Tom, we3re huntin3 tomorrow ni-ht' .e3s brin-in3 a do-, and we3re -ettin3 a possum'< ;That3s ri-ht7Ni-ht after'< ;All ri-ht, then,< !eel said' ;All ri-ht, then'< .e lay back on the bed and buttoned himself up and tried to decide if he felt better or worse' There had been relief, but no fire' She mi-ht as well have been a hole in the mattress' T%# $,%/G.T A $(T". do- with him and a 'II rifle and a croaker sack' !eel -athered up his double barrel from out of the closet and took it out of its leather sheath coated in oil and found it to be in very -ood condition' .e brou-ht it and a slin- ba- of shells outside' The shells were old, but he had no cause to doubt their ability' They had been stored alon- with the -un, dry and contained' The sky was clear and the stars were out and the moon looked like a carved chunk of fresh lye soap, but it was bri-ht, so bri-ht you could see the -round clearly' The boy was in bed, and !eel and Tom and #ary 0ou stood out in front of the house and looked at the ni-ht' #ary 0ou said to Tom, ;>ou watch after him, Tom'< ;( will,< Tom said' ;#ake sure he3s taken care of,< she said' ;(3ll take care of him'< !eel and Tom had :ust started walkin- toward the woods when they were distracted by a shadow' An owl came divin- down toward the field' They saw the bird scoop up a fat mouse and fly away with it' The do- chased the owl3s shadow as it cruised alon- the -round' As they watched the owl climb into the bri-ht sky and fly toward the woods, Tom said, ;Ain3t nothin3 certain in life, is it5< ;Especially if you3re a mouse,< !eel said' ;0ife can be cruel,< Tom said' ;+asn3t no cruelty in that,< !eel said' ;That was survival' The owl was hun-ry' #en ain3t like that' They ain3t like other thin-s, 3cept maybe ants'< ;Ants5< ;Ants and man make war 3cause they can' #an makes all kinds of proclamations and speeches and -ives reasons and such, but at the bottom of it, we :ust do it 3cause we want to and can'< ;That3s a hard way to talk,< Tom said' ;#an ain3t happy till he kills everythin- in his path and cuts down everythin- that -rows' .e sees somethin- wild and beautiful and wants to hold it down and stab it, punish it 3cause it3s wild' $eauty draws him to it, and then he kills it'< ;!eel, you -ot some stran-e thinkin3,< Tom said' ;,eckon ( do'< ;+e3re -onna kill so as to have somethin3 to eat, but unlike the owl, we ain3t eatin3 no mouse' +e3re

havin- us a bi-, fat possum and we3re -onna cook it with sweet potatoes'< They watched as the do- ran on ahead of them, into the dark line of the trees' +.EN T.E> G%T T% the ed-e of the woods the shadows of the trees fell over them, and then they were inside the woods, and it was dark in places with -aps of li-ht where the limbs were thin' They moved toward the -aps and found a trail and walked down it' As they went, the li-ht faded, and !eel looked up' A dark cloud had blown in' Tom said, ;.ell, looks like it3s -onna rain' That came out of nowhere'< ;(t3s a runnin3 rain,< !eel said' ;(t3ll blow in and spit water and blow out before you can find a place to -et dry'< ;Think so5< ;>eah' ( seen rain aplenty, and one comes up like this, it3s travelin- throu-h' That cloud will cry its eyes out and move on, promise you' (t ain3t even -ot no li-htnin3 with it'< As if in response to !eel3s words it be-an to rain' No li-htnin- and no thunder, but the wind picked up and the rain was thick and cold' ;( know a -ood place ahead,< Tom said' ;+e can -et under a tree there, and there3s a lo- to sit on' ( even killed a couple possums there'< They found the lo- under the tree, sat down and waited' The tree was an oak and it was old and bi- and had broad limbs and thick leaves that spread out like a canvas' The leaves kept !eel and Tom almost dry' ;That do-3s done -one off deep in the woods,< !eel said, and laid the shot-un a-ainst the lo- and put his hands on his knees' ;.e -ets a possum, you3ll hear him' .e sounds like a trumpet'< Tom shifted the 'II across his lap and looked at !eel, who was lost in thou-ht' ;Sometimes,< !eel said, ;when we was over there, it would rain, and we3d be in trenches, waitin- for somethin3 to happen, and the trenches would flood with water, and there was bi- ole rats that would swim in it, and we was so hun-ry from time to time, we killed them and ate them'< ;,ats5< ;They3re same as s9uirrels' They don3t taste as -ood, thou-h' $ut a s9uirrel ain3t nothin3 but a tree rat'< ;>eah5 >ou sure5< ;( am'< Tom shifted on the lo-, and when he did !eel turned toward him' Tom still had the 'II lyin- across his lap, but when !eel looked, the barrel was raised in his direction' !eel started to say somethin3, like, ;.ey, watch what you3re doin3,< but in that instant he knew what he should have known all alon-' Tom was -oin- to kill him' .e had always planned to kill him' From the day #ary 0ou had met him in the field on horseback, they were anticipatin- the rattle of his dead bones' (t3s why they had kept him from town' .e was already thou-ht dead, and if no one thou-ht different, there was no crime to consider' ;( knew and ( didn3t know,< !eel said' ;( -ot to, !eel' (t ain3t nothin3 personal' ( like you fine' >ou been -ood to me' $ut ( -ot to do it' She3s worth me doin3 somethin3 like this7Ain3t no use reachin- for that shot-un, ( -ot you si-hted8 twenty-

two ain3t much, but it3s enou-h'< ;+inston,< !eel said, ;he ain3t my boy, is he5< ;No'< ;.e3s -ot a birthmark on his face, and ( remember now when you was youn-er, ( seen that same birthmark' ( for-ot but now ( remember' (t3s under your hair, ain3t it5< Tom didn3t say anythin-' .e had scooted back on the lo-' This put him out from under the ed-e of the oak canopy, and the rain was washin- over his hat and plasterin- his lon- hair to the sides of his face' ;>ou was with my wife back then, when you was ei-hteen, and ( didn3t even suspect it,< !eel said, and smiled as if he thou-ht there was humor in it' ;( fi-ured you for a bi- kid and nothin3 more'< ;>ou3re too old for her,< Tom said, si-htin- down the rifle' ;And you didn3t never -ive her no real attention' ( been with her mostly since you left' ( :ust happened to be -one when you come home' .ell, !eel, ( -ot clothes in the trunk there, and you didn3t even see 3em' >ou mi-ht know the weather, but you damn sure don3t know women, and you don3t know men'< ;( don3t want to know them, so sometimes ( don3t know what ( know' And men and women, they ain3t all that different7>ou ever killed a man, Tom5< ;>ou3ll be my first'< !eel looked at Tom, who was lookin- at him alon- the len-th of the 'II' ;(t ain3t no easy thin- to live with, even if you don3t know the man,< !eel said' ;#e, ( killed plenty' They come to see me when ( close my eyes' Them ( actually seen die, and them ( ima-ined died'< ;!on3t -ive me no boo-er stories' ( don3t reckon you3re -onna come see me when you3re dead' ( don3t reckon that at all'< (t had -rown dark because of the rain, and Tom3s shape was :ust a shape' !eel couldn3t see his features' ;Tom=< The 'II barked' The bullet struck !eel in the head' .e tumbled over the lo- and fell where there was rain in his face' .e thou-ht :ust before he dropped down into darkness) (t3s so cool and clean' !EE0 0%%1E! %@E, T.E ed-e of the trench where there was a slab of metal with a slot to look throu-h' All he could see was darkness e cept when the li-htnin- ripped a strip in the sky and the countryside lit up' Thunder ban-ed so loudly he couldn3t tell the difference between it and cannon fire, which was also ban-in- away, droppin- -reat e plosions near the breast works and into the &i-&a--intrench, throwin- men left and ri-ht like dolls' Then he saw shapes' They moved across the field like a column of -hosts' (n one -reat run they came, closer and closer' .e poked his rifle throu-h the slot and took half-ass aim and then the command came and he fired' #achine -uns be-an to burp' The field lit up with their constant red pops' The shapes be-an to fall' The faces of those in front of the rushin- line bri-htened when the machine -uns snapped, makin- their features devil red' +hen the li-htnin- flashed they seemed to vibrate across the field' The cannons roared and thunder rumbled and the machine -uns cou-hed and the rifles cracked and men screamed' Then the remainder of the Germans were across the field and over the trench ramifications and down into the trenches themselves' .and-to-hand fi-htin- be-an' !eel fou-ht with his bayonet' .e :abbed at a German soldier so small his shoulders failed to fill out his uniform' As the German hun- on the thrust

of !eel3s blade, clutched at the rifle barrel, flares bla&ed alon- the len-th of the trench, and in that moment !eel saw the soldier3s chin had bits of blond fu&& on it' The e pression the kid wore was that of someone who had :ust reali&ed this was not a -lorious -ame after all' And then !eel cou-hed' .e cou-hed and be-an to choke' .e tried to lift up, but couldn3t, at first' Then he sat up and the mud dripped off him and the rain pounded him' .e spat dirt from his mouth and -asped at the air' The rain washed his face clean and pushed his hair down over his forehead' .e was uncertain how lon- he sat there in the rain, but in time, the rain stopped' .is head hurt' .e lifted his hand to it and came away with his fin-ers covered in blood' .e felt a-ain, pushin- his hair aside' There was a -roove across his forehead' The shot hadn3t hit him solid8 it had cut a path across the front of his head' .e had bled a lot, but now the bleedin- had stopped' The mud in the -rave had filled the wound and plu--ed it' The shallow -rave had most likely been du- earlier in the day' (t had all been planned out, but the rain was une pected' The rain made the dirt damp, and in the dark Tom had not covered him well enou-h' Not deep enou-h' Not firm enou-h' And his nose was free' .e could breathe' The -round was soft and it couldn3t hold him' .e had merely sat up and the dirt had fallen aside' !eel tried to pull himself out of the -rave, but was too weak, so he twisted in the loose dirt and lay with his face a-ainst the -round' +hen he was stron- enou-h to lift his head, the rain had passed, the clouds had sailed away, and the moon was bri-ht' !eel worked himself out of the -rave and crawled across the -round toward the lo- where he and Tom had sat' .is shot-un was lyin- behind the lo- where it had fallen' Tom had either for-otten the -un or didn3t care' !eel was too weak to pick it up' !eel mana-ed himself onto the lo- and sat there, his head held down, watchin- the -round' As he did, a snake crawled over his boots and twisted its way into the darkness of the woods' !eel reached down and picked up the shot-un' (t was damp and cold' .e opened it and the shells popped out' .e didn3t try to find them in the dark' .e lifted the barrel, poked it toward the moonli-ht, and looked throu-h it' "lear' No dirt in the barrels' .e didn3t try to find the two shells that had popped free' .e loaded two fresh ones from his ammo ba-' .e took a deep breath' .e picked up some damp leaves and pressed them a-ainst the wound and they stuck' .e stood up' .e sta--ered toward his house, the blood-stuck leaves decoratin- his forehead as if he were some kind of forest -od' (T +AS N%T 0%NG before the sta--er became a walk' !eel broke free of the woods and onto the path that crossed the field' +ith the rain -one it was bri-ht a-ain and a li-ht wind had be-un to blow' The earth smelled rich, the way it had that ni-ht in France when it rained and the li-htnin- flashed and the soldiers came and the damp smell of the earth blended with the bitin- smell of -unpowder and the odor of death' .e walked until he could see the house, dark like bli-ht in the center of the field' The house appeared e tremely small then, smaller than before8 it was as if all that had ever mattered to him continued to shrink' The bitch do- came out to meet him but he i-nored her' She slunk off and trotted toward the trees he had left behind' .e came to the door, and then his foot was kickin- a-ainst it' The door cracked and creaked and slammed loudly backward' Then !eel was inside, walkin- fast' .e came to the bedroom door, and it was open' .e went throu-h' The window was up and the room was full of moonli-ht, so brilliant he could see clearly, and what he saw was Tom and #ary 0ou lyin- to-ether in mid-act, and in that moment he thou-ht of his brief time with her and how she had let him have her so as not to talk about Tom anymore' .e thou-ht about how she had -iven herself to protect what she had with Tom'

Somethin- moved inside !eel and he reco-ni&ed it as the core of what man was' .e stared at them and they saw him and fro&e in action' #ary 0ou said, ;No,< and Tom leaped up from between her le-s, all the way to his feet' Naked as nature, he stood for a moment in the middle of the bed, and then plun-ed throu-h the open window like a fo down a hole' !eel raised the shot-un and fired and took out part of the windowsill, but Tom was out and away' #ary 0ou screamed' She threw her le-s to the side of the bed and made as if to stand, but couldn3t' .er le-s were too weak' She sat back down and started yellin- his name' Somethin- called from deep inside !eel, a lon- call, deep and dark and certain' A bloody leaf dripped off his forehead' .e raised the shot-un and fired' The shot tore into her breast and knocked her slidin- across the bed, pushin- the back of her head a-ainst the wall beneath the window' !eel stood lookin- at her' .er eyes were open, her mouth sli-htly parted' .e watched her hair and the sheets turn dark' .e broke open the shot-un and reloaded the double barrel from his ammo sack and went to the door across the way, the door to the small room that was the boy3s' .e kicked it open' +hen he came in, the boy, wearin- his ni-htshirt, was crawlin- throu-h the window' .e shot at him, but the best he mi-ht have done was riddle the bottom of his feet with pellets' 0ike his father, +inston was 9uick throu-h a hole' !eel stepped briskly to the open window and looked out' The boy was crossin- the moonlit field like a :ackrabbit, runnin- toward a dark stretch of woods in the direction of town' !eel climbed throu-h the window and be-an to stride after the boy' And then he saw Tom' Tom was off to the ri-ht, runnintoward where there used to be a deep ravine and a blackberry -rowth' !eel went after him' .e be-an to trot' .e could ima-ine himself with the other soldiers crossin- a field, waitin- for a bullet to end it all' !eel be-an to close in' $ein- barefoot was workin- a-ainst Tom' .e was limpin-' !eel thou-ht that Tom3s feet were most likely full of -rass burrs and were wounded by stones' Tom3s moon shadow stumbled and rose, as if it were his soul tryin- to separate itself from its host' The ravine and the blackberry bushes were still there' Tom came to the ravine, found a break in the vines, and went over the side of it and down' !eel came shortly after, dropped into the ravine' (t was damp there and smelled fresh from the recent rain' !eel saw Tom scramblin- up the other side of the ravine, into the dark rise of blackberry bushes on the far side' .e strode after him, and when he came to the spot where Tom had -one, he saw Tom was hun- in the berry vines' The vines had twisted around his arms and head and they held him as surely as if he were nailed there' The more Tom stru--led, the harder the thorns bit and the better the vines held him' Tom twisted and rolled and soon he was facinin the direction of !eel, han-in- :ust above him on the bank of the ravine, supported by the blackberry vines, one arm outstretched, the other pinned a-ainst his abdomen, wrapped up like a "hristmas present from nature, a -ift to what man and the ants liked to do best' .e was breathin- heavily' !eel turned his head sli-htly, like a do- tryin- to distin-uish what it sees' ;>ou3re a bad shot'< ;Ain3t no cause to do this, !eel'< ;(t3s not a matter of cause' (t3s the way of man,< !eel said' ;+hat in hell you talkin3 about, !eel5 (3m askin3 you, (3m be--in3 you, don3t kill me' She was the one talked me into it' She thou-ht you were dead, lon- dead' She wanted it like it was when it was :ust me and her'< !eel took a deep breath and tried to taste the air' (t had tasted so clean a moment a-o, but now it was bitter' ;The boy -ot away,< !eel said'

;Go after him, you want, but don3t kill me'< A smile moved across !eel3s face' ;Even the little ones -row up to be men'< ;>ou ain3t makin3 no sense, !eel' >ou ain3t ri-ht'< ;Ain3t none of us ri-ht,< !eel said' !eel raised the shot-un and fired' Tom3s head went away and the body drooped in the clutch of the vines and hun- over the ed-e of the ravine' T.E $%> +AS M/("1, much faster than his father' !eel had covered a lot of -round in search of him, and he could read the boy3s si-n in the moonli-ht, see where the -rass was pushed down, see bare footprints in the damp dirt, but the boy had lon- reached the woods, and maybe the town beyond' .e knew that' (t didn3t matter anymore' .e moved away from the woods and back to the field until he came to 2ancake ,ocks' They were flat, round chunks of sandstone piled on top of one another and they looked like a hu-e stack of pancakes' .e had for-otten all about them' .e went to them and stopped and looked at the top ed-e of the pancake stones' (t was twenty feet from -round to top' .e remembered that from when he was a boy' .is daddy told him, ;That there is twenty feet from top to bottom' A Spartan boy could climb that and reach the top in three minutes' ( can climb it and reach the top in three minutes' 0et3s see what you can do'< .e had never reached the top in three minutes, thou-h he had tried time after time' (t had been important to his father for some reason, some human reason, and he had for-otten all about it until now' !eel leaned the shot-un a-ainst the stones and slipped off his boots and took off his clothes' .e tore his shirt and made a strap for the -un, and slun- it over his bare shoulder and took up the ammo ba- and tossed it over his other shoulder, and be-an to climb' .e made it to the top' .e didn3t know how lon- it had taken him, but he -uessed it had been only about three minutes' .e stood on top of 2ancake ,ocks and looked out at the ni-ht' .e could see his house from there' .e sat cross-le--ed on the rocks and stretched the shot-un over his thi-hs' .e looked up at the sky' The stars were bri-ht and the space between them was as deep as forever' (f man could, he would tear the stars down, thou-ht !eel' !eel sat and wondered how late it was' The moon had moved, but not so much as to pull up the sun' !eel felt as if he had been sittin- there for days' .e nodded off now and then, and in the dream he was an ant, one of many ants, and he was movin- toward a hole in the -round from which came smoke and sparks of fire' .e marched with the ants toward the hole, and then into the hole they went, one at a time' *ust before it was his turn, he saw the ants in front of him turn to black crisps in the fire, and he marched after them, hurryin- for his turn, then he awoke and looked across the moonlit field' .e saw, comin- from the direction of his house, a rider' The horse looked like a lar-e do- because the rider was so bi-' .e hadn3t seen the man in years, but he knew who he was immediately' 0obo "ollins' .e had been sheriff of the county when he had left for war' .e watched as 0obo rode toward him' .e had no thou-hts about it' .e :ust watched' +ell out of ran-e of !eel3s shot-un, 0obo stopped and -ot off his horse and pulled a rifle out of the saddle boot' ;!eel,< 0obo called' ;(t3s Sheriff 0obo "ollins'< 0obo3s voice moved across the field loud and clear' (t was as if they were sittin- beside each other' The li-ht was so -ood he could see 0obo3s mustache clearly, droopin- over the corners of his mouth'

;>our boy come told me what happened'< ;.e ain3t my boy, 0obo'< ;Everybody knowed that but you, but wasn3t no cause to do what you did' ( been up to the house, and ( found Tom in the ravine'< ;They3re still dead, ( assume'< ;>ou ou-ht not done it, but she was your wife, and he was messin3 with her, so you -ot some cause, and a :ury mi-ht see it that way' That3s somethin- to think about, !eel' (t could work out for you'< ;.e shot me,< !eel said' ;+ell now, that makes it even more different' +hy don3t you put down that -un, and you and me -o back to town and see how we can work thin-s out'< ;( was dead before he shot me'< ;+hat5< 0obo said' 0obo had dropped down on one knee' .e had the +inchester across that knee and with his other hand he held the bridle of his horse' !eel raised the shot-un and set the stock firmly a-ainst the stone, the barrel pointin- skyward' ;>ou3re way out of ran-e up there,< 0obo said' ;That shot-un ain3t -onna reach me, but ( can reach you, and ( can put one in a fly3s asshole from here to the moon'< !eel stood up' ;( can3t reach you, then ( reckon ( -ot to -et me a wee bit closer'< 0obo stood up and dropped the horse3s reins' The horse didn3t move' ;Now don3t be a damn fool, !eel'< !eel slun- the shot-un3s makeshift strap over his shoulder and started climbin- down the back of the stones, where 0obo couldn3t see him' .e came down 9uicker than he had -one up, and he didn3t even feel where the stones had torn his naked knees and feet' +hen !eel came around the side of the stone, 0obo had moved only sli-htly, away from his horse, and he was standin- with the +inchester held down by his side' .e was watchin- as !eel advanced, naked and committed' 0obo said, ;Ain3t no sense in this, !eel' ( ain3t seen you in years, and now (3m -onna -et my best look at you down the len-th of a +inchester' Ain3t no sense in it'< ;There ain3t no sense to nothin3,< !eel said, and walked faster, pullin- the strapped shot-un off his shoulder' 0obo backed up a little, then raised the +inchester to his shoulder, said, ;0ast warnin3, !eel'< !eel didn3t stop' .e pulled the shot-un stock to his hip and let it rip' The shot went wide and fell across the -rass like hail, some twenty feet in front of 0obo' And then 0obo fired' !eel thou-ht someone had shoved him' (t felt that way' That someone had walked up unseen beside him and had shoved him on the shoulder' Ne t thin- he knew he was lyin- on the -round lookin- up at the stars' .e felt pain, but not like the pain he had felt when he reali&ed what he was' A moment later the shot-un was pulled from his hand, and then 0obo was kneelin- down ne t to him with the +inchester in one hand and the shot-un in the other' ;( done killed you, !eel'< ;No,< !eel said, spittin- up blood' ;( ain3t alive to kill'< ;( think ( clipped a lun-,< 0obo said, as if proud of his marksmanship' ;>ou ou-ht not done what you

done' (t3s -ood that boy -ot away' .e ain3t no cause of nothin3'< ;.e :ust ain3t had his turn'< !eel3s chest was fillin- up with blood' (t was as if someone had put a funnel in his mouth and poured it into him' .e tried to say somethin- more, but it wouldn3t come out' There was only a cou-h and some blood8 it splattered warm on his chest' 0obo put the weapons down and picked up !eel3s head and laid it across one of his thi-hs so he wasn3t chokin- so much' ;>ou -ot a last words, !eel5< ;0ook there,< !eel said' !eel3s eyes had lifted to the heavens, and 0obo looked' +hat he saw was the ni-ht and the moon and the stars' ;0ook there' >ou see it5< !eel said' ;The stars are fallin3'< 0obo said, ;Ain3t nothin3 fallin3, !eel,< but when he looked back down, !eel was -one'

JU'#N%L N+, Walter $osle!

F' S.E NA#E! #E */@ENA0 N>U and made me a child of the ni-ht' ( was attendin- a Saturday-ni-ht meetin- at Splinter=the ,adical Faction $ookstore, presentin- the Amal-amation of $lack Student /nions3 stand on when and how we would a-ree to work with white radical or-ani&ations' For too lon-, we believed, had our systems, movements, and ultimate liberation been co-opted by white -roups pretendin-, maybe even believin-, that they were our friends and allies' $ut in the end we were saddled with -oals outside our communities, diverted into pathways that abandoned our people3s needs and ends' The speech went very well, and the people there, both black and white, seemed to take my words seriously' ( felt that the articulation of our -oals was in itself a victory, a line drawn in the 9uick-dryincement that had been poured into the frame of the comin- revolution' ( was very youn-' She approached me after the series of speakers had made their comments, pleas, pled-es, and calls for solidarity' She was short and white, pale actually, wearin- loose-fittin- :eans and a faded blue T-shirt' She wasn3t pretty and didn3t do much in the way of makeup' %nly her eyes were arrestin-' They were very dark, maybe even black, with a patina of silver -lowin- underneath now and then' ;( like what you had to say,< she told me' ;Any man must stand on his own before relyin- on the help of others'< .er use of the word man made me curious' ( assumed, from the way she dressed, that she3d be a feminist' ;That3s ri-ht,< ( said' ;The black man doesn3t need #r' "harlie to pave the way' (t3s the white man who wants our power'< ;Everyone wants your stren-th,< she said' +ith that she looked into my eyes and touched my left wrist' .er fin-ers were cold' ;+ill you have coffee with me5< she asked' No, was in my throat but ;>es< came out of my mouth' ;%nly for :ust a bit,< ( added awkwardly' ;( have to -et back to my people and report'< ;( A# F,%# ,/#AN(A,< she told me at the cafV across the street from the bookstore' ;#y parents have died and ( am alone in the world' ( work sometimes doin- freelance copyeditin- and ( -o to meetin-s at ni-ht'< ;2olitical meetin-s5< ( asked, wonderin- at the moonli-ht that emanated from behind her eyes' ;No kind in particular,< she said, dismissin- all content with the shru- of a shoulder' ;( -o to readin-s and lectures, art openin-s and the like' ( :ust want to be around people, to belon- for a while'< ;>ou live alone5<

;>es' ( prefer it that way' ,elationships seem to lose their meanin-, and after a few weeks ( crave solitude a-ain'< ;.ow old are you5< ( asked, wonderin- at the odd way in which she spoke' ;( am youn-,< she said, smilin- as if there was a :oke hidden amon- her words' ;"ome home with me for the ni-ht'< ;( don3t chase after white -irls, *ulia,< ( said, because that was the name she3d -iven me' ;"ome home with me,< she said a-ain' ;(3ll walk you to your door,< ( said, reluctantly, ;but after that ( have to -et back to "entral .ouse'< ;+hat is "entral .ouse5< ;The officers and senior members of the $S/s around the city have rented a brownstone in .arlem' +e live to-ether and prepare for whatever3s comin-'< She smiled at my words and stood' ;*/0(A,< A #AN SA(! when we were halfway down the block from the cafV' ;+ait up'< .e was tall and brawny, white and blond' .e mi-ht have been a football player at some university, maybe the one ( was attendin-' ;#artin,< she said by way of a tepid -reetin-' ;+here you -oin-5< .e had a thick -au&e wad taped to his left forearm' +hen she didn3t answer he -ave me an evil look' ;This is my, my -irlfriend, dude,< he said' ( didn3t reply' (nstead ( was preparin- for a fi-ht ( didn3t think ( could win' .e was very bi- and ( am, at best, a middlewei-ht' ;*ust walk away and you won3t -et hurt,< the footballer added' .is tone had a pleadin- 9uality to it' This made him seem all the more dan-erous' ;.ey, man,< ( said' ;( :ust met the lady, but you aren3t -onna make me -o anywhere'< .e reached for me and ( -ot ready to throw the hardest punch ( could' ( wasn3t about to let that white boy make me turn tail and run' ;#artin, stop,< *ulia said' Each syllable was the sound of a hammer drivin- a nail' #artin3s fin-ers splayed out like a fan and he drew the hand back as if it had been burned' ;Go away,< she said, ;and don3t bother me a-ain'< #artin was well over si feet tall and wei-hed maybe two-forty, most of which was muscle' .e shook like a man resistin- a stron- wind' The muscles of his neck bunched up and corded and he -rimaced, e posin- his teeth in a skull-like -rin' After a minute or so of this strain, #artin turned his back to us and sta--ered from the sidewalk into the street and away' "owerin- as he stumbled off, he -ave the impression of a man reelin- from a beatin-' ;>ou were ready to fi-ht him,< *ulia said' ( didn3t answer'

;.e would have hurt you,< she stated' +ith that she took my arm and walked me across downtown #anhattan to the pedestrian entrance of the $rooklyn $rid-e' ( didn3t 9uestion our walk' There was a buildup of ener-y in my blood and muscles from the fi-ht (3d almost had, from fear of the poundin- ( would have surely received' %n the way she told me about her life in ,umania, her escape from the "ommunists to #unich where she lived with Gypsies for a time' (t was a cool %ctober evenin- and ( listened, feelin- no need to respond' For her part, she held on to my arm happily prattlin- about a life that seemed like a story out of a book' +hen we -ot to the other side, she walked me to where there were many warehouses and few residences' +e came to a stairwell leadin- down to a doorway below the surface of the street' She pushed the door open without usin- a key' +e went down a lon- hallway until comin- to stairs that took us down at least three more levels' There we came to another hall and then to a door that she produced a key for' (T +AS A S#A00, dimly lit room with a maple table in one corner and a sin-le mattress on the floor' There were no windows, of course, and the room smelled dry and stale, like a tomb that had been sealed for centuries' The door closed behind me and ( turned to look *ulia in the eye' The moons there were luminescent and her smile took my breath away' She shucked the blue T-shirt, stepped out of the loose pants, and she was naked' ( reali&ed as ( lun-ed for her that this uncontrolled se uality had been comin- on ever since #artin had threatened me' ( pulled down my pants and *ulia started lau-hin-' ( dra--ed her to the small bed and we were to-ether' #y pants were around my ankles' #y shoes were still on my feet but ( couldn3t take the time to remove them' ( had to be in her' ( had to fuck her and to keep on fuckin-' Nothin- could stop me' Even my or-asm only slowed down the -yratin- ur-ency for a moment or two' All the while *ulia was lau-hin- and talkin- to me in some forei-n ton-ue' Now and a-ain she3d pull my hair back and e amine my eyes with those eerie li-hts in hers' ( writhed on top of her while she entwined me with her cold le-s and arms' ( could not stop' ( could not pull away' For the first time in my life, ( felt, ( knew what freedom was' ( understood that this passion was the only thin- that touched the core of my bein-' ( A+%1E N%T ,E#E#$E,(NG havin- lost consciousness, yet ( must have passed out, because ( was now in another room in a bed with a frame' #y wrists and ankles were chained to the four corners of the bed and ( was naked' This room was also windowless and stale' (t felt as if ( was far under-round, but ( yelled anyway' ( screamed and hollered until my throat was raw, but no one came' No one heard me' As hours went past ( thrashed and called out, but the chains were stron- and the walls thick' There was a columnlike yellow candle burnin- for the little li-ht *ulia had left me, and ( wondered if ( was meant to die in that under-round tomb' At times ( worried that this was some white supremacist plot a-ainst the $S/ of New >ork' .ad they captured me to make a statement5 +ere they -oin- to lynch me or burn me5 +ould ( be a martyr for the cause5 (t was many hours later when the door came open and *ulia walked in' ( yelled for all ( was worth

before she could close the door, but she wasn3t bothered' She smiled and came to sit ne t to me on the bed' She was wearin- a red velvet robe that flowed all the way down to her bare feet' There was a hood, but it hun- down behind her head' ;This is a room within a room that is itself within a lar-er room,< she said' ;+e are far under-round and no one can hear you'< ;+hy you -ot me chained down like this5< ( asked, tryin- to keep the fear out of my voice' (n answer, she stood up, lettin- the sumptuous robe fall to the floor' She was as naked as (' The breath left my lun-s, but ( don3t know if it was her nakedness or those eyes that left me stunned' She smiled a-ain and knelt down at my side' She moved her head 9uickly and bit into my left forearm' ( have spent many days over the ne t few para-raphs of description' .ow can ( e plain a feelin- completely forei-n, a feelin- that pushed every emotion ( could possibly e perience past the threshold of my ability to bear it5 The pain was a son- that ( cried out to in cracked harmony' The flow of blood was not only my life but the lives of all who came before me' .er 9uiverin- :oy was a wild animal in my chest clawin- and rippin- to escape my silly so-called civili&ed e istence' #y back arched upward and ( cried out for release=and for the pain to continue' ( wanted to bleed into *ulia more than ( had craved se ' ( was an infant a-ain=so e cited by the new sensations of life that ( needed the chains to contain my ecstasy' +hen ( slumped back to the mattress, ( no lon-er e isted' ( was the husk of the cocoon of a moth that had transformed itself from worm to fli-ht' ( was filled with nothin-, surrounded by nothin-' ( was not dead because ( had never truly lived' The flailin- larvae and the flutterin- bu- had used my inert beinmerely for the transition, leavin- me nothin- but emptiness, like the transient aftermath of a weak smile' ;*uvenal Ny ,< a voice whispered' ;+hat5< ( rasped' ;That is your name'< ( drifted for many hours that seemed like weeks or months' ( was not unconscious or asleep but neither was ( aware of the world around me' (n this limbolike ether ( was approached by various entities representin- sentients that claimed no race, se , or species' ;>ou are in dan-er of knowled-e,< one such bein-, who seemed to be a yellow nimbus with no ori-in, said' ;%f bein- found out5< ( asked in some fashion other than speech' ;%f knowin-,< the empty halo of li-ht replied' ;( don3t understand'< ;Then there is still hope'< ;*/@ENA0,< A ./#AN @%("E SA(!' ( opened my eyes and saw *ulia, a-ain in :eans and T-shirt, sittin- at the foot of the bed' She was starinat me in a way that ( can only describe as hun-ry'

;*ulia'< The smile did not leaven her rapacious eyes' ;>ou are a sweet man'< Thou-h she whispered these words ( heard them as a shout down a lon-, echoin- hallway' ;( scented your sweetness before ( entered the bookstore' ( came there for you'< ;>ou let #artin -o after bitin- his arm,< ( said, ;didn3t you5< ;( let them all -o after the first bite,< she said' ;.undreds of them7thousands'< (, the old me, si-hed in relief' ;And ( want to let you -o too,< she said, ;but your blood sin-s to me'< She touched my inner ri-ht thi-h halfway between knee and -roin' .er cold fin-ers rubbed that spot' *ust the touch caused an echo of dark deli-ht' She bent over me and hovered an inch away from the place she3d touched, her lunar eyes -a&in- into mine' ;$ite it,< ( said in spite of the panic in my chest' %@E, T.E NEUT F%/, days she drank from my other arm and le-, and finally from my abdomen :ust above the naval' ( was in constant ecstasy and dread' ( didn3t eat, sleep, or feel the need to relieve myself' #y body was in a state of total repose e cept when she fed on my blood' ;+e never drink much,< she told me one evenin- after havin- feasted' She was lyin- back with her head a-ainst my thi-h, savorin- her perversion' ;(t doesn3t take much to keep us alive' +e aren3t like your people who need to kill and s9uander to keep themselves -oin-' *ust a cupful of fresh blood and we can live for many days'< ;Then why do you bite me every day5< ( asked' There was no fear in my 9uestion' *ust after the bite ( felt dru--ed, yieldin-' ( simply wanted to understand what she was sayin-' She sat up' .er once-black eyes were now white with that stran-e li-ht' ;+e cannot multiply like you,< she said' ;+e must create our pro-eny' %ur bite contains a dru- that would 9uickly become a poison to most people' To some, however, those that are sweet, we can pass on the trait that makes us uni9ue' These we call our lovers'< ;>ou love me5< ;( love your taste'< ;>ou mean like ( love a -ood steak5< A wave of dis-ust passed over her face' ;No, not death, but the life that lives in you and in me simultaneously' The feelin- of bein- that ( carry in me that is you' This, this taste is the most e 9uisite e perience that any livin- creature can know'< ;+hat about #artin5< ( asked when ( -ot the feelin- she mi-ht leave' ( hated it when she left after bitin- me' (t was as if ( needed her there with me to keep the darkness away' ;%ur bite, like ( said, is a dru-' (t makes those we feed on want us' /sually they for-et or remember us as a dream, but sometimes they stalk us' This is one possible conse9uence of the symbiosis between us' ( made the mistake of takin- you to the place where #artin had met me' .is hun-er is stron-, but if ( were to bite him a-ain he would certainly die'<

;.ow lon- a-o did you bite him5< ;Two years'< ;And the wound still needed a banda-e5< ;2robably not' Sometimes they wear the dressin- as a reminder'< ;!o you7,< ( be-an, but she put her cold hand on my forehead and ( passed out' +.EN ( A+%1E, T.E mornin- after the last bite, the chains had been removed' %n a sin-le strai-htbacked chair ( found my clothes=neatly folded' 0yin- across the soft pile was a cream-colored envelope with the name *WXYZ[\ N]^ printed on it' The room was 9uiet and ( knew somehow that *ulia was -one for -ood' #y bites throbbed but didn3t hurt' ( rushed out of the door that led into a hallway that completely encompassed my cell' There was a door from that hall into another corridor that surrounded the first hallway' There was no furniture or even a carpet in the two bufferin- halls' The only other room ( found was a small toilet' Seein- this ( reali&ed that my body was comin- back to me and ( had to -o' !ear *uvenal, >ou are mine from now until the far-off day when either you or ( cease to e ist' That may not be for many years, even centuries' >ou will discover many thin-s about yourself over the ne t weeks and months' !o not fear them' !o not despair' >ou are mine as if you came from my own womb and ( am yours, thou-h we cannot see each other for a lon- time' Trust in your instincts and your ur-es' Give in to your hun-ers and passions' %ne day we will be to-ether a-ain=when it is safe for both of us' These rooms are now yours' /se them as ( have' ( love you, *ulia The letter was written with a fountain pen and each word was wrou-ht for me' ( went back into the cell and looked around' The floors were bare, unfinished pine' The bed was simple' There was only the one chair' That room could have been a poem about *ulia3s life and now mine' ( sat down hearin- far-off music, like cellos, in the distance' After a while ( reali&ed that this music was the sin-in- in my blood' After a lon- time of sittin- there, wonderin- what dru- she put in her mouth before bitin- me, ( stood up and walked away from her subterranean chamber, never intendin- to return' T.E !A> +AS $,(G.T, -larin-' Everythin- sounded crisp and loud' ( had been in darkness for so lon- that my eyes hurt and the sun burned a-ainst my skin' $ut there was also a crystalline 9uality to the air and vistas' ( crossed the brid-e feelin- li-ht, wei-htless' The people around me seemed burly and somewhat bumblin-' ( felt friendly toward them' ( was halfway across the $rooklyn $rid-e before ( reali&ed that ( hadn3t thou-ht about race once that day' +hite, black, and brown, they all seemed the same to me' ( chided myself to snap out of it and see the political and racial landscape as ( knew it was' ( tried to tell myself that my imprisonment had dama-ed my sense of reality, that *ulia had robbed me of my ability

to see clearly' $ut try as ( mi-ht ( couldn3t find fault with the men and women -oin- on their way' And *ulia7her moony eyes and sli-ht accent brou-ht no an-er or fear, recrimination or desire for reven-e' ( walked on feelin- li-hter and happier with each step' The world seemed to be sin-in- some :oyous hymn to its own life and destiny' The birds and bu-s and even the chemical scents in the air made me feel nostal-ic for somethin- that had passed away but lived on in sense memory' ( lau-hed and did a little :i- as ( went' ( decided to walk all the way up to .arlem and "entral .ouse' ( felt like some kind of prince walkin- up crowded Fifth Avenue' The people were my unwittinsub:ects and ( was beneficent royalty' (n amon-st them, now and a-ain, ( saw bri-ht-colored coronas remindin- me of the yellow halo that had warned me about knowled-e' +hen ( -ot to "entral 2ark, the son- in the sky turned strident' (t was howlin-, but ( didn3t mind it' The trees whispered of their a-e and -ravity' They had -one one way while ( had taken the opposite direction' There was a thrummin- in my blood and ( was so li-ht-headed that ( had to take a seat on a park bench' ( was -rinnin- at the people -oin- past' Some -lanced at me with worried looks on their faces' 0ona-o, last week, ( would have said that it was because ( was a black man, filled with the purpose of my race, but then ( thou-ht that they couldn3t possibly understand the e perience that flowed in my veins' The sun was screamin- at me and ( decided to stand' (t was only then that ( reali&ed how weak ( was' ( fell face forward to the pavement' (t didn3t hurt because ( was unconscious before ( hit the -round' S%#E+.E,E T.E S/N +AS settin-' (ts final shout over the hori&on was followed by a silence so profound that ( was yanked out of sleep, as if someone had dumped a hundred pounds of ice on my bare skin' ( leaped up from the hospital bed and -a&ed out of the window into the bur-eonin- darkness of twili-ht' ;+hat3s wron- with you, -uy5< a man said' ( turned to see him' .e was one of si other men in beds around the room, a white man with a -ray beard and a darker, thou-h still somewhat -ray, mustache' ;.ow did ( -et here5< ( asked' ;They :ust dra--ed you in' +e thou-ht you was dead'< ( was still dressed' The e citement of the day was replaced by the certainty of ni-ht' The thrill that filled me was dark and dan-erous' ( was in the street before ( reali&ed that ( had no shoes on my feet' $ut ( wasn3t bothered by the touch of my skin on the concrete and asphalt' ( headed back to the park' %nce there ( searched out my prey' S.E +AS A >%/NG brown-skinned woman walkin- down a 9uiet lane' There was no fear emanatinfrom her' ( headed in her direction and, while passin-, ( put an arm around her waist, pulled her to me, and bit, with a lower tooth (3d never had before, into her neck' (t was a pinprick, a small wound that would heal 9uickly' She fou-ht me for all of ei-ht seconds and then ( felt her hand caress the back of

my neck' ;+ho are you5< she whispered' ;+hat are you doin- to me5< .er blood flowed slowly into my mouth' (t was the richest, most sumptuous meal (3d ever had' (t was steak and butter and thick red wine that -ods ate on the hi-h holidays of their divinity' ;2lease,< she whispered in a waverin- voice' ;+hat3s happenin- to me5 ( feel it everywhere,< and she rubbed her body a-ainst mine' ( drank more and more' She told me thin-s in that park while people wandered past thinkin- that we were lovers who couldn3t wait for closed doors' As ( tasted her rich bounty, she whispered the secrets of her life' .er desires and disappointments, loves and mistakes flowed as her blood' ( reali&ed somewhere in the back of my mind that ( was somehow feedin- on her soul as well as the serum of her life' This deli-htful e perience lasted for a 9uarter hour and then suddenly the tooth retracted painfully into my lower -um' ( pulled back from her and she reached out for me' ;+ho are you5< she asked' ;*uvenal Ny ,< ( said' ;+hat did you do to me5< She brou-ht the fin-ers of her ri-ht hand to her neck' ;(t3s a dru-'< ;(,< she hesitated, ;( want more'< ;#eet me here tomorrow at the same time and ( will brin- it to you'< She was about to say somethin- else, but ( put a fin-er to her lips' ;Go,< ( said and she obeyed immediately' ( +AS ,/NN(NG T.,%/G. the park with all the fleet li-htness of a youn- deer or the 9uick-footed predator on its trail' ( was lau-hin- and uncontainable' #y first prey would for-et me' (f she didn3t, if she came back, ( would not return to that spot for many weeks' ( knew, somehow, that the dru- of my bite would turn to ic in her veins if ( ever bit her a-ain' ( sped all the way to .arlem, but when ( -ot to the street where "entral .ouse stood ( balked' For the first time ( understood, in my intellect, that thin-s had chan-ed' ( had been -oin- on my senses up until that block' $ut then ( reali&ed that ( couldn3t :ust walk into the political commune in bare feet, with blood on my breath' ( went into the alley of the buildin- across the street and scaled the wall with little difficulty' +hen ( reached the rooftop ( hunkered down, black skin in -atherin- darkness, to spy on my friends' "E"(0 $%NTE#2S AN! #(NE,@A *enkins walked out of the front door of the house late in the evenin-' ( concentrated on them with all of my senses' They talked about the meetin- they3d :ust 9uit' (t was a summit about me, my disappearance' They mentioned a white -irl ( was seen leavin- with' ;*immy was always a flake,< "ecil said' ;2rob3ly shacked up and hi-h as a kite with that chick'< An animal -rowled and ( started, lookin- around the empty roof' (t was only then that ( reali&ed the

bestial noise had come from the an-er in me' ;*immy don3t -et hi-h,< #innie said' ;>ou know that' Somethin-3s happened to him' +e should do like Troy says and -o to the police'< ;+e cain3t have the police rumma-in3 around "entral,< he said' ;+hat if they found our weapons5< +e had been stockpilin- rifles and ammunition for the comin- revolution' +e kept them in a trunk in the basement, ready for the day that martial law was declared on the $lack #an' ;+e -ot to do somethin-, "ecil'< ;%kay' >eah' All ri-ht' 0et3s -o down to that bookstore a-ain'< ( STA>E! %N T.AT roof for three days eavesdroppin- on my onetime comrades' (n the day, the sun would rise, bellowin- across the sky, and (3d fall into a coma after a while' At ni-ht ( roused and watched my friends as if they were prey' %n the fourth evenin- ( chased a youn- man down an alley three blocks north of "entral .ouse' ( yoked him in a doorway and bit into his shoulder' .e whimpered and cried as ( drank of the serum of his life' (t felt uncomfortably se ual' ( reali&ed that unless it was necessary, (3d prefer the blood of women' ;+hat did you do to me5< .is speech was slurred, but he was still afraid' ;Go,< ( said in a deep voice that was alien to me' .e ran' (3d for-otten about "entral .ouse by that time' For the rest of the ni-ht ( prowled the streets, lookinbut not wantin-, a dan-er but not a threat' At dawn ( returned to the $rooklyn warehouse where *ulia had taken me' Two floors below the room she3d first taken me to was the tomblike chamber that would be home from then on' She3d left the key to the door in my pocket' (n the darkness, far below the street, ( could hear the faraway sin-in- of the sun' ( felt safe in my vault =dan-erous too' I' T.AT +AS T.(,T>-T.,EE >EA,S a-o, %ctober F_`C' Since then (3ve inhabited the under-round chamber that *ulia somehow owned' The title had been si-ned over to me, and ( lived there, sleepin- in that bed or sittin- on the strai-ht-backed chair, -oin- out now and a-ain for a cupful of blood from some unwary pedestrian' Sometimes (3d bite them :ust enou-h to introduce the dru- into their system, then use their money to let a hotel room where slowly, over the course of the evenin-, ( would lick their necks and -rowl like a -reat wolf' ( have killed no one and discovered many thin-s about my mutation' %ne very important detail is that ( heal very 9uickly' ( found this out one evenin- when a -an- of youn- men decided to attack me and the woman ( was feedin- on in 2rospect 2ark' There were ei-ht of them, but ( was at full stren-th and so fou-ht them off after some effort' ( reali&ed later that ( had been stabbed three times in the chest' "ertainly my lun- was pierced and possibly (3d sustained dama-e to my heart' ( considered -oin- to the hospital, but somethin- kept me from human company when ( was wounded

and so ( went home to die' For many days ( lay on the floor of my chamber feelin- the pain in my chest' $ut after a week or so ( revived enou-h so that ( could -o out and feed' Now all that3s left of my fatal wounds are three whitish scars on my chest' ( don3t read books or -o to movies, watch television or follow the news' The only human contact (3ve had up until 9uite recently has been primarily limited to the whisperin- euphoria of my victims' (3ve fed every few days or so and have lived on the sustenance of human blood and the soul seepa-e when they are under my sway' ( can sit for days in my under-round chamber savorin- the soft murmurin-s of my victims' Their words about secret desires and unfulfilled dreams imbue me with the possibilities of a life that has been denied me' Sometimes ( drift for hours in the secrets told me from swoonin- lips' ( can see the ima-es that they remember and feel the emotions they have hidden from everyone else' For the first few years ( only went after women because of the intimate nature of my bite' $ut as time has -one by ( have also preyed upon some men' #y taste for blood has been refined and ( seek out certain flavors and scents' Some ni-hts ( -o out and there is no one for me' And thou-h ( prefer younwomen, there are others who demand notice' ( have discovered other thin-s about my nature' ( am, for instance, aller-ic to the full moon' Those ni-hts, if ( am e posed to lunar re-ency, ( develop a fever and a headache so powerful that ( am blinded by its potency' (f ( -o out in the full moon, ( remain incapacitated for over a week' This is how ( found out another 9uirk in my physical characteristics' +hen the fever is upon me ( am weak, so much so that most normal people can fend off my attack' And because the malady lasts for so lon- ( am further weakened by the subse9uent lack of sustenance' (n this diminished state ( am forced to seek out 9uarry that is likewise incapacitated' After the first time ( was weakened by the lunar aller-y, ( came upon an old woman confined to a wheelchair who had been left for a while by an unprofessional attendant' The attendant had -one down to the water not far from my crypt and was talkin- at a phone booth' +hile she was there ( snuck up behind the old woman and bit' .er dreams were fra-mented and her blood thin, but it was all ( could do' ( hoped that she would not die from my attack' ( find that since my transformation ( have an instinctual reverence for life in all its myriad forms' Spiders and roaches, rats and human bein-s all have a ri-ht to life in my eyes' ( drank half a dram of the old woman3s tasteless blood and hurried away to revive' Four weeks later ( saw the woman walkin- with a new nurse' She was healthy for a woman her a-e and chatterin- happily with the new helper' ( reali&ed then that my bite has certain curative properties' ( remember smilin- at my elderly prey as ( walked past' She looked as if she reco-ni&ed somethin- about me, thou-h that should have been impossible seein- that (3d attacked her from behind' AN%T.E, 2A,T %F #> life has been the coronas, empty circles of li-ht that are seemin-ly invisible to the human eye' They come in every color and have a variety of natures' Some are predatory, attackin- and destroyin- others of their kind' Some are able to communicate with me' Not many approve of my bein-' ( don3t know if it is that they don3t want to be seen or if they are repulsed by my ur-es and needs' ,e-ardless=we e ist on different planes and cannot touch or affect each other in any physical way' The only corona ( reco-ni&e is the yellow bein- that approached me while *ulia was makin- me into *uvenal Ny ' (t appears to me at times, impartin- cryptic messa-es about knowled-e and perception'

;>ou are on the path to knowin- what should be secret,< it has said more than once=not in words but the meanin- has crossed the void between us and settled on my mind' ( paid little attention to these messa-es until nine months a-o' ( was down on +ater Street watchin- the old woman who had been wheelchair bound before ( bit her' $y now she no lon-er had a nurse and was herself lookin- after what mi-ht have been a toddler -randchild' ( felt paternal toward the old woman and ancient in my bones' (t was a summer evenin- and the sun was far enou-h behind the hori&on that ( didn3t have to worry about li-ht-headedness' ;"ome,< a voice in my head said' ( turned and saw the :a--ed yellow corona floatin- in the air behind me' ( stood to follow, but the stran-e pipin- voice then said, ;0ater'< ;"ome later5< ( asked the empty air' The corona disappeared and ( went back to my subterranean home to wait for it to reappear' ( had eaten 9uite recently and so had no need to hunt' 0ate that ni-ht the yellow li-ht appeared in my chamber' (t did not speak but led the way up and out of my home' (t brou-ht me to the pedestrian entrance of the $rooklyn $rid-e and faded from si-ht' ( walked out on the pathway' (t was late in the evenin- and unseasonably cool, so ( was one of the few people out strollin-' +hen ( had :ust passed the first pylon of the brid-e, ( cau-ht si-ht of a woman who had climbed out on a -irder and was now about to :ump' #y condition makes me 9uite a-ile and stron-' ( ran strai-ht out across the -irder and cau-ht the woman by her wrist :ust as she was fallin- over the side' ( pulled her up and held her around the waist in case she wanted to try a-ain' ;This is not a -ood idea,< ( said' #y voice was dry and cracked, as ( rarely spoke out loud' ;+hat3s wron- with your eyes5< she replied' For some reason this made me smile' ;>ou were -oin- to kill yourself,< ( said' ;That3s not -oin- to happen now,< she said, ;obviously'< She looked back over the side a little wistfully' ;>ou want to buy me some coffee5< .E, NA#E +AS (,(!(A 0amone' She3d been born and raised in northern "alifornia and had come to New >ork to study paintin-' ;( married my hi-h school boyfriend, but we don3t really -et alon- anymore,< she told me at the Telltale $ean in $rooklyn .ei-hts' There was no hint in her demeanor that she3d :ust tried to kill herself' #y senses were in such a hei-htened state from the corona and savin- a life that it took me a while to identify the potency of her scent' There was a bou9uet to her blood that ( had never e perienced before' (t drew me on a primal level' ( found myself havin- to hold back from bitin- her ri-ht there in the coffee shop' ;(s that why you tried to kill yourself5< ( asked'

;Tarver is always depressed,< she said' ;.e mopes around the house when he3s not workin- and he3s :ealous of my paintin-' +henever (3m workin- he finds some way to interfere' Either he needs my attention or finds somethin- wron- with the house' .e comes in with plumbin- problems and unpaid bills=anythin- to distract me, anythin- so he doesn3t have to feel bad about me livin- my life'< ;That3s not really an answer,< ( said' ;( don3t owe you an answer, *uvenal' +hat kind of name is that anyway5< ;( was very sick once,< ( said' ;A woman saved my life and after that she su--ested that ( -o by the name *uvenal Ny '< ;+hy5< ;(t means Lchild of the ni-ht'3< ;(t3s like you were named after a poem'< ;The disease left me with certain aller-ies to natural li-ht' (f ( -o out in the sun, ( -et weak' (f ( stay out lon- enou-h, ( lose consciousness'< ;And do you -et a rash5< she asked' She was smilin-, less than an hour out from her attempted suicide' ;No, but ( -et a kind of aller-y to bri-ht moonli-ht too'< ;+ow' And you call this better5< ;(t is best' ( know the parameters of my e istence and e perience ecstasy every ni-ht'< This was true thou-h ( had never spoken it' ( wasn3t cursed or debilitated' ( didn3t miss my family or friends' The life ( had known decades before seemed to me like a rat trapped in a researcher3s ma&e' #y se , my race, my repetitious e istence=these were the chains of mortality, the bonds that ( had shru--ed' ;Ecstasy5< she uttered' The look in her eyes told me that ( loved her' The scent on her breath was the odor of procreation' ;+hy did you try to :ump5< ( asked' ;(t :ust all came to-ether,< she said in a matter-of-fact tone' ;( didn3t want to -o home to Tarver and ( was sure that (3d never paint a-ain'< ;+hy not :ust leave him5< ;$ecause that would kill him and then (3d have his death on my head'< ;And so you3ll do it a-ain5< ;( don3t think so,< she mused' (ridia had dark bron&e skin and lar-e almond-shaped eyes' .er -old-brown hair was lon- and thick, tied back into a braid that was reminiscent of a broad rope' ;+hy not5< ( asked' ;$ecause ( believe in fate and you saved me at the last possible moment, when ( had -iven up'< ;$ecause ( saved you, you won3t try to kill yourself a-ain5< ;Not :ust because you saved me,< she said' She reached across the table and took my cold hand in hers' ;( had already :umped' ( could feel the -ravity -ive way beneath me' ( had -iven myself up to death and then you cau-ht me and held me'<

+e -a&ed into each other3s eyes and ( was lost' ;+ould you ever -ive up the sun5< ( asked' ;Never,< she said' ;(3m a watercolorist and ( need it to feed my heart'< ;$ut you were willin- to die,< ( ar-ued' ;Not anymore'< (t was at that moment ( came into control of my life' All that had -one before was immediately obvious and clear' ( had e isted as human bein- for twenty-two years followin- the pathways that were prescribed' ( had a race and -ender, nationality and lan-ua-e' ( was what the world made me' And then, when *ulia came, ( was what she made me' So tenuous was my e istence that the transformation she wrou-ht tore apart the paper-thin fabric of my identity' ( hadn3t even been able to maintain my name' ( had, for fifty=five years, never made a choice on my own' ( was always led, always formed by others3 hands' Even my school politics came from a knee-:erk desire to belon-' (ridia had found her identity with a simple -esture, had chan-ed her direction when she saw a new li-ht' ;+ill you come home with me toni-ht5< ( asked' ;$ut ( have to -o back to Tarver in the mornin-'< ;All ri-ht'< ( +ANTE! #%,E T.AN anythin- to bite (ridia, to chan-e her from human bein- to predator child' The fan- in my lower :aw throbbed as we kissed, as we made love, but ( would not brin- it out' ( knew, instinctively, that if ( turned her, we would have to separate' That is why *ulia left me before ( awakened to my powers' The scent of love for us is fatal' %nce we make our children, we are compelled to devour them' This hun-er yawned in me like the chasm under (ridia when she leaped from the $rooklyn $rid-e8 it is why ( had never come across a bein- like myself' +e are very rare' %ur love is truly a hun-er, and we, like our human forebears, are our own best prey' ;+.AT3S >%/, ,EA0 NA#E, *uvenal Ny 5< she asked in the early hours of the mornin- after we3d made love for hours' ( had to think for a few moments before sayin-, haltin-ly, ;*ames Tremont of $altimore'< ;>ou don3t sound sure,< she said before kissin- my naval' ;(t3s been so lon-'< ;>ou3re not that old'< ;(3m older than ( look'< .er nostrils flared and the -land under my :aw swelled with venom' ( pressed a-ainst it and kissed her left nipple' ;$ite it,< she whispered' ;A little later,< ( said'

;( want it now'< ;.ow will ( ever -et you to come back if ( don3t make you wait5< She sat up in the bed, in the empty under-round room' ;(3ve never met a man like you,< she said' ;Then we3re even,< ( replied, thinkin- that ( hadn3t talked so much in decades' ;>ou really don3t need music or books or even paintin-s on the wall5< ;For a lon- time ( thou-ht that the only thin-s ( needed were food and sleep'< ;And now5< ;So much more that ( can3t even be-in to articulate it'< ;(3ll have to tell Tarver about toni-ht,< she said softly' ;>eah'< ;( won3t leave him'< ( wanted to tell her that the love wrenchin- my chest could never live with her=my hun-er for her soul was too -reat' ;+ill we see each other a-ain5< ( asked' ;( won3t leave you either,< she said with certainty' ;+hy not5 >ou hardly know me'< ;( know you better than (3ve known any man,< she said' ;>ou saved my life' And ( think that3s what you were made for=savin- lives'< B' ( T%%1 AN %FF("E on the top floor of the Antwerp $uildin- and put up a si-n that read) */@ENA0 N>U) 2,%$0E# S%0@E,' ( fastened little business cards to phone booths and bulletin boards around the city, had (ridia3s brother, #ontrose, make me a small +eb site, and took out an ad in two free papers' ( borrowed the money for these investments from some of my wealthier victims' ( plan to pay them back and so have chosen to overlook the undue influence ( had over them' ( decided on the path of self-employment because this is a-ainst the nature of my bein-' "reatures like me are supposed to be hidden in the ni-ht, secreted away from the world in -eneral' +e3re supposed to live off humanity, not aid people with their real and ima-ined pli-hts' (t was time for me to -o a-ainst the tide of my fate' #y business hours are from sunset to dawn, and ( will listen to any problem, any problem at all=from severe acne to the threat of death or imprisonment' ( accept and re:ect :obs, collect fees based on the client3s ability to pay, and spend every weekend with (ridia' ( find missin- persons, cure a variety of minor illnesses, and even save a life now and then' Tarver 0amone hates me, but ( don3t worry about him' ( can usually sense dan-er when it3s near and it3s pretty hard to do me harm' ( worry about (ridia sometimes, but she is so certain about ri-ht and wron-, and her own indecipherable path, that ( have not fi-ured out how to say no to her' And ( am addicted to her nearness' %nce, when she had to -o home to "alifornia for three weeks, ( fell

into a state of near catatonia that lasted for almost a month' (t took (ridia and #ontrose breakin- into my subterranean condo and her sittin- with me for hours to brin- me back to consciousness' (T !%ESN3T S%/N! 0(1E the -ood life, ( know, but it has its bri-ht sides' Every day ( -et calls from people who need someone like me' (3ve helped children with their homework and ladies shake their stalkers' ( cured one man of acrophobia and permanently paraly&ed a serial killer who wanted to stop his trade' Everythin- was -oin- fine until one early mornin-, at si minutes past twelve, when a woman walked into my office' (3m si feet and one half inch in hei-ht' She was 9uite a bit taller than (, with skin whiter than ma--ots3 flesh' .er hair was lu urious, lon- and black' She mi-ht have been beautiful if it hadn3t been for the intensity of her laser -reen eyes' The -own she wore was either black or -reen, maybe both, and her hi-h-heeled shoes seemed to be made from red -lass' ;#r' Ny 5< she asked' ;>es,< ( said, feelin- an unfamiliar wave of fear' ;>ou3re youn-'< ;(3m older than ( look'< She -lanced around my office' The dVcor was much like my under-round home' There were three strai-ht-backed oak chairs and a small round oak table under the window that looked out on $rooklyn' The only decoration that hun- on the wall was a watercolor of a patch of weeds in the bri-ht sun' ;#ay ( sit5< she asked' .er voice was neither masculine nor feminine, hardly was it human, it sounded so rich and deep' ;"ertainly,< ( said' She lowered herself into the closest chair and ( sat across from her' She looked into my eyes and ( concentrated on not lookin- away' This made her smile' (t was a predatory smile=on this sub:ect ( consider myself an e pert' She was beautiful in the way that fire is, dan-erous and untouchable' .er nostrils flared and then, after a minute had passed, she handed me a card that read a[QY] ^' bYac\[ in red letterin- at the lower left-hand corner' That was all, no :ob title, profession, address, or phone' There was no e-mail or emblem' (f you didn3t know what that name meant, then you didn3t know anythin-' ;.ow can ( help you, #s' !emola5< She smiled and stared for another spate of seconds' ;The paintin- surprises me,< she said at last' ;+hy5< ;>our hours, your profession' >ou don3t seem like a sun worshipper'< ;#y -irlfriend3s a painter' She -ave me that for an office-warmin- present'< ;Serious5< she said' ;"ome a-ain5<

;(s it serious between you5< ;+hy are you here, #s' !emola5< ;(3ve lost my pet'< .er smile would seduce emperors and fri-hten children' ;!o-5< ;A rare breed, lar-e and 9uite vicious'< ;( don3t know7< ;( worry that ,eynard may be dan-erous'< The li-ht in her eyes shifted, and either ( was made to pay attention or the words themselves moved me' ;!an-erous how5< ;.e3s a carnivore and he3s lar-e,< she said in way of e planation' ;(f a do-3s attackin- people in the city, (3m sure animal control will be out after it'< ;,eynard is a sewer rat in spite of his si&e' ( believe that he3s found his way into the abandoned subway tunnels under the city' There are, ( believe, people livin- down there, people who mi-ht not be on the radar of your animal control'< (3d spent some time in the various abandoned catacombs beneath the city' (3ve hunted there and spent some rela in- days deep under the -round, away from the sounds of the city' ;.ow bi- are we talkin-5< ;$i-'< #ahey carried a lar-e white ba- that looked to be made of some kind of naked flesh' From the sack she took a blue velvet roll, maybe a foot and a half in len-th' This she handed to me' ( unfurled the cloth, revealin- a simple black knife, somewhat less than a foot lon-' The handle was part and parcel of the metal blade' ;"arry this with you,< she said' ;( didn3t say ( was takin- the :ob'< ;!on3t let3s be coy, #r' Ny '< ( wanted to ar-ue further, but instead ( rolled the dark metal blade back up and stood' ;( -uess ( better be -ettin- to work then'< ;>ou can see me to my car downstairs,< she said, a little less formal than she had been' +hen we -ot into the close 9uarters of the elevator, ( was assailed by the odor of deep woods' (t wasn3t a sweet smell, but there was li-htness and dark, decay and new -rowth' (t was almost overpowerin-' %n the street there was a cherry red 0incoln Town "ar parked at the front door' A short, porcine man in a bri-ht -reen suit stood at the ready, waitin- for #s' !emola' As we approached him, someone shouted, ;.ey, Ny H< .e was :o--in- across the street, comin- ri-ht at me' (t was Tarver 0amone wearin- white e ercise pants and a -ray sweatshirt' .e was movin- pretty 9uickly when he pulled a pistol out of the pouch of the sweatshirt' ( was so surprised that ( didn3t move immediately' The chauffeur was taken off -uard

also, but #ahey was anythin- but slow' She reached out and put four fin-ers on the forearm of Tarver3s -un hand' The whole arm turned to spa-hetti and hun- down, lifeless' ;.e is not yours to kill,< she said in an almost matter-of-fact tone' ;Not toni-ht'< Tarver dropped the pistol and screamed' .e turned and ran away' .is -ait was odd because the ri-ht arm was still han-in- loosely at his side' ( turned away from him to stare at my Ama&onian client' ;+hat was that5< ( asked' ;>ou were not made for love, #r' Ny ,< she said' ;(ts spikes and spines will stake you as certainly as ,eynard3s -reat teeth'< +ith those words she moved toward the car door, now held open by the pi--ish driver' ( watched them drive away and wondered, for the first time, if this rebellion a-ainst my nature was a -ood thin-' G,AN! "ENT,A0 STAT(%N +AS pretty much empty at one in the mornin-' ( moved to the entrance of the (,T and made it to the downtown platform, populated with a few midni-ht commuters) youn- lovers and drunks, street punks and the homeless' A local train came and almost everyone -ot on' ( went to the far end of the platform and :umped down to the track' ( was movin- pretty fast, and so even if anyone saw anythin-, they wouldn3t have been able to stop me' .alf a mile north there was a metal ladder that led down to a network of sub-subterranean tunnels and corridors' %ne of these led to a crawl space that took me even farther down, to another set of passa-eways and access tunnels' Some of these paths led to offices and utility stockrooms used by subway workers for stora-e and rela ation' There were for-otten conduits also, some of which brou-ht under-round travelers to places that made up a city below the city' ( had been walkin- down a completely darkened tunnel for half an hour when a sudden stench almost brou-ht me to my knees' ( lit a match' /sually ( can move in the dark with no li-ht at all' (t3s one of the abilities ( developed after meetin- *ulia' $ut thou-h ( can move without bumpin- into thin-s, ( can3t really see' The match revealed a rottin-, decimated corpse' (t had been human, but ( couldn3t tell if it was man or woman' The -roin, belly, and chest had been ripped out and the face was chewed off completely' #uch of the flesh was -one' %nly the hands were somewhat intact, but they were -narled and filthy' +hoever it was, they hadn3t been dead for lon-, but down under the subway there was lots of life that sou-ht out dead flesh' ,oaches, rats, and flies swarmed around the corpse' ( sta--ered away wonderinabout #ahey U' !emola3s pet' Alon- the path ( discovered si more corpses' The odor was cloyin-' The scuttlin- sounds in the darkness were upsettin-, even for me' ( was headed for the under-round commune called the "ity of 0i-ht, named for the electric hookup a man named Nathan "harles had connected years before' There were lamps, fans, video players, and even computers in the cavern down under East Seventy-Third Street' ( had been down here before durin- my nocturnal wanderin-s, had -otten to know some of the people who inhabited this stran-e place'

As ( made my way toward the under-round cooperative, ( feared that there would be more bodies= many more' ;+ho3s there5< a man asked and a bri-ht li-ht shone in my ni-ht eyes' All my senses were temporarily blinded by the -lare, but (3d reco-ni&ed the voice' ;(t3s me, 0ester, *uvenal'< ;*uvy5< The li-ht moved away' ;+hat you doin3 down here, son5< ;( heard that there was some kinda do- down here attackin- your people' ( thou-ht (3d come down and help'< ;.elp yourself an3 -et your ass outta here,< one of my few friends told me' ;+hatever it is down here attackin3 us, it ain3t no do-' (t3s a fuckin3 monster, man' Shit' (t ripped off 0onnie $in-ham3s arm wit3 :ust one swipe' .e died screamin3'< +ith the li-ht out of my face, ( could see my friend 0ester' .e was my a-e 4and therefore looked much older6, tall like me, black, and bald' (3d met him on one of my so:ourns in the under-round caverns' ( liked him because he hadn3t been to the surface in thirty years' .e ran the "ity of 0i-ht, a beneficent mayor of the out crowd' ;.ow many people have died5< ( asked' ;There3s a do&en missin3' +e made us a bunker in the north 9uarter' Everybody3s there ri-ht now' The thin- cain3t -et in, but we ain3t been able to -et out to brin- down food and supplies' +e need a bi- -un too'< There came a howl throu-h the vast network of tunnels, caves, and caverns' The sound entered all of my senses) a sour taste and acrid smells assailed me, my skin ached, and visions of violent screams danced before me' #y entire body tin-led, then suddenly my attention was drawn to a spot up ahead' ;That3s it,< 0ester said' ;That3s the beast'< ;(t3s up ahead,< ( said' ;>ou -o on, 0' Go -et your supplies and weapons' (3m -onna take care of this here do-'< ;>ou cra&y, *uvy5 >ou :ust a kid, man' >ou cain3t hurt that thin-' ( shot it point-blank wit3 my twentytwo pistol an3 he hardly even slowed down'< 0ester -rabbed my arm and ( pushed him away' (3m much stron-er than normal men' 0ester hit the -round and rolled a few feet' ( turned my back on him and kept -oin-' The thin- wailed a-ain' This cry brou-ht on hallucinations' ( could see people runnin- from beasts of all sorts' ( smelled death and the stars themselves be-an to cry' ( saw men and women bein- raped then slau-htered=then eaten' Their attackers were vicious bein-s who looked like children but who were older than the oldest trees in the forest' +hen the vision ended ( found myself on my knees with a pain like a spike throu-h my brain' ( -ot up and moved 9uickly toward the "ity of 0i-ht' (T +AS 0ESS T.AN even a shantytown in a hollowed-out -rotto of stone' There were tents and leantos, fire cans and furniture under the electric li-ht that had christened the town of ei-hty or so' At the far end from the entrance was a hu-e metal door' No one knew what the vault was for' Now it held the remainder of 0ester3s people'

Above it on a natural stone led-e crouched #ahey U' !emola3s pet' .e was covered with -olden fur e cept for the snout, which was a striped black and blood red' .is paws were nearly hands, and thou-h he s9uatted down on all fours ( believed that he could stand upri-ht and tall' A -rowl sounded in my throat' All rational thou-ht fled my mind' A ra-e, deep and fri-htenin-, santhrou-h my muscles, and the beast above me howled' ( saw an eye in the darkness above #ahey3s do-' (t stared at me and wondered while the creature leaped from its led-e' ( saw the -olden blur comin-' ( wanted to dive and roll, then -rab and rend and bite and tear' $ut instead ( was da&&led by that eye, wonderin- what it could mean7 ,eynard slammed into me and ( went flyin-' .e was hard as stone, and ( was, for the first time in decades, merely human' ,eynard swiped at me, rakin- his claws first across my face and then on my chest' ( hit him with both fists and had no effect whatever' .e bit into my arm then butted me with his hi-h crown' ( fell to the -round, senseless but still hatin-' ,eynard hovered above me, his mouth a stenchfilled yawn of hun-er, hatred, and vicious anticipation' There came seven small pops' ( thou-ht for an instant that it was the sound of ,eynard rippin- off one of my limbs, but then ( heard a -ur-lin- cry' (t was my name bein- spoken' *uvenal' The thou-hts cascadin- at that moment didn3t have a linear pro-ression' 0ester3s face was there and his 'II pistol=that had made the pops' .e used his weapon to try to save me, doomin- us both in the process' The small-caliber -un was his only weapon' The black iron knife, shoved in my belt, was mine' ( didn3t try to unroll the blue velvet' +hile ,eynard looked up to see what was stin-in- his face, ( plun-ed the blue roll into his chest' .is howl was what ( can only call a cacophony of e plodin- stars' ( was fallin-, careenin- throu-h an emptiness that was unendin-' ( was impossible and so was the idea of me' ( was bleedin- and hatin-, killin-7 ;*uvy, stopH< 0ester yelled' .e was tryin- to pull me off the beast3s corpse' ( was plun-in- the knife into its inert body a-ain and a-ain' ( was outra-ed by the visions he3d shown me' ( wanted him to take them back' ;.e3s dead, manH< 0ester cried and he mana-ed to pull me back' ( was weakened by the wounds and loss of blood, but the ra-e still filled me' The knife pulsed in my -rip and ( turned away' ;*uvenal,< 0ester called' ;Not now, man,< ( said' ;Not now'< ( STAGGE,E! A+A> !%+N tunnel after tunnel, havin- no idea where ( was -oin-' The iron knife thrummed in my hand' (t felt -ood' (t felt diseased' (t felt alive and an-ry, like a bumblebee clenched in your fist' ( came across an abandoned campsite in a recess in a wall' There ( pulled out a soiled trench coat' ( put

it on to hide my bloody wounds and held the blade up in the sleeve of the coat' ( climbed up into the subway and made it to the Twenty-Ei-hth Street stop' ( climbed out and sta--ered into the -atherin- dawn' ;#r' Ny ,< a -ruff voice, which maybe shouldn3t have spoken in words at all, called' (t was #ahey3s pi--ish chauffeur standin- ne t to the cherry red limo' .e held the back door open and ( didn3t have the stren-th to refuse' ;.ello, #r' Ny ,< #ahey said when ( fell into the seat beside her' ( didn3t respond' ;!id you find ,eynard5< ;>eah' >ou didn3t say what you wanted me to do, so ( killed him'< ;*ust so' !o you have the knife5< (t was throbbin- a-ainst my forearm' ( didn3t want to -ive it up' $ut those -reen li-hts would not be denied' ( pulled out the blade and handed it to her' She took a plastic sheet from her skin purse and took the thin- without actually touchin- it' She placed the knife in the ba- and -ave me a smile that was supposed to be friendly' Then she produced a wad of cash and handed it to me' ;+here can ( drop you, #r' Ny 5< ( S0E2T %N #> office floor for more than si ty hours' #y small suite of offices has a bathroom with a chan-e of clothes han-in- in the closet' After two and a half days of comatose sleep, ( washed off at the sink and dressed' Then ( went to sit in a chair at the window and thanked the ni-ht that ( was still alive' #y physical wounds were almost healed, but the memories still pained me' ,eynard and ( had somethin- in common' .e was a creature like me' .is howls carried knowled-e and his stench spoke of an alternate history to the evolutionary blunderin-s of known life' And #ahey also was part of my hidden linea-e' ( was sure of this' And what was that black blade that she wouldn3t touch5 And that eye which ( ima-ined but am also sure of its e istence5 There came a knock on the door' ( wondered for a moment if it was Tarver with his -un or maybe #ahey, or one of her henchmen, with a pulsatin- black knife' A creature like ,eynard would not knock' ;+ho is it5< ;Eerie,< she said' ( opened the door and the woman ( loved all the way down to the molecular level stood there before me dressed in yellow and white' She looked me in the eye and ( looked back' ;+e have to talk,< she said'

( ushered her in' 2erched in chairs across from each other, it was the first time in months that we3d come to-ether without a kiss' ;>es5< ( said' ;Tarver3s in a mental ward, out of his head and with his ri-ht arm completely paraly&ed'< ;/h-huh5< ;.e -oes in and out, but at one point he said that you did this to him'< ;%h' +ell, you see=< ;+hat3s -oin- on5< (ridia asked' ;Tarver came here with a pistol,< ( said' ;+hat5< ;.e came up to me and pulled it out, but before he could shoot, the woman ( was with, a client, blocked his arm' .e screamed and ran away, but as far as ( could see she didn3t cut him or anythin-'< ;$ut then how did he -et paraly&ed and cra&y5< ( hesitated' /p until that moment, my identity, my abilities were secret' Secrets are like the ni-ht) they hide from si-ht that which we suspect and fear' $ut ( no lon-er wanted to live in darkness' (ridia, the love of my bein-, was not someone ( wanted to hide from' And even if the truth made me lose her, at least she would know me, if only for a while' ;( want to tell a story about a woman named *ulia,< ( said' ;She named me *uvenal Ny and made me a child of the ni-ht'<

T&# (NIF# Ric)ar % ams

A00 T.AT (S NA,,ATE! (N T.(S ST%,> took place in F_Bd' (t was not until 2hilip actually saw the knife lyin- in the bushes that his life chan-ed its nature, as it were, from a fantasy to a fri-htenin- possibility' .e stopped, turned his head for a -lance and then took a couple of steps back, stared and remained starin-, as thou-h he needed to make sure that the knife was real' >es, it was real all ri-ht' (t was the only thin- for some time that had been able to break throu-h the palisade of his dismal, all-absorbin- dread' $efore that, his thou-hts had been dominated by his horrible apprehension, the prospect of severe physical pain, inescapable and comin- soon' (t was as thou-h his mind had been runnin- a tape a-ain and a-ain' For its startin- point it had Stafford3s final words to him yesterday' ;So ( shall see you in the library after prayers tomorrow ni-ht, and you3ve -ot no one to thank but yourself'< Ne t came Stafford3s turnin- away and his own imprisonment, as it were, within those words, surroundin- him like the bars of a ca-e' And then the intervenin- time8 and so back to Stafford3s words' Ever since the be-innin- of this term and Stafford3s appointment as head prefect of the house, he had become=not only in his own eyes, but in everyone else3s=Stafford3s principal victim' ;Stafford doesn3t like you, does he5< *ones had said' ;And can you blame him5< added $rown, at which both of them had roared with lau-hter' All throu-h the term his offences had accumulated, earnin- themselves on the way a whole series of petty punishments, which had clima ed last week in his bein- beaten by Stafford in the house library' The pain had been severe=the worst he had ever under-one=and now it was apparently -oin- to be repeated' 0ast ni-ht he had hardly slept' .e couldn3t eat breakfast and could hardly eat lunch' *ones and $rown were the only people he had told' And now here he was, trud-in- thou-h the wet woods alone on a half-holiday afternoon' And now, here was the knife' (t burst in upon his thou-hts, which surrendered and came to a stop' (t was very like the knives he had seen on television, the knives which scores of people had handed in to the police as the result of a public appeal' .e stooped and picked it up' (t was a -ood foot lon- in its fancy sheath and it had a very sharp point' And now, strai-ht on cue, came the fantasy' The knife had been sent to him by a mysterious 2ower, and he was under orders to use it' .e was always entertainin- fantasies' There was no end to them) reven-e fantasies, se ual fantasies, supremepower fantasies' To a considerable e tent, he lived in solitude with his fantasies' /nder orders to use it' +hen and where5 ;#y lord, ( shall use it in the middle of the ni-ht, and no one will be able to tell<=.e broke off' !eliberately chan-ed his thou-hts' .owever, the first thou-hts returned' $ut of course he wasn3t really -oin- to use it, was he5 (f he did, what would happen then5 For once he couldn3t ima-ine' .owever, one thin- was clear' There would be a tremendous row8 the most tremendous row ever' $ut suppose no one could tell it was him5

.e wouldn3t be beaten a-ain, would he5 The beatin- would be swallowed up in the awful row' Everythin- would chan-e' >es, that was the real point' Everythin- would chan-e, includin- his life' No one knew he had a knife' And no one would want to claim it after he3d used it as he meant to' $efore house prayers that evenin- he had thou-ht out e actly what he was -oin- to do' Goin- upstairs to bed he was so much preoccupied that he stumbled into someone without noticinwho' ;%h, damn you, *evons, why can3t you look where you3re -oin-5< ;Sorry, er=sorry, er=< #ost of the senior boys had sin-le rooms' .e had had one now for two terms' That ni-ht after li-hts out he lay silently in the dark, willin- himself to keep awake' $ut he fell asleep' +hen he woke it was two in the mornin- by his watch' 0ast chance to say no' $ut yes, he was still determined to do it' +hat had he to lose5 Got the knife5 Got the torch5 Got someone else3s bath towel he3d pinched from the chan-in- room5 .e opened the door of his room, stepped into the passa-e and stood listenin-' Not a sound anywhere' (t wasn3t far to the door of Stafford3s room 4mind, no fin-erprints6' And now he was standin- beside Stafford3s bed, listenin- to his steady breathin- as he lay on his back' .e turned on the torch, shone it on Stafford3s throat and all in one movement plun-ed in the knife' The point was so sharp that he hardly felt it pierce' .e let -o of the hilt and all in one movement spread the towel over throat, knife and all, ran back to his room, shut the torch in a drawer and -ot back into bed' All this he remembered clearly' And the aftermath5 +ell, the tremendous row' The shock throu-hout the school' The shock throu-hout the country' The newspapers, the headmaster, the police, the fin-erprintin-' 4To what purpose5 .e had readily -iven his own'6 Apparently, no one had told the police that he was a boy on the wron- side of Stafford' So many boys were' .is parents had not been hard to persuade when he had asked them if he could leave at the end of the term' (3# .(S G%!FAT.E,, AN! (3ve always kept up a friendly interest in him' +e3ve been close friends for many years' %ne ni-ht last week, after he3d come to dinner with me, he told me everythin- and said that he3d often had a mind to -ive himself up' (3ve told him to dismiss that notion alto-ether and assured him that his secret is entirely safe with me' ( wouldn3t let on to a livin- soul' +ell, would you5

W#IG&TS %ND $#%SUR#S Jo i

T.E 0%/!EST S%/N! (N T.E +%,0! is the absence of a child' Sarah found herself waitin- for it, the moment she opened her eyes in the mornin-) that satin ribbon of a -i--le, or the thump of a :ump off the bed=but instead all she heard was the hiss of the coffeemaker that Abe must have preset in the kitchen last ni-ht, spittin- an-rily as it finished its brewin-' She -lanced at the clock over the landscape of Abe3s sleepin- body' For a moment, she thou-ht about touchin- that -olden shoulder or runnin- her hand throu-h his dark curls, but like most moments, it was -one before she remembered to act on it' ;+e have to -et up,< she said' Abe didn3t move, did not turn toward her' ;,i-ht,< he said, and from the pitch of his voice she knew that he hadn3t been asleep either' She rolled onto her back' ;Abe'< ;,i-ht,< he repeated' .e pushed off the bed in one motion and closeted himself in the bathroom, where he ran the shower lon- before he stepped inside, incorrectly assumin- the back-round noise would keep anyone outside from hearin- him cry' T.E +%,ST !A> %F Abe3s life had not been the one you3d ima-ine, but the one after that, when he went to choose his dau-hter3s coffin' Sarah be--ed him to -o8 said she could not sit and talk about what to do with their dau-hter as if she were a bo of out-rown clothin- that had to be stored somewhere safe and dry' The funeral director was a man with a bad comb-over and kind, -ray eyes, and his first 9uestion to Abe was whether he3d seen his dau-hter7afterward' Abe had=once the doctors and nurses had -iven up and the tubes had been removed and the crash carts pulled away, he and Sarah were -iven a moment to say -ood-bye' Sarah had run out of the hospital room, screamin-' Abe had sat down on the ed-e of the bed with the plastic mattress that crinkled beneath his wei-ht, and had threaded his fin-ers with his dau-hter3s' For a brief, heart-stoppin- moment, he thou-ht he3d felt her move, but it turned out to be his own sobbin-, :arrin- the bed' .e3d sat like that for a while, and then somehow mana-ed to pull her onto his lap and crawl onto the cot himself, as if he were the patient' +hat he remembered was not how still she was, or how her skin -rew ashen under his touch, but how she had wei-hed :ust the tiniest bit less than she had that mornin-, when he3d carried her throu-h the double doors of the emer-ency room' (t wasn3t remarkable to think that he=a man who lived by wei-hts and measures=would be sensitive to this even at a moment as overwhelmin- as that one' Abe recalled hearin- medical e aminers say a person who died lost twenty-one -rams of wei-ht=the measure of a human soul' .e reali&ed, thou-h, holdin- his dau-hter in his arms, that the scale was all wron-' 0oss should have been measured in lea-ues) the linear time line he would not spend with her as she lost her first tooth, lost her heart over a boy, lost the -raduation cap she tossed into a silvered sky' 0oss should have been measured circularly, like an-les) the minutes between the two of them, the de-rees of separation' +e su--est that you dress your dau-hter the way she would have wanted, the funeral director had said' !id she have a favorite party dress, or a pair of overalls she always wore to climb trees5 A soccer uniform5 A T-shirt from a favorite vacation5 There were other 9uestions, and decisions to be made, and finally, the funeral director took Abe into another room to choose a coffin' The samples were stacked a-ainst the wall, :et and maho-any sarcopha-i -leamin- at such a hi-h polish he could see his own rava-ed features in their reflections'

The funeral director led Abe to the far end of the room, where three stunted coffins were propped like brave soldiers' They ran-ed from some that came up as hi-h as his hip to one that was barely bi--er than a bread bo ' Abe picked one painted a -lossy white, with -old pipin-, because it reminded him of his dau-hter3s bedroom furniture' .e kept starin- at it' Althou-h the funeral director assured him that it was the ri-ht si&e, it did not seem lar-e enou-h to Abe to hold a -irl as full of life as his dau-hter' (t was certainly not lar-e enou-h, he knew, to pack inside the turtle shell of -rief that he3d armored himself in this past day' +hich meant, of course, that even after his dau-hter was -one, the sorrow would remain behind' T.E F/NE,A0 +AS .E0! at a church neither Abe nor Sarah attended, a service arran-ed by Sarah3s mother, who in spite of this still mana-ed to believe in God' At first, Sarah had fou-ht it=how many idealistic discussions had she and Abe had about reli-ion bein- akin to brainwashin-8 about lettin- their child choose her own rainbow of beliefs5=but Sarah3s mother put her foot down, and Sarah=still reelin-=was weak enou-h to be toppled' +hat kind of parent, Felicity had said tearfully, doesn3t want a man of God to say a few words over her dau-hter5 Now, Sarah sat in the front pew as this pastor spoke, words that flowed over the crowd like an anesthetic bree&e' (n her hand was a small teal -reen $eanie $aby, a do- that had -one everywhere with her child, to the point where it was hairless and frayed and barely even reco-ni&able in its animalhood' Sarah s9uee&ed it in her fist so ti-ht that she could feel its seeded stuffin- start to push at the seams' Try to remember, as we celebrate her short and -lorious life, that sadness comes out of love' Sadness is a kind of terrible privile-e' Sarah wondered why the pastor hadn3t mentioned the truly important thin-s) like the fact that her dau-hter could take a toilet paper roll and turn it into a pretend video camera that occupied her ima-ination for hours' %r that the only son-s that made her stop cryin- when she had colic as an infant were tracks from S-t' 2epper3s 0onely .earts "lub $and' She wondered why he hadn3t told the people who3d come here that her dau-hter had only :ust learned how to do a round off in -ymnastics and that she could pick the $i- !ipper out of any ni-ht sky5 %h, 0ord, receive this child of >ours into the arms of >our mercy, into the blessed rest of everlastinpeace, and into the company of an-els' At that, Sarah lifted her head' Not >our child, she thou-ht' #ine' Ten minutes later, it was over' She remained stone still while everyone else left to -et into their cars and drive to the cemetery' $ut she had worked out somethin- special with Abe8 the one re9uest, really, she3d had for this funeral' She felt Abe3s hand come onto her shoulder and his lips move a-ainst her ear' ;!o you still=< ;>es,< she interrupted, and then he was -one too' She walked up to the coffin, surrounded by an embarrassment of flowers' Fall flowers, like the ones she3d had in her weddin- bou9uet' She forced herself to -lance down at her dau-hter=who looked, well, perfectly normal, which was the -reat irony here' ;.ey, baby,< Sarah said softly, and she tucked the small -reen do- underneath her dau-hter3s arm' Then she opened up the lar-e purse she3d brou-ht with her to the funeral service' (t had been critical for her to be the last one to see her dau-hter before that casket was closed' She wanted to be the last one to lay eyes on her -irl, the same way=seven years a-o=she had been the first'

The book she pulled out of her purse was so do--eared and worn that its spine had cracked and some of its pa-es were only filed in between others, instead of -lued into place' ;L(n a -reat -reen room,3< she be-an to read, ;Lthere was a fireplace, and a red balloon, and a picture of73< She hesitated' This was the part where her dau-hter would have chimed in) the cow :umpin- over the moon' $ut now, Sarah had to say the words for her' She read throu-h to the end, -oin- by heart when the tears came so furiously that she could not see the words on the pa-e' ;LGoodni-ht stars,< she whispered' ;LGoodni-ht air' Goodni-ht noises everywhere'3< Then she drew in a ra--ed breath and touched her fin-er to her dau-hter3s lips' ;Sleep ti-ht,< Sarah said' (N T.E GAT.E,(NG .A00 at the church, Abe thou-ht there were obscene amounts of food, as if pastries and deviled e--s and casseroles could make up for the fact that nobody really knew what to say to him' .e stood holdin- a plate piled hi-h that someone had brou-ht him, althou-h he hadn3t taken a sin-le bite' From time to time, a friend or a relative would come up to him and say somethin- stupid) .ow are you doin-5 Are you holdin- up okay5 (t won3t hurt as much, in time' Thin-s like that only made him want to put down his plate and punch the speaker until his hand bled, because that kind of pain he could understand better than the empty ache in his chest that wouldn3t -o away' No one said what they all were truly thinkin-, when they furtively -lanced over at Abe with his bad-fittin- black suit and his Styrofoam plate) (3m so -lad it happened to you, and not me' ;E cuse me'< Abe turned around to find a woman he3d never met before=middle-a-ed, with wrinkles around her eyes that made him think she had smiled, often, in her youth' #aybe one of Felicity3s church ladies, he thou-ht' She was holdin- a bo of daffodil bulbs' ;(3m so sorry for your loss,< she said, and she held out the bo ' .e set down the plate on a chair beside him so that he could take the bulbs' ;2lant these now,< she said, ;and when they come up in the sprin-, think of her'< She touched his arm and walked off, leavin- Abe holdin- on to this hope' SA,A. .A! #ET A$E when she was new to 0os An-eles, and some friends had taken her to a ci-ar club that was so e clusive you had to enter throu-h a corporate office buildin- and -ive the doorman the password to be let into the correct elevator bank' The club was on the roof of the buildin-, and Sarah3s friends had tried to cure her East "oast homesickness by showin- off #el Gibson3s humidor' (t was a dark place, one where actors who fancied themselves to be musicians were likely to pick up a -uitar and :am with the band8 one that only made Sarah even more aware of how much she hated this city, this new :ob, this departure from where she really wanted to be' They sat at the bar, pullin- up stools beside a -ood-lookin- -uy with hair as dark as ink and a smile that made Sarah feel like she was cau-ht in a whirlpool' Sarah3s friends ordered cosmos and tried to outflirt each other=-ettin- him to reveal that he was the drummer in the band, and that his name was Abe' +hen one of the -irls came back from the bathroom and e claimed, .ave you seen all the stars5 Abe leaned over and asked Sarah to dance' They moved like smoke over the empty dance floor, to a canned :a&& track' ;+hy me5< Sarah asked simply' .is hand, restin- on the small of her back, pulled her :ust that much closer' ;$ecause,< Abe said, ;when your friend started talkin- about stars, you were the only one in this whole fuckin- place who looked up at the sky'<

Three months later, they moved to #assachusetts to-ether' Si months later, they -ot married, amid many toasts and :okes about Abraham and Sarah and their destiny to create a tribe' $ut like their biblical counterparts, it took years for them to have a child=ei-ht, to be e act' *ust lon- enou-h for Sarah to believe it was time to -ive up tryin-' *ust short enou-h for her to be overwhelmed with the news of her pre-nancy8 to never -ive a second thou-ht to the fact that this mi-ht not be the end of the stru--le, but instead, the be-innin-' %N T.E +A> .%#E from the church, Sarah turned to Abe and told him to stop at the -rocery store' ;There3s nothin- in the house,< she said, as if this wasn3t obvious on so many levels' They were too numb to think about how they looked, at one in the afternoon, movin- throu-h the fro&en foods aisle in coat and tie and pearls and heels' They wandered throu-h the store, pickin- out the items that seemed to scream normal) e--s and bread and cheese and milk8 thin-s any family could use' (n the cereal aisle, Abe started to automatically reach for the berry 1i , her favorite, until he reali&ed that they didn3t need it anymore8 and he covered -racefully by takin- instead the cereal bo beside it, some -od-awful bran thin- that looked like straw and that he knew he3d never eat' They went to the line with their favorite checkout -irl, the one who didn3t mind when their dau-hter helped scan the bar codes on the soup cans and the fro&en peas' She smiled when she saw them' ;+ow, look at you twoH< she said, -lancin- at their clothes and winkin-' ;!on3t tell me food shoppin- is what passes for a date without the kids nowadays7< Abe and Sarah fro&e' This woman wouldn3t know=how could she5 She thou-ht, as would any other stran-er, that their dau-hter was home with a babysitter, watchin- The 2rincess !iaries for the si hundredth time or pretendin- the Tupperware was a drum set' As Abe si-ned the credit card receipt, the checkout clerk reached beneath her cash re-ister and pulled out a lollipop' ;She likes blue, ri-ht5 Tell her ( missed her'< ;>es,< Abe said, -raspin- it so ti-htly that the stick curved' ;>es, ( will'< .e followed Sarah as she pushed the cart outside, where the sun was so bri-ht it brou-ht tears to his eyes' Sarah turned to him, speechless and starin-' ;+hat5< Abe said, his voice raw' ;+hat did ( do wron-5< T.,EE !A>S 0ATE,, SA,A. woke up and pulled on her favorite sweater only to reali&e that her arms now stretched a -ood three inches past the ends of the sleeves' Annoyed=did Abe shrink it in the wash5=she pulled out another only to reali&e that she3d out-rown that one, too' She stared at herself in the mirror for a moment and then pushed the sleeves up to her elbows, where she could not see anythin- wron-' She tried to pretend that she didn3t notice when she unloaded the dishwasher and could, for the first time in her life, reach the top shelf of the cabinets without havin- to stand on a stool or ask Abe for his help' %N .(S 0AST !A> of paid bereavement leave, Abe remembered sittin- in the hospital with his dau-hter' There were starfish painted on the window -lass, and while they waited for the doctor and Sarah read a waitin--room ma-a&ine from the turn of the century, his dau-hter had wanted to play ( spy' (t had -otten to the point, in the past seven years, where Abe could almost do this semiconscious= since his dau-hter had a habit of chan-in- midstream what her tar-et ob:ect was, anyway, the -ame didn3t make any linear sense' .e -uessed the e it si-n over the door, the bathroom knob, the starfish on

the far ri-ht, -ettin- more and more impatient, and wishin- the doctor would :ust come in already so that he didn3t have to play one more damn round' (t had only been a sore throat' .er fever wasn3t more than FEF' That was the criteria=you weren3t supposed to worry about a fever until it spiked past FEI, somethin- Sarah had learned the hard way when she3d call the pediatrician early on, freakin- out over everythin- from han-nails to cradle cap' $ut over the course of their dau-hter3s life, they3d weaned themselves into health care confidence' They didn3t rush her into the office at the si-n of the first cou-h8 they made her sleep overni-ht on an earache to make sure it was present the ne t mornin- before they went to -et it checked' And this time, Sarah had kept her home from school waitin- to see if it was a virus, or strep throat' They3d done what they were supposed to do as parents8 they3d listened to the doctors8 they3d played by the rules=and by dinnertime, the rules didn3t apply' "hildren weren3t supposed to die of strep throat, but then a-ain, you did not have to look far for the shouldn3ts' All over this world there were tsunamis sweepin- entire countries out to sea8 there were Eskimo women with breast milk full of mercury8 there were wars beinfou-ht that had been started for the wron- reasons' All over this world impossible thin-s were happenin- that never should have' Abe reali&ed he would play ( spy for a thousand years, if he could' T.E NEUT !A>, +.EN Abe left for work, Sarah cleaned' Not :ust a cursory vacuum and floor mop, mind you, but toilets scrubbed by hand and radiator re-isters bein- dusted and the washin- of the walls' She went into her drawers and ba--ed all the sweaters that did not fit, and the new pile of pants that ended above her ankles' She -ot rid of the travel coffee mu-s and -ravy boats and cherry pitters she never used, weedin- throu-h the kitchen drawers' She or-ani&ed Abe3s clothes by color -roupin-8 she threw out all the medicine bottles past their e piration date' She wiped down the shelves of the refri-erator and tossed the capers and the mustard and the horseradish that hadn3t been used e cept for that one recipe months a-o' She be-an to or-ani&e the closets in the house=the front one, with the winter coats still in hibernation and the boots tossed like -auntlets into a ,ubbermaid bin on the floor=and then the hall closet with its piles of snowy towels and heady potpourri' (t was in that one that she found herself reachin- to the rear of the top shelf=the hidin- spot she3d never been able to reach herself without a stru--le, before, and that therefore became her cache of "hristmas -ifts bou-ht and saved all year for her dau-hter' %ne by one, Sarah pulled out a remote-control robot, an art set to make flower fairies, a dress-up kit=treasures she3d found in *anuary or #arch or #ay and had known, in that instant, that her dau-hter would love' She stood immobile for a lon- moment, holdin- this bounty in her elon-ated arms, paraly&ed by the most concrete evidence she3d found yet that her dau-hter was Not' "omin-' .ome' Sarah sat down in the middle of the hall' She opened up the plastic shrink-wrapped robot, installed its batteries, and sent him careenin- into the bathroom' She opened the dress-up kit and wrapped a pink boa around her own neck8 peered into the tiny heart-shaped mirror to apply the fuchsia lipstick and -littery blue eye shadow, a whore3s version of happiness' +hen the phone ran-, she ran into the bedroom to pick up an e tension' ;.ow are you doin-5< Abe asked' ;Fine,< Sarah said' (n the bedroom mirror, she could still see the clown-red cheeks, the -arish mouth' ;(3m fine'< She hun- up the phone and went into the kitchen for a lar-e black trash ba-, bi- enou-h to hold a yard3s worth of leaves, or a closet full of the future' She scooped all the unused toys for her dau-hter into the trash ba- and carried it over her shoulder out to the -ara-e' $ecause it was not trash day, Sarah

drove all the way to the municipal dump, where she let the attendant punch her ticket once for the privile-e of haulin- the sack over the ravine3s ed-e' She waited, until this ba- full of what she3d lost nestled itself between other ba-s stuffed with the thin-s people actually chose to -ive away' 2.A,#A"(STS 0(@E (N #(N/T(AE, which is why Abe had learned a whole system of measurement in colle-e that most educated folks don3t even know e ists' Ask anyone who has ever filled the innards of a tiny -elatin capsule with a dru-, and they will know that twenty -rains e9uals one scruple' Three scruples e9ual one dram apothecaries' Ei-ht drams apothecaries e9ual one ounce apothecaries, which e9uals four hundred ei-hty -rains, or twenty-four scruples' Abe was tryin- to count the twenty-four scruples, but they had nothin- to do with the pills he had spilled before him on the little rubber mat from 2fi&er, a freebie he3d -otten at some conference in Santa Fe' (t was funny=a scruple, by itself, was a mis-ivin-8 make it plural and it suddenly was a set of principles, of ethics' (t was that simple, he understood now' >ou only had to survive one of your re-rets, and it was enou-h to make you reali&e you3d been livin- your life all wron-' .e re-retted tellin- his dau-hter to clean up her room the day before she died' .e re-retted the fact that he hadn3t hu--ed her in front of her friends after her fall concert at school, because he thou-ht her embarrassment was more important than his pride' .e re-retted not takin- his family to Australia, when they were still a family' .e re-retted not havin- been -iven the chance to meet a -randchild' .e re-retted havin- seven years, instead of seventy-seven' Abe pushed aside these thou-hts and be-an to recount the pills' $ut he had to keep hikin- up his pants =they were ridin- that low on his hips' Finally, duckin- behind a wall of meds, he unbuttoned his white coat and notched his belt ti-hter' (t would make sense that he was losin- wei-ht=he hadn3t been eatin-, really=but the belt suddenly didn3t fit at all' There simply wasn3t a notch where he needed it to be8 he3d -rown that thin, that fast' Frustrated, he unwound some twine in the back room used for shipments and took off his belt, loopinthe rope in its place' .e thou-ht of -oin- back inside and finishin- the order, but instead he walked out throu-h the back receivin- door of the pharmacy and kept walkin-=around the block, and then down three more, and throu-h the traffic li-ht, until he came to a bar he passed every day when he drove home' %laf3s, it was called, and it was open, even thou-h it was only eleven A'#' .e was aware, as he walked throu-h the door, that he looked like a poor man3s "harlie "haplin, with a rope holdin- up his pants' .e was aware that he hadn3t been to a bar durin- the day since he3d been a drummer a lifetime a-o' There were five people at the bar, even this mornin-, and they weren3t the sort of folks you found in bars at ni-ht' These were the hard-luck cases, the ones who needed whiskey 4a dramH6 to -et throu-h another few hours of an ordinary workday8 or the call -irls who needed to for-et before they went home to sleep off last ni-ht3s memories8 or the old men who only wanted to find their youth in the bottom of a bottle of -in' Abe climbed onto a stool=and climbed was the word8 he must have been more e hausted than he thou-ht, for all the effort that it took to -et onto it' ;.ave you -ot *ameson5< he asked the bartender, and the -uy looked at him with a smile as crooked as li-htnin-' ;Nice try, kid,< he said' ;E cuse me5< The bartender shook his head' ;>ou -ot any (!5< Abe was forty-two years old, and he could not remember the last time he3d been carded' .e had -ray

hair at the temples, for God3s sake' $ut he reached for his wallet, only to reali&e that it was back at work, in his locker, like usual' ;( don3t,< he said' ;+ell, then,< the bartender said' ;( ain3t -ot *ameson' "ome on back when you turn twenty-one'< Abe stared at him, confounded' .e :umped off the stool, landin- hard' The whole way back to work, he searched for his reflection in the shiny hoods of $uicks, in plate--lass windows of bakeries, in puddles' +hen you lost a child, did you lose the years you3d spent with her, too5 A +EE1 AFTE, T.E(, dau-hter3s death, Sarah could not stop thinkin- about her' She would taste the skin of the little -irl, a kiss, the moment before the chicory of the coffee kicked in, or the sweetness of the muffin blossomed on her ton-ue' She would pick up a newspaper and feel instead the rubbery band of small socks between her fin-ers as she folded them over after doin- the wash' She3d be in one room and hear the music of her dau-hter3s voice, the way -rammar leaped throu-h her sentences like a fro-' Abe, on the other hand, was startin- to lose her' .e would close his eyes and try to con:ure up his dau-hter3s face, and he still could, but it was unraveled at the ed-es a little more each day' .e found himself spendin- hours in her bedroom, inhalin- the smell of her strawberry-man-o shampoo still trapped in the fibers of the pillowcase, or porin- throu-h the books on her shelves and tryin- to see them throu-h her eyes' .e went so far as to open her fin-er paints, stand stripped to the waist in front of her tiny mirror, draw her heart on his chest' A0T.%/G. SA,A.3S #% +AS usually to do the opposite of whatever her mother told her to do, this time, she took her advice' She showed up at the church, shudderin- as she remembered the hymns that had been played at her dau-hter3s funeral, steelin- herself for the absence of the coffin at the altar' She knocked on the pastor3s office door, and he ushered her inside and -ave her a cup of tea' ;So,< the pastor said, ;your mother3s worried about you'< Sarah opened up her mouth to say somethin- snippy and typically awful, but she cau-ht herself in time' %f course her mother was worried' That was the :ob description, wasn3t it5 That was why she had come' ;"an ( ask you somethin-5< Sarah said' ;+hy her5< ;( don3t understand7< ;( -et the whole God thin-' ( -et the kin-dom of heaven' $ut there are millions of seven-year-olds out there' +hy did God take mine5< The pastor hesitated' ;God didn3t take your dau-hter, Sarah,< he said' ;(llness did'< Sarah snorted' ;Sure' 2ass the buck when it3s convenient'< She could feel herself dan-erously at the ed-e of breakin- down, and wondered why on earth she3d thou-ht it was a -ood idea to come here' The pastor reached for her hand' .is were warm and papery, familiar' ;.eaven3s an ama&in- place,< he said softly' ;She3s up there, and she3s lookin- down on us, ri-ht now, you know'< Sarah felt her throat ti-hten' ;#y dau-hter,< she said, ;can3t ride a ski lift without hyperventilatin-' She panics in elevators' She doesn3t even like bunk beds' She3s terrified of hei-hts'< ;Not anymore'< ;.ow do you know that5< Sarah e ploded' ;.ow do you know that there3s anythin- afterward5 .ow

do you know it doesn3t :ust7end5< ;( don3t know,< the pastor said' ;$ut ( can hope' And ( truly believe that your dau-hter is in heaven, and even if she does still -et scared, *esus will be there to keep her safe'< She turned away as a tear streaked down her cheek' ;She doesn3t know *esus,< Sarah said' ;She knows me'< A$E F%/N! .(#SE0F !EF>(NG -ravity' .e3d be standin- in the kitchen, -ettin- a -lass of water, and he3d find himself risin- to the balls of his feet' .e could not walk fast down the street without startin- to float between strides' .e started to put stones in the pockets of his pants, which were all too lon- for him now' .e was sittin- on his dau-hter3s bed one Saturday, rememberin- a conversation they3d had' "an ( still live here when ( -et married5 she3d asked, and he3d -rinned and said that would be perfectly fine' $ut what about your husband5 he3d asked' .is dau-hter had considered this carefully' +ell, we could set up the cot, like when ( have a sleepover' The doorbell ran-, and when Abe went downstairs, he found the little -irl his dau-hter had considered her best friend=the last one who3d used that cot, actually=standin- red eyed beside her mother' ;.i, Abe,< the woman said' ;( hope this isn3t too much of an imposition'< ;NoH< he said, too bri-htly' ;NoH Not at allH< ;(t3s :ust that Emily3s havin- some trouble, with, well, you know' She drew a picture, and wanted to brin- it here' She thou-ht maybe you could han- it up'< The little -irl thrust out a piece of paper toward Abe) a crayon drawin- of two little -irls=one dark-haired, like his dau-hter, one fair, like Emily' They were holdin- hands' There was a meltin- sun overhead, and -rass beneath their feet' Abe reali&ed he was nearly at a level with Emily8 he barely had to crouch down to look her in the eye' ;This is beautiful, honey,< he said' ;(3m -oin- to put it up ri-ht over her bed'< .e reached out as if to touch the crown of her head, but reali&ed that this mi-ht hurt him more than it would offer comfort, and at the last minute pulled his arm back to his side' ;Are you all ri-ht5< Emily3s mother whispered' ;>ou look7< .er voice trailed off as she tried to find the ri-ht word, and then she :ust -ave up and shook her head' ;+ell' %f course you3re not all ri-ht' (3m so sorry, Abe' ( truly am'< +ith one last look, she took Emily3s hand and started to walk down the driveway' Abe held the crayon picture in his hand so ti-htly that it crumpled' .e watched Emily kick the unraked leaves alon- the sidewalk, settin- up small tornadoes as her mother looked strai-ht ahead, not even aware that she was missin- this one small, wonderful thin-' SA,A. AN! A$E !(! not really speak to each other, not until Abe walked into their dau-hter3s room and found Sarah takin- the books off the shelves and puttin- them into bo es' ;+hat are you doin-5< he asked, stricken' ;( can3t move past this,< Sarah said, ;knowin- it3s all ri-ht down the hall'< ;No,< Abe answered' Sarah hesitated' ;+hat do you mean, no5<

Abe reached into one of the bo es and took out a fistful of picture books, :ammed them back onto the shelf' ;*ust because you3re ready to -ive her up,< he said, ;doesn3t mean ( am'< Sarah3s face bloomed with color' ;Give her up5< she whispered' ;(s that what you think (3m doin-5 For God3s sake, Abe, all ( want to do is function like a normal human bein- a-ain'< ;$ut you3re not normal' +e3re not normal'< .is eyes filled with tears' ;She died, Sarah'< Sarah winced, as if she had taken a blow' Then she turned on her heel and walked out of the room' Abe sank onto the floor, his fin-ers speared throu-h his hair' After a half hour, he stood up and walked down the hall to their bedroom' .e found Sarah lyin- on her side, starin- at the sun as it shamefully scuttled off the hori&on' Abe lay down on the bed, curlin- his body around hers' ;( lost her,< he whispered' ;2lease don3t tell me (3ve lost you'< Sarah turned to him, and rested her palm on his cheek' She kissed him, all the words she could not say' They be-an to comfort each other=a touch here, a brush of lips there, a kindness' $ut when their clothes had dissolved into pools on the floor, when Abe braced himself over his wife and took hold of her body and tried to settle her curves a-ainst his canyons, they did not come to-ether seamlessly, the way they used to' They were off, :ust enou-h to make it uncomfortable8 :ust enou-h for her to say, 0et me try this and for him to say, #aybe this way' Afterward, when Sarah had fallen asleep, Abe sat up and stared down at the end of the bed, at his wife3s feet han-in- lon- and white over its ed-e' T.E NEUT #%,N(NG, A$E and Sarah lay in the dark' ;#aybe ( need to be alone for a while,< Sarah said, althou-h it wasn3t what she3d hoped to say' ;#aybe you do,< Abe replied, althou-h it was the opposite of what he meant' (t was as if, in this new world, where the impossible had actually happened, nothin- fit anymore) not lan-ua-e, not reason, not even the two of them' +hen Sarah -ot out of bed, she took the sheet with her=a modesty she hadn3t needed for fifteen years of marria-e' (t prevented Abe from seein- what he would have noticed, in an instant) that the -rowth Sarah had e perienced was e actly the same amount Abe himself had diminished8 and that, if you could measure anythin- as insubstantial as that, it would have been e actly the same si&e and scope as the dau-hter they3d lost' SA,A. ,EA".E! T.E S/(T"ASE, even thou-h it was stored in the top rafters of the attic' Abe watched her pack' At the door, they made promises they both knew they would not keep' ;(3ll call,< Sarah said, and Abe nodded' ;$e well,< he answered' She was -oin- to stay with her mother=somethin- that, in all the years of their marria-e, Abe never would have ima-ined comin- to pass8 and yet he considered this a positive si-n' (f Sarah was choosinFelicity, in spite of their rocky relationship, maybe there was hope for all children to return to their parents, re-ardless of how impossible the :ourney seemed to be' .e had to pull a chair to the window, because he was no lon-er tall enou-h to see over its sill' .e stood on the cushion and watched her put her suitcase into the car' She looked enormous to him, a -iantess= and he considered that this is what motherhood does to a woman) make her lar-er than life' .e waited until he could not see her car anymore, and then he climbed down from the chair' .e could not work anymore8 he was too short to reach the counter' .e could not drive anywhere, the

pedals were too far from his feet' There was nothin- for Abe to do, so he wandered throu-h the house, even emptier than it had been' .e found himself, of course, in his dau-hter3s room' .ere, he spent hours) drawin- with her art kit8 playin- with her pretend food and cash re-ister8 siftin- throu-h the drawers of her clothin- and playin- a -ame with himself) can you remember the last time she wore this5 .e put on a ,adio !isney "! and forced himself to listen to the whole of it' .e lined up her stuffed animals, like witnesses' Then he crawled into her dollhouse, one he3d built for her last "hristmas' .e closed the door behind himself' .e -lanced around at the carefully pasted wallpaper, the rich red velvet love seat, the kitchen sink' .e climbed the stairs to the bedroom, where he could stare out the window to his heart3s content' The view, it was perfect'

GOBLIN L%(# $ic)ael S/an/ic0

(N FCGC, S.%,T0> $EF%,E T.E EN! of the Thirty >ears3 +ar, a patrol of .essian cavalrymen, fleein- the aftermath of a disastrous battle to the north wherein a botched flankin- maneuver had in an hour turned certain victory to ab:ect rout, made camp at the foot of what a local peasant they had captured and forced to serve as a -uide assured them was one of the hi-hest mountains in the Spessart re-ion of Germany' Amon- their number was a youn- officer named *ohann von Grimmelshausen, a firebrand and habitual liar who was known to his comrades as *ur-en, which in En-lish translates as *ack' As the front lines were distant and the countryside unwary, the patrol had picked up a -reat deal of food and several casks of ,hine wine on their way' So that ni-ht they ate and drank well' +hen the food was done, they called upon their -uide to tell them of the countryside in which they found themselves' .e, havin- slowly come to the opinion that they did not intend to kill him when they were done with his services 4and, possibly, havin- plans of lullin- them with his servility and then slippin- away under cover of darkness when they were all asleep6, was only too happy to obli-e them' ;!irectly below us, not a 9uarter of a mile3s distance away, is the #ummelsee<=in the local dialect the name meant Goblin 0ake=;which is bottomless, and which has the peculiar property that it chan-es whatever is thrown into it into somethin- else' So that, for e ample, if any man were to tie up a number of pebbles in a kerchief and let it down into the water on a strin-, when he pulled it up the pebbles would have turned into peas or rubies or the e--s of vipers' Furthermore, if there were an odd number of pebbles, the number of whatever they became should invariably be even, but if they were even they would come out odd'< ;That would be a very pretty way of makin- a livin-,< *ack observed' ;Sittin- by the banks of a lake, turnin- pebbles into rubies'< ;+hat they become is not predictable,< the peasant cautioned' ;>ou could not rely on them turnin- to -emstones'< ;Even if they did so only one time in a hundred7+ell, ( have spent many a day fishin- with less to show for it'< $y now, several of the cavalry men were leanin- forward, listenin- intently' Even those who stared loftily way into the distance, as if they did not care, refrained from speakin- lest they miss somethinprofitable' So, seein- too late that he had e cited their avarice, the peasant 9uickly said, ;$ut it is a very dan-erous placeH This was the very lake which 0uther said was cursed and that if you threw a stone into it a terrible storm immediately blows up, with hail and li-htnin- and -reat winds, for there are devils chained up in its depths'< ;No, that was in 2oltersber-,< *ack said ne-li-ently' ;2oltersber-H< the peasant spat' ;+hat does 2oltersber- know of terrors5 There was a farmer hereabout who had to kill his best plow horse when it broke a le-' $ein- of an in9uirin- turn of mind, he hauled its carcass to the lake and threw it in' !own it sank, and up it rose a-ain, alive=but transformed horribly, so that it had teeth like knives, two le-s rather than four, and win-s like those of an enormous bat' (t screamed in a-ony and flew away into the ni-ht, no man knows where' ;+orse, when the carcass hit the water, some of it was splashed over the farmer3s face, erasin- his eyes completely, so that from that instant onward, he was blind'<

;.ow did he know the horse was transformed, then5< *ack asked with a sardonic little smile' The peasant3s mouth opened and then closed a-ain' After a bit, he said, ;(t is also said that there were two cutthroats who brou-ht the body of a woman they had=< *ack cut him off' ;+hy listen to your stories when we can find out for ourselves5< There was a -eneral murmur of a-reement and, after a little proddin- with a knife, the peasant led them all downward' The way down to the #ummelsee was steep and roadless, and the disposition of the soldiers was considerably soured by the time they reached it' Their -rumblin-s, moreover, were directed as much toward *ack as toward the rascally peasant -uide, for on reflection it was clear to them all that he had insisted on this :ourney not from any real belief that he would end up rich=for what e perienced military man believes that5=but from his innate love of mischief' %blivious to their mood, *ack sauntered to the end of a crumblin- stone pier' .e had brou-ht alon- a double handful of fresh cherries, which he carried in his cap, and was eatin- them one by one and spittin- their stones into the water' ;+hat is that out there5< he asked, -esturin- ne-li-ently toward what appeared to be a lar-e, submer-ed rock, rou-hly rectan-ular in shape and canted downward to one side' (t was easily visible, for the moon was full and unobscured and its li-ht seemed to render the ni-httime bri-ht as day' ;(n my -randfather3s time,< the peasant said ea-erly, as if an ious to restore his -ood reputation, ;the !uke of +erttember- caused a raft to be made and put out onto the lake to sound its depths' $ut after the measure had been led down nine thread cables with a sinkin- lead and yet had found no bottom= why, then the raft, contrary to the nature of wood, be-an to sink' So that all made haste for the land, fearin- -reatly' Nor did any escape without a soakin-, and terrible diseases were said to have afflicted them in their old a-e'< ;So that3s the raft, you say5< ;(f you look closely, you can see where the arms of +erttember- were carved into the wood' +orn, perhaps, but clear to see'< The peasant pointed earnestly at some faint markin-s that a credulous man mi-ht convince himself were as described' *ack rounded on him sava-ely' ;>ou scoundrelH ( have been watchin- the cherry stones as they sank in the water, and nothin- happened to them' %ne did not become two, two were not transformed into seventeen, and none of them=not a oneH=showed the least tendency to become rubies or emeralds or vipers or o en or even fish'< 2rotestin- wildly, the peasant tried to scuttle around *ack and so off the pier' *ack, for his part, was e9ually determined not to allow him to do so' Thus it was that a -ame of rat-and-mastiff took place, with the peasant playin- the part of the rat and the cavalrymen the mastiffs' And thou-h the numbers were all on one side, all the desperation and cunnin- were on the other' At the last, *ack made a lun-e for the peasant and, :ust as the man escaped his enclosin- arms, found himself sei&ed by two of his lau-hin- comrades, hoisted up into the air, and thrown into the #ummelsee' !%+N, !%+N, !%+N, *A"1 sank, chokin-' The water was as clear as crystal, and yet far down in the distance as black as coal, for the monstrousness of its depth' So filled with an-er at his comrades was he that at first he did not notice when he stopped chokin-' Then, before he could properly marvel at this stran-e turn of circumstance, he was suddenly distracted by movements in the depths of the lake'

At a distance, the creatures looked like so many fro-s, flittin- to and fro, but as they -rew closer they seemed very much like human bein-s, save that their skin was -reen and their clothes, thou-h fine and flowin-, were clearly woven of seaweeds and other underwater plants' #ore and more of these water spirits rose up like divin- birds and 9uickly surrounded *ack' So -reat was their number that he had no choice but to -o with them when, by -estures and frowns, the sylphs indicated he was to descend to the very bottom of the #ummelsee' 0ike a flock of birds circlin- as they descend from the sky, they -uided him down' +hen finally *ack li-htly touched one foot to the floor of the lake, pushin- up a -entle puff of silt, and then with the other creatin- a second puff, he found there waitin- for him a sylph or ni 4for the ta onomy of lake spirits was not a sub:ect he was conversant in6 clad in raiment of -old and silver, by which token he took this bein- to be the kin- of the #ummelsee' ;A -ood day to you, *ack,< said the kin-' ;( trust you are well5< ;God save us from hurt and harm, friendH< *ack cried' ;$ut however could you possibly know my name5< ;As for that, my dear fellow, ( have been readin- about your adventures, most recently with those scoundrelly false comrades who threw you into this lake'< The kin-3s @andyke and mustachios waved li-htly in the water and this made *ack clutch his throat in sudden apprehension that he was breathin- a medium for which mortal men were unsuited' $ut then the kin- lau-hed and his lau-h was so natural and warmhearted that *ack could not help but :oin it' So, reali&in- that a man who could still lau-h was neither dead nor in any sense lackin- breath, he put aside his fears' ;+hat place is this,< *ack asked, ;and what manner of people live here5< ;+hy, as the sayin- -oes, LAs above, so below'3 +e have our farms and cities and churches, thou-h the -od we worship in it may not have the same name as yours' Salt hay is harvested to thatch our roofs' Sea horses pull plows in our fields, and sea cows are milked in our barns' "atfish chase mice fish, and water -nomes drive shafts throu-h the muck in search of mussels and precious stones' The maidens here may have scales, but they are no less beautiful nor any more slippery than those in your abovewater world'< So talkin-, the kin- of the #ummelsee led *ack alon- a pleasant road to what destination he did not yet reveal, and all the ni ies who had -uided *ack down formed themselves into a casual procession behind them, lau-hin- and talkin- amon- themselves, and flashin- from side to side as they went, so that they resembled nothin- so much as a -reat school of minnows' Above a windin- road they swam and then throu-h a forest of -iant kelp, which abruptly opened up upon a shinin- white city' Great were the wonders of that submarine metropolis' The walls of its buildin-s were so white they -lowed, for they were plastered 4so e plained the kin-6 with powdered pearls' +hile the streets were not paved with -emstones, many a fresco set into the e terior walls was made of nothin- else, and the scenes they depicted were not of warfare but of children at play and lovers chastely courtin-' The architecture was a happy blend of #oorish and Asian influences, with minarets and pa-odas e istin- in easy harmony, and entrances on all the upper floors as well as the bottommost' Nor did it escape *ack3s attention that there were neither locks on the doors nor -uards at the entrances to the palace=and this was far from the least of the wonders that he saw' $ut the -reatest wonder of all, so far as *ack was concerned, was the sylph maiden 2oseidonia, the kin-3s dau-hter, who came out to -reet her father on his return to the city' The instant he clapped eyes on her slim and perfect form, *ack was determined to win her' Nor was that a difficult task, as he was a well-made man with a soldier3s strai-ht bearin-, and his frank admiration drew from her a happy blush

and no protests whatsoever' Further, the mer-people bein- a .eathen folk and not bound by "hristian standards of propriety, their mutual infatuation 9uickly found physical e pression' Time went by' (t may have been days or it may have been months' 0ate one afternoon, lyin- in the princess3s bed, with the sheets and pillows all in sensuous disarray and a -reenish-blue noontide li-ht flowin- throu-h her bedroom windows, *ack cleared his throat and hesitantly said, ;Tell me somethin-, oh my best and belovedest'< ;Anythin-H< replied that passionate youn- sylph' ;%ne thin- continues to bother me=a small thin-, perhaps, but it nitters and natters at the back of my mind, and ( cannot rid myself of it, however ( try' +hen first ( arrived in this rich and splendid land, your father told me he had been readin- of my adventures' $y what ma-ic5 (n what unima-inable book5< ;+hy, in this one, dearest of scoundrels'< 4(t was the sylph3s sin-le most endearin- 9uality that she loved *ack for e actly what he was and not one whit throu-h any misapprehension of his character'6 ;+hat other book could it possibly be5< *ack looked from one end of the room to the other, and replied, ;( see no book'< ;+ell, of course not, silly' (f it were here, how could you be in it5< ;( cannot say, oh deli-ht of my eyes, for your answer makes absolutely no sense to me'< ;Trust me, he read of you in this book, nor have you ever left it'< Now *ack be-an to feel the stirrin-s of an-er' ;This one you say=which one5 The devil take me if ( can make heads or tales of your answersH< Then the lau-hter died in 2oseidonia3s throat, and she e claimed, ;>ou poor thin-H >ou truly do not understand, do you5< ;(f ( understood, would ( be at this very instant be--in- you like a fool for a simple and strai-htforward answer5< She re-arded him with a sad little smile' ;( think it is time you talked with my father,< she said at last' ;(S #> 0(SS%#E >%/NG dau-hter not ener-etic enou-h to please you5< asked the kin- of the #ummelsee' ;That and more,< said *ack, who had lon- -rown used to the sylphs3 shockin-ly direct manner of speakin-' ;Then be content with her and this carefree e istence you lead, and do not seek to -o 9uestin- out beyond the confines of these ever-so-pleasant pa-es'< ;A-ain you speak in riddlesH #a:esty, this business is drivin- me mad' ( be- of you, for this once, speak to me plain and simply, even as if ( were but a child'< The kin- si-hed' ;>ou know what books are5< ;>es, of course'< ;+hen was the last time you read one5< ;+hy, (=<

;E actly' %r that anybody you know read one5< ;( have been in the company of rou-h-and-tumble soldiers, whose response to comin- upon a library mi-ht typically be to use its contents to start their campfires, so this is not terribly surprisin-'< ;>ou must have read books in your youth' "an you tell me the plot of any of them5< *ack fell silent' ;>ou see5 "haracters in books do not read books' %h, they snap them shut when somebody enters the room, or flin- them aside in dis-ust at what they fancy is said within, or hide their faces in one which they pretend to peruse while somebody else lectures them on matters they3d rather not confront' $ut they do not read them' Twould be recursive, renderin- each book effectively infinite, so that no sin-le one mi-ht be finished without readin- them all' This is the infallible method of discoverin- on which side of the pa-e you lie=have you read a book this year5< The kin- arched an eyebrow and waited' After a very lon- silence, *ack said, ;No' ( have not'< ;Then there you are'< ;$ut7how can this be5 .ow can we possibly75< ;(t is the simplest thin- ima-inable,< replied the kin-' ;(, for e ample, dwell within chapters eleven throu-h seventeen of book five of somethin- called Simplicissimus' (t is, ( assure you, a -ood life' So what if the walls of my palace are as thin as paper, the windows simply drawn on by pen, and my actions circumscribed by the whimsy of the artist5 ( neither a-e nor die, and when you, takin- a brief rest from your romantic -ymnastics with my dau-hter, care to visit me, ( always find our little conversations divertin-'< Glumly, *ack stared out throu-h a window paned with nacre polished so smooth as to be transparent' ;(t is a hard thin-,< he said, ;to reali&e that one is not actually real'< Then, after a lon- moment3s thou-ht, ;$ut this makes no sense' Granted that my current surroundin-s and condition are hardly to be improved upon' >et ( have seen thin-s in the war that7+ell, it doesn3t bears thinkin- upon' +ho on earth would create such a world as ours5 +ho could possibly find amusement in such cruelties as, ( -rant you, ( have sometimes been a part of5< ;Sir,< said the kin-, ;( am not the artist, and he, ( suspect, is nobody of any -reat esteem in his unima-inably lar-er world' .e mi-ht pass you on the street unnoticed' (n conversation, it is entirely possible, he would not impress you favorably' +hy, then, should you e pect more from him than he= or, as it may be, she=mi-ht reasonably e pect from his or her vastly more potent creator5< ;Are you sayin- that our author3s world is no better than our own5< ;(t is possible it is worse' From his work we can infer certain thin-s about the world in which he lives' %ur architecture is ornate and romantic' .is therefore is plain and dull=sheets of -ray concrete, perhaps, with each window the e act twin of all the others=or he would not have bothered to ima-ine ours in such deli-htful detail'< ;Then, since our world is so crude and violent, it stands to reason that his must be a para-on of peace and -entility5< ;Say rather that ours has an earthy vi-or while his is mired down in easy hypocrisy'< Shakin- his head slowly, *ack said, ;.ow is it that you know so much about the world we live in, and yet ( know so little5< ;There are two types of characters, my son' >ours is forever sailin- out of windows with his trousers in his hand, impersonatin- forei-n di-nitaries with an eye to defraudin- uncharitable bishops, bein-

ambushed in li-htless alleys by knife-wieldin- ruffians, and comin- home early to discover his newlywed bride in bed with his mistress3s husband'< ;(t is as if you had been readin- my diary,< *ack said wonderin-ly' ;.ad ( a diary to read'< ;That is because you are the active sort of character, whose chief purpose is to move the plot alon-' ( am, however, more the reflective sort of character, whose purpose it is to e pound upon and thus reveal the inner meanin- of the narrative' $ut ( see you are confused=let us step briefly out of my story'< And, as simply as one mi-ht turn a pa-e, *ack found himself standin- in a pleasant -arden, awash in the -olden li-ht of a late-afternoon sun' The kin- of the #ummelsee was seated in a chair which, thou-h plain and simple, su--ested a throne=indeed, such a throne as a philosopher-kin- mi-ht inhabit' ;That is very well observed of you,< the kin- said in response to *ack3s unspoken observation' ;(t is possible that, with encoura-ement, you could be converted to a reflective character yet'< ;+here are we5< ;This is my dear friend !r' @andermast3s -arden in fayana, where it is eternally afternoon' .ere, he and ( have had many a lon- discussion of entelechy and epistemolo-y and other such unimportant and ephemeral nothin-s' The -ood doctor has discreetly made himself absent that we may talk in private' .e himself resides in a book called=but what matters that5 This is one of those ma-ical places where we may with e9uanimity discuss the nature of the world' (ndeed, its aspect is such that we could scarce do otherwise if we tried'< A hummin-bird abruptly appeared before *ack, han-in- in the air like a frantic feathered :ewel' .e e tended a fin-er and the bird hovered :ust above it, so that he could feel the delicate push of air from its madly pumpin- win-s upon his skin' ;+hat marvel is this5< he asked' ;(t is :ust my dau-hter' Thou-h she does not appear in this scene, still she desires to make her wishes known=and so she e presses herself in ima-ery' Thank you, dear, you may leave now'< The kinclapped his hands and the hummin-bird vanished' ;She will be heartbroken if you depart from our fictive realm' $ut doubtless another hero will come alon- and, bein- fictional, 2oseidonia neither learns from her e periences nor lets them embitter her a-ainst their perpetrator3s -ender' She will -reet him as openly and enthusiastically as she did you'< *ack felt a perfectly understandable twin-e of :ealousy' $ut he set it aside' .ewin- to the -ist of the discussion, he said, ;(s this an academic ar-ument, sir5 %r is there a practical side to it5< ;!r' @andermast3s -arden is not like other places' (f you were to wish to leave our world entirely, then ( have no doubt it could be easily arran-ed'< ;"ould ( then come back5< ;Alas, no,< the kin- said re-retfully' ;%ne miracle is enou-h for any life' And more than either of us, strictly speakin-, deserves, ( mi-ht add'< *ack picked up a stick and strode back and forth alon- the flower beds, lashin- at the heads of the taller blossoms' ;#ust ( then decide based on no information at all5 0eap blindly into the abyss or remain doubtful at its lip forever5 This is, as you say, a deli-htful e istence' $ut can ( be content with this life, knowin- there is another and yet bein- i-norant of what it mi-ht entail5< ;"alm yourself' (f that is all it takes, then let us see what the alternative mi-ht be'< The kin- of the #ummelsee reached down into his lap and turned the pa-e of a leather-bound folio that *ack had not noticed before'

;A,E >%/ G%(NG T% be sittin- there forever, wool-atherin-, when there are chores to be done5 ( swear, you must be the sin-le la&iest man in the world'< *ack3s fat wife came out of the kitchen, absently scratchin- her behind' Gretchen3s face was round where once it had been slender, and there was a sli-ht hitch in her -ait, where formerly her every movement had been a dance to music only she could hear' >et *ack3s heart softened within him at the si-ht of her, as it always did' .e put down his -oose 9uill and sprinkled sand over what he had written so far' ;>ou are doubtless ri-ht, my dear,< he said mildly' ;>ou always are'< As he was stumpin- outdoors to chop wood, draw water, and feed the ho- they were fattenin- for Fastnacht, he cau-ht a -limpse of himself in the mirror that hun- by the back door' An old and ha--ard man with a beard so thin it looked moth eaten -lared back at him in horror' ;Eh, sir,< he murmured to himself, ;you are not the fine youn- soldier who tumbled Gretchen in the hayloft only minutes after meetin- her, so many years a-o'< A cold wind blew flecks of ice in his face when he stepped outside, and the sticks in the woodpile were fro&en to-ether so that he had to ban- them with the blunt end of the a e to separate them so that they mi-ht be split' +hen he went to the well, the ice was so thick that breakin- it raised a sweat' Then, after he3d removed the rock from the lid coverin- the bucket of kitchen slops and started down toward the sty, he slipped on a patch of ice and upended the slops over the front of his clothin-' +hich meant not only that he would have to wash those clothes weeks ahead of schedule=which in wintertime was an u-ly chore=but that he had to -ather up the slops from the -round with his bare hands and ladle them back into the bucket, for come what may the pi- still needed to be fed' So, mutterin- and complainin- to himself, old *ack clomped back into the house, where he washed his hands and chan-ed into clean clothin- and sat back down to his writin- a-ain' After a few minutes, his wife entered the room and e claimed, ;(t is so cold in hereH< She busied herself buildin- up the fire, thou-h it was so much work carryin- wood up to his office that *ack would rather have endured the cold to save himself the e tra labor later on' Then she came up behind him and placed her hands on his shoulders' ;Are you writin- a letter to +ilhelm a-ain5< ;+ho else5< *ack -rowled' ;+e work our fin-ers to the bone to send him money, and he never writesH And when he does, his letters are so briefH .e spends all his time drinkin- and runnin- up debts with tailors and chasin- after=< .e cau-ht himself in time, and cou-hed' ;"hasin- after inappropriate youn- women'< ;+ell, after all, when you were his a-e=< ;+hen ( was his a-e, ( never did any such thin-,< *ack said indi-nantly' ;No, of course not,< he wife said' .e could feel the smile he did not turn around to see' ;>ou poor foolish dear'< She kissed the top of his head' T.E S/N E#E,GE! F,%# behind a cloud as *ack reappeared, and the -arden bla&ed with a hundred bri-ht colors=more of 2oseidonia3s influence, *ack supposed' (ts flowers turned their heads toward him flirtatiously and opened their blossoms to his -a&e' ;+ell5< said the kin- of the #ummelsee' ;.ow was it5< ;(3d lost most of my teeth,< *ack said -lumly, ;and there was an ache in my side that never went away' #y children were -rown and moved away, and there was nothin- left in my life to look forward to but

death'< ;That is not a :ud-ment,< the kin- said, ;but only a catalo- of complaints'< ;There was, ( must concede, a certain authenticity to life on the other side of the -ate' A validity and comple ity which ours may be said to lack'< ;+ell, there you are, then'< The shiftin- li-ht darkened and a wind passed throu-h the trees, makin- them si-h' ;%n the other hand, there is a purposefulness to this life which the other does not have'< ;That too is true'< ;>et if there is a purpose to our e istence=and ( feel 9uite certain that there is=(3ll be damned if ( know what it is'< ;+hy, that is easily enou-h answeredH< the kin- said' ;+e e ist to amuse the reader'< ;And this reader=who e actly is he5< ;The less said about the reader,< said the kin- of the #ummelsee fervently, ;the better'< .e stood' ;+e have talked enou-h,< he said' ;There are two -ates from this -arden' %ne leads back whence we came' The second leads to7the other place' That which you -limpsed :ust now'< ;.as it a name, this Lother place35< ;Some call it ,eality, thou-h the aptness of that title is, of course, in dispute'< *ack tu--ed at his mustache and chewed at the inside of his cheek' ;This is, ( swear, no easy choice'< ;>et we cannot stay in this -arden forever, *ack' Sooner or later, you must choose'< ;(ndeed, sir, you are ri-ht,< *ack said' ;( must be resolute'< All about him, the -arden waited in hushed stillness' Not a bullfro- disturbed the -lassy surface of the lily pond' Not a blade of -rass stirred in the meadow' The very air seemed tense with anticipation' .e chose' So it was that *ohann von Grimmelshausen, sometimes known as *ur-en, escaped the narrow and constrictin- confines of literature, and of the #ummelsee as well, by becomin- truly human and thus sub:ect to the whims of history' +hich means that he, of course, died centuries a-o' .ad he remained a fiction, he would still be with us today, thou-h without the richness of e perience which you and ( endure every day of our lives' +as he ri-ht to make the choice he did5 %nly God can tell' And if there is no God, why, then we will never know'

$%LLON T&# GURU -eter Stra.b

NEA, T.E EN! %F +.AT .E later called his ;developmental period,< the American -uru Spencer #allon spent four months travelin- throu-h (ndia with his spiritual leader, /rdan-, a fearsome German with a deceptively mild manner' (n the third of these months, they were -ranted an audience with a yo-i, a -reat holy man who lived in the villa-e of Sankwal' .owever, an odd, unsettlin- thinhappened as soon as #allon and /rdan- reached the outskirts of the villa-e' A carrion crow plummeted out of the sky and landed, with an audible thump and a skirl of feathers, dead on the dusty -round immediately in front of them' (nstantly, villa-ers be-an streamin- toward them, whether because of the crow or because he and /rdan- were fair-skinned stran-ers, #allon did not know' .e fou-ht the uncomfortable feelin- of bein- surrounded by stran-ers -ibberin- away in a lan-ua-e he would never understand, and in the midst of this -reat difficulty tried to find the peace and balance he sometimes e perienced durin- his almost daily, -enerally two-hour meditations' An unclean foot with tuberous three-inch nails flipped aside the dead bird' The villa-ers drew closer, close enou-h to touch, and leanin- in and :abberin- with -reat intensity, ur-ed them forward by tu--inat their shirts and waistbands' They, or perhaps :ust he, Spencer #allon, was bein- ur-ed, importuned, be--ed to e ecute some unima-inable service' They wished him to perform some kind of task, but the task remained mysterious' The mystery became clearer only after a rickety hut seemed almost to materiali&e, mira-elike, from the barren scrap of land where it s9uatted' %ne of the men ur-in- #allon alon- yanked his sleeve more forcefully and implored him, with flappin-, birdlike -estures, to -o into the hut, evidently his, to enter it and see somethin-=the man indicated the necessity for vision by :abbin- a black fin-ernail at his protuberant ri-ht eye' ( have been chosen, #allon thou-ht' (, not /rdan-, have been elected by these i-norant and sufferinpeople' +ithin the dim, hot enclosure, he was invited to -a&e at a small child with hu-e, impassive eyes and limbs like twi-s' The child appeared to be dyin-' !ark yellow crusts rin-ed its nostrils and its mouth' Starin- at #allon, the tremblin- villa-er raised one of his own hands and brushed his fin-ertips -ently a-ainst the boy3s enormous forehead' Then he waved #allon closer to the child3s pallet' ;!on3t you -et it5< /rdan- said' ;>ou3re supposed to touch the boy'< ,eluctantly, unsure of what he was actually bein- asked to do and fearful of contractin- some hideous disease, #allon e tended one hand and lowered his e tended fin-ers toward the boy3s skeletal head as if he were about to dip them for the briefest possible moment into a pail of reekin- fluid drawn from the communal cesspit' 1id, he thou-ht, for the sake of my reputation, ( hope we3re -oin- to see a miracle cure' At the moment of contact, he felt as thou-h a tiny particle of ener-y, a radiant er- as 9uick and flowinas mercury, passed directly from his hand throu-h the fra-ile wall of the boy3s skull' (n the midst of this e tremely interestin- and in fact ama&in- phenomenon, the father collapsed to his knees and be-an to croon in -ratitude' ;.ow do these people know about me5< he asked' ;The real 9uestion is, what do they think you did5< /rdan- said' ;And how do they think they know it5 %nce we have had our audience, ( su--est we put on our skates'<

/rdan-, #allon reali&ed, had no idea of what had :ust happened' (t was the restoration of a cosmic balance) a bird died, and a child was saved' .e had been the fulcrum between death and the restoration' A perfect (ndian e perience had been -iven to him' The -reat yo-i would embrace him as he would a son, he would open his house and his ashram and welcome him as a student of unprecedented capabilities' 2roceedin- down a narrow lane in the villa-e proper, #allon carelessly e tended two fin-ers and ran them alon- a foot or two of the mud-plastered wall at his side' .e had no plan, no purpose beyond :ust seein- what was -oin- to happen, for he knew that in some fashion his touch would alter the universe' The results of his test were deeply -ratifyin-) on the wall, the two lines traced by his fin-ers -lowed a brilliant neon blue that bri-htened and intensified until it threatened to sear the eyes' The villa-ers spun around and waved their arms, releasin- an ecstatic babble threaded with hi-h-pitched cries of :oy' Alon- with everybody else, #allon had stopped movin- to look at the marvelous, miraculous wall' An electrical bu&& and hum filled all the spaces within his body8 he felt as thou-h he could shoot sparks from his fin-ers' ( should touch that kid all over a-ain, he thou-ht' .e3d &oom ri-ht up off the bed' (n seconds, the vibrant blue lines cooled, shrank, and faded back into the dull khaki of the wall' The villa-ers thrust forward, rubbed the wall, flattened themselves a-ainst it, spoke to it in whispers' Those who kissed the wall came away with mouths and noses painted white with dust' %nly #allon, and perhaps /rdan-, had been cha-rined to see the evidence of his ma-ic vanish so 9uickly from the world' The babblin- crowd, not at all disappointed, clustered a-ain around him and pushed him forward' Their filthy, black-nailed hands -ave him many a fond pat and awed, strokin- caress' Eventually they came to a hi-h yellow wall and an iron -ate' /rdan- pushed himself throu-h the crowd and opened the -ate upon a lon-, lush flower -arden' At the distant end of the -arden stood a -raceful terra-cotta buildinwith a row of windows on both sides of its elaborately tiled front door' The dark heads of younwomen appeared in the windows' Gi--lin-, the women retreated backward' The villa-ers thrust #allon and /rdan- forward' The -ates clan-ed behind them' Far away, an o cart creaked' "attle lowed from behind the creamy-lookin- terra-cotta buildin-' ( am in love with all of (ndiaH #allon thou-ht' ;"ome nearer,< said a dry, penetratin- voice' A small man in a dhoti of da&&lin- white sat in the lotus position :ust in front of a fountain placed in the middle of the -arden' A moment before, #allon had noticed neither the man nor the fountain' ;( believe that you, sir, are /rdan-,< the man said' ;$ut who is your most peculiar follower5< ;.is name is Spencer #allon,< /rdan- said' ;$ut, #aster, with all due respect, he is not peculiar'< ;This man is a peculiarity entire unto himself,< said the little man' ;2lease sit down'< They sat before him, ad:ustin- themselves into the lotus position as well as they could, /rdan- easily and perfectly, #allon less so' .e considered it e tremely likely that in some deeply positive way he actually was peculiar' 2eculiarity of his kind amounted to a -reat distinction, as the #aster understood and poor /rdan- did not' $efore them, the -reat holy man contemplated them in a silence mysteriously shaped by the harsh an-les and shinin- curves of his shaven head and hard, nutlike face' #allon -athered from the 9uality of the silence that the yo-i was after all not unreservedly pleased by the homa-e of their visit' %f course the difficult element had to be /rdan-=the presence of /rdan- in this sacred place' After somethin- like nine or ten minutes, the yo-i turned his head to one side and, speakin- either to the

flowers or the splashin- fountain, ordered sweet tea and honey cakes' These deli-hts were delivered by two of the dark-haired -irls, who wore beautiful, hi-hly colored saris and sandals with little bells on the straps' ;(s it true that when you came into our villa-e, a carrion crow came topplin- dead from the sky5< asked the holy man' /rdan- and #allon nodded' ;That is a si-n, /rdan-' +e must consider the meanin- of this si-n'< ;0et us do so, then,< /rdan- said' ;( believe the si-n to be auspicious' That which eats death is itself devoured by it'< ;>et death comes tumblin- into our villa-e'< ;(mmediately afterward, this youn- man touched the forehead of a dyin- child and restored him to -ood health'< ;No one of this youn- man3s a-e and position can do this,< said the yo-i' ;Such a feat re9uires -reat holiness, but even -reat holiness is not sufficient' %ne must have spent decades in study and meditation'< ;And yet it happened' !eath was banished'< ;!eath is never banished, it merely travels elsewhere' >our student -reatly distresses me'< ;!ear #aster, as the villa-ers led us toward your house, this man ( have brou-ht to you e tended one arm and=< The yo-i silenced him with a wave of the hand' ;( am not concerned with such displays' Fireworks do not impress me' >es, they indicate the presence of a -ift, but of what use is this -ift, to what purposes will it be turned5< #allon had touched a dyin- child, the #aster said, yet had he restored it to health5 Even if he had, was the healin- truly his work5 #ere belief could heal as successfully as other forces, temporarily' +as #allon well schooled in the sutras5 .ow -reat was his knowled-e of $uddhist teachin-s5 /rdan- replied that #allon was not a $uddhist' ;Then why have you come5< #allon spoke from his heart' ;( come for your blessin-, dear #aster'< ;>ou cannot have my blessin-' ( ask for yours instead'< The holy man spoke as if to an ancient enemy' ;#y blessin-5< #allon asked' ;,ender it unto me as you did to the child'< "onfused and irritated, #allon scooted forward and e tended a hand' Almost, he wished to withhold his blessin-, as had the yo-i, but he could not behave so childishly in front of /rdan-' The holy man leaned forward and permitted his brow to be brushed' (f any molten particle of ener-y flew from his hand into the yo-i3s brain pan, #allon did not feel its passa-e' The #aster3s face contracted, no mean trick, and for a moment he closed his eyes' ;+ell5< #allon said' /rdan- -asped at his rudeness' ;(t is very much as ( thou-ht,< said the #aster, openin- his eyes' ;( cannot be responsible for your Spencer #allon, and you must not re9uest any more of me' ( see it all very clearly' Already, this most

peculiar, this most dan-erously peculiar man has awakened disorder within our villa-e' .e must leave Sankwal immediately, and you who brou-ht him here, /rdan-, you must leave with him'< ;(f that is your wish, #aster,< /rdan- said' ;$ut perhaps=< ;No' No more' >ou would be wise to separate yourself from this student as soon as you can do so honorably' And as for you, youn- man7< .e turned his sorrowful eyes upon #allon, and #allon could feel his spirit hoverin- near, irate and fearful' ;( advise you to take -reat, -reat care in everythin- you do' $ut it would be wisest if you did nothin- at all'< ;#aster, why are you afraid of me5< #allon asked' ;( want only to love you'< (n truth, he had wished to love the #aster before he met him' Now, he wanted only to leave the villa-e and its fri-htened, envious yo-i far behind him' And, he reali&ed, if /rdan- wanted to leave him, that would be fine, too' ;( am -rateful you do not,< the #aster said' ;>ou will -o from my villa-e now, both of you'< +hen /rdan- opened the -ates, the lanes were empty' The villa-ers had fled back to their homes' The air darkened, and rain be-an to fall' $efore they reached open -round, the earth had been churned to mud' A loud cry came from the hut of the poor man with the sick child, whether of :oy or pain they could not say'

C%TC& %ND R#L#%S# La/rence Bloc0

+.EN >%/ S2ENT EN%/G. T(#E F(S.(NG, you -ot so you knew the waters' >ou had certain spots that had worked for you over the years, and you went to them at certain times of the day in certain seasons of the year' >ou chose the tackle appropriate to the circumstances, picked the ri-ht bait or lure, and tried your luck' (f they weren3t bitin-, you moved on' 2icked another spot' .E +AS ",/(S(NG T.E interstate, stayin- in the ri-ht-hand lane, keepin- the bi- S/@ a steady five miles an hour below the speed limit' As he passed each e it, he let up on the -as pedal while he kept an eye out for hitchhikers' There was a strin- of four e its where they were apt to 9ueue up, colle-e students lookin- to thumb their way home, or to another campus, or wherever they felt a need to -o' There were so many of them, and they were always -oin- someplace, and it hardly mattered where or why' .e drove north, passed four e its, took the fifth, crossed over and -ot on the southbound entrance ramp' Four more e its, then off a-ain and on a-ain and he was once more headin- north' Takin- his time' There were hitchhikers at each e it, but his foot never touched the brake pedal' (t would hover there, but he always saw somethin- that made him drive on' There were plenty of -irls out there today, some of them especially allurin- in ti-ht :eans and braless T-shirts, but they all seemed to have boys or other -irls as companions' The only solitary hitchhikers he saw were male' And he was not interested in boys' .e wanted a -irl, a -irl all by herself' 0/1E D)D' 0%,!, +E finished all ni-ht and cau-ht nothin-' Sometimes you could drive all day, and the only reason you3d have to stop was to fill the -as tank' $ut the true fisherman could fish all ni-ht and catch nothin- and not re-ard the time as ill spent' A true fisherman was patient, and while he waited he -ave his mind over to the recollection of other days at the water3s ed-e' .e3d let himself remember in detail how a particular 9uarry had risen to the bait and taken the hook' And put up a -ame fi-ht' And si&&led in the pan' +.EN .E ST%22E! F%, her, she picked up her backpack and trotted up to the car' .e rolled down the window and asked her where she was headed, and she hesitated lon- enou-h to have a look at him and decide he was okay' She named a town fifty or si ty miles up the road' ;No problem,< he said' ;( can :ust about take you to your front door'< She tossed her pack in the back, then -ot in front beside him' "losed the door, fastened her seat belt' She said somethin- about how -rateful she was, and he said somethin- appropriate, and he :oined the stream of cars headin- north' +hat, he wondered, had she seen in that 9uick appraisin- -lance5 +hat

was it that had assured her he was all ri-ht5 .is face was an unmemorable one' The features were re-ular and avera-e and, well, ordinary' Nothinstuck out' %nce, years a-o, he3d -rown a mustache' .e had thou-ht it mi-ht -ive his face some character, but all it did was look out of place' +hat was it doin- there on his lip5 .e kept it there, waitin- to -et used to it, and one day he reali&ed that wasn3t -oin- to happen, and shaved it off' And went back to his for-ettable face' /nremarkable, unthreatenin-' Safe' ;A F(S.E,#AN,< S.E SA(!' ;#y dad likes to -o fishin-' %nce, twice a year he3ll -o away for the weekend with a couple of his buddies and come back with an ice chest full of fish' And my mom -ets stuck with cleanin- them, and for a week the house totally smells of fish'< ;+ell, that3s a problem (3m spared,< he told her' ;(3m what they call a catch-and-release fisherman'< ;>ou don3t come home with a full ice chest5< ;( don3t even have an ice chest' %h, ( used to' $ut what ( found over time was that it was the sport ( en:oyed, and it was a lot simpler and easier if the -ame ended with the fish removed from the hook and slipped -ently back into the water'< She was silent for a moment' Then she asked if he thou-ht they en:oyed it' ;The fish5 Now that3s an interestin- 9uestion' (t3s hard to know what a fish does or doesn3t en:oy, or even if the word en:oy can be applied to a fish' >ou could make the case that a fish fi-htin- for its life -ets to be intensely alive in a way it otherwise doesn3t, but is that -ood or bad from the fish3s point of view5< .e smiled' ;+hen they swim away,< he said, ;( -et the sense that they3re -lad to be alive' $ut ( may :ust be tryin- to put myself in their position' ( can3t really know what it3s like for them'< ;( -uess not'< ;%ne thin- ( can3t help but wonder,< he said, ;is if they learn anythin- from the e perience' Are they warier the ne t time around5 %r will they take the hook :ust as readily for the ne t fisherman who comes alon-5< She thou-ht about it' ;( -uess they3re :ust fish,< she said' ;+ell now,< he said' ;( -uess they are'< S.E +AS A 2,ETT> T.(NG' A business ma:or, she told him, takin- most of her elective courses in En-lish because she3d always like to read' .er hair was brown with auburn hi-hli-hts, and she had a -ood fi-ure, with lar-e breasts and wide hips' $uilt for childbearin-, he thou-ht, and she3d bear three or four of them, and she3d -ain wei-ht with each pre-nancy and never 9uite mana-e to lose all of it' And her face, already a little chubby, would broaden and turn bovine, and the sparkle would fade out of her eyes' There was a time when he3d have been inclined to spare her all that' ;,EA00>,< S.E SA(!, ;>%/ could have :ust dropped me at the e it' ( mean, this is takin- you way out of your way'< ;0ess so than you3d think' (s that your street comin- up5<

;/h-huh' (f you want to drop me at the corner=< $ut he drove her to the door of her suburban house' .e waited while she retrieved her backpack, then let her -et halfway up the path to her door before he called her back' ;>ou know,< he said, ;( was -oin- to ask you somethin- earlier, but ( didn3t want to upset you'< ;%h5< ;Aren3t you nervous hitchin- rides with stran-ers5 !on3t you think it3s dan-erous5< ;%h,< she said' ;+ell, you know, everybody does it'< ;( see'< ;And (3ve always been okay so far'< ;A youn- woman alone=< ;+ell, ( usually team up with somebody' A boy, or at least another -irl' $ut this time, well7< ;>ou fi-ured you3d take a chance'< She flashed a smile' ;(t worked out okay, didn3t it5< .e was silent for a moment, but held her with his eyes' Then he said, ;,emember the fish we were talkin- about5< ;The fish5< ;.ow it feels when it slips back into the water' And whether it learns anythin- from the e perience'< ;( don3t understand'< ;Not everyone is a catch-and-release fisherman,< he said' ;That3s probably somethin- you ou-ht to keep in mind'< She was still standin- there, lookin- pu&&led, while he put the S/@ in -ear and pulled away' .E !,%@E .%#E, FEE0(NG fulfilled' .e had never moved from the house he was born in, and it had been his alone ever since his mother3s death ten years a-o' .e checked the mail, which yielded half a do&en envelopes with checks in them' .e had a mail-order business, sellin- fishin- lures, and he spent the better part of an hour preparin- the checks for deposit and packin- the orders for shipment' .e3d make more money if he put his business online and let people pay with credit cards, but he didn3t need much money, and he found it easier to let thin-s remain as they were' .e ran the same ads every month in the same ma-a&ines, and his old customers reordered, and enou-h new customers turned up to keep him -oin-' .e cooked some pasta, heated some meat sauce, chopped some lettuce for a salad, dri&&led a little olive oil over it' .e ate at the kitchen table, washed the dishes, watched the T@ news' +hen it ended he left the picture on but muted the sound, and thou-ht about the -irl' Now, thou-h, he -ave himself over to the fantasy she inspired' A lonely road' A piece of tape across her mouth' A stru--le endin- with her arms broken' Strippin- her' 2iercin- each of her openin-s in turn' Givin- her physical pain to keep her terror company' And finishin- her with a knife' No, with his hands, stran-lin- her' No, better yet, with his forearm

across her throat, and his wei-ht pressin- down, throttlin- her' Ah, the :oy of it, the thrill of it, the sweet release of it' And now it was almost as real to him as if it had happened' $ut it hadn3t happened' .e3d left her at her door, untouched, with only a hint of what mi-ht have been' And, because it hadn3t happened, there was no ice chest full of fish to clean???no body to dispose of, no evidence to -et rid of, not even that feelin- of re-ret that had undercut his pleasure on so many otherwise perfect occasions' "atch and release' That was the ticket, catch and release' T.E ,%A!.%/SE .A! A name, Toddle (nn, but nobody ever called it anythin- but ,oy3s, after the man who3d owned it for close to fifty years until his liver 9uit on him' That was somethin- he would probably never have to worry about, as he3d never been much of a drinker' Toni-ht, three days after he3d dropped the youn- hitchhiker at her door, he3d had the impulse to -o barhoppin-, and ,oy3s was his fourth stop' .e3d ordered a beer at the first place and drank two sips of it, left the second bar without orderin- anythin-, and drank most of the "oke he ordered at bar number three' ,oy3s had beer on draft, and he stood at the bar and ordered a -lass of it' There was an En-lish sonhe3d heard once, of which he recalled only one verse) The man who buys a pint of beer Gets half a pint of water8 The only thin- the landlord3s -ot That3s any -ood3s his dau-hter' The beer was watery, to be sure, but it didn3t matter because he didn3t care about beer, -ood or bad' $ut the bar held somethin- to interest him, the very thin- he3d come out for' She was two stools away from him, and she was drinkin- somethin- in a stemmed -lass, with an oran-e slice in it' At first -lance she looked like the hitchhiker, or like her older sister, the one who3d -one wron-' .er blouse was a si&e too small, and she3d tried to cope by unbuttonin- an e tra button' The lipstick was smeared on her full-lipped mouth, and her nail polish was chipped' She picked up her drink and was surprised to find that she3d finished it' She shook her head, as if wonderin- how to contend with this unanticipated development, and while she was workin- it out he lifted a hand to catch the barman3s eye, then pointed at the -irl3s empty -lass' She waited until the fresh drink was in front of her, then picked it up and turned toward her benefactor' ;Thank you,< she said, ;you3re a -entleman'< .e closed the distance between them' ;And a fisherman,< he said' S%#ET(#ES (T !(!N3T #ATTE, what you had on your hook' Sometimes it wasn3t even necessary to wet a line' Sometimes all you had to do was sit there and they3d :ump ri-ht into the boat' She3d had several drinks before the one he3d bou-ht her, and she didn3t really need the two others he bou-ht her after that' $ut she thou-ht she did, and he didn3t mind spendin- the money or sittin- there while she drank them'

.er name, she told him repeatedly, was #arni' .e was in no dan-er of for-ettin- that fact, nor did she seem to be in any dan-er of rememberin- his name, which she kept askin- him over and over' .e3d said it was *ack=it wasn3t=and she kept apolo-i&in- for her inability to retain that information' ;(3m #arni,< she3d say on each occasion' ;+ith an i,< she added, more often than not' .e found himself rememberin- a woman he3d picked up years a-o in a bar with much the same ambience' She3d been a very different sort of drunk, althou-h she3d been punishin- the .arvey +allban-ers as industriously as #arni was knockin- back the -andy dancers' She3d -rown 9uieter and 9uieter, and her eyes went -lassy, and by the time he3d driven them to the place he3d selected in advance, she was out cold' .e3d had some very interestin- plans for her, and here she was, the ne t thin- to comatose, and wholly incapable of knowin- what was bein- done to her' So he3d let himself ima-ine that she was dead, and took her that way, and kept waitin- for her to wake up, but she didn3t' And it was e citin-, more e citin- than he3d have -uessed, but at the end he held himself back' And paused for a moment to consider the situation, and then very deliberately broke her neck' And then took her a-ain, ima-inin- that she was only sleepin-' And that was -ood, too' ;AT 0EAST ( G%T the house,< she was sayin-' ;#y e took the kids away from me, can you ima-ine that5 Got some lawyer sayin- ( was an un=t mother' "an you ima-ine that5< The house her e -husband had let her keep certainly looked like a drunk lived in it' (t wasn3t filthy, :ust remarkably untidy' She -rabbed him by the hand and led him up a fli-ht of stairs and into her bedroom, which was no neater than the rest of the place, then turned and threw herself into his arms' .e disen-a-ed, and she seemed pu&&led' .e asked if there was anythin- in the house to drink, and she said there was beer in the frid-e, and there mi-ht be some vodka in the free&er' .e said he3d be ri-ht back' .e -ave her five minutes, and when he returned with a can of ,ollin- ,ock and a half-pint of vodka, she was sprawled naked on her back, snorin-' .e set the beer can and the vodka bottle on the bedside table, and drew the blanket to cover her' ;"atch and release,< he said, and left her there' F(S.(NG +AS N%T */ST a metaphor' A couple of days later he walked out his front door into a cool autumn mornin-' The sky was overcast, the humidity lower than it had been' The bree&e was out of the west' (t was :ust the day for it' .e -ot his -ear to-ether, made his choices, and drove to the bank of a creek that was always -ood on this kind of day' .e fished the spot for an hour, and by the time he left he had hooked and landed three trout' Each had put up a -ood fi-ht, and as he released them he mi-ht have observed that they3d earned their freedom, that each deserved another chance at life' $ut what did that mean, really5 "ould a fish be said to earn or deserve anythin-5 "ould anyone5 And did a desperate effort to remain alive somehow entitle one to live5 "onsider the humble flounder' .e was a saltwater fish, a bottom fish, and when you hooked him he rarely did much more than flop around a little while you reeled him in' !id this make him the trout3s moral inferior5 !id he have less ri-ht to live because of his -enetically prescribed behavior5

.e stopped on the way home, had a hambur-er and a side of well-done fries' !rank a cup of coffee' ,ead the paper' $ack home, he cleaned and sorted his tackle and put everythin- away where it belon-ed' T.AT N(G.T (T ,A(NE!, and did so off and on for the ne t three days' .e stayed close to home, watched a little television' Ni-hts, he3d lean back in his recliner and close his eyes, lettin- himself remember' %nce, a few months back, he3d tried to count' .e3d been doin- this for years, lon- before his mother died, and in the early years his appetite had been ravenous' (t was, he sometimes thou-ht, a miracle he hadn3t been cau-ht' $ack then he3d left !NA all over the place, alon- with God knew what else in the way of trace evidence' Somehow he3d -otten away with it' (f they3d ever picked him up, if he3d ever attracted the sli-htest bit of official attention, he was sure he3d have caved immediately' .e3d have told them everythin-, confessed to everythin-' They wouldn3t have needed trace evidence, let alone !NA' All they3d have needed was a cell to lock him into and a key to throw away' So there had been many, but he3d ran-ed far and wide and little of what he did ran to pattern' .e3d read about other men who had very specific tastes, in essence always huntin- the same woman and killinher in the same fashion' (f anythin-, he3d deliberately sou-ht variety, not for precautionary reasons but because it was indeed the spice of life=or death, as you prefer' +hen ( have to choose between two evils, #ae +est had said, ( pick the one ( haven3t tried yet' #ade sense to him' And after he3d chan-ed, after he had in fact become a catch-and-release fisherman, there3d been a point when it seemed to him as thou-h he3d had a divine hand keepin- him safe all those years' +ho was to say that there was not a purpose to it all, and a -uidin- force runnin- the universe5 .e3d been spared so that he could=do what5 "atch and release5 (t hadn3t taken him lon- to decide that was nonsense' .e3d killed all those -irls because he3d wanted to =or needed to, whatever' And he3d stopped killin- because he no lon-er needed or wanted to kill, was in fact better served by, well, catchin- and releasin-' So how many had there been5 The simple answer was that he did not know, and had no way of knowin-' .e had never taken trophies, never kept souvenirs' .e had memories, but it had become virtually impossible to distin-uish between recollections of actual events and recollections of fantasies' %ne memory was as real as another, whether it had happened or not' And, really, what difference did it make5 .e thou-ht of that serial killer they3d cau-ht in Te as, the idiot who kept findin- new killin-s to confess to and leadin- the authorities to more unmarked -raves' E cept some of the victims turned out to have been killed when he was in custody in another state' +as he connin- them, for some ine plicable reason5 %r was he simply rememberin-=vividly, and in detail=acts he had not in actuality committed5 .E !(!N3T #(N! T.E rain' .is had been a solitary childhood, and he3d -rown into a solitary adult' .e had never had friends, and had never felt the need' Sometimes he liked the illusion of society, and at such times he would -o to a bar or restaurant, or walk in a shoppin- mall, or sit in a movie theater, simply to be amon- stran-ers' $ut most of the time his own company was company enou-h' %ne rainy afternoon he picked a book from the shelf' (t was The "ompleat An-ler, by (&aak +alton,

and he3d read it throu-h countless times and flipped throu-h it many times more' .e always seemed to find somethin- worth thinkin- about between its covers' God never did make a more calm, 9uiet, innocent recreation than an-lin-, he read' The line resonated with him, as it always did, and he decided the only chan-e he could make would be to the final word of it' .e preferred fishin- to an-lin-, fisherman to an-ler' Stephen 0eacock, after all, had observed that an-lin- was the name -iven to fishin- by people who couldn3t fish' %n the first clear day, he made a -rocery list and went to the mall' .e pushed a cart up one aisle and down the ne t, pickin- up e--s and bacon and pasta and canned sauce, and he was wei-hin- the merits of two brands of laundry deter-ent when he saw the woman' .e hadn3t been lookin- for her, hadn3t been lookin- for anyone' The only thin- on his mind was deter-ent and fabric softener, and then he looked up and there she was' She was beautiful, not youn--pretty like the hitchhiker or slutty-available like #arni the barfly, but -enuinely beautiful' She could have been an actress or a model, thou-h he somehow knew she wasn3t' 0on- dark hair, lon- le-s, a fi-ure that was at once athletic and womanly' An oval face, a stron- nose, hi-h cheekbones' $ut it wasn3t her beauty he found himself respondin- to, it was somethin- else, some indefinable 9uality that suddenly rendered the Tide and the !owny, indeed all the contents of his shoppin- cart, entirely unimportant' She was wearin- slacks and an unbuttoned lon--sleeved canvas shirt over a pale blue T-shirt, and there was nothin- terribly provocative about her outfit, but it scarcely mattered what she wore' .e saw that she had a lon- shoppin- list she consulted, and only a few items already in her cart' .e had time, he decided, time enou-h to wheel his cart to the bank of cashiers and pay cash for his -roceries' That was better than simply walkin- away from the cart' 2eople tended to remember you when you did that' .e loaded the ba-s of -roceries back into his cart, and on the way to his S/@ he turned periodically for a look at the entrance' .e stowed the ba-s in back, -ot behind the wheel, and found a -ood spot to wait for her' .e sat there patiently with the motor idlin-' .e wasn3t payin- attention to the time, was scarcely conscious of its passa-e, but felt he3d be comfortable waitin- forever for the doors to slide open and the woman to emer-e' The impatient man was not meant for fishin-, and indeed waitin-, patient passive waitin-, was part of the pleasure of the pastime' (f you -ot a bite every time your hook broke the water3s surface, if you hauled up one fish after another, why, where was the :oy5 #i-ht as well dra- a net' .ell, mi-ht as well toss a -renade into a trout stream and scoop up what floated to the surface' Ah' There she was' ;(3# A F(S.E,#AN,< .E SA(!' These were not the first words he spoke to her' Those were, ;0et me -ive you a hand'< .e3d pulled up behind her :ust as she was about to put her -roceries into the trunk of her car, and hopped out and offered his help' She smiled, and was about to thank him, but she never had the chance' .e had a flashli-ht in one hand, three " batteries in a hard rubber case, and he took her by the shoulder and swun- her around and hit her hard on the back of the head' .e cau-ht her as she fell, eased her down -ently' (n no time at all she was propped up in the passen-er seat of his S/@, and her -roceries were in her trunk and the lid slammed shut' She was out cold, and for a moment he thou-ht he mi-ht have struck too hard a blow, but he checked and found she had a pulse' .e used duct tape on her wrists and ankles

and across her mouth, fastened her seat belt, and drove off with her' And, as patiently as he3d waited for her to emer-e from the supermarket, he waited for her to return to consciousness' (3m a fisherman, he thou-ht, and waited for the chance to say the words' .e kept his eyes on the road ahead, but from time to time he shot her a -lance, and her appearance never chan-ed' .er eyes were shut, her muscles slack' Then, not lon- after he3d turned onto a secondary road, he sensed that she was awake' .e looked at her, and she looked the same, but he could somehow detect a chan-e' .e -ave her another moment to listen to the silence, and then he spoke, told her that he was a fisherman' No reaction from her' $ut he was certain she3d heard him' ;A catch-and-release fisherman,< he said' ;Not everybody knows what that means' See, ( en:oy fishin-' (t does somethin- for me that nothin- else has ever done' "all it a sport or a pastime, as you prefer, but it3s what ( do and what (3ve always done'< .e thou-ht about that' +hat he3d always done5 +ell, :ust about' Some of his earliest childhood memories involved fishin- with a bamboo pole and baitin- his hook with worms he3d du- himself in the backyard' And some of his earliest and most endurin- adult memories involved fishin- of another sort' ;Now ( wasn3t always a catch-and release fisherman,< he said' ;+ay ( saw it back in the day, why would a man -o to all the trouble of catchin- a fish and then :ust throw it back5 +ay it looked to me, you catch somethin-, you kill it' >ou kill somethin-, you eat it' 2retty clear cut, wouldn3t you say5< +ouldn3t you say5 $ut she wouldn3t say anythin-, couldn3t say anythin-, not with the duct tape over her mouth' .e saw, thou-h, that she3d -iven up the pretense of unconsciousness' .er eyes were open now, althou-h he couldn3t see what e pression they may have held' ;+hat happened,< he said, ;is ( lost the taste for it' The killin- and all' #ost people, they think of fishin-, and they somehow mana-e not to think about killin-' They seem to think the fish comes out of the water, -ulps for air a couple of times, and then obli-in-ly -ives up the -host' #aybe he flops around a little first, but that3s all there is to it' $ut, see, it3s not like that' A fish can live lon-er out of water than you3d think' +hat you have to do, you -aff it' .it it in the head with a club' (t3s 9uick and easy, but you can3t -et around the fact that you3re killin- it'< .e went on, tellin- her how you were spared the chore of killin- when you released your catch' And the other unpleasant chores, the -uttin-, the scalin-, the disposal of offal' .e turned from a blacktop road to a dirt road' .e hadn3t been down this road in 9uite a while, but it was as he remembered it, a 9uiet path throu-h the woods that led to a spot he3d always liked' .e 9uit talkin- now, lettin- her think about what he3d said, lettin- her fi-ure out what to make of it, and he didn3t speak a-ain until he3d parked the car in a copse of trees, where it couldn3t be seen from the road' ;( have to tell you,< he said, unfastenin- her seat belt, wrestlin- her out of the car' ;( en:oy life a lot more as a catch-and-release fisherman' (t3s -ot all the pleasure of fishin- without the downside, you know5< .e arran-ed her on the -round on her back' .e went back for a tire iron, and smashed both her kneecaps before untapin- her ankles, but left the tape on her wrists and across her mouth' .e cut her clothin- off her' Then he took off his own clothes and folded them neatly' Adam and Eve in the -arden, he thou-ht' Naked and unashamed' 0ord, we finished all ni-ht and cau-ht nothin-' .e fell on her'

$A"1 .%#E, .E 0%A!E! his clothes into the washin- machine, then drew a bath for himself' $ut he didn3t -et into the tub ri-ht away' .e had her scent on him, and found himself in no hurry to wash it off' $etter to be able to breathe it in while he relived the e perience, all of it, from the first si-ht of her in the supermarket to the snapped-twi- sound of her neck when he broke it' And he remembered as well the first time he3d departed from the catch-and-release pattern' (t had been less impulsive that time, he3d thou-ht lon- and hard about it, and when the ri-ht -irl turned up=youn-, blond, a cheerleader type, with a turned-up nose and a beauty mark on one cheek=when she turned up, he was ready' Afterward he3d been upset with himself' +as he re-ressin-5 .ad he been untrue to the code he3d adopted5 $ut it hadn3t taken him lon- to -et past those thou-hts, and this time he felt nothin- but calm satisfaction' .e was still a catch-and-release fisherman' .e probably always would be' $ut, for God3s sake, that didn3t make him a ve-etarian, did it5 .ell, no' A man still had to have a s9uare meal now and then'

-OL(% DOTS %ND $OONB#%$S Je11re! For

.E "A#E F%, .E, AT SE@EN in the $elvedere convertible, top down, emerald -reen, with those fins in the back, :uttin- up like -oalposts' From her third-floor apartment window, she saw him pull to the curb out front' ;.ey, !e ,< she called, ;where3d you -et the submarine5< .e tilted back his hombur- and looked up' ;All hands on deck, baby,< he said, pattin- the white leather seat' ;Give me a minute,< she said, lau-hed, and then blew him a kiss' She walked across the blue braided ru- of the parlor and into the small bathroom with the water-stained ceilin- and cracked plaster' Standin- before the mirror, she leaned in close to check her makeup=enou-h rou-e and powder to repair the walls' .er eye shadow was peacock blue, her mascara indi-o' She -ave her -irdle a 9uick ad:ustment throu-h her dress, then smoothed the material and stepped back to take it all in' +rapped in strapless black, with a desi-n of small white polka dots, like stars in a perfect universe, she turned in profile and inhaled' ;Good "hrist,< she said and e haled' 2assin- throu-h the kitchenette, she lifted a silver flask from the scarred tabletop and shoved it into her handba-' .er heels made a racket on the wooden steps, and she wobbled for balance :ust after the first landin-' 2ushin- throu-h the front door, she stepped out into the evenin- li-ht and the first cool bree&e in what seemed an eternity' !e was waitin- for her at the curb, holdin- the passen-er door open' As she approached, he tipped his hat and bent sli-htly at the waist' ;0ookin- fine there, madam,< he said' She stopped to kiss his cheek' The streets were empty, not a soul on the sidewalk, and save for the fact that here and there in a few of the windows of the tall, crumblin- buildin-s they passed a dim yellow li-ht could be seen, the entire city seemed empty as well' !e turned left on 1raft and headed out of town' ;(t3s been too lon-, Adeline,< he said' ;.ush now, su-ar,< she told him' ;0et3s not think about that' ( want you to tell me where you3re takinme toni-ht'< ;(3ll take you where ( can -et you,< he said' She slapped his shoulder' ;( want a few cocktails,< she said' ;%f course, baby, of course' ( thou-ht we3d head over to the (ce Garden, cut the ru-, have a few, and then head out into the desert after midni-ht to watch the stars fall'< ;>ou3re an ace,< she said and leaned forward to turn on the radio' A smolderin- sa rendition of ;Every Time +e Say Goodbye,< like a ball of wa strin- unwindin-, looped once around their necks and then blew away on the rushin- wind' She lit them each a ci-arette as the car sailed on throu-h the risin- ni-ht' An armadillo scuttled throu-h the beams of the headli-hts fifty yards ahead, and the aroma of sa-e vied with Adeline3s orchid scent'

"lampin- his ci-arette between his lips, !e put his free hand on her knee' She took it into her own, twinin- fin-ers with him' Then it was dark, the asphalt turnin- to dirt, and the moon rose slow as a bubble in honey above the distant silhouette of hills8 a cosmic cream pie of a face, eyein- Adeline3s dVcolleta-e' She leaned back into the seat, smilin-, and closed her eyes' %nly a moment passed before she opened them, but they were already there, passin- down the lon- avenue lined with monkey-pu&&le trees toward the circular drive of the -limmerin- (ce Garden' !e pulled up and parked at the entrance' As he was -ettin- out, a kid with red hair and freckles, dressed in a valet uniform, stepped forward' ;#r' !e ,< he said, ;we haven3t seen you for a while'< ;Take a picture, *im-*im,< said !e and flipped a silver dollar in the air' The kid cau-ht it and dropped it into his vest pocket before openin- the door for Adeline' ;.ow3s tricks, *im5< she asked as he delivered her to the curb' ;They :ust -ot better,< he said and patted his vest' !e came around the back of the car, took his date by the arm, and to-ether they headed past the hu-e potted palms and down a brief tunnel toward a lar-e rectan-ular patio open to the desert sky and bounded by a lush -arden of the most ma-nificent crystal flora, emittin- a bli&&ard of reflection' At the ed-e of the hi-h-archin- portico, !e and Adeline stood for a moment, scannin- the hubbub of revelers and, at the other end of the e panse of tables and chairs and dance floor, the onsta-e antics of that ni-ht3s musical act, Nabob and .is Ne3er-do-wells' Above the sea of heads, chrome trombone in one hand, mic in the other, Nabob belted out a :a&&ed-up version of ;+eak 1nees and +et 2rivates'< A fellow in white tu and red fe& approached the couple' .e was a plump little man with a pencil mustache8 a fifty-year-old baby playin- dress-up' !e removed his hombur- and reached a hand out' ;#ondrian,< he said' The maitre d3 bowed sli-htly and, raisin- his voice above the din of merriment, said, ;Always a pleasure to have you both back'< Adeline also shook hands' ;>ou3re lookin- particularly lovely toni-ht,< he said' ;Table for two,< said !e and flashed a crisp twenty under the nose of #ondrian' ;Somethin- close to the dance floor'< The plump man bowed a-ain and in his ascent snatched the bill from !e 3s hand' ;Follow me, my friends,< he said, and then turned and made his way slowly in amid the ma&e of tables and the millincrowd' As they moved throu-h the packed house, Adeline waved hello to those who called her name, and when someone shouted to !e , he winked, si-hted them with his thumb, and pulled an invisible tri--er' #ondrian found them a spot at the very front, :ust to the left of the sta-e' .e pulled out and held Adeline3s chair, and once she was seated, he bowed' ;Two -in wrinkles,< said !e , and in an instant the maitre d3 vanished back into the crowd' Adeline retrieved two ci-arettes from her purse and lit them on the small candle at the center of the table' !e leaned over and she put one between his lips' She drew on the other' ;.ow does it feel to be back in action5< he asked her' She smiled broadly, blew a stream of smoke, and nodded' ;(t always feels ri-ht, the first couple of hours on the loose' (3m not thinkin- about anythin- else at this moment,< she said' ;Good,< he said and removed his hat, settin- it on the empty chair ne t to him'

The music stopped then and was replaced by the chatter and lau-hter of the crowd, the clink of -lasses and silverware' Nabob :umped down from the band platform, hit the -round, and rolled forward to sprin- upri-ht ne t to !e ' ;!e ter,< he said' ;Still sweatin- out the hits,< said !e and lau-hed as he shook hands with the bandleader' ;$obby, aren3t you -onna -ive me a kiss5< said Adeline' ;(3m :ust savorin- the prospect,< he said and swept down to plant one on her lips' The kiss lasted for a while before !e reached his le- around the table and kicked the performer in the ass' They all lau-hed as Nabob moved around the table and took a seat' Foldin- his willowy arms in front of him, the bandleader leaned forward and shook his thin head' ;>ou two out for the stars toni-ht5< he asked' ;And then some,< said Adeline' ;So fill me in,< said !e ' ;+ell, same old same old as usual, you know' And 1illheler3s been waitin- for you to return'< A waitress appeared with two -in wrinkles=li9uid pink ice and the Garden3s own bathtub blend of -in' The -lasses cau-ht the li-ht and revealed tiny bubbles risin- from a fat red cherry' !e slipped the youn- woman a five' She smiled at him before leavin- the table' ;Fuck 1illheffer,< said !e , liftin- his drink to touch -lasses with Adeline' ;.e3s been in here almost every ni-ht, sittin- back in the corner, slappin- beads on that abacus of his and :ottin- numbers in a book,< said Nabob' ;1illheffer3s solid fruitcake,< said Adeline' ;A stran-e fellow,< said Nabob, noddin-' ;%ne slow ni-ht a while back, and most ni-hts are slow when you fine folks aren3t here, he bou-ht me a drink and e plained to me how the world is made of numbers' .e said that when the stars fall it means everythin- is bein- divided by itself' Then he blew a smoke rin- off one of his ci-ars' L0ike that,3 he said and pointed at the center'< ;!id you -et it5< asked Adeline' Nabob lau-hed and shook his head' ;*im-*im makes more sense'< ;(f he shows that shit-eatin- -rin in here toni-ht, (3ll fluff his cheeks,< said !e ' Adeline took a dra- of her ci-arette and smiled' ;Sounds like boy fun' ( thou-ht you were here to dance and drink'< ;( am, baby' ( am,< said !e and finished the rest of his wrinkle, -rabbin- the cherry stem between his teeth' +hen he brou-ht the -lass away, the fruit hun- down in front of his mouth' Adeline leaned over, put one arm around his shoulder and her lips around the cherry' She ate it slowly, chewin- with only her lips before it all became a lon- kiss' +hen they finished, Nabob said, ;>ou3re an artist, #iss Adeline'< !e ordered another round of wrinkles' They talked for a few minutes about the old days, distant memories of bri-ht sun and blue skies' ;$reak3s over,< said Nabob, 9uickly killin- the rest of his drink' ;>ou two be -ood'< ;!o LName and Number,3< called Adeline as the bandleader bounded toward the sta-e' +ith a runnin-

start, he leaped into the air, did a somersault, and landed, kneelin- ne t to his mic stand' .e stood slowly, like a vine twinin- up a trellis' !e and Adeline applauded, as did the rest of the house when it saw the performer back onsta-e' The willowy sin-er danced with himself for a moment before -rabbin- the mic' The Ne3er-do-wells took their places and lifted their instruments' ;#ondrian, my -ood man' Turn that -as wheel and lower the li-hts,< said Nabob, his voice echointhrou-h the -arden and out into the desert' A moment later the flames of the candles in the center of each table went dimmer by half' ;%oooh,< said Nabob and the crowd applauded' ;0ower,< he called to the maitre d3' #ondrian complied' +histles and catcalls rose out of the dull amber -low of the (ce Garden' The baritone sa hit a note so low it was like a tumbleweed blowin- in off the desert' Then the strin-s came up, there was a flourish of piccolo and three slidin- notes from Nabob3s chrome T-bone' .e brou-ht the mouthpiece away, snapped his fin-ers to the music, and san-) ;#y dear, you tear my heart asunder +hen ( look up your name and number ,i-ht there in that open book #y flesh be-ins to cook (t3s all sweetness mi ed with dread And then you close your le-s around my head As ( look up your name and number7< As Nabob dipped into the second verse, !e rose and held his hand out to Adeline' .e -uided her throu-h the darkness to the sea of swayin- couples' They clutched each other desperately, le-s between le-s, lips locked, slowly turnin- throu-h the dark' +ithin the deep pool of dancers there were currents of movement that could not be denied' They let themselves be drawn by the inevitable flow as the music played on' +hen the son- ended, Adeline said, ;( have to hit the powder room'< They left the dance floor as the li-hts came up and walked toward the hu-e structure that held the casino, the -amin- rooms, the pleasure parlors of the (ce Garden' Three stories tall, in the style of a @enetian palace, it was a monster of shadows with moonli-ht in its eyes' At the portico that led inside, !e handed her a twenty and said, ;(3ll see you back at the table'< ;( know,< she barely mana-ed and kissed him on the cheek' ;>ou okay5< he asked' ;Same old same old,< she said and si-hed' .e was supposed to lau-h but only mana-ed a smile' They turned away from each other' As he skirted the dance floor on the return :ourney, !e looked up at Nabob and saw the performer, midson-, flash a -lance at him and then nod toward the table' There was 1illheffer, sportin- a tu and his so-called smile of a hundred teeth, smokin- a +rath #a:estic and starin- into the sky' Arrivin- at the table, !e took his seat across from 1illheffer, who, still peerin- upward, said, ;Gin wrinkles, ( presumed'<

!e noticed the fresh round of drinks, and reached for his' ;The stars are e cited toni-ht,< said 1illheffer, lowerin- his -a&e' ;Too bad (3m not,< said !e ' ;+hat3s it -onna be this time, 2rofessor5 ,ussian roulette5 %ne card drawn from the bottom of a deck cut three ways5 The blindfolded knife thrower5< ;>ou love to recall my miscalculations,< said 1illheffer' ;Time breaks down, thou-h, only throu-h repetition'< ;(3m fed up with your cockeyed bullshit'< ;+ell, don3t be, because ( tell you (3ve -ot it' (3ve done the math' .ow badly do you want out5< ;+ant out5< said !e ' ;( don3t even know how ( -ot in' Tell me a-ain you3re not the devil'< ;(3m a simple professor of circumstance and fate' An academic with too stron- an ima-ination'< ;Then why that cra&y smile5 All your antics5 That ci-ar of yours smells like what ( va-uely remember of the ocean'< ;(3ve always been a -re-arious fellow and pri&ed a -ood ci-ar' The hundred-tooth thin- is a parlor trick of multiplication'< ;(3m so fuckin- tired,< !e said' 1illheffer reached into his :acket pocket and brou-ht forth a hypodermic needle' .e laid it on the table' ;That3s the solution,< he said' The lar-e hypo3s -lass syrin-e contained a :ade -reen li9uid' !e stared at it and shook his head' Tears appeared in the corners of his eyes' ;Are you kiddin-5 That3s it5 That3s the saddest fuckin- thin- (3ve ever seen'< ;>ou have to trust me,< said 1illheffer, still smilin-' ;(f you haven3t noticed, we3re here a-ain' +hat is it5 2oison5 "ou-h syrup5 *unk5< ;#y own special mi ture of oblivion8 a distillation of e9uations for free will' ( call it L0au-hter in the !ark,3< said the professor, proudly smoothin- back his slick black hair' !e couldn3t help but smile' ;>ou3re a malicious crackpot, but okay, let3s -et on with it' +hat3s the deal this time5< ;#ondrian is, ri-ht at this moment, upstairs, on the third floor, in Si&&le 2arlor number four, awaitin- a female associate of mine who has promised him e otic favors, but unfortunately will never deliver' (nstead, you will arrive' ( want him dead'< 1illheffer hurriedly tamped out his ci-ar and snapped his fin-ers to the passin- ci-arette -irl' She stopped ne t to !e and opened the case that hun- by a strap around her shoulders' There were no ci-arettes, :ust somethin- covered by a handkerchief' ;>ou think of everythin-,< said !e and reached in to -rab the -un' .e stood and slipped it into the waist of his pants' ;.ow do ( collect5< ;The cure will be delivered before the ni-ht is throu-h,< said the professor' ;.urry, #ondrian can only for-o his beloved tips for so lon-'< ;+hat do you have a-ainst him5< !e asked as he lifted his hat off the chair beside him' ;.e3s a computational loop,< said 1illheffer' ;A real &ero-sum -ame'< At the head of the lon-, dark hallway on the third floor of the pavilion, !e was stopped by the ni-ht man, an imposin- fellow with a bald head and a sawed-off shot-un in his left hand'

;+hat3s news, *eminy5< said !e ' ;%bviously, you are, !e ' 0ookin- for a room5< .e nodded' ;Ten dollars' $ut for you, for old times3 sake, ten dollars,< said *eminy and lau-hed' ;>ou3re too -ood to me,< said !e , a ten spot appearin- in his hand' ;The lady3ll be alon- any minute'< ;Si&&le 2arlor number five,< the bi- man said, his voice echoin- down the lon- hall' ;Grease that -riddle, my friend'< ;+ill do,< said !e and before lon- slowed his pace and looked over his shoulder to check that *eminy had a-ain taken his seat facin- away, toward the stairwell' .e passed door after door, and after every si a weak -as lamp -lowed on either wall' As he neared parlor number four, he noticed the door was open a sliver, but it was dark inside' $randishin- the -un, he held it strai-ht up in front of him' %penin- the door, he slipped inside, and shut it 9uietly behind him' #oonli-ht shone in throu-h one tall, arched window, but !e could only make out shadows' .e scanned the room, and slowly the forms of chairs, a coffee table, a vanity, and, off to the side of the room, a bed became evident to him' Sittin- up on the ed-e of that bed was a lumpen silhouette, atop it, the telltale shape of the fe&' ;(s it you, my desert flower5< came the voice of #ondrian' !e swiftly crossed the room' +hen he was ne t to the fi-ure, and had surmised where his victim3s left temple mi-ht be, he cocked the -un3s hammer with his thumb and wrapped his inde fin-er around the tri--er' $efore he could s9uee&e off the shot, thou-h, the slouched ba- of shadow that was #ondrian lun-ed into him with terrific force' !e , utterly surprised that the meek little fellow would have the -umption to attack, fell backward, trippin- on the ru-, the -un flyin- off into the dark' .e tried to -et to his feet, but the maitre d3 landed on him like nine sandba-s, one hand -rabbin- his throat' No matter how many times !e mana-ed a punch to #ondrian3s face, the shadow of the fe& never toppled away' They rolled over and over and then partially into the moonli-ht' !e saw the flash of a blade above him, but his arms were now pinned by his assailant3s knees' /nable to halt the knife3s descent, he held his breath in preparation for pain' Then the li-hts went on, there was a -unshot, and his attacker fell off him' !e scrabbled to his feet and turned to find Adeline, standin- ne t to the open door, the mu&&le of the -un still smokin-' From down the hall, he heard *eminy blow his whistle, an alert to the (ce Garden3s force of le- breakers' ;Nice shot, baby,< he said' ;1ill the li-hts and close the door'< She closed the door behind her, but didn3t flip the switch' ;0ook,< she said to !e , pointin- with the -un at the floor behind him' .e turned and saw the hundred-tooth smile of 1illheffer' The fe& was secured around the professor3s chin by a rubber band' A bullet had left a -apin- third eye in his forehead' ;The rat fuck,< said !e ' .e leaned over, -rabbed his hat where it had fallen, and then felt throu-h 1illheffer3s :acket pockets' All he came up with was a ci-ar tube, holdin- a sin-le +rath #a:estic' .e slipped it into his inside :acket pocket' ;They3re comin-,< said Adeline' She hit the li-hts' There was the sound of runnin- feet and voices in the hallway' ;They3re -oin- door-to-door'< ;+e3ll shoot our way out,< said !e ' Adeline was ne t to him' She whispered in his ear, ;!on3t be a :ackass, we3ll take the fire escape'<

!e moved toward the window' Adeline slipped off her heels' Somehow #ondrian had known to call the car up, because when !e and Adeline arrived in front of the (ce Garden, breathless, scuff marks on their clothes, the $elvedere was there, top down and runnin-, *im-*im holdin- Adeline3s door' ;( like your shoes,< said the boy, pointin- to her bare feet' ;#y new fashion, *im,< said Adeline' !e moved 9uickly around the car' #ondrian was there to open the door for him' As !e slid in behind the wheel, he said, ;No hard feelin-s about toni-ht,< and flashed a tip to cover the intended homicide' #ondrian bowed sli-htly and snatched the bill' ;Ever at your service,< said the maitre d3' ;Safe :ourney'< .e shut the car door' !e took a silver dollar out of his pocket, hit the -as, and flipped the coin back over the car' *im-*im cau-ht it and before he could stash it in his vest pocket, the $elvedere was no more than two red dots halfway down the avenue of monkey-pu&&le trees' ;#y feet are killin- me,< said Adeline as they screeched out of the entrance to the (ce Garden and onto the desert hi-hway' ;>ou are one hell of a shot,< he said' ;0ucky,< she said, her voice risin- above the wind' ;(3ll cherish the moment'< ;All well and -ood,< said Adeline, ;but what3s his -ame this time5< ;0au-hter in the dark,< said !e and cut the wheel hard to the ri-ht' Adeline slid toward him and he wrapped his arm around her shoulders' The car left the road and raced alon- an avenue of moonli-ht, plowin- throu-h tumbleweeds, trailin- a plume of dust across the desert' Adeline switched on the radio and found !ete +alader, croonin- ;( ,emember >ou'< They lay on a blanket beneath shimmerin- stars' A li-ht bree&e blew over them' .ere and there, the dark form of a cactus stood sentry' Ten yards away, the radio in the $elvedere played somethin- with strin-s' Adeline took a sip from her silver flask and handed it to !e ' .e flicked the butt of the #a:estic off into the sand, and took a drink' ;+hat is this stuff5< he asked, s9uintin-' ;#y own special mi ture of oblivion,< she said' ;That3s 1illheffer3s line,< he said' ;!id you see him toni-ht5< She nodded and laid her cheek a-ainst his chest' ;(n the ladies3 room8 he was in the stall ne t to the one ( chose, waitin- for me'< ;.e -ets around,< said !e , ;3cause he was at our table when ( -ot back to it'< ;.e whispered from the other stall that he wanted me to kill #ondrian' ( said ( wouldn3t, but then he said he had the solution and was willin- to trade me for the murder' ( told him ( wanted to see it' The ne t thin-, the door to my stall flew open and he was standin- there' ( almost screamed' ( didn3t know what to do' ( was on the toilet, for criminy sake' .e had that stupid smile on his face, and he pulled down his &ipper'< !e rose to one elbow' ;(3ll kill him,< he said' ;Too late,< said Adeline' ;.e reached into his pants and pulled out this bi- hypodermic needle with

-reen :uice in it' .e said, L>ou see the tip at the end of that needle5 Think of that as the period at the end of your interminable story' !o you want out53 ( :ust wanted to -et rid of him, so ( nodded' .e handed me a -un and told me #ondrian was in Si&&le 2arlor number four'< A lon- time passed in silence' ;$ut, in the end, you decided to off #ondrian5< said !e ' ;( -uess so,< said Adeline' ;+hat else is there to do when we come to the (ce Garden but fall in with 1illheffer3s scheme5 #ondrian mi-ht as well be made of papier-mgchV and that3s the lon- and short of it' .e3s polite, but, sure, (3d clip him for the possibility of a ticket out'< ;(3d miss you,< said !e ' ;( wouldn3t leave you here alone,< she said' ;( was -ettin- the needle for you'< ;>ou didn3t think of usin- it yourself5 $aby, (3m touched'< ;+ell, maybe once when ( reali&ed that if it worked, you wouldn3t come for me anymore and (3d spend each -o-round in that crappy apartment buildin- back in dra-sville watchin- the plaster crack'< ;( was ready to blow #ondrian3s brains out for you too,< he said' ;( can see how stale it3s -ettin- for you'< ;>ou never thou-ht of yourself5< she asked' !e sat up and pointed into the distance at a pair of headli-hts' ;0et3s -et the -uns,< he said' .e stood and helped her up' She found her underwear a few feet away and slipped them back on' ;+ho do you think it is5< she asked, :oinin- him at the car' .e handed her a pistol' ;(ce Garden thu-s,< he said' +hen the approachin- car came to a halt a few feet from the blanket, !e reached over the side of the $elvedere and hit the li-hts, to reveal a very old black car, more like a covered carria-e with a steerinwheel and no horse' The door opened and out stepped #ondrian' .e carried an open umbrella and a small bo ' Takin- three furtive steps forward, he called out, ;#r' !e ter'< ;E pectin- rain, #ondrian5< said !e ' ;Stars, sir' Stars'< Adeline lau-hed from where she was crouched behind the $elvedere' ;A packa-e for the lady and -entleman,< said #ondrian' ;Set it down at your feet, ri-ht there, and then you can -o,< said !e ' #ondrian set the packa-e on the sand, but remained standin- at attention over it' ;+hat are you waitin- for5< asked !e ' #ondrian was silent, but Adeline whispered, ;.e wants a tip'< !e fired two shots into the umbrella' ;1eep the chan-e,< he called' #ondrian bowed, said, ;#ost -enerous, sir,< and then -ot back in the car' As the maitre d3 pulled away, Adeline retrieved the packa-e' !e met her back on the blanket where she sat with the bo , an ei-htinch cube wrapped in silver paper and a red bow, like a birthday present, on her lap' ;(t could be a bomb,< he said' She hesitated for an instant, and said, ;%h, well,< and tore the wrappin- off' !i--in- her nails into the

seam between the cardboard flaps, she pulled back on both sides, rippin- the top away' She reached in and retrieved 1illheffer3s hypodermic needle' She put her hand back into the bo and felt around' ;There3s only one,< she said' ;Now you know what his -ame is,< said !e ' She held it up in the moonli-ht, and the -reen li9uid inside its -lass syrin-e -lowed' ;(t3s beautiful,< she said with a si-h' ;!o it,< said !e ' ;No, you,< she said and handed it to him' .e reached for it, but then stopped, his fin-ers -ra&in- the metal plun-er' ;No,< he said and shook his head' ;(t was your shot'< ;(t probably won3t even work,< she said and laid it carefully on the blanket between them, pettin- it twice before withdrawin- her hand' ;+e3ll shoot dice,< said !e , runnin- his pinky fin-er the len-th of the needle' ;The winner takes it'< Adeline said nothin- for a time, and then she nodded in a-reement' ;$ut first a last dance in case it works'< !e -ot up and went to the car to turn the radio up' ;+e3re in luck,< he said, and the first notes of ;2olka !ots and #oonbeams< drifted out into the desert' .e slowly swayed his way back to her' She smoothed her dress, ad:usted her -irdle, and put her arms around him, restin- her chin on his shoulder' .e held her around the waist and they turned slowly, wearily, to the music' ;So, we3ll shoot craps5< she whispered' ;That3s ri-ht,< he said' Three slow turns later, Adeline said, ;!on3t think ( don3t remember you3ve -ot that set of loaded dice'< !e put his head back and lau-hed, and, as if in response, at that very moment, the stars be-an to fall, streakin- down throu-h the ni-ht, trailin- bri-ht streamers' First a handful and then a hundred and then more let -o of their hold on the firmament and leaped' +ay off to the west, the first ones hit with a distant rumble and firework -eysers of flame' #ore followed, far and near, and !e and Adeline kissed amid the confla-ration' ;2ick me up at seven,< she said, her bottom lip on his earlobe, and held him more ti-htly' ;(3ll be there, baby,< he promised, ;(3ll be there'< +ith the accuracy of a bullet between the eyes, one of the million heavenly messen-ers screeched down upon them, a fireball the si&e of the (ce Garden' The e plosion flipped the $elvedere into the air like a silver dollar and turned everythin- to dust'

LOS#R C).c0 -ala)ni.0

T.E S.%+ ST(00 0%%1S EUA"T0> 0(1E when you were sick with a really hi-h fever and you stayed home to watch T@ all day' (t3s not 0et3s #ake a !eal' (t3s not +heel of Fortune' (t3s not #onty .all, or 2at Sa:ak' (t3s that other show where the bi-, loud voice calls your name in the audience, says to ;"ome on down, you3re the ne t contestant,< and if you -uess the cost of ,ice-A-,oni, then you fly round-trip to live for a week in 2aris' (t3s that show' The pri&e is never anythin- useful, like okay clothes or music or beer' The pri&e is always some vacuum cleaner or a washin- machine, somethin- you mi-ht maybe -et e cited to win if you were, like, somebody3s maid' (t3s ,ush +eek, and the tradition is everybody pled-in- feta !elt all take this bi- chartered school bus and need to -o to some T@ studio and watch them tape this -ame show' ,ules say, all the feta !elts wear the same red T-shirt with, printed on it, the Greek feta !elta %me-a deals, silk-screened in black' First, you need to take a little stamp of .ello 1itty, maybe half a stamp, and wait for the flash' (t3s like this little paper stamp printed with .ello 1itty you suck on and swallow, e cept it3s really blotter acid' All you do is, the feta !elts sit to-ether to make this red patch in the middle of the studio audience and scream and yell to -et on T@' These are not the Gamma Grab3a Thi-hs' They3re not the 0ambda ,ape3a !ates' The feta !elts, they3re who everybody wants to be' .ow the acid will affect you=if you3re -oin- to freak out and kill yourself or eat somebody alive= they don3t even tell you' (t3s traditional' Ever since you were a little kid with a fever, the contestants they call down to play this -ame show, the bi- voice always calls for one -uy who3s a /nited States #arine wearin- some band uniform with brass buttons' There3s always somebody3s old -randma wearin- a sweatshirt' There3s an immi-rant from some place where you can3t understand half of what he says' There3s always some rocket scientist with a bi- belly and his shirt pocket stuck full of pens' (t3s :ust how you remember it, -rowin- up, only now=all the feta !elts start yellin- at you' >ellin- so hard it scrunches their eyes shut' Everybody3s :ust these red shirts and bi-, open mouths' All their hands are pushin- you out from your seat, shovin- you into the aisle' The bi- voice is sayin- your name, tellin- you to come on down' >ou3re the ne t contestant' (n your mouth, the .ello 1itty tastes like pink bubble-um' (t3s the .ello 1itty, the popular kind, not the strawberry flavor or the chocolate flavor somebody3s brother cooks at ni-ht in the General Sciences $uildin- where he works as a :anitor' The paper stamp feels cau-ht partway down your throat, e cept you don3t want to -a- on T@, not on recorded video with stran-ers watchin-, forever' All the studio audience is turned around to see you stumble down the aisle in your red T-shirt' All the T@ cameras &oomed in' Everybody clappin- e actly the way you remember it' Those 0as @e-as li-hts, flashin-, outlinin- everythin- onsta-e' (t3s somethin- new, but you3ve watched it a million-&illion times before, and :ust on automatic you take the empty desk ne t to where the /nited States #arine is standin-' The -ame show host, who3s not Ale Trebek, he waves one arm, and a whole part of the sta-e starts to move' (t3s not an earth9uake, but one whole wall rolls on invisible wheels, all the li-hts everywhere

flashin- on and off, only fast, :ust blink, blink, blink, e cept faster than a human mouth could say' This whole bi- back wall of the sta-e slides to one side, and from behind it steps out a -iant fashion model bla&in- with about a million-billion sparkles on her ti-ht dress, wavin- one lon-, skinny arm to show you a table with ei-ht chairs like you3d see in somebody3s dinin- room on Thanks-ivin- with a bicooked turkey and yams and everythin-' .er fashion-model waist, about as bi- around as somebody3s neck' Each of her tits, the si&e of your head' Those flashin- 0as @e-as kind of li-hts blinkin- all around' The bi- voice sayin- who made this table, out of what kind of wood' Sayin- the su--ested retail price it3s worth' To win, the host lifts up this little bo ' 0ike a ma-ician, he shows everybody what3s underneath=:ust this whole thin- of bread in its naturally occurrin- state, the way bread comes before it3s made into anythin- you can eat like a sandwich or French toast' *ust this bread, the whole way your mom mi-ht find it at the farm or wherever bread -rows' The table and chairs are totally, easily yours, e cept you have to -uess the price of this bi- bread' $ehind you, all the feta !elts crowd really close to-ether in their T-shirts, makin- what looks like one -iant, red pucker in the middle of the studio audience' Not even lookin- at you, all their haircuts are :ust huddled up, makin- a bi-, hairy center' (t3s like forever later when your phone rin-s, and a feta !elt voice says what to bid' That bread :ust sittin- there the whole time' "overed in a brown crust' The bi- voice says it3s loaded with ten essential vitamins and minerals' The old -ame show host, he3s lookin- at you like maybe he3s never, ever seen a telephone before' .e -oes, ;And what do you bid5< And you -o, ;Ei-ht bucks5< From the look on the old -randma3s face, it3s like maybe they should call some paramedics for her heart attack' !an-lin- out of one sweatshirt cuff, this crumpled scrap of 1leene looks like leaked-out stuffin-, flappin- white, like she3s some trashed teddy bear somebody loved too hard' To cut you off usin- some brilliant strate-y, the /nited States #arine, the bastard, he says, ;Nine dollars'< Then to cut him off, the rocket science -uy says, ;Ten' Ten dollars'< (t must be some trick 9uestion, because the old -randma says, ;%ne dollar and ninety-nine cents,< and all the music starts, loud, and the li-hts flash on and off' The host hauls the -ranny up onto the sta-e, and she3s cryin- and plays a -ame where she throws a tennis ball to win a sofa and a pool table' .er -randma face looks :ust as smashed and wrinkled as that 1leene she pulls out from her sweatshirt cuff' The bi- voice calls another -ranny to take her place, and everythin- keeps rushin- forward' The ne t round, you need to -uess the price of some potatoes, but like a whole bi- thin- of real, alive potatoes, from before they become food, the way they come from the miners or whoever that dipotatoes in (reland or (daho or some other place startin- with an (' Not even made into potato chips or French fries' (f you -uess ri-ht, you -et some bi- clock inside a wood bo like a !racula coffin standin- on one end, e cept with these church bells inside the bo that din--din- whatever time it is' %ver your phone, your mom calls it a -randfather clock' >ou show it to her on video, and she says it looks cheap' >ou3re onsta-e with the T@ cameras and li-hts, all the feta !elts call-waitin- you, and you cup your phone to your chest and -o, ;#y mom wants to know, do you have anythin- nicer ( could maybe win5< >ou show your mom those potatoes on video, and she asks) !id the old host -uy buy them at the AT2

or the Safeway5 >ou speed-dial your dad, and he asks about the income-ta liability' 2robably it3s the .ello 1itty, but the face of this bi- !racula clock :ust scowls at you' (t3s like the secret, hidden eyes8 the eyelids open up, and the teeth start to show, and you can hear about a millionbillion -iant, alive cockroaches crawlin- around inside the wood bo of it' The skin of all the supermodels -oes all wa y, smilin- with their faces not lookin- at anythin-' >ou say the price your mom tells you' The /nited States #arine says one dollar more' The rocket science -uy says a dollar hi-her than him' %nly, this round=you win' All those potatoes open their little eyes' E cept now, you need to -uess the price of a whole cow full of milk in a bo , the way milk comes in the kitchen frid-e' >ou have to -uess the cost of a whole thin- of breakfast cereal like you3d find in the kitchen cabinet' After that, a -iant deal of pure salt the way it comes from the ocean only in a round bo , but more salt than anybody could eat in an entire lifetime' Enou-h salt, you could rim appro imately a million-billion mar-aritas' All the feta !elts start te tin- you like cra&y' >our in-bo is pilin- up' Ne t come these e--s like you3d find at Easter, only plain white and lined up inside some special kind of cardboard case' A whole, complete set of twelve' These really minimalist e--s, pure white7so white you could :ust look at them forever, only ri-ht away you need to -uess at a bi- bottle like a yellow shampoo, e cept it3s somethin- -ross called cookin- oil, you don3t know what for, and the ne t thin- is you need to choose the ri-ht price of somethin- fro&en' >ou cup one hand over your eyes to see past the footli-hts, e cept all the feta !elts are lost in the -lare' All you can hear is their screamin- different prices of money' Fifty thousand dollars' A million' Ten thousand' *ust loony people yellin- :ust numbers' 0ike the T@ studio is :ust some dark :un-le, and people are :ust some monkeys :ust screechin- their monkey sounds' The molars inside your mouth, they3re -rindin- to-ether so hard you can taste the hot metal of your fillin-s, that silver meltin- in your back teeth' #eantime, the sweat stains creep down from your armpit to your elbow, all black-red down both sides of your feta !elt T-shirt' The flavor of melted silver and pink bubble-um' (t3s sleep apnea only in the day, and you need to remind yourself to take the ne t breath7take another breath7while the supermodels walkin- on sparkly hi-h heels try pimpin- the audience a microwave oven, pimpin- a treadmill while you keep starin- to decide if they3re really -ood-lookin-' They make you spin this doohickey so it rolls around' >ou have to match a bunch of different pictures so they -o to-ether perfect' 0ike you3re some white rat in 2rinciples of $ehavioral 2sycholo-y IEF, they make you -uess what can of baked beans costs more than another' All that fuss to win somethin- you sit on to mow your lawn' Thanks to your mom tellin- you prices, you win a thin- like you3d put in a room covered in easy-care, wipe-clean, stain-resistant vinyl' >ou win one of those deals people mi-ht ride on vacation for a lifetime of wholesome fun and family e citement' >ou win somethin- hand painted with the %ld +orld charm inspired by the recent release of a blockbuster epic motion picture' (t3s the same as when you felt sick with a hi-h fever and your little-kid heart would pound and you couldn3t catch your breath, :ust from the idea that somebody mi-ht take home an electric or-an' No matter how sick you felt, you3d watch this show until your fever broke' All the flashin- li-hts and patio furniture, it seemed to make you feel better' To heal you or to cure you in some way'

(t3s like forever later, but you win all the way to the Showcase ,ound' There, it3s :ust you and the old -ranny wearin- the sweatshirt from before, :ust somebody3s re-ular -randma, but she3s lived throu-h world wars and nuclear bombs, probably she saw all the 1ennedys -et shot and Abraham 0incoln, and now she3s bobbin- up and down on her tennis-shoe toes, clappin- her -ranny hands and crowded by supermodels and flashin- li-hts while the bi- voice makes her the promise of a sports utility vehicle, a wide-screen television, a floor-len-th fur coat' And probably it3s the acid, but it3s like nothin- seems to add up' (t3s like, if you live a borin--enou-h life, knowin- the price of ,ice-A-,oni and hot do- wieners, your bi- reward is you -et to live for a week in some hotel in 0ondon5 >ou -et to ride on some airplane to ,ome' ,ome, like, in (taly' >ou fill your head full of enou-h ordinary :unk, and your pay-off is -iant supermodels -ivin- you a snowmobile5 (f this -ame show wants to see how smart you really are, they need to ask you how many calories in a re-ular onion?cheddar cheese ba-el' Go ahead, ask you the price of your cell phone minutes any hour of the day' Ask you about the cost of a ticket for -oin- thirty miles over the speed limit' Ask the roundtrip fare to "abo for sprin- break' !own to the penny, you can tell them the price of decent seats for the 2anic at the !isco reunion tour' They should ask you the price of a 0on- (sland iced tea' The price of #arcia Sanders3s abortion' Ask about your e pensive herpes medication you have to take but don3t want your folks to know you need' Ask the price of your .istory of European Art te tbook, which cost three hundred bucks=fuck you very much' Ask what that stamp of .ello 1itty set you back' The sweatshirt -ranny bids some re-ular amount of money for her showcase' *ust like always, the numbers of her bid appear in tiny li-hts, -lowin- on the front of her contestant desk where she stands' .ere, all the feta !elts are yellin-' >our phone keeps rin-in- and rin-in-' For your showcase, a supermodel rolls out five hundred pounds of raw beefsteak' The steaks fit inside a barbecue' The barbecue fits onboard a speed boat that fits inside a trailer for towin- it that fits a massive fifth-wheel pickup truck that fits inside the -ara-e of a brand-new house in Austin' Austin, like, in Te as' #eantime, all the feta !elts stand up' They -et to their feet and step up on their audience seats cheerin- and wavin-, not chantin- your name, but chantin-, ;feta !eltH< "hantin-, ;feta !eltH< "hantin-, ;feta !eltH< loud enou-h so it records for the broadcast' (t3s probably the acid, but=you3re battlin- some old nobody you3ve never met, fi-htin- over shit you don3t even want' 2robably it3s the acid, but=ri-ht here and now=fuck declarin- a business ma:or' Fuck General 2rinciples of Accountin- BEF' Stuck partway down your throat, somethin- makes you -a-' And on purpose, by accident, you bid a million, trillion, -ah-&illion dollars=and ninety-nine cents' And everythin- shuts down to 9uiet' #aybe :ust the little clickin- sounds of all those 0as @e-as li-hts blinkin- on and off, on and off' %n and off' (t3s like forever later when the -ame show host -ets up too close, standin- at your elbow, and he hisses, ;>ou can3t do that'< The host hisses, ;>ou have to play this -ame to win7<

/p close, his host face looks cracked into a million-billion :a--ed fra-ments only -lued back to-ether with pink makeup' 0ike .umpty !umpty or a :i-saw pu&&le' .is wrinkles, like the battle scars of playin- his same T@ -ame since forever started' All his -ray hairs, always combed in the same direction' The bi- voice asks=that bi-, deep voice boomin- out of nowhere, the voice of some -i-antic -iant man you can3t see=he demands, can you please repeat your bid5 And maybe you don3t know what you want out of your life, but you know it3s not a -randfather clock' A million, trillion7you say' A number too bi- to fit on the front of your contestant desk' #ore &eroes than all the bri-ht li-hts in the -ame show world' And probably it3s the .ello 1itty, but tears slop out both your eyes, and you3re cryin- because for the first time since you were a little kid you don3t know what comes ne t, tears wreckin- the front of your red T-shirt, turnin- the red parts black so the Greek %me-a deals don3t make any sense' The voice of one feta !elt, alone in all that bi-, 9uiet audience, he yells, ;>ou suckH< %n the little screen of your phone, a te t messa-e says, ;AssholeH< The te t5 (t3s from your mom' The sweatshirt -randma, she3s cryin- because she won' >ou3re sobbin- because=you don3t know why' (t turns out the -ranny wins the snowmobiles and the fur coat' She wins the speedboat and the beefsteaks' The table and chairs and sofa' All the pri&es of both the showcases, because your bid was way, way too hi-h' She3s :umpin- around, her bri-ht-white false teeth throwin- smiles in every direction' The -ame show host -ets everybody started clappin- their hands, e cept the feta !elts don3t' The family of the old -ranny climbs up onsta-e=all the kids and -randkids and -reat--randkids of hers =and they wander over to touch the shiny sports utility vehicle, touch the supermodels' The -ranny plants red lipstick kisses all over the fractured pink face of the -ame show host' She3s sayin-, ;Thank you'< Sayin-, ;Thank you'< Sayin-, ;Thank you,< ri-ht up to when her -ranny eyes roll up backward inside her head, and her hand -rabs at the sweatshirt where it covers her heart'

S%$%NT&%2S DI%R+ Diana W!nne Jones

,ecorded on $SM SpeekEasi Series IKd_dd`$M and discovered in a skip in 0ondon3s ,e-ent Street !ecember ID, IIBB T(,E! T%!A> AN! .A@(NG a la&y time' Got back late from 2aris last ni-ht from #other3s party' #y sister is pre-nant and couldn3t -o 4besides, she lives in Sweden6 and #other insisted that one of her dau-hters was there to meet our latest stepfather' Not that ( did meet him particularly' #other kept introducin- me to a load of men and tellin- me how rich each of them was) ( think she3s tryin- to start me on her own career, which is, basically, marryin- for money' Thanks, #other, but ( earn 9uite enou-h on the catwalk to be happy as ( am' $esides, (3m havin- a rest from men since ( split up with 0iam' The -ems of #other3s collection were a French philosopher, who followed me around sayin;0a vide cc n3est pas le nknt,< 4clever French nonsense meanin- ;The void is not nothin-,< ( think6, a cross-eyed "olombian film director who kept tryin- to drape himself over me, and a weird millionaire from -oodness knows where with diamante teeth' $ut there were others' ( was wearin- my new Stiltskins, which caused me to tower over them' A mistake' They always knew where ( was' (n the end ( -ot tired of bein- stalked and left' ( :ust cau-ht the midni-ht bullet train to 0ondon, which did not live up to its name' (t was late and crowded out and ( had to stand all the way' #y feet are killin- me today' Anyway ( have instructed .ousebot that ( am Not At .ome to anyone or anythin- and hope for a peaceful day' Funny to think that "hristmas !ay used to be a time when everyone -ot to-ether and -ave each other presents' Shudder' Today we think of it as the most peaceful day of the year' ( sit in peace in my all-white livin- room=a by-product of #other3s career, come to think of it, since my lovely flat was -iven to me by my last-stepfather-but-one=no, last-but-two now, ( for-ot' %h damnH Someone ran- the doorbell and .ousebot answered it' ( know ( told it not to' !id ( say we don3t -ive "hristmas presents now5 Talk about famous last words' .ousebot trundled back in here with a tree of all thin-s balanced on its flat top' (mpossible to tell what kind of tree, as it has no leaves, no label to say who sent it, nothin- but a small wicker ca-e tied to a branch with a fairly lar-e brown bird in it' The damn bird pecked me when ( let it out' (t was not happy' (t has -one to earth under the small sofa and left droppin-s on the carpet as it ran' ( thou-ht "hristmas trees were supposed to be -reen' ( made .ousebot put the thin- outside on the patio, beside the pool, where it sits lookin- bare' The bird is hun-ry' (t has been tryin- to eat the carpet' ( went on the Net to see what kind of bird it is' After an hour of tryin-, ( -ot a visual that su--ests the creature is a partrid-e' A -ame bird apparently' Am ( supposed to eat it5 ( know they used to eat birds at "hristmas in the old days' >uk' ( -ot on the Net a-ain for partrid-e food' ;Sorry, dear customer, but there will be no deliveries until the start of the Sales on !ecember I`, when our full ran-e of lu ury avian foods will a-ain be available at bar-ain prices'< >es, but what do ( do now5 %h hooray' .ousebot has solved the problem by producin- a bowl of tinned sweet corn' ( shoved it under the sofa and the creature stopped its noise' !o trees need feedin-5 !ecember IC, IIBB

( !% N%T $E0(E@E thisH Another tree has arrived with another partrid-e in a ca-e tied to it' This time ( went harin- to the front door to make them take it away a-ain, or at least make whoever was deliverin- it tell me where the thin-s were comin- from' $ut all the man did was shove a birdca-e into my hands with two pretty white pi-eons in it and -o away' The van he drove off in was unlabelled' ( ra-ed at .ousebot for openin- the door, but that does no -ood' .ousebot only has si ty sentences in its repertoire and :ust kept sayin-, ;#adam, you have a delivery,< until ( turned its voice off' +e have had a partrid-e fi-ht under the sofa' ( took the pi-eon ca-e outside onto the patio and opened it' $ut will those birds fly awayH ( seem to be stuck with them too' At least they will eat porrid-e oats' The partrid-es won3t' +e have run out of tinned sweet corn' ( -ive up' (3m -oin- to spend the rest of the day watchin- old movies' 0iam called' ( asked him if he had had the nerve to send me four birds and two trees' .e said, ;+hat are you talkin- about5 ( only ran- to see if you3d still -ot my wristwatch'< ( hun- up on him' %af' !ecember I`, IIBB T.E SA0ES STA,T T%!A>H ( was late -ettin- off to them because of the beastly bird food' +hen ( brou-ht up Avian Foodstuffs, ( found to my dis-ust that the smallest amount they deliver is in twentykilo ba-s' +here would ( put all that birdseed5 ( turned the computer off and went out to the corner shop' (t was still closed' ( had to walk all the way to "arnaby Street before ( found anythin- open and then all the way back carryin- ten tins of sweet corn' ( had promised to meet "arla and Sabrina in .arrods for coffee and ( was so late that ( missed them' Not a -ood day' And ( couldn3t find a sin-le thin- ( wanted in the Sales' ( came home=my Stiltskins were killin- me=to find, dumped in the middle of my livin- room, yet another tree with a partrid-e tied to it, a second ca-e of two white pi-eons and a lar-e coop with three different birds in it' (t took me a while to place these last, until ( remembered a picture book my second stepfather had -iven me when ( was small' /nder . for .en there was a bird somethin- like these, e cept that one was round and brown and -entle lookin-' Not these' .ens they may be, but they have mean witchy faces, u-ly speckled feathers and a floppy red bit on top that makes them look like some kind of alien' +hen ( -ot home, they were en-a-ed in tryin- to peck one another naked' The room was full of u-ly little feathers' ( shrieked at .ousebot and then made it take the lot out onto the patio, where ( made haste to let the beastly hens out' They ran around cacklin- and peckin- the partrid-es, the potted plants and the three trees' They were obviously hun-ry' ( si-hed and -ot on to Avian Foodstuffs a-ain' 2roblems there' Food for which kind of bird5 they 9ueried' .ens, ( tapped in' 2i-eons' 2artrid-es' They have :ust delivered three twenty-kilo sacks' They are labelled differently, but they look suspiciusly the same inside to me' ( know because ( opened all three and scattered a heap from each around the patio= and another heap indoors because ( have had to rescue the partrid-es' They all eat all kinds' E hausted after this' ( phoned "arla and Sabrina' Sabrina was useless' She had :ust found some Stiltskins half price in pink and couldn3t think of anythin- else e cept should she buy them' ;Toss a coin,< ( told her' "arla was at least sympathetic' ;.elpH< ( told her' ;(3m bein- stalked by a flutter that keeps sendin- me birds'< ;Are you sure it isn3t one of 0iam3s practical :okes5< "arla asked' Shrewd point' .e probably ran- with that nonsense about his watch :ust to make sure ( was home' ;And haven3t you told your .ousebot thin-y not to let any of this livestock in5< "arla said' ;( have, ( haveH< ( cried out' ;$ut the darn thin- takes not the blindest bit of noticeH<

;,epro-ramme it,< "arla advised' ;(t must have slipped a co- or somethin-'< %r 0iam repro-rammed it, ( thou-ht' So ( spent an hour with the manual, pushin- buttons, by which time ( was so livid that ( ran- 0iam' Got his answerin- service' TypicalH ( left an abusive messa-e= which he probably won3t hear because of .ousebot tryin- to clean up feathers and makin- the howlinnoise it does when it chokes=but it relieved my feelin-s anyway' !ecember Id, IIBB ( S2ENT A G0%,(%/S mornin- at the Sales and came back with si ba-s of +onderful $ar-ains, to find ( have four parrots now' 2lus one more partrid-e 4and tree6, two more pi-eons and three more of those unspeakable hens' .ousebot has i-nored my attempt at pro-rammin- as if (3d never tried' The patio is now a small forest full of droppin-s' The pi-eons sit on the trees and the hens rush about below' (ndoors are four scuttlin- partrid-es and four of those lar-e rin-s on sticks where parrots are supposed to perch, not that they do' The red one has taken a likin- to my bedroom' The -reen one flies about all the time, shoutin- swearwords, and the multicoloured two perch anywhere so lon- as it isn3t their official perches' ( have put those in the closet because .ousebot stops whenever it runs into one' ( have ordered a twenty-kilo sack of Avian Feed 4parrots6, which is actually different from the others and which the parrots mostly consume from saucers on the kitchen table' ( walk about -ivin- a mad lau-h from time to time' ( am inured' ( am resi-ned' No ( am N%TH Someone has tau-ht those damn parrots to shout, ;SamanthaH ( love youH< They do it all the time now' ( put on my most austerely beautiful clothes and my Stiltskins and stormed round to 0iam3s flat' .e looked terrible' .e was in his ni-htclothes' .e hadn3t shaved or combed his curls and ( think he was drunk' .is flat was :ust as terrible' ( saw it because as soon as he opened the door ( marched in with 0iam backin- in front of me, shoutin- at the top of my voice' ( admit that the ni-htclothes made me an-rier still because it was obvious to me he had a woman in there' $ut he hadn3t actually' .e was :ust lyin- about' .e said, ;*ust shut up and tell me what you3re yellin- about'< So ( did' And he lau-hed' This made me furious' ( yelled, ;>ou are stalkin- me with birdsH< and to my -reat surprise ( burst into tears' To my further surprise, 0iam was almost nice about it' .e said, ;Now look, Sammy, have you any idea how much parrots cost5< ( hadn3t' .e told me' (t was a lot' ;And before you -et suspicious that ( know,< he said, ;( only know because ( did an article on them last month' ,i-ht5 Since when did ( have enou-h money for four parrots5 And ( don3t even know where you buy hens, let alone partrid-es' So it3s somebody else doin- this to you, not me' .e has to be a rich practical :oker, and he has to know how to -et at your .ousebot to make it i-nore your orders and let these birds in' So think about all the rich men you know and then -o and yell at the likely ones' Not me'< ( -ave in' ;So (3ve walked all this way for nothin-,< ( said' ;And my feet hurt'< ;That3s because you wear such silly shoes,< he said' ;(3ll have you know,< ( said, ;that these are the very latest Stiltskins' They cost me thousands'< .e lau-hed, to my further indi-nation, and told me, ;Then -o home in a ta i'< +hile ( was waitin- for the ta i, 0iam put his arm round me=in an absentminded way, as if he had for-otten we weren3t still to-ether=and said, ;2oor Sammy' (3ve had a thou-ht' +hat kind of trees are they5< ;.ow should ( know5< ( said' ;They haven3t any leaves'< ;That is a problem,< 0iam said' ;"an you do me a favour and let me know if what your stalker sends

ne t is somethin- 9uite valuable5< ;( mi-ht,< ( said, and then the ta i came' ( don3t like these latest ta is' A mechanical tab comes out of the meter that says T(2 and it3s always hu-e' $ut it was probably worth it to know that 0iam hasn3t been doin- this to me' !ecember I_, IIBB +.ATE@E, (!EA 0(A# .A!, he was 9uite ri-htH The usual tree and avians started arrivin-, one more partrid-e, more hens, more pi-eons and four more parrots, noisy ones' ( left .ousebot, who had traitorously let them in, to deal with the damn creatures=althou-h ( have to feed the thin-s because ( can3t -et .ousebot to -et it throu-h its circuitry that livin- thin-s have to eat) .ousebot simply -oes round clearin- up the piles of birdseed unless ( order it to stop' Anyway, ( left it shuntin- coops and the latest tree onto the patio and set off for the Sales' ( was halfway down the steps outside when a courier arrived and made me si-n for a smallish packa-e' Someone3s sent me a book nowH ( thou-ht dis-ustedly as ( went back indoors' ( nearly didn3t open it, but, because of what 0iam had said, ( thou-ht ( mi-ht as well' +hat are valuable books5 ( thou-ht as ( tore off wrappin-' Anti9ue $ibles5 First editions of +innie the 2ooh5 $ut it wasn3t a book' A book-si&e :ewel case fell on the floor' ( picked that up 9uickly before .ousebot could clear it away' ( -asped a bit when ( opened it' There were five rin-s in it, all of them very flashy and valuable lookin-' %ne bul-ed with diamonds=or what looked like diamonds=and the rest looked like sapphires, emeralds and e9ually valuable stones, all in -old settin-s' And there was a note on top, not in real handwritin-, if you see what ( mean, but in that kind of round, careful writin- that shop assistants use when you ask them to include a messa-e' (t said) ;From your ardent admirer' #arry me'< ;$lowed if ( willH< ( said aloud' The rin-s are all too small' ( think that proves it wasn3t 0iam' .e once bou-ht me an en-a-ement rin-, after all, and he knows that my fin-ers are rather wide at the base' /nless he3s bein- very cunnin-, of course' +hoever sent the rin-s seems to have very flashy taste' They all reminded me so much of the kind of -lass-and-plastic rin-s that people -ive you when you are a little -irl that ( took the whole case of them with me when ( went out to the Sales and had them checked out by a :eweller' And they are real' ( could buy five more pairs of Stiltskins if ( sold them' +ellH ( meant to tell 0iam, but ( met "arla in % ford Street and ( for-ot' +hen ( told her, she wanted to know if ( was thinkin- of marryin- the unknown stalker' ;No wayH< ( told her' ;#y mother probably would, thou-h'< !ecember BE, IIBB %. #> G%!H ( have si -eese now' As well as another tree, another partrid-e, further pi-eons, more hens and four e tra parrots 4makin- twelve of them and bedlam6' ( couldn3t believe these -eese' ( -ot to the door :ust as a whole team of men finished handin- them indoors' The last one rode in on top of .ousebot' They are bi- birds and not friendly' At least they are too lar-e to attack the partrid-es under the sofa, but five of them went out onto the patio and started subduin- the hens at once' The shrieks and cacklin- out there actually drowned out the yells from the parrots' $ut one -oose stayed indoors and seems to have -one broody on the sofa cushions' She stretched out a lon-, an-ry neck and tried to peck me when ( made an effort to persuade her to :oin the rest outside' So there she sits, lar-e, boat shaped and white, with her yellow beak swivellin- about to make sure ( don3t disturb her and her shoe-button eyes -larin- unnervin-ly' The only -ood thin- about this mornin- was that the same courier turned up with another parcel of rin-s' .e is a nice youn- man' .e seems awed by me' .e said hesitantly while ( was si-nin- for the

delivery, ;E cuse me, miss, but aren3t you on that media clothes show5 "atwalk5< ( said yes, ( was, but we weren3t filmin- at the moment' .e sort of sta--ered away, thorou-hly impressed' The rin-s today are all anti9ue fancy -old' +ith the same messa-e as yesterday' 0iam couldn3t have afforded any of this, even if he mort-a-ed his flat, his pay and his soul' ( for-ive him' And ( supposed ( should feed the -eese' ( -ot on to Avian Foodstuffs a-ain and they sent round a waterproof sack of slimy -reen nibbles' The -eese don3t seem to care for them' They ate all the hen food instead' The hens protested and -ot -one for a-ain' To shut them all up, ( tipped out one whole sack of hen food in the corner of the patio and this :ust caused another furious battle' Then it rained and the -eese all came indoors' The beam that opens and shuts the slidin- doors to the patio is set low so that .ousebot can -et out there to clean the pool, and it turns out to be :ust -oose hei-ht' ( then discovered that -eese are the most incontinent creatures in the universe' #y livin- space is now covered with lumps of e crement, and the -eese waddle throu-h it, trampin- it about with their lar-e trian-ular feet' >ou interfere with them at your peril' ( cracked and phoned 0iam' .e said, ;!on3t call me' >our phone is probably bu--ed, if your .ousebot is' #eet me at the cafV on the corner'< .ow unwelcomin- can you -et5 To make it worse, that cafe is the one where we always used to meet when we were to-ether' $ut ( -round my teeth, -ot into rainwear and went' .e was sittin- outside in the rain' .e looks rather -ood in rainwear' .e had even -ot me the ri-ht kind of coffee' .e said, ;+hat is it now5 Geese5< ( was flabber-asted' ;.ow did you know5< ;And five -old rin-s yesterday and today5< he said' ;>es, but all too small,< ( said' ;Ah,< he said, lookin- pleased with himself' ;Then you have an admirer who is not only rich hut mindlessly romantic' .e is sendin- you items from an old son-=it used to be very popular two hundred years a-o=called LThe Twelve !ays of "hristmas'3< ;Then whoever he is, he hasn3t a notion how an-ry he3s makin- meH< ( said' ;The idiot thinks he3s wooin- you,< 0iam said' ;.e probably belon-s to one of those societies where they trail about in medieval clothes, or armour and so forth' $ut he3s also up to date enou-h to tamper with your .ousebot and probably bu- your phone' So think of any of the rich men you know who fits this description and then you3ll have him' "ome on' Think'< ( had been tryin- to think' $ut you try thinkin- with a row of parrots sittin- on the rail of your bed and the rest swoopin- about shoutin- that they love you' ( had made no pro-ress' ( sat and watched raindrops plop into my coffee and thou-ht hard' ( do know a lot of rich men' >ou do, in my trade' $ut they were all mostly media men and those are not romantic' A more cynical lot you can3t ima-ine' /nless ( had annoyed one of them of course7And most of the clothes desi-ners are -ay' ;%h,< said 0iam' ;#y other con:ecture is that he3s thorou-hly unattractive' ( suspect he3s used to havin- to pay a lot to -et women interested' ,ather pathetic really'< ( instantly thou-ht of the truly unattractive set of fellows #other had introduced me to on "hristmas Eve' ;That3s itH< ( cried out' ;$less you, 0iamH (3ll phone #other this evenin-'< ;( don3t think it3s your mother doin- it,< he said' ;No, no,< ( said and e plained' .e a-reed that ( mi-ht be on the ri-ht track and we talked it over for a

while' Then he said, ;$y the way, the trees will be pear trees,< and handed me a list' ;So you3ll know what to e pect ne t,< he told me and -ot up and left' *ust like that' ( was too an-ry to look at the list' ( wish ( had' !ecember BF, IIBB, New >ear3s Eve (3# G%(NG T% T.,EE parties today, so (3m -ettin- out of my bird-infested flat as soon as ( can' $ut ( did rin- #other' ( raved at her rather' She may have thou-ht ( was insane at first, but when ( calmed down and described the -eese=by the way, the one on the sofa had laid an e-- when ( -ot back=she be-an to see ( mi-ht be havin- real trouble' She said, in the cautious, respectful way she always talks about money, ;+ell, you mi-ht be talkin- about Fran& !odeca, ( suppose' Not that he would do a thinlike that, of course' .e owns #ultiphones and SpeekEasi and .ousehold ,obotics and he3s a multimillionaire and he3s naturally very much respected'< ;+hich is he5< ( asked' ;%f the freaks you introduced to me'< ;Not freaks, darlin-,< she said reproachfully' ;.e was the one with the charmin- diamante teeth'< ( thou-ht -rimly of this !odeca, a short fat man in an unbecomin- pin-striped suit' A pale freckled creature, ( recalled, with thin reddish hair scraped back over his freckled scalp' .e kept barin- those dreadful -litterin- teeth at me in creepy smiles' And this idiot owns my diary, my phone and my .ousebotH ( hoped he swallowed one of his teeth and choked' ;Tell him,< ( said to #other, ;to stop sendin- me birds' Tell him he hasn3t -ot a chance' Tell him he3s destroyed his already none istent chances by stalkin- me this way' Tell him no and -o awayH< #other demurred' ( could tell she was reluctant to pass up the chance of all that money in the family' $ut after ( had told her at least ten times that there was absolutely no chance of my marryin- this idiot, even if he owned the universe, she said, ;+ell, darlin-, (3ll phone him and try to put it tactfully'< (f she did phone dear Fran&, she has had no effect' The swans arrived this mornin-, seven of them' Alon- with si more -eese, et cetera, et cetera' At least ( -ot five more -old rin-s' They came with a note of dreadful pleadin-, si-ned, ;>our eternally lovin- Fran&,< which looked odd in round shopassistant writin-' ( suppose #other must have phoned the man, since he seems to know that his cover is now blown' $ut it doesn3t seem to have stopped him' The swans had obviously been dru--ed' The delivery crew carried them in bi- droopin- armfuls, throu-h the livin- room and onto the patio, where they carefully wed-ed them into the pool' The -eese waddled in after' There are now twelve of them and they3re layin- e--s everywhere' As if it wasn3t enou-h to be overrun with hens=also layin-=and a new set of -reen screamin- parrots' The swans were :ust wakin- up when ( left' .ousebot tried to make me an omelette before ( went and ( nearly threw up' *anuary F, IIBG, New >ear3s !ay T.AN1 .EA@ENSH E@EN T.E !odeca millions can3t make anyone in this country work on New >ear3s !ay' No further birds arrived' Nothin- came' ,eliefH %r it would be if the swans didn3t fi-ht the -eese all the time' And ( realised when ( -ot in around four this mornin- that the place smells' .orribly' %f bird droppin-s, rottin- seeds and old feathers' .ousebot can3t keep up with the cleanin-' ( shall have to stop wearin- my Stiltskins' #y feet are killin- me after last ni-ht' %ne of my bi- toes has -one kind of twisted' ( have very ha&y memories of the fun, thou-h ( do recall that ( ran into 0iam at the #arkhams3 fireworks party and, besides :eerin- at my Stiltskins, he wanted to know if (3d consulted his list yet' ( said ( didn3t want to know' ( told him about dear Fran& too=( think' .e was, ( dimly remember, insistent that ( throw away my phone and scrap .ousebot' The man has no ideaH

$ut this memory has made me realise that ( will almost certainly -et more swans and more -eese tomorrow' ( can3t rely on #other to stop them' There is no more room in the patio pool' $ut it has occurred to me that the bi- house ne t door, which belon-s to my last-stepfather-but-two, has a lar-e -arden with an ornamental as-it-were lake in it' ( shall phone Stepdaddy Five' As far as ( know, he3s still in a hut in $ali, recoverin- from havin- been married to #other' ( -ot throu-h to him eventually' .e was, as ever, sweet about it all' ;(sn3t that :ust like your motherH< he said' ;( know Fran& !odeca sli-htly' .e3s a total obsessive, too rich for his own -ood' "ome here to $ali and (3ll undertake to keep him off you'< +ell, ( couldn3t do that' (t strikes me as incest' (nstead ( asked him to lend me the -arden of his house ne t door' .e a-reed like a shot and -ave me the entry code at once' $ut he warned me that his caretaker -ardener mi-ht not be pleased' .e said he would phone this #r' +ilkinson and e plain' ;And keep me posted,< he said' ;Nothin- happens here in $ali' (t suits me, but ( like a hit of distant action from time to time'< *anuary I, IIBG */ST AS +E00 ( made that arran-ement with Stepdaddy Five' They brou-ht yesterday3s swans et cetera today, plus today3s lot, makin- fourteen inert, heavy floppy swans and twelve more -eese' ( showed the lot throu-h Stepdaddy Five3s front door and out to the lake in his -arden' The -eese seemed to like it there' +hen the trees and the pi-eons and the hens came, ( showed them out there too' $ut the parrots had to stay with me because they were not hardy enou-h, they said' At least ( -ot ten more -old rin-s' +e are -ettin- seriously short of bird food' ( went round to the corner shop, but they don3t open till tomorrow' Avian Foodstuffs are on holiday for the week' A-ain' ( don3t believe thisH The swans were not all' ( was :ust about to cross the road from the corner shop when ( saw, trud-in- and bawlin- down the street, a whole herd of cows' Ei-ht of them anyway' They were bein- driven by ei-ht youn- women who, to do them :ustice, were lookin- a bit self-conscious about it' 2eople in cars and on the pavements were stoppin- to stare' Some folk had followed them from 2icadilly, apparently' >ou don3t often see cows in 0ondon these days' #y stomach felt 9ueer' ( knew they were for me' And they were' .onestly, how can this !odeca even ima-ine ( mi-ht want ei-ht cows5 "ows are not in the least romantic' Their noses run and they drop cowpats all the time as they walk' They dropped more cowpats throu-h Stepdaddy Five3s nice hallway as ( showed the lot of them out into his -arden' ( said to the -irls, ;(f you want to stay, this house has fourteen bedrooms and there3s a pi&&a takeaway down the road' Feel free'< ( was feelin- more than a little li-ht-headed by then' The parrots don3t help' Now it3s -ot worse' #r' +ilkinson arrived half an hour after the cows and bawled me out for allowina herd of cows to trample his lawn' ( said ( would -et rid of them as soon as ( could' ( was -oin- to phone #other and e tract this !odeca3s phone number from her and then phone him and tell him to come and take his livestock away' And see how he liked it' $efore ( could, thou-h, a severe woman with a mi-hty bosom turned up on the doorstep, sayin- she was from the $ird 2rotection Trust and that my nei-hbours across the street had reported me for cruelty to birds' They had, she said, counted one hundred and seven various birds bein- delivered to my flat=busybodiesH=where they were certainly overcrowded' ( was to release them to better 9uarters, she said, or be liable for prosecution' After #r' +ilkinson, she was the last straw' ( told her to -et the hell out' *anuary B, IIBG N%, T.E 0AST ST,A+ was today' ( did phone #other last ni-ht and she did, after a lot of s9uirmin-,

-ive me !odeca3s private number' The trouble was that ( didn3t know what to say, and all these parrots make it so difficult to think=not to speak of yet another swan versus -oose fi-ht eruptin- every five minutes' #y God those birds can be viciousH Then ( sat on an e-- when ( started to phone !odeca and -ave up' ( said (3d do it today' Today started with those cow-irls comin- round here whinin- and whin-ein-' There were beds but no sheets or blankets ne t door, they said, and it was not what they were used to' And where did they put the twenty -allons of milk5 ( said pour it away, why not5 And they said it was a waste' Anyway, ( -ot rid of them in the end, but only by orderin- a stack of sheets and blankets online, which cost a bomb' Then the bird deliveries be-an' $y then we were almost out of bird feed, so ( ushered this lot, swans included, into Stepdaddy Five3s -arden and raced off to the corner shop' They only had canary food, so ( bou-ht all they had of that' ( was sta--erin- towards my flat with it when ( saw an entirely new sort of van drawin- up and .ousebot, that traitor, blandly openin- my front door to it' The men in it be-an unloadin- and puttin- to-ether a lar-e number of frameworks' ( crossed the road and asked them what the hell they were doin-' They said, ;%ut of the way, miss' +e have to -et all these into this flat here'< ( said, ;$ut what are they5< ;Trampolines, miss,< they said' This caused me to bolt into my flat and race about scatterin- canary food and lookin- for that list 0iam -ave me' ( found it :ust as they manoeuvered the first trampoline in' There were supposed to be nine of them' .ow they thou-ht they were -oin- to fit them in ( have no idea' As ( opened the list, one of the men -ot attacked by the broody -oose on the sofa and they all went outside to let it settle down' 0iam had written, ;Ninth day) Nine lords a-leapin-8 Tenth day) Ten ladies dancin-8 Eleventh day) Eleven pipers pipin-7< ( didn3t read any more' ( -ave a wild wail and raced into my bedroom, where all the parrots seemed to have con-re-ated, and to shrieks of ;( love you, Samantha,< ( packed all the parcels of rin-s into my handba- for safety and raced out a-ain to the nearest public phone, prayin- it wouldn3t have been vandalised' (t wasn3t' ( -ot throu-h to 0iam' ;+hat is it now5< he said -rumpily' ;0iam,< ( said, ;(3ve -ot nine trampolines now' (s it really true that (3m -oin- to -et ballet dancers and skirlin- Scotsmen ne t5< ;2retty certainly,< he said, ;if you -ot milkmaids yesterday' !id you5< ;>es,< ( said' ;0iam, ( have had enou-h'< ;+hat do you e pect me to do about it5< he said' ;#arry me,< ( said' ;Take me away from all this'< There was a dreadful, lon- silence' ( thou-ht he had hun- up on me' ( wouldn3t have blamed him' $ut at len-th he said, ;%nly if you can assure me that (3m not :ust an escape for you'< ( assured him, hand on heart' ( told him that the mere thou-ht of Fran& !odeca had made me realise that 0iam was the only man for me' ;%therwise (3d -et on a plane and -o to my sister in Sweden,< ( said' ;%r maybe to $ali, to Stepdaddy Five'< ;All ri-ht,< he said' ;Are you comin- round here at once5< ;Muite soon,< ( said' ;( have to fi !odeca first'< +e then e chan-ed a surprisin- number of

endearments before ( ran- off and raced back to my flat for what ( sincerely hope was the last time' ( -ot back :ust as a minibus drove up and unloaded half a do&en fit-lookin- youn- men in scarlet robes and coronets and three more middle-a-ed ones, who looked e9ually fit' #ost of them were carryinbottles of champa-ne and clearly lookin- forward to some fun' They all poured into my flat ahead of me' ( had to sidle amon- them and past the men s9uee&in- the last trampoline in and past several enra-ed -eese and terrified partrid-es to -et to my phone=a phone dear Fran& was certainly bu--in-' +hile ( punched in his number, the chaps all climbed on the trampolines and be-an solemnly bouncinup and down' %ne of the -eese accidentally :oined them' ( had to put my hand over one ear to detect that ( had -ot !odeca3s answerin- service' Good' ;Fran&, dear,< ( said after the beep' ;(3m so -rateful for all the thin-s you3ve been sendin- me' >ou3ve really -one to my heart' +hy don3t you come here and :oin me in my flat5 "ome soon' And then we3ll see'< And ( ran- off, with the deli-htful thou-ht of dear Fran& arrivin- and the traitor .ousebot lettinhim in amon- all this' #ore than all this it would be, ( discovered as ( left' Another herd of cows was comin- down the street, lowin- and cowpattin- as it came' From the other direction, ( could see the bi- lady from the $irds 2rotection, or whatever it was, advancin-' She seemed to have a policeman with her' And #r' +ilkinson was :ust stormin- out of Stepdaddy Five3s front door' ( ran the other way, past the herd of cows' And who should ( see but the nice courier lad :ust -ettin- out of his van with a fifth parcel of rin-s' ( stopped him' ;>ou know me, don3t you5< ( said' ;"an ( si-n for them now and save you comin- to my door5< .e innocently did let me and ( raced away with the parcel' ;(3ve brou-ht you a dowryH< ( said to 0iam as ( arrived= ;No, 0iam, don3tH ( haven3t finished yetH< A male voice) ;!on3t be stupid, Sam' >ou know he3ll be listenin- in' !o you want him to know where we are5 (3m -oin- to throw this away before you tell him any more'< The diary ends here'

L%ND OF T&# LOST Ste/art O2Nan

S.E +AS A "AS.(E, AT A $(0% in 2erry whose marria-e had lon- since broken up' Soon after that her two boys moved out of the house, leavin- %llie, her German shepherd, as her sole companion' From the be-innin- she followed the case in the paper and on T@, absorbin- it like a mystery, discussin- it with her coworkers and customers=so much so that her mana-er had to ask her to stop' Early on she visited the +eb site and left messa-es of support in the -uest book, from one mother to another, but after *ames +ade confessed that he3d buried the -irl somewhere west of 1in-sville, she be-an keepin- a file' At ni-ht when she couldn3t sleep she sat up in bed and went over the transcripts and the mother3s map, convincin- herself it was possible' She couldn3t believe a feelin- so stron- could be mistaken' She didn3t tell anyone what she was doin-=she wasn3t stupid' The first time was the hardest because she felt foolish' (n the privacy of her -ara-e, while %llie looked on, she stocked the trunk of her car with a shovel, a spade, a dry-cell flashli-ht and a pair of work -loves' She opened the door and he leaped into the backseat, caperin- from window to window, frantic :ust to be -oin- somewhere' ;All ri-ht, calm down,< she said' ;(t3s not playtime'< Searchin- on foot took lon-er than she thou-ht' They came across nothin- more sinister than a rottinsea-ull, but she wasn3t disappointed' $ushwhackin- throu-h the over-rown no-man3s-land behind the commercial strip on ,oute BEI was an adventure, and lookin- -ave her a sense of accomplishment' They could cross this location off and move on to the ne t one' 0ater she added more serious -ear like bolt cutters and a li-htwei-ht -raphite walkin- stick recommended by professionals, whose +eb sites she treated like the $ible' She reli-iously documented everythin-, takin- videos of any -round they disturbed, writin- up her field notes as soon as they -ot home' As fall came on she rearran-ed her shifts, workin- ni-hts so she could take advanta-e of the dayli-ht' (n a couple of weeks the -round would be fro&en and she3d have to shut down until sprin-' (t was then, when she was feelin- rushed, that she discovered a /-Store-(t outside #entor with a stockade fence and a dirt road runnin- throu-h the pines behind it' Across the raw lumber, kids had sprayed their ille-ible fluorescent-red names' She walked %llie alon- the fence until he stopped, sniffin- at a weedy mound' She pulled him away twice, and both times he came back to the same spot' ;Good boy,< she said, -ivin- him a treat, and looped his leash around a tree' She prodded the mound with her walkin- stick' The dirt was sandy and loose, and she went back to her car for the shovel' She du- her first hole deep, then shallow ones every three feet' She was out of shape, and had to dip her head and wipe her face on her shoulder' (t was cool out, and when she stopped for a drink of water the sweat on her neck made her shiver' $y the time she reached the middle of the fence, the sky was startin- to -et dark' At the four corners of the self-stora-e, hi-h floodli-hts popped on, bu&&in- and drawin- bu-s, throwin- weird shadows' She checked her cell phone=it was almost five' She needed to -o home and -et ready for work' ,ather than leave the site un-uarded overni-ht she decided to call the F$('

They told her it was too late in the day' They3d send someone out to talk to her tomorrow' +hen she complained to her older son, he asked how lon- she3d been doin- this' The a-ent they sent asked the same 9uestion' .e looked over her binders and the picture of the -irl on the mantel and the bi- map tacked up in the kitchen' ;(3m :ust tryin- to help,< she said' ;(f it was one of my kids, (3d want everybody to pitch in'< ;( would too,< the a-ent said soothin-ly, as if it was common sense' The ne t day they took her out to the site in an unmarked Suburban to watch a backhoe di- a trench alon- the fence line' A-ents in windbreakers and late -loves sifted the dirt throu-h metal screens, then spread it on tarps for the do-s' A pro:ect like this would have taken her weeks, and she was -lad she3d called' She ima-ined the -irl3s mother hearin- the news' She didn3t care about -ettin- the credit' (t was enou-h to know the -irl was finally home' They found nothin-' *ust dirt' +orms' (t had all been a coincidence' As the a-ent said, there was -raffiti on everythin- these days' #eanin- she was cra&y' !roppin- her off, he thanked her' ;( know your heart was in the ri-ht place'< +as it5 She could admit that at least part of the reason she was searchin- for a stran-er3s dau-hter was that no one else needed her' *ust %llie' She promised her sons to take a break after that' She took down the map and stored the picture in a drawer and watched the last weeks of fall pass' .onorin- her pled-e was easier in the winter' She used the time to rethink her strate-y and stockpile supplies' Some sites recommended a pitchfork to turn the soil, others a picka ' %n paper, a-ain and a-ain, she rearran-ed her trunk, as if she were travelin- cross-country' She enrolled %llie in an online course for sniffer do-s, practicin- with scented ra-s in the backyard' .e didn3t always -et them ri-ht away, and stood lookin- at her as if she mi-ht -ive him a hint' ;!o you want to pass or not5< she asked' ;%r am ( :ust wastin- my time5< She kept an eye on the +eb site, and cruised the chat -roups for news' She was afraid one day the pa-e would come up and say she3d been found, but month after month, nothin- chan-ed' (t had been two and a half years' $esides the family, she mi-ht be the only person lookin- for her' (n #arch the -round thawed and she tacked up the map' She3d turned her older boy3s room into a command center, emptyin- his desk and fillin- the drawers with her notebooks' %n a brand-new corkboard she posted her schedule' Four days a week she3d search, weather permittin-' She3d been too impatient in the fall, lettin- her emotions -et the best of her' She3d actually e pected to find the -irl her first time out, as if she were psychic' She needed to be calm and methodical' (f she was -oin- to succeed, it would be because she knew how to work' %llie :ust liked ridin- in the car and -oin- for walks' .e had his certificate, but the death scent made him snee&e' The smells that interested him came from other do-s, and he immediately covered them with his own, liftin- his le- and makin- her wait' As sprin- turned to summer the only thin- he3d discovered was a bee3s nest, provokin- a swarm and earnin- him a bump on the nose' .e would have stayed and tried to fi-ht them if she hadn3t dra--ed him away' She made the mistake of tellin- her youn-er son, who told her older son, who called and said he thou-ht they a-reed she was -oin- to stop'

;( don3t see why you3re so upset,< she said' ;(3m worried about you' !o you understand why5< ;No'< ;That3s why,< he said' After that, every time he called, he made a point of askin- how the search was -oin-' She refused to lie' ;The same,< she said' ;+hat does that mean5< (t meant she was ran-in- farther and farther west, devotin- whole weeks to a sin-le e it off the interstate, trompin- the bu--y :un-les behind truck stops and fireworks outlets, breakin- -round by every stockade fence she came across, -raffitied or not' .er knees creaked, her arms ached, and then at work she had to lean over the conveyor and lift a -allon of milk into someone3s cart, and she thou-ht maybe he was ri-ht' She was too old to be doin- this' There was always the possibility *ames +ade had been lyin-' As her map filled with pins, she tried not to let it bother her' (n Au-ust, :umpin- a draina-e ditch, she twisted her ankle and missed three weeks, ruinin- her schedule and -ivin- her son a new e cuse to bad-er her' To catch up she went out five days a week, but felt like she was rushin-, cuttin- corners' The weather was mild, (ndian summer lin-erin- deep into %ctober' (f it held up 4and the +eather "hannel said there was a chance6, she3d have a shot at finishin-' %ne bri-ht afternoon she was outside Fairport .arbor, behind a ,yder truck center, when %llie stopped and lay down in a shallow trou-h filled with pine duff' .e rested his head on his paws and flattened his ears back as if he were bein- punished' (t wasn3t anythin- she3d tau-ht him' ;"ome on, -et up'< She whistled and clapped, and still he didn3t bud-e' She had to coa him away with a treat and tie him to a tree, and even then he hunkered down, cowerin-' The ,yder place wasn3t a self-stora-e, and the fence, thou-h heavily ta--ed, was chain link with -reen plastic slats, but she went to -et the video camera anyway' The trou-h was tub shaped, around five feet lon-, and sunk a few inches below the -round around it' She brushed away the leaves and pine needles and laid the pitchfork beside it for scale, narratin- as she panned alon- the fence' ;November third, IEEd, F)I` 2'#'< +hen she3d -otten enou-h covera-e, she set down the camera and took up the pitchfork' She du- into the very center of the trou-h, :abbin- the pron-s throu-h the crust, pushin- it deeper with her foot, pullin- back on the handle so the -round cracked and broke around the tines' She stuck it in a-ain, leverin- open a hole' $ehind her %llie whined' ;Shush,< she said' The third time she du- down and yanked back, the pitchfork sna--ed on a swath of fabric' (t was discolored with mud and stank of mildew, but was unmistakably a piece of -reen nylon, a wisp of white battin- pokin- from a hole' She set aside the pitchfork, tossed away her -loves and tu--ed at the piece, pullin- another couple inches throu-h the dirt' (t was the shell of a sleepin- ba-, she could see the thick seam of the &ipper'

+ith a fin-er she wiped at the crumblin- mud, revealin- rusty teeth' Thank God, she thou-ht' +hat would $rian say now5 As lon- as she3d waited for this moment, she didn3t want to see what was inside' The thin- to do was stop and call someone, but after last year, she couldn3t' She knelt beside the hole, di--in- it free with her bare hands' This time she would make sure' Then everyone would know she wasn3t cra&y'

L#IF IN T&# WIND Gene Wol1e

;.E3S $EEN %/T T.E,E,< ENA SA(!, ;for an hour and fifty-two minutes' (t took him twenty-ei-ht to nail that plate back down' (3ve been tryin- to -et him to come back in ever since'< $rennan rubbed his chin' (t was a bi- one, and re9uired 9uite a bit of rubbin-' ;.e answers you5 .e replies5< ;Sometimes' Not always'< ;$ut he3s conscious5< ;( think so'< ;Fu-ue state5< Ena shru--ed' ;Talk to him'< ;(3ll try'< Ena3s -esture switched on the mike' ;This is Ena a-ain, 0eif' $rennan is here with me now' +hat are you doin-5< ;+atchin- the sunrise, Ena' The planetary shadow is fadin-' Fadin-7This sun appears behind the hori&on curve, :ust peepin- out past it now' ( can feel the first bree&es of its solar wind'< $rennan tried to make his voice soft' ;>ou can3t possibly feel a solar wind, 0eif' >ou3re suited up'< ;( feel it'< Ena said, ;2lease come back, 0eif' +e3ve completed the survey, done everythin- we were supposed to do, and=< $rennan interrupted her' ;The :ob3s finished, 0eif' There3s no life down there' +e have rock samples, cores, the works' .abitable planet, no life' Seed it and there could be colonies here in two hundred years' #aybe less'< 0eif said nothin-' Ena said, ;(3ve never be--ed a man for anythin-=< ;$irds' ( see birds'< $rennan snorted' ;>ou don3t see birds, damnitH There aren3t any, and if there were, you couldn3t see them from up here'< Ena said, ;Think of me, 0eif=if you won3t think of yourself, at least think of me' The trip home will take fifteen more years' +hat if $rennan dies5< Silence' ;+alt died' So did $arbara and Alaia' $rennan could die, too' (3d try to take the ship home all by myself, and (3d -o insane' ( couldn3t bear it' >ou know what the tests showed=nobody could'< She paused, waitin-' ;Think of me if you won3t think of yourself'< 0eif e claimed, ;>ou should see these birdsH The detailH The colorsH The combs and crests and wattlesH<

$rennan said, ;>ou3re dreamin- them, 0eif'< ;( couldn3t dream anythin- like this' (t isn3t in me' (t isn3t in anybody' They3re so bi-, and they -et smaller as they come closer' Smaller and smaller, like :ewels'< Ena looked at $rennan, e pectin- him to reply, and saw that he was suitin- up' She switched off her mike' ;Are you -oin- out there after him5< ;(f ( have to, yes'< ;( know you could outwrestle him, but can you catch him5< ;(3ll have to'< She switched her mike back on' ;0eif, (3m offerin- everythin- (3ve -ot' (3ll be your slave if you3ll :ust come back'< She -ulped, and wondered whether her mike had picked it up' ;(3ll do your details, all of them, and mine, too' +e3ll be heroes when we -et home, and (3ll -ive you a bath first, and clean and press your uniform' (3ll shine your boots and polish your brass' >ou said ( was beautiful once, remember5 +ouldn3t you like a beautiful slave5< $rennan muttered, ;!id he really5< ;(3ll=sleep with you like you wanted, 0eif' >ou can do whatever you like with me, and (3ll do whatever you tell me to' 2lease5< 0eif said, ;They3re nestin- in me, all the beautiful birds' 2erchin- on nerve fibers, sippin- from tiny veins, Ena' Flutterin- and sin-in-' This is how a tree feels in summer'< +earily, Ena switched off her mike' ;.e doesn3t care about me'< ;.e doesn3t care about us,< $rennan told her' ;Not now he doesn3t'< 0eif said, ;The wind murmurs in my branches, and the birds nest there'< .e sounded rapturous' Ena3s screen showed a silver starfish, arms wide, le-s spread, face invisible behind the -lare of sunli-ht on his visor' Slowly, the starfish revolved, rollin- like a wheel' She heard the airlock open' ;>ou3re -oin- after him5< $rennen stepped into the airlock' ;+ish me luck'< ;( do,< she said' The airlock closed, and she added, ;( wish you both luck' ( hope you don3t kill each other'< Still later) ;#ost of all ( wish me luck'< +as there nothin- she could do but sit and watch5 She unsnapped her belt, floated up, and pushed off' +alt should have looked :ust as she remembered him from last time=so 9uickly fro&en that no bicrystals had formed, eyes shut, and very, very dead' .e did not' !ead, yes, but still there' So 9uickly fro&en, she thou-ht, that his soul had not had time to leave his body' $rennan thou-ht it mi-ht be possible to reanimate him back on earth, and $rennan mi-ht be ri-ht' +alt3s eyes were not completely shut' Surely they had been before5 Surely' $ut +alt was peekin- out like one who fei-ns sleep' ;( may sleep with 0eif if $rennan brin-s him back' (3ll have to sleep with $rennan' >ou3re dead, +alt'< Ena paused' ;>ou3re dead for now, anyway' ( won3t be cheatin- on you'< From behind a plastic shield as clear as air, +alt watched her in silence'

;>ou understand, don3t you5< She be-an to close the lid' ;$esides, (=we3re not all that different from you, we women'< She returned to the brid-e, floatin- alon- ovoid black corridors that should have echoed but did not' (t had been wron- to silence them, she thou-ht' The sound absorption was too -ood, it worked too well' Ghosts whispered in the black corridors now, Alaia3s -host and $arbara3s' +alt3s -host' %n her screen, $rennan had a line around 0eif3s waist and was playin- it out behind him as he returned to the ship' $ri-htly lit by risin- $eta Andromedae, the slack oran-e line traced fantastic loops and whorls a-ainst the still-dark planet they orbited' Ena switched on her mike' ;!id he -ive you any trouble, $rennan5< ;Not a bit'< "han-in- viewpoints, she watched $rennan enter the airlock, turn, and be-in haulin- 0eif in' No resistance, but7She inserted a sedative cap in the in:ector' 0eif, she told herself, was not particularly stron-' And pushed aside the knowled-e that all psychotics were' (nside, he removed his helmet without assistance' .is e pression was rapt, his eyes elsewhere' The neck was one of the best places' 0eif rela ed, swayin-, and $rennan said, ;That was probably a -ood idea'< ;(t can3t hurt'< Ena was openin- 0eif3s suit' ;(3m full of birds,< 0eif told her' ;( see'< ;They3re nestin- in me' .ave ( mentioned that5< Absently, she nodded' ;+e are their trees' That3s why there are no trees down there' +e trees have :ust arrived'< 0eif paused' ;( would like to sit down'< ;No reason not to,< $rennan told him' ;Step out of the boots and (3ll put you in a chair'< +hen 0eif did not move, $rennan lifted him out, the ma-netic boot soles holdin- them to the deck' +hen $rennan had 0eif in his console seat, Ena belted him in' The first :ump covered four thousandths of one li-ht-year8 rechar-in- for the ne t would take thirty-si hours' ;Are we -oin- home5< 0eif asked' .e sounded sleepy, and had not touched the buckle that held him in his seat' $rennan said, ;,i-ht'< .e was refoldin- 0eif3s suit' ;>ou3ll have to walk in the spinner,< Ena told 0eif, ;:ust like $rennan and me' *ust like you did on the trip out' "an you do it5< 0eif seemed not to have heard her' ;Two hours a day,< $rennan said' ;(f you don3t, your le-s will break when we -et home'< Ena was inspired' ;>our limbs, 0eif' That3s your arms and your le-s' >ou know what happens when limbs break'< 0eif stared at her' ;The nests fall down'<

;E actlyH< ;(3m -oin- into the spinner now'< 0eif released his buckle' ;Three hours' Three hours every day for me' ( won3t for-et'< +hen 0eif had -one, $rennan chuckled, wrapped Ena in his arms, and kissed her' +hen they parted, he whispered, ;>ou were always the smartest woman on board'< They were rechar-in- for the fourth :ump when Ena heard the first bird, its clear trills carried throu-h the ventilation system' A twenty-minute search found it in Specimen Stora-e number B, where it had nested amon- her neatly labeled sacks of rocks' (t was somewhat lar-er than a crow, and was not 4she decided6 e actly as a bird should be' That sinuous neck, armored in diamond scales, mi-ht have belon-ed to a snake8 the sides of its lon-, curved beak were toothed like the blades of saws' (t spread its win-s when she approached, threatenin- her with retractile claws that sprouted from their forward ed-es' ;( don3t want to hurt you,< Ena said softly' ;,eally, ( don3t' >ou3re very, very valuable to all three of us' >ou3re an alien life-form, you see'< (t was difficult to remain calm' The bird rattled its feathers=a warnin- bu&&, loud and abrupt' She kicked off from a specimen ba-, backin- away' ;(3m -oin- to brin- you somethin- to eat' ( don3t know what you3ll like, so (3ll try several thin-s'< "ould it eat their food5 $rennan was checkin- the rechar-e readin-s' ;2ile3s runnin- -ood,< he told her' ;Ne t :ump should be ri-ht on schedule'< ;0eif3s birds are real'< She had drifted over to her console' ;Are you kiddin- me5< Seein- his skepticism, she nodded' ;Sure' $ut don3t you hear that noise5 0isten' ( think it3s cominthrou-h the vents'< After a moment he left his seat and kicked off, stoppin- aft vent' Ena smiled to herself' ;That3s a bearin- -ettin- ready to fail' 2robably one of the fans' (3ll see to it'< As he shot out into the corridor, she called, ;Good luckH< She was checkin- the pile herself when 0eif wandered in' ;!o you need me5< ;Not really'< She smiled' ;The best thin- you could do ri-ht now is to shower and put on a clean uniform' +ill you do that5 For me5< 0eif nodded' ;Thank youH ( really appreciate it' 2ut the one you3re wearin- in the laundry, and (3ll see to it' !on3t for-et to empty the pockets'< ;There3s nothin- in there'< 0eif seemed to wait for her to speak' ;All ri-ht, (3ll empty them anyway'< (t was almost time for the :ump when $rennan returned' ;There3s a bird on the shipH< ;No shit5< Ena fei-ned surprise' .e -rabbed at a handy conduit and swun- to a stop, pantin-' ;Sweetheart, you ou-ht to see itH (t3s taller than ( am'< ;(f you3re -oin- to sniff solvents,< Ena said icily, ;( don3t want you to call me sweetheart' "ut it out' "ut it out ri-ht now' This is the only warnin- you3ll -et'<

;(t3s down on . !eck' "ome on, (3ll show you'< ;%ne of us has to stay on the brid-e, and since you3ve been sniffin-, it had better be me'< ;0eif can do it'< ;0eif isn3t around, and God only knows what he3d do if he were alone here'< ;(t3s real' !o ( have to take a picture5< Feelin- almost sorry for him, she shook her head' ;No' No, you don3t, $rennan' "atch it and throw it off the ship' (t3ll be out in space somewhere, and ( can pick it up in my viewer'< ;!on3t you understand what this means5< ;>es' (t means that 0eif can infect others with his hallucinations' %r else you3ve been sniffin-' ( like the second one better'< ;(3m -oin- to catch it,< $rennan told her' ;"atch it and confine it' Then (3m -oin- to show it to you' !on3t :ump without me' >ou3re not 9ualified'< ;>ou mean ( don3t have the paper' $y this time ( know how to do it as well as you do'< ;!on3t :umpH< Then he was -one' Ena smiled to herself as she tried to track him throu-h the surveillance cameras' +hen F/00 ".A,GE appeared on her upper-left screen, she :umped' A !A> AN! #%,E passed before $rennan returned' Ena slept on the brid-e, tethered to a hatch handle and han-in- wei-htless amon- DDI instruments' 0eif wandered in and volunteered to brin- her food and water' She was usin- the surveillance cameras to search for $rennan when $rennan touched her shoulder' ;>ou :umped=( felt it'< .e was tryin- hard to look severe, but could only look ha--ard and triumphant' ;Sure,< Ena said' ;( knew you would' ( :umped, and that3s why the pile3s burnin- and power3s flickerin-' ( don3t know what that vibration is, but it darned near=< ;@ery funny'< $rennan belted himself into his console seat' .e studied the screen, clicked twice, and studied it a-ain' ;!id you catch the bird5< ;( did'< $rennan nodded' ;( -ot a number three car-o net and ri--ed it up to close when the bird tried to -et throu-h' +hen it was ready, ( drove the bird in front of me with a weldin- torch'< ;+here is it now5< .e si-hed' ;Empty ration locker, or ( hope it is' (t may still be tan-led in the net' ( don3t know'< ;+e can3t keep it there for fifteen years'< ;,i-ht' +e3ll let it out, v-tape it, kill it, v-tape it some more, strip the bones and save them'< /nder his breath he added, ;(f it has bones'< Ena said, ;Tissue specimens, too' #aybe we should free&e the head'< ;>eah'< ;There3s somethin- you3re not tellin- me'<

;(t tried7Tricks' >ou wouldn3t believe me'< ;>ou didn3t believe me when ( told you 0eif3s birds were real'< $rennan strai-htened up' ;(3m still not sure you were ri-ht' #aybe ( cau-ht a delusion' >ou want to fetch the 3corder5< ;Somebody3s supposed to stay on the brid-e'< ;0eif' (3ll -et him'< This time she offered no ob:ection' The -reen food lockers were on " !eck' $rennan cau-ht the handle of one in Aisle FE' ;This is it' (3m -oin- to level with you, sweetheart' ( don3t think it3s still in here, but this is where ( put it' ( threw it in and locked the door'< .e took the key from his pocket, a strip of plastic no lar-er than a paper clip' Ena si-hed' ;+alt was supposed to have those' 1eep us from eatin- too much'< ;+alt3s dead'< She nodded' ;So now ( can eat all ( want'< ;+ith three -one, it won3t matter' !on3t worry about it'< ;So ( ou-ht to eat too much' $ored people always eat too much'< +atchin- her, $rennan nodded' ;That was why +alt kept the keys'< ;$ut ( don3t' ( don3t eat enou-h' ( keep drivin- myself to eat' %r try to, anyway' All my uniforms are loose'< She paused' ;Aren3t you -oin- to open it5< ;(n a minute, maybe' $oredom makes people eat=you3re ri-ht about that' !epression keeps them from eatin-' Get somebody depressed enou-h, and she3ll starve herself to death' >ou tried to bribe 0eif with se ' ( heard you'< Slowly Ena nodded' ;(3m not -oin- to say ( don3t want se ' (t would be a lie, and you3d know it was a lie' Every man wants se , but that3s not the only thin- ( want' ( want you to love me' ( want you to love me the way you loved +alt' %kay, ( want it for my own selfish reasons' .ell yes, ( do' $ut ( want it for your sake, too'< $rennan paused' ;For a second there you were tryin- to smile' ( wish you3d made it'< She said, ;So do ('< ;+hen ( kissed you, up on the brid-e, you kissed back'< She nodded' ;So there3s hope for us'< ;L.ope is the thin- with feathers'3< Ena waited for $rennan to speak' +hen he did not, she added, ;That3s Emily !ickinson'< ;>eah, ( know'< $rennan pulled himself toward the food locker' ;>ou want me to show you the bird and 9uit talkin- about all this, because it bothers you' (3ve -ot it' %nly it mi-ht help you, too, so (3ve -ot to keep it up' >ou think ( don3t miss $arbara5 >ou think ( don3t wake up when the cabin3s dark, wonderin- if she3s asleep5 ( need you almost as much as you need me' >ou don3t have to believe that'< ;+hat ( believe doesn3t matter'< ;The hell it doesn3tH ( need you, and that3s why (3ll never 9uit' >ou3ll see, and Ena7<

;+hat5< ;+e3ll -et back home alive' $oth of us'< She kissed him, and it was like=yet not 9uite like=their kiss on the brid-e' ;( don3t think the bird3s still in here,< $rennan said rather later' ;Not really' (t was too tricky for that'< ;+e didn3t think they could nest in 0eif either'< ;>eah' +hat the hell are they5 !evils5 They can3t be an-els'< Ena said, ;( don3t think we3ve -ot the word' %r the concept either' +e3ll have to develop them'< ;#aybe' (f we can'< $rennan opened the locker, and somethin- smaller than a bee flew out' ;(t -ot out,< he said' ;Some way it -ot out' +here the hell did it -o5< ;LThey -et smaller as they come closer'3< ;+hat3s that supposed to mean5< ;+hat it says, perhaps' 0eif said it before you pulled him in'< $rennan rubbed his :aw' ,ather to her surprise, Ena discovered that she en:oyed watchin- him rub his :aw' ;#ine didn3t -et smaller when ( was chasin- it'< Ena nodded' ;(t wasn3t comin- closer' >ou were, or you were tryin- to'< They :umped' ;SonofabitchH !id you feel that5< ;>es'< She discovered that she was holdin- his arm, and let -o' ;>es, ( did' (t was 0eif, up on the brid-e'< ;Sure' .ad to be'< $rennan -lanced at his watch' ;.e went the minute rechar-e was complete'< She nodded' ;Now we3ll have to see in which direction'< T.E> .E0! A T,(A0 the ne t day, a kan-aroo court with 0eif tied into his seat' ;(3m the prosecutor,< $rennan e plained' $rennan no lon-er sounded, or looked, an-ry, but his voice was deadly serious' ;>ou3re the defendant and the counsel for the defense, too' Ena3s the :ud-e' She and ( think that will be fair' +hat you think doesn3t matter' (3m -oin- to put the case a-ainst you' >ou3ll be -iven an opportunity to rebut it' Ena will decide on your penalty'< ;(f any,< Ena said' ;She3ll decide your penalty, if there is one' !o you understand5< ;( didn3t want to hurt any of you,< 0eif said' .e mi-ht have been talkin- to himself' ;( :ust wanted to -o back' Fuel3s forty-seven percent surplus' Food3s=< $rennan raised his fist and looked at Ena' She shook her head' ;+e used to be friends, 0eif' (3d like us to be friends a-ain' 0ike us to be friends ri-ht now'<

;All ri-ht'< ;Good' This is a trial' ( am your :ud-e' !o you understand that5< ;(3m not stupid' ( :ust want to -o back'< ;( know' $rennan5< ;.e sabota-ed our mission' Not by some accident' Not even by inattention' .e did it deliberately' .e brou-ht his damned birds in' +e don3t know how many there are, but there3s a lot' >ou and ( will have to round them up and kill them' (t may take years, and we may never catch them all'< 0eif started to speak, but $rennan silenced him' ;.e ne-ated our last :ump, and he3ll be a dan-er to us, and to the mission, for the ne t fifteen years' Say that we let him live' +e3ll have to lock him up and feed him, :ust you and me, on top of all our other duties' +e3ll have to make sure he stays locked up, because we can3t trust him out for a minute' %ne of us will have to walk with him in the spinner, and that will have to be me, because he mi-ht :ump you' (f=< ;( mi-ht :ump you, too,< 0eif said' ;Sure'< $rennan -rinned' ;+ant to try5< ;.e will try,< Ena said thou-htfully' ;.e mi-ht even succeed, if he catches you off -uard' Now stop ar-uin- with him'< She pointed to 0eif' ;>ou3re to be 9uiet until it3s your turn to talk' +e3ll tape your mouth if we have to'< $rennan cleared his throat' ;>ou3re ri-ht' ( don3t think he3d succeed, but he3ll try' Sooner or later, he3ll try to :ump me' (f he does succeed, the mission is shot' Finished' ,uined' Si lives and billions of dollars, all wasted'< Ena nodded' ;That3s not the only dan-er' This ship wasn3t built as a prison' No matter where we lock him up, he3ll have years to try to fi-ure some way out' (3ve never wanted to kill anybody, and God knows ( don3t want to kill 0eif' +e3re -oin- to have to do it :ust the same' "an we keep him sedated for fifteen years5 .ave you -ot enou-h dope for that5< Ena shook her head' ;For one year5< ;+e mi-ht keep him li-htly sedated for a year or more' Not for two'< ;.ow do you know li-htly would be enou-h5< ;( don3t,< Ena said' $rennan si-hed' ;%kay, you3ve -ot my case' "an he be killed, le-ally5 ( don3t know and you don3t either, but we both doubt it' So (3m not askin- you to kill him or even help me to' (3ll do it alone' (3ll stick him in the airlock without a suit, and we3ll write it up in the lo-' #aybe they3ll try me for murder when we -et home' #aybe they won3t' (3ll take my chances' Now let3s hear 0eif'< ;( didn3t endan-er the mission,< 0eif be-an' ;(3ve e plained that already' There3s plenty of food and plenty of fuel' The air plant3s runnin- fine' +hat ( tried to do would have delayed the ship3s return to earth by a few days' No more than that' >ou two are perfectly capable of takin- the ship back' (f you were to die, it3s perfectly capable of takin- itself back' The si of us were put on board to take care of emer-encies, and because we3d be needed once the ship -ot to $eta Andromedae' +e3ve done all that,

or at least we3ve done it as well as three people could, takin- pi , measurin- the ma-netic field, mappin-, and all the rest of it'< ;>ou finished5< $rennan asked' ;No' >ou blame me for brin-in- the birds' (f what you say were correct=it3s not, but if it were=(3d deserve a medal' Neither of you found alien life' Not a speck' Not a trace' ( found it, and returned to the ship with live specimens' >ou won3t concede a thin-, ( know' $ut if your accusation were correct, that would be the fact and ( would be a hero'< Ena said, ;>ou say it3s not'< ;( do' The birds came into me while ( was suited up, out in space' ( told you they were there'< ,eluctantly, Ena nodded' ;( didn3t want to come back onto the ship, infected as ( was' $rennan forced me to' (f brin-in- my birds onto the ship was a crime, $rennan is the criminal' Not me'< ;>ou3re the one who sabota-ed our mission,< $rennan said' Ena raised her hand' ;+e3ve heard the accusation and 0eif3s defense' ( don3t want to -et into it a-ain'< 0eif said, ;>ou promised me a chance to defend myself' ( have one more thin- to say' (t will take less than a minute' #ay ( do it5< She nodded' ;Go ahead'< ;$rennan threatens me with death' Surely you can see that ( wanted to return to $eta Andromedae so that ( could die there' (3ll suit up and -o out a-ain' >ou need only let me do it' 2ut a 1 beside my name in the lo-, and note that ( was a suicide' (t will be true, and if either of you is accused of my murder a veriscope readin- will prove your innocence'< Ena smiled' ;$rennan5< ;(3m willin- if you are'< ;(3m not' Not as it stands' >ou3ll have to do us a service first, 0eif' Go throu-h the ship and collect the birds' All of them' Get them back inside you' They went in once, and ( think they3ll -o in a-ain if you approach them ri-ht' !o it, and we3ll -o back as you ask and put you out'< .E .A! S2,EA! .(#SE0F like a starfish, and the birds had flown' All of them=or nearly all' Now he blew like a dry leaf in the solar wind, revolvin- like a cartwheel' .is air was runnin- out' .is body would die8 and that which would not die would be free at last, free to rove the universe and beyond' !eath waited beside him, warm and dark and friendly, and 0eif could hardly wait' (N .E, "A$(N, ENA smiled to herself as she shook the small brown bottle' She had cau-ht the faint fra-rance of $rennan3s aftershave when he relieved her on the brid-e' .e could not possibly have brou-ht enou-h to last for half the voya-e8 thus he had hoarded some and was usin- it now' The odor haunted her, deli-htful and unidentifiable' +hat aftershave had +alt used, what colo-ne5 She had known those thin-s once, but they were -one and only the memory of $rennan3s faint fra-rance remained' ,ussian leather5 Spice5 Neither seemed correct'

Turnin- the bottle over in her hand, she reread the label she had read so often since findin- the bottle in a food locker) X[ZA\\[ Y^hi[jh' She would smell like a cookie' %penin- the bottle, she applied the thin brown li9uid it contained to five strate-ic spots' $rennan would welcome her return' They would kiss, and she would unbutton his shirt' And then= She interrupted the daydream to listen' A bird san- in her ri-ht wrist'

UNW#LL Carol!n -ar0).rst

( +AS FEE0(NG A $(T /N+E00, so ( called >vonne to come and sit with me' ( believe that sisters have a responsibility to look out for one another, even thou-h that doesn3t seem to be a popular view with everybody these days' ( think that if more people would take their family responsibilities more seriously, then the world wouldn3t be in the kind of trouble7$ut the phone was rin-in-' ;.ello,< said >vonne' ;>vonne, ( need you to come over this afternoon' (3m not well'< ( heard her si-h on the other end8 ( don3t believe she even tried to mask it' ;(s it really important, Arlette5 (3ve -ot a million weddin- thin-s to do'< ;%h, the weddin-' (s that comin- up soon5< ;(t3s Saturday, Arlette, and you know it'< ;+ell, ( hope (3ll be able to make it' (3ve been feelin- weak all day, and (3m not at all sure (3ll be myself by Saturday'< ;Arlette, please don3t start7< ;+ell, it3s hardly my fault if (3m ill' $ut perhaps if ( had a little help7< There was a lon- silence' ( could :ust see her on the other end, wearin- that outlandish en-a-ement rinon her fin-er' A woman her a-e' ;All ri-ht,< she said' ;(3ll -et Arthur to do some of my errands for me' (3ll be over in half an hour'< +e hun- up, and ( leaned back a-ainst my bed pillows, well pleased' T.E FA"T (S, T.(S should by all ri-hts be my weddin-' >vonne and ( met Arthur at the same time, and it was clear from the be-innin- that ( was the one he was interested in' (t used to be, in biblical times, and ( believe some other notable points in history, that if there were two unmarried sisters, the youn-er one wasn3t allowed to be married before the elder' (t was ille-al' (f the youn-er sister tried to break the rules and run off and -et married anyway, they3d put her to death' ( should tell that to >vonne' They3d cut her head ri-ht off' (t was :ust the way it was' +e met Arthur on a seniors3 cruise that >vonne took me on in honor of my seventieth birthday' (t was her idea, and not a very -ood one, ( must say=the room was cramped, the food was terrible, and most of the other passen-ers were pathetic old bores' +hen >vonne -ave me the tickets, she had said, ;+ho knows5 #aybe we3ll meet a couple of nice widowers,< but there were three women for every man, and what men there were were bald, toothless and demented' ( actually saw one of them tryin- to eat soup with his fin-ers' So when Arthur walked into the dinin- room, tall and unstooped, with his full head of silver hair -leamin- in the li-ht from the nautical-themed chandeliers, all the old biddies in the room seemed to sit up a little strai-hter' And when he sat down ne t to me, ( thou-ht, +atch me' ( am -ointo charm the pants off this man' So ( started up a conversation about current events=test him, ( thou-ht, see if he3s still in possession of a fully functionin- mind=and he seemed to be able to talk about somethin- more than what kind of medication he was takin-, which automatically made him a better dinin- companion than anyone else at the table' .e and ( chatted and lau-hed all throu-h the meal, and >vonne :ust sort of melted into the upholstery, as usual' (t3s always been that way8 there3s a softness to her, a sleepiness, that ( can3t stand' (f it weren3t for me, the world would have eaten her up

lon- a-o' So >vonne sat 9uietly and picked her way throu-h her prime rib=no appetite on that -irl, never has been=while ( be-an layin- the -roundwork for my -rand seduction' Thin-s were -oin- 9uite well, and ( was sure ( had him in my pocket' Arthur and Arlette, my mind kept sin-in-, Arthur and Arlette' ( was ecstatic, and God knows ( deserve some happiness' >vonne knows how lonely (3ve been since my Stephen passed away' She doesn3t mind bein- alone8 she3s used to it' $ut ( was made to be married, and in my mind ( already had the church decorated, the flowers arran-ed artfully on the tables' And then at the end of the meal, somethin- odd happened' Arthur rose from his seat, helped me out of my chair and said, lookin- ri-ht at me, ;#i-ht ( interest you in a walk in the moonli-ht, >vonne5< ( felt a little prick of acid in my stomach, and my whole body ti-htened' ( saw >vonne raise her head hopefully, but ( shot her a look' ;+ell,< ( said to Arthur tartly, ;(3d be a lot more interested if you tried callin- me by the ri-ht name'< For an instant, Arthur3s face turned cool as he flicked his eyes between me and >vonne' Then he widened his eyes in a -entlemanly show of shock and proceeded to fall all over himself apolo-i&in-' ;(3m so sorry,< he said' ;( must have misheard the introductions' So >vonne is your sister5< ;That3s ri-ht,< ( said' ( drew my wrap around me, closin- myself up' (t3d take a little more wooin- to make up for a flub like that' ;2lease for-ive me,< he said' And then, as if this had anythin- to do with anythin-, ;>ou two look so much alike'< +ell, that was a fatal misstep on his part' %ur whole lives, >vonne and ( have been told we look like twins, but ( don3t see it myself' ( don3t see it at all' True, we3re only thirteen months apart=and ohH how often (3ve wished ( could -o back and recapture the -lory of those precious thirteen months when it was only meH=and we have similar colorin-, but my features are much more -raceful' Any person who thinks that comparin- me to >vonne is a compliment has a lot to learn' And the lessons mi-ht as well be-in as soon as possible' ;Sorry,< ( said, my voice as icy as the wretched fro&en swan sculpture defilin- the buffet' ;$ut (3m feelin- a bit tired this evenin-, and ( think (3ll pass on your kind invitation'< And ( swept off to bed, my dowdy sister in tow' #y plan was to keep Arthur at arm3s len-th for another half day or so, and then -radually let him win me over a-ain throu-h much hard work and flattery' $ut at breakfast the ne t mornin-, ( could see (3d made a tactical error' Arthur i-nored me completely and be-an dotin- on >vonne as if she were some rare bird he3d been hopin- to spot for years' $y midmornin-, they were headin- to the onboard casino to-ether8 by late afternoon, they3d si-ned up for a ballroom dancin- lesson' And ( was left sittin- on my deck chair, stewin- in my fury, watchin- the waves pass me by' T,/T. $E T%0!, T.(S is not the first time >vonne and ( have found ourselves in a situation like this' +hen ( first met my late husband Stephen=( was twenty-one at the time, and >vonne was twenty =he was already datin- >vonne' She and ( were both workin- in our father3s bakery, which ( thou-ht was a pleasant enou-h thin- to do while ( was waitin- to find a husband' $ut it wasn3t enou-h for >vonne, and she3d started takin- classes at a local colle-e' She wanted to become a librarian=like you need to -o to school to learn how to say ;shhh'< +ell, none of us knew anythin- about it till later, but apparently there was a youn- man who rode the bus at the same time as >vonne, and the two of them used to look at each other over the tops of their books as they rode' And one or the other of them would smile a little, and then they3d -et all embarrassed and look away' Muite a romance, wasn3t it, all that

readin- and lookin- away="asablanca it was not' Finally, after a year of this=yes, it took a full year for one of those ninnies to make a move=the youn- man moved over to sit ne t to >vonne and say hello' They became inseparable after that, ridin- the bus to-ether and talkin- about books' The younman3s name was Stephen, and he was a poet' At least, that3s what he said8 the truth was, he was an accountant with ambitions to be a poet' Anyway, she brou-ht him home one ni-ht to have dinner with #other and Father and me, and you could have knocked me over with a feather' .ere (3d been flirtin- with every man who came into the bakery, while mousy little >vonne bent her head over her books, and she3d found a man all by herself' So >vonne brin-s this man home, this shy, -awky man who spent a year tryin- to -et up the coura-e to say hello, and we all sat in the parlor and looked at him' And (3ll tell you, he was handsome' .e had these bi- eyes, like a doe, and his le-s were so lon-, they stretched way out to the center of the room' $ut ( watched him and >vonne watchin- each other, two little mice peepin- out of their holes, and ( thou-ht this boy needs a woman who will turn him into somethin-' Someone lively and bold, not timid like >vonne' ( looked at their future to-ether, and ( saw a lifetime of 9uiet ni-hts, sittin- side by side, waitin- to see which one of them would -ather the coura-e to say, ;+ould you like milk in your tea5< ,eadin- books to-ether=that3s e actly the kind of thin- they would have done' (t made me want to yawn' This Stephen, he needed a woman who could teach him how to have fun, a woman who wasn3t afraid to speak her mind' Stephen and ( were meant to be to-ether, ( could see it ri-ht away' !idn3t we deserve some happiness5 And what would >vonne do with a man like that, anyway5 >vonne had her studies, her solitary pursuits' She was always happiest on her own' And so, for the sake of us all, ( set out to save Stephen from >vonne' (t was harder than ( e pected' .e had become 9uite enamored of her, for reasons ( never could 9uite ima-ine' ( tried all the more subtle forms of flirtation=never were more -loves dropped in a younman3s path, never were a youn- lady3s shoulders more often proclaimed to be chilly=but they went ri-ht over his head' And then one day, ( -ot a little help from fate' The three of us were supposed to -o to a nearby lake to-ether for a picnic=by this point, (3d insinuated myself into most of Stephen and >vonne3s activities=but >vonne -ot sick and couldn3t -o' Stephen was all ready to cancel the whole thin-, but ( put on a sad face and told him (3d spent all mornin- in the kitchen, cookin- up my special deviled e--s, and why couldn3t the two of us have a nice day5 And >vonne, predictably, took my side and told us to -o and have a -ood time' ,eally, that woman never knows when to stand up for herself' So Stephen and ( went to the lake ourselves, and ( made sure we found a nice, secluded spot' +e spent the afternoon sittin- in the shade of a lovely weepin- willow tree, and we :ust had a wonderful time, talkin- and lau-hin-' 0ater, >vonne would ask me how ( could do such a thin- to her, but at the time, it didn3t feel like >vonne had anythin- to do with it at all' +e were fallin- in love, that3s all there is to it' (3d sneaked some of Father3s whiskey into the picnic basket, and neither Stephen nor ( was much of a drinker, so we both -ot a bit tipsy, and when a sudden thunderstorm forced us to take shelter in the backseat of his car, we :ust did what came naturally' %ur love was a force of nature, ( always said' %f course, there were tears and accusations, but a month later, when ( told Stephen ( was pre-nant, it :ust seemed like it would be for the best if the two of us -ot married' And by the time ( reali&ed that (3d -otten my dates confused and ( wasn3t pre-nant at all, we were already back from our honeymoon' For a while, >vonne kept herself away from our door, and she and Stephen seemed a bit awkward whenever they were near each other, but ( made it clear that ( wouldn3t have the two of them tiptoeinaround over some little doomed infatuation, and they -ot the picture pretty 9uick' Stephen and ( had a -ood marria-e' At first, he wasn3t the kind of husband (3d hoped he would be, but with my -uidance, he be-an to take shape' ( -ot him to -ive up his poetry and his readin-, and all the other silly thin-s he liked to fill his time with, and to concentrate on his career instead' +ithin a few

years, he3d risen throu-h the ranks of his firm, and we had enou-h money to make a nice life for ourselves' Stephen lost the boyishness and softness he3d had when ( married him, and it pleased me to see the hard ed-es he developed in their place' +e tried for a while to have children, but we never could=some problem with my uterus that (3m sure you don3t want to hear about=and if (3m beinhonest with myself, ( think it3s probably :ust as well' (3m not really the maternal type' (t was a few years after we -ot married that #other -ave me the "hristmas ornaments' #other had 9uite an artistic eye, and her "hristmas tree was always breathtakin-' %ver the years, she3d amassed a beautiful collection of ornaments, some of them 9uite valuable, and ( know >vonne had always hoped they3d pass to her someday' ( think she was 9uite hurt that #other chose to -ive them to me, but it was fast becomin- clear that her role was -oin- to be that of maiden aunt, hoverin- at the ed-es of our family "hristmases, and it :ust wouldn3t have made any sense for her to have them' #other was a practical woman, and she saw this as well as ( did' She knew it was the way of the world, and there was nothin- you or ( could do about it' $ut >vonne never could see thin-s that were plain to everybody else, and ( know she took it as a sli-ht' .onestly, it3s forty-five years later, and ( don3t think she3s -otten over it yet' That first "hristmas we had the ornaments, ( had a bi- party for the whole family' ( made a beautiful ham dinner, and we all sat beneath my perfect "hristmas tree and opened -ifts' Stephen played the piano=now there was one hobby ( approved of=and we san- carols late into the ni-ht' After everyone left, >vonne offered to stay late and clean up a little, since (3d done all the work of the party, and ( a-reed to her kind offer' ( went up to bed, leavin- >vonne in the kitchen and Stephen still sittin- at the piano, pickin- out tunes' (t must have been two hours later when ( woke up and discovered that Stephen wasn3t in bed with me' The li-hts were still on downstairs, and ( crept down to the livin- room' Stephen and >vonne were sittin- on the couch to-ether' They had their arms around each other, and they were lookin- deep into each other3s eyes, their foreheads touchin-' She was strokin- the back of his neck and speakin- to him in a low voice' (n the instant before the floorboards creaked and they looked up and saw me, ( heard her say two words to him' ( heard her say, ;0eave her'< Then, like ( said, there was the business of the floorboards, and the two of them snapped their heads around like they3d been cau-ht stealin-, which, in a way, they had' ;Get out of my house,< ( roared, and for a minute ( wasn3t sure which of them ( was talkin- to' They :ust sat there, fro&en' ( plucked one of the ornaments from the tree, a little white porcelain an-el, and threw it at them with the newfound stren-th of a woman betrayed' (t hit the wall over their heads and landed on the floor, chippin- one of its win-s, but it didn3t break' (t was made of harder stuff than (3d thou-ht' Stephen didn3t leave me, of course' +hat a thou-ht' Say what you will about him, he took his responsibilities seriously' ( think he knew he had it pretty -ood with me' ,eally, not so much chan-ed after that8 ( -ot a new fur coat out of it, and a trump card to play in every ar-ument we ever had' And when >vonne came around, snifflin- and sayin- her sorries, ( welcomed her back with open arms' Friends close, enemies closer' $ut ( made sure that she and Stephen never had a sin-le minute alone to-ether, not a sin-le moment in thirty years' +hen Stephen was lyin- in his hospital bed, two hours away from dyin-, he asked me if he could have a few minutes to say -ood-bye to her alone, and you know what ( said5 No' ( said no' Simple as that' (T +AS T.E 2("T/,ES that -ot me thinkin-' ( don3t know if you3ve ever been on a cruise=if you haven3t, don3t waste your money=but one of the many irksome thin-s they do is take endless pictures

of you and then try to sell you prints' There3s a whole hallway dedicated to displayin- these souvenir masterpieces, and you have to -o throu-h and pick your face out of the crowd' (t3s 9uite depressin-, actually, the sameness of all the photos' .ere3s the whole herd of cattle, walkin- up the -an-plank8 here they are stuffed into their ill-fittin- evenin- wear, posin- ne t to the poor captain, who has to hear the same :okes over and over a-ain=;(f you3re here, who3s drivin- the ship5< And it turns out you3re :ust like the rest of them, smilin- for the camera and tryin- to look like you3re havin- fun' No, ( wasn3t -oin- to spend a penny on their pictures' $ut with >vonne spendin- every wakin- moment with Arthur 4only her wakin- moments, mind you= the one wild week of her life, and she3s too much of a prude to have any fun6, ( found myself with some spare time' And so ( took a walk down the hall of farm animals to try to pinpoint the moment when my sister3s betrayal be-an' 0ook=here are >vonne and Arlette arrivin- to-ether, lookin- as happy as two sisters can be' .ere3s Arthur, arrivin- all by his lonesome' .ere are >vonne and Arlette a-ainst a splashy "aribbean backdrop8 here they are a-ainst a sprinkle of fake stars' And then=here it is, ri-ht before your eyesH=Arlette standin- by herself on Formal Ni-ht, dressed in her prettiest clothes, and there are >vonne and Arthur posed to-ether like some old married couple at their -olden anniversary party' 0ook at them to-ether' >ou can see ri-ht away they don3t match' At least, ( thou-ht, with no small amount of -lee, at least the picture didn3t come out well8 Arthur had turned his head at the moment the shutter snapped, so you can hardly even tell it3s him' And that3s when ( noticed somethinodd' ( looked back throu-h all the earlier photos, and ( noticed there wasn3t a sin-le one of Arthur3s face' (t would seem that for some reason he didn3t want his picture taken' And that3s when ( thou-ht, This is a man with somethin- to hide' ( was concerned for >vonne3s welfare, of course' >ou wouldn3t know it from the way she dresses or the way she decorates her home, but >vonne has 9uite a bit of money' None of us ever e pected it, of course=librarians barely make enou-h to keep themselves in books and donations to public T@ stations' $ut there was a man who used to come into the library where she worked, a little old man who liked to come in each mornin- to read the paper' And ( -uess he was sweet on >vonne' Not that anythin- ever came of it=story of >vonne3s life, or so everyone thou-ht before Arthur=but ( -uess they used to talk to each other, and she3d bend the rules for him and let him drink his coffee while he read, as lon- as he wasn3t too obvious and didn3t spill' She used to tell me about this man, about how he3d point out articles she mi-ht be interested in, and how after a while he started brin-in- a cup of coffee for her too, and (3d say, ;>ou3re livin- a movie-star life, >vonne' The thrills never stop'< $ut then one day, the man died in his sleep, and he left >vonne almost five million dollars' >ou3d think a man with that much money could3ve afforded his own newspaper subscription, but anyway' %f course, it was a bi- surprise to everyone, and there were stories about >vonne in all the papers' She told the reporters, ;%h, it won3t chan-e my life,< :ust like those lottery winners who -o out and buy helicopters the ne t day, but for her it was really true' She kept her :ob at the library, and she still -ets her hair cut at the si -dollar place like some no-class nonmillionaire' 2athetic' So when ( saw the way Arthur kept hidin- his face in all those pictures, at first ( thou-ht he :ust didn3t want to be seen with >vonne and her si -dollar hair' $ut when ( noticed that he was doin- the same thin- in all the earlier pictures, the pre-let3s-trample-on-Arlette-and-her-bi--soft-heart pictures, ( reali&ed what was -oin- on' (t wasn3t that he didn3t want to be seen with >vonne8 he :ust didn3t want to be seen, period' +.EN +E G%T .%#E=never have ( been so happy to put my feet on dry land=( decided ( was -oin- to find out what Arthur3s story was' (t was easier than you3d think' ( sat down and watched that America3s #ost +anted show, and ( found out they had one of those +eb sites' So ( turned on the

computer >vonne -ave me for my birthday last year, and ( had a look around' And wouldn3t you know it, ( found Arthur in an hour' .is real name isn3t Arthur, it turns out' (t3s #artin Edward *affe, and he3s wanted in connection with the disappearance of a woman he married in !enver' A wealthy woman, a whirlwind courtship' (t3s such an old story it3s almost borin-' .onestly, could >vonne be any more naive5 ( sent away to !enver for a copy of a newspaper article that had his picture in it, and ( waited for the ri-ht moment to brin- it to >vonne3s attention' AFTE, .ANG(NG /2 T.E phone with >vonne, ( settle myself a-ainst the pillows, and ( wait to see whether or not today is -oin- to be the day' (t takes her more than an hour to arrive, which is not a point in her favor=honestly, she only lives five minutes away=and at first, ( think maybe ( won3t tell her at all' Serves her ri-ht, ( think, she3s di--in- her own -rave' $ut when you -et ri-ht down to it, (3m a bi- softie, and she is my only sister' Still, it3s not an easy thin- to brin- up8 it would kill her to have to cancel the weddin- at this late date, poor thin-' She3s happier than (3ve seen her in years, and who am ( to take that away from her5 So while she3s downstairs heatin- up some broth for me, ( take the bo of "hristmas ornaments out of the closet' (nside, wrapped in old newspaper, are all the foolish pieces of -lass and -litter she seems to care so much about' God knows why (3ve held on to them this lon-' ( take one out and unwrap it8 it3s the little white an-el with the chip in its win-' ( place the an-el on the newspaper clippin- from !enver and wrap it up ti-ht, then bury it deep in the bo ' ( hear >vonne comin- up the stairs, and ( 9uickly close the bo and -et back into bed' >vonne comes into the room with a tray of soup and crackers' ( can see she3s brou-ht saltines instead of ,it&, and ( almost decide to call off the whole plan and leave her to find out about Arthur for herself' $ut ( take a deep breath and remind myself that she3s my sister' And in any case, she3s already seen the bo in the middle of the floor' She sets the tray down on the bed and points at the bo ' ;+hat3s this5< she asks, even thou-h it3s clearly marked and she3s seen it a hundred times before' ,eally, she is the most infuriatin- creature' Arthur doesn3t know what he3s -otten himself into' $ut ( smile and make my voice as su-ary as the icin- on the tacky weddin- cake she3s sure to have on Saturday' ;A weddin- -ift,< ( say' ;( know how you3ve always wanted these'< She -ets that look on her face that (3ve always hated, a sort of tentative, fri-htened :oy, like a do- takin- meat from a hand she knows mi-ht hit her' ;Arlette, really5< she says' She sounds like she mi-ht cry, and ( feel like pinchin- her' ;+ell, ( e pect (3ll be comin- over to your house for "hristmas from now on' (t :ust makes sense'< ;%h, ArletteH< she cries and throws her arms around me, nearly upsettin- my bowl of broth' ;That3s why you made me come over here today, isn3t it5 >ou3re the sweetest sister a person could haveH< ;>ou always could see ri-ht throu-h me,< ( say and bite into a saltine' ( watch as she picks the bo up to carry it down to her car, chatterin- away about some nonsense or other' ( think about the picture of Arthur hidden deep inside, his lyin- face wrapped around a ruined an-el' She3ll find it at "hristmastime, if her eyes are sharp' And if anythin- should happen before then, ( can hardly be held accountable' (3ve done everythin- ( can' And if, God forbid, anythin- should happen before then, (3m prepared to take the situation into my own hands' ( have no doubt that, with a little bit of -uidance, Arthur could become the kind of husband ( deserve'

% LIF# IN FICTIONS (at &o/ar

.E +,%TE #E (NT% A ST%,> AGA(N' ( told him to stop doin- that, after we broke up' (n fact, it was one of the reasons that we broke up' ( mean, bein- a muse is all well and -ood until you actually become one' The first time it happened, ( was flattered' And it wasn3t like my normal life was so -reat that ( was -oin- to miss it, you know5 So -ettin- pulled into that world=a world he had written :ust for me, where ( was the everythin-, the unattainable, the ideal=it was pretty powerful' +hen he finished the story, and ( came back to the real world, the first thin- ( did was screw him until my thi-hs ached' (t was our first time to-ether' .e said it was the best se of his life' +hen ( asked him if someone had ever fallen into a story that he had written before, he said not that he knew of' %h, sure, he had based characters on people he knew, stolen little bits of their lives' A -esture, a phrase, a particular color of eye or way of walkin-' The petty thievery all writers commit' ( asked what he had done differently this time' ;( was fallin- in love with you, ( -uess' >ou were all ( could think of' So when ( wrote #arah, there you were in my head' Always'< ( hadn3t fallen into the story ri-ht away, and ( didn3t know what happened in the parts where #arah didn3t appear' ,eadin- the finished draft was this weird mi of dV:k vu and mystery' Apparently inspired by my real-world se ual abandon, the ne t thin- he wrote me into was an erotic novella' Ali was a -reat deal more fle ible than ( was, both physically and in her -ender preferences' ( really en:oyed that story, but one ni-ht ( tried somethin- in bed that Ali thou-ht was fun but that he thou-ht was beyond kinky' After that, the only se scenes he wrote me into involved oral se ' #en can be so predictable, even when they are literary -eniuses' #aybe especially then' The ne t time he wrote me into somethin-, ( lost my :ob' (t was a novel, what he was workin- on then, and when he was writin- Nora, ( would :ust disappear from my life as soon as he picked up his pen' For days, or even weeks at a time, when the writin- was -oin- well' .e said he didn3t know what happened to me durin- those times' .e would -o to my apartment, check on thin-s, water my plants' +hen he remembered' +hen he wasn3t so deep in the writin- that nothinoutside re-istered' ( was always in his head durin- those times, he said, at the ed-es of his thou-hts' As if that should reassure me' (t happened faster' .e would be-in to write, and ( would be in the story, and ( would stay there until he was finished' The more ( lived in his writin-, the less ( lived in the real world, and the less ( remembered what it was like to live in the real world, as a real person, as me' +hen the writin- was -oin- well, ( would be surrounded by the comfortable, warm feelin- that someone else knew what was -oin- on, was makin- all the decisions, was the safety net under the hi-h

wire' Everythin- was -au&y, soft focus, fu&&ed at the periphery' ( could have an adventure without worryin- about the conse9uences' After all, ( was always at the ed-es of his thou-hts' /ntil the day ( wasn3t' Everythin- fro&e, and ( was in a cold, white room, full of statues of the people ( had been talkin- to' ( walked from person to person, attemptin- to start conversations, but nothin- happened' +alked around the room a-ain, lookin- for a way out, but there was nothin-' Solid white walls, floor, ceilin-' (t was a lar-e room, but ( could feel the pressure of the walls a-ainst my skin' ( walked to the center of the room, and sat, cross-le--ed, on the floor' +aitin-' .ave you ever had your mind -o blank5 That space between one thou-ht and the ne t when your brain is :ust white noise, when there is not one thou-ht in your head=do you remember that feelin-5 (ma-ine that absence e tendin- forever' There3s no way of escapin- it, because you don3t know=not don3t remember, don3t know=what you were thinkin- about before your brain blanked out, and so you don3t know what to do to -et it started a-ain' There3s :ust nothin-' Silence' +hite' And there3s no time' No way of tellin- how lon- you sit in that vast, claustrophobic white room, becomin- increasin-ly less' ( never was able to fi-ure out how lon- ( waited there' $ut suddenly ( was in a room ( had never seen before, back in the real world, and he was there' There were wrinkles at the corners of his eyes, and -ray threadin- throu-h his hair' +riter3s block, he e plained to me' .e had tried to write throu-h it, work on other pro:ects, but nothin- helped' Finally, that mornin-, he had abandoned the novel as unworkable' ( asked if he had tried to brin- me back, while he was stuck' .e hadn3t really thou-ht of it' That was when ( broke up with him' .e had, ( discovered, become 9uite successful while ( was away' A critical darlin-, praised especially for the comple ity, the reality, of his female characters' Speakin- of #arah in an interview, he described her as his one lost love' The interviewer found it romantic' ( found the interviewer tiresome' $ein- lost was not romantic at all' 2arts of me stayed lost, or -ot covered over by all those other women ( had been for him' Sure, they were me, but they were his view of me, e a--erated, sli-htly shifted, truth told slanted' ( would turn up a son- on the radio, then remember that it was Ali who liked -ypsy punk' ( abandoned my favorite bakery for two weeks when ( convinced myself that ( had Fiona3s -luten aller-y' For three months, ( thou-ht my name was #arah' !urin- all of this, there were intervals of normalcy' $ut ( still felt the tu-s as he borrowed little pieces of me for his fictions' ( would lose my favorite perfume, or the memory of the first time ( had my heart broken' Tiny bits of myself that would slou-h away, painlessly' Sometimes they would return when he wrote ;The End'< #ore often, they did not' ( reminded him that he had promised not to write about me anymore' .e assured me he hadn3t meant to' (t was :ust bits, here and there' .e3d be more careful' And really, ( ou-ht to be flattered'

$ut then a week of my life disappeared' ( loved that short story, and (mo-en was an ama&in- character, the kind of woman ( wished ( was' That wasn3t the point' The point was, he had stolen me from myself a-ain' ( was :ust -one, and ( didn3t know where ( went' And there were more thin-s about myself that ( had for-otten' +as -reen really my favorite color5 ( flicked on the computer, started typin- madly' Everythin- ( could remember about myself' $ut when ( looked over the file, there were -aps that ( knew ( had once remembered, and duplications of events' 2antin-, ( stripped off my clothin- and stared at myself, hopin- that my body was more real than my mind' $ut was that scar on my knee from fallin- off my bike when ( was twelve, or from a too-sharp rock at the beach when ( was seventeen' +as that really how ( waved hello5 +ould ( cry at a time like this5 Anyone would, ( supposed' ( tried to rewrite myself' ( scoured bo es of faded flower petals, crumpled ticket stubs, pa-ed obsessively throu-h old yearbooks' "alled friend after friend to play do you remember' +hen ( remembered enou-h to ask' To know who my friends were' (t didn3t work' +hatever -ift he had or curse that ( was under that let him pull me into his stories, it was a ma-ic too arcane for me to duplicate' And still, the -aps in my life increased' New chan-es happened' ( woke one mornin- to find my hair was white' Not like an old woman3s, but the platinum white of a rock star or some elven 9ueen' ( didn3t dye it back' There was a collection published of his short fiction' .e appeared on $est %f lists, and was shortlisted for important literary pri&es' ( for-ot if ( took milk in my coffee' .e called, asked to see me' Told me he still loved me, was haunted by memories of my skin, my voice, my scent' ( missed, ( thou-ht, those thin-s, too' So ( told him yes' (t took him a moment to reco-ni&e me, he said, when ( walked across the bar to meet him' Somethinwas different' ( told him ( didn3t know what that mi-ht be' .e ordered for both of us' ( let him' ( was sure he knew what ( liked' There was a story, he e plained' .e thou-ht maybe the best thin- he would ever write' .e could feel the electricity of it crackle across his skin, feel the words that he would write pound and echo in his brain' .e had an outline that ( could look at, see what ( thou-ht' .e slid a slim folder across the table' ( wondered aloud why, this time, he would ask permission' This one was lon-er' An epic' .e wasn3t sure how lon- it would take him to write it' And after what had happened the last time, when ( had7 +ell' .e wanted to ask' ( appreciated the -esture' ( drummed my fin-ers across the top of the folder, but did not open it' A waiter discreetly set a martini to the ri-ht of my plate' Funny' ( had thou-ht that it was #adeleine who drank martinis' $ut ( sipped, and closed my eyes in pleasure at the sharpness of the alcohol' ( said yes'

To one more story, this masterpiece that ( could see burnin- in his eyes' $ut ( had a condition' Anythin-, he said' +hatever ( needed' ( wanted him to leave me in the story when he was finished' .e told me he had wondered if ( mi-ht ask for that' ( was surprised he hadn3t known' .e nodded a-reement, and that was settled' +e talked idly throu-h dinner' %ccasionally his eyes would unfocus, and ( could see the lines of plot bein- woven to-ether behind them' ( wondered what he would name me this time, almost asked, then reali&ed it didn3t matter' Then reali&ed ( wasn3t even sure what my own name was anymore' Grace, maybe5 ( thou-ht that sounded ri-ht' Grace' .e started scribblin- on the cover of the folder while we were waitin- for the check' ( watched him write' ;,afe fell in love with her voice first, tumbled into it when she introduced herself as7<

L#T T&# -%ST B#GIN Jonat)an Carroll

EA#%N ,E(00> +AS .AN!S%#E AN! S0%22>' .e seemed to know everyone, even waitresses in restaurants' +hen he walked in the door, they beamed and be-an seriously flirtin- the minute he sat down at their table' ( saw this happen several times at different places, places none of us had ever been to before' ( asked if he knew these women but he always said no' Eamon wore his heart on his sleeve and it worked' 2eople cared about him even when he was beinimpossible, which was pretty often' .e drove an old, badly ne-lected #ercedes that was filthy inside and out' +henever you rode in it, he had to move stuff off the passen-er3s seat and throw it in the back' Sometimes you couldn3t believe what was there=a metal dowsin- rod8 a bo of diapers 4he was sin-le68 a :ai alai istela8 or once a very intimately auto-raphed, badly wrinkled photo of a famous movie actress' .e wrote everythin- in block letters so precise that you mi-ht have -uessed it came from a typewriter' .e kept a detailed daily diary but no one ever saw what was in it, althou-h he carried the book around with him everywhere' .is love life was a constant disaster and we wondered why no woman ever stayed with him for very lon-' .e had once been to-ether with my -irlfriend Ava for a couple of weeks' $ut she was no help when ( finally -ot up the nerve to ask why she broke up with him' ;+e didn3t fit'< ;And5< ;And nothin-' Some people :ust don3t fit to-ether in certain confi-urations' There are people you can be -ood friends with, but if you turn it into lovers, the mi is wron- or to ic or7somethin-' For me, Eamon is a -ood -uy to han- around with but he wasn3t a -ood boyfriend'< ;+hy5< She narrowed her eyes, which is usually the si-n a topic is closed and Ava doesn3t want to talk about it anymore' $ut this time was different' ;Sit down'< ;+hat5< ;Sit down' (3m -oin- to tell you a story' (t3s kind of lon-'< ( did as ( was told' +hen Ava tells you to do somethin-, you do it because, well, because she3s Ava' The woman likes dessert, forei-n politics, the truth, workin- in perilous situations, and wonder, not necessarily in that order' She3s a :ournalist who -oes on assi-nment to e tremely dan-erous places around the world like Spinkai ,a-h&ai, 2akistan, or Sierra 0eone' >ou see her on the T@ news holdindown her hair or helmet as a military helicopter takes off nearby, leavin- her and a small camera crew in some forward armed outpost or barren villa-e that was attacked by rebels the ni-ht before' She is fearless, self-confident, and impatient' She is also pre-nant, which is why she3s home these days' +e3re pretty sure the child is mine but there is a chance that it mi-ht be Eamon3s' (3ve known Ava #alcolm twelve years and loved her for about eleven of them' !urin- those eleven years, she e pressed virtually no interest in me save for an occasional late-ni-ht telephone call from unima-inable places like %ua-adou-ou or Aleppo' The reception on these calls was invariably bad and scratchy' #ore often than not until the birth of satellite telephones, somewhere in the middle of these chats the line would suddenly -o dead, as if it had -rown tired of our -abbin- and wanted to -o to sleep'

0ater she admitted that for a while she thou-ht ( was -ay' $ut when she came back from some assi-nment at the end of the world and saw ( was livin- with *an Schick, it put an end to my -ay days in Ava #alcolm3s mind' $ut poor *an didn3t stand a chance' ( always assumed ( would only -et to love Ava from a distance, be -rateful for any time she -ave me, and -o on admirin- this brave talented woman as she went about livin- her lar-er-than-life life' Then she -ot shot' The bitter irony is that it did not happen in some far-flun- flyblown, FBE-de-ree-inthe-shade hellhole where the bad -uys rode in on animals instead of tanks' (t happened at a convenience store four blocks from her New >ork apartment' A 9uick trip to the market for a bottle of red wine and a ba- of "hee& !oodles coincided with a dunce named 0eaky tryin- to rob his first store with a -un he later said went off accidentally, twice' %ne of those bullets nicked Ava3s shoulder' $ut since it came from a Glock GBC subcompact pistol, bein- ;nicked< was an understatement' (t probably would not have happened if she3d dropped to the floor like the rest of the people in the store as soon as 0eaky started screamin-' $ut Ava bein- Ava, she wanted to see what was -oin- on, so she :ust stood there until the -un went off while pointed rou-hly in her direction' Ava saw many terrible thin-s in her years as a reporter but had always escaped bein- hurt' .owever, as is often the case with people who have been seriously in:ured, it traumati&ed her' +hen she -ot out of the hospital, she ;traveled, screwed men, and hid for a year'< .er words' ;( came out of the hospital with my arm in a slin- and my ass on fire' ( was about FGI percent cra&y, (3ll say that' ( wanted to live life twice as hard afterward=see twice as many thin-s, and have as many men as ( could' (3d come this close to dyin- and the only sure thin- ( learned from the e perience was ( wanted more) more life, more se , more new places7 ;So ( used up all the fre9uent-flyer miles (3d accrued over the years in my :ob' +hen they were -one, ( called in every favor ( had due from people who could -et me where ( wanted to -o' ( spent a lot of time in southwestern ,ussia because that area was like the new +ild +est, what with all the oil money and e ploration -oin- on down there' ;(t was in $aku that ( met the >it'< This was typical Ava storytellin-' %n her T@ reports she -ave you relevant information in perfect sound bites and was crystal clear about it' >et in person she often -ot so carried away tellin- you a story or personal anecdote that she overlooked the fact you mi-ht not know $aku or, like most people on planet earth, what a ;>it< was' ;2lease e plain the last two terms'< ;A&erbai:an,< she said impatiently' ;$aku is the capital of A&erbai:an'< ;%kay, that3s $aku' +hat3s a >it5< ;A d:elloum'< ;+hat3s a :ell-loom5< ;A >it is another word for a d:elloum=kind of like a fortune-teller but more shamany' (t3s a sort of combo fortune-teller and sa-e' $ut in A&erbai:an, women are d:elloum, not men' +hich is interestinbecause it3s a very macho, male-oriented society otherwise'< ;%kay=$aku, and a >it'< She leaned over and kissed me on one side of my mouth' ;( like how you stop me and ask for clarification' #ost people :ust let me rattle on'<

;2roceed'< ;%kay' So at the end of the trip ( wanted to spend some time in $aku because one of my favorite novels, Ali and Nino, takes place there' The book makes the city sound like one of the most romantic places on earth' (t isn3t, but that3s beside the point' ;( was visitin- a section called Sabunlu' #y -uide was #a-sud, an A&eri fluent in En-lish who we3d used before when ( was there on assi-nment for the network' So ( knew the -uy pretty well' .e knew the sort of thin-s ( liked and was interested in' This time, because ( wasn3t workin-, ( hired him :ust to show me around' ;+hen we -ot to Sabunlu, #a-sud said one of the most famous d:elloum in ,ussia lived in that part of the city' +ould ( be interested in visitin- her5 Thin-s like palmists, astrolo-y, and tarot card readin-s are like crack for chicks' Seers, shamans, psychics=lead us to 3em' So ( said sure, (3d love to meet a >it' ;.er name was 0amiya, which is A&eri for Leducated'3 She lived in a small apartment in one of those soulless F_DEs, -ray-cement "ommunist public-housin- pro:ects where every buildin- looks e actly the same and you can easily -et lost' ( think there were two rooms in the place but we only saw the livin- room, which was dark even in the middle of the day' 0amiya sat on a couch' Ne t to it was a baby bassinet' The whole time we were there she kept one hand inside the bassinet, as if she were touchin- the baby to keep it 9uiet' ;After we sat down, she asked #a-sud if ( knew about lal bala, which means the silent child' .e said no' She told him to e plain it to me before she went any further' %f course ( didn3t understand them because they were speakin- A&eri' $ut ( did see him -rimace when she finished, like it was -oin- to be tou-h e plainin- this in a way that (3d comprehend' ;+hile #a-sud e plained lal bala to me, 0amiya kept her hand constantly inside the bassinet' ( didn3t know why until later'< Ava stopped speakin- and :ust stared at me for a few moments' ( think she was -atherin- her ener-y to -o on to the difficult part' ;Now (3m -oin- to tell you the story e actly as it happened' >ou can believe it or not, but :ust know that ( do with all my heart because of what 0amiya told me about myself' !etails and facts no one on earth could know but me' No one, do you understand5 Not my parents, or my sister, no one' $ut 0amiya knew' She rattled off the most intimate thin-s about me like she was readin- them from a list' ;0et me first e plain the silent child' Accordin- to le-end, there are three of them in ,ussia at all times' +hen one dies another is immediately born to replace it' (t3s kind of like the succession of the !alai 0ama in Tibet) a silent child chooses its mother before it3s born'< ;+hat do you mean, before it3s born5 $efore the child is born5< ;>es' 0amiya said she knew she3d have a silent child the moment she first sensed she was pre-nant' So when hers was born, she wasn3t surprised or upset to see it'< ;+hy would you be upset to see your own baby5 +as there somethin- wron- with it5< Ava looked apprehensive, as if hesitant to tell what must be said ne t' ;The child is not alive' ( mean, it3s half alive=half alive and half dead8 it lives half in this world and half in the other world too'< ;+hat Lother world35< ;The afterlife' The baby3s half alive and half dead, as ( said' (t never a-es' (t lives a certain number of years8 they never know how many it3ll be' That3s different for each child' The day it dies, it looks e actly the same as it did on the day it was born, althou-h some of these children live for decades' (t never moves, eats, or breathes' (t never opens its eyes' $ut its heart beats, and most important, it3s an

oracle' ;After she3s told you secret thin-s about yourself that absolutely convinces you beyond a doubt that she3s -enuine, you3re allowed to ask the mother two 9uestions' >ou can ask anythin-=about the past, about the future, anythin- you want' As lon- as she3s touchin- her silent child, she will answer them' $ut you are only allowed to ask two'< ;+hat did you ask5< Ava shook her head' ;( won3t tell you' $ut part of=< She stopped, -ot up, and walked to the window' ( sat still, waitin- for some si-n about what to do=-o to her, sit, talk, keep 9uiet7 Touchin- the window -lass, she slid her fin-ers in a lon- arc across the condensation there' ( could almost feel the cold wetness under my own fin-ertips' +hat she said ne t took me completely off -uard' ;!id Eamon ,eilly ever tell you about his past5 About his childhood5< ;Eamon5 +hat does he have to do with this5< ;A lot'< Ava be-an rubbin- both hands back and forth very fast on the -lass, as if tryin- to erase somethin-' Then she turned to face me' ;*ust -o alon- with me on this=it3s all of a piece' !id you ever talk to him about his past5< ;No'< ;Eamon3s father was a pilot' .e terrori&ed his family for years, beat them all up and did many other terrible thin-s=a -enuine sadist' %ne of his favorite tortures was to fly really low back and forth over their house in a small plane when he knew everyone was home' Eamon said it was so fri-htenin- that the kids and their mother used to all hide under the beds or in the cellar because they were sure one day he3d crash the plane into the house and kill them'< ;+hat happened to him5< ;The -uy was also a drunk who luckily drove his car off a brid-e one day and died'< ;*esusH So that3s why Eamon has7what, issues5< ;>es' %nce ( -ot so fed up with the way he was behavin- that ( slapped him' %nly then did he tell me some of the stories and details of his childhood' Finally ( be-an to understand why he is the way he is' (t doesn3t make him any less e asperatin-, but boy, with that back-round7< ;Terrible' 2oor -uy'< ;>eah' ( don3t know if that3s the whole reason for him bein- so peculiar, but it3s -otta contribute'< "rossin- my arms over my chest, ( asked, ;$ut what does it have to do with the silent child5< ;%ne of the thin-s 0amiya told me was that (3m part of a curse'< ( slowly uncrossed my arms and then didn3t know what to do with them' ;+hat do you mean, you3re cursed5< #y voice sounded both skeptical and desperate at the same time' .ow useless your hands and voice are at moments like that' They3re all :ust in the way8 none of them knows what to do or how to behave in a crisis that3s suddenly dropped on you in the form of one word=like ;cursed,< or ;dead,< or ;cancer'< She shook her head' ;No, (3m part of a curse' $ut ( -uess in some ways ( am because of the role ( play in this' ;0amiya said that after ( returned to America (3d -et pre-nant, which ( have' $ut my child will be

cursed to live e actly the same life as its father whether it wants to or not' %nly some unimportant details will be different'< She stopped and said nothin- else but continued starin- strai-ht at me' ( think she was lettin- her words sink in' ;She didn3t say who the father would be5< ;No, she wouldn3t' She said whoever made me pre-nant, they3d be the one carryin- the curse'< ;So that could be me too, Ava'< ;>es it could, you3re ri-ht' +e3ll find out with a !NA test, but ( wanted to talk to you first before ( did it' >ou3re obviously a bi- part of this'< ;>eah, ( -uess,< ( said cynically and meanly, althou-h ( didn3t want to' ( never wanted to be mean to her, but why was she tellin- me this now5 +hy not before5 #ore silence' ;( love you Ava, but this is nuts, absolutely nuts' (t sounds like one of the Arabian Ni-hts=the silent child, a d:elloum, a curse7.ow can you know it3s true5< ;$ecause of the thin-s that have happened since ( saw her' Thin-s 0amiya said would happen' Every sin-le one of them has taken place) the pre-nancy, my affair with Eamon, and most of all you'< ;+hat do you mean, me5< At that moment the washin- machine that had been chu--in- alon- in the back-round chose to pinand stop' Ava went silent and didn3t look like she was -oin- to answer my 9uestion anytime soon' ( made a face and walked across the room to -et the laundry' %penin- the door to the machine, ( bent down to pull the wet wash out' ;Ava5< ;+hat5< ;>our washin- machine is full of letters'< ( pulled out a lar-e white wet 1 and laid it across my palm' After lookin- at it, ( held it up for her to see' About ten inches lon-, it appeared to be made of wet cloth' ( looked in the machine a-ain and saw that instead of clothes, it was full of a droopy pile of wet capital block letters' Ava did not seem surprised' (n fact, she nodded when ( held up the 1' ;( put them in there'< ;>ou put them=where3s our laundry5< ;(n the bathroom'< ;$ut why5 +hy did you do that5 +hat are they5 +hat are they for5< ;Take out four more' !on3t look at which ones=:ust reach in and take out four' (3ll tell you why when you3re done'< ( wanted to say somethin- but didn3t' ,eachin- into the washin- machine, ( plun-ed my hand into the lar-e, soft, wet heap of cloth letters like ( was choosin- numbers for bin-o' +hen ( had four, Ava told me to lay them out to-ether on the floor so that they spelled somethin-' The letters were 1, @, M, ,, and %' ;They can3t spell anythin- because there3s only one vowel'< She was far enou-h away so she couldn3t see what they were' ;Tell me which ones you chose'<

;1, @, M, ,, and %'< She slapped both hands down on her lap' ;Those were the same letters Eamon chose'< ;+hat5 Eamon did this too5 >ou also had him take wet letters out of the washin- machine5< ( reali&ed my voice was way up there, close to shoutin-' ;>es, it was a test for both of you' ( knew what the answer was -oin- to be, but ( had to do it anyway'< The tone of her voice said this was no bi- deal=why was ( makin- such a fuss5 A test usin- wet letters from the washin- machine5 Eamon had done it too5 The silent child' A >it' A curse' For the first time in all the years ( had known her, ( looked at Ava now like she mi-ht be the enemy' ;!% >%/ T.(N1 A@A3S ",Af>5< ;%f course she3s cra&y' +hy do you think ( left her5< ;>ou left her5 She said it was :ust the opposite=she left you'< Eamon snorted and pulled his earlobe' ;!o you know the sayin-=never fall in love with a psychiatrist because they3re the cra&iest people of all5 +ell, let me amend that to war correspondents too' Never fall in love with a war correspondent either' They3ve seen too many really bad thin-s' All that pain and death -ets into their bones and screws up their heads' Ava3s -yroscope is bent, man' ;!id she tell you her story about the silent child5 (s that why you3re here5< .e didn3t wait for me to answer' .e picked up his vodka and took a sip as if he already knew what (3d say' ;That was all ri-ht' (t was a mad thin-, but at least it was entertainin-' (t was a really -ood story' $ut then came those letters in the washin- machine, and then the fro&en animals=< ;+hat fro&en animals5< .e slapped my shoulder' ;She hasn3t done that to you yet5 Ah, more surprises in store for you there, palH The lon-er you han- out with Ava, the funner she -ets' ( left after the fro&en animals' That was it for me' 2hew'< ;$ut what if the child really is yours5< Eamon put his chin in his hand and looked at the floor' ;Then (3ll do everythin- ( can to make sure Ava and the baby are comfortable and well cared for' $ut ( won3t live with that woman' Nope' She3s as cra&y as they come'< .e spoke calmly and with resolution' .e3d obviously thou-ht all this throu-h and was now at peace with his decisions' ;$ut wait, Eamon' *ust for a minute ima-ine that what she said was true is true' +hat if you are the father, and the kid is cursed to live your life5< ;Nothin-3s the matter with my life' ( have a -ood one'< ;+hat about your father and the thin-s he did to your family5< ;>es, that stuff was terrible, but ( don3t plan on doin- the same thin-s to my family if ( end up havinone someday'< .e smiled at me' ;( also don3t have a pilot3s license, so you don3t have to worry that (3m -oin- to fly over Ava3s house and dive-bomb it' ;And by the way, what about your dad5 +as he a -ood man5 +hat if you3re the father of her kid5 !oes she have anythin- to worry about with you5< ;( never knew my father' .e left my mother when ( was two'<

;+ell, there you -oH (3m sorry to hear that, but in a way it means you could be more dan-erous than me if there really is a curse' $ecause you don3t know what kind of -uy your father was, or is' .e could be much worse than my old man'< +e looked at each other and our silence said we a-reed on what he had :ust said' Eamon chuckled and shook his head' ;2oor Ava=in a worst-case scenario, if that curse is true, she may be doomed either way) me with my monster dad, and you with your mystery dad who could be *ack the ,ipper'< ( said weakly, ;$ut maybe my father3s a -reat -uy'< ;Great -uys don3t abandon their families'< ;>ou abandoned Ava'< .is voice dropped to a low -rumble' ;She3s not my family' ( never said ( wanted to be a father'< Sometimes people say thin-s, often inadvertently, that make up your mind for you' The moment after Eamon said he didn3t want to be a father, it clicked in my mind that ( did want to be the father to Ava3s child=more than anythin- else in the world' (t was as simple as that' ( loved her and yearned to be her partner for the rest of my life if she3d have me' ( didn3t care if her child was Eamon3s and ( didn3t care if there was a curse' #ost important, ( didn3t even care if Ava #alcolm was as cra&y as a fly in a :ar' ( wanted to be with her and would do anythin- to make that happen' +hen ( told Eamon that, he raised one arm and crossed the air with it, as if he were a priest -ivin- me a blessin-' ;( don3t know if you3re an idiot, a masochist, or the -reatest -uy on earth' >ou know people don3t -et better as we -et older=we :ust -et more of who we are' (f Ava3s cra&y now, she3s only -ointo -et cra&ier'< ;( know' $ut maybe she3s not'< ;True, maybe she3s not' $ut the alternative to her bein- cra&y is that there really is a curse and you3re -oin- to have to face a whole different bunch of crap' Either way, you3re in the hot seat'< ;#aybe but maybe not' >ou know she3s -oin- to the hospital today to -et the results of the !NA test'< Eamon, took a deep breath and let it out in one hard hush' ;"all me and let me know the results, will you5< ;( will'< ( put out my ri-ht hand and we shook for a lon- time' .e smiled' ;>ou3re a -ood -uy, you really are' Stickin- by Ava like that, no matter what5 That3s standup stuff'< ;Eamon, before ( -o, tell me about these fro&en animals you mentioned before'< ;No, you don3t need to hear about that now' #aybe it was :ust a thin- she did to me' For-et ( even told you'< .e patted me on the shoulder a-ain and walked out of the bar' +hen ( -ot back to Ava3s apartment, she wasn3t there, so ( let myself in' %n a table in the hallway, impossible to miss, was a sheaf of papers with a yellow note on top' (n lar-e black letters it said 20EASE ,EA!' ( picked up the papers and saw there was more written in smaller letters on the note' ;This is the !NA report' (t says that neither you nor Eamon are the father of my child' (3m a coward and don3t have the nerve to be here when you learn that' (3m -oin- to spend the afternoon with my sister and will be back later' 2lease be here then so we can at least talk about it' (3m so sorry that ( lied to you about not bein- with other men' There have been others since you and ( -ot to-ether'

;+hether it makes any difference to you or not now, ( wasn3t lyin- about 0amiya and the curse' ( don3t know who the father is, althou-h until today ( was certain it was either you or Eamon' $ut 0amiya was real' The curse is real' #y deepest love and affection for you is real' 2lease be here later' ( don3t deserve that, but ( can ask'< Stunned, ( tried to look at the other papers in the sheaf but everythin- was numbers and -raphs and at the end a summary ( couldn3t understand because my brain was flyin- south fast and had no more room in it' Still in my coat, ( walked into the livin- room with the papers in hand and sat down on the couch' The couch where we3d had so many -ood talks and se and silent, contented times sittin- to-ether and readin- or :ust bein-' ( tried to look at the papers a-ain but it was not possible, so ( leaned forward to toss them on the coffee table in front of the couch' A lar-e-format book of photo-raphs ( had never seen before was there' The title of the book was Free&e Frame, and every picture inside it was a strikin- renderin- of dead animals, fish, and reptiles7the whole animal kin-dom, fro&en' Every sin-le picture was of dead fro&en creatures=on their backs, their sides, on ice in markets, on empty snowy roads where they3d obviously been hit and killed by passincars' The book was -or-eous, poi-nant, and macabre all at the same time' As ( leafed throu-h it, ( kept thinkin- of Eamon3s 9uestion about whether ( had encountered Ava3s fro&en animals yet' +as this what he was talkin- about, this book5 %r was there more5 (3d looked at perhaps ten of the photos before ( came to the marked pa-e' A -reen 2ost-it note was at the top, bent over onto the pa-e by constant use' The photo-raph was unlike any of the others in the book' (t was of a woman dressed in black holdin- an infant in her arms' (t is snowin-=the world around her is white' She and the child are the only color there' $ut the child, or what little we can see of it because the woman is holdin- it so that it looks like she is hidin- it from the photo-rapher, looks dead and so white in her arms that it could be fro&en too, like all of the other sub:ects in the book' $ut what is most arrestin- about the photo-raph is the look on the woman3s face' She is totally serene' (f she is holdin- a dead child, she has risen beyond her -rief into somethin- holy or inhuman' She is at peace, or a kind of transcendent madness that has -iven her peace' The ima-e was so powerful and beautiful=there is no other word for it=that ( stared at it for what must have been a solid minute' %nly after that hypnotic first impression had passed did ( look at the bottom of the pa-e where the credits for the pictures all were' The photo-rapher3s name was not listed, but the location where it had been taken was Sabunlu, $aku, A&erbai:an'

T&# T&#R%-IST Je11er! Dea3er

%ne ( #ET .E, $> ".AN"E, in a Starbucks near the medical buildin- where ( have my office, and ( knew at once she was in trouble' ,eco-ni&in- people in distress was, after all, my profession' ( was readin- over my patient notes, which ( transcribe immediately after the fifty-minute sessions 4often, as now, fortified by my favorite latte6' ( have a pretty -ood memory, but in the field of counselin- and therapy you must be ;completely dili-ent and tireless,< the many-syllabled phrase a favorite of one of my favorite professors' This particular venue is on the outskirts of ,alei-h in a busy strip mall and, the time bein- ten thirty A'#' on a pleasant day in early #ay, there were many people inside for their caffeine fi es' There was one empty table near me but no chair, and the trim brunette, in a conservative dark blue dress, approached and asked if she could take the e tra one at my table' ( -lanced at her round face, Good .ousekeepin- pretty, not @o-ue, and smiled' ;2lease'< ( wasn3t surprised when she said nothin-, didn3t smile back' She :ust took the chair, spun it around, clatterin-, and sat' Not that it was a flirtation she was re:ectin-8 my smile obviously hadn3t been more than a faint pleasantry' ( was twice her a-e and resembled=surprise, surprise=a baldin-, desk-and library-bound therapist' Not her type at all' No, her chill response came from the trouble she was in' +hich in turn troubled me a -reat deal' ( am a licensed counselor, a profession in which ethics rules preclude me from drummin- up business the way a -raphic desi-ner or personal trainer mi-ht do' So ( said nothin- more but returned to my notes, while she pulled a sheaf of papers out of a -ym ba- and be-an to review them, ur-ently sippinher drink but not en:oyin- the hot li9uid' ( was not surprised' +ith achin- eyes, head down, ( mana-ed to see that it was a school lesson plan she was workin- on' ( believed it was for seventh -rade' A teacher7( -rew even more concerned' (3m particularly sensitive to emotional and psycholo-ical problems within people who have influence over youn-sters' ( myself don3t see children as patients= that3s a specialty (3ve never pursued' $ut no psycholo-ist can practice without a rudimentary understandin- of children3s psyches, where are sowed the seeds of later problems my collea-ues and ( treat in our adult practices' "hildren, especially around ten or eleven, are in particularly susceptible developmental sta-es and can be forever dama-ed by a woman like the teacher sittin- ne t to me' %f course, despite all my e perience in this field, it3s not impossible to make bum dia-noses' $ut my concerns were confirmed a moment later when she took a phone call' She was speakin- softly at first, thou-h with an ed-e in her voice, the tone and lan-ua-e su--estin- the caller was a family member, probably a child' #y heart fell at the thou-ht that she3d have children of her own' ( wasn3t surprised when after only a few minutes her voice rose an-rily' Sure enou-h, she was losin- control' ;>ou did what57( told you not to, under any circumstances7+ere you :ust not listenin- to me5 %r were you bein- stupid a-ain57All ri-ht, (3ll be home after the conference7(3ll talk to you about it then'< (f she could have slammed the phone down instead of pushin- the disconnect button, (3m sure she

would have done it' A si-h' A sip of her coffee drink' Then back to an-rily :ottin- notes in the mar-ins of the lesson plan' ( lowered my head, starin- at my own notes' #y taste for the latte was -one completely' ( tried to consider how to proceed' (3m -ood at helpin- people and ( en:oy it 4there3s a reason for that, of course, and one that -oes back to my own childhood, no mystery there6' ( knew ( could help her' $ut it wasn3t as easy as that' %ften people don3t know they need help and even if they do they resist seekin- it' Normally ( wouldn3t worry too much about a passin- encounter like this8 (3d -ive a person some time to fi-ure out on their own that they needed to -et some counselin-' $ut this was serious' The more ( observed, the more clear the symptoms' The stiffness of posture, the utter lack of humor or en:oyment in what she was doin- with her lesson plan, lack of pleasure in the drink, the an-er, the twitchy obsessive way she wrote' And the eyes' That3s what speaks the most, to me at least' The eyes7 So ( decided to -ive it a try' ( stood to -et a refill of latte and, walkin- back to my table, ( dropped a napkin onto hers' ( apolo-i&ed and collected it' Then lau-hed, lookin- at her handiwork' ;#y -irlfriend3s a teacher,< ( said' ;She absolutely hates lesson plans' She3s never 9uite sure what to do with them'< She didn3t want to be bothered, but even people in her state acknowled-e some social conventions' She looked up, the troubled eyes a deep brown' ;They can be a chore' %ur school board insists'< "lumsy, but at least it broke the ice and we had a bit of a conversation' ;(3m #artin 1obel'< ;Annabelle >oun-'< ;+here do you teach5< (t was in +etherby, a -ood-si&e town in central North "arolina about an hour from ,alei-h' She was here for an education conference' ;2am, my -irlfriend, teaches -rade school' >ou5< ;#iddle school'< The most volatile years, ( reflected' ;That3s the a-e she3s thinkin- of movin- over to' She3s tired of si -year-olds7>ou put a lot into that,< ( said, noddin- at the plan' ;( try'< ( hesitated a moment' ;0isten, kind of fortuitous ( ran into you' (f ( -ave you our phone number and you3ve -ot a few minutes=( mean, if it3s no imposition=would you think about -ivin- 2am a call5 She could really use some advice' Five minutes or so' Give her some thou-hts on middle school'< ;%h, ( don3t know' (3ve only been a teacher for three years'< ;*ust think about it' >ou seem like you know what you3re doin-'< ( took out a business card' #artin *' 1obel, #S, #S+ $ehavioral Therapy

Specialties) An-er #ana-ement and Addiction ( wrote ;2am ,obbins< on the top alon- with the home phone number' ;(3ll see what ( can do'< She slipped the card in her pocket and turned back to her coffee and the lesson plan' ( knew (3d -one as far as ( could' Anythin- more would have seemed inappropriate and pushed her away' After fifteen minutes, she -lanced at her watch' Apparently whatever conference she was attendin- was about to resume' She -ave a chill smile my way' ;Nice talkin- to you'< ;The same,< ( said' Annabelle -athered the lesson plan and notes and stuffed them back into her -ym ba-' As she rose, a teena-e boy eased past and :ostled her inadvertently with his bulky backpack' ( saw her eyes ripple with that look ( know so well' ;*esus,< she whispered to him' ;0earn some manners'< ;.ey, lady, (3m sorry=< She waved a dismissin- hand at the poor kid' Annabelle walked to the counter to add more milk to her coffee' She wiped her mouth and tossed out the napkin' +ithout a look back at me or anyone she pointed her cold visa-e toward the door and pushed outside' ( -ave it thirty seconds then also stopped at the milk station' Glancin- into the hole for trash, ( spotted, as (3d half e pected, my card, sittin- ne t to her crumpled napkin' (3d have to take a different approach' ( certainly wasn3t -oin- to -ive up on her' The stakes for her own well-bein- and of those close to her were too hi-h' $ut it would re9uire some finesse' (3ve found that you can3t :ust bluntly tell potential patients that their problems are the result not of a troubled childhood or a bad relationship, but simply because an invisible entity had latched onto their psyches like a virus and was e ertin- its influence' (n a different era, or in a different locale, someone mi-ht have said that the teacher was possessed by a demonic spirit or the like' Now we3re much more scientific about it, but it3s still wise to ease into the sub:ect slowly' ANNA$E00E >%/NG .A! "%#E under the influence of a neme' The term was first coined by a doctor in +ashin-ton, !'"' *ames 2heder was a well-known biolo-ist and researcher' .e came up with the word by combinin- ;ne-ative< and ;meme,< the latter describin- a cultural phenomenon that spreads and replicates in societies' ( think a reference to meme=;m< version=is a bit misleadin-, since it su--ests somethin- rather more abstract than what a neme really is' (n my len-thy book on the sub:ect, published a few years a-o, ( define a neme as ;a discrete body of intan-ible ener-y that evokes e treme emotional responses in humans, resultin- in behavior that is most often detrimental to the host or to the society in which he or she lives'< $ut ;neme< is a convenient shorthand and every therapist or researcher familiar with the concept uses it' The word is also beneficial in that it neutrally describes a scientific, proven construct and avoids the historical terms that have muddied the truth for thousands of years' +ords like -hosts, spirits, ,udolf %tto3s numinous presences, revenants, $uddhism3s hun-ry -hosts, rural countrysides3 white ladies,

*apanese yurei, demons' !o&ens of others' Those fictional le-ends and superstitions were lar-ely the result of the inability to e plain nemes scientifically in the past' As often happens, until a phenomenon is rationally e plained and 9uantified, folklore fills the -aps' The old belief, for instance, in spontaneous -eneration=that life could arise from inanimate ob:ects=was accepted for thousands of years, supported by apparently scientific observations, for instance, that ma--ots and other infestations appeared in rottin- food or standinwater' (t was only when 0ouis 2asteur proved via controlled, repeatable e periments that livinmaterial, like e--s or bacteria, had to be present for life to -enerate that the old view fell by the wayside' Same thin- with nemes' Framin- the concept in terms of -hosts and possessin- spirits was a convenient and simple fiction' Now we know better' Growin- up, (3d never heard of these thin-s that would later be labeled nemes' (t was only after a particular incident that ( became aware) the deaths of my parents and brother' >ou could say that my family was killed by one' +hen ( was si teen we went to one of Ale 3s basketball -ames at our school' At some point my father and ( hit the hot do- stand' The father of a player on the opposin- team was standin- nearby, sippin- a "oke and watchin- the -ame' Suddenly=( can still remember it perfectly=the man underwent a transformation, instantly shiftin- from rela ed and beni-n to tense, distracted, on -uard' And the eyes7there was no doubt that they chan-ed' The very color seemed to alter8 they -rew dark, malevolent' ( knew somethin- had happened, somethin- had possessed him, ( thou-ht at the time' ( felt chilled, and ( stepped away from him' Then the man suddenly -rew an-ry' Furious' Somethin- on the court set him off' A foul maybe, a bad call' .e screamed at Ale 3s team, he screamed at our coach, at the ref' (n his ra-e, he bumped a-ainst my father and dropped his soda, spillin- it on his shoes' (t was his fault but he seemed to blame my father for the mishap' The men -ot into an ar-ument, thou-h my father soon reali&ed that the man was out of control, consumed by this odd ra-e, and ushered us back to the bleachers' After the -ame ( was still troubled but assumed the matter was over' Not so' The man followed us out into the parkin- lot and, screamin-, bi&arrely challen-ed my father to a fi-ht' The man3s wife was cryin-, pullin- him back and apolo-i&in-' ;.e3s never behaved like this, reallyH< ;Shut up, bitch,< he ra-ed and slapped her' Shaken, we climbed into the car and drove off' Ten minutes later, drivin- down (-GE, we were sittin- in troubled silence when a car veered over three lanes' The man from the -ame swerved ri-ht toward us, drivin- us off the road' ( remember seein- his face, twisted with an-er, over the steerin- wheel' (n court he tearfully e plained that he didn3t know what happened' (t was like he was possessed' That defense didn3t -et him very far' .e was found -uilty of three counts of first-de-ree manslau-hter' After ( -ot out of the hospital followin- the crash, ( couldn3t -et out of my head the memory of what had happened to the man' .ow clear it was to me that he3d chan-ed, in a flash' (t was like flippin- a li-ht switch' ( be-an readin- about sudden chan-es in personality and ra-e and impulse' That research led eventually to the writin-s of !r' 2heder and other researchers and therapists' ( -rew fascinated with the concept of nemes, considered a theory by some, a reality by others' As to their ori-in, there are several theories' ( subscribe to one ( found the most lo-ical' Nemes are

vesti-es of human instinct' They were an inte-ral part of the psycholo-ical makeup of the creatures in the chain that led to .omo sapiens and were necessary for survival' (n the early days of humanoids, it was occasionally necessary to behave in ways we would consider bad or criminal now' To commit acts of violence, to be ra-eful, impulsive, sadistic, -reedy' $ut as societies formed and developed, the need for those darker impulses faded' The -overnin- bodies, the armies, the law enforcers took over the task of our survival' @iolence, ra-e, and the other darker impulses became not only unnecessary but were counter to society3s interests' Somehow=there are several theories on this=the powerful neuro impulses that motivated those dark behaviors separated from humans and came to e ist as separate entities, pockets of ener-y, you could say' (n my research ( found a precedent for this mi-ration) the same thin- happened with telepathy' #any -enerations a-o, psychic communication was common' The advent of modern communication techni9ues eliminated the need for what we could call e trasensory perception, thou-h many younchildren still have documented telepathic skills' 4.owever, it3s interestin- that with the increased use of cell phones and computers by youn-sters, incidents of telepathy amon- youn- people are dramatically decreasin-'6 $ut whatever their -enealo-y, nemes e ist and there are millions of them' They float around like flu viruses until they find a vulnerable person and then incorporate themselves into the psyche of their host 4;incorporate< is used, rather than a :ud-mental term like ;infest< or ;infect,< and never the theolo-ically loaded ;possess<6' (f someone is impulsive, an-ry, depressed, confused, scared=even physically sick=nemes will sense that and make a beeline for the cerebrum corte , the portion of the brain where emotion is controlled' They usually avoid people who are emotionally stable, stronwilled, and have hi-h de-rees of self-control, thou-h not always' Nemes are invisible, like electroma-netic waves and li-ht at the far end of the spectrum, thou-h it3s sometimes possible to tell they3re nearby if you hear distortion on a cell phone, T@, or radio' /sually, the host doesn3t sense the incorporation itself8 they only e perience a sudden mood swin-' Some people can outri-ht sense them' (3m one of these, thou-h there3s nothin- ;special< about me' (t3s simply like havin- acute hearin- or -ood eyesi-ht' !o nemes think5 They do, in a way' Thou-h thou-ht is probably the wron- word' #ore likely they3re like insects, with a sense of awareness and instinct' Survival is very stron- within them, too' There3s nothin- immortal about nemes' +hen their host passes away, they seem to dissipate also' ( myself don3t believe they communicate with one another, since (3ve never seen any evidence that they do' This isn3t to minimi&e the dama-e they can do, of course' (t3s si-nificant' The ra-e, the impulsive behavior that arises from incorporation leads to rape, murder, physical and se ual abuse, and more subtle harm like substance overuse and verbal abuse' They also affect the physiolo-y and morpholo-y of the host3s body itself, as a series of autopsies several years a-o proved' After my devastatin- personal encounter with nemes, ( decided ( wanted to work in a field that would help minimi&e the dama-e they could do' ( became a therapist' The thrust of my approach is behavioral' %nce you3re under the influence of a neme, you don3t ;cast it out,< as a practitioner 4now former6 unfortunately :oked at a psychotherapy conference in "hica-o some years a-o' >ou treat the symptoms' ( concentrate on workin- with my patients to achieve selfcontrol, usin- any number of techni9ues to avoid or minimi&e behaviors that are destructive to them or others' (n most cases it doesn3t even matter that the patient knows he or she is a host for a neme 4some patients are comfortable with the reality, and others aren3t6' (n any case, the methods ( use are solid and well established, used by all behavioral therapists, and by and lar-e successful'

There3ve been occasional defeats, of course' (t3s the nature of the profession' Two of my patients, in which very potent nemes had incorporated, killed themselves when they were simply unable to resolve the conflict between their -oals and the neme-influenced behavior' There3s also somethin- that3s been in the back of my mind for years) risk to myself' #y life has been devoted to minimi&in- their electiveness and spread and so ( sometimes wonder if a neme senses that (3m a threat' This is probably accordin- them too much credit8 you have to -uard a-ainst personifyinthem' $ut ( can3t help but think back to an incident several years a-o' ( was attendin- a psycholo-y conference in New >ork "ity and was nearly mu--ed' (t was curious since the youn- attacker was a model student at a nice hi-h school near my hotel' .e3d never been in trouble with the police' And he was armed with a lon- knife' An off-duty policeman happened to be nearby and mana-ed to arrest him :ust as he started after me with the weapon' (t was late at ni-ht and ( couldn3t see clearly, but ( believed, from the boy3s eyes, that he was beininfluenced by a neme, motivated by its own sense of survival to kill me' 2robably not' $ut even if there was some truth to it, ( wasn3t -oin- to be deterred from my mission to save people at risk' 2eople like Annabelle >oun-' T.E !A> AFTE, ,/NN(NG into her in Starbucks, ( went to the North "arolina State /niversity library and did some research' The state licensin- a-encies3 databases and ever-helpful Goo-le revealed that the woman was thirty years old and worked at "hantelle +est #iddle School in +etherby "ounty' (nterestin-ly, she was a widow=her husband had died three years a-o=and, yes, she had a nine-yearold son, probably the tar-et of her an-er on the phone' Accordin- to information about the school where she tau-ht, Annabelle would -enerally teach lar-e classes, with an avera-e of thirty-five students per year' This meant that she could have a dramatic and devastatin- impact on the lives of many youn- people' Then too was the matter of Annabelle3s own well-bein-' ( was pretty sure that she3d come under the influence of the neme around the time her husband died8 a sudden personal loss like that makes you emotionally vulnerable and more susceptible than otherwise' 4( noted too that she3d -one back to work around that time, and ( wondered if her neme sensed an opportunity to incorporate within someone who could influence a lar-e number of e9ually vulnerable individuals, the children in her classes'6 Annabelle was obviously a smart woman and she mi-ht very well -et into counselin- at some time' $ut there comes a point when the neme is so deeply incorporated that people actually become accustomed or addicted to the inappropriate behaviors nemes cause' They don3t want to chan-e' #y assessment was that she was past this point' And so, since ( wasn3t -oin- to hear from her, ( did the only thin- ( could' ( went to +etherby' ( -ot there early on a +ednesday' The drive was pleasant, alon- one of those combined hi-hways that traverse central North "arolina' (t split somewhere outside of ,alei-h and ( continued on the increasin-ly rural branch of the two, takin- me throu-h old North "arolina' Tobacco warehouses and small industrial-parts plants=most of them closed years a-o=but still s9uattin- in weeds' Trailer parks, very unclosed' $un-alows and plenty of evidence of a love of Nascar and ,epublican party lines' +etherby has a redeveloped downtown, but that3s :ust for show' ( noted immediately as ( cruised alonthe two-block stretch that nobody was buyin- anythin- in the art -alleries and anti9ues stores, and the nearly empty restaurants, ( suspected, -ot new awnin-s with new names every ei-ht months or so' The

real work in places like +etherby -ot done in the malls and office parks and housin- developments built around new -olf courses' ( checked into a motel, showered, and be-an my reconnaissance, checkin- out "hantelle #iddle School' ( parked around the time (3d learned classes were dismissed but didn3t catch a -limpse of Annabelle >oun-' 0ater that evenin-, about seven thirty, ( found her house, four miles away, a modest twenty-year-old colonial in need of paintin-, on a cul-de-sac' There was no car in the drive' ( parked under some trees and waited' Fifteen minutes later a car pulled into the drive' ( couldn3t tell if her son was inside or not' The Toyota pulled into the -ara-e and the door closed' A few minutes later ( -ot out, slipped into some woods beside the house, and -lanced into the kitchen' ( saw her cartin- dishes inside' !irty dishes from lunch or last ni-ht, ( assumed' She set them in the sink and ( saw her pause, starin- down' .er face was turned away but her body lan-ua-e, even from this distance, told me that she was an-ry' .er son appeared, a skinny boy with lon-ish brown hair' .is body lan-ua-e su--ested that he was cautious' .e said somethin- to his mother' .er head snapped toward him and he nodded 9uickly' Then retreated' She stayed where she was, starin- at the dishes, for a moment' +ithout even rinsin- them she stepped out of the room and swept her hand firmly alon- the wall, slappin- the switch out' ( could almost hear the an-ry -esture from where ( was' ( didn3t want to talk to her while her son was present, so ( headed back to the motel' The ne t day ( was up early and cruised back to the school before the teachers arrived' At seven fifteen ( cau-ht a -limpse of her "amry arrivin- and watched her climb out and stride unsmilin-ly into the school' Too many people around and she was too harried to have a conversation now' ( returned at three in the afternoon and when Annabelle emer-ed followed her to a nearby strip mall, anchored by a .arris-Teeter -rocery store' She went shoppin- and came out a half hour later' She dumped the plastic ba-s in her trunk' ( was -oin- to approach her, even thou-h a meetin- in the parkinlot wasn3t the most conducive place to pitch my case, when ( saw her lock the car and walk toward a nearby bar and -rill' At three thirty she wouldn3t be eatin- lunch or dinner and ( knew what she had in mind' 2eople influenced by nemes often drink more than they should, to dull the an iety and an-er that come from the incorporation' Thou-h ( would eventually work on -ettin- her to cut down on her alcohol consumption, her beinsli-htly into icated and rela ed now could be a bi- help' ( waited five minutes and followed' (nside the dark tavern, which smelled of 0ysol and onions, ( spotted her at the bar' She was havin- a mi ed drink' @odka or -in, it seemed, and some kind of :uice' She was nearly finished with her first and she waved for a second' ( sat down two stools away and ordered a !iet "oke' ( felt her head swivel toward me, tilt sli-htly as she debated whether she3d seen me before, and turn back to her drink' Then the pieces fell to-ether and she faced me a-ain' +ithout lookin- up ( said, ;(3m a professional counselor, #s' >oun-' (3m here only in that capacity' To help' (3d like to talk to you'< ;>ou7you followed me here5 From ,alei-h5< ( made a show of leavin- money for the soda to su--est that ( wasn3t -oin- to stay lon-er than necessary, tryin- to put her at ease'

;( did, yes' $ut please, you don3t need to be afraid'< Finally ( turned to look at her' The eyes were :ust as ( e pected, narrow, cold, the eyes of somebody else entirely' The neme was even stron-er than (3d thou-ht' ;(3m about five seconds away from callin- the police'< ;( understand' $ut please, listen' ( want to say somethin- to you' And if you want me to leave, (3ll head back to ,alei-h ri-ht now' >ou can choose whatever you want'< ;Say it and -et out'< She took another drink' ;( speciali&e in treatin- people who aren3t happy in life' (3m -ood at it' +hen ( saw you the other day in Starbucks, ( knew you were e actly the sort of patient who could benefit from my e pertise' ( would like very much to help you'< No mention of nemes, of course' ;( don3t need a shrink'< ;(3m actually not a shrink' (3m a psycholo-ist, not a doctor'< ;( don3t care what you are' >ou can3t7can3t you be reported for this, tryin- to drum up business5< ;>es, and you3re free to do that' $ut ( thou-ht it was worth the risk to offer you my services' ( don3t care about the money' >ou can pay me whatever you can afford' ( care about helpin- you' ( can -ive you references and you can call the state licensin- board about me'< ;!o you even have a -irlfriend who3s a teacher5< ;No' ( lied' +hich (3ll never do a-ain7(t was that important to try to e plain how ( can help you'< And then ( saw her face soften' She was noddin-' #y heart was poundin- hard' (t had been a risk, tryin- this, but she was -oin- to come around' The therapy would be hard work' For both of us' $ut the stakes were too hi-h to let her continue the way she was' ( knew we could make si-nificant pro-ress' ( turned away to pull a card from my wallet' ;0et me tell you a=< As ( looked back, ( took the full tide of her second drink in the face' #y eyes on fire from the li9uor and stin-in- :uice, ( -asped in a-ony and -rabbed bar napkins to dry them' ;Annie, what3s wron-5< the bartender snapped, and throu-h my blurred vision ( could :ust make out his -rabbin- her arm as she started to flin- the -lass at me' ( raised my own arm to protect myself' ;+hat3d he do5< ;Fuck you, let -o of meH< she cried to him' ;.ey, hey, take it easy, Annie' +hat=5< Then he ducked as she launched the -lass at him' (t struck a row of others8 half of them shattered' She was out of control' Typical' ;Fuck you bothH< Screamin-' She du- a bill out of her purse and flun- it onto the bar' ;2lease, #s' >oun-,< ( said, ;( can help you'< ;(f ( see you a-ain, (3m callin- the police'< She stormed out' ;0isten, mister, what the hell d3you do5<

( didn3t answer him' ( -rabbed some more napkins and, wipin- my face, walked to the window' ( saw her stride up to her son, who was standin- nearby with a book ba-' So this was the rende&vous spot' ( wondered how often he3d had to wait outside for mom while she was in here -ettin- drunk' ( pictured cold *anuary afternoons, the boy huddled and blowin- breath into his hands' She -estured him after her' Apparently there3d been somethin- else on the a-enda for after school, and, disappointed, he lifted his arms and -lanced at the nearby sports store' $ut the shoppin- was not -ointo happen today' She stormed up and -rabbed him by the arm' .e pulled away' She drew back to slap him, but he dutifully walked to the car' ( could see him clickin- on his seat belt and wipin- his tears' +ithout a -lance back at the bartender, ( too left' ( walked to the car to head back to the motel to chan-e' +hat had happened was discoura-in-, but (3d dealt with more difficult people than Annabelle >oun-' There were other approaches to take' %ver the years (3ve learned what works and what doesn3t8 it3s all part of bein- a therapist' T.E NEUT #%,N(NG AT si ( parked behind Etta3s !iner, in a deserted portion of the lot' The restaurant was directly behind Annabelle3s house' ( made my way up the hill alon- a path that led to the sidewalk in her development' ( had to take an obli9ue approach8 if she saw me comin- she3d never answer the door, and that would be that' The mornin- was cool and fra-rant with the smells of pine and wet earth' $ein- sprin-, the sky was li-ht even at this early hour and it was easy to make my way alon- the path' ( wondered how different Annabelle3s life had been before her husband died' .ow soon the neme had incorporated itself into her afterward' ( suspected she3d been a vivacious, carin- mother and wife, completely different from the enra-ed out-of-control woman she now was becomin-' ( continued to the ed-e of the woods and waited behind the house in a stand of camellias with e plodin- red blossoms' At about si thirty her son pushed out the front door, cartin- a heavy book ba-, and strolled to the end of the cul-de-sac, presumably to catch his bus' +hen he was -one, ( walked to the porch and climbed the stairs' +as ( ready5 ( asked myself' Always those moments of self-doubt, even thou-h (3d been a professional therapist for years' Always, the doubts' $ut then ( rela ed' #y mission in life was to save people' ( was -ood at that task' ( knew what ( was doin-' >es, ( was ready' ( ran- the doorbell and stepped aside from the peephole' ( heard the footsteps approach' She flun- the door open and had only a moment to -asp at the si-ht of the black stockin- mask ( was wearin- and the len-thy knife in my -loved hand' ( -rabbed her hair and plun-ed the blade into her chest three times, then sliced throu-h her neck' $oth sides and deep, so the end would be 9uick' 0ord knew ( didn3t want her to suffer' Two T.E *%$ %F #A1(NG sure that #artin 1obel was either put to death or sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Annabelle >oun- fell to Glenn .ollow, the +etherby "ounty prosecutor'

And it was a :ob that he had embraced wholeheartedly from the moment he -ot the call from countypolice dispatch' Forty-two years old, .ollow was the most successful prosecutor in the state of North "arolina, :ud-in- in terms of convictions won, and :ud-in- from the media since he had a preference for -oin- after violent offenders' A mark of his success was that this was to be his last year in +etherby' .e3d be runnin- for state attorney -eneral in November and there wasn3t much doubt he3d win' $ut his -rander plans wouldn3t detract from his enthusiastic prosecution of the murderer of Annabelle >oun-' (n bi- cities the prosecutors -et cases tossed onto their desks alon- with the police reports' +ith Glenn .ollow it was different' .e had an honorary flashin- blue li-ht attached to his dash and, ten minutes after -ettin- the call about the homicide, he was at #s' >oun-3s house while the forensic team was still soakin- up blood and takin- pi ' .e was now walkin- into the +etherby "ounty "ourthouse' Nothin- %ld South about the place' (t was the sort of edifice you3d find in !uluth or Toledo or Schenectady' %ne story, nondescript white stone, overta ed air-conditionin-, scuffed linoleum floors, and -reenish fluorescents that mi-ht en-ender the 9uestion, ;.ey, you feelin- okay5< .ollow was a lean man, with drawn cheeks and thick black hair close to a skullish head=defendants said he looked like a -houl8 kinder reports, that he resembled Gre-ory 2eck in #oby !ick, minus the beard' .e was somber and reserved and kept his personal life far, far away from his professional life' .e now nodded at the secretary in the ante-office of *ud-e $ri-ham ,ollins3s chambers' ;Go on in, Glenn'< (nside were two bi- men' ,ollins was midfifties and had a pitted face and the spiky -ray hair of a crew cut ne-lected a week too lon-' .e was in shirtsleeves, thou-h noosed with a tie, of course' .e wore plucky yellow suspenders that hoisted his si-nificant tan pants like a concrete bucket under a crane' Gray stains radiated from under his arms' As usual the :ud-e had doused himself with %ld Spice' Sittin- opposite was $ob ,in-lin-=the circus :okes all but dead after these many years of bein- a defense lawyer in a medium-si&e town, and, no, there was no relation' Stocky, with blondish brown hair carefully trimmed, he resembled a forty-five-year-old retired army ma:or=not a bad deduction, since Fayetteville wasn3t terribly far away, but, like the circus brothers, not true' .ollow didn3t like or dislike ,in-lin-' .e was fair, thou-h abrasive, and he made .ollow work for every victory' +hich was as it should be, the prosecutor believed' God created defense lawyers, he3d said, to make sure the system was fair and the prosecution didn3t cheat or -et la&y' After all, there was that one-in-a-hundred chance that the five-foot-ei-ht black -an-ban-er from "entral .i-h presently in custody wasn3t the same five-foot-ei-ht black -an-ban-er from "entral .i-h who actually pulled the tri--er' *ud-e ,ollins closed a folder that3d he3d been perusin-' .e -runted' ;Tell me where we are with this one, -entlemen'< ;>essir,< .ollow be-an' ;The state is seekin- special-circumstances murder'< ;This3s about that teacher -ot her throat slit, ri-ht5< ;>essir' (n her house' $road dayli-ht'< A distasteful -rimace' Not shock' ,ollins3d been a :ud-e for years' The courthouse was on the crook of ,oute dD and .enderson ,oad' Throu-h one window you could see Galloway-belted cows -ra&in-' They were black and white, vertically striped, precise, as if God had used a ruler' .ollow could look ri-ht over the :ud-e3s shoulder and see ei-ht of them, chewin-' %ut the

other window was a T'*' #a , a $arnes T Noble, and a multiple under construction' These two views pretty much defined +etherby' ;+hat3s the story behind it5< ;This 1obel, a therapist' .e was stalkin- her' They met at a Starbucks when she was in ,alei-h at an educational conference' Got witnesses say he -ave her his card but she threw it out' Ne t thin- he tracked her down and shows up in +etherby' Got into a fi-ht at ,ed ,obin, near .arris-Teeter' She threw a drink in his face' %ne witness saw him park at Etta3s, the diner, the mornin- she was killed=< ;Toni-ht3s corned beef,< the :ud-e said' ;They do a -ood :ob of that,< ,in-lin- added' True, they did' .ollow continued, ;=and he hiked up into those woods behind her place' +hen she opened the door, he killed her' .e waited till her boy left'< ;There3s that, at least,< ,ollins -rumbled' ;.ow3d the boys in blue -et him5< ;/nlucky for him' $usboy on a smoke break at Etta3s saw him comin- out of the forest, carryin- some thin-s' The kid found some blood near where he3d parked' "alled the police with the make and model' 1obel3d tossed away the knife and mask and -loves, but they found 3em' Fibers, !NA, fin-erprints on the inside of the -loves' 2eople always for-et that' They watch "S( too much7%h, and then he confessed'< ;+hat5< the :ud-e barked' ;>ep' Advised of ri-hts, twice' San- like a bird'< ;Then what the hell3re you doin- here5 Take a plea and let3s -et some real work done'< The :ud-e -lanced at ,in-lin-, but the defense lawyer in turn cast his eyes to .ollow' ,ollins -ripped his ceramic coffee mu- and sipped the hot contents' ;+hat isn3t who tellin- who5 !on3t play -ames' There3s no :ury to impress with your clevers'< ,in-lin- said, ;.e3s completely insane' Nuts'< A skeptical wrinkle on the :ud-e3s brow' ;$ut you3re sayin- he wore a mask and -loves5< #ost insane perps didn3t care if they were identified and didn3t care if they -ot away afterward' They didn3t wear nin:a or hit-man outfits' They were the sort who hun- around afterward and fin-erpainted with the blood of their victims' ,in-lin- shru--ed' The :ud-e asked, ;"ompetent to stand trial5< ;>essir' +e3re sayin- he was insane at the time of commission' No sense of ri-ht or wron-' No sense of reality'< The :ud-e -runted' The insanity defense is based on one overridin- concept in :urisprudence) responsibility' At what point are we responsible for acts we commit5 (f we cause an accident and we3re sued in civil court for dama-es, the law asks, would a reasonably prudent person have, say, driven his car on a slippery road at thirty-five miles per hour5 (f the :ury says yes, then we3re not responsible for the crash' (f we3re arrested for a crime, the law asks, did we act knowin-ly and intentionally to break a law5 (f we didn3t, then we3re not -uilty'

There are, in fact, two ways in which sanity arises in a criminal court' %ne is when the defendant is so out of it that he can3t participate in his own trial' That /'S' "onstitution thin-) the ri-ht to confront your accusers' $ut this isn3t what most people familiar with $oston 0e-al or 2erry #ason think of as the insanity defense and, as $ob ,in-lin- had confirmed, it wasn3t an issue in State v' 1obel' #ore common is when defense lawyers invoke various offshoots of #3Nau-hten rule, which holds that if the defendant lacked the capacity to know he was doin- somethin- wron- when he committed the crime, he can3t be found -uilty' This isn3t to say he3s -oin- scot-free8 he3ll -et locked up in a mental ward until it3s determined that he3s no lon-er dan-erous' This was $ob ,in-lin-3s claim re-ardin- #artin 1obel' $ut Glenn .ollow e haled a perple ed lau-h' ;.e wasn3t insane' .e was a practicin- therapist with an obsession over a pretty woman who was i-norin- him' Special circumstances' ( want -uilty, ( want the needle' That3s it'< ,in-lin- said to ,ollins, ;(nsanity' >ou sentence him to indefinite incarceration in $utler, *ud-e' +e won3t contest it' No trial' Everybody wins'< .ollow said, ;E cept the other people he kills when they let him out in five years'< ;Ah, you :ust want a feather in your cap for when you run for AG' .e3s a media bad boy'< ;( want :ustice,< .ollow said, supposin- he was soundin- pretentious' And not carin- one whit' Nor admittin- that, yeah, he did want the feather, too' ;+hat3s the evidence for the looney tunes5< the :ud-e asked' .e had a very different persona when he was in chambers compared with when he was in the courtroom, and presumably different yet at Etta3s !iner, eatin- corned beef' ;.e absolutely believes he didn3t do anythin- wron-' .e was savin- the children in Annabelle3s class' (3ve been over this with him a do&en times' .e believes it'< ;$elieves what e actly5< the :ud-e asked' ;That she was possessed' $y somethin- like a -host' (3ve looked it up' Some cult thin- on the (nternet' Some spirit or somethin- makes you lose control, lose your temper and beat the crap out of your wife or kids' Even makes you kill people' (t3s called a neme'< .e spelled it' ;Neme'< .ollow said, ;(3ve looked it up too, *ud-e' >ou can look it up' +e all can look it up' +hich is :ust what 1obel did' To lay the -roundwork for claimin- insanity' .e killed a hot youn- woman who re:ected him' And now he3s pretendin- he believes in 3em to look like he3s nuts'< ;(f that3s the case,< ,in-lin- said -ravely, ;then he3s been plannin- ever since he was a teena-er to kill a woman he met two weeks a-o'< ;+hat3s that5< ;.is parents died in a car crash when he was in hi-h school' .e had a break with reality, the doctors called it' !ia-nosed as a borderline personality'< ;0ike my cousin,< the :ud-e said' ;She3s awkward' The wife and ( never invite her over, if we can avoid it'< ;1obel -ot involuntary commitment for ei-ht months back then, talkin- about these creatures that

possessed the driver who killed his family' Same thin- as now'< ;$ut he had to -o to shrink school,< the :ud-e pointed out' ;.e -raduated' That3s not cra&y in my book'< .ollow leaped in with, ;E actly' .e has a master3s in psycholo-y' %ne in social work' Good -rades' Sees patients' And he3s written books' For God3s sake'< ;%ne of which ( happen to have with me and which ( will be introducin- into evidence' Thank you, Glenn, for brin-in- it up'< The defense lawyer opened his briefcase and dropped a FE-pound stack of dm-by-FF sheets on the :ud-e3s desk' ;Self-published, by the way' And written by hand'< .ollow looked it over' .e had -ood eyes but it was impossible to read any of the te t e cept the title because it was in such tiny handwritin-' There had to be a thousand words per pa-e, in ele-ant, obsessive script' $iblical Evidence of #alevolent Emotional ENE,G> (ncorporated into 2syches $y #artin 1obel n All ri-hts reserved ;All ri-hts reserved5< .ollow snorted' ;+ho3s -oin- to pla-iari&e this crap5 And what3s with the capitali&ation5< ;Glenn, this is one of about thirty volumes' .e3s been writin- these thin-s for twenty years' And it3s the smallest one'< The prosecutor repeated, ;.e3s fakin-'< $ut the :ud-e was skeptical' ;Goin- back all those years5< ;%kay, he3s 9uirky' $ut this man is dan-erous' Two of his patients killed themselves under circumstances that make it seem like he su--ested they do it' Another one3s servin- five years because he attacked 1obel in his office' .e claimed the doctor provoked him' And 1obel broke into a funeral home si years a-o and was cau-ht fuckin- around with the corpses'< ;+hat5< ;Not that way' .e was dissectin- them' 0ookin- for evidence of these thin-s, these nemes'< ,in-lin- said happily, ;There3s another book he wrote on the autopsy' Ei-hteen hundred pa-es' (llustrated'< ;(t wasn3t an autopsy, $ob' (t was breakin- into a funeral home and fuckin- around with corpses'< .ollow was -ettin- an-ry' $ut maybe it3s :ust a neme, he thou-ht cynically' ;.e -oes to conferences'< ;2aranormal conferences' +acko conferences' Full of wackos :ust like him'< ;*esus "hrist, $ob' The people who cop insanity pleas3re paranoid schi&os' They don3t bathe, they take .aldol and lithium, they3re delusional' They don3t -o to fuckin- Starbucks and ask for an e tra shot of syrup'< .ollow had used the f word more times today than in the past year' ,in-lin- said, ;They kill people because they3re possessed by -hosts' That3s not sane' End of story'< The :ud-e lifted his hand' ;>ou -entlemen know that when the earth was youn-, Africa and South America were ri-ht ne t to each other' ( mean, fifty feet away' Think about that' And here you are,

same thin-' >ou3re real close, ( can tell' >ou can work it out' "ome to-ether' There3s a son- about that' (t3s in your interest' (f we -o to trial, you two3re doin- all the work' All (3m -onna be doin- is sayinLsustained3 and Loverruled'3< ;$ob, he killed that -irl, a schoolteacher' (n cold blood' ( want him away forever' .e3s a dan-er and he3s sick7+hat ( can do, but only this, (3ll -o with life' !rop special circumstances' $ut no parole'< The :ud-e looked e pectantly toward $ob ,in-lin-' ;That3s somethin-'< ;( knew it3d come up,< ,in-lin- said' ;( asked my client about it' .e says he didn3t do anythin- wronand he has faith in the system' .e3s convinced there3re these thin-s floatin- around and they -lom onto you and make you do bad stuff' No, we3re -oin- for insanity'< .ollow -rimaced' ;>ou want to play it that way, you -et your e pert and (3ll -et mine'< The :ud-e -rumbled' ;2ick a date, -entlemen' +e3re -oin- to trial' And, for "hrist sake, somebody tell me, what the hell is a neme5< T.E 2E%20E %F T.E State of North "arolina v' 1obel be-an on a +ednesday in *uly' Glenn .ollow kicked it off with a strin- of witnesses and police reports re-ardin- the forensic evidence, which was irrefutable' $ob ,in-lin- let most of it -o and :ust -ot a few errant bits of trace evidence removed, which .ollow didn3t care about anyway' Another of .ollow3s witnesses was a clerk from Starbucks in ,alei-h, who testified about the business card e chan-e' 4.ollow noted the troubled looks on the faces of several :urors and people in the -allery, leavin- them wonderin-, he supposed, about the wisdom of affairs and other indiscreet behavior in places with observant baristas'6 %ther witnesses testified about behavior consistent with stalkin-, includin- several who3d seen 1obel in +etherby on the days before the murder' Several had seen his car parked outside the school where Annabelle >oun- tau-ht' (f there3s any way to put your location on record, it3s to be a middle-a-ed man parked outside a middle school' Ei-ht concerned citi&ens -ave the police his ta- number' The busboy at Etta3s !iner -ave some very helpful testimony with the help of a Spanish translator' As for 1obel himself, sittin- at the defense table, his hair was askew and his suit didn3t fit ri-ht' .e frantically filled notebook after notebook with writin- like ant tracks' Son of a bitch, thou-ht .ollow' (t was pure performance, orchestrated by $ob ,in-lin-, Es9', of course, with #artin 1obel in the role of schi&ophrenic' .ollow had seen the police interview video' %n screen the defendant had been well scrubbed, well spoken, and no twitchier than .ollow3s ten-year-old 0ab, known to take naps in the middle of tornados' Any other case, the trial would3ve been over with on the second day=with a verdict for the 2eople, followed by a len-thy appeal and an uncomfortable few minutes while the e ecutioner fi-ured out which was the better vein, ri-ht arm or left' $ut there was more, of course' +here the real battle would be fou-ht' ,in-lin-3s e pert psychiatrist testified that the defendant was, in his opinion, le-ally insane and unable to tell the difference between ri-ht and wron-' 1obel honestly believed that Annabelle >oun- was a threat to students and her son because she was infested by a neme, some spirit or force that he truly believed e isted' ;.e3s paranoid, delusional' .is reality is very, very different from ours,< was the e pert3s conclusion'

The shrink3s credentials were -ood, and since that was about the only way to attack him, .ollow let him -o' ;>our .onor,< ,in-lin- ne t said' ;( move to introduce defense e hibits numbers one throu-h twentyei-ht'< And wheeled up to the bench=literally, in carts=1obel3s notebooks and self-published treatises on nemes, more than anybody could possibly be interested in' A second e pert for the defense testified about these writin-s' ;These are typical of a delusional mind'< Everythin- 1obel had written was typical of a paranoid and delusional individual who had lost touch with reality' .e stated that there was no scientific basis for the concept of neme' ;(t3s like voodoo, it3s like vampires, werewolves'< ,in-lin- tried to seal the deal by havin- the doctor read a portion from one of these ;scientific treatises,< a pa-e of utterly incomprehensible nonsense' *ud-e ,ollins, on the ed-e of sleep, cut him off' ;+e -et the idea, "ounselor' Enou-h'< %n cross-e amination, .ollow couldn3t do much to deflate this testimony' The best he could do was) ;!octor, do you read the .arry 2otter books5< ;+ell, as a matter of fact, yes, ( have'< ;The fourth was my favorite' +hat was yours5< ;/mm, ( don3t know really'< ;(s it possible,< the prosecutor asked the witness, ;that those writin-s of #r' 1obel are merely attempts at writin- a novel5 Some bi- fantasy book'< ;(7( can3t ima-ine it'< ;$ut it3s possible, isn3t it5< ;( suppose' $ut (3ll tell you, he3ll never sell the movie ri-hts'< Amid the lau-hter, the :ud-e dismissed the witness' There was testimony about the bi&arre autopsy, which .ollow didn3t bother to refute' $ob ,in-lin- also introduced two of 1obel3s patients, who testified that they had been so troubled by his obsessive talk about these -hosts or spirits inhabitin- their bodies that they 9uit seein- him' And then ,in-lin- had 1obel himself take the stand, dressed in the part of a madman in his premeditatedly wrinkled and dirty clothes, chewin- his lip, lookin- twitchy and weird' This idea=insane in its own ri-ht=was a hu-e risk, because on cross-e amination .ollow would ask the man point-blank if he3d killed Annabelle >oun-' Since he3d confessed once, he would have to confess a-ain=or .ollow would read the sentence from his statement' Either way the :ury would actually hear the man admit to the crime' $ut ,in-lin- met the problem head-on' .is first 9uestion) ;#r' 1obel, did you kill Annabelle >oun-5< ;%h, yes, of course ( did'< .e sounded surprised' A -asp filled the courtroom' ;And why did you do that, #r' 1obel'< ;For the sake of the children'< ;.ow do you mean that5<

;She was a teacher, you know' %h, GodH Every year, thirty or forty students, impressionable younpeople, would come under her influence' She was -oin- to poison their minds' She mi-ht even hurt them, abuse them, spread hatred'< .e closed his eyes and shivered' And the Academy Award for best performance on the part of a cra&ed murder suspect -oes to7 ;Now, tell me, #r' 1obel, why did you think she would hurt the children5< ;%h, she3d come under the influence of a neme'< ;That3s what we heard a little about earlier, ri-ht5 (n your writin-s5< ;>es, in my writin-s'< ;"ould you tell us, briefly, what a neme is5< ;>ou could call it an ener-y force' #alevolent ener-y' (t attaches to your mind and it won3t let -o' (t3s terrible' (t causes you to commit crimes, abuse people, fall into ra-es' A lot of temper tantrums and road ra-e are caused by nemes' They3re all over the place' #illions of them'< ;And you were convinced she was possessed5< ;(t3s not possession,< 1obel said adamantly' ;That3s a theolo-ical concept' Nemes are purely scientific' 0ike viruses'< ;>ou think they3re as real as viruses5< ;They areH >ou have to believe meH They areH< ;And #s' >oun- was bein- influenced by nemes'< ;%ne, :ust one'< ;And was -oin- to hurt her students'< ;And her son' %h, yes, ( could see it' ( have this ability to see nemes' ( had to save the children'< ;>ou weren3t stalkin- her because you were attracted to her5< 1obel3s voice cracked' ;No, no' Nothin- like that' ( wanted to -et her into counselin-' ( could have saved her' $ut she was too far -one' The last thin- ( wanted to do was kill her' $ut it was a blessin-' (t really was' ( had to'< Tears -listened' %h, brother7 ;2rosecution3s witness'< .ollow did the best he could' .e decided not to ask about Annabelle >oun-' 1obel3s murderin- her was no lon-er the issue in this case' The whole 9uestion was 1obel3s state of mind' .ollow -ot the defendant to admit that he3d been in a mental hospital only once, as a teena-er, and hadn3t seen a mental health professional since then' .e3d taken no antipsychotic dru-s' ;They take my ed-e off' >ou have to be sharp when you3re fi-htin- nemes'< ;*ust answer the 9uestion, please'< .ollow then produced 1obel3s ta returns for the past three years' +hen ,in-lin- ob:ected, .ollow said to *ud-e ,ollins, ;>our .onor, a man who files a ta return is of sound mind'< ;That3s debatable,< said the ultraconservative :ud-e, drawin- lau-hter from the courtroom' %h, to be on the bench, thou-ht Glenn .ollow' And maybe after a few years3 stint as the attorney

-eneral ( will be' ,ollins said, ;(3ll let 3em in'< ;These are your returns, aren3t they, sir5< ;( -uess' >es'< ;They indicate you made a fair amount of money at your practice' About forty thousand dollars a year'< ;#aybe' ( suppose so'< ;So despite those other two patients who testified earlier, you must have a much lar-er number of patients you treat re-ularly and who are satisfied with your services'< 1obel looked him in the eyes' ;There3re a lot of nemes out there' Somebody3s -otta fi-ht 3em'< .ollow si-hed' ;No further 9uestions, >our .onor'< The prosecutor then called his own e pert, a psychiatrist who3d e amined 1obel' The testimony was that, thou-h 9uirky, he was not le-ally insane' .e was well aware of what he was doin-, that he was committin- a crime when he killed the victim' ,in-lin- asked a few 9uestions, but didn3t belabor the cross-e amination' Toward the end of the day, durin- a short break, Glenn .ollow sneaked a look at the :ury bo 8 he3d been a prosecutor and a trial lawyer for a lon- time and was an e pert not only at the law but at readin:uries' And, -oddamn it, they were reactin- :ust the way $ob ,in-lin- wanted them to' .ollow could tell they hated and feared #artin 1obel, but because he was such a monster and the thin-s he was sayin- were so bi&arre, he couldn3t be held to the :ury3s standards of ethics and behavior' %h, ,in-lin- had been smart' .e wasn3t playin- his client as a victim, he wasn3t playin- him as somebody who3d been abused or suffered a traumatic childhood 4he barely referred to the deaths of 1obel3s parents and brother6' No, he was showin- that this thin- at the defense table was not even human' 0ike his e pert said, ;#r' 1obel3s reality is not our reality'< .ollow stretched his skinny le-s out in front of him and watched the tassels on his loafers lean to the side' (3m -oin- to lose this case, he reflected' (3m -oin- to lose it' And that son of a bitch3ll be out in five or si years, lookin- for other women to stalk' .e was in despair' Nemes7shit' Then the :ud-e turned away from his clerk and said, ;#r' .ollow5 Shall we continue with your rebuttal of #r' ,in-lin-3s affirmative defense5< (t was then that a thou-ht occurred to the prosecutor' .e considered it for a moment and -asped at where the idea led' ;#r' .ollow5< ;>our .onor, if possible, could we recess until tomorrow5 The prosecution would appreciate the time'< *ud-e ,ollins debated' .e looked at his watch' ;All ri-ht' +e3ll recess until nine A'#' tomorrow'< Glenn .ollow thanked the :ud-e and told his youn- associates to -ather up the papers and take them back to the office' The prosecutor rose and headed out the door' $ut he didn3t start sprintin- until he was well out of the courthouse8 he believed that you never let :urors see anythin- but your di-nified

self' AT A 0(TT0E AFTE, nine the ne t mornin-, Glenn .ollow rose to his feet' ;(3d like to call to the stand !r' *ames 2heder'< ;%b:ection, >our .onor'< $ob ,in-lin- was on his feet' ;,easons5< ;+e received notice of this witness last ni-ht at ei-ht 2'#' +e haven3t had ade9uate time to prepare'< ;+here were you at ei-ht5< ,in-lin- blinked' ;+ell, >our .onor, (7the wife and ( were out to dinner'< ;At ei-ht ( was readin- documents in this case, #r' ,in-lin-' And #r' .ollow was=obviously= sendin- you notices about impendin- witnesses' Neither of us were en:oyin- the buffet line at .ouse %3,ibs'< ;$ut=< ;Think on your feet, "ounselor' That3s what you -et paid those bi- bucks for' %b:ection overruled' 2roceed, #r' .ollow'< 2heder, a dark-comple ioned man with a curly mop of black hair and a lean face, took the oath and sat' ;Now, #r' 2heder, could you tell us about your credentials5< ;>essir' ( have de-rees in psycholo-y and biolo-y from the /niversity of Eastern @ir-inia, the /niversity of Albany, and Northern Ari&ona /niversity'< ;All of which are accredited four-year colle-es, correct5< ;>es'< ;And what do you do for a livin-5< ;(3m an author and lecturer'< ;Are you published5< ;>essir' (3ve published do&ens of books'< ;Are those self-published5< ;Nosir' (3m with established publishin- companies'< ;And where do you lecture5< ;All over the country' At schools, libraries, bookstores, private venues'< ;.ow many people attend these lectures5< .ollow asked' ;Each one is probably attended by four to si hundred people'< ;And how many lectures a year do you -ive5< ;About one hundred'< .ollow paused and then asked, ;Are you familiar with the concept of neme5< ;>essir'< ;(s it true that you coined that term5<

;>essir'< ;+hat does it refer to5< ;( combined the words Lne-ative3 and Lmeme'3 LNe-ative3 is :ust what it sounds like' L#eme3 is a common phenomenon in society, like a son- or catchphrase, that captures the popular ima-ination' (t spreads'< ;Give us the -ist of the concept of neme, that3s n-e-m-e, if you would'< ;(n a nutshell5< ;%h, yessir' ( -ot "s in science' #ake it nice and simple'< Nice touch, .ollow thou-ht of his improvisation' Science' 2heder continued' ;(t3s like a cloud of ener-y that affects people3s emotions in destructive ways' >ou know how you3re walkin- down the street and you suddenly feel different5 For no reason at all' >our mood swin-s' (t could be caused by any number of thin-s' $ut it mi-ht be a neme incorporatin- itself into your cerebrum'< ;And you say, Lne-ative'3 So nemes are bad5< ;+ell, bad is a human :ud-ment' They3re neutral, but they tend to make us behave in ways society characteri&es as bad' Take a case of swimmin- in the ocean' Sharks and :ellyfish aren3t bad8 they3re simply doin- what nature intended, e istin-' $ut when they take a bite out of us or stin- us, we call that bad' Nemes are the same' They make us do thin-s that to them are natural but that we call evil'< ;And you3re convinced these nemes are real5< ;%h, yessir' Absolutely'< ;Are other people5< ;>es, many, many are'< ;Are these people scientists5< ;Some, yes' Therapists, chemists, biolo-ists, psycholo-ists'< ;No further 9uestions, >our .onor'< ;>our witness, #r' ,in-lin-'< The defense lawyer couldn3t, as it turned out, think on his feet, not very well' .e was prepared for .ollow to introduce testimony by e perts attackin- his client3s claim of insanity' .e wasn3t prepared for .ollow to try to prove nemes were real' ,in-lin- asked a few meanin-less 9uestions and let it -o at that' .ollow was relieved that he hadn3t e plored 2heder3s history and credentials in other fields, includinparapsycholo-y and pseudoscience' Nor did he find the blo- postin-s where 2heder claimed the lunar landin-s were sta-ed in a film studio in .ouston, or the ones supportin- the theory that the (sraelis and 2resident Geor-e $ush were behind the _KFF attacks' .ollow had particularly worried that 2heder3s essay about the IEFI apocalypse mi-ht surface' !od-ed the bullet there, he thou-ht' ,in-lin- dismissed the man, seemin-ly convinced that the testimony had somehow worked to the defense3s advanta-e' This concluded the formal presentations in the case and it was now time for closin- statements'

.ollow had been writin- his mentally even as he3d fled the courthouse yesterday, in search of 2heder3s phone number' The slim, austere man walked to the front of the :ury bo and, a concession to camaraderie with the panel, undid his suit :acket3s middle button, which he usually kept snu-ly hooked' ;0adies and -entlemen of the :ury' (3m -oin- to make my comments brief, out of respect to you and respect to the poor victim and her family' They=and Annabelle >oun-3s spirit=want and deserve :ustice, and the sooner you provide that :ustice, the better for everyone' ;The dili-ent law officers involved in this case have established beyond a reasonable doubt that #artin 1obel was, in fact, the individual who viciously and without remorse stabbed to death a youn-, vibrant schoolteacher8 widow8 and sin-le mother, after stalkin- her for a week, followin- her all the way from ,alei-h, spyin- on her, and causin- her to flee from a restaurant while she waited to meet her son after school' Those facts are not in dispute' Nor is there any doubt about the validity of #r' 1obel3s confession, which he -ave freely and after bein- informed of his ri-hts' And which he repeated here in front of you' ;The only issue in this case is whether or not the defendant was insane at the time he committed this heinous crime' Now, in order for the defendant to be found not -uilty by reason of insanity, it must=( repeat, must=be proven that he did not appreciate the difference between ri-ht and wron- at the time he killed Annabelle' (t must be proven that he did not understand reality as you and ( know it' ;>ou have heard the defendant claim he killed Annabelle >oun- because she was infected by forces called nemes' 0et3s think on that for a moment' .ad #r' 1obel been convinced that she was possessed by aliens from outer space or &ombies or vampires, maybe that ar-ument would have some validity' $ut that3s not what he3s claimin-' .e3s basically sayin- that she was infected by what he himself described as a virus7not one that -ives you a fever and chills but one that makes you do somethinbad'< A smile' ;( have to tell you, when ( first heard this theory, ( thou-ht to myself, brother, that3s pretty cra&y' $ut the more ( thou-ht about it, the more ( wondered if there wasn3t somethin- to it' And in the course of this trial, listenin- to #r' 1obel and !r' 2heder and spendin- all last ni-ht readin- throu-h #r' 1obel3s len-thy writin-, (3ve chan-ed my mind7( too now believe in nemes'< The -asp throu-hout the courtroom was loud' ;(3m convinced that #artin 1obel is ri-ht' Nemes e ist' Think about it, ladies and -entlemen) what else can e plain the random acts of violence and abuse and ra-e we find in people who were previously incapable of them'< >es7some of the :urors were actually noddin-' They were with himH .ollow3s voice rose' ;Think about itH !isembodied forces of ener-y that affect us' +e can3t see them but doesn3t the moon3s -ravitation affect us5 !oesn3t radiation affect us5 +e can3t see them either' These nemes are the perfect e planation for behaviors we otherwise would find impossible to understand' ;There was a time when the concept of fli-ht by airplane would have been considered sorcery' The same with G2S' The same with modern medical treatments' The same with li-htbulbs, computers, thousands of products that we now know are rooted in scientific fact but when first conceived would seem like black ma-ic'< .ollow walked close to the rapt members of the :ury' ;$ut7but7if that3s the case, if nemes e ist, as #r' 1obel and ( believe, then that means they3re part of the real world' They are part of our society, our

connection with one another, for -ood or for bad' Then to say that Annabelle >oun- was infected with one is e actly the same as sayin- that she had a case of the flu and mi-ht infect other people' Some of those infected people, the elderly or youn-, could die' +hich would be a shame, tra-ic7$ut does that mean it would be all ri-ht to preemptively murder her to save those people5 Emphatically noH That3s not the way the world works, ladies and -entlemen' (f, as ( now believe, Annabelle >oun- was affected by these nemes, then as a trained professional, #artin 1obel3s responsibility was to -et her into treatment and help her' .elp her, ladies and -entlemen' Not murder her' ;2lease, honor the memory of Annabelle >oun-' .onor the institution of law' .onor personal responsibility' Find the defendant in this case sane' And find him -uilty of murder in the first de-ree for takin- the life of a youn- woman whose only flaw was to be sick, and whose only chance to -et well and live a content and happy and productive life was snatched from her -rasp by a vicious killer' Thank you'< .is heart poundin-, Glenn .ollow strode to the prosecution table throu-h an utterly 9uiet courtroom, aware that everyone was starin- at him' .e sat' Still, no voices, no rustlin-' Nothin-' 2in-drop time' After what seemed like an hour, thou-h it was probably only thirty seconds, $ob ,in-lin- rose, cleared his throat, and delivered his closin- statement' .ollow didn3t pay much attention' And it seemed no one else did either' Every soul in the courtroom was starin- at Glenn .ollow, and, the prosecutor believed, replayin- in their minds what was the most articulate and dramatic closin- ar-ument he3d ever made' Turnin- the whole case on its ear at the last minute' (f, as ( now believe, Annabelle >oun- was affected by these nemes, then as a trained professional, #artin 1obel3s responsibility was to -et her into treatment and help her' .elp her, ladies and -entlemen' Not murder her' Glenn .ollow was inherently a modest man but he couldn3t help but believe he3d pulled off the coup of his career' And so it was a surprise, to say the least, when the -ood men and woman on the :ury panel re:ected .ollow3s ar-ument completely and came back with a verdict findin- #artin 1obel not -uilty by reason of insanity after one of the shortest deliberations in +etherby "ounty history' Three ( A@%(!E! T.E S/N,%%# as much as ( could' #ostly because it was full of cra&y people' 0ip-chewin-, .aldol-poppin-, delusional cra&ies' They smelled bad, they ate like pi-s at a trou-h, they screamed, they wore football helmets so they didn3t do any more dama-e to their heads' As if that were possible' At my trial ( was worried that ( was overactin- the schi&o part' ( shouldn3t have worried' #y performance in the courtroom didn3t come close to bein- over the top' The $utler State .ospital doesn3t include the words ;for the criminally insane< in the name because it doesn3t need to' Anybody who sees the place will -et the idea pretty fast' The sunroom was a place to avoid' $ut (3d come to en:oy the small library and this was where (3d spent most of my time in the past two months since ( was committed here' Today ( was sittin- in the library3s one armchair, near the one window' ( usually vie for the chair with a skinny patient, *ack' The man was committed because he suspected his wife of sellin- his secrets to the /nion army=which would3ve been funny e cept that as punishment for her crime he tortured her for si hours before killin- and dismemberin- her'

*ack was a curious man' Smart in some ways and a true e pert on "ivil +ar history' $ut he3d never 9uite fi-ured out the rules of the -ame) that whoever -ot into the library first -ot the armchair' (3d been lookin- forward to sittin- here today and catchin- up on my readin-' $ut then somethin- happened to disrupt those plans' ( opened this mornin-3s paper and noticed a reference to the prosecutor in the case a-ainst me, Glenn .ollow, whose name, ( :oked with my attorney $ob ,in-lin-, sounded like a real estate development' Alarmin- ,in-lin- somewhat since ( wasn3t soundin- as cra&y as he would have liked=because, of course, (3m not' The article was about party officials pullin- all support for .ollow3s bid for attorney -eneral' .e3d dropped out of the race' ( continued to read, learnin- that his life had fallen apart completely after failin- to -et me convicted on murder one' .e3d had to step down as county prosecutor and no law firm in the state would hire him' (n fact, he couldn3t find work anywhere' The problem wasn3t that he3d lost the case, but that he3d introduced evidence about the e istence of spirits that possessed people and made them commit crimes' (t hadn3t helped that he was on record as statin- that nemes were real' And his e pert was a bit of a crackpot' Thou-h ( still hold that 2heder3s a -enius' After all, for every successful invention, da @inci came up with a hundred duds' (n fact, .ollow3s strate-y was brilliant and had -iven me some very uncomfortable moments in court' $ob ,in-lin-, too' 2art of me was surprised that the :ury hadn3t bou-ht his ar-ument and sent me to death row' These revelations were troublin- and ( felt sorry for the man=( never had anythin- personal a-ainst him=but it was when ( read the last para-raph that the whole shockin- implication of what had happened struck home' $efore the 1obel trial, .ollow had been a shoo-in to become the attorney -eneral of the state' .e had the best conviction record of any prosecutor in North "arolina, particularly in violent crimes such as rape and domestic abuse' .e actually won a premeditated murder case some years a-o for a road ra-e incident, the first time any prosecutor had convinced a :ury to do so' ,eadin- this, ( felt like (3d been slu--ed' #y God7#y God7( literally -asped' (3d been set up' (t was suddenly clear' From the moment Annabelle >oun- had sat ne t to me in Starbucks, ( was beinsuckered into their plan' The nemes7they knew (3d take on the mission of tryin- to become her therapist' And they knew that (3d see that the neme within her was so powerful and represented such a dan-er to those around her that (3d have to kill her' 4(3d done this before, of course8 Annabelle was hardly the first' 2art of bein- a professional therapist is matchin- the ri-ht techni9ue to each patient'6 And where did the nemes pick their host5 (n the very county with the prosecutor who represented perhaps the -reatest threat to them' A man who was winnin- conviction after conviction in cases of impulsive violence=lockin- away some of their most successful incarnations in the country) abusers, rapists, murderers7 +ell, that answered the 9uestion that nobody had been able to answer yet) yes, nemes communicate' >es, they plot and strate-i&e' %bviously they3d debated the matter' The price to eliminate Glenn .ollow was to -et me off on an insanity plea, which meant that ( would be out in a few years, and back on the attack, writin- about them, counselin- people to -uard a-ainst them' Even killin- them if ( needed to' So, they3d decided that Glenn .ollow was a threat to be eliminated' $ut not me' (3d escaped' ( si-hed, closin- my eyes, and whispered, ;$ut not me' Thank God, not me'<

( saw a shadow fall on the newspaper on my lap' ( -lanced up to see my fellow patient *ack starindown at me' ;Sorry, -ot the chair first today,< ( told him, still distracted by the stunnin- understandin-' ;Tomorrow7< $ut my voice faded as ( looked into his face' The eyes7the eyes' NoH ( -asped and started to rise, shoutin- for a -uard, but before ( could -et to my feet, *ack was on me, ;#y chair, you took my chair, you took it, you took itH7< $ut then, as the ra&or-sharp end of the spoon he clutched slammed into my chest a-ain and a-ain, it seemed that the madman be-an to whisper somethin- different' #y vision -oin-, my hearin- fadin-, ( thou-ht perhaps the words slippin- from these dry lips were, ;>es you, yes you, yes you7<

-%R%LL#L LIN#S Tim -o/ers

(T S.%/0! .A@E $EEN T.E(, $(,T.!A> T%!A>' +ell, it was still hers, "aroleen supposed, but with $ee@ee -one the whole idea of ;birthday< seemed to have -one, too' "ould she be seventythree on her own5 "aroleen3s ri-ht hand had been twitchin- intermittently since she3d sat up in the livin- room daybed five minutes a-o, and she lifted the coffee cup with her left hand' The coffee was hot enou-h but had no taste, and the livin- room furniture=the coffee table, the now-useless analo- T@ set with its forlorn rabbit-ears antenna, the rockin- chair beside the white-brick fireplace, all bri-ht in the sunli-ht -larinthrou-h the east window at her back=looked like arran-ed items in some kind of museum diorama8 no further motion possible' $ut there was still the -ravestone to be dealt with, these disor-ani&ed nine weeks later' Four hundred and fifty dollars for two s9uare feet of etched -ranite, and the company in Nevada could not -et it strai-ht that $everly @eronica Erlich and "aroleen Ann Erlich both had the same birth date, thou-h the second date under "aroleen3s name was to be left blank for some indeterminate period' $ee@ee3s second date had not been left to chance' $ee@ee had swallowed all the !arvocets and @icodins in the house when the pain of her cancer, if it had been cancer, had become more than she could bear' For a year or so she had always been in some de-ree of pain="aroleen remembered how $ee@ee had e haled a fast whewH from time to time, and the way her forehead seemed always to be misted with sweat, and her late-ac9uired habit of repeatedly lickin- the inner ed-e of her upper lip' And she had always been shiftin- her position when she drove, and bracin- herself a-ainst the floor or the steerin- wheel' #ore and more she had come to rely=both of them had come to rely=on poor dumpy Amber, the teena-er who lived ne t door' The -irl came over to clean the house and fetch -roceries, and seemed -rateful for the five dollars an hour, even with $ee@ee3s -enerous criticisms of every :ob Amber did' $ut Amber would not be able to deal with the headstone company' "aroleen shifted forward on the daybed, rocked her head back and forth to make sure she was wearin- her readin- -lasses rather than her bifocals, and flipped open the brown plastic phone book' A short silver pencil was secured by a plastic loop in the book3s -utter, and she fumbled it free= =And her ri-ht hand twitched forward, knockin- the coffee cup ri-ht off the table, and the pencil shook in her spotty old fin-ers as its point :i--led across the pa-e' She threw a fearful, -uilty -lance toward the kitchen in the moment before she remembered that $ee@ee was dead8 then she allowed herself to rela and looked at the s9ui--le she had drawn across the old addresses and phone numbers' (t was :a--ed, but reco-ni&ably cursive letters) (needyourhelpplease (t was, in fact, reco-ni&ably $ee@ee3s handwritin-' "aroleen3s hand twitched a-ain, and scrawled the same cramped se9uence of letters across the pa-e' She lifted the pencil, postponin- all thou-ht in this fro&en moment, and after several seconds her hand spasmed once more, no doubt writin- the same letters in the air' .er whole body shivered with a feverish chill and she thou-ht she was -oin- to vomit8 she leaned out over the ru-, but the 9ueasiness

passed' She was sure that her hand had been writin- this messa-e in the air ever since she had awakened' "aroleen didn3t think $ee@ee had ever before, e cept with ironic emphasis, said please when askinher for somethin-' She was remotely -lad that she was sittin-, for her heart thudded alarmin-ly in her chest and she was di&&y with the enormous thou-ht that $ee@ee was not -one, not entirely -one' She -ripped the ed-e of the bed, suddenly afraid of fallin- and knockin- the table over, rollin- into the rockin- chair' The reek of spilled coffee was stron- in her nostrils' ;%kay,< she whispered' ;%kayH< she said a-ain, louder' The shakin- in her hand had subsided, so she flipped to a blank calendar pa-e at the back of the book and scrawled %1A> at the top of the pa-e' .er fin-ers had be-un wi--lin- a-ain, but she raised her hand as if to wave away a 9uestion, hesitant to let the :i--lin- pencil at the waitin- pa-e :ust yet' !o ( want her back, she thou-ht, in any sense5 No, not want, not her, but=in these past nine weeks ( haven3t seemed to e ist anymore, without her payin- attention, any sort of attention, to me' These days (3m hardly more than an ima-inary friend of Amber3s ne t door, a frail conceit soon to be out-rown, even by her' She si-hed and lowered her hand to the book' %ver her %1A> the pencil scribbled, (ambeevee ;#y God,< "aroleen whispered, closin- her eyes' ;>ou think ( need to be told5< .er hand was involuntarily spellin- it out a-ain, breakin- the pencil lead halfway throu-h but continuin- rapidly to the end, and then it went throu-h the motions three more times, :ust scratchin- the paper with splintered wood' Finally her hand uncramped' She threw the pencil on the floor and scrabbled amon- the oran-e plastic prescription bottles on the table for a pen' Findin- one, she wrote, +hat can ( do5 To help She wasn3t able to add the final 9uestion mark because her hand convulsed away from her a-ain, and wrote, touseyourbodyinvitemeintoyourbody and then a moment later, imsorryforeverythin-please "aroleen watched as the pen in her hand wrote out the same two lines twice more, then she leaned back and let the pen :i--le in the air until this bout, too, -radually wore off and her hand went limp' "aroleen blinked tears out of her eyes, tryin- to believe that they were caused entirely by her alreadysore wrist muscles' $ut=for $ee@ee to apolo-i&e, to her7H The only apolo-ies $ee@ee had ever made while alive were 9ualified and impatient) +ell, (3m sorry if7 !o the dead lose their e-otism5 wondered "aroleen, their onetime need to limit and dominate earthly households5 $ee@ee had maintained "aroleen as a sort of e tended self, and it had resulted in isolation for the two of them8 if, in fact, they had added up to 9uite as many as two durin- the last years' The twins had a couple of brothers out there somewhere, and a least a couple of nieces, and their mother mi-ht even still be alive at ninety-one, but "aroleen knew nothin- of any of them' $ee@ee had handled all the mail'

Muickly she wrote on the calendar pa-e, ( need to know=do you love me5 For nearly a full minute she waited, her shoulder muscles stiffenin- as she held the pen over the pa-e8 then her hand fle ed and wrote, yes "aroleen was -aspin- and she couldn3t see the pa-e throu-h her tears, but she could feel her hand scribblin- the word over and over a-ain until this spasm, too, eventually rela ed' +hy did you have to wait, she thou-ht, until after you had died to tell me5 $ut use your body, invite me into your body' +hat would that mean5 +ould $ee@ee take control of it, ever relin9uish control5 !o (, thou-ht "aroleen, care, really5 +hatever it mi-ht consist of, it would be at least a step closer to the wholeness "aroleen had lost nine weeks a-o' .er hand was twitchin- a-ain' She waited until the first couple of scribbles had e pended themselves in the air before touchin- the pen to the pa-e' The pen wrote, yesforever She moved her hand aside, not wantin- to spoil that statement with echoes' +hen the pen had stilled, "aroleen leaned forward and be-an writin-, >es, (3ll invite you, but her hand took over and finished the line with e haustedmorelater E hausted5 +as it strenuous for -hosts to lean out or in or down this far5 !id $ee@ee have to brace herself a-ainst somethin- to drive the pencil5 $ut, in fact, "aroleen was e hausted, too=her hand was achin-' She blew her nose into an old 1leene , her eyes waterin- afresh in the menthol-and-eucalyptus smell of $en Gay, and lay back across the daybed and closed her eyes' A S.A,2 1N%"1 AT the front door :olted her awake, and thou-h her -lasses had fallen off and she didn3t immediately know whether it was mornin- or evenin-, she reali&ed that her fin-ers were wi--lin-, and had been for some time' She lun-ed forward and with her left hand wed-ed the pen between her twitchin- ri-ht thumb and forefin-er' The pen be-an to travel li-htly over the calendar pa-e' The scribble was lon-er than the others=with a pause in the middle=and she had to rotate the book to keep the point on the pa-e until it stopped' The knock sounded a-ain, but "aroleen called, ;*ust a minuteH< and remained hunched over the little book, waitin- for the messa-e to repeat' (t didn3t' Apparently she had :ust barely cau-ht the last echo=perhaps only the end of the last echo' She couldn3t make out what she had written' Even if she3d had her -lasses on, she3d have needed the lampli-ht, too' ;"aroleen5< came a call from out front' (t was Amber3s voice' ;"omin-'< "aroleen stood up stiffly and hobbled to the door' +hen she pulled it open, she found

herself s9uintin- in the noon sunli-ht that filtered throu-h the avocado tree branches' The -irl on the doorstep was wearin- sweatpants and a hu-e T-shirt and blinkin- behind her -leaminround spectacles' .er brown hair was tied up in a knot on top of her head' ;!id ( wake you up5 (3m sorry'< She was pantin-, as if she had run over here from ne t door' "aroleen felt the fresh air=smellin- of sun-heated stone and car e haust=coolin- her sweaty scalp' ;(3m fine,< she said hoarsely' ;+hat is it5< .ad she asked the -irl to come over today5 She couldn3t recall doin- it, and she was tense with impatience to -et back to her pen and book' ;( :ust=< said Amber rapidly=;( liked your sister, well, you know ( did really, even thou-h=and (= could ( have somethin- of hers, not like valuable, to remember her by5 .ow about her hairbrush5< ;>ou want her hairbrush5< ;(f you don3t mind' ( :ust want somethin-=< ;(3ll -et it' +ait here'< (t would be 9uicker to -ive it to her than to propose some other keepsake, and "aroleen had no special attachment to the hairbrush=her own was a duplicate anyway' She and $ee@ee had, of course, matchin- everythin-=toothbrushes, coffee cups, shoes, wristwatches' +hen "aroleen had fetched the brush and returned to the front door, Amber took it and went poundindown the walkway, callin- ;ThanksH< over her shoulder' Still disoriented from her nap, "aroleen closed the door and made her way back to the daybed, where she patted the scattered blankets until she found her -lasses and fitted them on' She sat down, switched on the lamp, and leaned over the phone book pa-e' Turnin- the book around to follow the newest scrawl, she read, bancaccounts -etmyhairbrushfromhernow ;Sorry, sorryH< e claimed "aroleen8 then in her own handwritin-, she wrote, (3ll -et it back' She waited, wonderin- why she must -et the hairbrush back from Amber' +as it somehow necessary that all of $ee@ee3s possessions be kept to-ether5 2robably, at least the ones with voodoo-type identity si-natures on them=!NA samples, like hair cau-ht in a brush, dried saliva traces on dentures, 1leene in a for-otten wastebasket' $ut= Abruptly her chest felt cold and hollow' $ut this messa-e had been written down before she had -iven Amber the hairbrush' And "aroleen had been awake only for the last few seconds of the messa-e transmission, which, if it had been like the others, had been repeatin- for at least a full minute before she woke up' The messa-e had been addressed to Amber ne t door, not to her' Amber had read it somehow and had obediently fetched the hairbrush' "ould all of these messa-es have been addressed to the -irl5 "aroleen remembered wonderin- whether $ee@ee mi-ht have needed to brace herself a-ainst somethin- in order to communicate from the far side of the -rave' .ad $ee@ee been bracin- herself a-ainst "aroleen, her still-livin- twin, in order to talk to Amber5 (nsi-nificant Amber5 "aroleen was di&&y, but she -ot to her feet and padded into the bedroom for a pair of outdoor shoes' She had to carry them back to the livin- room=the bed in the bedroom had been $ee@ee3s, too, and she didn3t want to sit on it in order to pull the shoes on=and on the way she leaned into the bathroom

and -rabbed her own hairbrush' !,ESSE! (N %NE %F her old church-attendance skirts, with fresh lipstick, and carryin- a biembroidered purse, "aroleen pulled the door closed behind her and be-an shufflin- down the walk' The sky was a very deep blue above the tree branches and the few clouds were e traordinarily far away overhead, and it occurred to her that she couldn3t recall steppin- out of the house since $ee@ee3s funeral' She never drove anymore=Amber was the only one who drove the old 2ontiac these days= and it was Amber who went for -roceries, reimbursed with checks from "aroleen7and the bo of checks came in the mail, which Amber brou-ht in from the mailbo by the sidewalk' (f "aroleen alienated the -irl, could she do these thin-s herself5 She would probably starve' "aroleen3s hand had be-un wri--lin- as she reached the sidewalk and turned ri-ht, toward Amber3s parents3 house, but she resisted the impulse to pull a pen out of her purse' She3s not talkin- to me, she thou-ht, blinkin- back tears in the sunli-ht that -littered on the windshields and bumpers of passincars8 she3s talkin- to stupid Amber' ( won3t eavesdrop' Amber3s parents had a Spanish-style house at the top of a neatly mowed slopin- lawn, and a -reen canvas awnin- overhun- the bi- arched window out front' Even shadin- her eyes with her mana-eable left hand "aroleen couldn3t see anyone in the dimness inside, so she huffed up the widely spaced steps, and while she was catchin- her breath on the cement apron at the top, the front door swun- inward, releasin- a puff of cool floor-polish scent' Amber3s youn-, dark-haired mother="rystal5 "hristine5=was starin- at her curiously' ;(t3s7 "aroleen,< she said, ;ri-ht5< ;>es'< "aroleen smiled, feelin- old and foolish' ;( need to talk to Amber'< The mother was lookindubious' ;( want to pay her more, and see if she3d be interested in balancin- our, my, checkbook'< The woman nodded, as if concedin- a point' ;+ell, ( think that mi-ht be -ood for her'< She hesitated, then stepped aside' ;"ome in and ask her' She3s in her room'< "aroleen -ot a 9uick impression of a dim livin- room with clear plastic covers over the furniture, and a bri-ht kitchen with copper pans han-in- everywhere' Amber3s mother then knocked on a bedroom door and said, ;Amber honey5 >ou3ve -ot a visitor,< then pushed the door open' ;(3ll let you two talk,< the woman said, and stepped away toward the livin- room' "aroleen stepped into the room' Amber was sittin- cross-le--ed on a pink bedspread, lookin- up from a cardboard sheet with a rock, a pencil, and $ee@ee3s hairbrush on it' 0acy curtains -lowed in the street-side window, and a stack of what appeared to be te tbooks stood on an otherwise bare white desk in the opposite corner' The couple of pictures on the walls looked like pastel blobs' The room smelled like cake' "aroleen considered what to say' ;"an ( help5< she asked finally' Amber, who had been lookin- wary, bri-htened and sat up strai-ht' ;Shut the door'< After "aroleen had shut the door, Amber went on, ;>ou know she3s comin- back5< She waved at the cardboard in front of her' ;She3s been talkin- to me all day'< ;( know, child'< "aroleen stepped forward and leaned down to peer at the cardboard, and saw that the -irl had written the letters of the alphabet in an arc across it' ;(t3s one of those thin-s people use to talk to -hosts,< Amber e plained with evident pride' ;(3m usin-

the rock crystal to point to the letters' Some people are scared of these thin-s, but it3s one of the -ood kinds of crystals'< ;A %ui:a board'< ;That3s itH She made me dream of one over and over a-ain :ust before the sun came up, because this is her birthday' +ell, yours, too, ( -uess' At first ( thou-ht it was a hopscotch pattern, but she made me look closer till ( -ot it'< She pursed her lips' ;( wrote it by recitin- the rhyme, and ( accidentally did . and ( twice, and left out * and 1'< She pulled a sheet of lined paper out from under the board' ;$ut it was only a problem once, ( think'< ;"an ( see5 (, uh, want this to work out'< ;>eah' She won3t be -one' She3ll be in me, did she tell you5< She held out the paper' ;( drew in lines to break the words up'< ;>es' She told me'< "aroleen slowly reached out to take the paper from Amber, and then held it up close enou-h to read the penciled lines) (KNEE!K>%/,K.E02K20EASE +ho , /5 (KA#K$EE@EE .ow can ( help /5 (KNEE!KT%K/SEK>%/,K$%!>K(N@(TEK#EK(NKT%K>%/,K$%!> (#KS%,,>KF%,KE@E,>KT.(NGK20EASE , / an an-el now5 "an / -rant wishes5 >ES "an / make me beautiful5 >ESKF%,KE@E, %1' +hat do ( do5 EU.A/STE!K#%,EK0ATE, $@5 (t3s after lunch' Are / rested up yet5 >ES #ake me beautiful' GETK#>K.A(,$,/S.KF,%#K#>KS(STE, (s that word ;hairbrush<5 >ESKT.ENK>%/K"ANK(N@(TEK#EK(NKT%K>%/ .ow will that do it5 +EK+(00K$EK>%/KT%GET.E, o what will we do5 GETKS0(#KT,A@E0KT.EK+%,0! +ill we be rich5

>ESK(K.A@EK$AN"KA""%/NTS GETK#>K.A(,$,/S.KF,%#K.E,KN%+ ( -ot it' N(G.TKT(#EKSTAN!K%@E,KG,A@EK$,/S.K>,K.A(,K(N@(TEK#EK(N ;That should be $-A-N-1, in that one line,< e plained Amber helpfully' ;And (3ll want to borrow your car toni-ht'< Not trustin- herself to speak, "aroleen nodded and handed the paper back to her, wonderin- if her own face was red or pale' She felt invisible and repudiated' $ee@ee could have approached her own twin for this, but her twin was too old8 and if she did mana-e to occupy the body of this -irl=a more intimate sort of twinhoodH=she would certainly not -o on livin- with "aroleen' And she had eaten all the @icodins and !arvocets' "aroleen picked up the rock' (t was some sort of 9uart& crystal' ;+hen7< she be-an in a croak' She cleared her throat and went on more steadily, ;+hen did you -et that second-to-last messa-e5 About the bank accounts and the hairbrush5< ;That one5 /h, :ust a minute before ( knocked on your door'< "aroleen nodded, wonderin- bleakly if $ee@ee had even known that she was leavin- her with carbon copies=multiple, echoin- carbon copies=of the messa-es' She put the crystal back down on the cardboard and picked up the hairbrush' Amber opened her mouth as if to ob:ect, then subsided' There were indeed a number of white hairs tan-led in the bristles' "aroleen tucked the brush into her purse' ;( need that,< said Amber 9uickly, leanin- forward across the board' ;She says ( need it'< ;%h, of course, (3m sorry'< "aroleen forced what must have been a -hastly smile, and then pulled her own hairbrush instead out of the purse and handed it to the -irl' (t was identical to $ee@ee3s, ri-ht down to the white hairs' Amber took it and -lanced at it, then laid it on the pillow, out of "aroleen3s reach' ;( don3t want,< said "aroleen, ;to interrupt7you two'< She si-hed, emptyin- her lun-s, and du- the car keys out of her purse' ;.ere,< she said, tossin- them onto the bed' ;(3ll be ne t door if you7need any help'< ;Fine, okay'< Amber seemed relieved at the prospect of her leavin-' "A,%0EEN +AS A+A1ENE! T.E ne t mornin- by the pain of her sore ri-ht hand fle in-, but she rolled over and slept for ten more minutes before the telephone by her head conclusively :arred her out of the monotonous dream that had occupied her mind for the last hour or so' She sat up, wrinklin- her nose at the scorched smell from the fireplace and wishin- she had a cup of coffee, and still half-saw the %ui:a board she3d been dreamin- about' She picked up the phone, wincin-' ;.ello5< ;"aroleen,< said Amber3s voice, ;nothin- happened at the cemetery last ni-ht, and $ee@ee isn3t answerin- my 9uestions' She spelled stuff out, but it3s not for what (3m writin- to her' All she3s written so far this mornin- is=:ust a sec=she wrote, uh, L>ou win=you3ll do=we3ve always been a team, ri-ht=3 (s she talkin- to you5<

"aroleen -lanced toward the fireplace, where last ni-ht she had burned=or charred, at least=$ee@ee3s toothbrush, ra&or, dentures, curlers, and several other thin-s, includin- the hairbrush' And today she would call the headstone company and cancel the order' $ee@ee ou-ht not to have an easily locatable -rave' ;#e5< "aroleen made a painful fist of her ri-ht hand' ;+hy would she talk to me5< ;>ou3re her twin sister, she mi-ht be=< ;$ee@ee is dead, Amber, she died nine weeks a-o'< ;$ut she3s comin- back' She3s -oin- to make me beautifulH She said=< ;She can3t do anythin-, child' +e3re better off without her'< Amber was talkin- then, protestin-, but "aroleen3s thou-hts were of the brothers she couldn3t even picture anymore, the nieces she3d never met and who probably had children of their own somewhere, and her mother who was almost certainly dead by now' And there was everybody else, too, and not a lot of time' "aroleen was resolved to learn to write with her left hand, and, even thou-h it would hurt, she hoped her ri-ht hand would -o on and on writin- uselessly in the air' At last she stood up, still holdin- the phone, and she interrupted Amber) ;"ould you brin- back my car keys5 ( have some errands to do'<

T&# CULT OF T&# NOS# %l Sarrantonio

F(,ST #ENT(%N %F T.E "/0T in the literature is found in a tract of the Germanic heretic *acobus #esmus, which ( have dated to somewhere near FBG_ A'!'8 it mentions, amidst an account of an outbreak of pla-ue in the town of $reece, that ;a band of townsfolk had spied this day two fi-ures, a man and a woman, prancin- -aily on the outskirts of the villa-e, wearin- the feared Nose' They were driven out with fire clubs and a hail of stones'< #esmus -oes on to say that the appearance of fi-ures wearin- the Nose continues=sometimes there are two fi-ures mentioned, sometimes three) a man, woman and small child8 the te t is partly destroyed and confusin-=throu-hout the rei-n of the pla-ue, abruptly terminatin- with the last case of the disease, althou-h there is one cloudy passa-e toward the end of the treatise 4which, as a sideli-ht, deals mainly with weather6 mentionin- that a ;nosed person< was spotted in the church bell tower intermittently for some time afterward' There is, actually, a case for the "ult3s bein- traced to well before this time8 scant evidence and brief mentions e ist that mi-ht date it to the E-yptian dynastic era' There is a le-end that one of the noses itself was found in the burial chamber of ,amses ((, thou-h there is no survivin- physical evidence or corroboratin- testimony to support this' After *acobus #esmus, accounts of the "ult become more fre9uent' A fi-ure wearin- the Nose appears in one of $rue-hel3s triptychs8 there are several appearances of "ult members in the work of $osch, as mi-ht be e pected' There is also, curiously, an appearance of a fi-ure bearin- the Nose in a littleknown 4and by reason of the appearance of the adornment, thou-ht to be spurious6 paintin- by 2ierreAu-uste ,enoir) a tiny -rinnin- fi-ure, peekin- out from behind a child holdin- a red parasol, is seen wearin- a Nose utili&in- a strap to keep it upon its face' The story is that the youn- -irl in the paintinwas the dau-hter of #' Ebre&y, a prominent minister, and that the -irl died mysteriously soon after posin- for the artist' There are mentions of the Nose in the works of #aupassant8 Emily and "harlotte $rontp and, in the Americas, .awthorne and, 9uite often, in the later works of Twain' There is a false, and dan-erously misleadin-, conception that the Nose is a modern concoction, that it was not only invented for the foolish pleasure of children and childlike adults, but that it was promoted for this use alone, and for the further and more arcane uses to which it is currently bein- put by the modern "ult' (t must be understood that the Nose is not only an ancient instrument, but that its use can be traced back nearly to the dawn of recorded history 4see my openin- remarks6' The Nose has doubtless -one throu-h periods=it mi-ht be hypothesi&ed that these periods were ones of relative calm and social and reli-ious stability=where it has been rele-ated to the position of toy' (t has been determined, thou-h, that these times of tran9uility have always been rather brief, and, further, that the Nose has always re-ained its position of mysterious authority=and of feared nebulosity' Such a period is, of course, where we find ourselves at the moment' ( mi-ht add at this point that my interest in the "ult is not a recently flowerin- one8 ( have been -atherin- references to it and carefully formulatin- my theories for many years' F%, T.E ,E"%,!, #> interest was sparked durin- the wanin- months of the free world3s involvement in the @ietnam +ar' At that time ( was a special attachV ali-ned with a covert arm of

American intelli-ence, checkin- black-and-white photo-raphs taken by spies and insur-ents behind "ommunist lines=these were photos smu--led out of prisoner-of-war camps and such' ( mi-ht also add that this was a period in which ( was seekin- to for-et an unfortunate incident in my personal life) my youn- spouse, understandably lonely due to my len-thy absence, took up with another man and had a child by him' ( sou-ht solace by immersin- myself in my work' ( be-an to notice in some of the photos ( handled a recurrin- and curious phenomenon' .ere and there, tucked in a corner or peerin- out from behind a barracks, was a peculiar fi-ure wearin- what seemed to be a false nose upon its face' %ften the fi-ure was identifiably male8 at other times it appeared to be a female, or even a child' #any prisoners of war at that time, due to malnutrition and concurrent emaciation, were barely identifiable by their -ender=or their a-e=so it must be remembered that any sort of positive identification was difficult' #any of the nose-wearin- fi-ures appeared beside, or within 4thou-h they were apparently not dead6 mass -raves' ( put these photo-raphs aside, thinkin- that, thou-h there was little here to interest my superiors, there mi-ht yet be somethin- to investi-ate further' ( be-an to dream of fi-ures, birdlike, resemblin- $osch3s horrid hell beasts, wearin- false, beaklike noses' #y collection of photo-raphs -rew' ( reali&ed that as the scenes of horror increased=by this time we were receivin- covert daily pictures from death camps holdin- Americans and @ietnamese $uddhists= the number of nose-bearin- fi-ures increased' (n one photo-raph=one ( keep to this day folded in my wallet=a man, woman and child, in a lon- line of tired and bleakly hopeless prisoners, most of them in tatters of clothes han-in- on barely enou-h bones to stand, bein- led meekly to an open pit by machine -un?bearin- -uards, have turned their faces toward the camera, three in a row, and are smilin- a death3s-head smile' There seems to be a bit more meat on their bones than on those in front and in back of them' They each wear the Nose' %T.E, A"T(@(T(ES S%%N SA@E! me from complete absorption in the manner of these curious photo-raphs, and it was not until well after the war3s resolution, after ( had settled in #ontreal, far away from my e -wife, her son and husband 4who traveled e tensively6 that ( came across a small bundle of the -rainy pictures in a bo 4the above-mentioned photo was amon- them6 and all of my former interest was rekindled' ( be-an to search other sources=havin- a bit of influence, due to my war service, in bein- able to access materials not easily available by the public=and be-an to come across other photos taken in other sectors of the war in which fi-ures bearin- the Nose appeared' ( then broadened my research, and found similar artifacts amon- +orld +ar (( memorabilia' ( came across one precious bit of evidence 4alas, recently lost to fire6 that depicted a Third ,eich rally in which two separate nosed fi-ures could plainly be discerned' ( remember this photo clearly, because one of the fi-ures stood a few scant feet from .itler himself, and -rinned maliciously at the camera' Eventually, my interest once a-ain waned, until ( picked up one mornin- in F_`_ a 0ondon newspaper that contained a news-service photo on the front pa-e presentin- the dead body of the assassinated president of South 1orea, 2ark "hun- .ee' To the ri-ht of the body, barely visible in the deep back-round, was a fi-ure with the Nose on its face' ( immediately researched other photos that were taken at the time but came up with nothin- useful' .owever, another reference turned up in a photo-raph of a train derailment that killed forty-five passen-ers in %hio the same week) amon- the twisted metal a head could be seen pokin- throu-h with

the false appenda-e attached to it by a thin silver strap' The fi-ure it belon-ed to, which was surrounded by dead commuters, was clearly alive' ( be-an to comb picture mor-ues and newspaper files, turnin- up hundreds of photos with similar fi-ures in them' #ost depicted disasters or near disasters8 ( be-an to notice that the number=and demeanor=of the fi-ures often depended on the amount of destruction that surrounded them' Their faces -lowed with pleasure in ratio to the amount of mayhem and carna-e' This was by no means a strictly 9uantifiable thin-, but the correlation, in -eneral, seemed to e ist' #ost of these photos, unfortunately, have also been destroyed by fire' ( be-an to notice small, easily missed references to the Nose, or the "ult of those wearin- the Nose, in literature, and naturally broadened my research to include that area also, as ( have already mentioned' ( had apparently stumbled onto somethin- that had -one nearly undetected by the -eneral populace, somethin- that had stayed :ust outside the -eneral consciousness since the be-innin- of recorded history' .ere was a sect so arcane, nefarious and secret 4a kind of truly devilish Freemasonry56 that no more than widely scattered references to it remained, or had ever e isted' There were no prime source materials8 the only evidence to point to its e istence were the photos few and far between and a symbol =the Nose=so thorou-hly steeped in the -eneral notion of tomfoolery as to virtually ensure safety from detection' The ne t step, of course, was to search for the modern remnants of the "ult' #y task of discovery proved to be a lon- and difficult one' (t would take me days to recount the numerous blind alleys and dead ends ( encountered8 the false leads, misinformation 4deliberate, some of it6, the intri-ue, deception, the attempts 4yes6 on my life' For years, ( meticulously pored over each scrap of evidence that mi-ht at last lead me to the discovery of the true aspect of the "ult' Eventually, despite all attempts to stop me, ( succeeded' (N T.E S2,(NG %F this year my obsession led me to 2aris, where ( hoped to meet with a man under the pyramidic shadow of the Eilel Tower' ( was to wait at a certain cafV until three o3clock in the afternoon, and then ( was to ask the waiter to chan-e my table to the one ne t to mine' (t was a half-ray, half-sunny day in early April8 there were bree&es in the air that -ave hope of a comin- warmth mi ed with the threat of a 9uick return to a latent wet winter' ( had a coat and muffler on, and a black bowler hat' ( carried a folded umbrella' (n these thin-s, too, ( had followed instructions' ( felt like a fi-ure model in a paintin- by #a-ritte, felt ( should somehow be floatin- in midair above the redbrick shop across the street, stiff and sharp as a cardboard cutout' Three o3clock came' ( chan-ed my table, tipped my waiter for his trouble and waited' Nothin- happened' ( bou-ht a paper from a passinvendor, unfolded it before me and be-an to read' This kind of thin- had happened too many times before8 ( would wait another ten minutes and then make my way, undaunted, back to my hotel' %n the front pa-e of the paper was a picture of a man with a black bowler hat on and a false nose' ( heard the sound of the metal chair at the table ( had :ust vacated scrape across the patio floor and the man in the photo, in the flesh, sat down across from me' .e wore the Nose' The photo in the paper, ( now saw, had been pasted on' ;>ou follow instructions, ( see,< he said in clipped, neutral En-lish, the schoolroom En-lish tau-ht all over the world' .e did not wait for me to answer, but held out an envelope' ;Take this and continue to follow instructions'< (n the envelope was a ticket to a baseball -ame in New >ork "ity'

Two days hence found me in crowded >ankee Stadium' The seat beside me remained empty for ei-ht full innin-s8 by this time the home team had a commandin- lead and many of the spectators had left' ( took little notice when the seat was finally occupied by a youn- boy who had, ( surmised, come down from hi-her, cheaper seats8 it was happenin- all around me' (t was only when he turned toward me that ( saw that, under his ball cap, the boy wore the Nose' .e smiled crookedly, handed me another envelope and slipped away' The ne t weeks found me at a succession of similar rende&vous in public locations=theaters, restaurants, the 0ondon foo and 2iccadilly "ircus, a San Francisco streetcar' Always the pattern was the same' A messen-er, identified by the Nose, approached and handed me an envelope with a ticket, or a short, untraceable note in it' ( always did as ( was told' #y obsession had become a compulsion) ( was determined to find the source of the mystery' ( be-an to see false noses everywhere=in lines, in food markets, risin- suddenly out of a mass of people on a street as if the wearer had put a bo down and stepped up on it to elevate himself above those around him' #y dreams were haunted' ( would wake in the middle of the ni-ht callin- for the Nose to confront me and be done with it' ( had visions of my father and mother bathin- me as a younboy, bendin- down over my shallow tub and splashin- water on me, lau-hin-' They wore the Nose= -olden versions of it, tied with bri-ht red ribbons behind their heads' %ne mornin- in Seattle, +ashin-ton, sick from lack of sleep, ( hallucinated a man into my hotel bedroom doorway who bore a silver Nose in a tin bo ' The man himself had no face, only a blank oval of flesh' And then, abruptly, on the same day as this hallucination, the "ult finally made its secrets known to me' AFTE, T.E @(S(%N !(SS(2ATE! ( spent the entire mornin- in the bath' #y eyes were ti-htly closed8 ( sou-ht a wakeful kind of sleep' There came a knock at my hotel room door' ( i-nored it' The knock was repeated' ( called out tentatively, fearfully' ( was answered by a trill of tinklin-, insubstantial lau-hter from the behind the door, which ( had left unlocked' ( stepped drippin- from the bath into the livin- area in time to see the doorknob turnin-' ( waited for the man with no face to reveal himself a-ain' The door opened to reveal an empty hallway' ( dressed 9uickly, in my #a-ritte out=t=black bowler, umbrella, black laced shoes=and put my research material hurriedly into my briefcase, snappin- it closed with a :erk' As ( did so a picture, the one depictin- the fehrer and his nosed shadow, dropped out, to the floor' ( retrieved it, and now saw that there were more cultish fi-ures in the frame than ( had at first noticed' The platform on which .itler stood was filled by fi-ures with noses on' ( shoved the picture back into my case and closed it' ( took the mornin- paper from the table by the door' The front-pa-e photo-raph was of a -an-ster who had been drowned in his own bathtub=what looked like a false nose floated on the water near the submer-ed face' %n a hunch, ( moved to the window, and :ust cau-ht si-ht of a man, woman and child disappearin- into the entrance to the hotel, ei-ht floors below' ( was plainly visible, but they did not peer back up at me' ( strai-htened my tie' %n a hunch, ( turned back to the window and there, sure enou-h, were the man, woman and child' They had retreated from the front entrance to the curb and stood starin- up at me

e pectantly' The child waved' .e was the boy ( had seen at the baseball park, with the crooked smile' The man was the same one ( had seen under the shadow of the Eiffel Tower' The woman looked familiar also' The three of them wore the Nose' They reentered the hotel and ( turned 9uickly from the window and set my briefcase by the doorway' %n the table where the newspaper had been was a can of fluid' ( unscrewed its top carefully, avoidinthe sharp industrial smell, and be-an to splash its contents around the room' +hen the can was empty ( placed it by the briefcase' ( removed a ci-arette li-hter from my coat pocket and casually flipped it open' Flame burst up une pectedly, burnin- my fin-er, and ( was forced to drop the li-hter' (t did not -o out, but instead fell into the li9uid' The fire before me burst to hot life' ( was blinded momentarily' +hen ( re-ained my si-ht the room was fillin- rapidly with smoke' ( could hear voices be-innin- to build outside the window on the street, a few cries of alarm' The man, woman and child, wearin- their Noses, had somehow made their way into the room, and stood smilin- at me as they 9uickly bound one another with ropes' Gaspin-, ( -roped for the door, yanked it open and lurched out into the hallway and down the fire stairs' ( stopped before the door to the street to brush and strai-hten my clothes' ( heard screams behind me' 0ike the tinderbo it was, the cheap hotel was e plodin- into roarinflames' ( eased open the door to the street' Television crews had already arrived with cameras8 one of those pictures would undoubtedly -race tomorrow3s front pa-e' ( reached inside my coat to make sure that my ticket home to #ontreal was in place' (t was' #any of the reporters and spectators on the street wore Noses' A woman, wearin- the Nose, fell, screamin-, on fire, to the pavement in front of me' She was the one ( had seen in my hotel room' .er hands were still bound behind her' (t was at that point that ( reali&ed with shock that ( had left my briefcase behind' ( turned and, thou-h a wall of flames met me, ( went back' AS >%/ "AN (#AG(NE, it is very painful for me in this condition' ( cannot see throu-h these banda-es8 ( have not been told if ( will have my si-ht back when they are removed' And now, to my horror, ( find my testimony on the "ult of the Nose disputed' The literary references to the "ult are real, thou-h they are scattered with the loss of my notes and would have to be researched once more' %ther documentation e ists8 since the destruction of my valuable material it would have to be reassembled' ( am told that my one remainin- photo-raph, which was in my wallet, and which the unesteemed prosecutor contends ( snapped myself, that of the man, woman and child in line, has been tampered with, and so cannot be used as evidence in my defense) the death camp has somehow been doctored into an amusement park, and now only the child wears the true Nose' The others bear noses that, oddly, have been drawn on with a felt-tip pen, and it appears that whoever did take the photo-raph was hidin- in a hed-e, since there are branches and small leaves visible in the forefront'

%bviously, ( have been the victim of fraud and chicanery' $ut this does not discoura-e me' Nothin- does' +hy5 $ecause ( possess the most revealin- bit of evidence provin- the e istence of the "ult of the Nose' ( know, without a shred of doubt, that it e ists' .ow5 (t is obvious' $ecause) !espite all of the testimony that has been -iven a-ainst me here today8 despite all of the lies and accusations8 despite the spurious contention by the unesteemed prosecutor that ( set the bla&e in that ramshackle hotel deliberately, in order to murder my e -wife, her son and husband, merely because she left me to have another man3s child while ( was overseas, which, the unesteemed prosecutor contends, caused me to become obsessed, to track them for months, even years and, eventually, to murder them8 despite all of this, ( know that if my banda-es were removed8 if my ruined and melted face were restored and my eyes made whole8 if ( could look throu-h the inches of useless salve and acres of white -au&e that enfold my head=( know with certainty that if ( could do these thin-s ( would see, upon the face of each of the twelve of you who have -iven me this sentence of death, the Adornment of which ( have so elo9uently spoken'

&U$%N INT#LLIG#NC# (.rt %n ersen

.E F%/N! (T A0#%ST 2.>S("A00> 2A(NF/0 T% 0(E, which was unfortunate for someone who had spent most of his life as a spy' $ack when everythin- was proceedin- accordin- to plan, year after year after year, he had -otten a little sloppy, allowin- bystanders to see the aircraft in fli-ht, sometimes even announcin- to children and their childlike parents who he was and where he lived' +hat did it matter, back then5 $esides, he told himself, his openness created a rapport with the natives' $ut mainly it relieved his loneliness' +hen people asked his occupation, his standard answer for a lon- time had been ;a writer< or ;an anthropolo-ist'< $ut lately, once a-ain, he was respondin- to such 9uestions with a more dan-erous version of the truth' These -estures toward self-revelation felt e citin-, like precursors to intimacy' $ut he never put himself in real :eopardy' (n America in the twenty-first century, who was -oin- to be anythin- but charmed and amused by a well-dressed, well--roomed, intelli-ent, alert, friendly old An-lo-Sa on-lookin- -entleman who made a fantastic remark or two5 ;(3m a spy,< he3d started tellinthe curious with a smile and a wink, ;here on a lon--term intelli-ence--atherin- operation' $ut it3s super-top-secret, so if you don3t mind, that3s really all ( can say about it'< .e had looked like an old man even when he was youn-er because, early on, before he took up the postin-, he3d -rown a full beard to conceal the purple cross-hatchin- of sur-ical scars on his chin and upper neck' Now that he was -enuinely elderly, it pleased him that appearance and reality had come into sync' .e looked old and, by any standard, he was old' %ne less lie to live' %f course, if he told the whole truth, anyone but a lunatic would consider him a lunatic' Then the authorities would be notified, and even in this comparatively enli-htened era he would lose his freedom for the rest of his life' The pro:ect to which he3d devoted such vast time and effort=dutifully, yes, but with enthusiasm as well=would be for nau-ht' %n the other hand, with the passin- years that downside calculus had chan-ed' (ncarceration and IGK` -awkin- would be unpleasant, no doubt, but the rest of his life was lookin- like a mana-eably brief time' As for abortin- the operation, he doubted that anyone at head9uarters was any lon-er aware of him or his mission=if head9uarters still e isted' !oin- his :ob had become easier and easier over the years, especially with television and the (nternet=althou-h, of course, the promiscuous availability of information also tended to make his :ob moot' #aybe the pro:ect was already for nau-ht' >et he had continued to adhere to the four main directives of the contin-ency plan, almost as articles of faith) remain at the last position reported to head9uarters, maintain all necessary discretion and secrecy, continue to chronicle the people and their society to whatever e tent possible, and await retrieval' ;,etrieval< is the closest En-lish translation of the word in the orders, not ;rescue,< a bit of stoic bureaucratese he had come to resent ever since the crash' he -one native5 2robably'6 So here he was, livin- in a city now a thousand times lar-er than when he arrived, chroniclin- and waitin-, chroniclin- and waitin-, chroniclin- and still waitin-' After he read End Game and +aitin- for Godot at the "hica-o 2ublic 0ibrary one pleasantly fri-id afternoon near the end of !ecember F_D_, he wrote a lon-, elusive fan letter to Samuel $eckett in 2aris, describin- the two plays as ;perhaps the most profound works of literature since Shakespeare'<

!iscoverin- them, he -ushed, had ;made this "hristmas one of my merriest ever'< (n response he received a curt, -eneric form letter, mimeo-raphed, which struck him as almost funny' Since the strandin-, he has not been an outwardly :ovial man, but he3s never lost his sense of humor' $y nature and by trainin-, he takes the lon- view' And so he was more intri-ued than an ious when the little li-ht on the remote beacon had, for the first time ever, started flashin-' .e wasn3t sure e actly when the flashin- be-an, because he kept the device hidden at the back of a hi-h shelf in his bedroom closet' .e3d been checkin- it only once every month or so, -rud-in-ly, feelin- like a chump each time he lifted it down, pushed the test button, for the ten thousandth time heard the beep confirmin- that it worked and the connection was secure=Takes a 0ickin- and 1eeps on Tickin-H Nothin- %utlasts the Ener-i&er $unnyH=and then, after waitin- ten seconds for the flashin- si-nal that never came, put the thin- back up on the shelf' /ntil the remarkable evenin- of September FC, IEE`, when he first saw the throb of purple li-ht and shouted so loudly that his youn- downstairs nei-hbor called up to see if he was all ri-ht' Accordin- to the contin-ency-plan instructions, the li-ht on his bo could flash in one or more of nine different colors, each color correspondin- to a particular alert condition' 2urple means that sensors on the e terior of the station, I,GEE miles away, are now e posed to sunli-ht' +hen the station was set up all those years a-o, covered by do&ens of feet of ice even at the hei-ht of summer, its secrecy seemed -uaranteed' Nobody else, not 2eary or Amundsen or $yrd or free-ran-in(nuits, had traveled so far north' $ut for the last several decades, more of the Arctic ice had been meltin- each summer=and in IEE` the summer melt radically spiked, turnin- a third of the polar ice cap into open sea' The top of the station, a FDE-foot oval of tubin- and tanks suspended :ust beneath the water3s surface, must be visible' And now there are permanent research stations scattered all over the hi-h Arctic, and surveillance satellites shootin- hi-h-resolution pictures of every rod and furlon- of the no-lon-er-trackless wastes' +hat was takin- them so lon- to find it5 Seasonal ice may still -row back to hide the base in winter, but for each of the last three summers he has waited for the news bulletins 4.(G.-TE". ;AT0ANT(S< F%/N! NEA, N%,T.2%0E6 and the resultin- -lobal hysteria' .e does worry that the discovery will discombobulate people en masse=the ;unforeseeable cultural and ontolo-ical impacts,< as head9uarters3 boilerplate put it' $ut he also has a hopeful hunch that a critical, controllin- fraction of humanity had matured, and would, after some initial breathlessness, learn to accommodate the new facts' Selfishly, he3s also ea-er to see pictures of the station a-ain after all this time, to compare his ha&y memories with fresh di-ital ima-es' And althou-h it felt va-uely insubordinate 4to whom56, or even traitorous 4to what56, he was e cited by the prospect of everyone on earth learnin- all at once the truth that he alone had known for so lon-' AS .E, F0(G.T F,%# %slo approaches %3.are, Nancy fuckerman thinks once a-ain of the clichV uttered sooner or later by everyone who spends time in Svalbard, includin- herself) This is what it must be like to live on another planet' NASA actually runs a research station on the other side of the North 2ole, in the "anadian Arctic, where they simulate the conditions of a #artian space colony' She had always liked spendin- time outdoors, and when she was seven could stick a live worm on a fishin- hook and set up a tent herself' $ut it was the second (ndiana *ones se9uel, which came out the summer she turned ei-ht, that decided her on becomin- an e plorer when she -rew up' (n earlier -enerations, adults would have smiled at a little -irl who said she wanted to be an e plorer' $ut at the turn of the twenty-first century in $oulder, "olorado, adults smiled and patroni&ed little Nancy

fuckerman not because of her -ender but because her cute dream :ob no lon-er e isted' Fortunately, she was both colle-ial and self-reliant, a cheerful team player as well as a cheerfully independent loner' ;(f ( could be a superhero,< she used to say, ;(3d be totally willin- to be like a second-strin- member of U-#en or the *ustice 0ea-ue'< And so science in -eneral and her chosen field in particular=e ploration -eophysics, speciali&in- in the Arctic=suited her' She hadn3t minded spendin- the last year and a half on a postdoc in 0on-yearbyen, a town in the Svalbard islands, northernmost Norway, F,IEE miles up from %slo and CEE miles below the North 2ole' (t was and it wasn3t a fortress of solitude' .er fellow researchers and faculty were a cosmopolitan, caffeinated assortment of En-lish speakers from all over the world, chatty -ood company for the si months of perpetual sunli-ht' And Einar, a sin-le youn- coal miner who3d -rown up in Svalbard and had no idea how handsome he was, made the si months of sub&ero darkness tolerable, even thou-h 4or maybe because6 he spoke very little En-lish' She played s9uash, she swam in the indoor pool, she took pictures' She was attached to one team drillin- e perimental wells to store captured "%I in a sandstone a9uifer, and part of another pro:ect testin- the feasibility of thickenin- the polar cap by pumpin- seawater onto the ice and lettin- it free&e' Good data had been collected' Techni9ues had been refined' ,easonable pro-ress had been made' (t wasn3t heroic e ploration of the kind she3d ima-ined as a kid, but as she approached thirty she had made her peace with the e i-encies of incremental science and the real world' %r so she had thou-ht until a few weeks a-o' She was five days into an e cursion aboard the university3s si ty-ei-ht-foot research vessel, the !auntless, takin- a -roup of new under-raduates on a tour of the southern ed-e of the ice cap' Around two A'#' on the mornin- of *uly FF, unable to sleep, she3d -otten up and taken one of the motorboats out alone to cruise close to the ice, lookin- for polar bears to photo-raph' (t was warm, GCqF, the sky almost cloudless, and, of course, the sun hi-h in the sky' The sea was calm' Thirty yards from the ice, at the mouth of a recently formed inlet, she cut the motor and let herself drift alon-, sittin- cross-le--ed on the deck at midships, watchin-, camera and lon- lens at the ready' She was e plorin-' A half hour passed' Some terns flew over, but she saw no seals and no bears' +hen she heard and felt the thud, she fi-ured she3d struck a chunk of submer-ed ice' As she stood to investi-ate, the boat rocked freely in the water even thou-h it was stuck more or less in place, knockina-ainst some underwater structure to its left and its ri-ht' (t was as if the boat had slid into a marina slip' +hat the fuck5 She started probin- underwater with the tip of an oar blade, and a foot and a half beneath the surface found not ice, but what felt like pipe, a bi- pipe, a pipe with a diameter=she scraped and stroked the hard surface=of several feet' She climbed over to the starboard side to probe some more, and found an apparently identical pipe, runnin- parallel to the other' The distance between them was ten, maybe twelve feet' "ompletely bi&arre' A sunken ship5 Even the fleetin- thou-ht made her feel childish and silly' The water was a mile deep' No way a wreck could float to the surface, and ditto for stray len-ths of oil or -as pipeline' /nless, shit, she3d discovered some hitherto unknown shoal or reef in the Arctic %ceanH She had discovered somethin-' #ore to the point, she had discovered somethin-' 1neelin- on the deck, she started to use the oar as a push pole, leverin- it a-ainst the underwater pipe

on the port side to propel the boat back=shove, coast a couple of yards, shove, coast=toward the openin- throu-h which she must have drifted' $ut then, abruptly, the din-hy stopped movin-, cau-ht between the mysterious pipes' The pipes didn3t run parallel, it turned out, but came to-ether at an an-le, and she was now wed-ed near their ape ' She stood' The boat barely bud-ed' She tried and failed to pole herself forward' She was stuck fast' "rouchin- and leanin- out ne t to the raised motor, she stuck the oar into the water directly behind the boat=and found another smooth, hard underwater surface' $ut this was different, not a pipe but some kind of funnel' She used both hands to plun-e the oar strai-ht down into the funnel3s neck' She -asped as she felt the blade end of the oar bein- smartly, mechanically -rabbed, then slowly pulled into the water another foot' She let -o' The oar3s hand -rip protruded strai-ht up between waves' She stared down, bewildered' Then she was shocked beyond belief, and terrified' The ocean beneath the boat and in a lon-, narrow strip beyond be-an to churn, formin- into a FEE-foot-lon- tubular wave=but the very opposite of a breakin- surf, for this wave had depth instead of hei-ht, its crest not a peak but a trou-h ten feet below the water3s surface' She thou-ht of her mother and brothers, of her late father, and of the fact that she wouldn3t -et any credit at all for discoverin- this freakish inverted tsunami before it killed her' $ut the boat wasn3t swamped or sucked under, and the upside-down wave, instead of crashin-, :ust kept rollin- and rollin-' (n other words, a ten-foot-wide ditch had formed in the sea, with ten-foot sides of smooth water and a sloshin-, foamy bottom' Nancy fuckerman was sittin- in a boat suspended by metal pincers=the two bi- pipes, now fully e posed=at the top of this perfect, impossible ditch' As in E odus FG, the waters of the sea had been divided, the waters bein- a wall on her ri-ht hand and on her left' $ut even at that supremely dreamlike moment, Nancy fuckerman3s faith in reason and science was unshaken' #iracles are a function of i-norance, ine plicability a temporary condition' $y some mechanical means, a hundred thousand -allons of seawater were bein- sucked away to form a semicylindrical void' (t was ama&in-, but it was also like one of the rides at +ater +orld, off (-ID in !enver' She had the presence of mind to push the button on her G2S, and press a-ain to record the readin-) lon-itude FGq Gdr DBs east, latitude dCq F_r I`s north' And then she was vindicated=althou-h also freshly terrified=when a rubbery blue sleeve rose from the pit beneath the boat and wrapped itself ti-htly around the hull with a vacuum-packin- thrrrooooop' !efinitely a machine at work, not God or Satan' As the din-hy started movin- smoothly and slowly into the slot in the sea, she considered escape=she mi-ht be able to dive out past the ed-e of the slot and swim away, mi-ht make it to the ice and pull herself out of the water before hypothermia set in, mi-ht be rescued by searchers from the !auntless after they discovered her and the din-hy missin-' $ut curiosity kept her in the boat' As the machine moved her down into the mists and darkness, Nancy was careful to notice everythin- she heard and saw and smelled' She was an e plorer' T+E0@E !A>S AG%, .(S beacon=now out of the closet and sittin- on the coffee table in the livinroom=had started alternatin- a chartreuse throb with each purple one' "hartreuse meant that someone had entered the station' And the station3s mappin- console, assumin- it still worked, would -ive the intruders the precise location of the remote beacon' .e thou-ht of -ettin- rid of the device, leavin- it on the El or heavin- it into the "hica-o ,iver, to put the hounds off his scent' $ut then he admitted, once and for all, that he wants to be tracked down' .e craves bein- found' And so he has -otten all his documents and ima-es in order, the entire chronicle' .e has packed a

suitcase, and strai-htened up the apartment' .e has been watchin- cable news and surfin- the +eb constantly' Surely it is only a matter of time' $ut he3s surprised when the front-door bu&&er bu&&es' .e had e pected helicopters and floodli-hts and -rapplin- hooks and special-ops troopers in black visors and ha&-mat suits burstin- throu-h the doors and windows with automatic weapons and -as canisters, and had even practiced droppin- to the floor and puttin- his hands over his head' The %bamas3 .yde 2ark house is ten minutes from his apartment, which he3d fi-ured would make the brouhaha all the more spectacular' As he stands at the intercom speaker, he looks out the window down at 1imbark Avenue) cars drivin- past, people strollin- by and han-in- out as on any summer afternoon, no evacuation of the block, no emer-ency vehicles, no perimeter secured' The doorbell bu&&es a-ain' .e wonders if it3s the /2S -uy' ;>es5< ;.ello5< A woman, soundin- tentative' ;>es5< ;(3m lookin- for someone who, um, also lives at dC de-rees, F_ minutes, I` seconds north5< .e -rins, and bu&&es her in' %penin- the apartment door, he3s surprised all over a-ain) she3s alone, apparently unarmed, and very youn-' She e tends her ri-ht hand' ;(3m Nancy fuckerman'< ;.ello' (3m Nicholas +alker'< ;(3m a scientific researcher,< she says' ;From the Arctic'< ;,eally5< .e smiles, and motions her inside' ;So am (H .ow very fortunate' For the both of us'< T.E> S(T' S.E SETS aside the cardi-an he3d handed her, and e plains herself in a nervous rush' +hy she had been in the Arctic, how she happened to drift over the station and accidentally :immy the entry system with her oar' .ow she3d fi-ured, at first, that it must be some military facility, American or ,ussian or "hinese, but then, as she spent hours e plorin- the interior=the peculiar materials and shapes and technolo-y interfaces, the very peculiar 9uality of artificial li-ht, the unreco-ni&able written lan-ua-e, the ima-es displayed=how she had developed a new hypothesis' .ow she had photo-raphed everythin-, includin- the mappin- console with its one, tiny blinkin- li-ht in the middle of North America, and then, on her computer back in 0on-yearbyen, had transposed a lon-itude and latitude -rid over her ima-e to find the precise location of the blinkin- li-ht=GF de-rees, G` minutes, DG'FG`D seconds north and d` de-rees, BD minutes, GF'`E_D seconds west, South 1imbark Avenue between DBrd and DGth Streets, "hica-o' .ow she had taken a few thin-s from the station=includin- a small plastic picture of him, which she had :ust shown to a lady downstairs in order to find his apartment' She hands him the picture' ;#y -oodness,< he says, ;( was youn-' So youn-H< .e puts the picture down and turns to look at her' They3ve talked for ten minutes, yet she hasn3t asked where he3s from or what he3s doin- here' +hich is fine by him' .e3s in no particular hurry' She3s a little flummo ed' ;( have to tell you ( am incredibly e cited' This is beyond surreal' (t3s like (3m havin- a stroke, or been dru--ed, or -one to heaven' (t3s=it3s a new cate-ory of e citement'< She takes a deep breath' ;(3m also scared'<

;Scared5 %f me5 %h, don3t be' No, no, no'< ;No, scared that ( haven3t told anyone about any of this=not my collea-ues, not my bosses, not any -overnment people, not my mom, no one' ( don3t know what the rules are, but ( sure as shit haven3t followed them'< .ow interestin-' ;+hy have you kept it secret5< .e knows about keepin- secrets' ;+ell, ( -uess possibly ( worried that7no, (3ll tell you why' $ecause ( want to be the one who -ets to reveal it, to tell the whole story' To be, you know, Lthe discoverer'3 0ike "olumbus or #a-ellan or Galileo or Einstein' (3m sorry=do you know who they are5< .e smiles' ;>es'< ;$efore the rest of the world finds out and rushes in and pushes me out of the way, ( want to learn as much as ( can' ( want to be the e pert'< .e likes this -irl' .e will -ive her the -ift she wants' ;%h, *esus'< She reaches into a ba-, searchin- for her two tape recorders' ;#ay ( record our conversation5< ;%f course'< .e spots somethin- in the ba-' ;>ou found the -old5 At the station5< She blushes, and pulls out a half-pound -olden cylinder the si&e of a lipstick' ;>ou can have it back' ( took one, as a research sample'< .e strokes the in-ot with one fin-er' ;And you said you saw ima-es at the station5< ;2ro:ected on those bi- spherical monitors in the, like, office'< ;To the left and strai-ht back as you entered5< ;.undreds of pictures on those monitors, B-! photo-raphs, in color, of huts and houses and towns and farm animals and pots and carts and soldiers and children and temples, it looked like from all over the world, Europe, Asia, Africa=< .e hates to seem smu-, which he3s afraid is about to become his default affect, but he can3t suppress a knowin- smile, and interrupts her' ;( know' ( took them'< ;Shot from overhead, mostly, ( -uess with a very lon- lens5< ;(ntelli-ence -atherin- is supposed to be clandestine' And ( tried to minimi&e the .awthorne elect= people behavin- differently when they know they3re bein- watched'< ;A lot of the ima-es look e tremely old' /nbelievably old' Not the pictures, ( mean, but the people and buildin-s and so on'< ;They are'< She hesitates before askin- the ne t 9uestion' ;So, you were takin- photo-raphs all over the world before7before photo-raphy was invented5< This is precisely what she3d hypothesi&ed, that he must be at least two hundred years old' (ncredible' ;And movin- pictures as well=videos, more or less' From when ( arrived until the day the camera was destroyed' $y the time the technolo-y e isted7indi-enously, it seemed pointless for me to start up a-ain'< ;#ay ( ask your a-e5< This time it3s he who pauses, anticipatin- her reaction' ;The station was established in GI_, "E'<

She stares, sayin- nothin-' .er skepticism races to catch up with her astonishment' .e restates his answer, tryin- to help her re-ister the fact' ;( arrived fifteen hundred and ei-hty-one years a-o'< ;>ou3re si teen hundred years old5< ;Ei-hteen hundred and seven' +hich is fairly ancient even on my planet'< Finally, she thinks, yes) ;on my planet'< (t had seemed impossible, but it also seemed like the only plausible e planation' She tries not to hyperventilate' ;+here=what planet are you from5< ;+e call it<=for an instant his voice slips into an inhuman half hiss, half bu&&=;@ri&hon-il<=and then back to En-lish with no trace of an accent) ;(t3s a moon, really, which orbits a lar-e planet' +hich orbits our sun, of course' About si ty-two li-ht-years away' @ery close by, in the scheme of thin-s' $ut far enou-h, it turns out, that it made me e pendable'< Nancy says nothin-, and continues to stare' "an this be happenin-5 "an all of this possibly be real5 .e had ima-ined this encounter hundreds of times, thousands, even rehearsed it' ;>ou3re wonderin- if (3m insane, ( e pect' +ell, there have been moments over the years when (3ve be-un wonderin- that very thin-) Am ( mad5 (s this story=spy from another planet stationed on Earth and abandoned by his superiors, almost two thousand years old, undersea polar base=is this all delusion, some sorry old man3s schi&ophrenic -ibberish5 And when (3ve reached those moments of e istential crisis, this is one of the thin-s ( do, to prove to myself that (3m sane, that ( am who ( believe ( am'< .e picks up a pair of nail scissors from the coffee table and :abs hard into the palm of his ri-ht hand' .is blood is a kind of !ay-Glo oran-e, and as it drips from his hand onto the table it si&&les and burns the wood like acid' ;%f course,< he says, -rabbin- a tissue to wipe his hand and the wood, ;a skeptic would think this is a trick, some theatrical special elect' $ut you, #s' fuckerman, you have seen the Arctic station' And you found my picture there'< ;>es'< ;So -iven the evidence, perhaps ( don3t need to perform any further mortifications to establish my bona fides'< .e3s smilin-' .e really does not want to remove his eyes from their sockets, or show her that he has a bifurcated phosphorescent penis and no anus at all' ;( believe you,< she tells him' .e e plains that his -overnment established a system to monitor civili&ations on planets feasible for @ri&hon-ilians to reach, and that Earth was one of those FFC desi-nated planets when he embarked on his dB-year-lon- fli-ht here' The bi- ship carried four other intelli-ence a-ents headed for four other planets in the vicinity, alon- with their terrestrial stations in prefabricated pieces and individual e peditionary aircraft' A reconnaissance probe was sent to the surface to photo-raph humans, so that the necessary reconstructive sur-ery=remodelin- ears, removin- e ternal neck cartila-e, -ivin- his skin a convincin-ly soft te ture and pinkish tint, and so on=could be performed by doctors aboard the mother ship' .is station was installed beneath the polar ice' And, voilk, he was on his own' Sendin- a messa-e between Earth and @ri&hon-il took si ty-two years, so communication was impractical' .e spent si weeks each year doin- the field work=flyin- around the world, observinhuman settlements, takin- pictures, makin- videos, scribblin- notes=and the rest of his time or-ani&in- and distillin- his material' ;.uh,< she says'

;+hat5< ;That3s so much time for assemblin- and editin-'< ;+ell, yes' %ur productivity problem' >ou see, we sleep twenty or twenty-one hours a day' (t3s the sin-le thin- ( envy most about you' About people here, ( mean'< Eatin- and di-estion, he did not add, were what he found monstrous about humans' No doubt all intelli-ent species have their horrific and pathetic outliers, the psychopaths and murderers, the self-mutilators and televan-elists' $ut on Earth, every sin-le person chews food and swallows and shits, and it still dis-usts him' %nce each century, he says, a mother ship would visit to resupply him and take back home a copy of his meticulous multimedia chronicle of another Earth century' And by the way=every one of his first si chronicles received the hi-hest possible ratin- from head9uarters' ;So your people, back on your planet, were only seein- your reports of life on Earth a hundred years after the fact'< ;%r lon-er'< ;And you wouldn3t hear back from them for another hundred years after that'< .e shru-s' ;The speed of li-ht is the speed of li-ht'< At the end of his standard ei-ht hundredth tour of duty, which fell in the thirteenth century, he was to have been replaced by a youn- a-ent, and return to @ri&hon-il for a head9uarters :ob for another five hundred years before retirin-' $ut no mother ship arrived in FII_' No mother ship ever showed up a-ain' .e3s been waitin- ever since' And he never retired' The chronicle, he tells her, ;is rather absurdly up to date'< .e e plains that his people possess, by human standards, an uncanny ability to learn lan-ua-es, so that durin- his biannual field e peditions, the northern hemisphere in !ecember and the southern in *une, he could move amon- people inco-nito' +hen he was threatened with harm or capture, he protected himself with a weapon, a lon- wand, which temporarily paraly&ed every creature 4;e cept, oddly, marsupials<6 within IEE feet' .e used the weapon, accordin- to his records, B`B times in F,GGI years' Muite often, however, when his aircraft hovered for lon- periods at very low altitudes, people saw it and became alarmed' To demonstrate his peaceful intentions, he would -ive away tokens, beads and bits of -old' ;The way that poll takers,< he says, a little defensively, ;offer small cash payments in e chan-e for participatin- in a survey' (t was one of our standard protocols'< ;And the station was established in the Arctic,< she asks, ;for secrecy3s sake5< .e nods' ;>es, and for my personal comfort as well' @ri&hon-il is a cold planet' !urin- these hellish months,< he says, noddin- toward the windows, ;( -ive thanks every day for the invention of airconditionin-'< %utside it was almost ninety de-rees, but Nancy had put on his sweater' ;The re-ion of my birth is considered warm, and temperatures there are the e9uivalent of Fairbanks' %r were, anyway'< ;$ut so=why are you here now, in "hica-o5 +hy aren3t you in the Arctic5< ;$ecause it3s my kind of town5< She doesn3t -et the :oke' ;An accident,< he says' .e was wrappin- up one of his annual northern field surveys, havin- :ust revisited and filmed the lar-e (ndian city of "ahokia, at the confluence of the #ississippi and (llinois

rivers' Flyin- north, back toward the station, he suddenly lost power, and crash-landed in 0ake #ichi-an' .e mana-ed to -et -old, as well as the paraly&er, video e9uipment, and portable beacon=he touched the blinkin- device on the table=into the emer-ency raft' .is aircraft sank' ;%ur orders were une9uivocal=remain as close as possible to one3s last position and wait for7rescue' $esides, back then ( had no means of returnin- to the Arctic' So ( built a home in the woods and coe isted with the natives' Every so often ( brandished the paraly&er to reestablish my bona fides'< .e smiles' ;And (3m afraid ( never disabused them of their L+hite God from the .eavens3 idea'< ;$ut what about, you know, the Europeans, the settlers5< ;They came later' #uch later'< .e pauses, possibly for dramatic effect' ;Three hundred and fifty-si years later' ( crashed in February FBF`' +hen the French arrived, fortunately, they i-nored the stories the (ndians told about me' ( was :ust another supernatural character in one of the sava-es3 supernatural myths' Fiction'< ;So for food, you hunted and -athered5< ;( don3t eat' As such' #y body absorbs nutrients from the air'< This tan-ent makes him dread that she will ask to use his bathroom' .e has no toilet paper' .e tells her about movin- into "hica-o not lon- after it was founded, about buyin- what he needed with pieces of his -old, about workin- at odd :obs in order to conserve the -old, about losin- his video camera and paraly&er in the -reat fire of Fd`F, about the difficulty of employment in this era of income ta es and Social Security and -overnment (!s' .e has, of course, never sou-ht medical care from a physician, and has kept chan-in- residences so that nei-hbors don3t -et too curious about why he doesn3t seem to a-e, or die' This is his fourteenth apartment' $ut e cept for the years he spent up in +innetka, from the F_GEs throu-h the F_CEs, in order to e perience suburban life firsthand=;%nce an anthropolo-ist, always an anthropolo-ist<=he has lived in "hica-o since FdB`' They had talked for more than three hours, and Nicholas had awoken three hours before she arrived' .e3s -ettin- drowsy' ;>ou3ve told me almost nothin- about your planet,< she says' ;>our people, your history' +e have so much to talk about' So much'< ;+e do indeed' $ut if you don3t mind, perhaps we can finish for the day and continue our conversation tomorrow5< ;%h, yes, of course, yes, absolutely'< $ut what if he runs away5 +hat if he dies overni-ht5 Then she reassures herself' She had today3s recordin-s' She3d taken pictures of him' She3d photo-raphed the station, and knows its location e actly' Everythin- would be okay' She reaches over and touches his shoulder' ;Thank you' This is so e traordinary, ( can3t7words really don3t7thank you'< ;(3m pleased, too' E traordinarily pleased that it was you who made the discovery' (3m very, very lucky'< ;>ou3re lucky5 +ell, this is=( mean, (3ve won the lottery to end all lotteries, ri-ht5 (t3s "hristmas in *ulyH< .e chuckles, and the chuckle becomes, as he sits back, a full-throttle -uffaw' She3s horrified' (s he about to tell her that this has all been a practical :oke, a hoa 5 That he3s an actor in some incredibly elaborate reality show5 ;(3m sorry,< he says finally, still chucklin-' ;#y fati-ue has ruined my manners' (3m so sorry'<

;+hat5< ;There3s another part of the story you need to know' ( was -oin- to save it for tomorrow' $ut now that (3ve upset you, that won3t do'< .e be-ins by describin- his aircraft in more detail than he had before) small, :ust twenty-si feet lon-, a lar-e transparent canopy, landin- rails instead of wheels, and a thicket of navi-ational probes e tendinfrom the front of the fusela-e' ;+hen the people of the north, the Nordics and the 0apps and the rest, saw me flyin-, cruisin- at low altitudes throu-h their midwinter skies nine hundred years a-o, eleven hundred years a-o, what do you suppose they thou-ht they were seein-5< Nancy shakes her head' She has no idea what he3s -ettin- at' ;A flyin- slei-h, driven by a lar-e bearded man who had -iven them -ifts'< ;%h my God'< ;And a flyin- slei-h pulled by what5 $y nothin-5 0iterally unima-inable, so the array of antennae on the nose of the aircraft appeared to them as=what5< ;%h my God'< ;Antlers, on a team of flyin- reindeer'< ;%h my God'< She3s had three weeks to -et used to the idea that she3d discovered an e traterrestrial base, and that she mi-ht actually find a creature from another planet' $ut this=meetin- Santa "laus= is almost too shockin- to process' ;+hen people would ask my name, ( -ave the one (3d always used, adapted to the local lan-ua-e= Nikolaos, Nikola, Nicholas' And when they asked where ( lived, ( saw no reason to conceal the truth =Lbeyond the mountains of 1orvatunturi,3 ( told them, Lnear the top of the world'3 Althou-h ( don3t believe ( ever said, LAt the North 2ole'3< +.EN S.E A,,(@ES T.E ne t afternoon, he doesn3t answer the bu&&er' %h, "hrist, no' She presses a-ain' As she3s about to press a third time she hears his voice over the speaker' ;Nancy5 @ery sorryH "ome ri-ht up'< .as she ever been so thrilled5 .e3s still here, still friendly, his windows still improbably frosty' And she sees he has been scannin- throu-h his documentary videos' .e invites her to sit ne t to him on the sofa and watch on a small, black spherical device that reminds her of #a-ic d-$all' ;(3m afraid (3ve never fi-ured out a way to hook it up to the television,< he tells her as he touches the 2lay button' ;.oly "hrist, they3ve -ot soundH< Nancy says, embarrassin- herself' ;E cuse me' (3m an idiot' %f course they have sound'< She sees aerial panoramas of 0akota (ndians chasin- a bison over a cliff in the Sand .ills, :unks and -ondolas on the Ti-ris in $a-hdad, "hina3s Great +all half built' She watches and listens to sli-htly furtive-lookin- shots inside a bustlin- @ikin- tavern in northern En-land, men packin- a piece of bron&e statuary into a crate in eleventh-century $enin, a mock sea battle at the "olosseum in ,ome, a smilin- toddler in Edo speakin- *apanese directly to the camera, a tall beardless man deliverin- a speech in "hica-o in the summer of FdDd' ;>es,< he tells her, ;Abraham 0incoln'<

She is wonderstruck' She could keep watchin- forever' $ut after yesterday she3s more conscious of the time' $efore lon-, he would -et sleepy a-ain' ;( want to discuss with you, Nicholas, e actly how you3d like us to proceed'< ;+e can watch some more of this foota-e' +e can talk' As you wish'< ;( mean lon-er term' (3ll do whatever you say' (f you want, ( could take you back up to the station, and you could see if the people on @ree&-honk, @ree&7(3m sorry' >ou could see if your head9uarters has sent any messa-es to you, there, durin- the last seven hundred years' And couldn3t you send them a messa-e5< ;And then wait FIG years for a reply5 (f there3s anyone there to reply'< .e shakes his head' (f he could cry, he mi-ht cry' She says nothin- for a few seconds' ;+ell, if ( have your permission to tell your story to the world=( mean, if you prefer that ( wait until after you, after you3re -one to reveal everythin-, posthumously, ( would completely understand' (f you want to maintain your privacy, ( mean'< ;Thank you' Thank you' $ut while ( am very old, it3s true, ( mi-ht have another thirty or forty or fifty years left' @ri&hon-ilians have lived to be two thousand'< ;GoodH< ;$ut ( think you would find it a -reat burden and disappointment to be obli-ed wait that lon-, would you not5 And when someone else stumbles across the station in the meantime5< .e leans forward' ;(3m tired of keepin- my secret' All ri-ht, Nancy5 (3m ready'< .e3d thou-ht about sayin-, ;All ri-ht, #s' fuckerman, (3m ready for my close-up,< but fi-ured she probably wouldn3t -et it' She wipes away tears' ;( thou-ht ( was -oin- to have to convince you'< ;>ou know, my dear, (3ve had more than enou-h time to consider this'< .e lays out his thinkin-, his concerns, his plan' The bi--est problem, he believes, will be persuadinthe world that the Arctic station is not some kind of military base, that no invasion of Earth is imminent' $efore anythin- becomes public, he thinks it mi-ht make sense to -et ,upert #urdoch on board, possibly even offer him some kind of media e clusive, in order to keep Fo News from terrifyin- Americans unnecessarily' Nancy thinks he3s :okin-' .e assures her he is not' ;Now ( know this will sound corny in the e treme' Especially -iven the LSanta3 business' $ut ( believe the best way for us to create -oodwill from the outset is to describe what ( have in mind as, 9uote, LGifts to the 2eople of Earth'3< .e will hand over his chronicle=all I'G million words he has written and, ;far more interestin-, ( should think,< all `B,G_C of hours of video that he shot on every continent but Antarctica in every year from the early fifth century to the late nineteenth century' .e will tell everythin- he knows about life in our part of the #ilky +ay, corroborated by the library of te t and ima-es stored at the station' ;(t3s all badly out of date, of course,< he says, ;but it3s better than nothin-'< And he will -ive to the people of Earth his survivin- pieces of technolo-y=in particular the batteries that power the video player and portable beacon and Arctic station, all still operatin- F,DdF years after installation' ;( should think,< he says, ;that some bri-ht scientists somewhere will be able to reverseen-ineer them'< As she wonders how many billions of dollars his @ri&hon-ilian batteries mi-ht be worth, she feels a :olt of self-loathin-' ;This is -oin- to be unbelievable, Nicholas'<

.e smiles' ;0et3s hope not'< ;( mean, this will be the bi--est thin-7ever'< ;( suppose' ( do hope that people, anyway most people, will be -lad to learn, finally, definitively, that they3re not alone in the universe'< $ecause, he thinks to himself, ( know ( am ine pressibly happy that my loneliness is finally about to end' ;Nicholas5< ;>es5< ;#ay ( hu- you5<

STORI#S $ic)ael $oorcoc0

T.(S (S T.E ST%,> %F #> F,(EN! ,e Fisch who blew out his complicated brains in his 0ake !istrict library all over his damned books one Sunday afternoon last September' Naturally the place was a horror to clean, but ,e never really cared much about the mess he left in his wake' +hat pissed me off was the waste) each blasted cell was a story he3d never tell8 a story no one else would ever tell' ,e knew how to hurt himself and the old friends who loved him' %nly a few of us are now left' "ancer took .awthorn, .ayley, Slade and Allard that same year' The first three had shared di-s with ,e when he first lived in 0ondon' (t didn3t seem fair of the bastard to deliberately deplete what remained of our :oint memory' As ( said at his funeral ,e had more fiction in him than could ever come out, no matter how lon- he3d lived' A superb raconteur, he produced stories in every form, from dry, funny narrative verse to selfdramatisin- social lies' Novels, plays, short stories, comic strips, operas, movies, ,2Gs) throu-hout his career he was never stuck for a narrative' (n that respect we were pretty much alike and shared a kind of discomfort at our own facility' +e both identified with $al&ac, sharin- a fascination for *ac9ues "ollin, his sinister and ubi9uitous many-named master villain who set out to ruin 0a Torpille in Splendeurs et mistres des courtisanes' ,e discovered that most people prefer a -ood story and a bit of conventional pre:udice to honest ambi-uity8 they made their most profound life decisions based on tales they saw in the tabloids or on reality T@' That didn3t stop ,e tellin- the truth when it fre9uently occurred to him' Truth was always in there somewhere, even when he thou-ht he was lyin-' For all his later ri-ht-win- posturin-, he had, like $al&ac, a way of tappin- into poor peoples3 dreams and understandin- what they wanted most in the world' ( envied him his empathy, if not his ambition' There was one story he couldn3t write' ( think it was what we were all waitin- for and which mi-ht have brou-ht him the literary reco-nition he lon-ed for' $ut he believed 2aris ,eview editors could ;smell the pulp writer on you,< while as an editor ( re:ected stories because ( could smell 2aris ,eview on them' ( believed we were too -ood for the reviews even when we appeared in them' The conventions of -enre were staler in literary writin- than .arle9uin romances) e actly why ,e turned out to be the writer we most needed on #ysterious' +e were both si -two and shared the same colourin- and humour, thou-h ,e was already baldin-' ( -uess our differences came from our back-rounds' ( was a 0ondoner' ,e had been born and raised in +ri-ley, Te as, pop' F,IEG, about forty miles from +aco' .e3d believed everythin- they told him until he went to Austin where he found out how to doubt his small-town certainties, tradin- them for the snobberies of the /T literary enclave' !umpin- his provincialism a little late, he never lost his reverence for academia' Furiously cynical, he was determined to tell readers what fools they were to believe his stories' !espite this, he seemed oddly innocent when he turned up in 0ondon fresh from the /T campus via Spain, with the remnants of his :aundice, an uncompleted creative-writin- de-ree and a few sales to the American crime and sci-fi di-ests, to be dis-usted by our rates, even lower than the /'S', but deli-hted when we bou-ht whatever he wrote, at whatever len-th he did it' +hen we met we were both twenty-five' 0iterary powers like *ulie #istral had already called him the *ames #' "ain of his -eneration' An-us +ilson had compared me to Gerald 1ersh and Arnold $ennett' The ;di-ests< were the pulps3 attempts to look more sophisticated, with abstract e pressionist covers and cooler titles, but ( had -rown up readin- the real pulps with their powerful pictures and ravinshout lines 4!onna was a dame who dared to be different=1elly was a cop who craved to killH6' The 9uality of the fiction didn3t alter, :ust the presentation'

( found it hard to come in at the end of that era, workin- on the Falcon and Se ton $lake 0ibrary, but it had proved one thin- to me' There were no such thin-s as pulp writers' $ad writers like "arroll *ohn !aly and brilliant ones like !ashiell .ammett :ust happened to write for the pulps' #ostly their reputation had to do with conte t' *ack Trevor Story would write a novel for Se ton $lake then, with minor modifications, turn it into a novel for Secker and +arbur-' $y the time ( took it over, .ank *anson3s #ystery #a-a&ine was about the last of the /1 thriller di-ests and ( had some crackbrained notion to lift it away from -enre alto-ether and make it into somethin- addressin- the widest possible readership' $y F_CG there were few short story ma-s left and most of those were -eneric' They ran romances, military adventures, mysteries and sci-fi' To -et published and paid you had to adapt your work, usually by insertin- a clunky rationalised plot' That way you earned a bit as you learned a bit' +e didn3t want to write what we called En-lit-fic) the styles and themes of which came out of universities in sad imitation of the -reat modernists' +e wanted to write somethin- that had the vitality of -ood commercial fiction and the subtle ambition of -ood literary fiction, reflectin- the sensibilities and events of our times) stuff that would -et us hi-h with the sense of enthusiasm and en-a-ement of 2roust or Faulkner but with the disciplined vitality of -enre fiction pulsin- from every pa-e' A few of us talked about a ;two-way street< to reunite :unk, middle-brow and hi-hbrow fiction' Some people out there had to be as frustrated as us, dissatisfied by pretty much everythin- on offer, literary or commercial' For a-es people had discussed the ;two cultures'< +e mi-ht :ust be the -uys to unite them) writin- for a reader who knew a bit about poetry, paintin- and physics, en:oyed Gerald 1ersh, Eli&abeth $owen and #ervyn 2eake, mer-in- realism with -rotes9uerie and doin- it ele-antly, elo9uently' $y F_CB we were publishin- a few e amples in the di-ests and with $illy Allard and .arry .ayley, my two closest writer friends8 we made plans for a ;slick< 9uarto ma-a&ine brin-in- to-ether desi-ners, artists, scientists, poets, but of course the cost of the art paper alone made publishers shake their heads' Then 0en .aynes, the decent old drunk who ran it forever, proposed that ( take over *anson3s when he retired to live with his dau-hter in #a:orca' #arried less than a year, .elena !enham and ( lived in "olville Terrace, still ,ackman3s Nottin- .ill fiefdom' +e3d had our first dau-hter, Sara, and .elena, beautiful as ever with her pa-eboy chestnut hair framin- a heart-shaped face, was furiously pre-nant with "ass, our second' (3d been fired from 0iberal Topics, the party ma-a&ine whose wa-es (3d taken in spite of promisin- +inston "hurchill, when ( was eleven, never to become a 0iberal' So ( needed *anson3s money' #ore important, it would be a chance to do what we3d been sayin- we should do for so lon-' ( talked it over with .elena and the others' +hen ( went back to !ave and .oward @asserman, the publishers, ( made only three conditions) that ( decide policy, that they let me chan-e the title -radually and if our circulation went up they -ive me the paper and si&e ( wanted' ( would help them -et mainstream distribution with their more upmarket titles' ( convinced them ( could make their imprint respectable enou-h to be taken on by the hi-h-street retailers' Then ( -ot my friends busy' +e lacked a decent desi-ner but ( did my best' %ur first issue would not merely offer a manifesto, we would attempt to demonstrate policy=and we3d have a lot of illustrations, one of the secrets, in my e perience, of a successful periodical' They were *ack .awthorn3s :ob' .ayley started finishin- a novella he3d been talkin- about, a weird thin- in which the detective3s dreams informed his case' Allard be-an writin- us a new serial, full of broodin- metaphysical ima-ery borrowed from !ali and Ernst' .elena finished her alternate-world Na&i creeper' ( drafted my editorial about pulp influences on +illiam $urrou-hs, and $urrou-hs -ave us a chapter from his new book'

American beats and $ritish pop artists had somethin- in common with noir movies, our other -reat enthusiasm' Allard produced a -uest editorial ar-uin- that ;the space a-e< needed a new le icon, new literary ideas' ( did a short under a re-ular pseudonym and the rest came from *anson3s stable of favourites' All three of us were En-lish but had known little conventional upbrin-in-' .ayley had been orphaned by a bu&& bomb, taken a :ob on a local paper before bein- conscripted into the ,AF, studied metaphysics at % ford where he3d met Allard who3d been raised in occupied France with an An-lo*ewish mother who3d been on one of the last transports to Auschwit&, worked for the ,esistance as a kid then come home not to prewar #ayfair fantasy but despairin- suburban austerity, the world %rwell captured' After his conscription served in the ,AF, he did physics at % ford, where he met .arry' They both dropped out after a few terms, writin- features and noirish sci-fi stories for ma-s like Authentic or @ar-o Statten3s' Allard was 9ualified to fly obsolete prop planes, .ayley was a 9ualified radio operator and (3d done a couple of miserable AT" years before they abolished conscription about a nanosecond before ( was due to be drafted, edited :uvenile story papers, trade ma-s and Se ton $lake, so ( had loads of editorial e perience but little formal education' +e3d spent half our lives in the pub discussin- why modern fiction was crap and why it needed an infusion of the methods and concerns of popular fiction, all of us havin- sold a bit to the survivinthriller and science fantasy pulps' ( think we felt we knew what we were talkin- about, havin- been raised in the social mar-ins, thanks to one trick of fate or another, and loved surrealism, absurdism, French new wave movies as well as 2ound, Eliot, 2roust and the rest' (n common with a few other restless autodidacts of our day we loved anythin- containin- Gabin3s smokin- 'Bd, #itchum3s barkin- ' GD or +idmark3s -litterin- knives, all mi ed up with $recht and +eill, "amus3 Fascist "ali-ula screamin- ;(3m still alive< and the black bars crossin- the faces of Sartre3s .uis "los, emphasi&in- the prisons in which we place ourselves' (nto that mi we threw *ames #ason in %dd #an %ut, .arry 0ime, Gerald 1ersh3s Ni-ht and the "ity, $ester3s !emolished #an, $radbury3s Fahrenheit GDF, .ousehold3s ,o-ue #ale, 0odwick3s $rother !eath' +e3d met the likes of Francis $acon, Somerset #au-ham and #aurice ,ichardson at the "olony, read $eckett, #iller and !urrell in %lympia 2ress and -enerally -ot our education from the best novelists, :ournalists and artists of our day' Allard liked #elville more than ( did, .ayley preferred 1afka and ( loved #eredith' +e were a-reed that their lessons needed to be brou-ht back into contemporary culture via the popular arts' $or-es, too, thou-h his stuff was only :ust bein- done into En-lish via Ferlin-hetti3s "ity 0i-hts press' +e also thou-ht that fiction should be able to carry as many narratives per para-raph as possible, usin- techni9ues borrowed from absurdism, futurism and combined with new ideas of our own' +e3d thou-ht there were hundreds of writers dyin- for the chance to do the same as us, but thou-h a lot more readers welcomed what we made of #ysterious, contributors were slow in comin-' $y F_CD we3d at least laid the foundations of the two-way street' 2op art came one way, pulp the other' The $eatles and !ylan were doin- the sound track' They broke new -round and -ot paid for it, but most people had no real idea what we meant when we talked about combinin- ;hi-h< and ;low< arts, in spite of the two cultures bein- as popular a sub:ect in features pa-es as the bi- ban- and planet-si&e computers' +e wanted to rid pop fiction of its literalism, takin- e a--eration for -ranted in ambitious work, but were only slowly developin- a critical vocabulary, tryin- to brin- a deeper seriousness to the novel, but were still frustrated, reckonin- we were still missin- a piece in the e9uation' +hittlin- the title slowly down to one word hadn3t been enou-h' +e needed writers desirin- to emulate modern classicism to help build a -enuine brid-e able to take the wei-ht of our two-way traffic' (t took ,e turnin- up in F_CD to show us what we needed to convince readers and writers of our authority' 0ike Allard or .ayley, he wrote better than any other contemporary ( knew' .is sardonic style was deceptively simple' .e, too, was a $al&ac fan with a special love of *ac9ues "ollinK@autrin'

+e were almost e actly the same a-e' 0ike me, he3d supported himself since the a-e of si teen' .e3d climbed out of a family of father-dominated German "atholic drunks, droppin- out of the /niversity of Te as after sellin- a few stories to the di-ests which -ot him a couple of book contracts to fund the trip to Europe he felt was the ne t run- on his career ladder, which he planned with his friend *ake Slade, a fellow Te an "atholic and a master ironist' ( was only familiar with ,e 3s world throu-h what little fiction (3d read of *im Thompson or what he3d described himself in 2aine in "on-ress or The "linic' (3d certainly never been to Te as and only knew #anhattan' *ake3s stories had never seen print8 they were dry, sly and tickin- with the ener-y of une ploded bombs' ,e 3s were like .enry *ames on speed' Muick-mouthed contemporary clarity8 -ood fast fiction fresh off the calendar and with plenty of class' ,ooted in our familiar world' *ake and ,e had planned to write a mystery to-ether in Spain, travel around Europe for a while, then return either to Austin or to New >ork' $ut they hadn3t anticipated catchin- :aundice from bad acid in Spain and havin- to stay with friends in 0ondon until they could finish the book' ,e , havin- read about us in *uliette #asters3s N>T column, came to see me in the hope of raisin- some livin- money' .e also brou-ht some of *ake3s manuscripts and ( immediately knew we were in luck' Neither had come from populist traditions but they thirsted for pulp' They brou-ht the best academic ambitions to the sub:ect matter we featured' They were e actly what (3d been lookin- for, roarin- down from the other end of the two-way street and brin-in- a bunch of new writers and readers after them' Two for the price of one' #urder and the human soul' The face of society and the fabric of the future' Their intensity and intelli-ence lacked the hesitancy or vul-arity (3d re:ected when posh literary a-ents thou-ht they3d found somewhere to dump their clients3 awful bits of -eneric slummin-, neither did they stink of the creative-writin- class' Sociable, a little formal, a knowin- catalyst, ,e introduced me to friends he had known at /T, includin- the talented fine artists 2e--y forin, *illy "ornish and her husband, *immy, as well as others who were yet to leave Te as en route for #ysterious and 0ondon' At last we had a full set of talented contributors who could -ive us a substantial inventory, interactin- with increased -ravity, attractinother writers who added superb stories to our contents list, the best anyone had read in a-es, combinina sophistication and vitality taken for -ranted today but representin- a 9uantum :ump at the time and makin- us the most celebrated fiction ma-a&ine of our day' The debate was suddenly over' +e could demonstrate everythin- we3d discussed' That was what ,e Fisch did for #ysterious and the rou-hand-ready movement we3d always denied was a movement' +e entered a -olden a-e' Almost every story we published was antholo-i&ed' A -ood many won pri&es' ( knew of course that our little revolution would collapse rapidly once we achieved what we hoped for and our individual careers were made' ,eal life -rew darker after those -ood years' The first tra-edy was *ane Allard3s death on a trip back to the family home near Nantes' $illy moved to Streatham to brin- up his kids' +e drove over with our own to visit from time to time' Ne t, ,e took part in a poetry tour with several well-known poets, includin- the notoriously omnise ual Spike Allison' .e came back -ay 4no surprise to his friends6 and monstrously troubled about it after Spike dumped him on their return to 0ondon' %ur relationships were only :ust survivin- the divorces, rearran-ements and -eneral infi-htin-' 2eople :oin revolutions until they -et what they want as individuals, then start 9uarrellin- over the spoils, however ima-inary' ( was surprised by how many of our friendships remained intact' +ritin- mostly nonfiction, *ake settled down with a local -irl, !aisy An-elino, in 2ortobello ,oad, near our offices' ,e met "hick Archer, who was from #aine, at an S T # bar in 2aris' They fell in love, travelled for a few years, then bou-ht their lovely free&in- old house in the En-lish 0akes' The place couldn3t be more +ordsworthy with its hard, drivin- cloud banks brin-inrelentless rain, rewardin- you with bursts of sunshine, the whole fell movin- like a livin- body in its contours and shadows, over which ,e presided with a rather proprietorial air at his hu-e sittin--room

windows' Sometimes the wind bawled a-ainst the lon- scar of +attendale Ed-e, creatin- waves across the black tarn' >ou can see those landscapes, beautifully drawn by "hick in their #ary Stone comic' They3re still syndicated' Almost nobody knew ,e wrote that -reat, -ritty newspaper strip which made them more money than anythin- else and which e plained why their home smelled so stron-ly of wellloved wealth' ,e and ( still made each other lau-h uncontrollably, much to "hick3s silent dis-ust' This of course drove the sadistic ,e to increase "hick3s discomfort' ( suspect that3s why we didn3t -et invited up so often' .arry went to live in (reland with his !ublin-born wife, to look after her mother who lived on a miserable council estate :ust outside "ork' Stuck there, .arry -rew increasin-ly depressed and be-an a lon- book on Nietsch&e' ( saw him occasionally when he came to do research at the $ritish 0ibrary' *immy and *ill "ornish settled near the old mill in Tufnell .ill' .e wrote reviews, criticism for the 0,$ and nonfiction -uides' She produced commercial posters to supplement her -allery shows' %thers continued to -et novels published and e hibitions arran-ed with increased success' 2ete $ates disappeared on a cyclin- holiday in France' .is bike was found at the bottom of a sea cliff in $rittany' %ther -ood writers and artists came and went' "harlie ,at& :oined us as our desi-ner' ( performed and made records with the !eep Fi ' ( thou-ht we were e tendin- the 3CEs -olden a-e but really it was the end' ( continued to publish #ysterious but now it was edited by others as affairs and relationships collapsed dramatically across four continents' Gender roles rolled in every possible direction' Stable 9uartets became full orchestras8 ramshackle duets became rock-solid trios' (f you visited friends in San Francisco, you needed a complicated chart to know who was with whom, why, when and where' As he and ,e settled in to do the old Alan $ennetts, "hick now wore the sli-htly self-conscious air of a restin- chorus boy down from 0ondon for the weekend' ,e had e chan-ed his Te an bro-ue for a rather attractive "owardian drawl which disappeared on the few occasions he phoned home' "hick3s tones -rew increasin-ly clipped' They were models of moral ri-hteousness, so thorou-hly faithful that when A(!S came it -ave them no hint of an iety' They adopted a very superior attitude to everyone else, of course' And particularly, it turned out, to me' +ith three much-loved offsprin- to care for, ( weakly divorced .elena, married a-ain and moved across the street with my child bride, *enny' Thou-h ( had suffered with ,e throu-h his se ual transition and every minor treachery practiced on and by him, he chose to see my breakup with .elena as perhaps the most infamous deed since Eddie3s in !eath of the .eart' #y separation from .elena was reasonably amicable, ( thou-ht' ( was still supportin- everyone' (3d done it pretty strai-htforwardly' $ut the first time ( took *enny up to +attendale to see them and a -roup of friends they3d invited, ( thou-ht the murmured commentary from ,e would never end' (f 1im and !i Stanley hadn3t as usual conned me into -ivin- them a lift up from $ury ( would have -one back on the Saturday mornin-' ( was furious and very close to endin- our friendship on the spot' *enny talked me out of it' ;( love hearin- you and ,e tell your stories'< She -rinned' ;>ou3re such -reat liars'< ( hardly saw ,e or "hick for the ne t three years' "hick sent a card at "hristmas with :ust his si-nature on it' *enny sent one from us' $ut (3d had enou-h' ,e wasn3t the only moody bastard writinfor #ysterious and ( :ust didn3t have the ener-y to work at anythin- more' At least he was still sendinhis stuff in, via "harlie ,at&, the new editor' "harlie still saw him re-ularly' .is parents had retired to a massive house outside 1eswick, only a couple of miles from ,e and "hick' +henever "harlie returned to 0ondon, he had a new story or two with him' %r *ake Slade would -o up and brinsomethin- back' ,e knew the presti-e of publishin- in the ma-' The public saw no ruptures' +e were -ettin- more

praise than was probably healthy' (n fact, a critic brou-ht about our reconciliation' *ulie #istral, the N>T reviewer who had been our early champion, now lived about half the year in En-land' She threw one of her so-called A-list parties and we were all invited' The party was held in the hu-e rundown hotel restaurant she rented' *enny and ( were amon-st the first to arrive' ,e and "hick were already there, sippin- *ac9uesson from dusty flutes' ,e spotted me, came over and -reeted us with all his old, amused affection' The Great $i- .i as *ake called it' +e were embraced' +e were kissed' +e were mystified' ( was wise enou-h not to ask how or why this had happened but *enny found out later from "hick' ,e had come across a review written by .elena for Tribune, which had a circulation of about twenty' She had failed to praise 0ost Time Serenade, ,e 3s 2roustian parody, as much as ,e felt it should be praised' (t wasn3t a bad review, -iven ( knew she3d found the whole thin- pretentious and unworthy of such a -ood writer, but with ,e you were e pected as a friend either to praise him to the skies or not review him at all' Now ( knew why .elena hadn3t been invited and since (3d never made that particular error of diplomacy ( was back in favour a-ain' Then "hick came up and -ave me that look of wordless dis-ust, which was his way of maintainin- friendships when ,e blew hot and cold' ( was still unsure of him' ( was a bit unsure of everythin-, in fact, because *enny was :ust -ettin- into what she3d call her e perimental phase, which would enliven our se life and destroy our marria-e' Fourteen years youn-er than me, she felt she hadn3t e perienced enou-h of the world' ( have to admit our se ual e periments were funny to me at first' There3s not a lot of se ual pleasure to be -ot from hoppin- shoutin- around your bedroom havin- failed to wallop your wife3s bottom and whacked your own le- instead' ( had no instinct for it' Eventually thou-h ( was able to play the cruel Sir "harles with reasonable skill' A bit like fakin- an or-asm' Ever since we3d been to-ether *enny had a fantasy about me watchin- one of my friends fuck her' There were a thousand scenarios in her little head and scarcely one in mine' ( think ( used up all my stories while ( was workin-' ( didn3t dream either' ( needed a rest from tale spinnin- at the end of the day' $ut ( did my best' ( hated to disappoint her' ( had an idea of the scenario she planned one evenin- when ,e turned up holdin- a bottle of Al-erian red in one hand and his drippin- cap and overcoat in the other, beamin-' ;.iH< A wild -i--le at his own physical discomfort' "harmin-' %n his best and happiest behaviour' .e embraced us in his soft -i-antic arms' .e had some meetin-s with /niversal Features and wanted to stay for a bit' ( thou-ht the eveninwas to be a celebration of our reborn friendship' *enny was all over him, flirtin- like a fa- ha-, brin-in,e out all atwitter' So we dined' +hile ( washed up, she whispered in his ear' (t turned out *enny loved threesomes but mostly with her lookin- on fri--in- herself blind while waitin- to -et fucked by the least e hausted bloke' #ostly that was me, as ,e :erked off' That ima-e is no more appealin- to me than to you' After three or four ni-hts and days of this, ( realised that ,e was -ettin- most of his bu&& from knowin- "hick had no suspicion of what he was up to' %f course, to add to his own wicked relish ,e told "hick what he3d done with us' .e had to' .e never could resist a -ood story, particularly if he was tellin- it' %ur few ni-hts of passionless se had become a means of manipulatin- "hick' This time "hick cut us' (nevitably *enny and ( -rew further apart as our -ames -ot more fantastic' ,e had already been throu-h all that with "hick in 2aris' ,eal-life fantasies are distractions for a workin- writer' >ears before ,e told me that himself' ;(t3s as bad as -oin- to law' The story starts to take over' 0ike fallinin love' All sentimentality and melodrama' The scenarios are repetitive, conventional' All they offer are the comforts of -enre'< .e was ri-ht' Se -ames are more borin- than an A-atha "hristie novel' Anyway *enny, despite our investment in special clothin- and se aids, wasn3t -ettin- a bi- enou-h

bu&& out of my efforts' (t3s like horror movies or superhero comics, you either stop and -ive them a rest or you have to keep hei-htenin- the action' Even if the -ames didn3t bore me, our widenin- circle of ac9uaintances did' ( wasn3t findin- enou-h time alone' (ndividuals, couples, whole fuckin- communes -ot involved' (f they -ave me a -ood para-raph or two, ( wouldn3t have minded so much, but there was an infantile sameness about their scenarios' *enny and ( were driven further apart by what the courts call intimacy' ( tried to -et to see ,e and "hick on their own, desperately needin- to find out how they had rescued themselves from the crack of the crop, the smell of damp leather, the spell of repetition' !id you :ust -row out of it5 Sometimes *enny seemed to be fla--in- until some fresh variation on a familiar theme perked her up a-ain' She was a natural addict' (3ve never been seriously addicted to anythin-' So ( started tryin- to -et her off the habit' (t didn3t work' She made e cuses, started doinstuff in secret' ( hate ambi-uity in my day-to-day life' There3s enou-h in my work' A writer needs routines and certainties' +hat can ( say5 As well as losin- real intimacy with old friends, ( lost it with *enny' (n a half-arsed attempt to restore our earlier closeness, she told me some of her new adventures' Then ( -ot hooked for a while' ( started pumpin- her for more revelations' She owed me that, ( decided' They added nothin- but did become pretty chillin-' The seduction of undera-e -irls' Thin-s my friends liked to do' (t ama&ed me how so many women took the odd rape for -ranted' Too many secrets revealed' Friendships frayed' ,e came back in the picture' ( moved out' ( took my kids, whom (3d been missin- anyway, on a lon- trip round the /SA' (t made us feel better' To my relief we -rew back to-ether' Feelin- my old self ( -ot home, bou-ht a short lease on a little flat in Fulham, :ust when Nottin- .ill turned into a -entrified suburb' ( saw enou-h of *enny to know it was thorou-hly over' ( didn3t like what she3d done to herself' She3d dyed her hair bri-ht blond and her brown eyes had a va-uely da&ed, mirrorlike 9uality, as if they only reflected and no lon-er saw anythin-' She3d lost her sense of humour, too, and was into various odd relationships, still searchin- for the -ood life' +hen ( shifted the last of my stuff she made a halfhearted attempt to patch thin-s up' She wanted to have a baby, she said, and -et back into our old domestic routine' Even while she proposed this deal, a bloke ( va-uely knew was sleepin- upstairs in what had been our bed, where once, like 2roust, (3d done most of my writin-' From bein- a place of concentration in which ( conceived stories it had become a place of distraction, where real stories died' ( said she could keep the place' All she had to do was pay the mort-a-e' ;$ut ( love you'< She wept' She made an awkward attempt to remind me of the old days' ;( love :ust lyin- in your arms at ni-ht while you tell me a story'< ( was sad' ;(t3s too late, *enny'< Those stories were over' ( went up to +indermere, phoned ,e and "hick, but "hick was frosty' !id ( know ( had almost broken them up5 ( apolo-i&ed' ( said how much ( re-retted what had happened' ,e , :ust as distant and hau-hty, put the phone down on me' ( saw them in 1endal once or twice and in Grasmere' They wouldn3t speak to me' %nce, over his shoulder, ,e -ave me the most peculiar leer' !id he wish we were still deceivin- "hick5 (t made me shudder' +as somethin- wron- with him5 %f course ( lon-ed to be back with .elena but she3d settled down with a :olly Scottish chef and was doin- her best work' +hy would she want to chan-e that5 Even thou-h our pillow talk inspired a couple of shorts, ( really hated havin- been part of *enny3s daisy chain' Some of those people ( never wanted to see a-ain, others ( needed distance from8 ( wasn3t ready to see "harlie ,at& or *onny Fowler yet' 2ete was still missin- in France, presumed dead' ( -ave up any interest in #ysterious, which was now doin- fine without me, bou-ht a house near (n-leton, +est >orks, and settled in first with Emma #acEwan, who couldn3t stand the rain and cold, and then started seein- a local woman who disapproved of central heatin-' ( desperately hoped to restore my friendship with ,e , even after ( met 0ucinda, to this day the love of my life' 0u found my obsession weird, (

know, until she eventually met ,e in 0eeds, at a Ted .u-hes literary weekend we3d all been invited to' 0u3s teena-e dau-hter loved ,e 3s work and wanted him to auto-raph her books' She was too shy to ask him, so 0ucy, her fair hair flyin- and blue eyes bla&in-, marched up to the table where he was sittin- and said) ;( -ather you3re #ike3s old friend' +ell, (3m his new wife and this is my dau-hter, who3s read most of your work and loves it' ( think it3s pretty -ood, too' So what about some auto-raphs and while you3re at it why don3t you two shake hands5< And, that bein- :ust one of her powers, we did' 0ater at the bar ,e told me "hick blamed me for the infamous ;seduction'< At that idea we continued to lau-h for the rest of the day, until the ne t, when "hick turned up, -larin- when he saw us, and 0ucinda, nearly si feet herself, took him in hand as well' ;(t3s all over,< she said' ;(f you3re -oin- to blame anyone, blame that poor, barmy bitch *enny' She -ot you all involved in her folly and now look at you'< And when "hick -rumbled that ,e was still seein- *enny, which surprised me, 0u said) ;+ell, she3s poison as far as ( can tell, and he doesn3t need her now he has #ike back'< "hick teared up then' .e told her ( was the best friend ,e had ever had but ( had betrayed them both' +hich a-ain ( admitted' And the followin- weekend 0u and ( went up and stayed with them' %n our way home she said) ;>ou two could make *eremiah roll about on the floor lau-hin- himself sick'< ( didn3t know why ,e went on seein- *enny, unless he simply en:oyed woundin- "hick' .e still had that cruel streak in him' "hick and ( talked about it' "hick thou-ht it had to be directed at him, too' .e -uessed *enny was a substitute for me, especially when ,e dropped *enny so soon after we were reconciled' She still phoned him' ( saw *enny myself a few times after that' She seemed more her old self in some ways' She3d had twins and was livin- with her mother in +orthin-, on the Susse coast' She had the washed-out look of so many sin-le mothers, said she was happy, if poor, and even su--ested my ;se ual conservatism< had dulled me down' Ne t time ( bumped into her in 1ensin-ton .i-h Street she was a-ain pale, overpainted, dyed up' She looked as if all the vitality had been sucked from her' ( thou-ht she was doin- :unk' .er eyes were back to blank' +as she livin- in 0ondon5 !id she have someone5 She lau-hed and looked even more devitali&ed' ;None of your business,< she said' ( couldn3t ar-ue with that' %f course, ( was curious to know what she and ,e had been up to' ( -uessed she hadn3t accepted that he3d dropped her' At a party in $ri-hton a year or two later she looked worse than ever, clin-in- to ,upert .erbert, one of those new 0ow Tories on the Spectator' #ore makeup, too blond and -ettinthrou-h a packet of Gauloises a minute' ( did really feel sorry for her' Then ,e turned up and snubbed her so royally he pissed me off, so ( made a point of -oin- over to talk to her but she snubbed me in turn' 0ucinda came over and murmured ;poor bitch< and meant it' $etween us the #ysterious crew had ruined a nice, unima-inative -irl, she thou-ht' Not entirely fair' >ou could hear *enny over the -eneral bu&& talkin- about some famous film producer she3d lived with' .e3d been the one who bou-ht The @ices of Tom from ,e and then turned it into that pot of toss' ;The bastard7,< she was sayin-' >ou could -uess the rest' #aybe 0u was ri-ht' For the ne t ten years or so life settled into routines nobody felt like messin- with thou-h ,e -rew increasin-ly unreasonin- in his ar-uments with editors, then publishers, then a-ents until almost nobody would work with him' .is books didn3t sell enou-h for any editor to bother keepin- him sweet' .e took offence easily and fre9uently and, throu-h his ven-eful verse, publicly' "hick said he could no lon-er mana-e him' ( would have thou-ht this a -ood thin-' ( believed "hick3s natural leanin-s towards convention and literary respectability pushed ,e away from his savin- self-mockin- vul-arity' $al&ac and @autrin were less his models than 2roust or Albertine' .is work seemed to apolo-ise for itself' .e lost his popular touch without -ainin- critical presti-e' %nly #ary Stone went on makin- money for them' .is short stories came out less fre9uently, but he kept his habit of phonin- and often readin- the

whole thin- to you' And he still en:oyed inventin- a story when he -ot your answerin- machine' ;%h, ( know what you3re doin-' >ou3ve met that -ood-lookin- farmer a-ain and -one bad-er watchin- with him'< /sually the time would be up before he could complete his fantasy' .is new novels tended to peter out after a few chapters' (3d -et frustrated and consider continuin- them for him' They were wonderful ideas' %ccasionally they would reemer-e when a way of tellin- them occurred to him' .is aptitude for ironic narrative verse never left him' (3d labour for hours to -et anythin- close to what usually took him minutes' "hick helped him develop his taste for classical music, which is how he came to write his three operas, one of which he based on 1ersh3s The $ra&en $ull and another on $al&ac3s (llusions 2erdue but he became snobbish about popular music or he3d have written some -reat lyrics' ( used a few of his verses in my own music stuff' ( inserted another into one of my hack thrillers, its redeemin- feature' .is only opera to reach the sta-e was a version of Firbank3s "ardinal 2irelli' ,e deli-hted in upsettin- "atholics, althou-h his attacks meant little to most of us' Then, as we limped into our si ties, we be-an to suffer from real illnesses, as opposed to passinscares' ,e was diabetic, arthritic' "hick was the first of us to be dia-nosed with cancer' ( think it was colon, he wouldn3t say' Even ,e refused to betray him on that occasion' .is sur-ery seemed to cure him' +e heard *enny survived a stroke' $y that time she hardly saw any old friends' +hen she had an operation, (3m not sure what for' ,e didn3t speak of the years when he3d seen her re-ularly, even as we -rew closer than ever, all livin- up in those northern hills, from Todmorden to 1endal' .arry, of course, was still in (reland' $illy Allard went to "orfu after his children -rew up' 2ete continued to be presumed dead' 2e--y foran returned to New >ork and was very successful' The "ornishes moved to 1irkby 0onsdale' ( had a hernia operation which went wron-' $ad stitchin- cut off an artery and caused problems in my le-' ( couldn3t walk or climb anymore' ,e 3s diabetes was complicated by drinkin-' "hick successfully -ot him on the wa-on' (n IEED, while we were at our place in 2aris, ( -ot an e-mail from ,e referrin- casually to "hick3s return to Airedale General, so ( phoned the hospital at once' ;(t3s spread a bit,< "hick said' ;(3ll be out in a few days'< So we flew home and drove over' "hick had lost a lot of wei-ht' .e was -hastly white but ,e pretended nothin- was wron-' A lot of sur-ery was involved' "hick started a short story called ;%ver the 1nife'< .e showed it to us' @ery mystical and sardonic' .e -ot me to ask *ack .awthorn if he3d take over #ary Stone, but *ack wasn3t up to it' The ne t thin- we knew he was admitted a-ain and we made the first of several trips to Skipton' "hick was bitter about friends who couldn3t find time to visit or phone' ;%r send a bloody .allmark card and a bunch of fuckin- flowers'< ,e , sometimes there when ( was, echoed all this' ( did what ( could to make friends visit' @ery few did' 2eople were fi-htin- to keep some sort of income, ( suppose' At the hospital we made the usual :okes, complimented "hick on his coura-e' .e found this amusin-' ;>ou3re :ust thankin- me for not makin- you feel bad' (t3s easy to be brave when everyone3s attention3s focused on you'< .e could do the best wan smile, remembered ,e , -i--lin- later' "hick asked us to stop sendin- flowers' The smell reminded him too much of funerals' ( remembered my mother makin- the same complaint' ,e was still pretty much in denial' +ho could blame him5 .is responses became more and more monosyllabic, either because he didn3t want to cry or because he didn3t want to be reminded of what was happenin-' .is partner of nearly forty years, however, spoke more freely' .e had so little time' Subse9uent operations were done to ;repair< his intestines' +hen he went home he was only there for a matter of weeks, even days, before they sent him back a-ain' Another series of sur-eries was proposed but "hick refused any more' .e wanted to die with a semblance of di-nity' A 9uietly practicinAn-lican for some years, he was ready to -o' ( asked if he was scared' ;(n a way,< he said, ;as if ( were -oin- for a :ob interview'< .e chiefly needed promises that we3d keep an eye on ,e , make sure he paid bills, had repairs done, all the :obs "hick had taken on so ,e could write without worry' ;( know it3s hard, but you3re the best friends he has'< A kind of blackmail' ( didn3t resent it' .e probably said the same to others' ;.e mustn3t start drinkin-' .e won3t look after the place unless you pester him'

There3s still a bit on the mort-a-e' .e3ll let the pool -o' #ake sure he -ives you a key' %h, and he has a -un' Get the bullets if you can' >ou know what a drama 9ueen he can be'< Ne t time we saw him he had written out a list in his educated American hand' +here the stopcocks were, what needed waterinwhen, the names and numbers of the oil-delivery people, the -as and electricity people, the best plumber, the most reliable electrician' Their handyman, the local rates office) all the details of their domestic lives' +e promised to do all we could' .is thin, -rey face with its -rey toothbrush moustache became earnest' ;(n spite of anythin- ,e says5< +e promised' ;%r anythin- he tells you5 %r ( tell you5< This was pu&&lin-, but we a-reed' %nce he had our promises, he drew a lon- breath' Then) ;>ou know, don3t you, what he was doin- with *enny5< ;+e don3t want to'< 0ucinda spoke before ( could answer' %f course ( wanted him to tell me' ;%kay'< "hick turned on his pillows' ;2robably :ust as well'< 0u and ( drove home in unspeakin- silence' "hick died a few days later' (n late Au-ust many friends were on holiday and couldn3t make it to the funeral' ,e blamed them, of course' (f "hick3s frail old dad could make the trip, then surely75 ( went to stay with him' .e was da&ed' .e3d found "hick3s diaries before we could' ;( never realised what he -ave up' +hy he was so unhappy'< ( pointed out that :ournals are almost always misleadin-' +e use them to record miseries, frustrations of the moment, an-er we don3t want to put into the air' +e didn3t need them when we were content' $ut he refused to be comforted' .e had failed "hick' That3s all he had to say' .e was drinkin- a-ain' ,e was very particular about the funeral, insistin- we wear what he called ;full mournin-,< which meant black hats and veils for women, suits and ties for men' There were only seven of us in the Grasmere cemetery where "hick wanted to be buried' ,e bore his -rief throu-h his familiar hau-hty dis-uise' 0ucinda had or-ani&ed the funeral meats, such as they were' ,e had insisted on everythinbein- simple' "hick had wanted the same' After we had all -one to bed or home, ,e sat down in his study and phoned everyone who hadn3t been able to make it' (f they didn3t pick up, he left messa-es on their machines' Not the usual whimsical tales' .e told them what he and "hick had always said behind their backs about their lack of talent, their u-ly child, their -i-antic e-o, their terrible cookin-, their bad taste' +hen ,e hurt, everyone -ot hurt' Ne t day, hi-h on his own ven-eance, he told me in a series of vi-nettes what he3d done' Some of the people phoned me ne t' #any were in tears' Almost all tried to for-ive him' Several wanted to know if he was ri-ht' #y dau-hter "ass had -iven him .elena3s re-ards and been snubbed so badly by ,e she was still cryin- when she -ot throu-h to me' She was readier to for-ive him than ( was' About a week later, while 0u visited her hypochondriacal mother, ( went over to see how ,e was doin-' .e3d been drinkin- heavily' ;(3m -lad you came,< he said' ;( wanted you to know about a favour ( did you a few years back'< ( cooked us dinner, after which he told me what he3d done for me' .e was sure (3d be pleased, he said' ( didn3t know who he was mockin-' Gaspin- and yelpin- with pain from the arthritis brou-ht on by the boo&e, he poked up the fire and poured us co-nacs' Then he started with the slow, dramatic relish he reserved for his readin-s' ( suppose you could call it a reven-e tale, with all the elements he en:oyed in $al&ac and the *acobeans' Soon after *enny and ( split up, and blamin- her for ;lurin-< him into the threesome with which he had taunted "hick, ,e became, in his words, her confessor, su--estin- ideas to her for se ual adventures, often helpin- her make specific contacts and introducin- her to what he called his list of ;forty famous perverts'< .e had sometimes accompanied her to dinners and parties, encoura-in- her to risks she3d never have dared take on her own' ;( drove her farther and farther down that road, #ike' >ou3d have loved itH +henever she faltered

( was there encoura-in- her to stay the course' ( told her heroin wasn3t addictiveH< 40uckily he3d only been able to persuade her to snort it'6 ;( convinced her she was a natural whore' ( became her best friend, :ust as @autrin took Emma under his win-H< That terrible, self-approvin- chuckle followed as he sat there in his bi- leather chair overlookin- the darkenin- fell, starin- in sardonic satisfaction at the sky, speakin- in the tones of measured mockery usually reserved for his satirical verse' ;( knew you wanted to do it but couldn3t' So ( took your reven-e for you, #ikeH< ;*esus, ,e ' She didn3t deserve7( would never7< ;%h, #ike, you know what she deserved' >ou3d never do it, but @autrin could, eh5 ( learned the lessons of $al&ac better than you ever didH< At that point, as the world -rew darker and the fire reflected on his face, he was every inch $al&ac3s monster, apparently completely mad' ( felt physically sick, concerned for his sanity, deeply sorry for *enny' ( wondered if 0ucinda had -uessed what had -one on' +as that why she had refused to let "hick tell us anythin-5 ,e relished every revelation' Gi--lin-, he e plained how he persuaded her to do somethin- particularly demeanin-' ( was no sadist but of course he was' .e could hate women' .e went on for a-es, offerin- chapter and verse, names, places, brin-inall the horror and misery back' .e e plained little mysteries, offered anecdotes, conse9uences, a whole catalo-ue of betrayal' "hick could not have known the half of it' ( wanted to walk out on him there and then but ( was too fascinated' $esides, ( had promised "hick ( would stand by ,e ' ( couldn3t abandon him' This was ,e 3s way of bein- my friend' ( knew how much he relished reven-e' .e sincerely believed others merely pretended not to take the same pleasure in it' ( had promised to stay the ni-ht' $y the time ( went to bed, ( had nothin- to say to him' ( knew how kind he could often be, how kind he had been to *enny' ( could hardly ima-ine such complicated, elaborate cruelty' Around three A'#' ( took a couple of sleepin- pills and woke up at ei-ht on a wonderful sunny mornin-' /nder a clear -rey-blue sky the -ranite -littered and the -rass -lowed' ,e was down in the bi-, stone-fla--ed kitchen makin- breakfast' ( ate it as if it mi-ht be poisoned' Standin- in his drive beside my car, ( hu--ed him' ;( love you, ,e ,< ( said' And ( did, even at that moment, when ( could barely look at him' .e paused, appearin- to consider this' Then he teared up, makin- that muted hummin- sound ( became used to hearin- when he searched for an appropriate word, the little smack of his lips and intake of breath when he3d found it' ;( love you, too,< he said at last' ( -ot home that afternoon' (3d had to pull over twice to collect myself' 0ucinda was still out' (3d hoped so much she would be home before me' The messa-e li-ht was flickerin- on the phone' ( had a sickenin- premonition somethin- had happened to her' $ut it was ,e soundin- dramatically cheerful, a sure si-n he3d been drinkin-' ;.i, #ikeH ( know you3re off rattin- with your friend the vicar and your *ack ,ussells' "learly you3ve no time to spend for poor old ,e 7< And so on until the machine cut him off' ( was relieved (3d taken lon-er -ettin- home' +hen 0u finally arrived with fish and chips from the local, she was too full of her own frustrations with her mother to notice my mood so ( e plained how ( was tired from stayin- up all ni-ht with ,e ' +e saw a bit more of ,e after that' $ecause ( would never know anythin- different, ( decided to treat most of what herd told me that ni-ht as an elaborate fiction' ( was probably ri-ht' A couple of months later, as if he had been practicin- on me with the *enny story, he be-an writin- a-ain' At first ( was relieved, but we eventually realised he was unable to finish anythin-' .e had lost his -ift for narrative, his sense of the future' +e did all we could to encoura-e him, to keep him en-a-ed' The ideas themselves were as brilliant as ever' .e phoned to read me a couple of openin- para-raphs over the answer machine and they were so -ood, so typical of ,e at his best, 0ucinda wouldn3t let me erase them' +hen ( was home he mi-ht read several pa-es, even a chapter' $ut two chapters were the most he could mana-e of anythin-' "hick had always been the one to help with construction' After ( stopped

editin- he wouldn3t let me do it anymore' .e claimed "hick3s diary had left him unable to complete a story' ;#aybe because ( know how it finishes' .ow they all finish'< ,e had spent his whole life tellin- stories' There wasn3t much ( could say' .e was still writinnarrative verse and every fortni-ht or so he would phone a-ain with the start of a new story, still leavin- it on the machine if we weren3t in' Then his troubles be-an to increase' 2honin- him ( learned how he was threatened by the @AT authorities because of his failure to send in his forms or how a builder had -one off on a second :ob in the middle of fi in- the library roof, how rain was drenchin- his books' (3d -o over and do what ( could but eventually (3d have to return home' ( felt horribly -uilty, recallin- my promise to "hick' Not that ( failed to remind ,e of what "hick had mentioned, but ( couldn3t be there the whole time' %ften he seemed to resent our help' ( suppose the bo ed wine he bou-ht by mail order didn3t help' .e ate a lot, but badly for a diabetic, and for all the various domestic disasters, which his friends coped with pretty well amon- us, thin-s appeared to improve with time' (f anythin- his -rasp on reality seemed to stren-then' .e broke down less and be-an -oin- to a few parties and conferences' .e made his peace with the friends he3d insulted and was mostly for-iven' %ptimistically, we spoke of him as becominhis old self a-ain' .e was introspective in a positive way' +hen another Au-ust came round he seemed pretty positive' .e mi-ht start off feelin- miserable but conversation soon cheered him up' +e3d share a piece of -ossip or make fun of a -ood friend' That was how we were' .e :oked about "hick, too' ( saw that as another si-n of healin-' 0ucinda could always tell who was on the phone because of the lau-hter' ( spoke to him on the first #onday in September' .e was drunk, but no more than usual' .e3d sent me an e-mail, he said' This was unusual' .e hated e-mail as a rule' So ( went to my 2" and there it was' ,e rarely offered that amount of self-revelation and this had the feel of a continuin- conversation, maybe with himself' (t knocked me back a bit' So much that ( made plans to see him the followin- weekend' (t was as short as it was shockin-) ;The story ( never wrote was the story of my life, my unhappiness at failin- to convince my father of my worth' ( tried so hard, but ( never had the coura-e or the method to tell that story' ( wrote to impress' The verses always had to be witty, the prose clever' >ou remember me tellin- you, when we were youn-, how scared ( was about droppin- my -uard' Truth wasn3t as important as success to me' ( needed to impress the people my dad approved of' Nobody else3s opinion meant much' Either he saw me in the Saturday Evenin- 2ost or ( simply didn3t e ist as a writer'< ( think he3d planned to say more, but that3s all there was' %n the Thursday, *immy "ornish called and told me ,e was dead' The rest was in the obits' Gone but not for-iven' ( had failed to keep my word to "hick' ( hadn3t found the bullets' ( should have spoken to his accountant' ( should have helped him back to AA' (3ve never understood boo&e' 2eople have to be rollin- in the -utter sin-in- ;Nellie !ean< before ( -et the picture' ( missed all the si-ns and fell down on a solemn promise' Not for the first time' ( never -ave a promise to a child ( couldn3t keep, but ( made a habit of breakin- them to adults' ,e knew e actly what he was doin-' (3m not the only survivor still runnin- scenarios throu-h their head' (f (3d found the -un and stolen it7(f (3d checked to see how much he was drinkin-7(f (3d listened more closely7 ,e wrote some -reat -host stories' +hen it came to hauntin- his friends, he was a bloody e pert' +hat he3d done to *enny told me he knew e actly what he was up to' 2eople say all -host stories are optimistic because they show a belief in life after death' E9ually, all artists are optimists because the act of creation is optimistic in itself' ,e 3s poems and openin-s are still on our machine' 0u won3t erase them' %n a bad ni-ht (3ll pour myself a -lass of wine and press the button until ( hear his voice' (3ll listen to his -entle mockery as he invents an outra-eous tale about my -ettin- my toe stuck in the bath3s

hot tap or bein- arrested for va-rancy on my way back from a climb' .e always -ets cut off' (f (3m feelin- up to it, (3ll listen the way you listen to a sweet, familiar tune' ( think that was the real reason why, after "hick3s death, ,e never completed anythin-' There was only one story he really had to tell and from deep habit he had repressed it, choosin- suicide rather than write it' ;The Story of ,e and "hick'< Even under such dreadful stress he couldn3t let it come out' .e had destroyed "hick3s :ournals to ensure it never would be known' And then he had destroyed himself' ,ather than dwell on that (3ll listen to his familiar fantasies once a-ain' Then (3ll turn off the machine, curse the bastard for a liar and a coward and a calculatin- fuckin- sadist, pick up one of his books and head for bed, -lad enou-h, ( -uess, that ( still have a few stories of my own to tell and some rotten bloody friends to remember'

T&# $%ID#N FLIG&T OF $CC%UL#+2S Bellero4)on #li5abet) &an

$E(NG ASS(GNE! T% T.E .EA! for ei-ht hours was the worst security shift you could pull at the museum' Even now, thirty years later, ,obbie had dreams in which he wandered from the Early Fli-ht -allery to $alloons T Airships to "osmic Soup, where he once a-ain found himself alone in the dark, starin- into the bland -a&e of the famous scientist as he intoned his endless lecture about the nature of the universe' ;,emember when we thou-ht nothin- could be worse than that5< ,obbie stared wistfully into his empty -lass, then si-naled the waiter for another bourbon and "oke' Across the table, his old friend Emery sipped a beer' ;( liked the .ead,< said Emery' .e cleared his throat and be-an to recite in the same portentous tone the famous scientist had employed' ;Trillions and trillions of -ala ies in which our own is but a mote of cosmic dust' (t made you think'< ;(t made you think about killin- yourself,< said ,obbie' ;!o you want to know how many times ( heard that5< ;A trillion5< ;Five thousand'< The waiter handed ,obbie a drink, his fourth' ;Twenty-five times an hour, times ei-ht hours a day, times five days a week, times five months'< ;Five thousand, that3s not so much' Especially when you think of all those trillions of -alleries' ( mean -ala ies' %nly five months5 ( thou-ht you worked there lon-er'< ;*ust that summer' (t only seemed like forever'< Emery knocked back his beer' ;A lon- time a-o, in a -allery far, far away,< he intoned, not for the first time' Thirty years before, the #useum of American Aviation and Aerospace had :ust opened' ,obbie was nineteen that summer, a recent dropout from the /niversity of #aryland, livin- in a -roup house in #ount ,ainier' Employment opportunities were scarce8 makin- uB'GE an hour as a security aide at the Smithsonian3s newest museum seemed preferable to ba--in- -roceries at Giant Food' Every morninhe3d punch his time card in the -uards3 locker room and chan-e into his uniform' Then he3d duck outside to smoke a :oint before trud-in- downstairs for the mornin- meetin- and that day3s assi-nments' #ost of the security -uards were older than ,obbie, with back-rounds in the military and an eye on future careers with the !'"' police department or F$(' Still, they tolerated him with mostly -oodnatured ribbin- about his lon-ish hair and bloodshot eyes' All e cept for .ed-e, the security chief' .e was an enormous man with a shaved head who sat, knittin-, behind a bank of closed-circuit video monitors, observin- tourists and -uards with an e pression of amused contempt' ;+hat are you makin-5< ,obbie once asked' .ed-e raised his hands to display an intricately patterned baby blanket' ;.ey, that3s cool' +here3d you learn to knit5< ;2rison'< .ed-e3s eyes narrowed' ;>ou stoned a-ain, %pie5 That3s it' Gallery Seven' ,elieve *ones'< ,obbie3s skin went cold, then hot with relief when he reali&ed .ed-e wasn3t -oin- to fire him' ;Seven5

/h, yeah, sure, sure' For how lon-5< ;Forever,< said .ed-e' ;%h, man, you -ot the .ead'< *ones clapped his hands -leefully when ,obbie arrived' ;$etter watch your ass, kids3ll throw shit at you,< he said, and sauntered off' Two pro:ectors at opposite ends of the dark room beamed twin shafts of silvery li-ht onto a headshaped Styrofoam form' ,obbie could never fi-ure out if they3d filmed the famous scientist :ust once, or if they3d -one to the trouble to shoot him from two different an-les' .owever they3d done it, the si-ht of the disembodied .ead was surprisin-ly elective) it looked like a holo-ram floatin- amid the hundreds of back-pro:ected twinkly stars that covered the walls and ceilin-' The creep factor was intensified by the stilted, sli-htly pu&&led manner in which the .ead blinked as it droned on, as thou-h the famous scientist had :ust reali&ed his body was -one, and was hopin- no one else would notice' %nce, when he was really stoned, ,obbie swore that the .ead deviated from its script' ;+hat3d it say5< asked Emery' At the time he was workin- in the General Aviation Gallery, operatin- a fli-ht simulator that tourists clambered into for three-minute rides' ;Somethin- about peaches,< said ,obbie' ;( couldn3t understand, it sort of mumbled'< Every mornin-, ,obbie stood outside the entrance to "osmic Soup and watched as tourists streamed throu-h the main entrance and into the .all of Fli-ht' %verhead, le-endary aircraft hun- from the ceilin-' The F_EB +ri-ht Flyer with its %rville manne9uin8 a 0ilienthal -lider8 the $ell U-F in which "huck >ea-er broke the sound barrier' From a hu-e pit in the center of the .all rose a #inuteman ((( ("$#, rust-colored stains still visible where a protester had tossed a bucket of pi-3s blood on it a few months earlier' !irectly above the entrance to ,obbie3s -allery dan-led the Spirit of St' 0ouis' The aides who worked upstairs in the planetarium amused themselves by shootin- paper clips onto its win-s' ,obbie winced at the memory' .e -ulped what was left of his bourbon and si-hed' ;That was a lontime a-o'< ;Tempus fu-it, baby' Thinkin- of which=< Emery du- into his pocket for a $lack$erry' ;"heck this out' From 0eonard'< ,obbie rubbed his eyes blearily, then read' From) l'scopesv#AAA'S('edu Sub:ect) Tra-ic (llness !ate) April C, `)Dd)II 2'#' E!T To) emeryuber-eekv-mail'com !ear Emery, ( :ust learned that our #a--ie $levin is very ill' ( wrote her at "hristmas but never heard back' Fuad El.a:: says she was dia-nosed with advanced breast cancer last fall' 2ro-nosis is not -ood' She is still in the Fayetteville area, and ( -ather is in a hospice' ( want to make a visit thou-h not sure how that will -o over' ( have somethin- ( want to -ive her but need to talk to you about it' 0' ;Ahhh'< ,obbie si-hed' ;God, that3s terrible'< ;>eah' (3m sorry' $ut ( fi-ured you3d want to know'<

,obbie pinched the brid-e of his nose' Four years earlier, his wife, Anna, had died of breast cancer, leavin- him adrift in a -rief so profound it was as thou-h he3d been poisoned, as thou-h his veins had been pumped with the same chemicals that had failed to save her' Anna had been an oncolo-y nurse, a fact that at first afforded some mea-er black humor, but in the end deprived them of even the faintest of false hopes borne of denial or faith in alternative therapies' There was no time for any of that' fach, their son, had :ust turned twelve' $etween his own -rief and fach3s subse9uent actin- out, ,obbie -ot so depressed that he started pourin- his first bourbon and "oke before the boy left for school' Two years later, he -ot fired from his :ob with the county parks commission' .e now worked in the shippin- department at Small3s, an off-price store in a desolate shoppin- mall that resembled the ruins of a re-ional airport' ,obbie found it oddly consolin-' (t reminded him of the museum' The same -eneric atriums and industrial carpetin-8 the same bleak sunli-ht filtered throu-h clouded -lass8 the same vacant-faced people trud-in- from !ollar Store to Sun-lass .ut, the way they3d wandered from the General Aviation Gallery to "osmic Soup' ;2oor #a--ie'< ,obbie returned the $lack$erry' ;( haven3t thou-ht of her in years'< ;(3m -oin- to see 0eonard'< ;+hen5 #aybe (3ll -o with you'< ;Now'< Emery shoved a twenty under his beer bottle and stood' ;>ou3re comin- with me'< ;+hat5< ;>ou can3t drive=you3re snackered' Get popped a-ain, you lose your license'< ;2opped5 +ho3s -ettin- popped5 And (3m not snackered, (3m=< ,obbie thou-ht' ;Snockered' >ou pronounced it wron-'< ;+hatever'< Emery -rabbed ,obbie3s shoulder and pushed him to the door' ;0et3s -o'< Emery drove an e pensive hybrid that could -et from ,ockville to /tica, New >ork, on a sin-le tank of -as' The vanity plate read #A,@% and was flanked by bumper stickers with messa-es like G/NS !%N3T 1(00 2E%20E) T>2E I 2.ASE,S 1(00 2E%20E and F,A1 %FFH as well as several slo-ans that Emery said were in 1lin-on' Emery was the only person ,obbie knew who was somewhat famous' $ack in the early F_dEs, he3d created a local-access cable T@ show called "aptain #arvo3s Secret Spacetime, taped in his parents3 basement and featurin- Emery in an aluminum foil costume behind the console of a cardboard spaceship' "aptain #arvo watched videotaped episodes of low-bud-et F_DEs science fiction serials with titles like 2A>0%A'!') #%%N!/ST while banterin- with his copilot, a homemade puppet made by 0eonard, named #un-bean' The show was pretty funny if you were stoned' "aptain #arvo became a cult hit, and then a real hit when a ma:or network picked it up as a late-ni-ht offerin-' Emery 9uit his day :ob at the museum and rented studio time in $altimore' .e sold the ri-hts after a few years, and was immediately replaced by a flashy actor in 0ure and a -litterin- robot sidekick' The show limped alon- for a season then died' Emery3s fans claimed this was because their slacker hero had been sidelined' $ut maybe it was :ust that people weren3t as stoned as they used to be' These days the pro-ram had a surprisin- afterlife on the (nternet, where ,obbie3s son, fach, watched it with his friends, and Emery did a brisk business sellin- memorabilia throu-h his official "aptain #arvo +eb site' (t took them nearly an hour to -et into !'"' and find a parkin- space near the #all, by which time

,obbie had sobered up enou-h to wish he3d stayed at the bar' ;.ere'< Emery -ave him a su-arless breath mint, then plucked at the collar of ,obbie3s shirt, acid -reen with S#A00S embroidered in purple' ;"hrist, ,obbie, you3re a freakin- mess'< .e reached into the backseat, retrieved a black T-shirt from his -ym ba-' ;.ere, put this on'< ,obbie chan-ed into it and stumbled out onto the sidewalk' (t was mid-April but already steamy8 the air shimmered above the pavement and smelled sweetly of apple blossom and coolant from innumerable air conditioners' %nly as he approached the museum entrance and cau-ht his reflection in a -lass wall did ,obbie see that his T-shirt was embla&oned with Emery3s youthful face and foil helmet above the words % "A2TA(N #> "A2TA(N' ;>ou wear your own T-shirt5< he asked as he followed Emery throu-h the door' ;%nly at the -ym' Nothin- else was clean'< They waited at the security desk while a -uard checked their (!s, called upstairs to 0eonard3s office, si-ned them in and took their pictures before finally issuin- each a visitor3s pass' ;>ou3ll have to wait for 0eonard to escort you upstairs,< the -uard said' ;Not like the old days, huh, ,obbie5< Emery draped an arm around ,obbie and steered him into the .all of Fli-ht' ;Not a lot of retinal scannin- on your watch'< The museum hadn3t chan-ed much' The same aircraft and space capsules -leamed overhead' Tourists clustered around the lucite pyramid that held slivers of moon rock' Sunburned -uys sportin- military haircuts and tattoos peered at a mockup of a F-FD fli-ht deck' Everythin- had that old museum smell) soiled carpetin-, machine oil, the wet-laundry odor waftin- from steam tables in the public cafeteria' $ut the .ead was lon- -one' ,obbie wondered if anyone even remembered the famous scientist, dead for many years' The General Aviation Gallery, where Emery and 0eonard had operated the fli-ht simulators and first met #a--ie $levin, was now devoted to 2ersonal Fli-ht, with models of :et packs worn by alarmin-ly lifelike manne9uins' ;0eonard desi-ned those'< Emery paused to stare at a child-si&e fi-ure who seemed to float above a solar-powered skateboard' ;.e could have -one to .ollywood'< ;(t3s not too late'< ,obbie and Emery turned to see their old collea-ue behind them' ;0eonard,< said Emery' The two men embraced' 0eonard stepped back and tilted his head' ;,obbie' ( wasn3t e pectin- you'< ;Surprise,< said ,obbie' They shook hands awkwardly' ;Good to see you, man'< 0eonard forced a smile' ;And you'< They headed toward the staff elevator' $ack in the day, 0eonard3s hair had been lon- and lu uriantly blond' (t fell unbound down the back of the do-shit yellow uniform :acket, desi-ned to evoke an airline pilot3s, which he and Emery and the other General Aviation aides wore as they -ave their spiel to tourists ea-er to yank on the controls of their 0ink Trainers' +ith his patrician -ood looks and stern -ray eyes, 0eonard was the only aide who actually resembled a real pilot' Now he looked like a cross between %bi-+an 1enobi and +illie Nelson' .is hair was white and hunin two braids that reached almost to his waist' (nstead of the crappy polyester uniform, he wore a white linen tunic, a necklace of unpolished tur9uoise and coral, loose black trousers tucked into scuffed

cowboy boots, and a skull earrin- the si&e of ,obbie3s thumb' %n his collar -leamed the cheap knockoff pilot3s win-s that had once adorned his museum uniform :acket' 0eonard had always taken his duties very seriously, especially after #ar-aret $levin arrived as the museum3s first curator of 2roto-Fli-ht' ,obbie3s refusal to do the same, even lon- after he3d left the museum himself, had resulted in considerable friction between them over the intervenin- years' ,obbie cleared his throat' ;So, uh' +hat are you workin- on these days5< .e wished he wasn3t wearin- Emery3s idiotic T-shirt' ;(3ll show you,< said 0eonard' /pstairs, they headed for the old photo lab, now an ima-in- center filled with banks of computers, di-ital cameras, scanners' ;+e still process film there,< 0eonard said as they walked down a corridor hun- with production photos from The !ay the Earth Stood Still and Frau (m #ond' ;Ne-atives, old motion picture stock= people still send us thin-s'< ;Any of it interestin-5< asked Emery' 0eonard shru--ed' ;Sometimes' >ou never know what you mi-ht find' That3s part of #a--ie3s le-acy =we3re always open to the possibility of discoverin- somethin- new'< ,obbie shut his eyes' 0eonard3s voice made his teeth ache' ;,emember how she used to keep a bottle of Scotch in that side drawer, underneath her purse5< he said' 0eonard frowned, but Emery lau-hed' ;>eahH And it was -ood stuff, too'< ;#a--ie had a -reat deal of class,< said 0eonard in a somber tone' >ou pompous asshole, thou-ht ,obbie' 0eonard punched a code into a door and opened it' ;>ou mi-ht remember when this was a stora-e cupboard'< They stepped inside' ,obbie did remember this place=he3d once had se here with a General Aviation aide whose name he3d lon- for-otten' (t had been a -ood-si&e supply room then, with an odd, sweetish scent from the rolls of film stacked alon- the shelves' Now it was a very crowded office' The shelves were crammed with books and curatorial reports datinback to F_dF, and archival bo es holdin- -od knows what=0eonard3s ori-inal -overnment-:ob application, maybe' A coat had been tossed onto the floor in one corner' There was a lar-e metal desk covered with bottles of nail polish, and an ancient swivel chair that ,obbie va-uely remembered havinbeen deployed durin- his lunch hour tryst' #ostly, thou-h, the room held 0eonard3s stuff) tiny cardboard dioramas, mock-ups of space capsules and diri-ibles' (t smelled overpowerin-ly of nail polish' (t was also e tremely cold' ;#an, you must free&e your ass off'< ,obbie rubbed his arms' Emery picked up one of the little bottles' ;>ou -ettin- a manicurist3s license5< 0eonard -estured at the desk' ;(3m paintin- with nail polish now' >ou -et some very unusual elects'< ;( bet,< said ,obbie' ;>ou3re, like, huffin- nail polish'< .e peered at the shelves, impressed despite himself' ;*ee&, 0eonard' >ou made all these5< ;!amn ri-ht ( did'< +hen ,obbie first met 0eonard, they were both lowly GS-Fs' (n those days, 0eonard collected paper

clips and rode an old Schwinn bicycle to work' .e entertained tourists by makin- balloon animals' (n his spare time, he created #un-bean, "aptain #arvo3s robot friend, out of a busted lamp and some spark plu-s' .e also made stran-e ink drawin-s, hundreds of them' #ont-olfier balloons with sinister faces8 $-DIs carryin- payloads of soap bubbles8 caricatures of the museum director and senior curators as -reyhounds sniffin- each others3 nether 9uarters' (t was this last, drawn on a scrap of le-al paper, which #ar-aret $levin picked up on her first tour of the General Aviation Gallery' The sketch had fallen out of 0eonard3s :acket) he watched in horror as the museum3s deputy director stooped to retrieve the crumpled pa-e' ;Allow me,< said the woman at the director3s side' She was sli-ht, fortyish, with fri&&y red hair and enormous hoop earrin-s, wearin- an (ndian-print tunic over ti-ht, sky blue trousers and leather clo-s' She snatched up the drawin-, stuffed it in her pocket, and continued her tour of the -allery' After the deputy director left, the woman walked to where 0eonard stood beside his fli-ht simulator, sweatin- in his polyester :acket as he supervised an overwei-ht kid in a "hewbacca T-shirt' +hen the kid climbed down, the woman held up the crumpled sheet' ;+ho did this5< The other two aides=one was Emery=shook their heads' ;( did,< said 0eonard' The woman crooked her fin-er' ;"ome with me'< ;Am ( fired5< asked 0eonard as he followed her out of the -allery' ;Nope' (3m #a--ie $levin' +e3re shuttin- down those 0ink Trainers and makin- this into a new -allery' (3m in char-e' ( need someone to start catalo-in- stuff for me and maybe do some preliminary sketches' >ou want the :ob5< ;>es,< stammered 0eonard' ;( mean, sure'< ;Great'< She balled up the sketch and tossed it into a wastebasket' ;>our talents were bein- wasted' That looks :ust like the director3s butt'< ;(f he was a do-,< said 0eonard' ;.e3s a son of a bitch, and that3s close enou-h,< said #a--ie' ;0et3s -o see personnel'< 0eonard3s current :ob description read #useum Elects Specialist, Grade _, Step FE' For the last two decades, he3d created fi-urines and models for the museum3s e hibits' Not fi-hter planes or commercial aircraft=there was an entire division of modelers who handled that' 0eonard3s work was more rarefied, as evidenced by the do&ens of flyin- machines perched wherever there was space in the tiny room' ,ocket ships, bat-win-ed aerodromes, biplanes and triplanes and saucers, many of them striped and polka dotted and -la&ed with, yes, nail polish in circus colors, so that they appeared to be made of ribbon candy' .is specialty was aircraft that had never actually flown8 in many instances, aircraft that had never been intended to fly' "rypto-aviation, as some dis-runtled curator dubbed it' .e worked from plans and photo-raphs, drawin-s and uncate-ori&able materials he3d found in the archives #a--ie $levin had been hired to or-ani&e' These were housed in a set of oak filin- cabinets datin- to the F_IEs' %fficially, the archive was known as the 2re-0an-ley "ollection' $ut everyone in the museum, includin- #a--ie $levin, called it the Nut Files'

After 0eonard3s fateful promotion, ,obbie and Emery would sometimes punch out for the day, -o upstairs, and stroll to his corner of the library' >ou could do that then=wander around workrooms and stora-e areas, the library and archives, without havin- to check in or -et a special pass or security clearance' ,obbie :ust went alon- for the ride, but Emery was fascinated by the thin-s 0eonard found in the Nut Files' Grainy black-and-white photos of purported /F%s8 typescripts of encounters with deceased ,ussian cosmonauts in the Nevada desert8 an account of a ,aelian weddin- ceremony attended by a -lowin- crimson orb' There was also a lar-e carton donated by the widow of a le-endary rocket scientist, which turned out to be filled with F_DEs foot-fetish porno-raphy, and si teenmillimeter film foota-e of several pioneers of fli-ht doin- somethin- unseemly with a spotted pi-' ;+hatever happened to that pi- movie5< asked ,obbie as he admired a biplane with violet-striped ailerons' ;(t3s been deaccessioned,< said 0eonard' .e cleared the swivel chair and motioned for Emery to sit, then perched on the ed-e of his desk' ,obbie looked in vain for another chair, finally settled on the floor beside a wastebasket filled with empty nail polish bottles' ;So ( have a plan,< announced 0eonard' .e stared fi edly at Emery, as thou-h they were alone in the room' ;To help #a--ie' !o you remember the $ellerophon5< Emery frowned' ;@a-uely' That old film loop of a plane crash5< ;2resumed crash' They never found any wrecka-e, everyone :ust assumes it crashed' $ut yes, that was the $ellerophon=it was the clip that played in our -allery' #a--ie3s -allery'< ;,i-ht=the movie that burned upH< broke in ,obbie' ;>eah, ( remember, the film -ot cau-ht in a sprocket or somethin-' Smoke detectors went off and they evacuated the whole museum' They -ot all on #a--ie3s case about it, they thou-ht she3d installed it wron-'< ;She didn3t,< 0eonard said an-rily' ;%ne of the tech -uys screwed up the installation=he told me a few years a-o' .e didn3t vent it properly, the pro:ector bulb overheated and the film cau-ht on fire' .e said he always felt bad she -ot canned'< ;$ut they didn3t fire her for that'< ,obbie -ave 0eonard a sideways look' ;(t was the /F%=< Emery cut him off' ;They were -unnin- for her,< he said' ;"3mon, ,ob, everyone knew=all those old military -uys runnin- this place, they couldn3t stand a woman -ettin- in their way' Not if she wasn3t air force or some shit' Took 3em a few years, that3s all' Fuckin- assholes' ( even -ot a letter-writincampai-n -oin- on the show' !idn3t help'< ;Nothin- would have helped'< 0eonard si-hed' ;She was a visionary' She is a visionary,< he added hastily' ;+hich is why ( want to do this=< .e hopped from the desk, rooted around in a corner, and pulled out a lar-e cardboard bo ' ;#ove,< he ordered' ,obbie scrambled to his feet' 0eonard be-an to remove thin-s from the carton and set them carefully on his desk' Emery -ot up to make more room, an-lin- himself beside ,obbie' They watched as 0eonard arran-ed piles of paper, curlin- ei-ht by tens, faded blueprints, and an old BD-millimeter film viewer, alon- with several lar-e manila envelopes closed with red strin-' Finally he knelt beside the bo and very -in-erly reached inside' ;( think the 0indber-h baby3s in there,< whispered Emery' 0eonard stood, cradlin- somethin- in his hands, turned and placed it in the middle of the desk'

;.oly shit'< Emery whistled' ;0eonard, you3ve outdone yourself'< ,obbie crouched so he could view it at eye level) a model of some sort of flyin- machine, thou-h it seemed impossible that anyone, even 0eonard or #a--ie $levin, could ever have dreamed it mi-ht fly' (t had a &eppelin-shaped body, with a sharp nose like that of a 0ockheed Starfi-hter, sli-htly uptilted' Suspended beneath this was a basket filled with tiny -ears and chains, and beneath that was a contraption with three wheels, like a velocipede, only the wheels were fitted with do&ens of stiff flaps, each no bi--er than a fin-ernail, and even tinier propellers' And everywhere, there were win-s, sproutin- from every inch of the craft3s body in an e plosion of canvas and balsa and paper and -au&e' $ird-shaped win-s, bat-shaped win-s8 s9uare win-s like those of a bo kite, elevators and hollow cones of wire8 lon- tubes that, when ,obbie peered inside them, were filled with baffles and flaps' Ailerons and struts ran between them to form a di&&yin- -rid, held to-ether with fine -old thread and mono=lament and what looked like human hair' Every bit of it was painted in brilliant shades of violet and emerald, scarlet and fuchsia and -old, and here and there shinin- ob:ects were set into the -lossy surface) minute shards of mirror or colored -lass8 a beetle carapace8 flecks of mica' Above it all, sprin-in- from the fusela-e like the cap of an immense toadstool, was a feathery parasol made of curved bamboo and multicolored silk' (t was like -a&in- at the +ri-ht Flyer throu-h a kaleidoscope' ;That3s incredibleH< ,obbie e claimed' ;.ow3d you do that5< ;Now we :ust have to see if it flies,< said 0eonard' ,obbie strai-htened' ;.ow the hell can that thin- fly5< ;The ori-inal flew'< 0eonard leaned a-ainst the wall' ;#y theory is, if we can replicate the same conditions=the e act same conditions=it will work'< ;$ut'< ,obbie -lanced at Emery' ;The ori-inal didn3t fly' (t crashed' ( mean, presumably'< Emery nodded' ;2lus there was a -uy in it' #c"artney=< ;#c"auley,< said 0eonard' ;,i-ht, #c"auley' And you know, 0eonard, no one3s -onna fit in that, ri-ht5< Emery shot him an alarmed look' ;>ou3re not thinkin- of makin- a full-scale model, are you5 $ecause that would be completely insane'< ;No'< 0eonard fin-ered the skull plu- in his earlobe' ;(3m -oin- to make another film=(3m -oin- to replicate the ori-inal, and (3m -oin- to do it so perfectly that #a--ie won3t even reali&e it3s not the ori-inal' (3ve -ot it all worked out'< .e looked at Emery' ;( can shoot it on di-ital, if you3ll lend me a camera' That way ( can edit it on my laptop' And then (3m -oin- to brin- it down to Fayetteville so she can see it'< ,obbie and Emery -lanced at each other' ;+ell, it3s not completely insane,< said ,obbie' ;$ut #a--ie knows the ori-inal was destroyed,< said Emery' ;( mean, ( was there, ( remember=she saw it' +e all saw it' She has cancer, ri-ht5 Not Al&heimer3s or dementia or, ( dunno, amnesia'< ;+hy don3t you :ust 2hotoshop somethin-5< asked ,obbie' ;>ou could tell her it was an homa-e' That way=< 0eonard3s -lare -rew icy' ;(t is not an homa-e' ( am -oin- to "owana (sland, :ust like #c"auley did,

and ( am -oin- to re-create the maiden fli-ht of the $ellerophon' ( am -oin- to film it, ( am -oin- to edit it' And when it3s completed, (3m -oin- to tell #a--ie that ( found a dupe in the archives' .er heart broke when that foota-e burned up' (3m -oin- to -ive it back to her'< ,obbie stared at his shoe so 0eonard wouldn3t see his e pression' After a moment he said, ;+hen Anna was sick, ( wanted to do that' Go back to this place by #ount +ashin-ton where we stayed before fach was born' +e had all these -reat photos of us canoein- there, it was so beautiful' $ut it was winter, and ( said we should wait and -o in the summer'< ;(3m not waitin-'< 0eonard sifted throu-h the papers on his desk' ;( have these=< .e opened a manila envelope and withdrew several -lassine sleeves' .e e amined one, then handed it to Emery' ;This is what survived of the ori-inal foota-e, which in fact was not the ori-inal foota-e=the ori-inal was shot in F_EF, on cellulose nitrate film' That3s what #a--ie and ( found when we first started -ointhrou-h the Nut Files' %nly of course nitrate stock is like a tickin- time bomb' So the 2hoto 0ab duped it onto safety film, which is what you3re lookin- at'< Emery held the film to the li-ht' ,obbie stood beside him, s9uintin-' Five frames, in shades of amber and tortoiseshell, with blurred ima-es that mi-ht have been bushes or clouds or smoke dama-e, for all ,obbie could see' Emery asked, ;.ow many frames do you have5< ;Total5 Seventy-two'< Emery shook his head' ;Not much, is it5 +hat was it, fifteen seconds5< ;Seventeen seconds'< ;Times twenty-four frames per second=so, out of about four hundred frames, that3s all that3s left'< ;No' There was actually less than that, because it was silent film, which runs at more like ei-hteen frames per second, and they corrected the speed' So, about three hundred frames, which means we have about a 9uarter of the ori-inal stock'< 0eonard hesitated' .e -lanced up' ;0ock that door, would you, ,obbie5< ,obbie did, looked back to see 0eonard crouched in the corner, movin- aside his coat to reveal a metal stron-bo ' .e prised the lid from the top' The bo was filled with water=,obbie hoped it was water' ;(s that an a9uarium5< 0eonard i-nored him, tu--ed up his sleeves, then dipped both hands below the surface' @ery, very carefully he removed another metal bo ' .e set it on the floor, -rabbed his coat, and meticulously dried the lid, then turned to ,obbie' ;>ou know, maybe you should unlock the door' (n case we need to -et out fast'< ;*esus "hrist, 0eonard, what is it5< e claimed Emery' ;Snakes5< ;Nope'< 0eonard plucked somethin- from the bo , and Emery flinched as a serpentine ribbon unfurled in the air' ;(t3s what3s left of the ori-inal foota-e=the F_EF film'< ;That3s nitrate5< Emery stared at him, incredulous' ;>ou are insaneH .ow the hell3d you -et it5< ;( clipped it before they destroyed the stock' ( think it3s okay=( take it out every day, so the -ases don3t build up' And it doesn3t seem to interact with the nail polish fumes' (t3s the part where you can actually see #c"auley, where you -et the best view of the plane' See5<

.e dan-led it in front of Emery, who backed toward the door' ;2ut it away, put it awayH< ;"an ( see5< asked ,obbie' 0eonard -ave him a measurin- look, then nodded' ;.old it by this ed-e=< (t took a few seconds for ,obbie3s eyes to focus properly' ;>ou3re ri-ht,< he said' ;>ou can see him= you can see someone, anyway' And you can definitely tell it3s an airplane'< .e handed it back to 0eonard, who fastidiously replaced it, first in its canister and then the water-filled safe' ;They could really pop you for that'< Emery whistled in disbelief' ;(f that stuff blew5 This whole place could -o up in flames'< ;>ou say that like it3s a bad thin-'< 0eonard draped his coat over the stron-bo , then started to lau-h' ;Anyway, (3m done with it' ( went into the photo lab one ni-ht and duped it myself' So (3ve -ot that copy at home' And this one=< .e inclined his head at the corner' ;(3m -oin- to take the nitrate home and -ive it a @ikin- funeral in the backyard' >ou can come if you want'< ;Toni-ht5< asked ,obbie' ;No' (3ve -ot to work late toni-ht, catch up on some stuff before ( leave town'< Emery leaned a-ainst the door' ;+here you -oin-5< ;South "arolina' ( told you' (3m -oin- to "owana (sland, and7< ,obbie cau-ht a whiff of acetone as 0eonard picked up the $ellerophon' ;( am -oin- to make this thin- fly'< ;.E ,EA00> (S N/TS' ( mean, when was the last time he even saw #a--ie5< ,obbie asked as Emery drove him back to the #all' ;( still don3t know what really happened, e cept for the /F% stuff'< ;She found out he was screwin- around with someone else' (t was a bad scene' She tried to -et him fired8 he went to $oynton and told him #a--ie was divertin- all this time and money to studyin/F%s' +hich unfortunately was true' They did an audit, she had some kind of nervous breakdown even before they could fire her'< ;+hat a prick'< Emery si-hed' ;(t was horrible' 0eonard doesn3t talk about it' ( don3t think he ever -ot over it' %ver her'< ;>eah, but7< ,obbie shook his head' ;She must be, what, twenty years older than us5 They never would have stayed to-ether' (f he feels so bad, he should :ust -o see her' This other stuff is insane'< ;( think maybe those fumes did somethin- to him' Nitrocellulose, it3s in nail polish, too' (t mi-ht have done somethin- to his brain'< ;(s that possible5< ;(t3s a theory,< said Emery broodin-ly' ,obbie3s house was in a scruffy subdivision on the outskirts of ,ockville' The place was small, a bun-alow with masonite sidin-, a cracked cinder-block foundation, and the remains of a -arden that Anna had planted' A -reen G#" pickup with an e pired re-istration was parked in the drive' ,obbie peered into the cab' (t was filled with empty $ud 0i-ht bottles'

(nside, fach was hunched at a desk beside his friend Tyler, owner of the pickup' The two of them stared intently at a computer screen' ;+hat3s up5< said fach without lookin- away' ;Not much,< said ,obbie' ;Eye contact'< fach -lanced up' .e was sli-ht, with Anna3s thick blond curls reduced to a bu&& cut that ,obbie hated' Tyler was tall and -an-ly, with lon- black hair and wire-rimmed sun-lasses' $oth favored tie-dyed Tshirts and madras shorts that made them look as thou-h they were perpetually on vacation' ,obbie went into the kitchen and -ot a beer' ;>ou -uys eat5< ;+e -ot somethin- on the way home'< ,obbie drank his beer and watched them' The house had a smell that Emery once described as Failed $achelor' /nwashed clothes, spilled beer, mari:uana smoke' ,obbie hadn3t smoked in years, but fach and Tyler had taken up the slack' ,obbie used to yell at them but eventually -ave up' (f his own depressin- e ample wasn3t enou-h to strai-hten them out, what was5 After a minute, fach looked up a-ain' ;Nice shirt, !ad'< ;Thanks, son'< ,obbie sank into a beanba- chair' ;#e and Emery dropped by the museum and saw 0eonard'< ;0eonardH< Tyler burst out lau-hin-' ;0eonard is so fuckin- sweetH .e3s, like, the cra&iest -uy ever'< ;All !ad3s friends are cra&y,< said fach' ;>eah, but Emery, he3s cool' +hereas that -uy 0eonard is :ust wack'< ,obbie nodded somberly and finished his beer' ;0eonard is indeed wack' .e3s makin- a movie'< ;A real movie5< asked fach' ;#ore like a home movie' %r, ( dunno=he wants to reproduce another movie, one that was already made, do it all the same a-ain' Shot by shot'< Tyler nodded' ;0ike The ,in- and ,in-u' +hat3s the movie5< ;Seventeen seconds of a F_EF plane crash' The ori-inal foota-e was destroyed, so he3s -oin- to resta-e the whole thin-'< ;A plane crash5< fach -lanced at Tyler' ;"an we watch5< ;Not a real crash=he3s doin- it with a model' ( mean, ( think he is'< ;!id they even have planes then5< said Tyler' ;.e should put it on >ouTube,< said fach, and turned back to the computer' ;%kay, -et out of there'< ,obbie rubbed his head wearily' ;( need to -o online'< The boys ar-ued but -ave up 9uickly' Tyler left' fach -rabbed his cell phone and slouched upstairs to his room' ,obbie -ot another beer, sat at the computer, and lo--ed out of whatever they3d been playin-, then typed in #""A/0E> $E00E,%2.%N' %nly a do&en results popped up' .e scanned them, then clicked the +ikipedia entry for Ernesto #c"auley' #c"auley, Ernesto 4Fd55?F_EF6 American inventor whose eccentric aircraft, the $ellerophon, alle-edly flew for seventeen seconds before it crashed durin- a F_EF test fli-ht on "owana (sland,

South "arolina, killin- #c"auley' (n the F_dEs, claims that this fli-ht was successful and predated that of the +ri-ht brothers by two years were made by a Smithsonian e pert, based upon archival lm foota-e' The claims have since been disproved and the lm record unfortunately lost in a fire' "uriously, no other record of either #c"auley or his aircraft has ever been found' ,obbie took a lon- pull at his beer, then typed in #A,GA,ET $0E@(N' $levin, #ar-aret 4F_Bd?6 (nfluential cultural historian whose -roundbreakin- work on early fli-ht earned her the nickname ;the #a-nificent $levin'< !urin- her tenure at the Smithsonian3s #useum of American Aeronautics and Aerospace, $levin redesi-ned the General Aviation Gallery to feature lesserknown pioneers of fli-ht, includin- "harles !ellschau and Ernesto #c"auley, as well as7 ;LThe #a-nificent $levin35< ,obbie snorted' .e -rabbed another beer and continued readin-' $ut $levin3s most lastin- impact upon the history of aviation was her F_dC best-seller +in-s for .umanityH, in which she presents a dramatic and visionary account of the mystical aspects of fli-ht, from (carus to the +ri-ht brothers and beyond' (ts central premise is that millennia a-o a benevolent race seeded the earth, leavin- isolated locations with the ability to en-ender human-powered fli-ht' ;+e dream of fli-ht because fli-ht is our birthri-ht,< wrote $levin, and since its publication +in-s for .umanityH has never -one out of print' ;0eonard wrote this fri--in- thin-H< ;+hat5< fach came downstairs, yawnin-' ;This +ikipedia entryH< ,obbie :abbed at the screen' ;That book was never a best-seller=she sneaked it into the museum -ift shop and no one bou-ht it' The only reason it3s still in print is that she published it herself'< fach read the entry over his father3s shoulder' ;(t sounds cool'< ,obbie shook his head adamantly' ;She was completely nuts' %bsessed with all this New A-e crap, aliens and crop circles' She thou-ht that planes could only fly from certain places, and that3s why all the early fli-hts crashed' Not because there was somethin- wron- with the aircraft desi-n, but because they were takin- off from the wron- spot'< ;Then how come there3s airports everywhere5< ;She never worked out that part'< ;L+e must embrace our -alactic herita-e, the spiritual dimension of human fli-ht, lest we forever chain ourselves to earth,3< fach read from the screen' ;+as she in that plane crash5< ;No, she3s still alive' That was :ust somethin- she had a wild hair about' She thou-ht the -uy who invented that plane flew it a few years before the +ri-ht brothers made their fli-ht, but she could never prove it'< ;$ut it says there was a movie,< said fach' ;So someone saw it happen'< ;This is +ikipedia'< ,obbie stared at the screen in dis-ust' ;>ou can say any fuckin- thin- you want and people will believe it' 0eonard wrote that entry, -uarantee you' 2robably she faked that whole film loop' That3s what 0eonard3s plannin- to do now=replicate the foota-e then pass it off to #a--ie as the real thin-'< fach collapsed into the beanba- chair' ;+hy5< ;$ecause he3s cra&y, too' .e and #a--ie had a thin- to-ether'< fach -rimaced' ;/-h'<

;+hat, you think we were born old5 +e were your a-e, practically' And #a--ie was about twenty years older=< ;A cou-arH< fach burst out lau-hin-' ;+hy didn3t she -o for you5< ;.a ha ha'< ,obbie pushed his empty beer bottle a-ainst the wall' ;+omen liked 0eonard' Go fi-ure' Even your mom went out with him for a while' $efore she and ( -ot involved, ( mean'< fach3s -lassy eyes threatened to roll back in his head' ;Stop'< ;+e thou-ht it was pretty stran-e,< admitted ,obbie' ;$ut #a--ie was -ood-lookin- for an old hippie'< .e -lanced at the +ikipedia entry and did the math' ;( -uess she3s in her seventies now' 0eonard3s in touch with her' She has cancer' $reast cancer'< ;( heard you,< said fach' .e rolled out of the beanba- chair, flipped open his phone, and be-an te tin-' ;(3m -oin- to bed'< ,obbie sat and stared at the computer screen' After a while he shut it down' .e shuffled into the kitchen and opened the cabinet where he kept a 9uart of *im $eam, hidden behind bottles of vine-ar and ve-etable oil' .e rinsed out the -lass he3d used the ni-ht before, poured a :olt and downed it, then carried the bourbon with him to bed' T.E NEUT !A> AFTE, work, he was on his second drink at the bar when Emery showed up' ;.ey'< ,obbie -estured at the stool beside him' ;.ave a seat'< ;>ou okay to drive5< ;Sure'< ,obbie scowled' ;+hat, you keepin- an eye on me5< ;No' $ut ( want you to see somethin-' At my house' 0eonard3s comin- over, we3re -oin- to meet there at si thirty' ( tried callin- you but your phone3s off'< ;%h' ,i-ht' Sorry'< ,obbie si-naled the bartender for his tab' ;>eah, sure' +hat, is he -onna -ive us manicures5< ;Nope' ( have an idea' (3ll tell you when ( -et there8 (3m -oin- to ,oyal !elhi first to -et some takeout' See you=< Emery lived in a bi- town house condo that smelled of #oderately Successful $achelor' The walls held framed photos of "aptain #arvo and #un-bean alon-side a life-si&e paintin- of 0eslie Nielsen as "ommander *' *' Adams' $ut there was also a climate-controlled basement filled with "aptain #arvo merchandise and packinmaterial, with another lar-e room stacked with electronics e9uipment=sound system, video monitors and decks, shelves and files devoted to old "aptain #arvo episodes, and dupes of the -rade f movies featured on the show' This was where ,obbie found 0eonard, bent over a refurbished Steenbeck editin- table' ;,obbie'< 0eonard waved, then returned to threadin- film onto a spindle' ;Emery back with dinner5< ;/h-uh'< ,obbie pulled a chair alon-side him' ;+hat are you doin-5< ;0oadin- up that nitrate ( showed you yesterday'< ;(t3s not -oin- to e plode, is it5<

;No, ,obbie, it3s not -oin- to e plode'< 0eonard3s mouth ti-htened' ;!id Emery talk to you yet5< ;.e :ust said somethin- about a plan' So what3s up5< ;(3ll let him tell you'< ,obbie flushed an-rily, but before he could retort there was a knock behind them' ;"how time, campers'< Emery held up two steamin- paper ba-s' ;"an you leave that for a few minutes, 0eonard5< They ate on the couch in the ne t room' Emery talked about a pitch he3d made to revive "aptain #arvo in cell-phone format' ;(t3d be freakin- perfect, if ( could fi-ure out a way to make any money from it'< 0eonard said nothin-' ,obbie noted that the cuffs of his white tunic were stained with flecks of oran-e pi-ment, as were his fin-ernails' .e looked tired, his face lined and his eyes sunken' ;>ou -ettin- enou-h sleep5< Emery asked' 0eonard smiled wanly' ;Enou-h'< Finally the food was -one, and the beer' Emery clapped his hands on his knees, pushed aside the empty plates, then leaned forward' ;%kay' So here3s the plan' ( rented a house on "owana for a week, startin- this Saturday' ( mapped it online and it3s about ten hours' (f we leave ri-ht after you -uys -et off work on Friday and drive all ni-ht, we3ll -et there early Saturday mornin-' 0eonard, you said you3ve -ot everythin- pretty much assembled, so all you need to do is pack it up' (3ve -ot everythin- else here' $e a ti-ht fit in the 2rius, thou-h, so we3ll have to take two cars' +e3ll brin- everythin- we need with us, we3ll have a week to shoot and edit or whatever, then on the way back we swin- throu-h Fayetteville and show the finished product to #a--ie' +hat do you think5< ;That3s not a lot of time,< said 0eonard' ;$ut we could do it'< Emery turned to ,obbie' ;(s you car roadworthy5 (t3s about twelve hundred miles round-trip'< ,obbie stared at him' ;+hat the hell are you talkin- about5< ;The $ellerophon' 0eonard3s -ot storyboards and all kinds of drawin-s and still frames, enou-h to work from' The ,ealtor3s in "harleston8 she said there wouldn3t be many people this early in the season' 2lus there was a hurricane a couple years a-o8 ( -ather the island -ot hammered and no one3s had money to rebuild' So we3ll have it all to ourselves, pretty much'< ;Are you hi-h5< ,obbie lau-hed' ;( can3t :ust take off' ( have a :ob'< ;>ou -et vacation time, ri-ht5 >ou can take a week' (t3ll be -reat, man' The ,ealtor says it3s already in the ei-hties down there' +arm water, a beach=what more you want5< ;/h, maybe a beach with people besides you and 0eonard5< ,obbie searched in vain for another beer' ;( couldn3t -o anyway=ne t week3s fach3s sprin- break'< ;>eah5< Emery shook his head' ;So, you3re -oin- to be at the store all day, and he3ll be home -ettinstoned' $rin- him' +e3ll put him to work'< 0eonard frowned, but ,obbie looked thou-htful' ;>eah, you3re ri-ht' ( hadn3t thou-ht of that' ( can3t really leave him alone' ( -uess (3ll think about it'< ;!on3t think, :ust do it' (t3s +ednesday, tell 3em you3re takin- off ne t week' They -onna fire you5< ;#aybe'<

;(3m not babysittin- some=< 0eonard started' Emery cut him off' ;>ou -ot that nitrate loaded5 0et3s see it'< They filed into the workroom' 0eonard sat at the Steenbeck' The others watched as he ad:usted the film on its sprockets' .e turned to ,obbie, then indicated the black pro:ection bo in the center of the deck' ;Emery knows all this, so (3m :ust tellin- you' That3s a 9uart& halo-en lamp' ( haven3t turned it on yet, because if the frame was :ust sittin- there it mi-ht incinerate the film, and us' $ut there3s only about four seconds of foota-e, so we3re -oin- to take our chances and watch it, once' #aybe you remember it from the -allery5< ,obbie nodded' ;>eah, ( saw it a bunch of times' Not as much as the .ead, but enou-h'< ;Good' .it that li-ht, would you, Emery5 Everyone ready5 $link and you3ll miss it'< ,obbie craned his neck, starin- at a blank white screen' There was a whir, the stutter of film runninthrou-h a pro:ector' At the bottom of the frame the hori&on lurched, bri-ht flickers that mi-ht be an e panse of water' Then a blurred ima-e, faded sepia and amber, etched with blotches and somethin- resemblin- a beetle le-) the absurd contraption ,obbie reco-ni&ed as the ori-inal $ellerophon' %nly it was movin-=it was flyin-=its countless -ears and propellers and win-s spinnin- and whirrin- and flappin- all at once, so it seemed the entire thin- would vibrate into a thousand pieces' $eneath the fusela-e, a dark fi-ure perched precariously atop the velocipede, le-s like black scissors slicin- at the air' From the left corner of the frame leaped a flare of li-ht, like a shootin- star or burnin- firecracker tossed at the pedalinfi-ure' The pilot listed to one side, and= Nothin-' The film ended as abruptly as it had be-un' 0eonard 9uickly reached to turn off the lamp, and immediately removed the film from the take-up drive' ,obbie felt his neck prickle=he3d for-otten how weird, uncanny even, the foota-e was' ;*esus, that3s some bi&arre shit,< said Emery' ;(t doesn3t even look real'< ,obbie watched as 0eonard coiled the film and slid it in a canister' ;( mean, the -uy, he looks fake'< Emery nodded' ;>eah, ( know' (t looks like one of those old silents, The 0ost +orld or somethin-' $ut it3s not' ( used to watch it back when it ran a hundred times a day in our -allery, the way you used to watch the .ead' And it3s definitely real' At least the pilot, #c"auley=that3s a real -uy' ( -ot a bima-nifier once and :ust stood there and watched it over and over a-ain' .e was breathin-, ( could see it' And the plane, it3s real too, far as ( could tell' The thin- ( can3t fi-ure is, who the hell shot that foota-e5 And what was the an-le5< ,obbie stared at the empty screen, then shut his eyes' .e tried to recall the rest of the film from when it played in the General Aviation -allery) the swift, :erky tra:ectory of that eerie little vehicle with its bi&arre pilot, a man in a black suit and bowler hat8 then the flash from the corner of the screen, and the man topplin- from his perch into the white and empty air' The last thin- you saw was a tiny hand at the bottom of the frame, then some blank leader, followed by the words ;The #aiden Fli-ht of #c"auley3s $ellerophon 4F_EF6'< And the whole thin- be-an a-ain' ;(t was like someone was in the air ne t to him,< said ,obbie' ;/nless he -ot only si feet off the -round' ( always assumed it was faked'< ;(t wasn3t faked,< said 0eonard' ;The cameraman was on the beach filmin-' (t was a windy day, they were hopin- that would help -ive the plane some lift but there must have been a sudden -ust' +hen the

$ellerophon went into the ocean, the cameraman dove in to save #c"auley' They both drowned' They never found the bodies, or the wrecka-e' %nly the camera with the film'< ;+ho found it5< asked ,obbie' ;+e don3t know'< 0eonard si-hed, his shoulders slumpin-' ;+e don3t know anythin-' Not the name of the cameraman, nothin-' +hen #a--ie and ( ran the ori-inal foota-e, the leader said L#aiden Fli-ht of #c"auley3s $ellerophon'3 The can had the date and L"owana (sland3 written on it' So #a--ie and ( went down there to research it' A weird place' .ardly any people, and this was in the summer' There3s a tiny historical society on the island, but we couldn3t find anythin- about #c"auley or the aircraft' No newspaper accounts, no -ravestones' The only thin- we did find was in a diary kept by the -uy who delivered the mail back then' %n #ay FB, F_EF, he wrote that it was a very windy day and two men had drowned while attemptin- to launch a flyin- machine on the beach' Someone must have found the camera afterward' Somebody processed the film, and somehow it found its way to the museum'< ,obbie followed 0eonard into the ne t room' ;+hat was that weird flash of li-ht5< ;( don3t know'< 0eonard stared out a -lass door into the parkin- lot' ;$ut it3s not overe posure or lens flare or anythin- like that' (t3s somethin- the cameraman actually filmed' +ater, maybe=if it was a windy day, a bi- wave mi-ht have come up onto the beach or somethin-'< ;( always thou-ht it was fire' 0ike a rocket or some kind of flare'< 0eonard nodded' ;That3s what #a--ie thou-ht, too' The mailman=mostly all he wrote about was the weather' +hich if you were relyin- on a horse-drawn cart, makes sense' About two weeks before he mentioned the flyin- machine, he described somethin- that sounds like a ma:or meteor shower'< ;And #a--ie thou-ht it was hit by a meteor5< ;No'< 0eonard si-hed' ;She thou-ht it was somethin- else' The weird thin- is, a few years a-o ( checked online, and it turns out there was an unusual amount of meteor activity in F_EF'< ,obbie raised an eyebrow' ;#eanin-5< 0eonard said nothin-' Finally he opened the door and walked outside' The others trailed after him' They reached the ed-e of the parkin- lot, where cracked tarmac -ave way to stony -round' 0eonard -lanced back, then stooped' .e brushed away a few stray leaves and tufts of dead -rass, set the film canister down and unscrewed the metal lid' .e picked up one end of the coil of film, -ently tu--inuntil it trailed a few inches across the -round' Then he withdrew a li-hter, flicked it, and held the flame to the tail of film' ;+hat the=< be-an ,obbie' There was a dull whoosh, like the sound of a -as burner i-nitin-' A plume of crimson and -old leaped from the canister, writhin- in the air within a ball of black smoke' 0eonard sta--ered to his feet, coverin- his head as he backed away' ;0eonardH< Emery -rabbed him rou-hly, then turned and raced to the house' $efore ,obbie could move, a stron- chemical stink surrounded him' The flames shrank to a shininthread that lashed at the smoke then faded into flecks of ash' ,obbie ducked his head, cou-hin-' .e -rasped 0eonard3s arm and tried to dra- him away, -lanced up to see Emery runnin- toward them with a fire e tin-uisher' ;Sorry,< -asped 0eonard' .e made a slashin- motion throu-h the smoke, which dispersed' The flames were -one' 0eonard3s face was black with ash' ,obbie touched his own cheek -in-erly, looked at his fin-ers, and saw they were coated with somethin- dark and oily'

Emery halted, pantin-, and stared at the twisted remains of the film can' %n the -round beside it, a -lowin- thread wormed toward a dead leaf, then e pired in a -ray wisp' Emery raised the fire e tin-uisher threatenin-ly, set it down, and stomped on the canister' ;Good thin- you didn3t do that in the museum,< said ,obbie' .e let -o of 0eonard3s arm' ;!on3t think it didn3t cross my mind,< said 0eonard, and walked back inside' T.E> 0EFT F,(!A> E@EN(NG' ,obbie -ot the week off, after -ivin- his dubious boss a lon- story about a dyin- relative down South' fach shouted and broke a lamp when informed he would be accompanyin- his father on a trip durin- his sprin- vacation' ;+ith Emery and 0eonard5 Are you fuckin- insane5< ,obbie was too e hausted to fi-ht) he 9uickly offered to let Tyler come with them' Tyler, surprisin-ly, a-reed, and even showed up on Friday afternoon to help load the car' ,obbie made a pointed effort not to inspect the various backpacks and duffel ba-s the boys threw into the trunk of the battered Taurus' Alcohol, dru-s, firearms) he no lon-er cared' (nstead he focused on the online weather report for "owana (sland' Ei-hty de-rees and sunshine, photo-raphs of blue water, white sand, a skein of pelicans skimmin- above the waves' Ten hours, that wasn3t so bad' (n another weak moment, he told fach he could drive part of the way, so ,obbie could sleep' ;+hat about me5< asked Tyler' ;"an ( drive5< ;%nly if ( never wake up,< said ,obbie' Around si Emery pulled into the driveway, honkin-' The boys were already slumped in ,obbie3s Taurus, fach in front with earbuds dan-lin- around his face and a knit cap pulled down over his eyes, Tyler in the back, starin- blankly, as thou-h they were already on (-_D' ;>ou ready5< Emery rolled down his window' .e wore a blue flannel shirt and a -imme cap that read STA,F0EET A"A!E#>' (n the hybrid3s passen-er seat, 0eonard perused a road atlas' .e looked up and shot ,obbie a smile' ;.ey, a road trip'< ;>eah'< ,obbie smiled back and patted the hybrid3s roof' ;See you'< (t took almost two hours :ust to -et beyond the -ravitational pull of the +ashin-ton $eltway' Farms and forest had lon- a-o disappeared beneath an endless -rid of malls and housin- developments, many of them vacant' Every time ,obbie turned up the radio for a son- he liked, the boys complained that they could hear it throu-h their earphones' %nly as the sky darkened and @ir-inia -ave way to North "arolina did the world take on a faint fairy -low, distant -reen and yellow li-hts reflectin- the first stars and a shinin- cusp of moon' Sprawl -ave way to pine forest' The boys had been asleep for hours, in that ama&in-, self-willed hibernation they summoned whenever in the presence of adults for more than fifteen minutes' ,obbie put the radio on, low, searched until he cau-ht the echo of a melody he knew, and then another' .e thou-ht of drivinwith Anna beside him, a restive fach behind them in his car seat8 the aimless trips they3d make until the toddler fell asleep and they could talk or, once, park in a vacant lot and make out' .ow lon- had it been since he3d remembered that5 >ears, maybe' .e fou-ht a-ainst thinkin- of Anna8 sometimes it felt as thou-h he fou-ht Anna herself, her hands pummelin- him as he poured another drink or sta--ered up to bed'

Now, thou-h, the darkness soothed him the way those lon--a-o drives had lulled fach to sleep' .e felt an ache lift from his breast, as thou-h a splinter had been dislod-ed8 blinked and in the rearview mirror -limpsed Anna3s face, sli-htly turned from him as she -a&ed out at the passin- sky' .e started, reali&ed he3d be-un to nod off' %n the dashboard his fuel indicator -lowed red' .e called Emery, and at the ne t e it pulled off _D, the 2rius behind him' After a few minutes they found a -as station set back from the road in a pine -rove, with an oldfashioned pump out front and yellow li-ht streamin- throu-h a screen door' The boys blinked awake' ;+here are we5< asked fach' ;No idea'< ,obbie -ot out of the car' ;North "arolina'< (t was like steppin- into a twili-ht -arden, or some hidden biosphere at the &oo' +armth flowed around him, violet and rustlin- -reen, scented overpowerin-ly of honeysuckle and wet stone' .e could hear rushin- water, the stirrin- of wind in the leaves, and countless small thin-s=fro-s peepin-, insects he couldn3t identify' A ni-htbird that made a burblin- son-' (n the shadows behind the buildin-, fireflies floated between kud&u-choked trees, like tiny -lowin- fish' For an instant he felt himself suspended in that envelopin- darkness' The warm air moved throu-h him, sweetly fra-rant, pulsin- with life he could neither see nor touch' .e tasted somethin- honeyed and faintly astrin-ent in the back of his throat, and drew his breath in sharply' ;+hat5< demanded fach' ;Nothin-'< ,obbie shook his head and turned to the pump' ;*ust=isn3t this -reat5< .e filled the tank' fach and Tyler went in search of food, and Emery strolled over' ;.ow you holdin- up5< ;(3m -ood' 2robably let fach drive for a while so ( can catch some &3s'< .e moved the car, then went inside to pay' .e found 0eonard buyin- a pack of ci-arettes as the boys headed out, laden with ener-y drinks and ba-s of chips' ,obbie slid his credit card across the counter to a woman wearin- a tank top that set off a tattoo that looked like the face of #arilyn #anson, or maybe it was *esus' ;!o you have a restroom5< The woman handed him a key' ;,ound back'< ;$athroom3s here,< ,obbie yelled at the boys' ;+e3re not stoppin- a-ain'< They trailed him into a dank room with -ray walls' A fluorescent li-ht bu&&ed overhead' After Tyler left, ,obbie and fach stood side by side at the sink, tryin- to coa water from a rusted spi-ot to wash their hands' ;The hell with it,< said ,obbie' ;0et3s hit the road' >ou want to drive5< ;!ad'< fach pointed at the ceilin-' ;!ad, look'< ,obbie -lanced up' A screen bul-ed from a small window above the sink' Somethin- had blown a-ainst the wire mesh, a leaf or scrap of paper' $ut then the leaf moved, and he saw that it wasn3t a leaf at all but a butterfly' No, not a butterfly=a moth' The bi--est he3d ever seen, bi--er than his hand' (ts fan-shaped upper win-s opened, revealin- vivid -olden eyespots8 its trailin- lower win-s formed two perfect arabes9ues, all a milky, luminous -reen'

;A luna moth,< breathed ,obbie' ;(3ve never seen one'< fach clambered onto the sink' ;(t wants to -et out=< ;.an- on'< ,obbie boosted him, bracin- himself so the boy3s wei-ht wouldn3t yank the sink from the wall' ;$e carefulH !on3t hurt it=< The moth remained where it was' ,obbie -runted=fach wei-hed as much as he did=felt his le-s tremblin- as the boy prised the screen from the wall then stru--led to pull it free' ;(t3s stuck,< he said' ;( can3t -et it=< The moth fluttered weakly' %ne win- tip looked ra--ed, as thou-h it had been sin-ed' ;Tear itH< ,obbie cried' ;*ust tear the screen'< fach wed-ed his fin-ers beneath a corner of the window frame and yanked, hard enou-h that he fell' ,obbie cau-ht him as the screen tore away to dan-le above the sink' The luna moth crawled onto the sill' ;GoH< fach ban-ed on the wall' ;Go on, flyH< 0ike a kite catchin- the wind, the moth lifted' (ts trailin- lower win-s 9uivered and the eyespots seemed to blink, a pallid face -a&in- at them from the darkness' Then it was -one' ;That was cool'< For an instant, fach3s arm draped across his father3s shoulder, so fleetin-ly ,obbie mi-ht have ima-ined it' ;(3m -oin- to the car'< +hen the boy was -one, ,obbie tried to push the screen back into place' .e returned the key and went to :oin 0eonard, smokin- a ci-arette at the ed-e of the woods' $ehind them a car horn blared' ;"ome onH< shouted fach' ;(3m leavin-H< ;.appy trails,< said 0eonard' ,obbie slept fitfully in back as fach drove, the two boys ar-uin- about music and a -irl named Eileen' After an hour he took over a-ain' The ni-ht -round on' The boys fell back asleep' ,obbie drank one of their ,ed $ulls and thou-ht of the -limmerin- wonder that had been the luna moth' A thin rind of emerald appeared on the hori&on, deepenin- to copper then -old as it overtook the sky' .e be-an to see palmettos amon- the loblolly pines and pin oaks, and spiky plants he didn3t reco-ni&e' +hen he opened the window, the air smelled of roses, and the sea' ;.ey'< .e poked fach, breathin- heavily in the seat beside him' ;.ey, we3re almost there'< .e -lanced at the directions, looked up to see the hybrid passin- him and Emery -esturin- at a sandy track that veered to the left' (t was bounded by barbed-wire fences and clumps of cactus thick with blossoms the color of lemon cream' The pines surrendered to palmettos and prehistoric-lookin- trees with -narled roots that thrust up from pools where e-rets and herons stabbed at fro-s' ;0ook,< said ,obbie' Ahead of them the road narrowed to a path barely wide enou-h for a sin-le vehicle, built up with shells and chunks of concrete' %n one side stretched a blur of cypress and lon--le--ed birds8 on the other, an a9uamarine estuary that -ave way to the sea and rollin- white dunes' ,obbie slowed the car to a crawl, humpin- across mounds of shells and doin- his best to avoid sinkholes' After a 9uarter mile, the makeshift causeway ended' An old metal -ate lay in a twisted heap on the -round, covered by creepin- vines' Above it a weathered si-n clun- to a cypress'

+E0"%#E T% "%+ANA (S0AN! N% !/NE $/GG(ES They drove past the ruins of a mobile home' Emery3s car was out of si-ht' ,obbie looked at his cell phone and saw there was no si-nal' (n the back, Tyler stirred' ;.ey, ,ob, where are we5< ;+e3re here' +herever here is' The island'< ;Sweet'< Tyler leaned over the seat to :ostle fach awake' ;.ey, -et up'< ,obbie peered throu-h the over-rown -reenery, lookin- for somethin- resemblin- a beach house' .e tried to remember which hurricane had pounded this part of the coast, and how lon- a-o' Two years5 Five5 The place looked as thou-h it had been abandoned for decades' Fallen palmettos were everywhere, their leaves stiff and reddish-brown, like rusted blades' Some remained upri-ht, their crowns lopped off' Acid--reen li&ards sunned themselves in driveways where ferns poked throu-h the blacktop' The remains of carports and decks dan-led above piles of timber and mold-blackened Sheetrock' Now and then an intact house appeared within the :un-le of flowerin- vines' $ut no people, no cars e cept for an S/@ crushed beneath a toppled utility pole' The only store was a modest -rocery with a brick facade and shattered windows, throu-h which the -hostly outlines of aisles and displays could still be -limpsed' ;(t3s like Id !ays,< said fach, and shot a baleful look at his father' ,obbie shru--ed' ;Talk to the man from the Starfleet Academy'< .e pulled down a rutted drive to where the hybrid sat beneath a thrivin- palmetto' !riftwood ed-ed a path that led to an old wood-frame house raised on stiltlike pilin-s' Stands of bloomin- cactus surrounded it, and trees choked with honeysuckle' The patchy lawn was covered with hundreds of conch shells arran-ed in concentric circles and spirals' %n the deck a tattered red whirli-i- spun in the bree&e, and rope hammocks hun- like flaccid cocoons' ;(3m sleepin- there,< said Tyler' 0eonard -a&ed at the house with an unreadable e pression' Emery had already sprinted up the uneven steps to what ,obbie assumed was the front door' +hen he reached the top, he bent to pick up a s9uare of coconut mattin-, retrieved somethin- from beneath it, then strai-htened, -rinnin-' ;"ome onH< he shouted, turnin- to unlock the door8 and the others raced to :oin him' T.E .%/SE .A! 0(N%0E/# floors, sifted with a fine layer of sand, and mismatched furniture= rattan chairs, couches covered with faded bark-cloth cushions, a canvas seat that hun- from the ceilinby a chain and -roaned alarmin-ly whenever the boys sat in it' The sea bree&e stirred dusty white curtains at the windows' Anoles skittered across the floor, and Tyler fled shoutin- from the outdoor shower, where he3d seen a black widow spider' The electricity worked, but there was no airconditionin- and no television, no (nternet' ;This is what you -et for three hundred bucks in the off season,< said Emery when Tyler complained'

;( don3t -et it'< ,obbie stood on the deck, starin- across the empty road to where the dunes stretched, tufted with thorny -reenery' ;Even if there was a hurricane=this is practically oceanfront, all of it' +here is everybody5< ;+ho can afford to build anythin-5< said 0eonard' ;"ome on, ( want to -et my stuff inside before it heats up'< 0eonard commandeered the master bedroom' .e installed his laptop, Emery3s camera e9uipment, piles of storyboards, the bo that contained the miniature $ellerophon' This formidable array took up every inch of floor space, as well as the surface of a 2in--2on- table' ;+hy is there a 2in--2on- table in the bedroom5< asked ,obbie as he set down a tripod' Emery shru--ed' ;>ou mi-ht ask, why is there not a 2in--2on- table in all bedrooms5< ;+e3re -oin- to the beach,< announced fach' ,obbie kicked off his shoes and followed them, across the deserted road and down a path that wound throu-h a miniature wilderness of cactus and bristly vines' .e felt li-ht-headed from lack of sleep, and also from the beer he3d sna--ed from one of the cases Emery had brou-ht' The sand was already hot8 twice he had to stop and pluck sharp spurs from his bare feet' A horned toad darted across the path, and a skink with a blue ton-ue' .is son3s voice came to him, lau-hin-, and the sound of waves on the shore' Atop the last dune small yellow roses -rew in a thick carpet, their soapy fra-rance min-lin- with the salt bree&e' ,obbie bent to pluck a handful of petals and tossed them into the air' ;(t3s not a bad place to fly, is it5< .e turned and saw Emery, shirtless' .e handed ,obbie a bottle of Tecate with a slice of lime :ammed in its neck, raised his own beer and took a sip' ;(t3s beautiful'< ,obbie s9uee&ed the lime into his beer, then drank' ;$ut that model' (t won3t fly'< ;( know'< Emery stared at where fach and Tyler leaped in the shallow water, sendin- up rainbow spray as they splashed each other' ;$ut it3s a -ood e cuse for a vacation, isn3t it5< ;(t is,< replied ,obbie, and slid down the dune to :oin the boys' %@E, T.E NEUT FE+ days, they fell into an odd, almost sleepless rhythm, stayin- up till two or three A'#', drinkin- and talkin-' The adults pretended not to notice when the boys slipped a Tecate from the frid-e, and i-nored the incense-scented smoke that drifted from the deck after they stumbled off to bed' Everyone woke shortly after dawn, even the boys' $lindin- sunli-ht slanted throu-h the worn curtains' %n the deck where fack and Tyler huddled inside their hammocks, a tree fro- made a sound like rusty hin-es' No one slept enou-h, everyone drank too much' For once it didn3t matter' ,obbie3s han-overs dissolved as he waded into water as warm as blood, then floated on his back and watched pelicans skim above him' Afterward he3d carry e9uipment from the house to the dunes, where Emery had created a shelter from old canvas deck chairs and bedsheets' The boys helped him, the three of them lu--in- tripods and di-ital cameras, the bo that contained 0eonard3s model of the $ellerophon, a cooler filled with beer and ,ed $ull' That left Emery in char-e of household duties' .e3d found an ancient red wa-on half buried in the dunes, and used this to transport ba-s of tortilla chips and a cooler filled with Tecate and limes' There was no store on the island save the abandoned wreck they3d passed when they first arrived' No -as station, and the historical society buildin- appeared to be lon- -one'

$ut while drivin- around, Emery discovered a roadside stand that sold homemade salsa in mason :ars and sa-e--reen e--s in recycled cardboard cartons' The drive beside it was blocked with a barbed-wire fence and a si-n that said $E+A,E %F T+%-.EA!E! !%G' ;>ou ever see it5< asked Tyler' ;Nope' ( never saw anyone e cept an alli-ator'< Emery opened a beer' ;And it was bi- enou-h to eat a two-headed do-'< $y Thursday mornin-, they3d carted everythin- from one end of the island to the other, waitin- with increasin- impatience as 0eonard climbed up and down dunes and stared broodin-ly at the blue hori&on' ;.ow will you know which is the ri-ht one5< asked ,obbie' 0eonard shook his head' ;( don3t know' #a--ie said she thou-ht it would be around here=< .e swept his arm out, encompassin- a hi-h rid-e of sand that crested above the beach like a fro&en wave' $elow, Tyler and fach ar-ued over whose turn it was to haul everythin- uphill a-ain' ,obbie shoved his sun-lasses a-ainst his nose' ;This beach has probably been washed away a hundred times since #c"auley was here' #aybe we should :ust choose a place at random' 2ick the hi-hest dune or somethin-'< ;>eah, ( know'< 0eonard si-hed' ;This is probably our best choice, here'< .e stood and for a lon- time -a&ed at the sky' Finally he turned and walked down to :oin the boys' ;+e3ll do it here,< he said brus9uely, and headed back to the house' 0ate that afternoon they made a bon=re on the beach' The day had ended -ray and much cooler than it had been, the sun swallowed in a ha&e of bruise-tin-ed cloud' ,obbie waded into the shallow water, feelin- with his toes for conch shells' $eside the fire, fach came across a shark3s tooth the si&e of a -uitar pick' ;That3s probably a million years old,< said Tyler enviously' ;Almost as old as !ad,< said fach' ,obbie flopped down beside 0eonard' ;(t3s so weird,< he said, shakin- sand from a conch' ;There3s a whole strin- of these islands, but ( haven3t seen a boat the entire time we3ve been here'< ;Are you complainin-5< said 0eonard' ;No' *ust, don3t you think it3s weird5< ;#aybe'< 0eonard tossed his ci-arette into the fire' ;( want to stay'< fach rolled onto his back and watched as sparks flew amon- the first stars' ;!ad5 +hy can3t we :ust stay here5< ,obbie took a lon- pull from his beer' ;( have to -et back to work' And you -uys have school'< ;Fuck school,< said fach and Tyler' ;0isten'< The boys fell silent as 0eonard -lared at them' ;Tomorrow mornin- ( want to set everythinup' +e3ll shoot before the wind picks up too much' (3ll have the rest of the day to edit' Then we pack and head to Fayetteville on Saturday' +e3ll find some cheap place to stay, and drive home on Sunday'< The boys -roaned' Emery si-hed' ;$ack to the salt mines' ( -otta call that -uy about the show'< ;( want to have a few hours with #a--ie'< 0eonard pulled at the silver skull in his ear' ;( told the nurse

(3d be there Saturday before noon'< ;+e3ll have to leave pretty early,< said Emery' For a few minutes nobody spoke' +ind rattled brush in the dunes behind them' The bon=re leaped then subsided, and fach fed it a knot of driftwood' An unseen bird -ave a pipin- cry that was :oined by another, then another, until their plaintive voices momentarily drowned out the soft rush of waves' ,obbie -a&ed into the darkenin- water' (n his hand, the conch shell felt warm and as silken as skin' ;0ook, !ad,< said fach' ;$ats'< ,obbie leaned back to see black shapes dod-in- sparks above their heads' ;Nice,< he said, his voice thick from drink' ;+ell'< 0eonard stood and lit another ci-arette' ;(3m -oin- to bed'< ;#e, too,< said fach' ,obbie watched with mild surprise as the boys clambered to their feet, yawnin-' Emery removed a beer from the cooler, handed it to ,obbie' ;1eep an eye on the fire, compadre,< he said, and followed the others' ,obbie turned to study the dyin- bla&e' Ghostly runnels of -reen and blue ran alon- the driftwood branch' Salt, 0eonard had e plained to the boys, thou-h ,obbie wondered if that was true' .ow did 0eonard know all this stuff5 .e frowned, picked up a handful of sand and tossed it at the feeble bla&e, which promptly sank into sullen embers' ,obbie swore under his breath' .e finished his beer, stood, and walked unsteadily toward the water' The clouds obscured the moon, thou-h there was a faint umber -low reflected in the distant waves' .e stared at the hori&on, searchin- in vain for some si-n of life, li-hts from a cruise ship or plane8 turned and -a&ed up and down the len-th of the beach' Nothin-' Even the bon=re had died' .e stood on tiptoe and tried to peer past the hi-h dune, to where the beach house stood within the -rove of palmettos' Ni-ht swallowed everythin-, .e turned back to the waves lickin- at his bare feet' Somethin- stun- his face, blown sand or maybe a -nat' .e waved to disperse it, then fro&e' (n the water, plumes of li-ht coiled and unfolded, da&&lin- him' !eepest violet, a fiery emerald that stabbed his eyes8 cobalt and a pure bla&e of scarlet' .e shook his head, ed-in- backward8 cau-ht himself and looked around' .e was alone' .e turned back, and the li-hts were still there, :ust below the surface, furlin- and unfurlin- to some secret rhythm' 0ike a machine, he thou-ht8 some kind of underwater wind farm' A wave farm5 $ut no, that was cra&y' .e rubbed his cheeks, tryin- to sober up' .e3d seen somethin- like this in %cean "ity late one ni-ht=it was somethin- alive, 0eonard had e plained, plankton or :ellyfish, one of those thin-s that -lowed' They3d -otten hi-h and raced into the Atlantic to watch pale -reen streamers trail them as they body-surfed' Now he took a deep breath and waded in, kickin- at the waves, then halted to see if he3d churned up a luminous cloud' !arkness lapped almost to his knees) there was no telltale -low where he3d stirred the water' $ut a few yards away, the li-hts continued to turn in upon themselves beneath the surface) scores of fist-si&e

nebulae, as soundless and steady as his own pulse' .e stared until his head ached, tryin- to -et a fi on them' The li-hts weren3t diffuse, like phosphorescence' And they didn3t float like :ellyfish' They seemed to be rooted in place, near enou-h for him to touch' >et his eyes couldn3t focus) the harder he tried, the more the li-hts seemed to shift, like an optical illusion or some di&&yin- computer -ame' .e stood there for five minutes, maybe lon-er' Nothin- chan-ed' .e started to back away, slowly, finally turned and stumbled across the sand, stoppin- every few steps to -lance over his shoulder' The li-hts were still there, thou-h now he saw them only as a soft yellowish -low' .e ran the rest of the way to the house' There were no li-hts on, no music or lau-hter' $ut he could smell ci-arette smoke, and traced it to the deck, where 0eonard stood beside the rail' ;0eonardH< ,obbie drew alon-side him, then -lanced around for the boys' ;They slept inside,< said 0eonard' ;Too cold'< ;0isten, you have to see somethin-' %n the beach=these li-hts' Not on the beach, in the water'< .e -rabbed 0eonard3s arm' ;0ike=:ust come on'< 0eonard shook him off an-rily' ;>ou3re drunk'< ;(3m not drunkH %r, okay, maybe ( am, a little' $ut (3m not kiddin-' 0ook=< .e pointed past the sea of palmettos, past the dunes, toward the dark line of waves' The yellow -low was now span-led with silver' (t spread across the water, narrowin- as it faded toward the hori&on, like a waverin- path' 0eonard stared, then turned to ,obbie in disbelief' ;>ou idiot' (t3s the fuckin- moon'< ,obbie looked up' And yes, there was the 9uarter moon, a bla&e of -old between -aps in the cloud' ;That3s not it'< .e knew he sounded not :ust drunk but desperate' ;(t was in the water=< ;$ioluminescence'< 0eonard si-hed and tossed his ci-arette, then headed for the door' ;Go to bed, ,obbie'< ,obbie started to yell after him, but cau-ht himself and leaned a-ainst the rail' .is head throbbed' 2hantom blots of li-ht swam across his vision' .e felt di&&y, and on the ver-e of tears' .e closed his eyes8 forced himself to breathe slowly, to channel the pulsin- in his head into the memory of spectral whirlpools, a miniature -ala y blossomin- beneath the water' After a minute he looked out a-ain, but saw nothin- save the blades of palmetto leaves etched a-ainst the moonlit sky' .E +%1E SE@E,A0 .%/,S later on the couch, feelin- as thou-h an a were embedded in his forehead' Gray li-ht washed across the floor' (t was cold8 he reached fruitlessly for a blanket, -roaned, and sat up' Emery was in the open kitchen, washin- somethin- in the sink' .e -lanced at ,obbie, then hefted a coffeepot' ;,eady for this5< ,obbie nodded, and Emery handed him a steamin- mu-' ;+hat time is it53 ;Ei-ht, a little after' The boys are with 0eonard=they went out about an hour a-o' (t looks like rain, which kind of throws a monkey wrench into everythin-' #aybe it3ll hold off lon- enou-h to -et that

thin- off the -round'< ,obbie sipped his coffee' ;Seventeen seconds' .e could :ust throw it into the air'< ;>eah, ( thou-ht of that, too' So what happened to you last ni-ht5< ;Nothin-' Too much Tecate'< ;0eonard said you were ravin- drunk'< ;0eonard sets the bar pretty low' ( was=rela ed'< ;+ell, time to unrela ' ( told him (3d -et you up and we3d be at the beach by ei-ht'< ;( don3t even know what (3m doin-' Am ( a cameraman5< ;/h-uh' That3s me' >ou don3t know how to work it, plus it3s my camera' The boys are in char-e of the windbreak and, ( dunno, props' They hand thin-s to 0eonard'< ;Thin-s5 +hat thin-s5< ,obbie scowled' ;(t3s a fuckin- model airplane' (t doesn3t have a remote, does it5 $ecause that would have been a -ood idea'< Emery picked up his camera ba-' ;"ome on' >ou can carry the tripod, how3s that5 #aybe the boys will hand you thin-s, and you can hand them to 0eonard'< ;(3ll be there in a minute' Tell 0eonard he can start without me'< After Emery left he finished his coffee and went into his room' .e rumma-ed throu-h his clothes until he found a bottle of ibuprofen, downed si , then pulled on a hooded sweatshirt and sat on the ed-e of his bed, starin- at the wall' .e3d obviously had some kind of blackout, the first since he3d been fired from the parks commission' Somewhere between his seventh beer and this mornin-3s han-over was the blurred ima-e of "rayolacolored pinwheels turnin- beneath dark water, his stumblin- fli-ht from the beach, and 0eonard3s dis-usted voice) >ou idiot' (t3s the fuckin- moon' ,obbie -rimaced' .e had seen somethin-, he knew that' $ut he could no lon-er recall it clearly, and what he could remember made no sense' (t was like a movie he3d watched half awake, or an accident he3d -limpsed from the corner of his eye from a movin- car' #aybe it had been the moonli-ht, or some kind of fluorescent seaweed' %r maybe he3d :ust been totally wasted' ,obbie si-hed' .e put on his sneakers, -rabbed Emery3s tripod, and headed out' A scatterin- of cold rain met him as he hit the beach' (t was windy' The sea -linted -ray and silver, like crumpled tinfoil' "lumps of seaweed covered the sand, and small round disks that resembled pieces of clouded -lass) :ellyfish, hundreds of them' ,obbie prodded one with his foot, then continued down the shore' The dune was on the north side of the island, where it rose steeply a -ood fifteen feet above the sand' Now, a few hours before low tide, the water was about thirty feet away' (t was e actly the kind of place you mi-ht choose to launch a human-powered craft, if you knew little about aerodynamics' ,obbie didn3t know much, but he was fairly certain you needed to be hi-her to -et any kind of lift' Still, that would be for a full-si&e craft' For a scale model you could hold in your two cupped hands, maybe it would be hi-h enou-h' .e saw Emery pacin- alon- the water3s ed-e, vid cam slun- around his neck' The only si-n of the others was a trail of footsteps leadin- to the dune' ,obbie clambered up, usin- the tripod to keep from slippin- on sand the color and te ture of damp cornmeal' .e was pantin-

when he reached the top' ;.ey, !ad' +here were you5< ,obbie smiled weakly as fach peered out from the windbreak' ;( have a sinus infection'< fach motioned him inside' ;"ome on, ( can3t leave this open'< ,obbie set down the tripod, then crouched to enter the makeshift tent' (nside, bedsheet walls billowed in the wind, strainin- at an elaborate scaffold of broom handles, driftwood, the remains of wooden deck chairs' Tyler and fach sat cross-le--ed on a blanket and stared at their cell phones' ;>ou can -et a stron- si-nal here,< said Tyler' ;Nope, it3s -one a-ain'< Ne t to them, 0eonard knelt beside a cardboard bo ' (nstead of his customary white tunic, he wore one that was sky blue, embroidered with yellow birds' .e -lanced at ,obbie, his -ray eyes cold and dismissive' ;There3s only room for three people in here'< ;That3s okay=(3m -oin- out,< said fach, and crawled throu-h the -ap in the sheets' Tyler followed him' ,obbie :ammed his hands into his pockets and forced a smile' ;So,< he said' ;!id you see all those :ellyfish5< 0eonard nodded without lookin- at him' @ery carefully he removed the $ellerophon and set it on a neatly folded towel' .e reached into the bo a-ain and withdrew somethin- else' A doll no bi--er than his hand, dressed in a black frock coat and trousers, with a bowler hat so small that ,obbie could have swallowed it' ;@oilk,< said 0eonard' ;*esus, 0eonard'< ,obbie hesitated, then asked, ;"an ( look at it5< To his surprise, 0eonard nodded' ,obbie picked it up' The little fi-ure was so li-ht he wondered if there was anythin- inside the tiny suit' $ut as he turned it -ently, he could feel slender :oints under its clothin-, a miniature torso' Tiny hands protruded from the sleeves, and it wore minute, hi-hly polished shoes that appeared to be made of black leather' /nder the frock coat was a waistcoat, with a watch chain of -old thread that dan-led from a nearly invisible pocket' From beneath the bowler hat peeked a frin-e of red hair as fine as milkweed down' The cameo-si&e face that stared up at ,obbie was #a--ie $levin3s, painted in hairline strokes so that he could see every eyelash, every freckle on her rounded cheeks' .e looked at 0eonard in ama&ement' ;.ow did you do this5< ;(t took a lon- time'< .e held out his hand, and ,obbie returned the doll' ;The hardest part was makinsure the $ellerophon could carry her wei-ht' And that she fit into the bicycle seat and could pedal it' >ou wouldn3t think that would be difficult, but it was'< ;(t=it looks :ust like her'< ,obbie -lanced at the doll a-ain, then said, ;( thou-ht you wanted to make everythin- look like the ori-inal film' >ou know, with #c"auley=( thou-ht that was the point'< ;The point is for it to fly'< ;$ut=< ;>ou don3t need to understand,< said 0eonard' ;#a--ie will'< .e bent over the little aircraft, its multicolored win-s and silken parasol as bri-ht as a toy carousel, and tenderly be-an to fit the doll-si&e pilot into its seat' ,obbie shivered' .e3d seen 0eonard3s handiwork before, manne9uins so realistic that tourists

constantly poked them to see if they were alive' $ut those were life-si&e, and they weren3t desi-ned to resemble someone he knew' The si-ht of 0eonard holdin- a tiny #a--ie $levin tenderly, as thou-h she were a captive bird, made ,obbie feel li-ht-headed and sli-htly sick' .e turned toward the tent openin-' ;(3ll see if ( can help Emery set up'< 0eonard3s -a&e remained fi ed on the tiny fi-ure' ;(3ll be ri-ht there,< he said at last' At the foot of the dune, the boys were tryin- to talk Emery into lettin- them use the camera' ;No way'< .e waved as ,obbie scrambled down' ;See, (3m not even lettin- your dad do it'< ;That3s because !ad would suck,< fach said as Emery -rabbed ,obbie and steered him toward the water' ;"ome on, :ust for a minute'< ;Trouble with the crew5< asked ,obbie' ;Nah' They3re :ust -ettin- bored'< ;!id you see that doll5< ;The (ncredible Shrinkin- #a--ie5< Emery stopped to stare at the dune' ;The thin- about 0eonard is, ( can never fi-ure out if he3s brilliant or potentially dan-erous' The fact that he3ll be able to retire with a full -overnment pension su--ests he3s normal' The #a--ie voodoo doll, thou-h7< .e shook his head and be-an to pace a-ain' ,obbie walked beside him, kickin- at wet sand and starincuriously at the sky' The air smelled odd, of o&one or hot metal' $ut it felt too chilly for a thunderstorm, and the dark rid-e that hun- above the palmettos and live oaks looked more like encroachin- fo- than cumulus clouds' ;+ell, at least the wind3s from the ri-ht direction,< said ,obbie' Emery nodded' ;>eah' ( was startin- to think we3d have to throw it from the roof'< A few minutes later, 0eonard3s voice ran- out above the wind' ;%kay, everyone over here'< They -athered at the base of the dune and stared up at him, his tunic an a&ure rent in the ominous sky' $etween 0eonard3s feet was a cardboard bo ' .e -lanced at it and went on' ;(3m -oin- to wait till the wind seems ri-ht, and then (3ll yell, LNowH3 Emery, you3ll :ust have to watch me and see where she -oes, then do your best' fach and Tyler=you -uys fan out and be ready to catch her if she starts to fall' "atch her -ently,< he added' ;+hat about me5< called ,obbie' ;>ou stay with Emery in case he needs backup'< ;$ackup5< ,obbie frowned' ;>ou know,< said Emery in a low voice' ;(n case ( need help -ettin- 0eonard back to the rubber room'< The boys be-an to walk toward the water' Tyler had his cell phone out' .e looked at fach, who du- his phone from his pocket' ;Are they te tin- each other5< asked Emery in disbelief' ;They3re ten feet apart'< ;,eady5< 0eonard shouted' ;,eady,< the boys yelled back' ,obbie turned to Emery' ;+hat about you, "aptain #arvo5< Emery -rinned and held up the camera' ;( have never been readier'<

Atop the dune, 0eonard stooped to retrieve the $ellerophon from its bo ' As he strai-htened, its propellers be-an turnin- madly' "andy-striped rotators spun like pinwheels as he cradled it a-ainst his chest, his lon- white braids threatenin- to tan-le with the parasol' The wind -usted suddenly) ,obbie3s throat ti-htened as he watched the tiny black fi-ure beneath the fusela-e swin- wildly back and forth, like an accelerated pendulum' 0eonard slipped in the sand and fou-ht to re-ain his balance' ;/h-oh,< said Emery' The wind died, and 0eonard ri-hted himself' Even from the beach, ,obbie could see how his face had -one white' ;Are you okay5< yelled fach' ;(3m okay,< 0eonard yelled back' .e -ave them a shaky smile, then stared intently at the hori&on' After a minute his head tilted, as thou-h listenin- to somethin-' Abruptly he strai-htened and raised the $ellerophon in both hands' $ehind him, palmettos thrashed as the wind -usted' ;NowH< he shouted' 0eonard opened his hands' As thou-h it were a butterfly, the $ellerophon lifted into the air' (ts feathery parasol billowed' Fan-shaped win-s rose and fell8 ailerons flapped and -ears whirled like pinwheels' There was a sound like a train rushin- throu-h a tunnel, and ,obbie stared open-mouthed as the $ellerophon skimmed the air above his head, its pilot pedalin- furiously as it headed toward the sea' ,obbie -asped' The boys raced after it, yellin-' Emery followed, camera clamped to his face and ,obbie at his heels' ;This is fuckin- incredibleH< Emery shouted' ;0ook at that thin- -oH< They drew up a few yards from the water' The $ellerophon whirred past, barely an arm3s len-th above them' ,obbie3s eyes blurred as he stared after that brilliant whirl of color and motion, a child3s dream of fli-ht soarin- :ust out of reach' Emery waded into the shallows with his camera' The boys followed, splashin- and wavin- at the little plane' From the dune behind them echoed 0eonard3s voice' ;Godspeed'< ,obbie -a&ed silently at the hori&on as the $ellerophon continued on, its pilot silhouetted black a-ainst the sky, win-s opened like sails' (ts sound -rew fainter, a soft whirrin- that mi-ht have been a flock of birds' Soon it would be -one' ,obbie stepped to the water3s ed-e and craned his neck to keep it in si-ht' +ithout warnin- a -reen flare erupted from the waves and streamed toward the little aircraft' 0ike a meteor shootin- upward, emerald blossomed into a blindin- radiance that en-ulfed the $ellerophon' For an instant ,obbie saw the flyin- machine, a -olden wheel spinnin- within a comet3s heart' Then the bla&in- li-ht was -one, and with it the $ellerophon' ,obbie -a&ed, stunned, at the empty air' After an endless moment he became aware of somethin-= someone=near him' .e turned to see Emery sta--er from the water, soakin- wet, the camera held uselessly at his side' ;( dropped it,< he -asped' ;+hen that=whatever the fuck it was, when it came, ( dropped the camera'< ,obbie helped him onto the sand'

;( felt it'< Emery shuddered, his hand ti-ht around ,obbie3s arm' ;0ike a riptide' ( thou-ht (3d -o under'< ,obbie pulled away from him' ;fach5< he shouted, panicked' ;Tyler, fach, are you=< Emery pointed at the water, and ,obbie saw them, heron-steppin- throu-h the waves and whoopin- in triumph as they hurried back to shore' ;+hat happened5< 0eonard ran up alon-side ,obbie and -rabbed him' ;!id you see that5< ,obbie nodded' 0eonard turned to Emery, his eyes wild' ;!id you -et it5 The $ellerophon5 And that flare5 0ike the ori-inal filmH The same thin-, the e act same thin-H< Emery reached for ,obbie3s sweatshirt' ;Give me that, (3ll see if ( can dry the camera'< 0eonard stared blankly at Emery3s soaked clothes, the water drippin- from the vid cam' ;%h no'< .e covered his face with his hands' ;%h no7< ;+e -ot itH< fach pushed between the -rown-ups' ;+e -ot it, we -ot itH< Tyler ran up beside him, wavin- his cell phone' ;0ookH< Everyone crowded to-ether, the boys tiltin- their phones until the screens showed black' ;%kay,< said Tyler' ;+atch this'< ,obbie shaded his eyes, s9uintin-' And there it was, a bri-ht mote bobbin- across a formless -ray field, -rowin- bi--er and bi--er until he could see it clearly=the whirl of win-s and -ears, the balloonin- peacock-feather parasol and steadfast pilot on the velocipede8 the swift, silent flare that lashed from the water then disappeared in an eyeblink' ;Now watch mine,< said fach, and the same scene played a-ain from a different an-le' ;Ei-hteen seconds'< ;#ine says twenty,< said Tyler' ,obbie -lanced uneasily at the water' ;#aybe we should head back to the house,< he said' 0eonard sei&ed fach3s shoulder' ;"an you -et me that5 $oth of you5 E-mail it or somethin-5< ;Sure' $ut we3ll need to -o where we can -et a si-nal'< ;(3ll drive you,< said Emery' ;0et me -et into some dry clothes'< .e turned and trud-ed up the beach, the boys lau-hin- and runnin- behind him' 0eonard walked the last few steps to the water3s ed-e, spray stainin- the tip of one cowboy boot' .e stared at the hori&on, his e pression pu&&led yet oddly e pectant' ,obbie hesitated, then :oined him' The sea appeared calm, -reen--lass waves rollin- in lon- swells beneath parchment-colored sky' Throu-h a -ap in the clouds he could make out a -lint of blue, like a noonday star' .e -a&ed at it in silence, and after a minute asked, ;!id you know that was -oin- to happen5< 0eonard shook his head' ;No' .ow could (5< ;Then=what was it5< ,obbie looked at him helplessly' ;!o you have any idea5< 0eonard said nothin-' Finally he turned to ,obbie' /ne pectedly, he smiled' ;( have no clue' $ut you saw it, ri-ht5< ,obbie nodded' ;And you saw her fly' The $ellerophon'<

0eonard took another step, heedless of the waves at his feet' ;She flew'< .is voice was barely a whisper' ;She really flew'< T.AT N(G.T N%$%!> S0E2T' Emery drove fach, Tyler, and 0eonard to a !unkin3 !onuts where the boys -ot a cell-phone si-nal and sent their movie foota-e to 0eonard3s laptop' $ack at the house, he disappeared while the others sat on the deck and discussed, over and over a-ain, what they had seen' The boys wanted to return to the beach, but ,obbie refused to let them -o' As a peace offerin-, he -ave them each a beer' $y the time 0eonard emer-ed from his room with the laptop, it was after three A'#' .e set the computer on a table in the livin- room' ;See what you think'< +hen the others had assembled, he hit 2lay' $lotched letters filled the screen) ;The #aiden Fli-ht of #c"auley3s $ellerophon'< The familiar tipsy hori&on appeared, sepia and amber, silvery flashes from the sea below' ,obbie held his breath' And there was the $ellerophon with its flickerin- wheels and win-s propelled by a steadfast pilot, until the brilliant li-ht struck from below and the clip abruptly ended, at e actly seventeen seconds' Nothinbetrayed the fi-ure as #a--ie rather than #c"auley8 nothin- seemed any different at all, no matter how many times 0eonard played it back' ;So that3s it,< he said at last, and closed his laptop' ;Are you -oin- to put it on >ouTube5< asked fach' ;No,< he replied wearily' The boys e chan-ed a look, but for once remained silent' ;+ell'< Emery stood and stretched his arms, yawnin-' ;Time to pack'< Two hours later they were on the road' The hospice was a few miles outside town, a ramblin- old white house surrounded by neatly kept a&aleas and rhododendrons' The boys were turned loose to wander the nei-hborhood' The others walked up to the veranda, 0eonard carryin- his laptop' .e looked terrible, his -ray eyes bloodshot and his face unshaven' Emery put an arm over his shoulder and 0eonard nodded stiffly' A nurse met them at the door, a trim blond woman in chinos and a yellow blouse' ;( told her you were comin-,< she said as she showed them into a sunlit room with wicker furniture and a low table covered with books and ma-a&ines' ;She3s the only one here now, thou-h we e pect someone tomorrow'< ;.ow is she5< asked 0eonard' ;She sleeps most of the time' And she3s on morphine for the pain, so she3s not very lucid' .er body3s shuttin- down' $ut she3s conscious'< ;.as she had many visitors5< asked Emery' ;Not since she3s been here' (n the hospital a few nei-hbors dropped by' ( -ather there3s no family' (t3s a shame'< She shook her head sadly' ;She3s a lovely woman'< ;"an ( see her5< 0eonard -lanced at a closed door at the end of the bri-ht room' ;%f course'< ,obbie and Emery watched them -o, then settled into the wicker chairs' ;God, this is depressin-,< said Emery'

;(t3s better than a hospital,< said ,obbie' ;Anna was -oin- to -o into a hospice, but she died before she could'< Emery winced' ;Sorry' %f course, ( wasn3t thinkin-'< ;(t3s okay'< ,obbie leaned back and shut his eyes' .e saw Anna sittin- on the -rass with a&aleas all around her, bees in the flowers and fach lau-hin- as he opened his hands to release a -reen moth that lit momentarily upon her head, then drifted into the sky' ;,obbie'< .e started awake' Emery sat beside him, shakin- him -ently' ;.ey=(3m -oin- in now' Go back to sleep if you want, (3ll wake you when ( come out'< ,obbie looked around blearily' ;+here3s 0eonard5< ;.e went for a walk' .e3s pretty broken up' .e wanted to be alone for a while'< ;Sure, sure'< ,obbie rubbed his eyes' ;(3ll :ust wait'< +hen Emery was -one he stood and paced the room' After a few minutes he si-hed and sank back into his chair, then idly flipped throu-h the ma-a&ines and books on the table' Tricycle, Newsweek, the /tne ,eader8 some pamphlets on end-of-life issues8 works by @iktor Frankl and Elisabeth 1ebler-,oss' And, underneath yesterday3s newspaper, a familiar sky blue dust :acket embla&oned with the -arish ima-e of a naked man and woman, hands linked as they floated above a vast abyss, surrounded by a -lowin- purple sphere' $eneath them the title appeared in embossed -reen letters' +in-s for .umanityH The Ne t Step is %/,SH by #ar-aret S' $levin, 2h! ,obbie picked it up' %n the back was a photo-raph of the youn-er #a--ie in a white, embroidered tunic, her hair a bri-ht corona around her pi9uant face' She stood in the .all of Fli-ht beside a mock-up of the Apollo lunar module, the +ri-ht Flyer hi-h above her head' She was lau-hin-, her hands raised in welcome' .e opened it to a random pa-e' 7that time has come) with the dawn of the Golden #illennium we will welcome their return, meetinthem at last as e9uals to share in the -lory that is the birthri-ht of our species' .e -lanced at the frontispiece and title pa-e, and then the dedication' For 0eonard, who never doubted ;(sn3t that an ama&in- book5< ,obbie looked up to see the nurse smilin- down at him' ;/h, yeah,< he said, and set it on the table' ;(t3s incredible she predicted so much stuff'< The nurse shook her head' ;0ike the .ubble telescope, and that caveman they found in the -lacier, the -uy with the lens5 And those turbines that can make ener-y in the :et stream5 ( never even heard of that, but my husband said they3re real' Everythin- she says, it3s all so hopeful' >ou know5< ,obbie stared at her, then 9uickly nodded' $ehind her the door opened' Emery stepped out' ;She3s kind of driftin-,< he said' ;#ornin-3s her -ood time' She usually fades around now'< The nurse -lanced at her watch, then at

,obbie' ;>ou -o ahead' !on3t be surprised if she nods off'< .e stood' ;Sure' Thanks'< The room was small, its walls painted a soft lavender--ray' The bed faced a lar-e window overlookina -arden' Goldfinches and tiny -reen wrens darted between a bird feeder and a small pool lined with flat white stones' For a moment ,obbie thou-ht the bed was empty' Then he saw that an emaciated fi-ure had slipped down between the white sheets, dwarfed by pillows and a bolster' ;#a--ie5< The fi-ure turned its head' .airless, skin white as paper, mottled with bruises like spilled ink' .er lips and fin-ernails were violet, her face so pale and lined it was like -a&in- at a cracked e--' %nly the eyes were reco-ni&ably #a--ie3s, hu-e, the deep slatey blue of an infant3s' As she stared at him, she drew her wi&ened arms up, slowly, until her fin-ers -ra&ed her shoulders' She reminded ,obbie disturbin-ly of a prayin- mantis' ;( don3t know if you remember me'< .e sat in a chair beside the bed' ;(3m ,obbie' ( worked with 0eonard' At the museum'< ;.e told me'< .er voice was so soft he had to lean close to hear her' ;(3m -lad they -ot here' ( e pected them yesterday, when it was still snowin-'< ,obbie recalled Anna in her hospital bed, doped to the -ills and talkin- to herself' ;Sure,< he said' #a--ie shot him a -lance that mi-ht have held annoyance, then -a&ed past him into the -arden' .er eyes widened as she stru--led to lift her hand, fin-ers twitchin-' ,obbie reali&ed she was wavin-' .e turned to stare out the window, but there was no one there' #a--ie looked at him, then -estured at the door' ;>ou can -o now,< she said' ;( have -uests'< ;%h' >eah, sorry'< .e stood awkwardly, then leaned down to kiss the top of her head' .er skin was as smooth and cold as metal' ;3$ye, #a--ie'< At the door he looked back, and saw her -a&in- with a rapt e pression at the window, head cocked sli-htly and her hands open, as thou-h to catch the sunli-ht' T+% !A>S AFTE, T.E> -ot home, ,obbie received an e-mail from 0eonard' !ear ,obbie, #a--ie died this mornin-' The nurse said she became unconscious early yesterday, seemed to be in pain but at least it didn3t last lon-' She had arran-ed to be cremated' No memorial service or anythinlike that' ( will do somethin-, probably not till the fall, and let you know' >ours, 0eonard ,obbie si-hed' Already the week on "owana seemed lon- a-o and faintly dreamlike, like the memory of a childhood vacation' .e wrote 0eonard a note of condolence, then left for work' +eeks passed' fach and Tyler posted their clips of the $ellerophon online' ,obbie met Emery for drinks ever week or two, and saw 0eonard once, at Emery3s Fourth of *uly barbecue' $y the end of summer, Tyler3s foota-e had been viewed BG`,CIB times, and fach3s BG`,GEF' $oth provided a link to

the "aptain #arvo site, where Emery had a free download of the entire te t of +in-s for .umanityH There were now over a thousand Goo-le hits for #ar-aret $levin, and Emery added a $ellerophon Tshirt to his merchandise) or-anic cotton with a silk-screened ima-e of the baro9ue aircraft and its bowler-hatted pilot' Early in September, 0eonard called ,obbie' ;"an you meet me at the museum tomorrow, around ei-ht thirty5 (3m havin- a memorial for #a--ie, :ust you and me and Emery' After hours, (3ll si-n you in'< ;Sure,< said ,obbie' ;"an ( brin- somethin-5< ;*ust yourself' See you then'< .e drove in with Emery' They walked across the twilit #all, the museum a white cube that -lowed a-ainst a sky swiftly darkenin- to indi-o' 0eonard waited for them by the side door' .e wore an embroidered tunic, sky blue, his white hair loose upon his shoulders, and held a cardboard bo with a small printed label' ;"ome on,< he said' The museum had been closed since five, but a -uard opened the door for them' ;+e don3t have a lot of time'< .ed-es sat at the security desk, bald and even more imposin- than when ,obbie last saw him, decades a-o' .e si-ned them in, eyein- ,obbie curiously then -rinnin- when he read his si-nature' ;( remember you=%pie, ri-ht5< ,obbie winced at the nickname, then nodded' .ed-es handed 0eonard a slip of paper' ;$e 9uick'< ;Thanks' ( will'< They walked to the staff elevator, the empty museum eerie and blue lit' .i-h above them the silent aircraft seemed smaller than they had been in the past, battered and oddly toylike' ,obbie noticed a crack in the Gemini @(( space capsule, and strands of dust clin-in- to the +ri-ht Flyer' +hen they reached the third floor, 0eonard led them down the corridor, past the photo lab, past the staff cafeteria, past the library where the Nut Files used to be' Finally he stopped at a door near some open ductwork' .e looked at the slip of paper .ed-es had -iven him, punched a series of numbers into the lock, opened it then reached in to switch on the li-ht' (nside was a narrow room with a metal ladder fi ed to one wall' ;+here are we -oin-5< asked ,obbie' ;The roof,< said 0eonard' ;(f we -et cau-ht, .ed-es and ( are screwed' Actually, we3re all screwed' So we have to make this fast'< .e tucked the cardboard bo a-ainst his chest, then be-an to climb the ladder' Emery and ,obbie followed him, to a small metal platform and another door' 0eonard punched in another code and pushed it open' They stepped out into the ni-ht' (t was like bein- atop an ocean liner' The museum3s roof was flat, nearly a block lon-' .ot air blasted from hu-e e haust vents, and 0eonard motioned the others to move away, toward the far end of the buildin-' The air was cooler here, a bree&e that smelled sweet and rainwashed, despite the cloudless sky' $eneath them stretched the #all, a vast -reen -ame board, with the other museums and monuments hu-e -ame pieces, ivory and ony and -lass' The spire of the +ashin-ton #onument rose in the distance, and beyond that the -litterin- reaches of ,oslyn and "rystal "ity'

;(3ve never been here,< said ,obbie, steppin- beside 0eonard' Emery shook his head' ;#e neither'< ;( have,< said 0eonard, and smiled' ;*ust once, with #a--ie'< Above the "apitol3s dome hun- the full moon, so bri-ht a-ainst the starless sky that ,obbie could read what was printed on 0eonard3s bo ' #A,GA,ET $0E@(N ;These are her ashes'< 0eonard set the bo down and removed the top, revealin- a &iplocked ba-' .e opened the ba-, picked up the bo a-ain, and stood' ;She wanted me to scatter them here' ( wanted both of you to be with me'< .e dipped his hand into the ba- and withdrew a clenched fist8 held the bo out to Emery, who nodded silently and did the same8 then turned to ,obbie' ;>ou too,< he said' ,obbie hesitated, then put his hand into the bo ' +hat was inside felt -ritty, more like sand than ash' +hen he looked up, he saw that 0eonard had stepped forward, head thrown back so that he -a&ed at the moon' .e drew his arm back, flun- the ashes into the sky, and stooped to -rab more' Emery -lanced at ,obbie, and the two of them opened their hands' ,obbie watched the ashes stream from between his fin-ers, like a fli-ht of tiny moths' Then he turned and -athered more, the three of them tossin- handful after handful into the sky' +hen the bo was finally empty, ,obbie strai-htened, breathin- hard, and ran a hand across his eyes' .e didn3t know if it was some trick of the moonli-ht or the freshenin- wind, but everywhere around them, everywhere he looked, the air was filled with win-s'

T)e De3il on t)e Staircase b! Joe &ill

( was born in Sulle Scale the child of a common bricklayer' The villa-e of my birth nested in the hi-hest sharpest rid-es, hi-h above 2ositano, and in the cold sprin- the clouds crawled alon- the streets like a procession of -hosts' (t was ei-ht hundred and twenty steps from Sulle Scale to the world below' ( know' ( walked them a-ain and a-ain with my father, followin- his tread, from our home in the sky, and then back a-ain' After his death ( walked them often enou-h alone'

The cliffs were ma&ed with crooked staircases, made from brick in some places, -ranite in others' #arble here, limestone there, clay tiles, or beams of lumber' +hen there were stairs to build my father built them' +hen the steps were washed out by sprin- rains it fell to him to repair them' For years he had a donkey to carry his stone' After it fell dead, he had me' ( hated him of course' .e had his cats and he san- to them and poured them saucers of milk and told them foolish stories and stroked them in his lap and when one time ( kicked one= ( do not remember why=he kicked me to the floor and said not to touch his babies' So ( carried his rocks when ( should have been carryinschoolbooks, but ( cannot pretend ( hated him for that' ( had no use for school, hated to study, hated to read, felt acutely the stiflin- heat of the sin-le room schoolhouse, the only -ood thin- in it my cousin, 0ithodora, who read to the little children, sittin- on a stool with her back erect, chin lifted hi-h, and her white throat showin-'

( often ima-ined her throat was as cool as the marble altar in our church and ( wanted to rest my brow upon it as ( had the altar' .ow she read in her low steady voice, the very voice you dream of callin- to you when you3re sick, sayinyou will be healthy a-ain and know only the sweet fever of her body' ( could3ve loved books if ( had her to read them to me, beside me in my bed' ( knew every step of the stairs between Sulle Scale and 2ositano, lon- fli-hts that dropped throu-h canyons and descended into tunnels bored in the limestone, past orchards and the ruins of derelict paper mills, past waterfalls and -reen pools' ( walked those stairs when ( slept, in my dreams' The trail my father and ( walked most often led past a painted red -ate, barrin- the way to a crooked staircase' ( thou-ht those steps led to a private villa and paid the -ate no mind until the day ( paused on the way down with a load of marble and leaned on it to rest and it swun- open to my touch'

#y father, he la--ed thirty or so stairs behind me' ( stepped throu-h the -ate onto the landin- to see where these stairs led' ( saw no villa or vineyard below, only the staircase fallin- away from me down amon- the sheerest of sheer cliffs' ;Father,< ( called out as he came near, the slap of his feet echoin- off the rocks and his breath whistlin- out of him' ;.ave you ever taken these stairs5< +hen he saw me standininside the -ate he paled and had my shoulder in an instant was haulin- me back onto the main staircase' .e said, ;.ow did you open the red -ate5< ;(t was open when ( -ot here,< ( said' ;!on3t they lead all the way down to the sea5< ;No'< ;$ut it looks as if they -o all the way to the bottom'< ;They -o farther than that,< my father said and he crossed himself' Then he said a-ain, ;The -ate is always locked'< And he stared at me, the whites of his eyes showin-' (

had never seen him look at me so, had never thou-ht ( would see him afraid of me' 0ithodora lau-hed when ( told her and said my father was old and superstitious' She told me that there was a tale that the stairs beyond the painted -ate led down to hell' ( had walked the mountain a thousand times more than 0ithodora and wanted to know how she could know such a story when ( myself had never heard any mention of it' She said the old folks never spoke of it, but had put the story down in a history of the re-ion, which ( would know if ( had ever read any of the teacher3s assi-nments' ( told her ( could never concentrate on books when she was in the same room with me' She lau-hed' $ut when ( tried to touch her throat she flinched' #y fin-ers brushed her breast instead and she was an-ry and she told me that ( needed to wash my hands' After my father died=he was walkin- down the stairs with a load of tiles when a stray cat shot out in front of him and rather than step on it, he stepped into space and fell fifty feet to be impaled upon a tree=( found a more lucrative use for my donkey le-s and yardarm shoulders' ( entered the employ of !on "arlotta who kept a terraced vineyard in the steeps of Sulle Scale'

( hauled his wine down the ei-ht hundred odd steps to 2ositano, where it was sold to a rich Saracen, a prince it was told, dark and slender and more fluent in my lan-ua-e than myself, a clever youn- man who knew how to read thin-s) musical notes, the stars, a map, a se tant' %nce ( stumbled on a fli-ht of brick steps as ( was makin- my way down with the !on3s wine and a strap slipped and the crate on my back struck the cliff wall and a bottle was smashed' ( brou-ht it to the Saracen on the 9uay' .e said either ( drank it or ( should have, for that bottle was worth all ( made in a month' .e told me ( could consider myself paid and paid well' .e lau-hed and his white teeth flashed in his black face' ( was sober when he lau-hed at me but soon enou-h had a head full of wine' Not !on "arlotta3s smooth and peppery red mountain wine but the cheapest "hianti in the Taverna, which ( drank with a passel of unemployed friends' 0ithodora found me after it was dark and she stood over me, her dark hair framin- her cool, white beautiful, dis-usted, lovin- face' She said she had the silver ( was owed' She had told her friend Ahmed that he had insulted an honest man, that my family traded in hard labor, not lies and he was lucky ( had not= ;=did you call him friend5<

( said' ;A monkey of the desert who knows nothin- of "hrist the lord5< The way that she looked at me then made me ashamed' The way she put the money in front of me made me more ashamed' ;( see you have more use for this than you have for me,< she said before she went' ( almost -ot up to -o after her' Almost' %ne of my friends asked, ;.ave you heard the Saracen -ave your cousin a slave bracelet, a loop of silver bells, to wear around her ankle5 ( suppose in the Arab lands, such -ifts are made to every new whore in the harem'< ( came to my feet so 9uickly my chair fell over' ( -rabbed his throat in both hands and said, ;>ou lie' .er father would never allow her to accept such a -ift from a -odless blackamoor'< $ut another friend said the Arab trader was -odless no more' 0ithodora had tau-ht Ahmed to read 0atin, usin- the $ible as his -rammar, and he claimed now to have entered into the li-ht of "hrist, and he -ave the bracelet to her with the full knowled-e of her parents, as a way to show thanks for introducin- him to the -race of our Father who art' +hen my first friend had recovered his breath, he told me 0ithodora climbed

the stairs every ni-ht to meet with him secretly in empty shepherds3 huts or in the caves, or amon- the ruins of the paper mills, by the roar of the waterfall, as it leapt like li9uid silver in the moonli-ht, and in such places she was his pupil and he a firm and most demandin- tutor' .e always went ahead and then she would ascend the stairs in the dark wearin- the bracelet' +hen he heard the bells he would li-ht a candle to show her where he waited to be-in the lesson' ( was so drunk' ( set out for 0ithodora3s house, with no idea what ( meant to do when ( -ot there' ( came up behind the cotta-e where she lived with her parents thinkin- ( would throw a few stones to wake her and brin- her to her window' $ut as ( stole toward the back of the house ( heard a silvery tinklin- somewhere above me' She was already on the stairs and climbin- into the stars with her white dress swin-in- from her hips and the bracelet around her ankle so bri-ht in the -loom' #y heart thudded, a cask flundown a staircase)

doom doom doom doom' ( knew the hills better than anyone and ( ran another way, makin- a steep climb up crude steps of mud to -et ahead of her, then re:oinin- the main path up to Sulle Scale' ( still had the silver coin the Saracen prince had -iven her, when she went to him and dishonored me by be--in- him to pay me the wa-e ( was properly owed' ( put his silver in a tin cup ( had and slowed to a walk and went alon- shakin- his *udas coin in my old battered mu-' Such a pretty rin-in- it made in the echoin- canyons, on the stairs, in the ni-ht, hi-h above 2ositano and the crash and si-h of the sea, as the tide consummated the desire of water to pound the earth into submission' At last, pausinto catch my breath, ( saw a candleflame leap up off in the darkness' (t was in a handsome ruin, a place of hi-h -ranite walls matted with wildflowers and ivy' A vast entryway looked into a room with a -rass floor and a roof of stars, as if the place had been built, not to -ive shelter from the natural world, but to protect a vir-in corner of wildness from the violation of man' Then a-ain it seemed a pa-an place, the natural settin- for an or-y hosted by fauns with their -oaty hooves, their flutes and their furred cocks' So the archway into that private courtyard of weeds and summer -reen seemed the entrance to a hall awaitin- revelers for a private bacchanal' .e

waited on spread blanket, with a bottle of the !on3s wine and some books and he smiled at the tinklin- sound of my approach but stopped when ( came into the li-ht, a block of rou-h stone already in my free hand' ( killed him there' ( did not kill him out of family honor or :ealousy, did not hit him with the stone because he had laid claim to 0ithodora3s cool white body, which she would never offer me' ( hit him with the block of stone because ( hated his black face' After ( stopped hittin- him, ( sat with him' ( think ( took his wrist to see if he had a pulse, but after ( knew he was dead, ( went on holdinhis hand listenin- to the hum of the crickets in the -rass, as if he were a small child, my child, who had only drifted off after fi-htin- sleep for a very lon- time' +hat brou-ht me out of my stupor was the sweet music of bells comin- up

the stairs toward us' ( leapt up and ran but !ora was already there, comin- throu-h the doorway, and ( nearly struck her on my way by' She reached out for me with one of her delicate white hands and said my name but ( did not stop' ( took the stairs three at a time, runninwithout thou-ht, but ( was not fast enou-h and ( heard her when she shouted his name, once and a-ain' ( don3t know where ( was runnin-' Sulle Scale, maybe, thou-h ( knew they would look for me there first once 0ithodora went down the steps and told them what ( had done to the Arab' ( did not slow down until ( was -ulpin- for air and my chest was filled with fire and then ( leaned a-ainst a -ate at the side of the path= you know what -ate= and it swun- open at first touch' ( went throu-h the -ate and started down the steep staircase beyond' ( thou-ht no one will look for me here and ( can hide a while and= No' ( thou-ht, these stairs will lead to the road and ( will head north to Napoli and buy a ticket for a ship to the /'S' and take a new name, start a new= No'

Enou-h' The truth) ( believed the stairs led down into hell and hell was where ( wanted to -o' The steps at first were of old white stone, but as ( continued alonthey -rew sooty and dark' %ther staircases mer-ed with them here and there, descendinfrom other points on the mountain' ( couldn3t see how that was possible' ( thou-ht ( had walked all the fli-hts of stairs in the hills, e cept for the steps ( was on and ( couldn3t think for the life of me where those other staircases mi-ht be comin- from' The forest around me had been pur-ed by fire at some time in the not so far-off past, and ( made my descent throu-h stands of scorched, shattered pines, the hillside all blackened and charred' %nly there had been no fire on that part of the hill, not for as lon- as ( could remember' The bree&e carried on it an unmistakable warmth' ( be-an to feel unpleasantly overheated in my clothes' ( followed the staircase round a switchback and saw below me a boy sittin- on a stone landin-' .e had a collection of curious wares

spread on a blanket' There was a wind-up tin bird in a ca-e, a basket of white apples, a dented -old li-hter' There was a :ar and in the :ar was li-ht' This li-ht would increase in bri-htness until the landin- was lit as if by the risin- sun, and then it would collapse into darkness, shrinkin- to a sin-le point like some impossibly brilliant li-htnin- bu-' .e smiled to see me' .e had -olden hair and the most beautiful smile ( have ever seen on a child3s face and ( was afraid of him=even before he called out to me by name' ( pretended ( didn3t hear him, pretended he wasn3t there, that ( didn3t see him, walked ri-ht past him' .e lau-hed to see me hurryin- by' The farther ( went the steeper it -ot' There seemed to be a li-ht below, as if somewhere beyond a led-e, throu-h the trees, there was a -reat city, on the scale of ,oma, a bowl of li-hts like a bed of embers' ( could smell food cookin- on the bree&e' if it was food=that hun-ry-makinperfume of meat charrin- over flame' @oices ahead of me) a man speakinwearily, perhaps to himself, a lonand :oyless discourse8 someone else lau-hin-, bad lau-hter, unhin-ed and an-ry' A third man was askin- 9uestions'

;(s a plum sweeter after it has been pushed in the mouth of a vir-in to silence her as she is taken5 And who will claim the baby child sleepin- in the cradle made from the rotten carcass of the lamb that laid with the lion only to be eviscerated5< And so on' At the ne t turn in the steps they finally came into si-ht' They lined the stairs) half a do&en men nailed on to crosses of blackened pine' ( couldn3t -o on and for a time ( couldn3t -o back8 it was the cats' %ne of the men had a wound in his side, a red seepin- wound that made a puddle on the stairs, and kittens lapped at it as if it were cream and he was talkin- to them in his tired voice, tellin- all the -ood kitties to drink their fill' ( did not -o close enou-h to see his face' At last ( returned the way ( had come on shaky le-s' The boy awaited me with his collection of oddities' ;+hy not sit and rest your sore feet, Muirinus "alvino5< he asked me' And ( sat down across from him, not because ( wanted to but because that was where my le-s -ave out'

Neither of us spoke at first' .e smiled across the blanket spread with his -oods, and ( pretended an interest in the stone wall that overhun- the landin- there' That li-ht in the :ar built and built until our shadows lun-ed a-ainst the rock like deformed -iants, before the bri-htness winked out and plun-ed us back into our shared darkness' .e offered me a skin of water but ( knew better than to take anythinfrom that child' %r thou-ht ( knew better' The li-ht in the :ar be-an to -row a-ain, a sin-le floatinpoint of perfect whiteness, swellin- like a balloon' ( tried to look at it, but felt a pinch of pain in the back of my eyeballs and -lanced away' ;+hat is that5 (t burns my eyes,< ( asked' ;A little spark stolen from the sun' >ou can do all sorts of wonderful thin-s with it' >ou could make a furnace with it, a -iant furnace, powerful enou-h to warm a whole city, and li-ht a thousand Edison li-hts' 0ook how bri-ht it -ets' >ou have to be careful thou-h' (f you were to smash this :ar and let the spark escape, that same city would disappear in a clap of bri-htness' >ou can have it if you want'< ;No, ( don3t want it,< ( said' ;No' %f course not' That isn3t your sort of thin-' No matter' Someone will be alon- later for this' $ut take somethin-' Anythin- you want,< he said' ;Are you 0ucifer5< ( asked in a rou-h voice' ;0ucifer is an awful old -oat who has a pitchfork and hooves and makes people suffer' ( hate sufferin-' ( only want to help people' ( -ive -ifts' That3s why (3m here' Everyone who walks these stairs before their time -ets a -ift to welcome them' >ou look thirsty' +ould you like an apple5< .oldin- up the basket of white apples as he spoke' ( was thirsty=my throat felt not :ust sore, but sin-ed, as if ( had inhaled smoke recently, and ( be-an to reach for the offered fruit, almost refle ively, but then drew my hand back for ( knew the lessons of at least one book' .e -rinned at me' ;Are those=< ( asked' ;They3re from a very old and honorable tree,< he said' ;>ou will never taste a sweeter fruit' And when you eat of it, you will be filled with ideas' >es, even one such as you, Muirinus "alvino, who barely learned to read'< ;( don3t want it,< ( said, when what ( really wanted to tell him was not to call me by name' ( could not bear that he knew my name' .e said, ;Everyone will want it' They will eat and eat and be filled with understandin-' +hy, learninhow to speak another lan-ua-e will be as simple as, oh, learnin- to build a bomb' *ust one bite of the apple away' +hat about the li-hter5 >ou can li-ht anythin- with this li-hter' A ci-arette' A pipe' A campfire' (ma-inations' ,evolutions' $ooks' ,ivers' The sky' Another man3s soul' Even the human soul has a temperature at which it becomes flammable' The li-hter has an enchantment on it, is tapped into the deepest wells of oil on the planet, and will set fire to thin-s for as lon- as the oil lasts, which ( am sure will be forever'< ;>ou have nothin- ( want,< ( said' ;( have somethin- for everyone,< he said' ( rose to my feet, ready to leave, althou-h ( had nowhere to -o' ( couldn3t walk back down the stairs' The thou-ht made me di&&y' Neither could ( -o back up' 0ithodora would have returned to the villa-e by now' They would be searchin- the stairs for me with torches' ( was surprised ( hadn3t heard them already'

The tin bird turned its head to look at me as ( swayed on my heels, and blinked, the metal shutters of its eyes snappin- closed, then poppin- open a-ain' (t let out a rusty cheep' So did (, startled by its sudden movement' ( had thou-ht it a toy, inanimate' (t watched me steadily and ( stared back' ( had, as a child, always had an interest in in-enious mechanical ob:ects, clockwork people who ran out of their hidinplaces at the stroke of noon, the woodcutter to chop wood, the maiden to dance a round' The boy followed my -a&e, and smiled, then opened the ca-e and reached in for it' The bird leaped li-htly onto his fin-er' ;(t sin-s the most beautiful son-,< he said' ;(t finds a master, a shoulder it likes to perch on, and it sin-s for this person all the rest of its days' The trick to makin- it sin- for you is to tell a lie' The bi--er the better' Feed it a lie, and it will sin- you the most marvelous little tune' 2eople love to hear its son-' They love it so much, they don3t even care they3re bein- lied to' .e3s yours if you want him'< ;( don3t want anythin- from you,< ( said, but when ( said it, the bird be-an to whistle) the sweetest, softest melody, as -ood a sound as the lau-hter of a pretty -irl, or your mother callin- you to dinner' The son- sounded a bit like somethin- played on a music bo , and ( ima-ined a studded cylinder turnin- inside it, ban-in- the teeth of a silver comb' ( shivered to hear it' (n this place, on these stairs, ( had never ima-ined ( could hear somethin- so ri-ht' .e lau-hed and waved his hand at me' The bird3s win-s snapped from the side of its body, like knives leapin- from sheaths, and it -lided up and lit on my shoulder' ;>ou see,< said the boy on the stairs' ;(t likes you'< ;( can3t pay,< ( said, my voice rou-h and stran-e' ;>ou3ve already paid,< said the boy' Then he turned his head and looked down the stairs and seemed to listen' ( heard a wind risin-' (t made a low, sou-hin- moan as it came up throu-h the channel of the staircase, a deep and lonely and restless cry' The boy looked back at me' ;Now