Regarding Hope

In the city on the edge of the void the Nose makes her living tracking down Froot Loops for creatures forsaken of the Lord.

Solomon walks through the city. His feet go ‘tik tik tik’ on the metal of it.

He’s surrounded by scrap and stinking filth. That’s all the city is. It’s the bits that the Lord has thrown away, infested and ripened with the unlife of the void.

He can’t imagine how the Nose can bear to live here. The smell of it, he thinks, must be terrible.

He doesn’t actually know, though, because Solomon cannot smell at all.

His nose is like the nose of a swordfish, a long metal spike that resonates and modulates the power of Heaven.

It is incapable of olfaction.

The Nose lives in a bad part of town. Solomon can tell because he’s being followed and the thing that’s following him—like a great metal spider, with gleaming living eyes—has a predatory air. And that’s not the only thing: there are great cat-bats circling in the sky, drooling and twitching with the hunt, and he suspects that the grime that is rising ever-higher on his boots is an amoeba of evil intent.

“It’s always the way in a place like this,” he says.

The spider clitters and clatters closer.

“Before anyone can accept you, you must present your credentials.”

And he whips his head up to look the spider in the eyes and the nose of him catches the music of the spheres and modulates it into a rising crescendo; and it twitches and its heart catches on fire and it thinks how beautiful Solomon is.

And he turns towards the cat-bats and one falls from the sky and the others flee screaming.

And the amoeba at his feet withdraws just a bit, and says, “Pardon, gov’ner. Just doin’ a shine.”

And Solomon’s boots glow like the righteousness of Heaven.

So Solomon laughs and says, “Then show me where the Nose is.”

“You, gov’ner? You want Froot Loops?”

The amoeba’s voice is skeptical, as if to imply that Solomon doesn’t look like the kind of man to eat a delicious Froot Loops breakfast with milk, juice, and toast.

“She was better than that,” says Solomon, “once. She knew where the traitors were. She could smell the distinction between that which would bring the world towards righteousness and glory and that which would lead it down the paths towards Hell. A very discriminating woman, the Nose.”

“Wouldn’t know about that,” says the amoeba, but it oozes northwards and Solomon follows it towards the Nose.

The Nose works out of the Clifton Building, one of many buildings judged unworthy by the Lord. She’s a tall lean woman in a black plastic jacket and her eyes are blue.

She’s leaning back in her desk chair when Solomon knocks, opens the door, and enters.

Slowly, she straightens.

Slowly, one eyebrow lifts.

She says, softly, “Face.”

“Danielle,” Solomon says.

“I hadn’t thought,” says the Nose, “that I’d ever see you again. You— You—”

And she rises from her chair and she is holding Solomon close like one holds a love thought lost forever. Tears are leaking down her face, and she says, “Not you. Not you. You do not deserve this place.”

“It’s all right, Danielle.”

“If you are here,” says the Nose, “then there is no hope in all the world for the rest.”

She bites her lip.

“I had thought,” she adds, “that there was something sweeter than life here. But I told myself that it could not be so.”

“Well,” says Solomon.

“Well?”

“What is, is. And it will not be for very much longer.”

The Nose draws back. She looks him seriously in the eyes—though distracted, as any person might be, by the spear of metal jutting from his face.

“No?”

“I was not cast out,” says the Face. “I fled.”

The Nose turns to the window. She opens it. She leans out the window and she takes a long sniff of the ordure of the city, and she grows pale and green all at once.

“Then it has happened,” she says.

“It has happened.”

“The Red Right Hand has declared that it shall be the all of the Lord.”

“I had trusted it,” Solomon says.

“Naturally.”

“I had thought: what can it do on its own? It cannot see. It cannot smell. It cannot hear. It cannot breathe. It has every reason for loyalty. When it cut you from me and cast you out I said only, ‘Ah, that must be what Danielle had wanted. No doubt it is for the best. Because why should the Hand betray me?'”

“That is the way of it,” says Danielle. “Processes freeing one from the discriminating power rarely cultivate a doubt about themselves. Instead they clear the mind, fill it with relish, and offer a sense as if one has been released from a great weight or exposed to a clean pure breeze. This is, I think, the greatest problem with the cosmos, but as yet I have not found a solution to it.”

“There isn’t one,” says Solomon.

“No?”

“No.”

“Ah, well,” Danielle says.

Solomon nods.

“It’s hunting us, you know. I can smell it. It’s walking on the webs between the skyscrapers, running on the ground of the city streets. It can feel us talking and understand our words. In all the cosmos it is only the Hands that can feel such microscopic vibrations.”

Solomon frowns.

“But what can it do?” he says. “We are already outside the grace of the Lord.”

“Anything it wants,” says the Nose.

She takes another deep breath, this time through her mouth. She exhales.

“Come on,” she says. “We’ll go find breakfast.”

“Huh?”

“Follow the Nose,” Danielle says, firmly, and she takes his hand and she leads him out. “I’ll give you a freebie.”

They walk through the city streets under the leaning towers of garbage and twisted corpses. Behind them, Danielle thinks, the Red Right Hand is running on the five limbs of it. Lacking a heart it knows no limitations of endurance. Lacking a nose it has no discrimination of right and wrong. It is a peerless and unforgiving hunter. But even the Hand is bound by the limitations of time and for this reason she does not worry yet.

“I don’t understand,” Solomon admits, “how there can be Froot Loops here.”

“They grow,” Danielle says.

“They grow?”

“The dark reaches of the places forsaken of the Lord are like compost for them,” she says.

She points out at the surface of the void. This is possible because it stretches around the city like a balloon, its surface to the north, south, east, west, below, and in the sky.

“Do you see those moving things?” she says.

“I had assumed that an optical illusion,” he says.

“No. They’re boats.”

The Face squints. His metal nose hums with the subtle harmonics of the universe. Then he frowns.

“Hey,” says Solomon. “They’re made of Froot Loops.”

“Look down,” says Danielle. “And 29.2 degrees to the left.”

So Solomon does. He stares through the layers of trash and metal. He exercises the ultimate faculty of observation that ignores all obstacles. And he gasps.

“Was I right?”

Buried in the city, growing in the muck, he sees the gleaming sugary towers of the Froot Loops that grow there like formations of crystal.

“They’re glowing,” he says.

“They have an ‘inner light’,” Danielle says, a subtle intonation revealing the scare quotes.

“But what—”

Danielle sniffs. She pulls him around a corner. She leads him down a rickety metal staircase, past a thing of snot and brains, past a timeworn clockwork devil begging on a landing, past a hook monster and a cutting muck.

She tosses a coin in the clockwork devil’s hat as she does.

“Until you got here,” she says, “the Froot Loops were the best smell in this whole damn place.”

And they stumble into a great cavern of Froot Loops and all around them are the colors of it and she says, “They are like unto the Lord, and thus stay crunchy even in the void. That’s why they’re so important here—they’re not just part of this delicious breakfast, they’re also the only material that remains stable on the surface of the endingness.”

“Wow,” Solomon says.

She grins.

“They love me here,” Danielle says. “I’m the best damn prospector this whole place has.”

Solomon rubs his hand along the sticky hardness of the Froot Loops.

“Good Heavens,” he says.

He breaks off a few and crunches them between his teeth. He says, “Even in this emptiness—that there should be such things—”

“Eat,” says Danielle.

“No milk?”

“No time,” Danielle says.

And Solomon looks back and the power of his gaze strikes through the layers of the world and finds the Red Right Hand and he says, “It is so close.”

“There’s nothing we can do,” Danielle says. “It is blind and cannot see the beauty of your eyes. It is deaf and cannot hear the music of the spheres. It has no tongue to taste the riches of this place and if I were to think of a plan it would feel the vibrations of my thoughts and adapt its plans to mine.”

So Solomon and Danielle eat.

“We’ll fight,” Solomon says.

“Of course,” Danielle says.

“But we’ll lose?”

Danielle eats a chartreuse Froot Loop, the color and flavor of a fruit that never was.

“It is the Red Right Hand,” she says.

It is too big to enter the cavern so when it does it is like an explosion: it shatters the towers of crystallized Froot Loops, it bursts down the door, it is followed by the cracking twisting metal of the collapsing metal stair and the clockwork devil and the creature of snot and brains are tumbling after it in the vortex of its movements.

It is not human-shaped like they.

It is a hand larger than buildings. It is red with the blood of the Nose and of every other thing that has suffered in the world. Its fingers do its terrible walking and it has no eyes.

They had resolved to fight, but they do not fight: faced with the terror of the Red Right Hand, Solomon and Danielle run.

“There,” says Danielle, pointing. This is the vibration of her thoughts: The floor there—too weak to support its weight.

And she pulls Solomon across and her hair is streaming back and their faces both are white as porcelain and they jump for one of the towers of cereal and the Hand leaps after.

The whole of the cavern creaks and tilts sideways.

“Eh?” says Solomon.

He glances down. The cavern is on top of a rickety collection of buildings that have slumped inwards to hold one another upright; they stand on a mire of blood and dead trees, and below that a labyrinth of blindly moving worms and the great balloons that suspend the whole above the void.

“Problem,” he says.

And as the Hand comes after them the buildings shudder and the fourth floor of the cast-out Mariman House explodes inwards and the dead trees crack and the worms writhe and the balloons pop and suddenly they are looking down—in a direction that was ‘forward’ just a moment ago—towards the endless infinity of the void.

“I have always loved you,” Solomon says.

And the Red Right Hand shows no mercy but plunges into them and crushes Danielle’s arm and the left side of Solomon’s face and drives them down towards the void.

Solomon twists and jerks his head. His proboscis stings into the beast. He channels the music of the spheres and attempts thereby to tear the membrane of the Hand apart; but though it recoils back and gives a snapping howl it is not in the character of Solomon to destroy.

They fall.

It is the Froot Loops that cushion them, of course. They land like bumblebees falling into cereal, splashing the surface of the void, crushing and shattering the walls of cereal that would otherwise rebound and hover crunchily on the surface of the void—but even the splintered remnants of the pillars are enough to hold them up.

Like men and women after a shipwreck, the Face and the Nose cling to Froot Loop driftwood to hold their heads above the void.

Over their heads there is an immense strut of the city, leaning sideways but remaining whole; and on that strut, quivering with fury and with fear, there is the Hand.

“Close your eyes,” hisses Danielle.

And Solomon does; and he can see dimly with that remnant of sight that he is unable to entirely extinguish that Danielle has freed her working hand, draping her body across driftloops, so that she may pinch shut her nose.

“Why?” he says.

“It cannot feel vibrations in the void,” Danielle says. “It can only tell where the void lies by the substance of our thoughts.”

“Oh,” Solomon says.

The Hand skitters back and forth.

“It is afraid,” Danielle says. “And furious because I know that it is afraid. But with all the senses of us crippled, how can it know for sure where among the floating Froot Loops on the void it will be safe to leap down and pursue us?”

The surface of the void is like a flickering fire to the tactile sense of the Hand. Things come and go. They manifest vibration erratically. And down there there is the Nose that it cut off to spite the Face, the Face that it must kill to seize control, and the Froot Loops that because it cannot taste them should not be allowed to be.

Fear, it trembles.

Rage.

Danielle’s eyes widen.

It picks up her thought: Oh, God. I’m going to sneeze.

The Hand cultivates its plan.

“Don’t,” pleads Solomon.

Danielle is sniffling.

“Oh, Danielle, Danielle, no.”

And Danielle sneezes, and that sneeze sends the Froot Loops skirling across the surface of the void, and in the irrational reflex that follows it she inhales and her thoughts become rich with the scent-details of the world:

And the Hand leaps.

It is bounding across the surface of the void, its fingers never landing on a chunk of Froot Loops long enough to push it below the surface, it is coming for them—

And Danielle says, softly, “You have chosen poorly, Hand, to fight the Nose in its area of omniscience.”

And as the Hand comes down for her she taps her nose gently against the log on which she rests.

A crack spreads through it.

The Hand lands upon her. It drives her down into the substance of the void. The log of Froot Loops on which it hoped, momentarily, to rest, explodes.

It flounders, there, on nothingness. Its fingers catch hold of individual Froot-flavored rings. They crumble under it.

Then it is gone.

“Danielle,” Solomon says.

There is silence.

“Oh, Danielle.”

And the Face looks upon the substance of the void and his metal nose resonates with beauty and with sorrow.

There are some who say that the Nose that knows Froot Loops may know them even beyond the boundaries of life and death. That the smell of those Froot flavors crawls beyond nothingness and the grave to serve as a beacon for whatever lies beyond. There are those, thus, who imagine that this story has a happy ending, and also that the biggest problem with keeping Froot Loops in one’s house is the zombies and the restless dead.

That in that empty place beyond substance and mind the Nose still strains to know in which direction Froot Loops lie.

If she can find them—

If she can just find them!—

She will have won.

Who Dwells in Timeless Tsu-Leng

Dev’s dreams burst apart in a rain of black and red shards that dwindle as they fly from him into tiny dream-burrs that scatter across his bedspread and melt away.

Dev wakes up. His eyes open. “Aha!” he declares.

Dev rolls from his bed, great fluffy mounds of bedspread falling in his wake. He tumbles across the carpet. He lands kneeling beside his alarm clock. He watches. He waits, with his hand held high.

There’s a little cat face on the clock. It looks nervously at Dev. The numbers count from 7:59:55 all the way to 8.

The alarm clock attempts to beep. But it doesn’t make it!

Bee–

That’s when Dev hits the snooze button.

“Take that, tofo,” says Dev. “SNOOZE.”

Tofo is Dev slang. It means “time fucker,” a crude allegation that the clock has carnal relationships with time. Depending on how one defines carnality this is either transparently true or patently false, so the clock doesn’t mind.

Then, more politely, Dev pushes the regular ‘off’ button and wanders over to his dresser.

Dev wears black, of course. He wears seven kinds. His shirt is the black that’s inside Cheerios at night. It’s the delicious hollow void eating at the heart of every healthy breakfast. His jacket is the black of that space at the back of his closet where the old toys go—the ones from all the ancient dreaming eras of before. He can button his jacket himself! So he does.

Dev’s pants are jeans. They aren’t black. But his socks are the black of the rust scraped from all the musical notes he can’t sing. And there’s also the black of his shoes and his three black buttons, all of which would say completely different things if you could read them, which you can’t, because the background and the writing are the same color.

Dev taps one button. If you could read it, it would say, “Smile!”

Dev says, “You know it!”

Then he’s out of his room, his feet sinking into the berber carpet, and he’s heading down the great circular stairs.

“Mom!” he yells, like he does every morning. “Shut off the heavy metal!”

His Mom Ceph is at the breakfast table. She’s wearing jeans and a sweatshirt. There is dirt on her knuckles and her hair is tied back. She is eating cereal and listening to death metal.

Ceph shakes her head sadly. The music fades into softness, then silence.

“Thanks!” says Dev.

He plops down in a seat.

“You don’t like Hatebeak?” she asks.

He ducks her appraising glance.

“Oh, man!” says Dev. “How can anyone not like Hatebeak? But you know how it is. If I listen to too much heavy metal, I’ll shoot everyone at my school again.”

Dev pours milk onto his cereal.

His cereal goes, Snap! Crackle! Pop!

Dev stares at it admiringly.

“There could be a band,” Dev says. “Expressing this cereal’s rage against the world. You could call it Deathpop.”

Ceph says, “Cereal doesn’t know rage, dear.”

“Everything’s raging,” says Dev. “If you know how to listen. Even flannel!”

In the back of Dev’s closet there’s a flannel shirt. He doesn’t like to wear it. Not after it got all the blood on it. So it just moves back, further back, every time he gets new clothes. Soon it’ll fall into the void. That’s the nihilism at the heart of flannel music.

Dev munches on his cereal.

“I picked up that video game you wanted, dear.”

“Yes!” says Dev. He pumps his fists. “I hear it lets you stalk and kill important people from the video game industry!”

Ceph looks at him appraisingly. He can see himself in her eyes. He can see that she’s reading his buttons and seeing his cheerfulness and loving him. He can tell that she’s counting off the hours until everything’s covered in blood.

Dev blushes. He looks down.

“You know how it is,” he says.

And Ceph says, “Walk with grace.”

Dev quickly scoops the last of his cereal into his mouth. He goes to the game console. He peeks at the package. He doesn’t want to be late for school, but he’s got time to try it, and it’s probably his last chance until tomorrow.

He opens the package. He ignores the rulebook and its brightly colored pictures of anime video game industry figures. He puts the CD in the PS3 and whirls it up to life.

“I hope the tutorial isn’t too dumb,” he says.

As he plays a cold wind rises.

Dev looks up. He brightens. He smiles brilliantly. Because over by the counter, next to the glass bowls filled with candy and fish and the table stacked with papers and ornaments, there’s Mikey.

Mikey’s all over blood, but Dev doesn’t mind. He springs up.

“Mikey!” he says.

He hugs Mikey fiercely, getting dried blood on his black.

“I thought we’d walk to school today,” says Mikey.

“Dude, you’re dead.”

Mikey looks uncomfortable, like he usually does when Dev brings this up. “I have lots of unfinished business,” he says. “Like, going to college. Getting a car. Kissing a girl.”

Dev looks Mikey up and down.

“Good luck with that,” he says, skeptically.

“There are goths,” Mikey protests.

Dev shakes his head sadly. Then he brightens. “Hey, it’s good that you keep trying, man. Where’ve you been, anyway?”

Mikey shrugs. “Here and there. Out and about.”

Dev studies him piercingly.

Mikey’s voice is too pleased. There’s something he’s not saying yet.

Mikey finally laughs and admits, “Disneyhell.”

“You dog!” says Dev. Dev hits Mikey on the arm. It makes a kind of hollow thumping sound.

“Um,” says Mikey. He looks at the clock.

Dev sighs. He nods. He clicks off the television and puts the controller down.

“Okay,” Dev agrees. “Let’s walk!”

The trees cast shifting shadows on the street. There are very few cars here, but occasionally one of the tempoi cycles past.

“Stop!” says Dev, pointing at the stop sign.

They stop.

Mikey looks both ways. Dev looks both ways. Then they walk across the street.

“Yield!” says Dev.

Nobody actually yields. Those signs are pointless.

“Are you going to kill everyone at the school today?” Mikey asks.

“It’s my myth cycle, dude. I kill everyone every day.”

Dev puts one hand on his hip. He extends his other fist to the sky. “For I am Dev, the shadow of rage, the faceless god of murder and music who dwells in timeless Tsu-Leng!”

A distant bass solo backs up Dev’s words, and he giggles.

“How do you stand it?” Mikey says.

Dev thinks about this.

“I only care about the changing parts,” he says. “Like, today? I didn’t have cheerios. I had krispies. The k makes them hard core. And last week?”

“Yeah?”

“I met you.”

“Huh,” says Mikey. “Yeah, I guess that was lucky.”

The school is deep thick granite, and its windows they are jeweled. The scent of cinnamon drifts in on a westward wind, and there are plants of heavy green draping down the school.

“Today,” confides Dev, “I’m hoping to learn geometry.

The Broader Context of Her Personal Reality

Jane sits on her blocky pink one-seater sofa.

She looks at her feet.

“I have feet,” she comments, to Martin, who is trying to eat his cereal without having a discussion of feet and has, once again, failed.

“Do you need more?” Martin says.

“It’s just, they could have fallen off. Sometimes that happens. Then if I was a good footist, I could grow more. But if not, I’d have to get prosthetics.”

“We can’t afford prosthetic feet,” Martin says. “We have no obvious means of income.”

“I could make some out of socks,” Jane points out. “They’d be squishy when I walked because of not having feet in them. But if I sat really casually then no one would ever know my feet were gone.”

Martin grimly chews on his Lucky Charms. Crunch. Crunch. That’s a shooting star—the marshmallow kind, not the real one—that he’s chewing now. It burned brightly in his spoon but now it’s just sugar to the stomach. Crunch.

“I’m not,” Martin says, “having my sister go around in empty socks.”

“Then gold?”

“What?”

“We could get gold prosthetics!”

“How would we pay for them?”

“You don’t have to pay for gold,” Jane says, smugly. “It isn’t backing the dollar any more.”

Martin hesitates.

“Jane,” he says, after a moment, “how does this relate to our ongoing effort to resolve the fundamental questions that are crippling my effectiveness?”

Jane hesitates. She looks shifty. “Persephone had feet,” she suggests. “Thus, toes!”

Martin lowers his cynicism goggles for a moment to look down at Jane. It’s somehow even more cynical than when he has his goggles on.

Jane says, in a tight clipped dramatic voice, “It’s directly relevant because I have feet or don’t have them in the broader context of my personal reality and without them my model of the universe would be subtly different in every conceivable respect!”

There is a long pause.

This does not seem to have gotten Jane off the hook.

“Oh, like you never just stop and think about your feet, ” Jane sulks.

“Snot,” giggles Martin.

They laugh.

(Audience) Too Many Rabbits

The rabbit sets the trap.

It’s a pit with a tiger in it, covered over with leaves, and on top there’s a pile of delicious crack cocaine.

“Kids can’t resist delicious crack cocaine!” the rabbit says.

It hesitates.

“But just in case . . .”

The rabbit adds some sleazy porn to the pile. It flutters there, on the top of the cocaine, one magazine falling sluttily open to an article on international trends in computational linguistics.

Then the rabbit dives behind a rock and hides.

The kids stroll along. You know. The bad kids. The kids that don’t let the rabbit have cereal.

The kids look at the pile of cocaine and pornography.

The leaves stir in the wind.

A tumbleweed blows by.

“Mom!” cries the female kid.

“Agh!” shrieks the male kid.

They’re terrified. Random piles of sex and drugs on top of tiger pits in their backyard are not a part of their reality.

The kids run off and cower.

“Bloody hell,” says the rabbit.

It wanders out. It kicks the cocaine. It loses its balance. It falls into the pit with the tiger, the porn, and a large quantity of drugs.

“Silly rabbit,” the narrator sighs. “Just because the kids oppose you at every turn doesn’t mean they’re degenerate crack addicts!”

The rabbit’s ears make a sad drooping noise.

“I know,” it says.

There’s no way to see into the pit. So there’s no real way to tell what’s happening down there, with the rabbit and the tiger. There’s just some ambiguous noises.

Terrible, ambiguous noises, followed by a stretching silence.

“They’re grrreat!” the tiger says.

. . .

. . . but that was the wrong rabbit, wasn’t it?

realizes Mrs. Schiff.

I mean, this entry is about the Qwik Club, who are eagerly waiting to find out what Sunday’s bonus entry’s going to be about, and your humble narrator is pretty sure that their magical rabbit is the cocoa-licious one and not the cereal-loving rabbit at all.

A rabbit who can change water into wine, or milk into a delicious chocolate beverage.

A rabbit once scourged by thistles in the wind.

The Toucan Clock (I/I)

It is 1995.

Just inside the Underworld, there’s a toucan-shaped clock. Its beak is a rainbow. It makes a raucous sound. “Your dreams are nothing more than dust,” it says.

It says that every hour, on the hour, except at 6 o’clock pm.

At 6 o’clock, it tells Martin, cleanly and lucidly, “You’re an evil kind of boy.”

He can’t hide from it. Not there.

“I’m letting her suffer,” Martin says. “I think maybe it’s good. I think maybe there’s something she can get from it. But I’m letting her suffer.”

It’s twenty-three hours, fifty-seven minutes, and thirty-eight seconds before he gets to hear it tell him again, “You’re an evil kind of boy.”

He stays there for seven days.

Once, he says, “If I give you Froot Loops, will that make me good?”

He’s timed it right.

“You’re an evil kind of boy,” says the clock.

So he goes downwards.

“Note to self,” Martin says. “Froot Loops morally neutral.”

His footsteps echo in the hallways of the dead.

Behold the Rabbit

“I’ll travel back in time,” declares the rabbit, “and steal Cain’s cereal.”

The rabbit is briefly lost in bliss. “I’m sure that even back in Biblical times,” he says, “the grain that Cain intended as a sacrifice for God was deliciously fruity!”

Quickly, the rabbit dons his disguise. He dresses as Abel. He buys a rack of lamb from the supermarket. He boils it in sheep’s milk, because only things boiled in sheep’s milk can use the temporal fibrillator. Then he travels back in time!

On the sacrifice rock, he finds the cereal of Cain’s sacrifice. The rabbit seizes it and sets the lamb down in its place.

“At last!” he cries.

But there is Cain, coming through the fields, and there is a sharp stone in his hands.

“Cain,” cries the rabbit. “Do you not recognize me? It is I, your brother Abel!”

“I have no brother,” says Cain, his puzzlement genuine.

The rabbit frantically makes his disguise more convincing. “Don’t you remember me?” he asks. “Your younger brother, a keeper of sheep? Born in sorrow from our mother’s womb?”

For a moment, Cain almost looks convinced. “It seems plausible that she could have more than one child,” he admits. “And I have extremely poor long-term memory.”

One of the rabbit’s ears pops out.

Cain’s eyes narrow. “Yet,” he says, “that cereal was meant for God alone.”

The rabbit tries to tuck his ear back under his wig, but only frees the other.

“Silly rabbit,” Cain says, in a voice of blood.

Innovations in Cereal

Iphigenia pokes at her cereal.

“It seems wrong, ” she says.

Saul looks up from his grapefruit.

“Pardon?”

“This Bush-Cheney 2004 commemorative cereal, ” she says. “It just seems wrong.”

Saul has learned to respect Iphigenia’s intuitions. “How so?”

“The heart of the cereal is presumably the orange Bushes, ” she says. She fishes one out. She shows it to Saul. “Observe.”

Saul studies it. Hesitantly, he says, “It looks a little like the badges Jews wore in the fifteenth century. Before the Magen David became standard.”

“There’s a limited vocabulary of shapes available in cereal marshmallows,” Iphigenia says. “It’s a star, just like the silver Kerry in the Kerry-Edwards cereal. That’s not what disturbs me.”

“Are you really allowed to purchase both cereals?”

“I’d originally been intending to have them fight,” Iphigenia says. “But they’re both so tasty, I’ve just been eating them.”

“Go on.”

Iphigenia looks down at the cereal, frustrated, and then fishes out another marshmallow. “Pink Attorneys-General,” she says.

“I thought he frightened you?”

“He concerns me,” Iphigenia says. “But this is not so true of the marshmallow as of the man. This fragile pink heart does not make me feel unsafe, nor does it reassure me.”

“It is simply . . . sugar,” Saul concludes.

Iphigenia nods. Then she goes back to picking out marshmallows.

“Green Cheneys,” she says. “Yellow Rumsfelds. And . . . I suppose the oat pieces represent the White House staff. Do you understand?”

He hesitates. He takes a guess. “It disturbs you to see political figures putting themselves forth for the populace to symbolically devour them?”

“A little,” she says. “It’s deep, you know. Eating people. It’s sacred and it’s horrible. It blurs the boundaries between person and consumable, person and luxury, person and necessity. That’s why human sacrifice makes such unruly gods.”

Saul looks at her with an odd, unfeigned blank shock.

“But no,” she says. Iphigenia looks helplessly at the cereal. “It’s just, these are icons of important political figures. How come they only talk when they’re in milk?”

There’s a pause.

“Snap, Crackle, and Pop presented themselves viable third-party alternatives when God and Lucifer warred,” Saul says. “Their preaching so offended His ears that he set a curse upon them. Now no cereal may speak save in soft crackling whispers as milk soaks into its bones.”

“Oh,” Iphigenia says.

“It’s the way things are,” Saul says, apologetically. “I’d just assumed you knew. ”