As To Why You Should Drink the Coffee We Sell Here, as Opposed to the Coffee Sold in World and Sound

1. Coffee

Some coffee’s processed in the guts of monkeys. Some, of ferrets.

Our coffee’s not like that.

Some coffee’s brewed by starving orphans and their puppies in the basements of the pyramids wherein Starbucks may be made.

Our coffee’s not like that, either.

Our coffee’s the good stuff. It’s the right stuff. It’s the stuff of joy and virtue, and of love.

2. The Merry Christmas Man

The Merry Christmas Man goes to Holidaytown.

And he walks its streets, and he slums inside its stores, and on his way out of one store there’s a Sid at the door who tells him, “Happy holidays.”

And it’s like the words are a knife on the Merry Christmas Man’s skin.

They cut him right open. They grate down his arm. Blood wells up, red and angry, and there’s the faintest tinge of green.

And Sid’s gone pale with horror, he’s stammering an apology, but the Merry Christmas Man just growls at him and says, “You say that again.”

But Sid doesn’t.

He won’t say it, not even in Holidaytown, not now that he recognizes the Merry Christmas Man. For he knows the words will cut a Merry Christmas Man, but he doesn’t know the reason why.

Say it,” says the Merry Christmas Man.

But the silence, it just stretches until the Merry Christmas Man goes away.

3. Guilt

The Merry Christmas Man’s not here to buy presents. He could get those at Christmas, or, leastaways, somewhere in Twelve Days. And he’s not here to start something. He’s not that sort of Man.

“I killed me a reindeer,” he says.

He doesn’t have much of an audience. He’s sitting on the corner, next to a giant candy cane, surrounded by forest animals and a pale-faced little girl.

She’s looking at him in confusion.

She’d been walking by in her wolf-eared fur coat, but then she’d seen him, and she couldn’t quite get it, so she’d stopped and she’d stared and she’d been staring ever since.

“. . . Santa?” she asks, like she isn’t sure.

It’s not her fault.

You have to understand, it’s not her fault, growing up in Holidaytown, that she doesn’t really get it about the Merry Christmas Man.

But scorn still plops from his voice like thick batter from a spoon, and he says, “I’m not Santa, little girl. I’m not anything like Santa. I’m a Merry Christmas Man.”

“Oh,” she says. Then, to be sure it’s all quite straight in her head, she says, “And you killed a reindeer?”

“It’s deep magic,” he says. “You take on the spirit of Christmas with the skin of the reindeer, and you gulp down its meat. And you hang tinsel from your hat and put a candycane in your shoe, and you hop, skip, and jump and you’re a Merry Christmas Man.”

There’s more to it than that.

There’s a step or two he’s skipped, right where he says he’s skipping ’em, and another that we’re leaving out, because we don’t want our readers going all skinwalker or curse-maker when they read these words. There’s more to it than just skinning and eating a reindeer and doing some junk with sympathetic magic (not that it’s really all that sympathetic); but those things, they’re the gist.

“And then you can fly,” says the Merry Christmas Man, “and make snow fall where you please, and pull presents from the emptiness if the recipient is good.”

He makes a present-summoning flourish with his hand, and then looks sourly at the result.

“Or,” he says, “pull forth coal chunks for the naughty, if the recipient is so disposed.”

“Thank you, sir,” she says, and takes the coal. “It’s because I am always skinning animals to make my coats.”

“Good lass,” he laughs, forgiving her at once. “Good lass.”

Such forest animals as had remained through his declaration of reindeer-skinning skulk off to frolic elsewhere now: a pointed objection, perhaps; a shunning of the animal-skinning kind; a subtle contextual reminder that even in the winter wonderland of Holidaytown happy forest animals would rather like to keep their skins. Now in Christmastown, to hear some tell it, they love nothing better than to roll stickily in blood diamonds before they jump into the furring machines themselves, but —

“Happy Holidays,” says the girl, and she nods her head, and she walks on.

The snow is turning crimson with the Merry Christmas Man’s bright blood.

4. Jelly, in the Cold

It’s cold in Holidaytown, just like it is over in Christmas, and he’s wishing, just a little, that he’d gone to Valentine’s instead.

It wouldn’t have served his purpose, no, but the hearts would have kept him warm.

Instead, he’s cold.

He’s really, really cold.

His beard is white with snow now and his belly, it’s too cold to jiggle—it’s just like a bowl of jelly that you’ve left out jiggling in the cold while its jiggling grows feebler and feebler until it can’t jiggle any longer, not a bit, and it grows a last despairing rind of ice.

And he’d like to laugh it off, ho, ho, ho, but his laugh had turned to silvery bells when he’d become a Christmas Man.

Didn’t eat enough reindeer, some would say, while others would suggest he’d ate too much.

There’s a lot that we don’t know about the magic that makes a Merry Christmas Man.

They have magical powers. We know that. And they probably eat children. They can lay fell curses, and they really like Christmas, and when you tell them “Happy Holidays,” they bleed.

And one more thing, which we’ll get to! we’ll get to! But not till later on.

5. The Jinglers

The Merry Christmas Man is fading.

In the cold, he’s fading, he’s losing his sense of self and liveliness, and he’s wondering if he’s going to get to do what he came to do before he loses fingers to the cold.

Then ring the bells. Then sound the footsteps on the walk. Then voices that had seemed quite far away unexpectedly draw near.

He thinks with sudden fierce and giddy joy:

I am in luck.

There’s a whole party of jinglers coming his way, just off their work, and they won’t be able to help stopping to look at the Merry Christmas Man.

And he’s sure they’ll wish him Happy Holidays, and the words will make him bleed; and the first of them is kneeling down beside him now—but—

Damn it, thinks the Merry Christmas Man.

“Hey,” says Sid. “Hey, you OK?”

Sid looks up at the others.

“It’s a Merry Christmas Man,” he warns. “So ixnay on the olidays-hay. And a Merry Christmas to you,” he adds, turning back to the Merry Christmas Man, “good sir!”

“Uckfay your ixnay,” says the Merry Christmas Man, preserving this legend’s suitability for children by inventing a jolly new curse word for the holidays instead of saying something potentially obscene. “And the horse it rode in on. I’m in Holidaytown, for the Holiday, I don’t want to hear any ittyshay uckingfay Scrooge-uggeringbay ‘merry Christmas’es.”

At this point the narrator must assume that the Merry Christmas Man has gone around the bend and begun to speak in tongues, likely from exhaustion and cold fatigue but potentially from possession by the Holy Spirit.

Sid seems even more confused than we.

“Sir,” he says, “you’re overwrought.”

The Merry Christmas Man snorts.

Sid says, “If we all actually wished you a Happy Holidays—“

The Merry Christmas Man bites his tongue to hold in the scream.

“Well,” says Sid, his face ashen, “you see, I mean, it’s like—“

But the Merry Christmas Man is on his feet now. He’s holding out five fingers crooked like candy canes, and the stripes of them are red, red, red, and his fury has made him so warm that his stomach may shake like a bowl full of jelly once again.

“We, ‘sir,’” he spits out between his teeth, “are in Holidaytown.

Sid doesn’t cringe.

It’s a near thing, but Sid doesn’t cringe, not even with those fingers pointing most of the way in his direction before they cunningly curve and point backwards towards the hand. Not even with the sweetness of the sugar-snow that has fallen on the shoulders of the Merry Christmas Man. Not even knowing that the Merry Christmas Man is a skinwalker, and that skinwalkers can kill.

“Merry Christmas,” he says, and turns away;

And the Merry Christmas Man is vast like a giant, and billowing with his power and his rage, and bellowing, “What does it take to get a bloody ‘Happy Holidays’ in this town?”

The answer to which, apparently, is that shout; for as if by autonomic motion, for streets around, and in answer to that cry, the people of Holidaytown turn in the Merry Christmas Man’s direction and wish his holidays be bright.

6. Transcendence

The Merry Christmas Man is cut, at first, and bleeds.

Then it is beyond mere flaying. Then the words are tearing into him, catching him like great hooks, ripping him apart, this way, this way, and that. He is pulled apart, and yet improbably alive; and the veins transport the blood of him, and the nerves convey the feel of him, and he is dissipating like some gateway god into the form of ten thousand spheres; but the cutting does not stop.

The world where he was rips open.

The space inside him is made to emptiness, and one vast ring surrounds it, and inside that ring is no location known to man; and with a terrible cry and one last great inversion, the Merry Christmas Man vomits into the world through the vehicle of that emptiness the shining contents of his soul.

They splay there, burning with a holy light against the whiteness of the snow, and with great hope:

The coffee beans the reindeer’d ate, before the Merry Christmas Man began.

For that’s the secret of it all, isn’t it? The source of that grace and that ineffable mystery that brings a Merry Christmas to the world? Isn’t that where all our joy and virtue, and our love, begins?

It’s thus.

O, merrily, it’s thus!

The secret of life isn’t coffee beans processed in the gut of some monkey, we can tell you that. And certainly not a ferret.

You can’t get the good stuff by having orphans hammer and brew it out in the dark reaches beneath the world.

I mean, it’s pretty good.

We are not knocking a good Frappucino.

But it’s not the thing.

To get the kind of coffee that can bring a real Merry Christmas to the world, that can fill the body with great warmth and make a person into a font of joy and virtue, and of love, you have to process the beans through the gullet of a sacrificial reindeer and a sacrificial man. You have to feed them to the flying arboreal ungulates that live in the canopy where the beans are grown, and let them process them down into the spirit of Christmas; and then somebody has to have the courage to step up and be a Merry Christmas Man, to cut the reindeer open and put on its skin and eat its meat and swallow down the coffee beans entangled in its soul.

And if they’re cruel then the world shall know a time of sorrow; for it tempts you to dark magics, oh yes it does, being a Merry Christmas Man.

But if the candidate is good enough, if they’re strong enough, if they’re cussed enough to cling to their first intention in the face of the power that a Merry Christmas Man can wield, why, then they’ll go down to Holidaytown and they’ll flay themselves on the innocent unknowing words of the Happy Holidaysers there. And their death will give back to us the beans we use in the coffee we sell here;

For just 99 cents a cup.

Regarding Ink’s Intermission (1 of 1)

There are things that swim in the chaos.

One of them is Andhaka. Andhaka is a great blind beast. He is white and enormous and shaped like a seal, and a long horn protrudes from his head.

“Sometimes when you dream unfortunate dreams,” says Mrs. Schiff, “they fall into the chaos and are lost. They grow there into strange and twisted things.”

The beast Andhaka is rushing for the tower. It is rushing on a current that reaches from the farthest edge of unmapped existence to the shores of Santa Ynez. It is driven by madness and by blood in the water. It is driven by strange hungers.

There are heralds of Andhaka that swim ahead and followers that swim behind.

The heralds have hooked fins, sharp teeth, strange potencies, and burning eyes.

They have been crashing against the tower’s base all night. Some have crawled up the tower’s side, moving with the swift jerky motions of the fiends of horror. They have reached windows, drawn infallibly to the light, only to have Martin or Mr. Schiff hit them with a lantern and knock them back into the sea. They have pounded at grates and swum through an ancient crack into the Gibbelins’ abandoned emerald-cellar.

“We may have to stop the show,” Martin says. “If the sea’s this agitated.”

“Impossible,” says Sid.

Martin calculates. “Then a one-day intermission.”

The fallen dream of Mrs. Schiff approaches. The seabirds have abandoned the tower.

Broderick has fled. He stands on the shore. He watches the tower and nervously washes his hands.

The sea surges.

“That’s reasonable,” Sid agrees.

Andhaka is coming closer.

The Land Where Suffering is Remembered

Jaime and Emily run from the house of the horrible witch.

They run between the posts of the candy-cane fence. They squirm across the mud, pausing to snip off bits of barbed licorice. It is tasty but sharp, like a porcupine.

They hold their breath when passing through the soda swamp. The fizz won’t make them giddy!

Just past the swamp, the very large bear trees them.

Emily is pessimistic. “The bear! It will grind us up in its worrible jaws!”

“It’s a good bear,” hopes Jaime.

The very large bear rattles the tree.

“Bear!” calls Jaime. “Go away! This truculent attitude is unbecoming!”

“Yeah!” says Emily.

Jaime’s suggestion and Emily’s assent give the very large bear pause. It lowers itself heavily to the ground. It ponders aloud, its words sonorous and rich. “I do not wish to appear unbecoming. But it is my intention to grind you children up in my horrible jaws. Having conceived this intention, how may I pursue it in a mannerly fashion? The difficulty is profound. My heart is stirred with sympathy for you. But my intention: I cannot forsake it!”

“It’s not fair,” says Emily. “I got grunt up by a bear last time.”

Jaime is startled. “You did?”

“It ate off my arm,” Emily says. “I bled on ev’ybody.

“I’m sorry,” says Jaime. “That must have been just horrid!”

“I was in shock,” says Emily, wisely. “So it didn’t hurt so much at first. Then I screamed a lot. So I said to myself, ‘Emily, you’re screaming so much, it’s probably the horrible pain.’ And it was!”

“Wow,” says Jaime.

The very large bear comes to a resolution. It rises up on its hind legs and thumps the tree again.

“A bear shows its honor with persistence!” the very large bear declares.

Emily takes out a long strand of horse’s hair. She cups it in her hands. Jaime looks at her.

“Really? Now?” Jaime says.

“If it were a small cute bear,” says Emily, “then I would try to tame it with my niceness. If it were a normal-sized bear then we could run away. If it were a large bear, then you could defeat it with your trickery! But this is a very large bear.”

Jaime assesses the very large bear.

“That’s so,” he agrees.

The very large bear shakes the tree with its paws. “Your discussion does not address my underlying imperative,” it grumbles.

Emily chants,

Roan horse, roan horse,
Sunset flare!
Ride east! Ride east!
scared by bears!

The horse hair falls from her hands. The setting sun burns and roils red. A shaft of sunlight strikes like a dagger into the glade, and the air is filled with hoofbeats.

A chestnut horse runs past.

“Now!” says Emily.

Jaime pouts, because he’d wanted to be the one to shout, “Now!”

Emily jumps. Jaime jumps. The horse veers on a zigzag path, faster in its course than a bolt of lightning. Each of the children lands on its back, and it carries them away.

“Haa,” sighs the very large bear. It sits back on its haunches. “I think that proves very well who is the unbecoming one in this exchange. Horses! The very idea!”

Then the children are gone.

They ride hard. They ride far. But when the sun passes below the horizon, the horse sets them down at the edge of the fire lake and gallops away.

“We shall have to walk around it,” says Emily.

“Or swim,” says Jaime.

Emily pokes the lake with her finger. It singes her lightly, and she pulls her finger back. “Or walk!”

Jaime looks nervous.

“It can’t hurt that badly to swim in a lake of fire,” Jaime argues.

Emily sits down. She makes horrible faces at him. Then she makes funny faces at him. Then she makes horrible faces again. Soon Jaime is sweating under the strain.

“. . . Fine,” says Jaime. He begins stomping around the lake.

The lake roils. Its voice of fire says, “You had been wiser before, Jaime.”

“Don’t tempt me,” says Jaime. “If you tempt me, maybe I’ll jump in. Then I’ll burn up! Then who’s happy?”

“That’s your human standards,” mulls the lake of fire. “But consider it from the perspective of an immortal lake of fire that nobody ever swims in.”

It roils and casts its foam of ashes onto the shore.

“Looking at it from your perspective,” Jaime agrees, “everything in life is transient and full of the pity of things.”

“Worrible pity,” Emily agrees. “Like, that ant.”

They stop and look at the ant for a while.

Eventually, they both sigh sadly and walk on.1

“Why would you want to swim?” Emily asks. “I mean, ‘sides the lake tempting you?”

“There’s a tree,” says Jaime. “Around this way. It was planted with a poisoned seed that loved nothing better than hurting people. So it grew fruits that have a poisoned magic. I ate them once, and I swelled up like an urchin.”

“Oh no,” says Emily.

“I’m afraid that if I see that tree again, I’ll eat another fruit! That’s why I don’t want to walk around the lake.”2

“It doesn’ seem likely,” says Emily.

“It really hurt,” says Jaime. “A lot!”

Jaime looks so nervous that Emily has to touch his arm. Then Emily thinks for a bit. Then she takes out another horse hair.

“What?” says Jaime. “No, it’s stupid!”

“Then it’s my stupid,” says Emily.

She says:

Black horse, black horse,
Born in night!
Ride down! Ride down!
Bad fruit—no bite!

There is darkness all around them. Then there are hoofbeats. Then a coal-black horse stands beside them.

“I am glad that you did not wait until Jaime had already bitten the fruit,” says the horse. “For then I would have had to gallop through all the night and all the day, even though that means my death, to bring him past the teeth and the hooks, around the gap and under the blades, over the hills and over the dales, to the healing stones at last.”

“See?” says Emily smugly. “Preemptive medicine!”

“Fine,” says Jaime. “I’ll ride.”

So Jaime mounts up on the horse, and Emily too. And when they reach the place of the poisoned fruit, the horse begins to gallop, leaving Jaime reaching fruitlessly after his prize.

After a while, the horse slows down.

“Now we must move slowly,” says the horse. “For it is dark here, and we may lose our way.”

There are trees and shadows all around them as they reach the place of teeth. And Jaime is shivering.

“What is it?” Emily says.

“It’s the night horse sickness,” says Jaime.

The horse moves swifter now, as the teeth bite and gnash.

“We should get down,” says Jaime. “We should get off. For I feel the night fever in me. I feel it rising.”

“Not in all the teeth!” says Emily.

Jaime looks at the teeth.

“Hurry,” he says. He wraps his muddy jacket tightly around him. He huddles close in. And Emily holds on behind him.

And the horse runs.

“Hurry,” says Jaime.

Then they are in the place of hooks, looming and dangling from the trees.

“Hurry,” mumbles Jaime. But now the night horse sickness is in its full flush, and his cheeks are red, and his eyes are white, and he knows nothing save the ride. And he is not speaking to Emily but to the horse, saying, “Hurry! Faster! Ride faster!”

And he hunches low, and Emily hunches low, as the horse reaches its full stride, there in the darkness of the night, like a swift-running river, but faster than the wind.

“Whuf!” says Emily, suddenly.

She has been caught on a hook. Her coat dangles from the hook, just like in a laundromat, and Emily dangles with it. The shock of her sudden stop takes all the breath out of her as the horse gallops on.

There is a pause.

“Whups!” amends Emily.

She can hear Jaime in the distance shouting the words of the night horse sickness, “Faster! Hurry! Ride straight! Ride hard!”

She knows that the horse will cast Jaime off at sunrise; and the first murky fingers of that light are cresting over the hills.

But distantly she hears his shouts, and she thinks of the gap that lies ahead.

So as she dangles there from the hook she takes the third and last of her horse hairs in her hands.

Palamino of
Mornings bright!
Ride west! Ride west!
To catch the night!

There is a glinting and a glimmering. There are hoofbeats. Then, shining in the night, the palomino is there.

“This is a fine predicament,” observes the palomino.

“I can take off my coat by myself,” says Emily. She does so. She lands on the palomino. “Yay!”

“It’s not good for young ladies to be out at night without their coats,” worries the palomino.

“Jaime’s riding for the gap,” says Emily. “So that’s a higher oblation!”

The palomino tosses its head. “Hold on tight, then,” it says.

And it begins to run.

There is a mist over the gap when Emily sees Jaime again. The night horse is tiring as the dawn gets close, but its hoofbeats are still like the fury of a storm. Jaime is flushed and clinging tight. Emily shouts, “The gap! The gap!”

But Jaime cannot hear.

“The gap!” Emily shouts. The night horse flicks its ear. It is still too far to parse her words.

And Jaime cannot hear.

“The gap!”

Then she is upon him, then she is reaching for him, but it is too late. The night horse is blinded by the mist and by the coming dawn. It is galloping out over the gap, and its horseshoes cannot grip on air. It tumbles. It falls, and Emily falling after.

In many places, they would have struck the stones. They would have rolled down the endlessly steep surface of the gap, bouncing on its hard implacable stone, until they hit the knife teeth of the dried riverbed below.

But they do not. Here, they do not. Their fall is a blur, and they come to rest like leaves upon a lake, and when they wake in the morning light they shall feel no pain.

For this is not one of the Lands of Suffering through which they travel,

But a Land where Suffering is Only Remembered.3


1. This is a horrible but very obscure pun.
2. The path around the lake only had one direction.
3. Lands where suffering is entirely forgotten, it should be understood, are not kind places for children like Emily and Jaime.

A Castle That Ceases to Move Soon Dies

It is told that there is a girl, and her name is Claire, and she lives in one of the castles of the seventh tier—that is to say, above the umbral depths of the first tier, where great shapes move in shadow; and above the twisty purple smoke of the second tier; and above, too, the gentle yellow mist of the third; above the fourth and its clash of blades; above the fifth and its great fire; and even above the sixth tier’s ocean and all its gentle waves. There, on the floating islands and atolls there are the castles of the Mere, and in one of them, in the creaking crumbling vine-wrapped stone castle they call Seferi, lives Claire.

Now it is said of Claire that she is under a shadow, and the reason for it is this: that she has seen a vision in her dreams of a boy, and he is clean-limbed and strong, and his eyes are bright, and she loves him—but he is unsuitable, for he resides not in Seferi but in the castle Adeille. And it is well-known by all whose opinions are worth the counting that a love between the residents of two castles is forbidden and in poor taste besides; generally, that is to say, doomed to failure of the most socially awkward kind. King Porphyre often tells Claire this. He is a rotund man in a buttoned coat, and he stretches and clucks like a raven, but even such a King as he knows better of these things than Claire, and of this superior knowledge he regularly reassures her, adding, “You must forget this boy; have no thoughts of him! If he is your destined love then you have no destiny at all.”

Then Claire bows her head, and her eyes glitter, and she says, “Your will, of course, my liege.”

It is so obvious in the modern day as to pass without comment that a castle that ceases to move soon dies, and the means by which the castles move is this: the Master of Hooks, whom in the case of Seferi is Claire, selects from the castle armoury a line. This line is oft-times thickly woven silk, and sometimes rope, though on occasion other types are best. The Master of Ropes and Connections hooks this line to the various blocks and tackles and other apparatuses of the castle; this is a complex and difficult arrangement, involving many slaves and servants and a good deal of math, and we shall not dwell on it here. Once the rope is secured, the Master of Hooks chooses a hook to go with it, keeping in mind the circumstances of the time and the arrangement of the rope as the Rope’s Master chose it. This hook is then set to the line and cast deep into the depths, past the waves and past the fire, past the blades and past the mist, down through the twisty purple smoke into the ebon depths of blackness beneath. There—need it be said?—something seizes the hook, something great and terrible, and begins to pull; and if the Master of Ropes and the Master of Hooks have done their jobs well, the castle stirs and its island stirs and they both begins to move. Then for a long time all is speed and jollity, until at last the great beast snaps its line and the castle drifts free; and then momentum will sustain it for some time before it is once again occasioned that the Master of Hooks should choose another line.

There are more hooks in Seferi than a mind such as yours or mine can conceive of. There are hooks of simple plastic and hooks of rusty iron. There are hooks made of books and hooks of spun-sugar. There are hooks that should not exist, such as the tooth of the great dentist devil-God, Asphokain, who has never existed and will never exist but whose tooth nevertheless sits in Seferi’s armoury. There are hooks that are simply notional and hooks that are more real than the castle itself. There is the hook of last resort, the great stone hook that not ten men could move, that not a hundred men should move, that will spell the end of many things if it is lifted from its spot; and there is the hook of the mariner Israfel that the Master must move frequently lest its stability court disaster. There are hooks and hooks in all their endless billions and even these words and numbers do no more than scratch the surface, do no more than give a taste of the tiniest taste of what Seferi holds—for a castle that ceases to move soon dies.

And yet it is known that today, in the morning, under a red and rising sun and puffy clouds, the castle is slowing to a stop; and for all King Porphyre’s clucking, Claire can find no hook that suits the day. “Not metal,” she says. “Not with such winds. Not plastic. Not ice. Not any manner of fire, paste, or sweets. No puppy hook. No hateful hook. Not Asphokain’s tooth today.”

King Porphyre walks back and forth among the castle’s hooks. He pulls one from the pile. He holds it up. Claire shakes her head.

“Surely,” says Porphyre, to his ministers, “the girl deceives us. She is angry that we’ve denied her the opportunity for love. She is derelict in her duties as the Master of Hooks and must be removed and punished, and this hook that I have chosen used to bait the line.”

But Minister Vermin in his rich brocade, he shakes his head. He says, “I know but little of the art of Hooks, but she is right in every respect I know.”

“Then what shall we do?” begs Porphyre. “What shall we do? Is it time to use the hook of last resort?”

And Claire looks at him, then, and the King is shamed. He looks down and his face is red and bright. He shuffles his feet. He coughs. He laughs a nervous laugh. For what he has said is not a thing that it is ever meet to say, if one is just a King, nothing more than a King, and speaking to the Master of the Hooks.

Yet the castle must not die.

The castle must not die: this hangs unsaid. Then Minister Vermin clears his throat. “Give us an option,” the Minister says.

Claire tugs on the line, a thing of thick black silk, and she wanders amidst the blocks and tackles.

“Is it my fault?” asks the Master of Ropes and Connections. “Have I set it wrong?”

Claire shakes her head. She thinks for a time.

“It’s destiny,” Claire says.

Claire stands at the edge of the island and looks down into the sea; and then, firm and resolute, she nods.

“Here is your option,” she says. “If it fails, you shall use the other.”

And Porphyre with his silence agrees.

Claire ties the line around her feet. She spreads her arms like an albatross’ wings. She dives. The line reels out after her, mile after mile of it, falling into the endless deep.

There is no doubt that Claire expected to be dead, for the sixth tier sea is eight minutes deep; but she is lucky, more than lucky, and twice she passes through pockets of air. She falls out of the sea and the fire burns her, but for all her screams, this pain is brief; to fall through fire is not slow. The blades of the fourth tier cut her deep; they lacerate her arms and legs. They seek her eyes but she defends them, and in this manner her sight endures. At last she hits the third tier’s mist and the second tier’s smoke, the two great clouds of peace and happiness; they are soothing and gentle, anodynes for torment, and there is peace in her heart as she falls on.

Far above, the line snaps taut. The castle, that had nearly stopped, begins once more to move.

“At last,” says King Porphyre. “At last!”

The island swings about. It races across the sea. And there is something else, a blot upon the horizon, that Minister Vermin is the first to see.

“Another island?” the Minister asks.

“Another castle!” swears King Porphyre.

The island of Seferi and the island of Adeille collide.

There are some who say that this is a thing of hope, and that even as Claire was bait, so was her boy; that in the belly of some umbral beast they meet at last, and there beneath the sea find love, in this joining pulling the lines of two castles taut and dragging them together in fervent chase. If this is so, there is none who can vouch for it; it is not proper in Adeille to speak of bait, or hooks, or the man who sets them, and if he sacrificed himself like Claire—well, we shall never know his name.

All we know is this: that these things happened.

That Claire is gone.

That a castle that ceases to move soon dies.

Moving Day

When Laurence and Maude had their baby, the old gypsy woman said, “Her life with you shall not be long, but she shall know more happiness than sorrow.” And they laughed, but they promised themselves that, just in case, they would make sure the second part was true.

Laurence smiles at Iphigeneia. “Are you ready for the move?”

Iphigeneia looks around. Her room is empty. It does not have her bed. It does not have her dresser. It does not have her toys. She is subtly disturbed.

“I guess,” Iphigeneia says, skeptically.

So Laurence picks Iphigeneia up, and her blanket, and carries her outside. Then he puts her down as they wait for the moving truck.

“What will happen?” Iphigeneia asks.

Laurence looks around at the miscellaneous unpacked things. His eyes light up.

“A great bird will come running along,” says Laurence. “His legs will be long as telephone poles. His body taller than the hills. Our new apartment is under his wingfeathers.”

Maude frowns at Laurence. “Don’t tell the child such things.”

“It’s true!” Laurence says. He hefts up a long hook on a pole, used to open and close the skylights. He hands it to Iphigeneia, who looks at it suspiciously. “We use these when the bird comes along. To grab hold!”

“Laurence,” Maude sighs. Then she smiles at Iphigeneia. “But if the moving truck comes first, you can just get a ride in that.”

“Oh,” says Iphigeneia. “Good!”

She braces the pole against the ground next to her, like a spearman at rest.

They wait.

The moving truck is almost there, and Iphigeneia can see it around the corner, when suddenly there is a breeze, and a whispering, and around the other corner strides a great tall yellow bird. Its legs are as long as telephone poles. Its body is taller than the hills.

“Oh no!” shouts Iphigeneia. “Quick, Mom, Dad! Get hooks!”

The bird is rushing up. It will get there before the moving truck.

“Maude,” says Laurence, uncertainly.

“Laurence,” says Maude.

“Iphigeneia!” they both say, at once. But it is too late. With the long hook on a pole, she has caught the wingfeathers of the bird, and she is swept away.

“Mom!” she shouts. “Dad! You’re getting left behind! You’re too slow!”

The bird strides faster than Maude and Laurence can run. Soon they are lost to her sight.

“Huh,” says Iphigeneia. “I better wait in the apartment.”

The bird strides into the hills, and beyond them, into the place where the clouds are the colors of sunset.

Iphigeneia climbs. She climbs the bird for many hours. And when she reaches its ear, she has still not seen any place where an apartment might be.

“Hey!” she shouts, into its ear. “Hey! I’m supposed to live on you! Where is my home?”

And the bird flicks its head, a great terrible motion, and Iphigeneia flies into the sun, and there she burns away.

Jane’s Father

Jane looks out the window. “It would be nice to have a father, ” she says.

It starts to rain. Great drops of water fall on the flowers. The flowers are yellow, red, and green. They’re big and bright. They bow as each drop lands, then flick it off. Then they tremble in place.

Jane goes to Martin’s room. She knocks. She waits. She knocks. She waits. Then Martin touches her on the shoulder from behind. Jane jumps. “Gack!”

“I was out,” Martin says. “Doing stuff.”

He opens his door. He lets Jane in. “What is it?” he asks.

“I’d like a father,” she says.

Martin makes a face. “They track mud all over the place,” he says. “And they eat a lot.”

Jane pokes him.

Martin rolls his eyes. “Fine. On your head be it.” He thinks. Then he assembles ingredients. There’s a ceramic tooth and a needle and some hair and a couple of feathers and a hook and a little plush heart. He puts them in a blender and whirls them on high for a few minutes. He pours the results into a cup. Outside, the rain stops. The world starts to dry. “Drink,” Martin says.

Jane pulls herself up into a chair. “What is it?” she says, holding her hands out for the cup.

“It’s the property of having a father.”

“Oh!” Jane drinks it down. “So I have one now?”

Martin shrugs.

“Or will I have to look under things? Like, under the bed and under the dresser and out at the bus stop and under the rug and in the walls?”

Jane hops down from the chair.

Martin shrugs again. “He’s probably in the living room.”

Jane frowns. Then she grins. “Okay!”

Jane runs off to the living room. There’s a shape like a man there. It’s not very distinct.

“Hi, Dad!” she says. She hugs him. Her arms pass through him. It’s like heavy air.

“Jane,” he says. He sounds distracted.

“You’re a ghost! That’s very spooky of you.”

“You can’t have a father yet,” he says. “First you have to do things.”

He points at the wall. There’s a list posted. Jane walks over to it and reads it. Then she beams. “Martin thinks of everything!”

Jane takes her father’s hand. It doesn’t have surface tension, but she can pretend. She leads him out to the hopscotch court. She begins to hop.

“I had a father before,” she says, and hops.

“Did you?”

“He was a manticore. He stood taller than a house. He had three different stingers. Three!”

Jane’s father looks over his shoulder at his coattails. “Are you sure?”

“Not really,” Jane admits. She hops some more. “He might have been some kind of giant gibbering thing. With twelve spindly arms. Like Mom had! Or even longer. He could use them to scuttle around with. He might spin a giant web out of human tendons. That would be sickening, but also kind of conceptually interesting.”

Jane finishes with the hopscotch. She goes and sits on a bench. Sitting is the next important task.

“I don’t have twelve spindly arms,” Jane’s father observes.

“Well, yah,” Jane says. “You’re the new one.”

“You’re not fibbing, are you?”

“It’s not a fib,” Jane says. “It’s just that it’s always so hard to say. He could have been all over hooks and feathers. Like a gryphon, except sharp and pointy. And he could have screamed.”

Jane screams like a bird. Her father startles.

“Like that! As he swooped down to hug me with hooks. Then my skin would just tear off.”

The ghost tilts his head to one side. “Do you have any idea at all what he was actually like?”

Jane sighs. “I remember teeth,” she says. “I was told there were teeth. So I remember them.”

“Who told you that?”

Jane grins. “Monsters. But I figure they would know.” She gets up and begins to spin. Spinning is the third thing on her list!

“He was probably just a guy,” the ghost comments. “You know. A person. No teeth, no spindly legs, no hooks, no stingers.”

Jane gets a little dizzy. She sits down again. She thinks for a long time. “Yeah,” she says. “He probably was.”

Jane bites her lip. “Thanks.”

After a while, Jane looks over, but the ghost is gone.