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!

The Devil and His Daughter

When the Devil showed up to troll Tanith’s blog, he hadn’t planned to read it.

It was his goal to speak his point, succinctly, and block it in with obstacles to dispute. He said,

“Everybody knows if you sell your soul
You’ll be loaded down with treasure.
Just what kind of wickedness is in your heart
You don’t want a life of pleasure?

“A man’s got to live and a dog’s got to die,
When you’re scrounging in the gutter
It makes Jesus cry
So take care of yourself and
Sell your soul for treasure.”

The Devil knew, when he wrote that down, that even if she left it someone else would take a swing. And he knew that that’s what matters—getting people thinking about whether or not to sell their souls.

He got two birds with one stone, too.

The more people talk about the Devil, after all, the less they talk about Tanith.

And it would have stayed that way, too, if the Devil hadn’t gotten bored one night.

He doesn’t have to read replies.

He’s the Devil.

But one night, you see, he got bored. And he went back to Tanith’s blog to see what people had said.

Now it’s the oldest lie that the Devil does tell that your words can reach him down in his Hell, but he’d forgotten that one of Tanith’s regular readers was his daughter.

And she said, “I’ve gone Red,
I’m a Commie now,
Just call me Comrade Mara
And tell me how
You can sell your soul
Without controlling the means of production?”

The Devil got mad, and a little bit sad, and he regretted not insisting on homeschooling his daughter. Nevertheless he made a game effort to reply.

“lol …” he said. “I’d just requisition it from the Party.”

Now, you might think that other readers would hesitate to jump in on a conversation between the Devil and a communist, but only if you’ve never read a blog.

There was Margot with the telling point: “Yeah, and wait in line for seventy years only to find out that all the souls were shipped to a different afterlife.”

And Steve and Ginger, who hashed out in a twenty-post thread that the communists, being atheist, had probably never formally regulated the soul.

And after a while, Mara herself, who inaccurately characterized his argument as “ad hominem.”

So the Devil tried again, a bit more formally now. He said:

“You can say what you will, but it’s a human right,
Unarbitrated by the law
To give up what you’ve got when it’s Devil-sought
In exchange for wealth and pleasure.

“Innate to the body, innate to the soul,
It’s always been that way
And I’m not a troll.
Don’t tell me you don’t know
That it’s right to hunt for treasure.”

And the argument went on long into the night. People mostly took the Devil’s side, for a couple of reasons. First, they thought it was kind of daring and counterculture to do so. They’d never sell their soul themselves, but they liked to think that other people should. Second, Mara was a communist demoness, and nobody in America takes communist demonesses seriously. We like our demons to be larger versions of ourselves, here in America. We want our ultimate capitalist democratic Christian devil, more ruthless than our tycoons, more corrupt than our politicians, living his life every day by scripture and by damn having the demons vote on rigged machines to back it up, in America. So a communist demoness is a little bit like a Prohibition demoness or a Nixon apologist demoness.

Not a bit respectable.

We’ll still fight someone like that. But we’re Americans. We can’t very well respect a devil backing a stupid idea.

So, anyway.

Tanith didn’t post much when this happened.

Some of that was a frisson of supernatural awe. It’s not every blogger who gets comments from the Devil. Most bloggers only get comments from the Devil’s payroll, or from those automatic spammers that from time to time he shits.

But most of it was just—

That kind of “what do I say?” sense that can trouble a person, on those nights.

And because she hadn’t said anything, the Devil kept on reading her blog, intermittently, over the next few months.

Sometimes he’d post, and a bunch of the regulars would jump on him. Or sometimes Mara would post, and he’d make sure to bring up her many inadequacies as a person and a demoness.

And one day, Tanith wrote this.

“The word we have for someone who buys the intangible—the traitless, the ill-defined, the ephemeral sensation of satisfaction carried by the inconsistent belief that we have obtained a thing that we cannot define—is ‘fool.’

“I find myself wondering if the Devil hasn’t trapped himself in a pyramid scheme set forth by his Creator.

“I find myself wondering if it’s anything more than a confidence game, this business of buying souls. If it isn’t all backed by the dubious goodwill of the various divine and temporal institutions that have chosen, for the nonce, to pretend that that concept has value—

“A value that is fundamentally unsustainable, a spiritual tulip market, relying on the metricization of our own unquestioned assumptions.

“So I’d like to ask the Devil
If he’s sure it’s on the level
And just what he thinks he’s buying
If the Devil don’t mind.”

Some people say that that actually reached him. Others think he just got distracted by the pressures of being buried in ice at the bottom level of Hell and decided to stick to more generally pro-Devil blogs.

But he didn’t argue, and in the end that killed him.

The Devil can’t live if he doesn’t keep posting.

If you get to make your point—

Even just once!—

He withers away.

So there’s a new Devil now, just like there always is, just the same as the one before him. He’s red and he’s mean. He’s been as cold as ice from the day that his mother bore him.

But there’s one thing changed.

He doesn’t buy souls.

Not this one.

Not any more.

You’re supposed to give this Devil your soul. He doesn’t buy: he asks. You’re supposed to give it to him; and a lot of people do.

Freely, freely, and with brightness; so they say.

Should Siggorts? (I/I)

The doom of Spattle approaches.

It is like this.

Sid and Max are talking. It is 1989, and Max is an adult now, a breaker of horses, and he lives in Spattle. They are sitting on the balcony of Max’s one-room apartment, looking east towards the desert.

And Max is saying, “We are a corrupt people.”

The wind blows softly.

“I think that if God came down, like in the gospels; that if he sent his angels among us to collect all who cause others to sin and all evildoers, and to throw them into the fiery furnace, that we would rise against him in our hosts and our armies and we would be like the rebels of the angels, saying, ‘no, those are Americans; they are not for your furnaces.’ I think that we would turn our nuclear weapons against the Lord.”

Sid considers that. “Well,” he says, “why not?”

“Because it’d be God,” Max says.

“Ah.”

“Is it all right to fight God?”

“It’s not all right or not all right,” Sid says. “It depends on why.”

There is a breath of time.

“Why?” Sid asks.

“I have been dreaming of a judgment,” says Max.

And Sid frowns.

He rises to his feet. He looks around. He says, “Ah.”

“Ah?”

Sid points out east.

“Do you see that?”

And Max frowns, and he narrows his eyes, and he squints out into the desert. And he can see it.

There’s something rippling, twisting, strangely purple beyond the horizon.

He shakes his head, once, twice. He tries to focus.

He sees—

And that is when the sick hook of horror catches in his stomach and twists everything around.

It is 1989. The sun hides behind a caul of clouds. A cold wind blows.

Max blacks out.

We remember Spattle, though few do: In California, near Palm Springs, it was, touched once by chaos and then by death.

Its streets were littered with the corpses of the birds when its ending came.

When he wakes Max is unsteady on his feet and Sid is holding him upright.

Max says, “It is the coming of a King.”

The city is under a pall.

“A King?” Sid says.

“A King of an Unforgivable Dominion,” says Max.

He stares out east.

“There is a King,” says Max, “of the old countries that came before the world. He is bloated with a clotting of life. It moves damply and uncomfortably within him. As if a man had swallowed ten other men, or a fish the ocean.”

“Ah,” says Sid.

“He is coming to Spattle,” Max says. “He will drown this place. It will be forgotten, and the people here will suffer torment.”

The frogs croak, distant in the desert: ke-kax.

“Will you leave?” Sid asks.

Max shakes his head.

“No,” he says.

And the doom of Spattle nears.

These are the signs of the coming of a King: dreams and portents. Death. Trouble between friends.

The progress of the King is slow.

Max has time to think; to worry; to consider.

He buys fairy-traps. They are horrid things with clappers, teeth, and bells, designed to take the magic that lights upon them and swallow it up.

He takes them out east. He stands before the line of it: the great rim of the King. It is like a wall of a distortion across the world. Cars drive through it, unheeding. Birds fly across it, unknowing. But it infects them as they pass, and their lungs grow thick with mold.

Max has seen those birds in town, dead and fallen on the streets.

Max sets the fairy-traps down along the King’s great rim. He sets them on the sand and on the road.

A car drives past.

Its wheel strikes a fairy-trap. The fairy-trap skitters and jangles with the ringing of its bells. The people who pass over it, Max thinks, are insignificantly and indescribably less.

And Max watches.

The rim of the King shifts inwards, twisting, ever-so-slowly, ever-so-slightly. It passes onto the fairy-traps with a great jangling of bells. The clappers close. The traps bite into the lip of the King.

It might have helped. Then again, it might not have.

Max does not know.

The King in vestments of indigo and green is the King of bloated life. He is a tide that washes into the world. He pools. He gathers. Then he withdraws, and pulls a bit of our world with him, growing in himself more bloated yet.

“Sid,” Max says.

As suddenly as a dream the siggort is there.

“There’s a man in town,” Max says.

“A man?”

“He sells charms against the gods,” Max says. “The kind that are forbidden; the kind that are cruel.”

“I see,” Sid says.

“I need more than fairy-traps,” Max says, “to fight the King. But I can’t afford his rates.”

And suddenly Sid looks wry.

“You want me to threaten him,” he says.

“Yes.”

Tension flares up between them. Humor becomes outrage.

“You don’t like what I am,” Sid says. “You don’t like that I’m a siggort. Except when it’s useful. Then suddenly it’s good that I have a wheel of knives; that I have feathers in my hair; that I’m older than this mortal world.”

And Max flushes. Shame coils in him like a dragon around its nest. But he doesn’t flinch.

“A King in vestments of indigo and green,” he says. “A King of bloated life. He’s coming to Spattle. And I can’t get the tools I need to try to stop him.”

Sid hesitates.

“We should just leave,” he says. “Warn as many people as will listen, and leave.”

“This is my line, Sid.”

And by that Max means that he is standing at a place with only one recourse: that he is backed against the lines inside his soul and has only one direction in which to move, and that is against the coming tide.

And Sid looks at Max.

And Sid can see that it is so.

Sid sighs.

“Fine.”

These are the signs of the coming of a King: memories. Helplessness. Abandonment of principle.

Peter Sorgen lives in Spattle and deals in arms against the gods.

For a profit, he will sell them.

For a fee, he will employ them, using the tools and armaments of his trade to remove angels, fiends, fairies, devils, and other gods.

He survives in this trade because he is careful of his karma; because he asks gods honest questions and listens to the answers that they give; because he hates the things he hunts and shows appropriate fear when faced with those too great to kill.

That, and the lion’s share of gods he meets are figments of mortal imagination, which he may kill with a placebo, and the bulk of those remaining are born from weak and impure emptiness.

Peter Sorgen lives on the second floor of a rented house. He is thick and balding. He is a killer of gods.

Sid enters, pursuant to their appointment.

Peter looks up and smiles.

Then he frowns.

“Wait,” he says. “I know you.”

—“I know you,” says Grouchy Pete.

Sid stares at him, and matches up the facial features, and suddenly he laughs.

“You were that bully,” he says. “You’d chew gum and spit it out, ptui, like that!”

And now, as he faces the siggort in his home, Peter’s face contorts with fear and hatred.

He pulls a gun.

He fires, just like that.

Just like that! And he’s shot Sid, and the bullet sticks in him.

Sid looks down. He makes the horrible face that people make when someone makes them eat horrible icky vegetables or hot lead.

Pete fires again— again, and again, and again, until the gun is empty and eight bullets are lodged in the wall, and two in Sid.

Sid has his hand pressed against a bullet wound. His fingers are covered in blood.

“Geez, Pete,” he says.

He sways.

And he falls down.

The King has drowned Spattle; it is in the substance of him, in the distance of him, and it is no longer remembered in this world.

“I never found a formal technique to use for wheel-of-knives gods,” Pete says. “I never even found out what you’re called. I looked. But I never did.”

Sid has woken up.

“I can see,” Sid says, blearily, “that I should have backed a Presidential candidate who was stronger on gun control.”

“I figure,” Pete says, “that if I take you apart, though, that’ll work.”

Sid is handcuffed to a radiator. Pete doesn’t actually have much of a budget for this kind of thing. But he does have a knife.

“You’re going to cut me to pieces?” Sid asks.

“Yes.”

Sid begins to laugh again.

It’s funny to imagine Grouchy Pete, such an earnest kid, vivisecting the siggort. It’s funny, even if Grouchy Pete has grown.

Pete watches him laugh. He waits for Sid to wind down. Pete is a man with great experience with gods.

Finally, Sid recovers. His wounds are leaking badly, but he doesn’t seem that hurt.

“It won’t work,” Sid says.

“Why not?”

“A long time ago,” Sid says, “I was in a place of terrible durance, and moving in the fashion that one moves, and where there was light I was in darkness, and where there was substance I was in emptiness, and where there was heat I dwelled inside a terrible cold. And on occasion I would catch sight of myself against a place of reflection and I would recoil, thinking, ‘Hideous; hideous; unspeakable.'”

Pete studies Sid.

“You look okay,” he says.

Sid looks at him.

“I mean, if you like Sids,” Pete says.

“I am a terrible comprehension,” says Sid.

“Oh.”

“And one day,” says Sid, “An insight pierced me, like a javelin from the mind of God. And I said, in the language of my kind, ‘I am not alone.’

“Then, for thirteen hundred years, I waited for Max Lamner to be born.”

Pete is hesitant.

“Can you tell me,” he asks, “whether I should begin cutting you apart now, or wait until the completion of your story?”

Sid looks at him.

“What kind of a question is that?”

Pete shrugs.

“It doesn’t matter,” Sid says, shaking his head, looking appalled. “It’s just—

“This is a body I made of mud and clay and feathers and blood. If you cut it up, you’ll probably go mad.”

“Thank you,” Pete says.

He draws back slightly. He thinks.

“How can I kill you?” he asks.

Pete is, of course, a man well-versed in gods, and one who therefore expects a shocking honesty and openness of them. Sid, however, stares at him like he’s daft.

After a moment, Pete blushes.

And suddenly Sid has the power in the room. Suddenly, because of Peter’s repeated misestimations of him, it does not matter that Sid is bound and Pete is free.

The wheel of knives spins.

Sid straightens against the radiator.

Sid says, “I need everything you have. I don’t care if it’s for curing warts. There’s a King coming to Spattle in vestments of indigo and green, and if we don’t stop him, you’ll be drowning forever.”

Pete stares at Sid.

“Damn it!” Pete says. “Damn it. I should get to kill you.”

And because Sid is starting to understand the ways in which Peter Sorgen expects a Sid to act, he answers thus: “That would lead you to a horrid end.”

And Peter sighs.

And he lets Sid go.

These are the signs of the coming of a King: corrupt actions. Fear and hatred. The pollution of the groundwater, so that sinks run with green water and with black.

They stand out at the edge, before the rim of the King.

They lay out talismans of oak and rowan, curses, and nasty bits of iron.

With the chalks of amterise they work— Sid and Max, as Grouchy Pete has abandoned the town and fled—

With the chalks of amterise and the sigils of Rao they work to hold back the tide.

It is a horrid tangle that they build, a monstrous thing made to devour gods—

But when the rim of the King moves past, they cannot even tell if it is hurt.

“Is it hurt?” Max asks.

“I can’t tell,” Sid says.

And Max squints and stares into the body of the King, and the nature of it assaults his mind, and madness sweeps over him and he is retching and for a long time he knows nothing but loathing, hatred, and fear.

His reasons are not specific.

It is simply that in apprehending the King he feels a disconnection with the substance of the world and a futility of the striving of humankind, and this makes him sick, like an animal, with fear.

Is it right to kill a King?

We ask ourselves this because it is essentially our purpose. To change the world is to drive forth the shadows that dwelt upon it and change is always accompanied by blood. We look upon the King and he is a sickness upon our mind, but is it right?

If we could ask the people of Spattle, they would give us license, no doubt; they would say from the belly of that beast that we should strike. But their voices are not heard within the world. We may not use their witness.

That night Sid and Max camp out in the desert and watch the doom of Spattle come.

And some of the nature of the King is still twisting in Max’s mind, so he says, “Here’s a thing I’ve been thinking.”

“Hm?”

“Vivisecting people is wrong,” Max says. “Like, you walk up to someone and they’re happy, right? And then you vivisect them. And they’re all, ‘Hey, I liked those organs. Now I’m in hideous pain and dying!’”

“True,” Sid says.

“So . . . how can any moral person— god— THING, how can anyone, you know?”

Sid considers that.

“We were ugly,” Sid says.

“Hm?”

“When we were made,” Sid says. “We were so ugly that our father would not let us walk upon the Earth under the sun. Instead he cast us into deepnesses where we dwelt.”

Max studies Sid.

“You look okay,” he says.

Sid shrugs.

“It is like the tide, I think,” he says. “The reason that siggorts vivisect. One day there shall be a man, and inside him I shall see something like . . . a gleaming jewel. And I will take him apart and lay him out piece by piece to find it, but I will not find it. And this will be a good thing, an honest thing, a thing that will end something of my shame. It will put me back in harmony with the world, with what I am, with the nature of things. It will be right; and I, of course, will be a murderer, and foul.”

“Oh,” says Max.

“It won’t be a moral thing,” says Sid. “If it were, then I’d be all conflicted. I mean,” he adds, honestly, “more so than I am. It’s not a moral thing. It is simply a thing that happens. I am astonished, in truth, that it has not happened yet.”

He grins a little, sadly, like a Sid.

“My brothers say I am slacking, but I do not think that this is so. I think that I am selective and I simply have not found the person I will kill.”

And it is not to these words but to Sid’s eyes that Max says: “Jesus, Sid.”

Sid rises.

He says, “I will shed this body, I think, and fight the King. Do not call me again. If I am as I was . . . I will fear to answer such a call.”

The Kings of the Unforgivable Dominions break the covenant that holds together the pieces of the world.

And Max is on his feet.

Max is hugging Sid.

And Max says, fiercely, “Do not make yourself a thing I cannot love.”

There is a breath of time.

And suddenly Max blushes, and turns away, and flails, because Max does not want Sid to misunderstand.

And the thunder of Sid’s heart comes close to cracking the mud of him; the distance and silence in his head comes close to aerating the clay of him; and he doesn’t say anything, but rather is still.

“Tell me,” Max says.

“Hm?”

“It is all right to kill the King that comes to Spattle, in vestments of indigo and green?”

“Is it . . .”

“Yes.”

Sid can’t find words. He stares out at the King.

“No,” he says.

He lays his hand on the surface of the King. He feels its ichorous and corruptive membrane.

“It’s not all right or not all right,” he says. “It depends on why.”

“Then leave it be,” Max says.

And they leave it be, and go;

And doom comes to Spattle.

Summarizing the Reasons for the Delay

Nasar argues.

Nasar is trying to build a Constitution. His efforts are, he believes, noble, and will, as he imagines them, meet the deadline given to him.

Then he sees the telltale animation for Force of Aggro.

“Ack! I’m being pulled!” he says.

His coworkers on the drafting committee consider this.

“Oh dear,” summarizes Mariam.

“That’s nice,” drawls one of the Sunnis.

Allah has not spoken on pulling, and both of these attitudes are permissible under Islamic law.

FoA lands. Nasar finds himself growing angry. He is very angry at someone named Drisst.

“I must go!” he says.

He tables the business of the meeting. Then he leaps onto the table. Then he pursues Drisst towards the hall.

It is a good pull. There is only one other Shiite whom Nasar passes near, Jalaldin, and Jalaldin is a very low-level Shiite Constitutional Committee Member. Jalaldin links to Nasar but won’t make a very large difference in the struggle to come.

Nasar and Jalaldin leave the chamber where they had been meeting. They pass one of the impassive U.S. golems in its black metal bodysuit. They chase Drisst down the hall. Drisst is moving very quickly. Then he slows down.

“Orz!” shouts Drisst. “Sow plz!”

It echoes through the halls of the Coalition Provisional Authority Zone. Nasar, who does not understand English, finds Drisst’s shout incomprehensible.

“Use your provisional authority!” says Jalaldin, as he runs around to block Drisst’s path.

Nasar begins to glow a brilliant white. Streaks of light radiate upwards from the ground around him. Mysterious sigils appear and disappear in the air. He invokes Asheron’s Provisional Authority. (If this is confusing, please remember that Iraq is a complicated country bringing together many disparate traditions.)

Drisst reels as he acquires the Provisional status effect. This has destroyed many opportunists who seek to derail the Constitutional draft process.

But on this particular occasion the invader survives.

“I help you!” says xSephiroth. xSephiroth is a generic cleric not aligned with either the Sunni or Shi’a faiths. xSephiroth casts a spell on Drisst. Drisst speeds up again. He races off.

“Do something!” cries Nasar, to the U.S. golems, but they are indifferent to invasive pulls.

“They will not infringe upon our sovereignty,” declares Jalaldin.

Grimly, Jalaldin and Nasar follow Drisst and xSephiroth down the halls of the Coalition Provisional Authority Zone, to where the interlopers’ party waits.

P.S. This is also the cause for most domestic government delays.

Sweeping Day

Sid’s sweeping up the streets after the Fourth of July. He’s got a broom in his left hand, a sack in his right hand, and three sacks on his belt.

Jane walks past.

“Hey,” says Sid.

Jane spins her head to look at him. She grins. “Hey!”

She holds up a Transformer doll.

“Now that you’ve greeted me I can show you my Transformer!” she says. “It talks! And it knows everything about biochemistry! And it turns from a robot into a beautiful swan or a fire—”

Sid blinks.

“Um,” he says.

“—work or a ban—”

Sid holds up a hand to stop her.

“Wait,” he says tersely. “Please. No explanations. I need you to trust me and be quiet and hold this bag and wait in a nearby alley.”

Sid holds out the sack he’s been sweeping street dust into.

Jane tilts her head and looks at him sidelong. She frowns.

“But I only have two hands,” Jane protests. “And I need one for the Transformer and one for pointing and gesturing!”

Jane points at the Transformer, and then attempts to point at her pointing hand. This fails, so she gestures irritably.

“Current biotechnology does not allow Jane to grow a third arm at this time,” intones the Transformer.

“You could trade,” Sid offers.

His voice is fraught with tension.

Jane thinks for a second. “Okay!”

“Okay?”

Jane hands Sid the Transformer. She takes the bag. She peeks in. “Yay! Dust!”

“Don’t look!” Sid cries. It’s a strangled shout. He closes the bag in her hands.

“It was very shiny,” Jane says. Her eyes are glittering. So are her eyelids and eyelashes. The overall effect is strangely sparkly.

Sid nods sharply.

“It’s liberty dust,” Sid says. “See, Earth is basically a giant engine that produces liberty for our alien masters. The liberty rises into the upper atmosphere and intersects with the super-cooled alien air and—”

Jane stomps on his foot.

“—Ow!”

Jane pokes him in the chest with her free pointing and gesturing hand.

“You can’t produce liberty for alien masters,” she says. “That’s an oxymormon.”

“Technically,” says the Transformer, biochemically, “an oxymormon is an oxygen atom that is bound to a religious atom that believes Joseph Smith ended the Kali Yuga and restored the Satya Yuga to this Earth. You are thinking of something else.”

“Huh,” says Jane. “But my point stands!”

“True,” says Sid. “I suppose that they’re really more like thuggish symbiotes than masters. Whisht!”

Sid shoves Jane into an alley.

“Hey!” Jane squawks.

Sid stands in front of the alley looking innocent. An alien starship descends from the upper atmosphere. Its bulbous belly discharges a landing ramp. A squat, squamous alien shuffles down.

“Hey,” says Sid.

“Aliens!” says Jane.

“Ixnay on the eakingspay,” hisses Sid.

The alien lifts its head. It snuffles. “Strange noises,” it says. “Do you taunt us again with your ‘Pig Latin’, Earth Sid?”

“A momentary aberration,” Sid assures it.

It shuffles forward. It has the gait of a creature with broken legs, but displays no other signs of pain.

“Please present us the liberty condensate,” it says, “that we pay you $3.75 an hour to collect.”

Sid walks forward, hesitantly. He takes the three sacks from his belt. He passes them over.

The alien looks in a sack. It looks up. Its eyes are glittering. So are its eyelids and eyelashes. The overall effect is horridly sparkly.

“Ah,” it says. “Za’pogh-la. Do you know how it is formed, Earth Sid?”

“Large concentrations of liberty vented into the upper atmosphere, as by fireworks, meet up with the super-cooled alien air and—”

The alien steps on Sid’s foot.

“Ow!”

Sid looks aggrieved. That doesn’t normally happen to him twice in one day.

“Silence, Earth Sid! The secret of Za’pogh-la is not for human voice!”

“Just take it,” says Sid. “Take it and go.”

“This is . . . all of it?”

The alien stares at Sid.

“Maybe the air isn’t cold enough any more,” challenges Sid. “Maybe you aliens heated up.”

The alien snurfles dismissively.

“You are careless, Earth Sid. You have swept most of it into the aquifer.”

“He is not careless!”

That’s Jane’s voice, as she runs out of the alley.

“I’ve seen him!” she shouts. “He sweeps every day! Not just on Sweeping Day after 4th of July! He sweeps every day all year to get it all!”

The alien hisses. It turns, and a proboscis unfurls from the mysterious crannies of its face. It stands still, trembling, sniffing at the air.

“Ixnay!” says Sid.

“There’s a girl,” says the alien. It trembles in outrage. “She will contaminate the Za’pogh-la!”

This takes the wind out of Jane’s sails. She did not anticipate that the subject of the discussion would turn directly to her. “What?”

“Sid!” says the alien. “Kill her!”

Sid freezes. Then he turns. He has a haunted look on his face. He pulls out his hand and shapes it into a gun, with his index finger pointing at Jane.

“Bang!” he says. “Bang! Bang! Bang! You’re dead, killed by my Earth weapon!”

Jane stomps her foot, orienting on the familiar. “Am not! You missed!”

“I’m correcting my aim,” Sid says. He’s sweating. “No need for the alien to use its space disintegrator,” he emphasizes. “I’m using a special Earth cyberoptic sight. Bang! You’re dead!”

“I don’t see the cyberoptic sight,” Jane says dubiously.

Sid squints his left eye like a man with a tic. “It’s a half-human, half-machine particle welded directly to the optic nerve.”

“Wow,” says Jane. “That’s lethal!”

She falls down dramatically.

“Avenge me!” she cries. “Avenge me!”

“The Earth girl is slow to die,” says the alien. “Are you sure that your hand-weapon is functional?”

“It is a painful and terrible death,” says Sid sadly, “but slow.”

Sid’s tone hardens.

“I would liefer use it on you,” he adds, “but for the difficulty I would have finding other employment after years of quisling labor.”

The alien turns back towards the ship.

“You will collect more,” it says, indifferently, “next year.”

“Of course,” says Sid.

“Avenge me!” wails Jane.

The alien turns. “Is she truly dead—”

The Transformer flies into the air. It shifts into the form of a firework. It sputters and burns in the air, and then explodes in brilliance.

“—Ah,” sighs the alien, distracted. “So pretty, the explosions of your Earth.”

It stomps into its ship. It rises into the air. Then it is gone.

Sid kneels beside Jane. “Are you all right?” he says.

“I’m not really dead!” Jane tells him. “It’s because I have an immortal spirit.”

“Good,” says Sid. “Those are handy in an apocalypse.”

Jane sits up.

“You shouldn’t collaborate with them,” she says. “They look horrible and alien, so they must be evil.”

“Without the Roswell technology,” notes Sid, “we humans probably wouldn’t have figured out liberty in the first place.”

“Also, it was mean,” Jane says. “It ordered the Earth Sid to kill me! I’m still kind of scared.”

“And if it weren’t for them, up there, farming us,” says Sid, “there wouldn’t be super-cooled alien air in the upper atmosphere at all. They put it there. They saturated it with the elementary particles of alien love. They’re the reason liberty does condense. And that’s why, every year, I can skim a little off the top.”

Sid reclaims the sack from her.

“What’s it for?” Jane asks.

“It’s sparkly,” Sid says.

Jane peers at him.

“I sneak into people’s houses at night,” says Sid, “and blow it in the faces of children who can’t make liberty on their own.”

“Oh,” says Jane.

She stands up. She walks in circles for a bit.

“That’s kind of creepy,” she says.

“It’s mythic and archetypal,” protests Sid. “I’m like Santa or the Witch. Or like Stars, the Thanksgiving Turkey!”

But Jane is distracted. She isn’t paying attention to Sid any more.

“Huh,” says Jane. “My Transformer died.”

Filibuster of the Sailor-Senator

Senator Saul travels in his sleek black car.

He drives through the streets of Washington, D.C..

Claire is in the back, next to the black package that holds Saul’s suit and his domino. Shades cover Saul’s eyes. There’s a cup of grape juice in the cup holder beside Saul.

“Do you think there’ll be trouble today?” Claire asks.

The shadows in the streets grow long. Words of poetry float by on the air. There is the harsh distant pounding of a drum.

“Yup,” Saul says.

Suddenly, the street signs all around Saul’s car indicate “ONE WAY” and they all point in at him.

“Aha,” says Senator Saul. “It must be a one-way sign demon!”

The creature that comes striding down the street has long stick-legs like an ostrich or a stick-bug. Its arms are thick long twisty metal, six feet of it, pointed at the end. It is bowed over and its color scheme is black and white and in many places it bears the legend, One way. It is crooning as it walks, crooning, “Saul . . . Saul! Saul, why do you hide from me?”

Saul brakes. He parks the car. He opens his door. “Stay here,” he says. He steps out. He closes his door. He looks up at the one-way sign demon through his shades.

“There you are!” cheers the one-way sign demon.

The presence of the faceless gods is thick in the air. Saul can almost see them, standing like giants above the city. Their grave regard fills the ether, and so Saul speaks.

The words pour through him. They burn him inside.

“Through this street flows the lifeblood of this city: its people, its power, its commerce, its joys. You who would disrupt this flow and turn it back upon itself, sacrificing the sublime city plans of Pierre L’Enfant in the name of petty diablerie—to you I can show no mercy. I summon the Senatorial Garb!”

The demon tilts its head to one side. It waits. It watches.

Saul strips down, calmly and methodically. He walks to the back of his car. He opens the door. Claire hands him the package that contains his Senatorial Garb.

The chaunting of the demon-lords in their hells is audible now. Under the pressure of the confrontation the membrane between Washington D.C. and the demon world has grown permeable and thin.

Saul pulls on his Senatorial pants. He puts on his Senatorial shirt. He shakes his hair into Senatorial resplendence.

“Now,” he says, “by the power vested in me as a United States Senator, I will teach you a lesson!”

There is a peace in his heart.

These words are sacred.

The demon bares nasty jagged metal teeth in a smile.

“Many months ago,” says the demon, “your ‘Senate’ implemented the Patriot Act, permitting federal agents unprecedented powers to destroy members of my kind without due process. For endless days I brooded in the dark, plotting my terrible revenge. Now I am here to show you a sign—”

The word is horribly emphasized, and Saul can feel the wordless appreciation of the faceless gods.

“—that you have traveled in the wrong direction. Oo hoo hoo hoo hoo.”

Its hideous laughter grates on Saul’s ears.

Saul calculates. He assesses the judgment of the gods. The instinct in his heart tells him that only Washington desires a drawn-out battle; the other three are hungry for blood and swift fire in democracy’s name.

Saul sculpts the power given to him in his hands. It forms a glowing energy sphere. A mandala of light blossoms behind him, writhing with demonic script.

“I’ll show you the power of the Subcommittee in Charge of Manifesting Spherical Chi,” snaps Saul. “I have broad procedural authority to dispose of trash like you!”

The chaunt of the demon-lords rings louder now; and Saul takes his power, and twists it, and sends it forth in a levinbolt.

The demon screams in fear, but the bolt does not strike.

It is Lincoln, not Washington, that has caused it to fizzle.

“Curses,” mutters Saul. Too late he remembers the Litany:

. . .honor ye Roosevelt with sword and bear
And unto Lincoln let your puns be prayers. . . .

“Oo hoo hoo,” whispers the demon, in relief. “One small senator cannot stand against me. Now you must face the justice of my claim!”

Saul is thinking frantically. One-way signs are plunging in at him from every side, their tips like metal daggers.

They do not reach him.

Senatorial Aide Claire, grown tall as a stoplight, her bangs shining with mystic energy, has grasped the demon from behind. She pulls it back, and it shrieks.

“Never in this land of love,” she grunts, struggling against its inhuman strength, “will a Senator of justice traffic with demons like you! Strike now, Senator! It’s the only way.”

“That’s not a pun,” protests the demon. “That’s not even real wordplay!”

Saul begins his invocation.

“Wait,” whimpers the demon. “No. I didn’t really—I thought—”

“In 1941,” says Saul, “John Borglum stole the faces of the gods for Rushmore. In 1971, John Dean opened the gates of Hell. In 2001, provisions of the Patriot Act created the role of Senator Domino, sworn enemy of all demons. He alone can command the Bear-Fires of Mammon, uniting the light of Roosevelt with the dark power of the demon-lords! Under subsection 360(b) of HR 3162, I hereby instruct the Bear-Fires to aggressively pursue this one-way sign demon’s destruction! Swiftly! Swiftly! In accordance with the statutes and observances!”

The faceless gods are satisfied. The Bear-Fires sweep down. The demon burns.

Saul leans against his car, spent.

“Senator Saul!” says a shocked reporter named Sally. “Was that—did you—”

Saul realizes his mistake. He tosses aside his shades and conceals his face behind his arm as he gropes in the backseat of his sleek black car for his domino mask. Only when it’s on his face does he turn to look at Sally.

“Oh,” says Sally, her tone redolent with affected ignorance. “It’s you, Senator Domino.”

“That’s right,” says Saul.

He faces the cameras. There are usually cameras, after an incident like this. He clears his throat.

“There are those who think that we as a nation have lost our way,” says Saul. “But this—this is my answer.”

The Senator Domino theme music is playing, piped in by unholy pipers from the distant regions.

“Imagine a world where there were no demon-lords,” says Saul. “No faceless gods. Only the brutal unmusical struggle of man against demon. Only the confusion of a thousand one-way signs, and death. It would mean nothing. It would be hollow and the corpses would be hollow and we’d never really know why.”

“Senator, do you agree with the demon’s contention regarding the Patriot—”

Saul holds up his hand. Sally silences.

“This is the point of all our struggling,” says Saul. “This is why we live. To make the speeches, to wear the fashions, to launch the mystical attacks that are sacred to our gods. Not to win. But to serve.

“And today—today, we have pleased them.

“Today we have sacrificed to the distant powers our blood, our strife, our sweat.”

Singers far away sing, “Senator Domino.”

Saul says, “Today we have made our actions unto them a gift. We have justified our existence, here, upon this world, man and demon alike. Take this and treasure it in your hearts. Today humankind and demonkind are worthy.

The calm regard of the faceless gods fills his heart with joy.

“This is not a partisan thing,” he says. “This is America.”

Then he gets back in his car and starts it up. After checking in the rearview mirror that Claire has snuck back into her seat, he drives away.

“Senator Domino!” cry the reporters.

He drives further away, and they do not follow.

After pulling around the corner into a conveniently unoccupied road in the middle of Washington, D.C., Saul removes the domino. He makes his way to the Capitol. He parks his car, gets out of his car, and walks with Claire into the building.

The sailor-senator is still on the floor, as she has been for seven days. Her filibuster continues.

“How long,” Saul asks Claire, “do you think she can keep that up?”

There are signs and sigils scrawled in the air all around the sailor-senator. They are glowing with the harsh light of her slow death.

“To let the words speak through you like that,” says Claire, “—it’s harsh, Saul. You of all people should know how harsh.”

The sailor-senator is ranting, “—those who would take the Patriot Act forward even one more year, I can’t show you any mercy!—”

“She gives her life for this,” says Saul.

“—ruining the lives of young people who only seek love and arguably terror—”

So he nods his head to her, and touches her shoulder gently as he passes, for all that they’re on different sides.

“—not about Iraq but about ‘I rock’—”

He will vote against her, when the time comes, but he loves her now.

Such is the honor done to those who please the faceless gods.

The Eternal Midnight of the Yeastless Soul

Some people think that American cats are cats. But they’re not. They’re actually cat food, or, put another way, an extruded processed cat product made principally of partially hydrogenised soybean oil. They’re cheap and they’re easy compared to French cats, most of whom are smelly and runny and somewhat sharp. If you want a touch of class without going to France you should probably consider a real cat from a breeder or possibly some sort of German cat log.

They make American cats at cat shelters. This is called ‘spaying’. They take ordinary cats into a special room. They process them. The result is five spayed partially hydrogenised American cats. This is why there are so many American cats — it’s all the spaying! Costco shelters have a more extreme version where they put claws on the cats so that they can interlock them, stack them, and sell them in bulk.

American cats never go bad. They are like yellow foam-filled snack logs in this fashion, which is not very surprising, because Hostess makes its delicious yellow foam-filled snack logs through a similar process involving spaying little yappy dogs. An American cat lasts forever. When it is past its ideal freshness date for home use, though, sometimes your cat will seem a little stale. Its posture will change and it will lose its crisp definition. Then you can wrap it in plastic and send it to a special farm where it can frolic with its Hostess-provided friends for all eternity. This is depicted on certain wonderful Sanrio products.

The world record for putting American cats in your house is 3,082. Higher numbers can only be achieved with special hypercompressible cats emerging from the FHL (feline hypercompressability laboratory) in Switzerland. The world record for putting American cats on your head without Costco stacking technology is only 7, held by the notorious liar and entertainer P.T. Barnum, and some people suspect that he might have employed chicanery to achieve it. With cat stacking larger numbers, such as 803, are possible.

Even with the cloud of suspicion that hangs over P.T. Barnum’s head, unreduced and even enhanced by his balancing of cats thereupon, one must accept that the modern American cat owes him a great debt. The first American cats were constructed in response to his discovery of the “Calico Cat,” a mysterious creature, half-cat, half-calico, that he put on display at his museum. Louis Pasteur, a famous French microbiologist, set forth to disprove the pedigree of the Calico Cat and in so doing created the first American felines.

“They are not truly cats,” Pasteur explained, demonstrating his creation in a French accent. “But rather processed cat products, as I believe the Calico Cat must be.”

In the end, Pasteur’s experiments proved his undoing. In the course of his studies, he accidentally pasteurized his own soul, and his yeastless spirit could no longer rise to Heaven. Now he is an immortal damned to an eternal life unleavened by yeast or hope, living alone and friendless in the Rockies surrounded by dozens of individually wrapped cats.

It’s really kind of sad, because he used to be a pretty cool dude. You know. With the germ theory and all.

Lament

If it is not known to everyone, then it is known, at least,
To those dusty men
Who bury themselves in scholarly books
And make a study of the Lone Star State,
The Rattlesnakes’ State,
The state where the mounds of Caddo bleed
And an axe will split the sky,
That it is a state
Not entirely our own.

There are those
In Texas
Who bluffly say
That they’ll break free
But they are dust
Straw dogs
Texas shall not leave.

But

One day
The English Queen may rise
And say,
“We have decided
That once again
Texas should be Our own.”

Then the dragonflies shall fly low
And in their fear
Forget to heal the snakes

And wood cut
In the right moon
Shall splinter
Even so

And centipedes shall boil from their nests
Swarming through the Starbucks’ of the land

And deep
Deep
In the wells
In the oil wells
The British soldiers shall come

Deep
Deep
In their tunnels
Under the sea
In the tunnels
That have always led
To oil
Though never
We have known

Deep
Deep
They shall come
And rise
And the Union Jack rise
And the redcoat rise again

Black as the wells
Through which they came
And red

It is not our fault
Texas is not our own
It is a state
Too big
For
Any nation
To contain

And the crown of the Queen
Shall have one more jewel
And a single
Yellow
Rose

And on our flag
A single
Missing
Star

Every Log Cabin (I/I)

The water whistles. A hidden hand comes down. He binds in him the kettle and the steam.

Every log cabin has its lincoln.

You can’t normally see them. They are long shadows on the wall, long and tall, coming to a peak in their stovepipe hats.

Sometimes, when the water whistles on the stove, and the lincoln’s hand reaches down, you catch a glimpse.

That’s all. Just a glimpse. From the corner of your eye.

It is 1809.

Susan is asleep. The rest of the family is out. The wind beats against the door. The big fat spider is crawling, slowly, down the cabin walls.

It is to the spider that Abraham speaks.

“There is pain,” he says. “This land is hurting.”

There is salt on Susan’s cheek.

The spider fetches a large fly corpse. It begins dragging it, with huffs and puffs, up the cabin walls. “That’s so,” he says. “And I don’t know if I’ll have enough for winter.”

It’s 1809, and even spiders are hardy folk.

“I could help,” Abraham says. “Lincolns bind things together.”

He brushes his fingers along the logs. They aren’t held together by anything. They’re just kind of stacked there. But still the cabin stands.

“A lincoln can’t leave his cabin,” the spider says. “Or you get shot. It’s a thing. Worse’n with Kennedys. Could you pass me that other fly?”

Abraham picks up the corpse, then hesitates. “What happened before guns?”

“There’ve always been guns,” the spider says.

Abraham lifts the body up.

“Can you get the wasp?”

“Too heavy,” Abraham says. “I’d have to make myself a body out of clay and sticks.”

“Alas.”

The spider trudges down the walls.

“You’re happy here,” the spider says. “Aren’t you?”

The lincoln drifts across the walls, and binds together two stray strands of web. “Yes,” he says.

“Then why would you leave?”

“People are worthy,” the lincoln says.

“Ah.”

There’s a silence.

“They are,” the spider agrees.

“And it makes me sad,” Abraham says, “sometimes, that nobody can see my hat.”

At the Cherry Tree1

1 based on an apocryphal story about George Washington.

There is a young boy. His name is George. He is empty.

He is empty, and from that emptiness is born a fairy, and her name is Lilimund. Through the white and cutting summers of his youth she is with him.

“Is this the way things are?” George says.

He is looking at a dog, lolling on the ground, its stomach thin, its body ripped by a bear until it died. There are insects living in the dog.

“It is one way,” says Lilimund.

“The b’ar was very strong,” says George.

In town, there is a store, and it sometimes sells liquor, but not to George. So he sends Lilimund to fetch him some. She is quick and she is subtle. She brings a bottle to George. He drinks.

“You’re very beautiful,” he says, to Lilimund.

There are cherry trees behind his house. He goes to them, still with liquor on his breath, and there he sees the dryad. She is curled and straight: her body upright, but her hair wound round her in gentle curls and knots. It forms bark, and leaves, and flowers. It gives her more branches than her outthrust arms. Her teeth are wooden.

“George,” she says. It is a minimal acknowledgment. She does not give much time to George.

“Dance for me,” he says. It is rude, but he is a child, and he is drunk.

“There is sun,” says the dryad. “There is soil. Leave me in peace, child. I am content.”

“Dance,” insists George.

“You are nothing,” she says.

“I’m more than you.”

So George goes to the shed, and he finds an axe, and he takes it out. And he cuts the dryad down, hacking once, twice, thrice, and finally seven times, and she only stares at him through it all.

“You had no right,” she says.

And George looks down at her, as the blood ebbs from her roots, and suddenly he’s scared.

“I did,” he says.

“I will not hear a lying tongue,” the dryad says, “as my life fades.”

“You’re my father’s tree,” says George. “So I can do what I want. And besides, God doesn’t like your kind.”

The dryad says, softly, “You will know sorrow if you should lie again.”

Her eyes close.

“It’s okay, George,” says Lilimund. She lights on his shoulder. “It’s . . . well, it’s not okay, but it’s done.”

“It wasn’t my fault!” he bursts out.

Lilimund is silent.

“Right?”

There is a chill in him. The fairy falls, gently, off his shoulder, her body limp, her heart pierced through by wooden thorn, and splinters seal her eyes.

“George?” It’s his father’s voice. He’s walked into the field. “George, what happened?”

It is an inconceivable loss.

“George?” says his father. “Why are you crying? What happened to my tree?”

He searches for the words, and for the strength.