• Dzama


You won’t remember this but you used to love watching the travelers come through the rye field in their dark suits, dragging the big rubber sacks. You’d crouch just inside your little princess tent cradling your stuffed animal dog. I’d lie on my stomach beside your tent with the binoculars pressed against my face, elbows in the dirt, waiting for the white crane to show up.

There came a day when you were finally ready to go up and meet the crane yourself. You’d outgrown your princess tent and the stuffed animals. Now you lay on your stomach beside me with your own binoculars. I think I see him, you told me. You’re right, I said. That’s the crane. Are you ready to meet him?

Yes. I looked at your bright face, your mouth very serious. Take this, I said and handed you my scythe. You rose up from the ground and pulled your hood over your head. You pushed through the rye, your black cloak flowing. It almost looked like you were floating. You brushed past all the travelers who still dragged their lumpy bags across the dirt.

The crane stood very still on its stick legs, feathers ruffled by the wind. He turned to face you as you moved closer, your cloak flowing. Through my binoculars I could see your hand reaching out to him with your long fingernails. It looked like you were asking him something. Then he opened his sharp beak and spread his wings wide. He shrieked, sounding almost human, and in seconds the travelers surrounded you. But you swept the scythe like I taught you, parallel to the ground, and took them out two at a time, cutting through their dark suits. I watched as they piled up.

The crane took to the purple sky, still screaming. This time I knew he wouldn’t be coming back. Before long his wail was replaced by the lonely sound of police sirens.

I was proud of you but sad too.

This is what I told your mother: She’s become an expert reaper. When she comes back she’ll do much better than we ever did. And your mother agreed.





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A Brief Gathering

Baht’s face pressed into the dry red and orange leaves, crushing them where he lay. He had collapsed half in, half out of the stone foundation of an ancient building. The air was full of black smoke and screams of monkeys and macaws. An arrow stuck straight up out of his forearm, pinning him to the forest dirt. The blood was dried and black and there were flies. An hour ago he’d been standing at the foot of the hill giving a speech “to his countrymen.” He’d waved his arms and shouted a lot, a rain of spittle exploding out every time he enunciated a great word. However, he’d been wrong to gather all the forest animals and try to educate them about the municipal legislative chambers, over which he presided. Even in his drunken state he should have chosen a better pulpit. What does a chipmunk care about percentiles and electoral divisions? A chipmunk is only interested in having his cheeks full of acorns. But they were gathered here just the same, to see the political suicide of a man who’d left his own species behind.

The badgers were the first to leave. The deer and the groundhogs followed. The venomous snakes were not far behind. The moles didn’t have far to go to get out of earshot. Still, he went on loudly extolling the virtues of his own political preferences and denigrating his enemies, now with an audience of some fire ants and a robin with a crooked foot. When he lifted his arm in a toast to his own political achievement, an arrow shot straight through his back, leaving a clean hole between ribs but missing, by sheer luck, any vital organs. He’d been born with a small lung on one side, thankfully, and the arrow merely singed it.

Stumbling then onto the old stones of the foundation he collapsed, only to have arrow #2 stick his arm to the earth. He lay in a bed of autumn leaves and opened one eye to behold his attacker: a spindly figure with dark eyes and a tall hat. The figure spoke even as he drew back his bow once more. That’s enough. THAT’S ENOUGH. He fired off the final arrow that brought first a stillness back to the forest and then the shock of complete silence.

But before long the chipmunks were chattering and flirting again and a pair of wandering sheep began to graze just over the rise. The dark figure straightened up and walked back across the moss and through the bramble patch before reaching his skiff and paddling quickly away into the violet twilight.




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All Robot Friendly

Salamander see something he do something. Salamander kill many people. Chased one man across field –right there! But Salamander only kill bad people. You no worry.

How many people have you killed, Salamander?

Seven. Ten. Seventeen. Some days I not remember. But for everyone I kill I make robot life form. To replace.

What does the robot do? How could a robot replace a living person?

They do. People don’t know difference. They replace them. They wear their clothes, hang with friends. Nobody know. Only me robot maker can see difference.

Have I ever seen one of your robots in the real world?

Many times. But they don’t go in water. If you want to see if man is robot ask him go in pool… Man you always see in lobby? He robot.

That blonde-haired guy?

Yes. You ever hear him talk?

No. He seems friendly though.

All robot friendly. I make them that way. But that one he no talk. I no get voice replicator working. Keep short circuit. So I just leave like that. Make so he smile and walk away. He replaced this bad man who steal people money. I kill him, put robot there. Robot no steal money. Robot smile people.

But what about that guy’s family?

His family don’t know. Think he no want talk anymore. But wife left him. She say he too creepy.

You shouldn’t kill people, Salamander.

I know…

Just stop killing people. Just don’t do it anymore.


Salamander, look at me. Why do you have to kill people?

Sometimes Sun tell me to do. Sometimes Moon. Sometimes Wind.

You don’t have to listen to those things. You can make your own choices.

Who you, my conscience? Why don’t you shut up? SHUT UP!

I’m just making a suggestion. I—AKKK!!!! EUCHHH—ERKKHH!

That’s what you get make suggestion. I no like suggestion. You make Salamander mad. He no like guy talk talk talk. Ask question, ask question. You die like rest. I make robot you. Much better. No talk so much. I ran out voice replicator anyway. I make robot just smile, make people happy. No talk talk talk. Talk bad. Robot good. Salamander make world better one robot at time. You thank me later.





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The Brutes

The one thing Nightmare didn’t anticipate was how loud the horses would be. She was at the lead, riding her blue unicorn and there must have been fifty horses behind her. The hooves hitting shale was deafening. Usually her pointed fairy ears were able to block things out, especially when it involved humans. This time it was hard- maybe because of their sheer number. In addition to the hooves and the horse grunts she was forced to hear the humans’ banal conversations about beer and roadhouse strippers. Even the sound of someone in the back of the troop scratching their neck or rolling a cigarette was annoying. She’d hear the fingernails grating against the sunburnt skin or the tobacco sprinkling on the paper and then the tongue sealing it closed. Humans were always smoking and chewing tobacco and drinking beer and all of these sounds were repulsive to her. She focused instead on the music of unicorn’s breathing- it was like distant sleigh bells and with every exhalation tiny twinkling stars blew out of the unicorn’s nostrils. She honed in on the sleigh bell melody and watched the sparkles and felt much better.

As the moon rose they reached the Great River. The wind picked up, carrying a smattering of snowflakes. This is where the ambush happened. They came from all sides, dropping down from the trees and springing up from the earth, tearing the humans’ necks open or ripping their hearts straight through their boney chests. These were bad fairies. Their mouths were overfilled with sharp black fangs and they had three horns sticking straight out of their foreheads. Nightmare grabbed a human baby from the arms of its fallen mother and took off into the sky just as one of the bad fairies ripped her unicorn’s flank. It shrieked and bled purple stars as they rose above the water. Another bad fairy landed on her back and bit one of her ears. She stabbed it with a twin-bladed magical dagger and it fell screaming down into the river.

Resting with the unicorn on a snowy cloud above, she rocked the crying human baby in her arms. She could only watch the rest being torn to pieces below. Those are your people, she told the baby. They are ugly, ornery, brutes that smell rancid but they don’t deserve to die like that. The baby became still and stared down at the carnage, moonlight shining in its brown eyes. Someday you will avenge them.




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That’s It

As it turns out you only have thirty more seconds to live. Doesn’t seem like thirty seconds though does it? Seems like just the same second over and over again. Or just one long second. Thirty of anything seems like a lot right now. Actually it’s not thirty anymore. Now it’s fifteen. There was this girl in a bagel shop off of Haight Street. You got her number one day but she was busy when you called. Once you saw her holding hands with a tall skinny guy with long hair. Now you have ten seconds. You smell that rose-scented soap your grandmother used to wash your hands. And then that’s it.




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Snowy Chapel

Snowy chapel. Footprints leading to and from oaken doors. A large grey dog chained up at the railing barking and howling. A figure out on the ice covered with a white sheet. Nametha ran out, wires still attached to nodes on her skin. She released the dog and it went crazy, ripping at the sheet with its teeth.
Soon there was a semi-circle of men around Nametha and the dog and the pale body, all chanting in Russian. The black spires above gleamed with the first morning light and soon a beam from the sun shone directly on the slumped figure’s white skin. The skin smoked and bubbled and charred, until the skeleton was exposed and quickly incinerated by the light of day. All that remained were some tattered white sheets and two rings half-buried in the vampire’s dust.
Nametha took the rings, buffed them with a pocket handkerchief, and slid them onto her bony fingers. She grinned a wide grin of crooked, crowded teeth, and spun around, heading straight up the stone steps right into church.




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Glad I Found You Here

Glad I found you here. I’d like you to take your monkey and get back on the boat.

She turned and the monkey climbed up the sleeve of her sweater to hunch on her shoulder, clutching her auburn hair. I’m not going back.

Maybe this will change your mind –?? My hand went to an empty holster. I could only watch as the monkey handed her my pistol.

She fired, blowing my right kneecap to dust. I dropped to the ground, just managing to grab her ankle as she went to leave. Falling to one knee she fired again, blowing my wrist apart. She got back to her feet, my disembodied hand still clutching her ankle, and went out the door, her high heels click-clacking down the stone steps.

With my left hand I pulled my t-shirt over my head. I’d just managed to get the shirt tied around my right arm when I blacked out.

Later I pulled myself groggily up to the balcony railing. I looked down and saw her. She hadn’t made it far. She lay splayed out, my amputated hand still encircling her ankle. Dried blood spidered through the cracks between the cobblestones. The monkey sat with his hand in her hair. He saw me and let out a savage shriek.

The guards appeared and looked up to the balcony before I could limp away. They fired a few shots and I did one of those over-the-balcony death summersaults you see in movies. I landed in a crumpled heap. The monkey came over and in my last few second of life I felt him licking my ear. I went to grab him with my phantom hand. Then a curtain of blood obstructed my vision. I passed out. Soon after, I died.


The monkey sat with me for a few hours before eventually climbing up a nearby hill and returning safely to the jungle.




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No More Mooks

It’s funny if you think about it. Two goons like us getting all this money. Charlie couldn’t stop talking about his girl Esmeralda and how much he was gonna give her. Esmeralda took some of it, sure, but most of it went to his Mom living in the loony bin and his little brother Marcos who’d been on the street his whole life. I took my part and went down the dock and bought a boat, this big long sloop. I’d go out at night with it and just float. Lean on the railing and look back at all the little lights sparkling off the bay.

Marcia came out once with me and a couple other girls but hardly anyone wanted to hear about the big trip up North I had planned. I’d always drop them back off at the wharf and watch as they walked away down the planks. My sloop floated back out to sea with me in it, determined to start a new life in the northern country and leave behind all the mooks and chumps.

My course started just fine- a light breeze from the South, skies bleached white. One or two gulls really high up. By noon I had my coffee and let the white sea and sky clear my head of all the crummy baggage.

But as I watched, the white water rose up out of nowhere and exploded like a tremendous hand above me, arcs of water like fingers crashing down around me.

Suddenly my boat was two hundred feet up. Then I was deep underwater, watching as a giant sea turtle came towards me through the splinters of my shattered sailboat. I reached out and took hold of the turtle’s fin. He drew me quickly through the current then turned to look back at me with the face of a wise old man. No more mooks, I thought, grinning, as he pulled me into the darker and darker water.




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Still Not Happy

TAKE YOUR HANDS OFF MY HUSBAND OR I’LL SHOOT! was a popular board game in the ‘40’s and ‘50’s. Malks walked past the store window displaying the game and its explicit (for its time) pieces, and headed instead to the massage parlor next door. Lying on the massage table he turned back to see if the girl was coming (she was taking her sweet time) and he saw a roach on the wall, burying its head in a crack, in apparent shame.

When the massage was over Malks was back out in the park feeding pigeons. They weren’t very hungry today though and he made himself get up and head to the movies: a black and white matinee titled, Thsyst Makneerz Knockorem which turned out to be a kind of erotic puppet show involving peasant girls with heaving wooden bosoms.

Walking back to his car Malks stopped. There was a beautiful girl, wearing nothing more than a yellow raincoat, galoshes, and a yellow rain hat, sitting on the hood of his car. You need to wax this thing, she said. It’s a little matte. Malks stared at her. They both got into the car and soon were kissing at a stoplight. You better start going, she said. The light just changed.

He accelerated, but didn’t get very far before they were kissing again. When the rain picked up they were out in it, leaving the car behind in a ditch. An alarm went off on Malk’s phone but he didn’t heed its important vibrations. He was too busy.

The sun set and it was still raining on their embrace.

When the moon rose they were still necking.

Finally at sunrise they got back in the car and drove to a place where they could sleep it off. Turned out to be her place. Quilts and macramé. But a welcome cup of hot tea. Malks relaxed. For the first time since the stock market crash. Which hadn’t affected him other than making him a little tense.

The girl stripped off her rain gear. Morning sun made her look exceedingly three dimensional. They shared a wry smile. They made love then went back outside. Where it was raining again.

Malk’s wife appeared with a gun, which made him remember the board game in the window display. She opened fire but they were too fast for her and took off into the night.

She came back later though and got them. She couldn’t really tell if she was happier after all the screaming and gunfire. She wiped her bloody hand on the plastic seat in the back of the cab. Central Park went by out the window. All kinds of people from all different backgrounds coming and going. She had the cab stop and went out into the throng in a better mood but still not “happy”.



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Home Free

By then most had already crossed the border so it was considered safe. Take a half canister of water, add CH85 and make a bomb. Drop this into a homemade cannon. Get into the cannon yourself. And you’re off.

As always, the trick was landing. You had to reposition yourself in the air and keep your eyes wide open for debris. I saw one guy get his arm impaled. And he became an easy target.

Looking back, there were a lot of dangers with these cannons- one of them being the possibility of getting lodged in there too tight and having the bomb go off. Or having it go off before you’re ready.

General Wacomb was smartly dressed, fully armed, ready to get blown out into the field to start fighting. But there was a malfunction and the thing blew up with him lodged in there. Really bad. No one had the guts to go check the cannon afterwards. We just stopped using that one.

After helping so many cadets get shot out into battle it was finally my turn. I armed myself fully- strapped as many scimitars to my body as I could, and dropped the plastic gallon milk jug bomb down the cannon tube. I then slid in, feet first until I could feel the plastic under my heels. With a swift kick back the thing detonated and shot me a good two hundred feet into the air. I was surprised at how many corpses I saw from that height- I thought a lot more of our guys had made it through.

Several slobbering four-headed strays anticipated my arrival, all running to where they knew I would hit the ground. When I tumbled on the bloody grass they set upon me immediately, biting off my straps and outer armor. But I was focused and carried out the sequence I’d rehearsed a thousand times back at camp. First I blew the silent whistle, then danced the whirling dervish jig, hopping on one foot and twirling my fingers through the air. It worked like magic. Then I had exactly 23 seconds to open one of the manhole covers and drop down into the warm slime-pit below. I took 22 seconds and after that I was home free.



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