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He liked to say his nose was 'rosy' and he'd beam from underneath it and laugh with a wet throat. I didn't like to think of his nose at all. I understood the redness was blood that was trapped too close to the surface.
Looking at it, I would see this delicate, parchment skin doing a poor job of holding back the blood it was supposed to hide. Making me wonder if it would ever snap. I'd imagine that moment as he strained his face, which he seemed to always be doing. The blood flying forward in its crisscross lines.
The Baba's shoulder ached in rhythm. The arm seemed to always be thinner. He watched its progress as he held it to the sky. Seven years, the handlers said. He didn't count.
Plump people in blue pants from different cultures would appear and say something to the effect of, "Why's he doing that?" and the handlers would answer. He just kept holding up his arm. It was hard. The people would wander off. They'd argue and debate itineraries for their trip. They'd look around not knowing where they were, listening hard and suddenly nodding. Like children, mastering things, growing old.
I told Charon when the ferry ride turned out to be longer than I expected, I told him - it's not the voices that make the Sirens attractive. None of us are THAT into quality singing. And it's not because we were 'sailors, you know what sailors are like hur hur'.
I jammed my fingers in my ears, right, took one look at the tits, the hips, then dived underwater to see the horrorshow underneath. No face on that. The faces were above, just regular women's faces like our sisters. One of them saw me emerging, understood. I caught her eye.
There's this stretch of time after the orgasm where you feel your body moving without your input and hers synching up after - arms and legs and bellies and heads moving about, not doing anything specific, just stroking and pressing - every movement decisive, even when an arm curves up and then right back down. It knows what it's doing. You must look like defunct animatronics using up what's left of their batteries. Here - the strings are being reattached to the muscles, as it were. Don't make any sudden movements. Look like you were consciously doing all of this. Why? Just do.
"It's not worth it," he says. "It's not worth going on. My life isn't worth anything."
"I mean," I'm struggling here. "I agree with you, mate. It's just what it'll do to my daughter, that's my problem with it."
I have a sudden horrible thought that watching him actually kill himself might be worse than I could imagine. That in real life it will be - I don't know, really bad, really wrong.
"Are you doing that thing," he says, "where you're pretending not to care about whether I do it or not?"
What? I mean...
Ella was a real snowflake - a real one. One time this French Canadian guy asked her what she did in her life and she told him: she slept, ate, made cocktails, she did close-up magic and she wrote short stories inspired by her experiences with the people watching the tricks. She wrote threatening letters to pop singers who didn't meet her eyes when they signed their autograph. She hated that. She knew about a piano bar and she remembered the way the wooden slat stuck out from the wall and hurt her when she went in the one time.
Patient's records identify him only as 'M. Bison'. Monsieur Bison wears a dark cape across his broad back which he throws away whenever he introduces himself, revealing tailored red velvet. His dialogue follows three distinct themes: lambasting another party's 'foolishness', threatening them with the concept of 'hell' and boasting about what he tellingly calls his 'psycho power'.
The patient has been observed lying down on occasion: always in the foetal position with his face and palms spread flat into the ground. His hat, removed only to nervously flatten his hair, is pulled down tight. The cape is reattached, covering him.
She told me they were called pasties. Paste-ies.
It made me think of paste in my mouth. I couldn't kiss her. I made up some excuse.
I actually remember the excuse perfectly. And the way she laughed, and put her hands on her hips like a mom in a sitcom, and how her mouth went from a soft, red, firm jello Betty Boop hillock to a big, creased, open hangar. Not who I'd wanted her to be.
I'll never be able to forget what I'd said to cause it. Next time I saw her she was brushing her teeth.
"No I do not need a rolling pin, mum, I have two perfectly good hands."
Raine kneads the potato cakes - she doesn't 'attack' them or 'punch' them or anything like that. She's just kneading away, perfectly normal, slow as you like.
"And yes that IS a lot of margarine. Margarine makes food taste like food instead of crushed wheat."
She takes a blunt knife and puts some more marg in. Again, she's not 'slapping' it in. She's not fantastising about beating her mum up, here, just giving her a talking to. Raine is just talking and making starchy food after midnight.
Ian was at the door looking like an old man all of a sudden. I had to help him in.
"You're might not believe my story, but just listen to it," he said, hurried. "It's important." I prodded at him, laughing, looking for the rubber mask or the makeup. He laughed and let me and laid down when I let him. "I'm just tired," he said. "I've just travelled back in time."
He muttered that it was good to see me, almost snoring. I let him fall asleep with a frown. He never woke up. I shook him for hours.
The foundations of the house were brushed iron and wood
- hatchets we had brought and slung, then
dutifully buried, forced into the ground, pushed against
til the bones in our palms were whittled weak,
then stamped down by one of us
while the other stomped hard, must-covered soil
off the shovel.
The practice had made the walls stand strong and stay up
- the soil was thick as clay with hatchets
packed into space, lumped in, crammed like a pattern
til there was no white left showing underground
And we had made the minefield of their
edges - barely blunted, hardly missing their factory shine
- flat as a flag.
I looked around at the clouds, trying to stop being dizzy. Nothing to hold on to. Maybe when my head cleared I'd see Saint Peter, or the staircase? I remembr getting upset that no-one had explained the rules, prepared me for this. Why would Heaven have a bad induction process?
My hospital gown scratched against the hem of my three-day briefs, which smelled a little. Something inside them was still wet, something else made the bottom sag. I wasn't ready to sleep. My body was sticky, like a licked toy. Not clean enough to forget it was there.
Chip Chillerman had grown up with a fear of movie theaters. It took a lot of therapy to figure out why. Xanadu. His first flick. The dark. The red corridor. That... man outside. The paunch and that Olivia Newton John tattoo that flung itself at Chip's face when the shirt burst.
A lot of therapy. He'd had to work to pay for it and that work had made him. Filled him with something salty and slick, like the popcorn he could still taste at night. The man's face had left his memory. That meant Newton John would have to pay.
The problem turned out to be getting the monkey to sit down and type. I didn't have an infinite amount of patience.
On the first day she knocked the typewriter to the floor and tried to use it as a seat. It was months before it ended up upright again. She slept under the desk - used it as a shelter against rain that never came.
On the other side of the two-way mirror I sat at my identical desk, reading the Complete Works of Shakespeare, then acting out the tragedies. Working on my diction. She should have died hereafter.
I don't like this culture we were born into in which the highest ranks of discovery award you the title 'professor'. Not creator, applicator, instructor, anything like that. You're obligated to teach. The end result of accumulating success is just the act of passing it on, with dilution. Maintain the cycle.
It's my first day. I find myself wishing I were ill. Obviously it reminds me of being a schoolgirl. I'd think about that connection, find the causes of it, but I have to teach now. The kids are too busy preening to care about this lecture. Good for them.
Karl had a list in mind, though he wouldn't have admitted it, of the faces he most hoped he'd see when the Interplanetary Exchange email arrived. His first choice was for some kind of beautiful purple or orange girl. Someone whose body looked halfway between a cartoon made before smoking was taboo and one of those models where the human body is distorted to represent the number of nerve endings in appendages. He wanted her to be young and excited by things. Foreign things. He wanted her to find things on Earth and love them while he was there, seeing.
Rob stands outside work waiting for his brother to pick him up. Ben is running late. First time, but no problem. Ben's continuing to be on time much longer would have been frightening. Not this.
But it's immediately his brother's fault when Rob hears the singing voices across the street getting closer. Three people, leaving a house fast, singing something he doesn't know. They've left the gate open. There's strength in their voices but not the laughing kind or the exhuberant kind or even the angry kind.
One of them sees him. In that second it gets so much louder.
Hannah didn't know if it was the state of her face or the sirens, but the old man in the apartment asked, "Someone out there startin' World War Three?" Hannah wasn't ready to say 'yes' to that so she pushed past. Some of the other squatters looked more concerned, like they had questions. She wasn't ready for that either.
For years after, she wished she'd taken a moment to warn the old guy. Or just to explain it to him. Maybe that would have started the ordeal out on the right foot for her. Maybe she would have been brave.
Cupid lined up the sights of a crossbow that was wider than his body and almost as long, hearing the resistance from the wire against the metal and loving it. He felt that wire pushing the polish aside and gripping it, twanging off it like tiny guitar licks. Felt it right in his neck bones.
He loaded one bolt. Ratcheted it up, like a handbrake, like he could make it as tense as he wanted, like it would never stop getting tighter until he stopped.
Before it hit the back of the John's head, the bolt got away from him.
I can hear the gunman spilling out of the negotiator's earphones, making smart-ass remarks. Seeing me listening, the negotiator throws a little quip at me. Meaning: notify the Mayor. I get on the phone and explain the situation to a civil servant, who cracks a joke before parroting it all to the Mayor, adding a sarcastic tone for me. The Mayor makes a show of being overworked, acts like he's not concerned.
Somewhere, some guy with a gun pointed at his balls is working on the clever line he's going to give the clean-up crew when it's over.
Our man has used all of his tricks on the baby so he tries throwing it up a bit and catching it. And it falls. Its odd little golf ball head slips away from his sweaty fingers by the ridges.
He picks it up.
Alive. No... blood. Crying.
"I'm sorry," he says, doing something with his arms - something that works - he hasn't got the attention available to notice what it is exactly. "Shhhhh, shh shh. Sorry. Sorry mate. Shh. It's okay, it's okay." It is okay. "Sorry. It's okay, really, that's fine now. I'm not going to do THAT again."
The group came across a very resourceful, seemingly well-adjusted, healthy man with a good swing and impessive stockpiles. Only thing wrong with him - he wouldn't listen. Stubborn in the gentlest way.
He explained that he had absolutely no desire to fall in with a group of survivors. Asked why - traumatic loss, bad with people, didn't like us?
"I killed six undead today," he said, "and I didn't die. Six to nothing. Yesterday, killed four. I'm not interested in surviving. I just want to win this. My score is racking up.
"One day," he said, "there will be none left."
Linda had always been one of those people who didn't go for revenge. Reptiles take revenge. Dogs and monkeys have a bit of a community going on, and humans have Dostoyevsky and proverbs and Return of the Jedi.
It annoyed her to think that humans still reacted to loss and cruelty by baring teeth and reaching for heavy objects. Lazy. AFRAID. People said she was afraid, of confrontation. Fuck them.
No, actually. She wasn't going to. Actually.
Instead, she watched a soap through half-closed eyes and picked thick hairs off the back of her neck.
A baboon interrupted the fight by throwing a sharpened branch - a makeshift spear - into the ground by Sik's feet. It had learned to make spears.
It had that expression that apes have whenever they're not angry. As though they're quietly pleased. We ranged from furrowed brows to laughter. Some of us gawped for a second. I saw its orange eyes - darker than any fruit, more vibrant than anything you see on people. Just one colour but bold and flat, glassed over.
My eyes look like dry wood lacquer. Boys have told me they were pretty but I never believed them.
-Here's one for you - if the zombie apocalypse happens and you're wandering around looking for food or something, and you see a group of zombies, right? Like, four or five zombies, and they see you so you kill them and then run off - and then another one appears and it was obviously their mate, right?
-Would you kill it?
-These are the things you think about. I'm sorting the home insurance.
-Would you kill the one that you missed? It might be lonely.
-I'd want it to be, mate. I'd leave it and hope no-one found it again.
Holmes felt his arms sag under the effects of his opium even a moment before it happened. I saw him reflexively drag harder, up and away from the violin strings. The music seemed to sicken. Seemed to.
For a moment he caught my eye. He then let his attention shift and grip something. He dragged the bow back and forth, fiddling in thin air, grunting almost. As his arms fell apart, the apparition of an eight-foot-tall demon appeared. In its claws, the missing necklace!
"All in a day's work for Warlock Holmes," said he, "paranormal investigator. In space."
-So how did you end up, you know, the way you are?
-You mean, how did I end up preferring the company of other men.
-Well, I accepted a job from the then-King of Marchindle to 'rescue the princess'. Crossed the desert, fought half an army of undead and the dragon-rider who controlled them, only to find out that it was a spelling mistake and I had actually saved 'the princes'.
-I figured the trip - the undead, the blood - had changed something in all three of us. That, or they were twins. Twins, Jerr. Hmm.
"I swear to God, I'm only late because I thought the 'snooze' button said 'booze' and I kept hitting it and blacking out, and I thought it was working." By the end of the sentence, she had forgotten how it had begun.
He said something. She closed her eyes, waved her hands at it, still listened.
"Am I? I don't fuckin' know, maybe I am. I was laughing when I woke up."
God, he was so much taller than her. It helped her keep her balance, having his voice up there. Like, how could she get him to stick around?
"How would you feel about being a journalist, Jim?" he asked, me, grinning, waiting for a punchline. Auntie Alex looked at him, smiling. She was proud of him for asking me that.
I didn't know what that was. I didn't keep a journal. Watching them wait, feeling like I was spoiling their joke, I tried to explain. Vainly I tried, "I don't keep a journal."
"He doesn't keep a journal!" my uncle said. The first half of the sentence was directed at me and then, as though realising his mistake in talking to me, he turned to the grown-ups.
Once you figure out that the house is alive, and not haunted, you stop convulsing. You breathe easier, get on your feet, and crucially you just leave the house, take a few steps and look at it.
A human-looking figure appears in the lounge window and presses at the glass. Tiny eyes, big mouth, all black and white stretches. If you'd thought it was the remains of someone who died, you'd scream. But it's nothing like that. That's why it looks so wrong. Its arm juts out.
It's doing that thing. You know when you bark at your dog?
"Haven't seen you in a while. Any particular reason?" Fury blinked.
Or winked. The patch just reminded Thor of home. "I have travelled the nine realms, master of fury, and brought two new Avengers! Behold Queen Elsa, creator of frost giants and singer of impossibly catchy tunes, and also Chewbacca, bilingual pilot, which is impressive in its own right!"
Fury didn't wink again. The creature roared as the woman with the big eyes refused his hand.
"This is a little weird," he said.
"Our last member had radioactive spider powers."
It was true enough. And their first quartet was fantastic.
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