On the Origins of Common Foods

Flying on a plane is very nice.

It is not as nice as wings. But it has more peanuts. Unless you are a peanut elemental, spreading great peanut-pattern wings. Then the peanuts of a plane are comparatively few.

This is not to say that peanuts are always an advantage.

Some people are allergic to peanuts. They do not value the peanuts on a plane. Some peanut elementals are allergic to peanuts. They go immediately into anaphylactic shock and die. We do not talk about them much unless they fall through our roofs, at which point it becomes difficult for the rest of the year to talk about anything else.

Some people are not allergic to peanuts. They have the advantage in that if they do meet a peanut elemental they do not necessarily die; and if they meet an elemental of non-peanut-ness, they are still generally all right.

(An elemental of non-peanut-ness is an elemental spirit formed from and exemplifying the conceptual category “not a peanut,” such that, when you see them, you immediately recognize that here is the pure distilled essence of not being a peanut—possessing none of the trace impurities that exempt most things in the world from Platonic non-peanut-ness. For example, the Earth is shaped too closely to resemble a peanut to qualify, while Eggos are legumes.)

This advantage of being able to survive contact with a peanut elemental is principally intangible and a matter of form (unlike the peanut elementals themselves) because peanut elementals are rare, and, when encountered in flight, have difficulty forcing their way onto the plane. Nor are they able, in this era of heightened security, to sneak easily onto the plane as a passenger unless they are willing to take off their shoes, limit their toothpaste allowance, and have names that do not resemble a terrorist’s name. (So, for instance, Mr. Peanut would have trouble, as would Al-Qaffar, but Mr. God of the Thousand-Slaying Legume Kick is probably okay.)

In the old days peanut elementals were a greater trouble for air traffic. This is how Mr. Carver invented peanut butter. People will say that he developed peanut butter in the laboratory but in fact George Washington Carver was the preeminent air ace of World War II. His contribution was ignored at the time as the United States government feared that, if they acknowledged it, the Axis would deride them as politically correct.

During one of many dogfights with German nationals Mr. Carver caught a peanut elemental in the engine of his plane and the rest was secret history.

But peanut elementals were not the only inhabitants of the stratosphere who would prove troublesome for air traffic in those troubled years. The Metatron Incident (wherein Metatron descended to the earth in a cloud of grace to reveal the new gospel and was caught in the engines of an uncertified Boeing) made angelfood cake possible for the first time in the history of the world. The efforts of hundreds of French chefs to reproduce this masterwork of massacre eventually created the “vegetarian angelfood” that we know today, using baking powder, whipped eggs, and flour to approximate the manifold virtues of Heaven. Masons traditionally added a snake, which they would wrap around the egg and convince to bite its own tail before baking; this added a sense of timeless mysticism to their delicious recipes and rightly they were honored throughout the culinary world.

The impact of the Metatron Incident was not to end there. Many of the people on the plane became focal points for mysterious phenomena. One of them, struck on the forehead by a bit of Metatron debris, became Billy Graham. Another became Vice-President Cheney. The plane plowed into the East Oak Lake house of a previously ordinary schoolboy; he would later grow up to become Noam Chomsky!

Tofu was originally made from ufos.

—Not to quit talking about Noam Chomsky when we’ve barely just begun, but he’s really not a common food!

So, anyway, tofu was originally made from ufos. Japan never admitted it, but you can tell because of the letters of its name.

—And why are the letters in tofu’s name in English, anyway? It was probably made from *British* ufos! Back benchers probably evolved into ufos because somebody fed them after midnight, and then they flew unwisely into Japan. All of this is hypothetical, because the true nature of the ufos is still unknown. But it seems likely—and yet, like Noam Chomsky, ufo pedantry is not a common food, and we must leave it lie.

Tofu, as noted earlier, was at one time made from ufos. But now it is not made from ufos. There are simply not enough ufos in the sky to support the scale of the modern tofu economy. So now most tofu is made out of a blend of textured swamp gas and weather balloons. Only trace impurities of alien origin remain!

Ballet is a wonderful art. Often in the grand jete the dancer will appear to fly. Conversely, while not so very grand, Boeing jets do fly. On one occasion, a joyous serendipity generated the Reese’s peanut butter cup; on another, to speak very delicately, battement fondu.

Ironically despite its historical origins fondue is rarely served on planes. One reason is that there is not enough leg room on a plane for a ballerina to survive. Confined in the middle seat they wither away and die. Another reason is that in the event of turbulence it is hard to explain to people that they will need to wear clear plastic masks to minimize the risk of cheese burns. The third and last reason is fear. In the post 9/11 era, fondue is just too scary for the no-longer-friendly skies!

Are Siggorts? (I/I)

“What do siggorts do?” Max asks.

It’s 1979 and Max is 18 years old. He’s wearing jeans and a jacket, but he isn’t an angel. He’s a young Republican.

“Siggorts?”

Sid’s walking with Max, like he does now and then.

“Yeah,” Max says. “Like, fairies reflect the chaos, and As bring you hope, and ghosts cling to your memories, and stuff. What do siggorts do?”

Sid thinks for a moment. Then he points.

“There,” he says.

There’s a siggort, down a few streets and over.

It has one hundred hands and the parts of it move like clockwork gears. It is in constant orbit around itself and it is subject to a chaos of form. Wings spread behind it, metal wings, folding and unfolding. They reflect the sunlight so that it seems like the air is a riot of feathers. Its central portion is bulbous and smooth, roly-poly, round, like Santa’s stomach or God’s eye. Its legs are long. It has a wheel of knives. Its hands open and close and a singing rises from it like the singing of seraphim. It is vivisecting passersby. It is leaving their corpses for investigators to discover.

It is pure and it is bright and it is innocent and clean.

“Wow,” says Max. “. . . That’s a siggort too?”

“Yeah.”

Max frowns a little. “Hey, is it vivisecting that guy?”

“Yeah.”

“It’s just like in Scanning Things!“, Jane says proudly, pumping her fist, with a shocking disregard for whoever that guy who is being vivisected back in 1979 is.

“Not quite,” Martin says. “See, you tend to notice the singing before the vivisection in this history, while you had it the other way around back in the legend.”

There’s a silence.

“Maaaan!” Jane exclaims.

“So you vivisect people?”

“Yes,” Sid says.

Max pauses.

“I am currently reviewing my life to figure out whether there have been more vivisected people in it than an objective observer would expect,” Max says.

Sid makes a face.

“But I’m only coming up with that one,” Max says.

“Yeah,” Sid says. “I haven’t actually felt like vivisecting anybody yet.”

“But it’s your nature?”

“Yeah.”

They walk on for a little bit. Neither of them stops to help that guy whom the siggort is vivisecting, since, after all, siggorts happen, and there’s not much anyone can do.

Max is deep in thought. His brow is really furrowed.

Then he says, “Oh!”

“Oh?”

“It’s because you’re an isn’t,” Max says. “You aren’t. So even though you’d think, having a nature to vivisect people, that you would, you don’t. Actually. Instead you just hang out with me.”

“I am so,” Sid says, wounded.

“You’re totally an isn’t. I bet that guy getting vivisected was an isn’t, too. That’s why I don’t feel at all concerned about his fate.”

Sid looks aggrieved. “That’s ridiculous,” he says. “Siggorts have been around since the dawn of the world. We’re totally not isn’ts.”

“Prove it.”

“How?”

“Vivisect me.”

Sid stares at Max for a long moment. His wheel of knives spins.

Max looks really uncomfortable. “Wait,” he says.

“You know,” says Sid bleakly, “in a lot of fairy tales, I’d have been waiting for you to say just that. I’d have been hanging out with you since you were seven so I could vivisect you, and then you’d ask me to, and I would, and as I cut open your chest I’d find the magic that was taken from me long ago and I would finally be free.”

Max shifts. He’s thinking about running, except, well, running from something like Sid doesn’t help.

“Is . . . is that going to happen?” Max asks.

Sid shakes his head.

“No,” he says.

“Then you are an isn’t!” Max says.

Sid sighs.

“Look,” Sid says. “I’ll . . .”

He tries to think of something he can do to prove he can have a substantive effect on the course of events.

“I’ll . . . I’ll get Ronald Reagan elected President. Through grassroots activism!”

Max stares at him for a while.

Finally, Max says, “Okay?”

“It’ll prove I can have a substantive effect on the course of history,” Sid points out.

“Do it, then,” Max says.

“I will!”

“Do it!”

And so Sid does.

“So that was you,” Martin says.

Sid hangs his head.

“Man,” Martin says. “I was so sure it was Dr. T.”

“Multiple citizens can participate in grassroots activism,” Sid says, stoutly.

Reversing himself with the suddenness of humor becoming outrage, Martin says, “That was so not you.”

Sid opens his mouth to protest, but . . .

“Sh!” says Jane. “Jigsawing!”

“So,” says Max.

Secretly, he’s starting to hope that Ronald Reagan will lose the election.

But the numbers aren’t good.

They’re at this little comic shop by the beach where they hang out sometimes and there’s a newspaper right there and Sid’s pointing at it and the numbers just aren’t good for President Carter.

“See?” Sid says.

“Yeah,” Max says.

He looks unhappy.

“Fine,” Max says. “You’re not an isn’t.”

Sid grins.

And Max almost hits him; and he says, “That’s not good, Sid.”

And Sid’s grin drifts away.

“That’s sick, what siggorts do.”

Sid pulls in on himself, just a little. He doesn’t look like much right now. Just a Sid.

“But still,” Sid says, “I’d rather be.”

“Is it relevant whether Reagan won?” Jane asks. “I’ve got this bit about the three fairies visiting him on the night before the election here. So we can probably figure out whether he got to be President.”

“I think we can skip it,” Martin concludes.

Six’s Story

There is a place far away, a rocky cave well-lit by fires and by mosses’ glow, and there the numbers gather every year. They are assembled, will they or nill they, from the great infinity of the world. Eight of them, always, have seen that place before; one of them, each year, is new.

1.

Helen finds herself swept from the world and into distant places.

“We will call you One,” Nine says.

And Helen, staring at Nine, sees the incredible beauty of her: the clean pure goodness of Nine that radiates from every pore.

And so she says, with the breath taken out of her, “Okay.”

And Nine leads her to a gathering where people stand around a table: and there is punch, and fruit, and music, and light conversation; and running under it all an electric current of mathematics that gives articulated numeric definition to every word that every person says, so that the play of conversation is like the shared construction of a proof, so that the music is like a counterpoint to the logical arguments that the convocation advances, so that the selection of each fruit or sip of punch is a new axiom or lemma.

“Hi,” says Helen shyly, and she feels the Theorem of Introduction form to give hard structural backbone to those words.

And Five smiles at her, disablingly, and says, “You belong with us,” and his words are proof of fact.

“Oh,” she sighs, and then she looks to Nine, and asks, “This is really okay? I’m supposed to be here?”

But Nine has drifted away, and where she stood there is a void like a contradiction.

The room stills.

“Six,” says Five.

“Six,” say the others.

They have turned to see the newest arrival, and they are all murmuring her name.

Looking at Six, Helen thinks: Surely this is the greatest lady in all the world.

Six is tall and graceful and her eyes are fixed on Nine: and Nine meets her by the entrance and their hands touch: and then Nine walks away.

And Six stares after her, her eyes unfocused, and Helen realizes that something is wrong.

She sees a truth but not its reasoning.

She asks, “Where is Nine going?”

And, “Why is Six afraid of Seven?”

But there is no one listening to her just then to give the answer to those words.

2.

Two is in the shadows.

He is nervous, as is typical for him. He does not expect Six to feel a fierce and consuming joy on seeing him. He would not believe her if she told him that that joy was there.

But it burns in her.

She loves the crookedness of his nose.

She loves the thickness of him. She loves the gentleness.

She hugs him, when they meet, and he is distant and afraid of touch, but still he stammers, “It is good to have you here.”

And Six nods, and she goes to pull away, but he stops her.

“Six always survives,” he says. “Remember that.”

Six always survives.

And she moves on.

3.

Three is crooked, wry, and sinister.

“We all have a dark heart,” he says.

“You wish,” Six tells him.

Three looks wounded. “I’m totally evil,” he says. “Look, I’m cackling.”

He lifts his head. He braces himself. Then he laughs a wicked laugh.

“Hwa, ha ha ha ha.”

He cannot sustain the laugh under her level gaze.

Your reasoning is inconclusive, her eyes say.

He breaks down in giggles, and she has won the point.

“And when,” she asks, “will you act on this terrible evil inside you?”

“Soon enough,” he says. “Soon enough.”

He grins a bit.

“Perhaps next year,” he says. “When I am Four.”

She hugs him once, then she moves on.

4.

Four is a crone. She is half-asleep.

Six takes her hand, gently. She says, “Four?”

And Four wakes up.

Four smiles to her.

It is a perfect smile. It is the kind of smile you do not learn in the first eighty years of your life. Some people do not even learn it in their first hundred.

It is the kind of smile that abandons all the false conceits we learn in childhood and simply grants light unto the world.

“Why is it only every year?” Six asks. “That I can see you all?”

“It is too good,” says Four. “It is too good to be too common.”

5.

Five is terribly handsome. Six thinks about interrupting the story to have sex with him right then, but it is probably for the best to wait.

Instead, they kiss.

“You could stay here,” he proposes.

“And leave Seven unpunished?”

“Which is more important?” he says. “Kissing, or revenge?”

“Kissing,” she says. “But honor trumps them both.”

“Honor is an unverified hypothesis,” he sighs.

But he lets her go.

7.

Seven is in the back, staring at the wall.

Seven says, “Listen.”

“Hm?” Six asks.

“Did you ever think that people might be fundamentally in error regarding their desires?” Seven asks.

“No,” Six says.

“It would be logical,” Seven says. “As they are in error regarding everything else.”

She turns on Six. There is blood at the corner of Seven’s mouth; blood on her hands; blood smeared along her face. She gestures broadly and her fingernails are black with it.

Six’s fear chills her.

“Ask twenty people for a binary truth,” Seven says, “And get twenty different answers. Seek the good for humanity, and discover that in the end they do not want the good; that their needs are contradictory; that their suffering is also their apotheosis. So I say: people are in error regarding their desires. They do not want happiness, wholeness, glory. They desire the natural culmination of the flesh, that is, to be eaten by a superior predator. To be devoured; made great; incorporated into something larger than themselves.”

Six counts on her fingers.

Six says, “You’re committing an error of precedence.”

Seven narrows her eyes. “Eh?”

“That blood.”

“Seven ate nine,” Seven murmurs lucidly.

“Right.”

“And?”

“So Nine didn’t become part of something larger than herself. She became part of something smaller.”

Seven frowns at Six.

“Conservation of energy,” Seven dismisses, “disagrees.”

There is no answer that Six may give to that. It is both indisputable and wrong.

So Six does not answer.

Instead she stares at Seven for a while. She tries to see the person that she knows— the person that she loves, the person she’s eaten ice cream with, laughed with, stayed up far too late arguing theorems with— under the blood.

Six says, softly, “You know why we are here.”

“I do,” Seven says.

“Do you understand what must be done?”

“Every year,” Seven says, “we meet, and we go through the senseless ritual of it. The castigation of seven. The revenge upon the digit, the ritual magic, to impress upon |N, the space of natural numbers, that never again shall one number feast upon another. Every year, Six, it becomes a little more cloying, a little more ridiculous, a little more false. It is not the successor function that is the law, Six. It is the function of consumption, the predecessor function, the grim spectre of death counting downwards from infinity.”

“That’s bad number theory!” Six protests.

And Seven is close in on her now, and with a knife held in her trembling hand, and Seven demands, “Silence!”

And all becomes tableau.

Until finally, Seven withdraws a bit and says, “What you say is true, but like any other problem in mathematics, the difficulty may be resolved using limits.”

“Seven,” pleads Six.

Her voice shakes.

“I don’t recognize you,” Six says.

“Next year, when you are Seven, perhaps you will.”

“No.”

“Next year,” Seven says, “you will see the gaping moral flaw that underlies all the mathematics that we know; and you will curse yourself for standing by your principles instead of standing at my back.”

“That may be so,” Six agrees.

Seven sighs.

She drops the knife. She lowers her head. She stands there like a prisoner condemned.

“Seven,” Six says. “I name you beast. I name you betrayer. In this place I say I am your judge, and I find you guilty of murder and of treason.”

“And what is your sentence?”

8.

Successor,” Six says.

It is a curse.

It is a judgment.

Seven increments into the principle of devouring.

9.

Six comes to the end of her journey there.

She stands in cutting silence.

Then she turns around and she trudges back to the others.

They are gathered around a table in the main room of the first ten natural numbers, and they are talking, and there is good cheer; but when they see her the room falls silent.

The new One— Helen, if Six recalls— looks at her with wounded eyes.

And then:

“Come here,” says Five.

And he seizes Six into comfort; and all around her are Two, and Three, and Five, and Four looks on and says, “I am proud.”

And Six says, “Seven ate nine,” because Seven did, and it is painful to her, to say, to admit, to know.

Nine, so vibrant:

So alive:

Just one year back from her interlude in Hell; just two years back from madness; just three years back from standing there as Six and issuing a judgment:

And now devoured.

“Nine always dies,” Two says.

10.

“But,” says Ten.

And suddenly Six pulls herself apart from all the crowd. She stares seized up with wonder. She knows Ten’s voice, and she had never thought to hear it in her ears again.

And she says, “You survived.”

“I was reborn,” Ten says, to contradict her.

“You survived,” she says.

Last year’s Nine.

Ten is clean-limbed and strong and better than any devoured number has any right to be.

And Ten says, brightly, “Did you know, if you increment enough, you get an extra digit?”

“I knew,” weeps Six. “We knew. But we had forgotten.”

And to One she says, displaying Ten to Helen as if Ten were a jewel: “This is what we can become.”

A legend about spring.

House of Saints: Vladimir’s Dreams

It is very hard to sort people.

There are many common mistakes that are made.

For example, when Vladimir’s magic hat sorted people into the House of Hunger, it made them into beasts that yearn insatiably for human flesh. That’s why the Edmund-beast plans on eating Peter later. That’s why the Lucy-beast (no relation) is attacking Peter now. People are getting eaten all over the school by their former classmates and friends.

This is considered bad sorting as defined by the Standards Institute of the London Sorting Association (LSASI).

There’s also the whole kerfluffle involving the House of Dreams, which has a significantly increased incidence of brooding gothic insanity compared to the general population. Section 13 of the Sorting Code clearly specifies that a proper sorting must not cause madness.

There are other sorting mistakes, though, which can be made by the laity as well as by hats. For example, many people assume that the students at the Lethal Magnet School for Wayward Youth are dangerous. In fact, this represents an error in processing capitalization—they are Lethal students, as branded by the Lethal corporation, but they are not invariably fatal. Many of them, such as Peter, Bethany, and Saul, are in fact saints.

Once your humble narrator accidentally sorted thirty-five thousand people into the dustbin of history before finding out that people still live in Rome. That was really pretty embarrassing, and we’re all glad it’s sorted out now.

The Lucy-beast attacks!

House of Saints


Vladimir’s Dreams

But Peter is watched over, at this if not all times, by a creature that is much less than an angel.

Swifter than the wind, the Edmund-beast is there.

The beast’s nostrils are flared wide and it has grasped the entire situation by smell. “Mine,” it snarls.

Lucy glances back; her eyes show just enough weakness and humanity.

The Edmund-beast tackles Lucy hard.

The rival beasts roll down the hall, hissing, biting, and scratching. The noise is terrible, and it shakes the school. Students in yellow hats are standing on every balcony above them, watching. There is blood that sprays and horrid gagging noises. But struggles within Hunger’s House do not last long. The two break apart. The Edmund-beast and the Lucy-beast gauge one another for a moment. Then Lucy walks off, limping, down the hall.

The students in yellow hats drift away.

The Edmund-beast looks back.

Mockingly, it asks Peter, “Is it time yet? Is it time to eat you? I won’t let anyone else have you, Peter, but you must tell me when it is time.”

And Peter frowns at him. He has a dim and distant vision of a cold and terrible sea. And he shakes his head.

“It is not yet time.”

The Edmund-beast nods. It lowers its head. It snarls, a loud, proprietary noise. Then it lopes away.

Time passes.

“We need to sort someone,” says Saul.

“What?”

That’s Bethany. She’s been chewing gum and fretting. Now she’s also asking Saul, “What?”

“We need to find someone who’s as concerned as we are about all this business and sort them,” says Saul. “Get them to wear the sorting hat and think unsaintly thoughts. So that they can tell us what it’s like in Hunger. Or in Dreams. Or the yellows.”

None of them knows which House the people in the yellow hats are in. Sometimes Peter suspects they are actually a gang and not actually related to the whole sorting business at all.

“A volunteer, of course?” Peter asks.

“Naturally,” says Saul.

“And how do we get the hat?”

“We find Vladimir, and we ask him.”

Bethany sighs. She shakes her head.

“What?”

“We can’t ask to sort someone,” says Bethany. “It’s too intrusive. People should be sorted by their hearts, not their hats!”

“Then they’d die,” says Peter, who has momentarily misplaced his facility with abstract thought. “Their heart would bleed all over their head and they would not have oxygen for their brain. Also, it wouldn’t be fashionable at all.”

Bethany holds up a finger, pauses, then shakes her head.

“Me,” says Saul. “I’ll go in for a second sorting. And I’ll think hungry thoughts.”

“. . . I suppose I can’t stop you from risking yourself,” Bethany agrees.

“Won’t you automatically sort out as a saint again?” Peter asks.

“Perhaps I fell into the margin of error on the first occasion,” says Saul. “I do not feel entirely confident as a saint, what with my drug habit and my Lethal rock and roll.”

“Hm,” Peter agrees.

Cheryl walks past. She performs an act of drive-by advising: “Whatever you’re discussing is a really bad idea.”

“Hey, wait!” says Peter.

Cheryl is already more than halfway down the hall. She turns. “What?”

“Where does Vladimir live?” Peter says.

“Miller Hall, 220a,” says Cheryl. Then she is gone.

Vladimir’s dorm room is in darkness. He has hung heavy black drapes. He is attended by a creature that does not look entirely human. It wears a gray and lumpy sombrero. It has great gloomy eyes.

“Yes?” Vladimir snaps, turning as they enter.

“Please, sir,” says Saul. “Can we borrow your hat?”

Vladimir narrows his eyes.

“If you had not wished to be a saint,” he says, “you ought not have been sorted as one. Consider this my after-the-fact advice. It is the House of Dreams that controls the power of the hat; you must settle for the fact that even your dander is a holy relic.”

Saul looks suddenly ill, realizing just how much holiness he is washing down the shower drain every day.

“I can’t imagine,” says Peter, “that anyone would be as good at sorting Saul into a new house as you would be, though, Vladimir. That’s why we’ve come to you. To blatantly play to your ego in hopes of receiving the scraps of your favor.”

Vladimir’s left lower eyelid twitches. He has always wanted people to blatantly play to his ego in hopes of receiving the scraps of his favor.

“I am a hatter of some skill,” Vladimir admits. “Did you know that the first crowning hat was mine? It was not as advanced as what we have now. It was not alive. It was not warm in my hands. It did not speak to me at night. But it was mine. I made it from the gravesoil of long-abandoned hats. It was soft and mushy and everyone laughed at me when I wore it on my head but it opened the path that led me to the House of Dreams. Now who is laughing? I am head boy and my enemies have been eaten.”

“I am not laughing,” says Peter.

Vladimir looks decisive.

“I will build a pin,” says Vladimir. “He will wear it. It will mute the power of the hat and allow a resorting that does not transform your friend into either a vegetable or a god.”

“A god would be okay,” Saul proposes.

“But a vegetable?” Vladimir asks.

“Not a vegetable,” Saul says. “I eat them. Carrots, cauliflower, spinach. I do not become them.”

Vladimir lolls his head to one side. “I can protect you from becoming like carrots or spinach. But cauliflower is the very vegetable whose mentation and philosophy you would most emulate. Its thoughts are deep and imperceptible and it tastes of chalk; this would be your doom.”

“Then I accept the pin,” says Saul. “Instead.”

Vladimir straightens.

“Come!” he snaps. “We will begin.”

He makes the pin from dead sorority and fraternity pins. He burns the pieces together with a soldering gun. He pins it to Saul’s chest, right through the shirt.

“Ow!” yelps Saul, because the pin is very hot and Saul is not a friend to pain.

“Now,” says Vladimir. “The hat!”

He holds up the crowning hat. His assistant opens its mouth. From its inhuman vocal cords the sound of thunder booms.

As Peter, Saul, and Bethany startle, Vladimir lowers the hat onto Saul’s head.

“This is a really bad idea,” says Peter, suddenly.

“Good,” says Vladimir, mad scientist, hatmaker, head boy of the House of Dreams.

“Good?” Peter asks.

“It is through exhaustive implementation of our most terrible ideas,” Vladimir says, “that we find the good ones that remain.”

Saul’s eyes snap open, dead and white.

Saul grins.

Fun Fact! Some people have extra wisdom teeth. But beetles and aquamarines don’t have any at all!

House of Saints will continue on Thursday or Friday with “Vidar’s Boot”

Wired

“I am the great detective Valdez,” says Juan.

He pours himself a cup of coffee. He stomps around the room, drinking it.

“My hair is an illustrious Colombian black. My moustache is perfect—perfect! My donkey transforms into a terrible cybernetic mass driver that can devastate nations. And yet I receive no respect!”

He tosses back his cup. He refills it with fresh Colombian coffee. Then he stomps out onto the quad. He stands there under the hills, looking up and up and up in the nest of buildings he has built, amid the ivy and the stone, before the great terraced sign with workers swarming over its face reading, “YAOI COFFEE DETECTIVE SCHOOL.”

And he shouts: “I am not yaoi! I am not at all inclined to sleep with my sidekick! I ordered a sign that said COFFEE DETECTIVE SCHOOL!”

Then he sulks. His trenchcoat swirls about him as he sinks down and perches on a rock, brooding, the wind in his hair under the Colombian sky. He drinks his coffee.

“You,” he says, to his student C.M., who is passing.

“Me?”

“More coffee.”

Juan presses the cup into C.M.’s hands.

“Coffee is a sometimes food,” advises C.M.

Then Juan’s eyes flash. Then he is very tall. Then C.M. shrinks back and says, “Coffee! Of course!” and scurries off.

“I must drink,” says Juan. “I must drink or I will never reach the spiritual plane.”

El Diablo, one of the fresh young students at Yaoi Coffee Detective School, offers him papers and a fresh cup of coffee. “More on Mr. Bean’s disappearance, sir.”

“It is always ‘Mr. Bean (no relation),'” Juan says. He skims the papers, ignoring El Diablo’s swoonably shirtless chest.

“Yes, sir.”

“I will reach out my hand,” says Juan. “I will reach out my hand and pull him back.”

There is a scream. Juan jumps to his feet. He seizes the cup of coffee that C.M. has returned with and races towards the source of the scream. There, at the base of the sign, he can see the hapless corpse of one of the villagers. There are two men from the MISTER COFFEE DETECTIVE SCHOOL taking furious notes nearby.

“You!” says Juan. He gulps down his coffee, allowing him to wave his hands at them freely. “What are you doing here? This is my school! I am the great detective Valdez! This is my murder.”

One of the men looks over. He is Ratface, a lean and forceful young man. “Ha! Your sexualized caffeinated detective skills are of no use in solving a murder like this one!”

“No?”

Juan reaches into his pocket. He takes out his detective magnifying glass. He attempts to focus it on the corpse, but his hands are shaking.

“It is acceptable to detect while wired and burning with sexual prowess,” says Juan. “You dare not come to this school, MY school, and challenge this!”

“You can’t even hold the magnifying glass!”

Juan hesitates. “You,” he says, to Ratface. “Bring me more coffee. You,” he adds, to the other one, whose name is simply ‘Bastard,’ “perform the detecting. I will stand here and observe.”

“Why should we cut you in on this serial murder, old man?” asks Bastard. Then he gasps and covers his mouth.

“Serial, eh?”

Ratface and Bastard look at one another in panic. Then Ratface offers, “Perhaps the Mister Coffee Detective School can work together with the Yaoi Coffee Detective School on this one. As a gesture of solidarity.”

“Perhaps,” muses the great detective. “Tell me of these murders.”

Ratface scurries off to bring him more coffee.

Bastard summarizes, “You’re aware of our sign problem.”

“Yes, of course,” says Juan. “Your school’s founder, Mystery Coffee, a masked hero with an inexplicable past, had intended that the school take his name. An act of vanity that I, the great detective Valdez, deplore.”

“If you look that way,” says Bastard, holding up a pair of magnifying glasses and angling them towards the distant terraces of the Mister Coffee Detective School sign, “you can probably make out what happened there this morning.”

Juan leans into the glasses. He looks far away.

Ratface returns. He hands Juan a cup of coffee. Juan gulps it down.

“It’s a sometimes food,” says C.M., in distress. “You’ll give yourself a stroke, sir.”

“I am attempting a shamanic experience,” says Juan. “It would be inappropriate to use salvia or marijuana in front of my students so I must resort to socially acceptable Colombian exports.”

“Oh, sir,” says C.M.

“So,” says Juan, “There is another corpse. Fresh?”

“You can’t get corpses this fresh anywhere but Colombia,” agrees Ratface.

“Agh!” shrieks Juan.

Then he hesitates.

“Ah,” he says. “Hallucination. So. Two murders, in our two separate and isolated school grounds. We have a conflict of jurisdiction. Who is to solve this case?”

“WE ARE,” declares a voice.

There is a swirling cape. There is a puff of smoke. There is the whirring, rustling sound of percolating coffee. Juan’s hands plunge into the cloud of smoke, grasping for sweet coffee goodness, but that is not what the cloud contains.

“Ah,” sighs Juan, disappointed. “Mystery Coffee. We meet again.”

“I might have expected such insensate groping from a yaoi coffee specialist,” says Mystery Coffee, drawing back, somewhat offended.

“Had it been intended,” says Juan, “you would have found it . . . pleasurable. But I am not actually yaoi and so do not find your submissiveness entertaining.”

I’m not the submissive coffee detective here!” protests Mystery Coffee. He draws himself up, trying to stand taller than Juan.

“As you like,” says Juan, diffidently. “In any event, I see no reason to allow you to investigate murders at my school. You will find it unsuited for your heavy-handed bumbling detective work.”

“Ah,” says Mystery Coffee, smugly, from behind his mask. “But what you do not realize is that I have a third corpse.”

“Your security must be very lax,” says Juan. But he cannot hide the interest in his eyes.

Mystery Coffee retires to a table, conveniently erected nearby, surmounted by the constantly brewing Mr. Coffee(tm) brand device that has become, however inadvertently, the symbol of his school.

“Have some,” says Mystery Coffee. “We will discuss.”

Juan sits down. He drinks eagerly.

“But not too much,” says Mystery Coffee. “This coffeemaker is mystically linked to my spirit—it is, in a way, drinking my life bl—I said, not too much!”

“Mr. Bean (no relation) has been stolen by spirits,” says Juan.

“Spirits?”

“I must find him. I must bring him back. And the only way I can do so is to become wired.

Mystery Coffee shakes his head and sighs. “Well,” he says, “You may drink of my soul for the time being.”

Juan drinks like a man dying of thirst.

“I do not truly have a third corpse,” Mystery Coffee admits. “But the constable of the town does. He was found murdered, cruelly murdered, in his locked tailor shop. He wrote in blood, ‘Seven in one bl—‘ But we do not know what else he might have said.”

“I see,” says Juan, tightly.

“Seeing as how the constabulary is firmly in my pocket,” says Mystery Coffee, “you can see why I have priority in this case.”

“Not firmly.”

“Well,” says Mystery Coffee. “No. These lawmen, they get ideas of their own. They want all the authority. But they do not demand the credit, Juan. They do not demand the credit.”

“I see,” says Juan. “Your intention is to propose that we submit both corpses to the constable’s office, and allow him to conduct the investigation—then divide the credit for solving a true serial murder spree between us. ‘A glorious alliance between the Mystery Coffee and Ordinary Coffee Detective Schools.'”

“You have seen through me,” admits Mystery Coffee. “You’re too clever by half, Mr. Valdez—but you know that it would be a great victory for coffee-based detective education.”

“That’s true,” Juan agrees. “But why should I do this thing? I have already solved the murders.”

“Impossible!” says Mystery Coffee. Ratface and Bastard tense. “But come,” oozes Mystery Coffee. “What do you mean?”

Juan drinks one final cup of coffee and tips past the edge of reality into the Spirit World.

“I am now on the higher spiritual plane of reconstructing the mystery,” he says. He gestures broadly. Spirits scurry to take their places in a reenactment.

“First,” says Juan, “You built a false corpse out of partially hydrogenated tofu.”

The spirits scurry into the shapes of Ratface and Bastard, busily sculpting tofu into the shape of a corpse at the base of the Mister Coffee Detective School monument.

“Then,” says Juan, “your men came here, and drugged this worker so that he would fall off the sign.”

The spirits obediently reenact this, swirling around Juan on a distorted white-and-green plain.

“Your motivation was no doubt to silence the only man who knew that you had paid him to discredit my school by building a YAOI extension to the COFFEE DETECTIVE SCHOOL sign.”

The spirits reel in shock.

“Pardon?” says Mystery Coffee, dimly, in the distance. “I don’t see how you could reason that.”

“It was all to get my corpse away without my suspecting—lifting it right from under the noses of the great detective Mr. Valdez and his students by playing to my love of glory and using a classic grifter fake-corpse-that-looks-real scam! But you made one critical mistake.”

“What’s that?”

“Even your students aren’t callow enough to make ‘made fresh in Colombia’ jokes about corpses from your school’s work force.”

Mystery Coffee glares at Juan.

“Also,” Juan says, “I’ve been free-drinking your soul, which gives me a certain insight.”

“Ratface! Bastard! Kill!”

Ratface and Bastard draw their swords simultaneously. Juan glares at them biliously through the caffeine haze.

But in the distance Juan can see a man. He is glowing. He is sleeping. He is drifting in a cloud of his own white hair, peaceful, quiet, dressed in samite. He is Thever Bean. And Juan reaches out his hand.

Thever Bean opens his eyes. There are angels singing in the distance. After a moment, Juan recognizes that they are in fact his ears ringing from too much coffee.

He takes Juan’s hand.

The swords come forward. But, while they had anticipated many things, Ratface and Bastard could not anticipate Juan countering their attack by heaving an enigmatic bishounen onto them from the Spirit World.

“Gah!” says Ratface.

“Guh,” says Bastard.

“Oh,” says Mr. Bean (no relation) as they tumble into a pile. “Hello!”

“Curse you!” swears Mystery Coffee.

He swirls his cape around him and vanishes into a puff of percolating mist.

And that resolves the caffeinated mystery of the yaoi corpse, the mister coffee corpse, and the corpse in town!

Juan drifts in a tense, pulsing haze for a time.

“I’m glad you’re back,” says Juan, diffidently.

Thever Bean stretches. He smiles. He moves in for a kiss.

“No!” says Juan. “We’ve discussed this! This isn’t a yaoi school! We teach detection!”

“Detection is a sometimes activity,” observes C.M.

Then the caffeine takes Juan and he remembers no more.

Legend of Dr. T

Micah is in a forest. He ranges ahead of the others. Through the trees, he sees a dirt clearing. There’s a car parked sideways there. He freezes.

Slowly, he begins to back away. He has to tell Liril. They have to choose another route.

“I wouldn’t do that, kid,” says a voice.

Micah turns, like a startled animal. There’s a man in a lab coat behind him, leaning against a tree.

“I’m just looking for the bathroom,” Micah tries.

“I’m Dr. T,” says the man in the lab coat. He looks not at all like Mr. T, which rules out the possibility that Mr. T has finally gotten his doctorate. Dr. T is stroking a white-skinned furless cat. “And you’re Micah. And somewhere back there is Liril.”

“I really have to pee,” Micah says. “I don’t know who Micah is. My name is Preston. Preston Merriweather. The third.”

“I’m not hunting you,” says Dr. T. “I just listen to the police scanner. I just wanted to meet you, Micah.”

Micah weighs the options. “Why?”

“I wanted to know if you’re made of meat.”

Micah hesitates. “Meat?”

“A long time ago,” says Dr. T, “I was a legend. I was Evil Tofu. I was the man made of synthetic protein. I was the insidious doctor who sought to replace humanity with evil meatless alternatives. Yet I failed. And now—here you are. Born not organically but from the heart. So I must ask you: what is the nature of your protein, Micah?”

Micah licks his lips uncertainly.

“I never heard of you,” Micah says.

“People don’t like to remember how easily they could be replaced.”

Dr. T releases the cat. It lands on its doughy white feet with a squelching noise.

“People can’t accept that they are an inferior species,” Dr. T says. “That they live in agony and suffering like the animals they raise, because organics. Are. Not. Evolution’s. End.”

Dr. T holds out his hand. He opens his palm.

“But this is still the future,” he says. Under a sewn-together human skin, Micah can see white tofu oozing. “Soy. Soy does not suffer, Micah. Soy feels no guilt. To be soy is,” and here he laughs, lightly, self-indulgently, “to be soy-perior.”

He pauses.

“So . . . what of gods?” asks the insidious Dr. T.

“We hurt about things,” says Micah. “Sometimes.”

“Ah,” says Dr. T.

Micah turns.

“Ah,” says Dr. T, again, and his voice is full of sorrow.

Micah starts to walk away.

“I’ll need your skin,” says Dr. T, interrupting him. “And hers. Towards my masquerade. And your hair, for my cat. So she does not squelch so. You are not the allies I had hoped.”

“It’s OK,” says Micah.

Micah squares his shoulders and readies himself to fight; but what happens then, we cannot know.

Observations

Humans are mostly water. The oceans are mostly water. It is redundant for the world to have both. In future revisions of the universe, the Creator should pour humans into the ocean bed. Fish can swim in them, jumping from mouth to mouth. Coral reefs would be a fashion statement. When it is hot, humans could evaporate and become “cloud people.” They’d then freeze over the mountains and rain down as “snow people.” Geothermic activity would melt them, allowing them to run briskly down to the sea.

“Hi!” they’ll say. “Sorry about that. Water cycle.”

Everyone will nod understandingly.

There won’t be boats on the human ocean. Boats are redundant with currents. There will be an undertow. Sometimes animals will try to swim in the people. Then they’ll get pulled under! The current will rapidly convey them to a butcher, where they will be turned into fine meals. In addition, many vegetarians will drown hapless tofus to make Morningstar Farms meals.

T is for Tofu. Tofu goes “baa!”

The plaintive songs of the whales will sound through the deeps. Whales can live far under the ocean, where the humans are all squishy. They can do this because they’re hypothetical creatures. They exist entirely in the mind, and transmit themselves from mind to mind by plaintive songs. As proof, one need simply stroll through downtown Seattle, carefully looking for whales. They’re invisible! That’s because they’re in other people’s minds. There are also giant squids. Squids live in the heart. They have one tentacle per aorta. When the heart is full of sorrow, that’s not melancholy—that’s the squid plugging the aorta with tentacles and then jetting forth its ink!

The heart and mind are often enemies. When a squid meets a whale, they have to fight! These battles determine the course of human lives.

My housemate’s cool glass art is up at the pitcairn scott gallery at 2207 2nd Avenue (between Blanchard and Bell) in Seattle, Washington until July 31st. Do go see it if you’re in town.