May 2015

“Earth has changed so much.” The spacesuit made One’s voice crackle with static. “Hard to believe we evolved here.”

“Well, what do you expect?” said Two. “Our ancestors left long ago, and they exerted a powerful hold on this planet. We took ourselves out of the equation in order to stop that and let evolution take its natural course.”

“Still…look at those trees. Look at all the snow on that mountaintop! It’s not the pictures we’re used to seeing.”

“Well, the atmosphere verges on being poisonously unbreathable too,” said Two drily. “The gas mix is all wrong. We’d have a few minutes of gasping at best before we passed out.”

“I wonder,” One said. “Do you think that, maybe, someone or something evolved in a similar way that we did? I mean we left plenty of relatives behind.”

Two glared at One through is suit visor, his feathers ruffled. “Highly unlikely,” he said, clipping his beak shut on the last syllable for emphasis.

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“Where did it come from?” Sammy asked.

“Nobody knows,” said Tilly. “Dad says some people say it was aliens. Some people say it was the government. He thinks it just evolved that way, maybe as a totally new way of things evolving, too.”

Bethany raised her hand. “Does it hurt?”

Tilly shook her head. “Nope. Maybe it you press me real hard there, but that hurts no matter what.”

Ms. Culligan nodded. “Does anyone else have a question for Tilly?” Her tone made it clear to kids used to playing “guess what teacher’s thinking” that they hadn’t yet asked the right one.

After a moment of unusual quiet in the classroom, Mikey raised his hand. “Can we catch it?” he said.

“Only if you touch it,” said Tilly, “and then put your fingers in your mouth.”

Ms. Culligan quickly got up and strode to the front of the class. “That’s only true if you’re not on the proper medication,” she said hastily. “Since Tilly is joining out classroom we will all be on the proper medicine which is 99% effective. There’s no danger of anyone else catching it whether they touch Tilly or not.”

The teacher put a hand on Tilly’s shoulder and began guideing her back to her desk. The kids, mollified but still interested, stared at their new classmate. More specifically, they stared at the azure crystalline deposits protruding like diamond freckes from about her eyes and on her upper arms. Most of them had heard of the crystophage from the news or conversation around the dinner table, but it was an affluent school and few had ever seen it.

“What happens…you know…later?” one of the kids whispered. “They get bigger, don’t they?”

“I’ll be shiny and strong,” said Tilly. “Like Dad said, a totally new way of evolving.”

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What most readers fail to realize is that the Walrus was a metaphor for a corrupt and jowly king, the Carpenter was a metaphor for the urban bourgeoisie hostile to the monarchy, and the oysters were a metaphor for the oppressed masses who feel the depradations of both.

Eventually, once the oyster-proleteriat had been exploited to its fullest extent, the Carpenter attacked King Walrus. The latter defended himself with terror and oppression but could not stave off his final fate at the hands of an assassin’s blade. Far from being a more benevolent ruler, though, the Carpenter only redoubled the exploitation of the oysters. Sessile and complacent, easily led about by jaunty songs and slogans, the oysters’ class consciousness lay dormant.

Did the author hold out hope for a revolution that would put the means of production in the hands of the hardworking oysters? Or did he merely resign himself to a grinding cycle of oppression so complete that any relief would have to be generations, eons in the future? Either way, it is clear that his is the most scathing critique of late capitalism of its time, and that we living in the time of later capitalism would do well to heed his warnings.

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“T-that’s not hair!” cried James, recoiling in horror. “Those are tentacles!”

“Yes,” said Cephy sadly, her unusual yellow-blue eyes glowing all the more fiercely. “I am actually an octopus driving a sophisticated animatronic puppet.”

“H-how has n-no one noticed that before?”

“Hats, and living in New York City. I don’t even have the weirdest hair secret in my building.”

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Their brutal emotions sated, the assassins buried Lily in the ducal gardens and took her head to the Marquess for their promised reward. The Marquess reveled in the destruction of whom she had been so intently jealous, and had the head cast into a sphere of pure crystal to set amongst her most cherished trophies in the crypt beneath her manor. It would serve, she thought, as both a reminder of her triumph and an immortalization of the beauty that she had pruned from the world.

The assassins, as it happened, buried the body beneath a weak and woody rosebush. The Duchess, distraught at the seeming disappearance of her only child, withdrew into herself and left the once-rich gardens to rot. There was therefore no gardener to arrest the sudden and intense rosebush growth that followed. It was visible to passersby through the locked and barred gate, and every day a few more stopped by to gawk.

In a way that few rosebushes do, the plant in the Duchess’s garden had a large and woody stem made from the seeming fusion of many smaller growths. In time, it was over five feet tall, with roses only at the end of two long branches; people began to notice shortly thereafter that the woody stem had developed on such a way, with twin knots above and below, that it resembled mothing so much as a female form.

Around the time the Duchess began to sicken, her mental collapse becoming a physical one as well, a bud appeared at the top of the “form” right around the place a head might have been. Wasting away took nearly six months for the poor Duchess, and during that time–in defiance of botanical logic–the bud grew larger and larger but never opened.

It was only with the peal of the bell announcing the Duchess’s death that an immense and blood-red rose opened atop the woody form. And it was only with her burial three days later that the humanlike form began to move.

Its ultimate destination? The Marquess’s crypts.

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“You are apprehensive, I can see that,” said the Archon. “Please, before we continue, let me know how I may put you at ease.”

“It’s just…I’ve looked up at this place all my life, but I’ve never been allowed inside,” said Avelline. “The Founder Crags are museum and church, government and god, made all the more mysterious by the prohibition on entry.”

The Archon leaned over a railiing, which gave an excellent view of the great metropolis below. It had been installed by the Forebears in the Founder Crags between two sides of a great chasm, leaving raw and living rock as the walls on either side. “Some of the Archons, I think, take themselves a little too seriously,” she said. “When the Forebears settled here, they came to the Founder Crags for protection. The entire population lived here, within these walls, until we were secure enough to spill over them.”

“Then why allow no one but the Archons and Subarchons inside?” Avelline asked.

“Mostly for our own safety,” the Archon said. “Assassination and physical violence are, after all, the oldest tools of politics. I think that some of the others, and myself if I’m being honest, enjoy the exclusiveness of it all.”

“I see,” said Avelline. “So why hold the interviews here? I am neither Archon nor Subarchon.”

“Convinience, and to gauge your reaction,” said the Archon. “We cannot expect one such as you to sacrifice her life and her soul for the wellbeing of our way of life without seeing every facet of what you are being asked to preserve.”

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Elves are of course known for their slow metabolisms and rather different rate of aging. Compared to others like humans and orcs, they do indeed age at a slower rate, with puberty occurring at age 24-26, adulthood and full maturity at 36-38, with geriatric elves being 130-140. The oldest elf on record since modern figures were kept lived to 257 years, a full 20 years longer than any since. Tales from less enlightened ages about elves being immortal or living to the age of 1000 years or more are, of course, ridiculous.

The slow rate of growth and slow reproduction (with a gestation period of 18-24 months and a refractory period after birth of 24-36 months preventing a further pregnancy during that time) has had a profound impact on elven culture, which tends to prize safety and stasis and is slow to adapt to sociological and technological change. These same factors have made them highly valued as bureaucrats and administrators in various empires that have arisen and fallen, with elves present in human, orcish, and other empires throughout history. Indeed, Hamur himself specifically set elves apart from his Hamurabash, granting them protection but exempting them from its provisions (though many modern orcs refuse to associate with elves who have not embraced the Hamurabash).

Though history is full of elven usupers and elven dynasties ruling empires largely made up of other peoples, the lower numbers of elves in general means that they have never ruled large empires of their own, nor have they ever formed colonies. Their metabolism generally precludes direct combat, as the exertions from sustained and intense movement exhaust them easily and drain their reserves of energy. This makes them unparallelled siege artists and defenders; Hamur the orc recruited a legion of elves he referred to as his Crocodiles (“their eventual strike being all the more brutal for the long patient inaction which preceeds it”).

Elvish beliefs are quite unique, and are responsible for much friction with other peoples, though as with any group there are many who hold others or none at all. The majority of elves follow precepts that they call the “Eternal Way” which is predicated on the notion that all beings ascend to godhood over lesser creatures given time. Others often misinterpret this as meaning that the elves fancy themselves gods over the other peoples of the world, something which their aloofness and percieved wealth and inaction does little to dispel.

But a better rendering would be that the elves consider themselves gods of lesser creatures, ascended from their number. The elvish philosopher Tsianlwyn put it thus: “We are from and of the lesser creatures, and as their gods owe them mercy and justice. Our ascension to godhood over them is a trust which is binding. Other peoples are, whether they know it or not, bound to the same sphere and must exercise their godly dominion over life with the same trust and restraint.”

It would therefore be more accurate to say that the elves consider all sapient peoples co-gods, and their philosophy doen not concern itself with–but does not discount–the existence of “gods above the gods.” Still, this has led to grievous misunderstandings over time, the elves being contnually villified as “worshipping themselves” and beliving themselves “gods over men.” Human religions tend to consider such beliefs self-centered at best and blasphemous at worst, while the orcs are often insistent that elves deny their beliefs in their own divinity and embrace the atheist and ancestor-centric Hamurabash.

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Avaricea, the Fel Demoness of the Seventh Sphere, had a varied portfolio of infernal interests over which she had at least patial control. She was the underdemoness of filth, for instance, associate overlord of rudeness, and princess of pettiness. Those who, knowingly or not, held Avaricea as their infernal patroness were largely lackluster people whose hatred of their jobs and their lives was reflected in shoddy quality-of-work and watercooler dictator tendencies.

As with all the fel demons of the various spheres, Avaricea enjoyed sojourns on Earth to practice what she preached. Like all creatures of her ilk, precipitated from the nauseating worst of humanity’s transgressions in the damned depths of the infernal realm, she had no set form. Many of her contemporaries used this mutability to assume eye-pleasing or impressive Earthly forms; while Avaricea did appear as such when she had something to gain, her portfolio was more interested with other sundries.

As such, her favored form was that of an old, ugly, grumpy, grimy janitor, one who invariable made things dirtier and slung dirty language at any who were irksome. Wor betide anyone who sought out her damned janitorial supply closet, for theirs was a one-way ticket to the trash mines of the Seventh Sphere’s Repository of Infinite Refuse.

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The Cessna’s fuel guage was needling on empty. There was still no sign of the coast, of any solid land at all, and the radio crackled uselessly with static.

John sucked in a panicked breath. How could he have been so stupid, to get that disoriented? To let himself walk out the door without filing a proper flight plan, knowing that Jim would let him fill it in after the fact? Dammit, he may have been 71 years old, but John had been piloting for six years and was fully instrument-rated. He should have known better.

The engine sputtered. Just for a moment, but it was clear that there was not much time left. Ditching in the drink was the only option, with a stowed life raft and life vest that had come with the plane, secondhand, and a flare gun still in its wrapping paper from World War II.

John pulled back on the stick, trying to gain altitude he could use in the glide down to land in a gentle patch of sea or on any sliver of land that might present itself. In doing so, he burst through the ceiling of grey clouds that had led him to get so disoriented in the first place.

It was sunset, above the clouds, and the hidden sun was painting them in the boldest and most vivid colors John had ever seen. Orange the color of his old Camaro, purple like his daughter’s hair, flaming red like the three drops of blood Mary-Beth had coughed up with her last breath as the cancer took her. Every shade that had ever meant anything to John was there, gathered for a final farewell: a sight he never would have seen at any other moment, at any other time.

“Thank you,” he said, tears shining behind his glasses.

He nudged the stick forward. Just a few thousand feet to go.

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The Wakeful Watcher is the boundary between sleep and alertness, keeper of the border and hunter of those that would stray from one realm to the next. When it appears, it appears as a two-headed owl: one head forever watching the world of sleep, one head eternally guarding the world of wakefulness. It speaks, if it must, with both heads at once in a tremulous unison.

Those who cross the boundary each night are watched, and in the event that a dream becomes to wakeful or waking life becomes to dreamlike, the Wakeful Watcher will turn its attentions thereto. It will pursue dream attempting to become real or reality attempting to become dreams, and it will offer them only a single warning before attacking.

Thus it was that the great two-headed owl waited atop the boughs of a twisted cypress one cool morning. It was waiting for Cindy Gompers, with a warning borne on steel talons and destruction carried on the same. Her crime?

She thought that she was real.

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