(April 1) What if the Tower Had a Different Cast?

The slurry of words falls always from the sky.

They are grey.

They are bits of pulp-paper, smeared with ink, torn to shreds and pouring forever over the Buffalo region.

The monster trudges along the road. He shivers in his shiny winter coat. Little grey words accumulate on his shoulders.

All around him there are humans; and there are humans; and there are enemies.

A bus drives by. It splashes him with data.

He looks up.

His eyes gleam.

He hierarchically orders the bus in relationship to evil two-headed wolves that live outside the world.

“Graar!” roars the bus.

It is taking inspiration from the wolves. It is relaying the doctrine of those wolves into the world.

The bus stops at a red light.

It casts its head around. “Graar!” it roars.

If it had a mouth, it would totally eat somebody.

Ezra is a pedestrian. He looks up. His face is in a rapture. The words of the wolves are the words he has waited his whole life to hear.

“I understand,” he says. “At last.”

The bus snarls and snaps at him.

Cringing, Ezra scuttles back. He hulks low to the ground, like a two-headed beta wolf living beyond the world. He makes a low whimpering noise. But he does not go away.

The light turns green again.

Driven by the senseless imperatives of the wolves beyond the world, the bus starts moving again, lurches forward two blocks, and then pulls over against the curb.

Ezra follows, and there is something on his face of peace.

The monster trudges on.

And all around him there are humans; and there are humans; and there are enemies.

“I don’t understand,” Tina had said, on the phone. “It’s raining data from the sky. It’s practically begging for organization. Why don’t you set an order to it?”

“You can’t give things order when they’re asking for it,” the monster said. “That road leads to ruin.”

There’s the Rice Building to the monster’s left. Moira looks down from a window. She is dressed in an evening dress and holding a champagne glass in her hand.

She experiences contempt for the monster in the snow.

He looks up.

His eyes gleam.

He hierarchically orders the building in relationship to Santa Claus.

A cold northern wind blows through the Rice Building. The laughter of gnomes is loud in the elevator shaft. Soft lights twinkle.

And Moira finds herself thinking, “I should give away everything I have.”

The notion is simple and lucid. She has thought herself a good person, but in the grim Santalight she recognizes that in every aspect of her virtue there is also the taint of greed. Clinging to her possessions and her comfort, she has never known true clarity of spirit.

“I should empty my bank accounts,” she says, “and give presents to the poor. And then I should slip from my skin,” she says: “Leaving it behind me as a gift for humanity or for God, and like a moth fly free.”

Ho, ho, ho, Moira! That’s the illumination of the Santalight!

The monster trudges on.

And all around him there are humans; and there are humans; and there are enemies.

Tina hesitated.

“I know a disordered thing that craves not resolution,” she says.

The monster is going to the Vatican Satellite Archive in Buffalo, where the Vatican keeps all of the various secret archives and papers that for one reason or another it prefers to keep in Buffalo.

It is a big metal building, like a bunker.

It has a giant and somewhat tacky cross on the front, and it is protected by the Swiss Guard.

“Hello,” says the monster.

“We cannot let you pass,” the Swiss Guard clarify.

And the monster’s eyes gleam—but:

“It’s all right,” Tina says.

She is standing inside the building. She is wearing a lab coat. And at her words the Swiss Guard stand down and relax.

The monster goes in.

“Come see,” she had said. “It’s the God machine.”

“Take me to it,” he says.

And she leads him down into the bowels of the building, where the deepest and darkest of the secrets that the Vatican keeps in Buffalo reside; and there he sees it, great and bulky and flashing its lights and devouring punch cards and tape—the God Machine.

“It is sick,” she says.

The monster looks at it. He taps it with the edge of his hand. He tilts his head to one side and listens to its bleeps.

“It’s the conflict with the Allah Machine and the Godless Secularist Machine,” he says.

“That’s why it’s snowing words,” Tina says. “And why every third person on the street is an enemy.”

He attempts to hierarchically order the three machines. Tina stabs him with the knife Quicksilver.

He is distracted. He can scarcely tell that he’s bleeding, but there’re grey waves of shock inside his mind.

He blinks. He shakes his head. “Huh?”

“Huh?”

“You stabbed me,” he says.

“Oh.”

“Please don’t stab me,” he says, “while I’m trying to hierarchically order God.”

Tina’s lips are a thin line.

The monster looks up. His eyes gleam. He hierarchically orders—

“OW!” he says. “Fudge!”

“I can’t take responsibility for it,” Tina says, cleaning her knife. “It’s natural that you should experience pain when attempting to place these three machines in hierarchical order.”

“I see,” the monster says. “It’s just the inexorable development of a natural process.”

“Yes.”

He looks at her. She is trying very hard not to grin.

He’s got blood all over his shiny winter coat.

“Well,” he says, “thank you for showing me.”

He turns away.

He walks up towards the street.

“You’re not going to break it or anything?” she asks.

He shrugs.

“It’s just the God Machine.”

He walks out of the Vatican Satellite Archive in Buffalo. He walks past the Swiss Guard. They’re mildly concerned about his bleeding but they can’t do anything about it because he’s not the Pope.

He staggers out among the cold grey slurry of words.

And he stumbles.

He falls.

He lays there, on the sidewalk. The humans step over him. The humans walk around him. The enemies stare at him with their shining red eyes.

And suddenly he understands.

There on the ground he laughs; and he looks up; and his eyes gleam.

And he says, “This is a world that loves not order.”

The slurry falls.

And up above the seraphim sing into the chill void of Heaven, and their words precipitate down; and they had never asked that the people of Earth should understand what it is they’ve said.

He is free.

His eyes gleam.

He says, “Systima.”

And the order of things congeals about the words, and the slurry that falls from the sky begins to bind together as it falls; and paper forms books, and books form corpuses, and even the corpuses submerge into data, and there is a swirling serpent of form assembling from the falling gunk, a mad grey thrashing snake like an elemental of the storm; and where there was emptiness there is now an answer, looking out at him from the serpent’s burning eye.

But it is not an answer that he can understand.

Iphigenia’s Story (1 of 1)

Tina is hunting Liril; through dangerous byways and sharp straight courses she hunts her.

Iphigenia knows.

“I should be dead,” she says, to Martin, that morning. Iphigenia is looking out at the sky and Martin is applying a wrench to the pipes of the stage.

Martin makes a noncommital noise. He loosens a nut. He begins to untwist the screw. “That’s not unusual,” he says.

“There’s a need to pay the price for sin,” Iphigenia says. “Otherwise the world goes out of balance. And there she is—sinning—”

“And you weren’t sacrificed properly?”

“Yeah,” Iphigenia says.

The screw comes off. The pipe separates; a numinous mist of chaos fogs out into the room. Martin reaches a long skinny arm into the pipe and begins to feel around. Something bites him, and he pulls back a finger swollen, red, and black. He sucks on the tip and thinks.

“It is an old miracle,” says Martin. “To substitute an animal for a sinner at the moment of a sacrifice. It’s so old that even humans started doing it, but originally, it was a trick of the gods.”

“It wasn’t an animal,” Iphigenia says. “It was a Cadbury bunny.”

Martin rummages around until he finds a pair of forceps. He reaches into the pipe. He pulls out a spiny eel, its long white mouth-tendrils reminiscent of a beard. He holds it up, unhappy. Then he takes it to the window and tosses it back into the sea.

“Cadbury bunnies can die for people’s sins,” Martin asserts. “It’s allowed.”

“Even mine?”

“Even Stalin’s!”

“Communism, then,” Ink says. “Communism and capitalism. They split the world in half. One of them’s screwy and the other one never worked and whole generations grew up in fear until some drunk gorgosaurus puttering around in Party HQ knocked over the USSR. Was it some kind of weird gorgosaurus metaphor? ‘Look how deep our political theory is! This side can wear Russia like a condom whose time has come and the other can kill nuns in Nicaragua to keep America safe?'”

The bunny had burned as Iphigenia fled. The wind had carried her away, and she had left the bunny behind to burn.

And it was the nature of Iphigenia to know that chocolate is not deaf to pain; that a Cadbury creature pressed into service as a messenger is not insensate or without desire; that to leave it there was wrong. But to stay would have been more wrong. So she had left the bunny there to burn in her stead.

Tina ate some of the chocolate later. Iphigenia could never figure out why that disturbed her so.

“You’re projecting your own moral failings,” the gorgosaurus says.

Ink Catherly is running from a gorgosaurus. Its footsteps shake the firmament and the fundament. Its teeth are very sharp.

It dries Martin’s mouth out a little, watching.

It makes his stomach just a little bit sick.

So he crouches, in a high and dusty place, and looks out to sea.

“There’s something out in the sea,” he says.

The sun shines on the chaos and often its burning makes a golden road across the top. Today there is a turbulence in the chaos that breaks that road into a thousand jagged parts.

The thing that is swimming towards them is larger than the tower; larger than the sun; quite possibly larger than the sea. Its tail is lashing and there are storms for that reason everywhere in all the world.

Its name is Andhaka. It was once a dream of Mrs. Schiff’s.

“Is it my fault?” Iphigenia asks.

“Hm?”

“For being here. For . . .”

Martin is looking at her flatly.

“No,” Martin says.

“No,” says Mrs. Schiff. “No, Andhaka is mine.”

The horn of the beast has risen from the water now.

The madness in its blind red eyes is shining through the water now.

“He is coming for me,” says Mrs. Schiff. “Because I dreamt him long ago.”

They wait.

“Wait,” says Ink. “No. I’ll be good. What do you want?”

The gorgosaurus catches Ink’s leg in one hand and, without quite loosening the grip its teeth have on her arm, it jerks its head.

There is . . .

“She’s down! She’s down! Stop the show!”

That’s Sid’s voice. It’s loud and sharp and shaken.

Martin moves swiftly. He drops from his perch and catches the shutoff valve for the stage. He’s pulling it down with his weight and his feet descend onto the gears. He heaves it down the last few inches until it clicks.

It is Intermission, and a curtain falls across Ink’s fate.

The tower shines with a thousand lights; one by one, they dim. There is a potency in the air around Gibbelins’ Tower; slowly, it dissipates.

And still Andhaka comes.

Mrs. Schiff is walking out on the bridge now. She is looking at the creature now. It rises over her and there are blind and questing tendrils at its mouth. There is a wave that crashes and tears upon the tower walls and over the bridge, and only barely does Mrs. Schiff keep her grip upon the railing.

“She’ll die,” says Iphigenia.

Iphigenia’s knuckles are white.

“I liked her,” Iphigenia says. And she wills Andhaka to burn, but the beast is larger than her power.

Andhaka’s head comes down. Its mouth opens wide. It shrieks. Then it pours itself into Mrs. Schiff. It is an endless rippling tide flowing from the chaos into her soul.

Iphigenia’s eyes are closed. She does not watch.

And the broken dream that is Andhaka is now within Mrs. Schiff, twisting and turning in her mind and soul, and it is burning with madness. And Mrs. Schiff stands there, still and prim, but the edges of her soul are loose against the seething tide.

For that is what one does with broken dreams: one takes them back, and holds the madness in oneself until it turns to peace.

Such is the theory and practice of Mrs. Schiff.

Such are the things that happen, backstage at Gibbelins’ Tower.

Transformation (1 of 1)

There is a room in Gibbelins’ Tower that overlooks the chaos. Its window has no glass, and there is always a wind. There are strands of pink and green and silver in that wind, torn upwards from the surging sea.

Straight across the window, more miles distant than a bird could fly, there is a lighthouse. To the left of the window, there is a bridge. There is something that might be a tugboat, off to the right. If so, it is foundering, and will most likely drown with all its crew beneath the terrible sea.

Martin stands there, looking out. Jane enters.

“The door says ‘keep out’ and ‘no girls allowed’,” Martin notes.

“Also, ‘toxic’ and ‘radiation warning.'”

“Does this, for you, occasion no concern?”

“Nope.”

Jane stands next to Martin and looks out the window.

“What’cha doin’?”

“Taking measurements. And you?”

“I made an armored umbrella,” Jane says. She holds it out to him in two hands. “See?”

Martin takes the umbrella. He studies it. Then he steps back and opens it with a flourish. It clicks open with a clang and a click. It’s a pretty ominous umbrella.

“Martin!” Jane accuses.

“What?”

“You’re inside.

“Not topologically!” Martin protests.

“Does luck really care?” Jane wonders.

“It’s very nice,” says Martin. He rotates it. He puts it over his shoulder. It clangs against the stone wall. “What’s it for?”

“I thought that it would be raining screws and bolts,” Jane says. “Since it’s a season of metal.”

Martin considers. He looks outside. “It’s pretty chaotic,” he says. “So maybe. But that’s not what the season means.”

“And maybe appliances,” Jane says. “We could finally get a dishwasher.”

Martin re-estimates the umbrella’s tensile strength.

“Or a tank!”

“I don’t want a tank,” Martin says, reflexively. He does, of course, but he’s a responsible boy who knows that tanks kill more family members every year than intruders or enemies of the state.

“What’s it actually mean?” Jane says.

“It’s the season of gathering,” Martin says. He goes over to a cot in the corner of the room, reaches under it, and pulls out a handful of dust bunnies and lint. Martin does not vacuum this room very often, and the last time he exposed the Roomba to the vapors of chaos, it developed sentience, extra LEDs, and an End of Everything Button. “In the spring, you see, it’s all right to be choosy. To say, ‘I’ll keep this dust bunny, but not that one. I like fruit, but I don’t like squash.’ But when the months pass and the year grows older, it’s important to collect everything you can. To look for the good and the salvageable in everything. To have hope for things, even if it costs you.”

Martin sifts through the dust bunnies and finds the one that’s made of chocolate. He sifts some more and finds the great dust bunny leader that organized the others and kept them peacefully under the bed rather than messing up the whole room. He hands these, and the best of the remaining bunnies, to Jane. Then he goes to the window and lets the others fall down into the chaos below. He dusts off his hands.

“It’s crying,” Jane says.

“The world is not kind to dust bunnies,” says Martin. He takes the bunnies from Jane’s hands, all but the chocolate one, and puts them back under the bed.

Jane licks the salt of dust bunny tears off of her hands.

Martin looks at her.

“I like salt,” Jane says.

Martin looks back out the window. “Anyway,” he says. “If there’s a tank up in heaven, or a dishwasher, that they don’t need, then I guess this is the right season for them to drop it on me so I can make it good. So I’ll be keeping the umbrella.”

Jane smiles. She hugs Martin.

He scruffles her hair.

“If it’s a season of metal,” Jane says, “then I want them back.”

Martin hesitates. “Which ones?” he says, warily.

“I don’t know,” Jane says. “Just . . . you know. Them. The gods they took.”

Martin nods.

“Iphigenia,” Jane says, because things happen in a certain order and chaos succumbs to the dictates of pattern when it must.

“How do you take her back?” says Martin.

Jane is suddenly shy.

“She made her from me,” Jane says. “She cut her out of me like with a torch. And I could never figure out if a sculpture belongs to the sculptor or the stone.”

Martin sits on the cot. “Jane,” he says.

Her eyes go round. “Are you all right?”

“I think that there is nothing I need less to imagine in all the world than the idea that sculpting people is taking from them,” he says.

“Oh,” Jane says.

“Everything everyone does,” Martin says, “is about changing the world. Making it different. And sometimes there is pain. But it is a gift and it must be a gift because you cannot gain rights to someone else simply by acting upon them.”

Jane peers at him.

“That’s backwards,” she says.

Martin grins.

“What?”

“It is the dharma of a god,” Martin says, “to view certain moral and causal relationships from the other side.”

“Oh.”

Martin adopts an expression of intense intellectual concentration. He looks like a boy trying to read his own thoughts in a mirror. He offers, “If she had no right to carve from you, then why should she have claimed the result?”

Jane shrinks in on herself for a moment, but she is Jane. She straightens out again and grins.

“She deserves some compensation for her pains,” says Jane.

“That’s true,” Martin says. “It was good work!”

“She’s very fiery and stuff. And she kept the sun going.”

Martin looks dubious. “I bet the sun would still be going anyway.”

“It might have fallen into the sea!”

“Copernicus would argue.”

“Maybe,” says Jane. “We could unearth him and find out.”

“He’s not in his grave,” Martin says, sulkily.

“He’s not?”

“. . . so I hear.”

“If I welcome her,” asks Jane, “do you think that she’ll come?”

“Yes.”

“It’s that easy? Just . . . tell her that she can be mine?”

“Is that easy?”

“I guess not,” says Jane.

“I was always glad,” Martin says, “that you accepted what I’d done to you. Because you could have stopped it.”

“It’s ’cause you keep not pushing the End of Everything Button,” Jane says. “I think that’s very noble of you, considering that it’s red and has that ‘don’t push’ label and all.”

“It is very difficult,” concedes Martin. “I’m a scientist.”

“So I’ll do it,” says Jane. She takes the chocolate dust bunny to the window. She kisses it. It does not respond. It is as nihilistic and detached as only a Cadbury bunny can be. “Go,” she says, and tosses it out into the chaos. “Tell Iphigenia she’s welcome here. Tell her she can come home.”

“A chocolate dust bunny?” Martin says.

“It can keep the sun running for Tina,” says Jane. “Since, you know, she won’t have Iphigenia any more. And if she eats it, she’ll get sick!”

The wind picks up the bunny in the air and tumbles it off towards land.

“Bunnies are a double-edged sword,” Martin agrees.

Rahu (IV/IV)

“A long time ago,” says Tina, “there was a woman named Prajapati, who made two demons named Rahu and Ketu.”

It is 2002, the year of the horse.

“They helped her to accept what was happening to her. But they were very sad.”

Iphigenia listens. She is dressed in a nightgown. Tina is brushing her hair.

“When she took sick, because she’d been hung too long in her monster’s garden, Rahu and Ketu went looking for someone to help her.”

Iphigenia says, “Couldn’t they heal her?”

“Demons are filthy creatures. They aren’t good for very much,” Tina says. “They can plead. But they cannot heal.”

“I see.”

“So they went to the moon,” says Tina. “And they asked the moon, ‘will you heal her?'”

“Is the moon driven by someone like me?” Iphigenia asks.

Tina’s brush pulls on a tangle in Iphigenia’s hair. Iphigenia suppresses a yelp.

“There is no god of the moon today,” Tina says.

“Oh.”

“The moon said, ‘I shine my light on her every night. Isn’t that enough? I won’t help her more than that.'”

Iphigenia frowns. “I think I’m glad that she is gone.”

“And then they went to the sun,” says Tina. “And they asked the sun, ‘will you heal her?’ And what do you think the sun said?”

Iphigenia frets. The brush moves gently through her hair. “I think that—”

“Yes?”

“I think that the sun could not help them,” Iphigenia says, “because demons are filthy creatures, and because the sun had a higher purpose.”

“Yes,” says Tina.

“Yes?”

“Yes,” says Tina. “The sun and moon had a magical elixir that could make Prajapati immortal. But they did not share it with her. Because she did not deserve it. But what were Rahu and Ketu to do?”

Iphigenia thinks. “They had to save her, because they were her demons.”

“They might have just wanted her to accept her death,” says Tina.

“Maybe,” says Iphigenia dubiously.

“But instead they snuck into the houses of the sun and the moon, and they stole the elixir, and they took a sip for themselves and a sip for Prajapati. And when they were gone, the servants in those houses raised such a ruckus as you could not imagine. They cried to every god in all Heaven, even Lord Vishnu, that the elixir had been stolen. So with one cut of his blade, he chopped off their heads. The elixir they wanted to bring Prajapati dribbled out through their necks and was gone. But ever since, whenever they could find the sun and the moon, Rahu and Ketu ate them—just like that! That’s why you have eclipses.”

“That’s a sad story.”

“One day,” Tina says, “Rahu will find you, and he will eat you up, and you will be gone, and I will be alone.”

“Oh.”

“Everyone will wear black,” says Tina, “and they will be very sad for me; but I think that even the monster will be hiding pleasure behind his eyes.”

“I won’t die soon,” says Iphigenia.

“See that you don’t!” says Tina, crisply. She helps Iphigenia stand up. She turns her around. She places a ribbon in Iphigenia’s hair. “There,” she says. “Go to bed.”

Iphigenia sleeps, and dreams of Rahu’s gaping maw.

Sacrifice (3 of 4)

Tina wakes up.

“Thysiazo is dead,” she realizes.

She stretches. She looks at her clock. She sits up and puts her legs over the side of the bed. She puts her feet in a pair of bunny slippers. She stands and stretches again. She pads over to the mirror.

“A mother should never have to bury her child,” she says to her image in the mirror. “I will have him cremated.”

She walks out into the main room. She knocks on Iphigenia’s door. Iphigenia opens it.

“Mom?” Iphigenia asks.

“Burn Thysiazo’s body,” Tina says.

“Mo-om,” Iphigenia protests.

Tina gives her a glare. So there is heat and there is light and in the basement of the house Thysiazo ignites.

“Did I ever tell you,” says Tina, “that when I was young, I went to school, and they taught me of your kind?”

Iphigenia brightens. She has never been to school. “Was it like Harry Potter?” she asks.

“No,” Tina says, flatly.

“Or Grease?”

Iphigenia has had a sheltered upbringing. It does not entirely surprise Tina that Iphigenia’s image of school involves singing wizards with slicked-back hair.

“I called the ways of your kind dark arts, and I lusted to kill everyone born of the soul. Eventually they threw me out and threatened legal action if I should ever seek to return.”

“Oh.”

“I was right,” says Tina crisply. “And they were wrong. They had no answer to that, so for all their blustering they could not control me.”

“What happened?”

“They paid for my home education,” Tina says, “and for my college.”

Tina takes off her pajamas and dresses herself. She puts on her coat. She walks down to the basement. There is blood on the walls. Some of it is fresh.

“Do you know what did this?” she asks Iphigenia.

“Something Micah brought?”

“He did not comport himself well,” says Tina. “I should have hurt him more badly.”

“It smells of ghoul.”

Tina looks up. “Does it?”

“Yes.”

“And Liril,” says Iphigenia.

“Ah.”

Tina goes to the phone. She picks it up. It is dead. “We will have to follow her,” she says. Tina goes to the car. She gets in. It will not start. She gets out. She starts to walk. The wind rises. Soon she is struggling. She stops, and stands still, and the wind fades.

“I am blocked,” she says.

“We could leave her,” says Iphigenia. “I’m really kind of busy being the sun.”

The image of Tina in Iphigenia’s eyes seems to pulse. Iphigenia sees, with a certain mad clarity, how thin a line separates her from Micah in Tina’s eyes.

“I mean, if we had some other way to cut her off,” Iphigenia corrects.

“We need an oracle,” Tina says. She turns. She marches back into the house. She goes down to the oracle’s room. The oracle is a crouched and maddened thing surmounted by a large eye. Tina keeps it chained to a radiator. “Tell me how to catch her and confront her,” Tina says.

“You won’t,” says the oracle.

She kicks it. It is a measured blow.

“I knew you would do that,” says the oracle.

Tina raises a penciled eyebrow.

“I can’t help being contrary,” says the oracle. “So I’d rather you didn’t kill me.”

Tina kicks the oracle again.

“The wind’s changed,” says the oracle. “So if you want to catch her, you’ll have to give up what you love the most.”

“Why that?”

“Because you can’t change the course of events by doing what you want to do anyway,” says the oracle. “If you could, then it wouldn’t be the course of events; it’d be a byway.”

“I could cut off a finger,” says Tina. “I don’t want to do that; it would disrupt the flow of things.”

“That would probably help, if you were a yakuza.”

“I’m not.”

“You could join,” Iphigenia suggests.

Tina does not have to look at Iphigenia. The set of her shoulders is a withering glare.

“In what fashion will giving up what I love allow me to pursue her?” Tina asks.

“It will let you move freely through the wind.”

“Burn him, Iphigenia.”

The oracle sighs. “I liked the radiator,” it says. “It was nicer than death.”

There is a light rising in the oracle’s vision, a sun-shaped disc burning, and its fires spread through the oracle’s soul and the oracle is gone.

“And now yourself.”

“Mother?”

Iphigenia is sweating. She is not simply standing next to Tina. She is in the sky, commanding the horses of the sun, and they are pulling harder than is their wont.

“I would rather have lost a finger,” Tina says. “So you have that, at least.”

The heat is too much. There is nothing to breathe that does not burn Iphigenia’s lungs.

“It’s stupid,” says Iphigenia. “Why should my death matter?”

“Because while I love you,” says Tina, “I am something that the enemy may comprehend.”

“It’s not a sacrifice if it’s someone else!”

But there is a wind and a flame and Iphigenia is gone.

Iphigenia (II/IV)

“I would like the power to kill,” Tina tells the monster.

It is 1981. The sun is dim and has been growing dimmer.

“Then take it,” says the monster.

The sun is very big, but it is very far away. Four horses pull it around the sky. They belong to Mr. Sun and his daughter Iphigenia.

“These horses always get too hot and sweaty,” says Mr. Sun. “That’s why they have such a high mortality rate! But there aren’t enough left to sustain the breed. Soon we’ll run out!”

“That’s bad,” declares Iphigenia.

“She is available?” Tina asks.

“She is.”

“We could try ice horses,” says Iphigenia.

“Let’s!”

But the ice horses melt. Cold water splashes everywhere. The sun grows a little dimmer.

“I don’t think that worked,” opines Mr. Sun.

So Tina calls Jenna on the telephone. Jenna meets her by the road, with trees arching above. Tina takes her home.

“The sun is dying,” Tina says, in a businesslike fashion. “You have failed to keep it alive.”

It wouldn’t mean anything to Jenna if you called her Nephilim.

She barely remembers or understands that the monster has used her, more than once, to conjure gods. Not on that day, anyway; not on that occasion. The process blurs, sometimes, fades, shudders from your mind, if you can’t put it in a framework suited to your understanding.

Jenna does not know what she has done or what she isn’t for or why she answered Tina’s call;

But she can’t meet Tina’s eyes.

“We could try murderous horses,” says Iphigenia. “Their hearts would be cold as ice, but their bodies wouldn’t be!”

“Let’s!” declares Mr. Sun.

They lock the horses in a room. They kill one another. It’s a locked room mystery!

“It’s not really that mysterious,” says Iphigenia, after a while. “Just sad.”

Today’s pain is sharp and hideous and it lingers, like a burn.

Jenna is aware of screaming, sometimes. Mostly she is aware that she is going to die, that everything in the world is wrong, and that it is her fault. She has failed to keep the sun alive.

“We could try horses made of fire,” says Iphigenia.

“That’d make the sun even hotter,” says Mr. Sun. “We might burn up ourselves!”

“Let’s both do our best,” says Iphigenia.

So they hitch four horses of fire to the sun. They begin to sweat. The horses gallop. It is hard and it is painful and it is terrible. The heat washes back to them in waves, and the effort, and the straining of the horses against the reins. It is a wild and terrible ride, and Iphigenia can scarcely breathe during it.

She is laughing with exultation and victory when she realizes that

Somehow, it is over. Somehow, she has survived.

“That’s very well done,” says Mr. Sun. “I guess you should take over, now.”

The world is strangely cold on Iphigenia’s skin. She looks around. A girl is slumped against the wall. A woman in a white coat is looking at her with a distant air of satisfaction.

“Hello?” says Iphigenia.

There are walls on every side, and nowhere there is the sun.

“Can you kill?” says the woman. Her hair is blond and cut short.

“I am the sun,” says Iphigenia.

The woman walks to the window. She points at a passing car. “Them,” she says.

Iphigenia frowns. She is unsettled, unbalanced. But there is heat and the car is burning.

The woman stares at Iphigenia for a while.

“I understand you,” she says. Her words are flat.

Iphigenia blinks at her.

“I am Tina,” the woman says. “You are my daughter.”

Tina (I/IV)

It is 1961. The sun is occluded by the walls and shutters of the school. The fresh spring air is kept locked away. And Mr. Dobbins drones on.

“In the past,” Mr. Dobbins says, “women were forced to labor in drudgery. But those days are over. By the year 2000, every housewife should have a dozen advanced fairies to aid her in her household tasks.”

Tina is a girl. She’s a little under 12 years old. Her hair is long and golden and it never gives her any trouble. She sits in an almost indelicate pose, sprawled as if to claim her seat and every seat around it. She’s one of the pretty ones, one of the lucky ones, and none of the teachers ever criticize her.

“Managing your fairies is very important,” says Mr. Dobbins, “because they will happily claim your soul to pay off the teind. Can anyone tell me what a teind is?”

Ben raises his hand. No one knows why he’s taking Home Economics, but the school won’t stop him.

“Yes, Ben?”

“It means that they have to pay souls to the lower kingdom every seven years.”

“That’s right, Ben. It’s important to make sure that you pay your fairies only a reasonable wage—acorns and nuts, used eggshells, pipe ash, and the like. If you let them get uppity, they’ll demand more than you can afford.”

The girl in front of Tina—two seats forward, one to the side, the closest anyone ever sits—raises her hand.

“Eleanor?”

“Mom says fairies are bad,” says Eleanor. “She says you have to feed them with a . . .”

Eleanor blushes brightly. “I mean—”

“I believe you mean a witch’s lactation assistant, or WLA,” says Mr. Dobbins. A few of the kids laugh. Eleanor turns redder. “And no. Nobody does that. In the modern day, fairies are our tools, not our masters—expressions of who we are, flowing from the heart to reshape the world.”

“Mom says it’s black magic,” Eleanor says. “That it’s wrong.”

There’s something crawling under Eleanor’s dress. Tina watches in fascination as it moves across her back, as one black, delicate, and hairy leg emerges from the neck of the dress and brushes against Eleanor’s spine.

“She’s a God-fearing woman,” says Mr. Dobbins. “But ever since people started building the future, it’s been easy to confuse the power of the human spirit and the power of the Enemy.”

“Both ways?” says Eleanor.

“Maybe so,” says Mr. Dobbins. “But I think she’ll come to see, in time, that fairies are our future—something we’ve built ourselves. In the meantime, why don’t we all practice setting out milk for the fairies? You can sit it out, if you want, Eleanor.”

Everyone stands up but Eleanor and Tina. They go over to the workbench, with the dishes and the milk. They pour out the milk.

“Just leave it by the door,” says Mr. Dobbins. “Then we’ll see if any fairies come to clean the erasers.”

The class leaves the milk by the door. They sit down.

The back of Tina’s neck itches. “Something’s missing,” she says.

“Let’s give them a moment,” says Mr. Dobbins. “Quaere verum—‘seek the truth.'”

Tina stares at the room. She cannot escape the mounting sense that there is something wrong.

A second, questing leg emerges from the back of Eleanor’s dress. The edge of a green-furred body is visible now. It is strangely flat.

It does not seem quite real to Tina that people should be doing these things. That they should be pouring out milk for fairies. That they should be speaking in the tongue of witches and priests. That the light in the room should be so hollow and so empty.

“Oh!” cries Eleanor, suddenly. “There’s one!”

There is a fairy, nothing more than a stirring of dust in the shape of flesh and wings, lapping at her milk. It looks up at Eleanor briefly, ferally. Then it swirls away.

Eleanor rubs at the back of her neck. The thing under her dress slides out of the way, smoothly, with the grace of a snake.

“The fairy looked nasty,” says Ben.

“It did,” says Eleanor. She sounds unhappy.

“It looked right at you,” Ben says. “I bet that it was looking for your WLA.”

Mister Kingsley!” snaps the teacher.

Eleanor ducks her head. The creature emerges onto the back of her neck. It unfurls glistening insect wings.

“Hey,” says Ben. “There’s something on the back of Eleanor’s n—”

Eleanor screams.

Tina moves. She does not hurry. She stands, and steps forward twice, and her hand plucks the creature from Eleanor’s neck. She holds it by its wing, and her other hand takes the other wing, and it squirms pathetically.

“Is this yours?” she asks Eleanor.

Eleanor shrinks back.

“Do you make these things?” Tina asks. Her eyes do not reflect the light. “Is this the kind of future that people like you dream out of yourselves?”

“Get it away,” Eleanor says. “Please, get it away.”

“It’s whispering,” Tina says. She looks down at it. “Can you hear what it’s saying?”

“Please!” Eleanor says.

So Tina rips it in half. It bleeds ichor on the floor.

Eleanor looks very small. She looks like a puppy who’s just been fed and then kicked after weeks abandoned in the cold.

“Thank you,” she says.

“This is wrong,” Tina says. She goes off to her seat. She looks at everyone. She can see it. They are not people. They are shells and facades, going through the motions of a life.

She does not listen to the rest of the class. She does not pay attention to anything else. But then there is Ben, standing there, looking at her, and the class is over, and he is saying, “. . . there is a thing, under my bed.”

She looks him up and down.

“I have to jump into bed every night,” says Ben. “Or it’ll grab me, and pull me under. And eat me. Ever since I was six.”

“It’s not my problem,” she says.

Ben looks at her. He has puppy eyes too. Suddenly, she finds him hateful and contemptible and weak.

“Will you eat mud for me?” she asks. “Will you cut your hand with a knife, just this deep,” and she holds her fingers next to one another, “and call yourself my slave?”

Ben looks down.

“Then I’ll help,” she says.

The Wind is Changing

In the last chapter of Hitherby Dragons we learned about Jenna and Liril.

They’d both suffered at the monster’s hands.

And unlike most of the Nephilim that the monster’d found they’d each built something like an answer. They’d stumbled into an escape; a way out; a path to freedom. And it’s the nature of escapes and ways out that they are dead ends; and each of them was facing this truth in their own characteristic fashion.

Jenna had locked herself away from everything else, in a firewood world suspended in the sky. She was busily engaged in pretending this would work when Martin came and set her spirit on fire and turned her into Jane.

Liril hid in Santa Ynez and she was still and silent and her brother Micah kept her safe.

And each of them lived frozen—

Not aging, like fairy princesses oughtn’t, even though that’s not exactly what they were—

Until the changing of the wind.

That’s when Jane pinned her safety to the future of the world.

She’d done it before!

A long time ago!

But it was the wind’s changing that made it official.

“The monster won’t have me,” Jane decided, “if I can save everyone from sorrow.”

And now she lives in a tower beyond the world and she creates these phantasmagoria from the chaos and maybe, just maybe, she’ll make an answer to everybody’s suffering before this story ends. If she doesn’t, you see, that’s probably an unhappy ending for everyone concerned, including Jane.

Liril’s answer, on the other hand, was more personal.

Liril decided she would run.

Some of it was the changing wind, and some of it was a stone named Liril that Micah rolled out into the world, and some of it—maybe—was a duty pressing inwards from the suffering natures of the world.

Out of all of that, anyway, came her decision.

She decided she would run.

She decided she’d be safe if she could make her safety. So she took her old babysitter John and she made a ghoul of him, and she and John and Micah made plans to get away.

That’s when Tina captured Micah and tortured him.

That’s when her plan went very bad.

Liril’s rescued Micah from Tina’s basement, now. John’s slaughtered the demon Thysiazo, now, and Liril and Micah are away.

But it hurts that Micah hurt.

Not just for Liril.

It hurts for all of us, for us and you, forever and ever, because when any person suffers none of the rest of us are spared.

It’s not just philosophy!

It’s a fundamental law!

Surrender (1 of 2)

“Sometimes, things just are,” Micah says.

He’s sitting in front of his house. He’s waiting. It’s been about two hours.

“There used to be gibbelins,” he says. “They lived outside the world. They ate people. And to lure people to them, they had a cellar of emeralds, and a cellar of sapphires, and a cellar of gold.”

He has surrendered, and so he has no power. His mother has phoned the monster. The nightmares will come for him, and take him away. The air is very cold.

“And a man carved down into their cellar,” he says, “from under a river, and flooded it, to raid their emeralds without going to their door. And he emerged from the water with a sack full of emeralds, and there were the gibbelins, and without saying a word, or even smiling, they killed him. It didn’t make anyone happy. He died, and the gibbelins weren’t even particularly pleased. But sometimes things just are.”

A car pulls up. A man gets out. His nametag reads “Thysiazo,” and below that, “Acceptance.”

“Micah,” he says.

“Why?” Micah asks him. “Why do I have to do this?”

Thysiazo blinks. Then he shrugs, and gives an honest answer. “Power,” he says. “For a monster, power is defined as the point where they no longer need to create gods of their own—when they can conjure them forth from others. The monster has desired to break you to his will from the moment that Liril made you; and only certain failings on our part prevented it thus far. It is generally a benign process,” he adds, “although there are unfortunate circumstances at present.”

“Oh.”

Micah hesitates at the door, thinking about something else to say, but Thysiazo casts him an inquiring look, and Micah bitterly climbs in. Thysiazo sits in the driver’s seat and starts the car. There’s a long and quiet drive.

“What are you?” Micah asks.

“A demon,” Thysiazo says.

“No horns,” Micah points out. “Also, not red or ugly.”

“No,” Thysiazo admits. “I’m more of an easy-on-the-eye evil.”

Micah frowns.

“Not as a person,” Thysiazo clarifies. “In my own person, I’m capable of both goodness and hypocrisy, and through one road or another I find myself a morally acceptable creature. But it would be a mistake for a demon to deny the fundamental evil of his nature. Folly has no merits.”

“How are you evil, then?”

“We’re going to Tina’s home,” Thysiazo says. “Do you remember her?”

There’s a long pause. “Vaguely.”

“Are you all right with going there?”

Micah is silent.

“There’s a little place in you that’s terrified,” Thysiazo says. He turns the wheel gently as the road curves. “You won’t admit it, but it’s there, in your heart, and it’s casting out a radiance of emptiness. It’s asking the rest of your mind for help. It’s asking the world for help. It’s calling out to the gods. And this is my answer: that you should sit, and wait, and accept what comes. You have to, Micah. You surrendered of your own free will. To protect others. It’s just a necessary sacrifice, something that you have to live with, something that’s part of your world now. I can’t help giving that answer. It’s what demons do. We teach you to accept whatever is necessary to bear. And our answers go straight into your soul.”

“Oh,” Micah says.

“See,” says Thysiazo, “if I started pretending that that was a good answer, then I wouldn’t be a demon. I’d just be a dork.”

“Please let me go,” Micah says.

Thysiazo drives.

“I’ll make you finger sandwiches?”

“Yum,” Thysiazo says. “But, no.”

After a while, they pull up in front of a house. It’s white. It’s got big brooding windows and a little fence out front. Its roof is painted a light blue. It’s got a small grassy yard. Thysiazo leads Micah to the door, and knocks, and then leads him inside to a small fuzzy brown-green-gold couch.

“Sit,” Thysiazo says, and then fades away to lean against the wall.

Micah can hear someone washing their hands in the other room. There’s a swish of fabric. Then she comes out: Tina, a woman with pale blond hair and a white lab coat.

“Hi,” he says.

She tilts her head to one side. She stares at him for a few moments. Then she looks up at Thysiazo. “He spoke.”

Thysiazo shrugs.

She looks down at Micah. “Don’t speak,” she says. “Not without being asked. You’ve gotten ill-trained.”

Micah chews on his lip.

“Why did we leave him alone for so long?” she asks Thysiazo.

“Liril,” Thysiazo says.

She tilts her head to the other side.

Thysiazo shrugs. “It was cheaper to farm her for gods than to use the kind of pressure we’d need to get her or Micah away. We tried, but . . .”

“Ah.”

She looked at Micah. “You defended her?” she says.

“Yes.”

“How?”

“When I tried to fight,” Micah says, “it usually worked. Liril helped a lot.”

She nods towards the wall. There are shackles dangling from it.

“You’ll want to put your wrists in those,” she says. “So you don’t fall down.”

Micah blanches. “I thought . . . there’d be the monster,” he says.

Thysiazo drifts away from the wall to stand by the couch. He offers Micah his hand. Micah takes it, and Thysiazo helps him rise. Leaning on Thysiazo, Micah goes over to the wall.

“He’s supposed to be here,” Micah insists.

“He’s gone,” Thysiazo says, comfortingly. He locks Micah’s wrists to the wall, one by one. “He went to a show a few weeks ago, and he hasn’t come back.”

“He’s supposed to be here,” Micah says. “I was going to denounce him. Wait.”

Tina disappears into the next room. Micah can hear a metallic ringing as she drops something and it skitters across the floor.

“Please,” Micah says.

“Would you like me to save you?” Thysiazo says.

“What?” Micah does not hesitate for long. “Yes!”

Thysiazo nods, and sets his hand on Micah’s forehead. “Peace,” he says.

The world goes out of focus, and the air shivers, and Micah cannot think. Then there is fire, and a blond woman smiling, and he thinks his limbs are tensing in great convulsive unity, and lightning dancing in his mind. He tries to fight, but when he reaches for his power, Thysiazo speaks a word, and it all spins away.

Then there is fire, and a blond woman smiling, and he thinks his limbs are tensing in great convulsive unity, and lightning dancing in his mind. He tries to fight, but when he reaches for his power, Thysiazo speaks a word, and it all spins away.

Then there is fire, and a blond woman smiling, and he thinks his limbs are tensing in great convulsive unity, and lightning dancing in his mind. He tries to fight, but when he reaches for his power, Thysiazo speaks a word, and it all spins away.

In the end, he wakes, and Thysiazo is there.

Thysiazo reaches for him, and Micah cringes away.

“Peace,” Thysiazo says, and Micah relaxes. Thysiazo strokes his hair.

“It had to happen,” Thysiazo explains. “You’re a threat, as long as you know how to fight us. But I can keep you from feeling the pain while it’s happening.”

“I know,” Micah says.

Thysiazo unshackles Micah, and picks him up in his arms, and carries him down to the basement. It’s concrete and bare, with a couple of mattresses on the floor and a few old bloodstains on the walls. It’s dark, and it has a door, and Liril and Tainted John are there; and they are still and quiet and dressed in grey, and for a moment Thysiazo does not process their presence. He sets Micah down, and says, “We’ll take you to Central soon, and then it’ll get a little better.”

Then he looks up, and frowns. Tainted John has no eyes, only wells of blood, luminescent in the darkness. Without saying a word, or even smiling, he cuts Thysiazo apart; and when a third of Thysiazo falls to land on Micah’s side, there is a moment of peace, and Micah does not scream.

(See also The Hoard of the Gibbelins, by Lord Dunsany)

Classifying Things

Jane sits by the sea.

“You’re a thing that splashes and a thing that hides. You’re endless. You’re wet. You’re full of salt. You roar. You crash. You tumble.”

Martin sits down next to her, on a rock. “What do you call it?” he says.

“It’s a tumult, ” she says.

Martin points at a sandpiper, running along the shore. “And that?”

Jane regards the bird. “A fleeting thing. A passing thing. A glimpse and a flash and a pitter-patter thing.”

“Ah.”

“It’s a scurry.”

Martin looks up at the sky. “And that?” he says, pointing up.

“It’s a river,” she says, “and the clouds race by like ships; and when the oars splash the water, it falls down like rain. It’s once the same, then different forever. It’s a temporal.”

Martin wraps his arms around his knees. “Why are you sad?” he says.

“I met a woman,” Jane says. “She was a darkness. Offal. Trash. Like a toy that a grown child left behind. She was a sleazing thing. A sinning thing. A greed. A want. A slimy thing. There wasn’t anything in her that was good. I felt so sorry for her.”

“Ah,” Martin says.

“When I meet the bad people, I tell them. I tell them things. Like ‘you have a greatness. You could be beautiful. Cling to your hope.’ Or ‘cling to your love of cooking.’ Or ‘cling to the child in you.’ Or ‘cling to your dislike for pain.’ Or whatever.”

“It doesn’t work,” Martin says.

“It does sometimes.”

Martin thinks about that. “I suppose.”

“But there wasn’t anything I could tell her. She was like rotten fruit.”

Martin sighs. He watches the clouds on the horizon. “You can make soup out of rotten fruit, you know.”

Jane looks at him.

“It’s like stone soup,” he says. “You add things to it, one bit at a time. Potatoes. Wine. Fennel. Onion. Cilantro. Parsnips. Salmon. Klingons. That kind of thing. Then you take the rotten fruit out, and there you go.”

Jane fiddles with a ribbon. “You’re a stringy thing,” she says. “A shiny thing. You’re red and twisty and giving.”

“What do you call it?”

Jane ties it around Martin’s finger. “A promise.”

“An implication?” he offers.

Jane frowns sternly.

“A random philosophical discussion?”

PUSH!

There’s a pause. Martin climbs back up onto the rock. He gives her a wry smile. Jane looks down. She tries not to giggle.

“Fine,” Martin says. “What was her name?”