“Do you see that one in the black?” Simoen murmured in her ear, leaning past her to disguise his moving lips. “That’s Kes Kalumaria. Everybody says she killed her husband.”
“You can’t keep doing this to yourself.”
Saif’s voice came out muffled with the screwdriver in his teeth, and he pulled it out and flipped it into his other hand, instead. Key sighed, leaning his head back against the wall. His foot shifted an inch or two forward when he did, but though Saif frowned up at him, he didn’t seem to notice. “There is no need to exaggerate. The damage is not severe.”
“It looks bad enough from down here.” He plucked out the tiny screws from the panel in four twists, quick as a bird picking up seeds. The metal was dented so badly it had crumpled inward, and Key’s face and shoulders seemed to lose some tension at having it off. Saif caught his eyes lingering there, and forced them back down, to the tangle of wires and circuitry inside. “Doesn’t look like there was much damage on the inside, at least… Thick-skinned, you are.” Key snorted, and Saif grinned up at him in spite of himself, sniffing and arming stray hair off his sticky forehead. His gloves were covered in grease. “There’s one receptor terminal that’s barely hanging on, though. That’s probably what’s hurting you. I’ll have to replace it — brace yourself.”
Key blinked down at him, then scowled. “You have a very poor bedside manner.”
“Most of my patients don’t complain as much as you. Hold still, too.” Saif grabbed up the pliers and a pair of wire-cutters in one hand without looking, settling his spectacles back in place with the other. He only needed them for close work, but considering he practically had his nose buried in Key’s leg already — “I mean it, you know. You shouldn’t work for anyone who thinks of you as a doorstop.”
121 And if a mother should bear two children in the same labor, then let it be known that the two are one flesh and one mind divided into two within the mother’s flesh;
122 and they will be granted surpassing powers over the invisible world, as in its division into two bodies their power will be honed, as though they were light and a lens.
123 And the birth of two from one womb will bring calamity on the People of the Book, for the gods themselves will envy their power, and desire to retrieve it to its source, and have the two for their possessions.
124 And so it is that of the two, one should be put to the sword in the year of their coming of age; so that the gods may be pleased with the offering and the People of the Book spared their judgment.
125 And when two are so born, the first to emerge from the mother will be called “the first known to the world,”
126 and the second will be called “the one who follows,” and be given the rights due to the eldest child. And let it be known that the second follows behind because he is the most beloved of the gods, and they have clung to him throughout his journey into the world, and not allowed him to come before the other.
127 Thus, to best please the gods, it is the second of the two who must be put to the sword;
128 and it is the first who will receive his share of the power of both in one, and become a prophet of great wisdom, who will surely lead the People of the Book to good fortune.
“See you after school.”
It wasn’t loud enough for anyone else to hear, just a hiss across the aisle between the rows of desks. For a second Kiran stopped, in the middle of getting up, frozen with his backpack halfway hefted up; then he swallowed, and made himself finish and pick up his test sheet to deposit at the front on the teacher’s desk. He made a business of keeping his body between it and Jeff, though, blocking any possible view of the paper from across the aisle, and ignoring the sullen glare up from the circle of Jeff’s arm on his desk. If he was in for a penny, he was in for a pound, he guessed.
There was always something to set him off, anyway. A wrong look in the locker room after gym, a wrong word in the hallway between classes. Sometimes even less than that. It was just how guys like Jeff worked; they’d find any excuse in the end. This time it had been the history test, but it might have been anything. When Jeff had turned his head toward Kiran, under the screening cover of Tammy Fitzpatrick’s frizzy hair in the seat ahead of him, and whispered, “Hey loser, let me copy off you,” Kiran had just set his jaw, and shaken his head No. The consequences, whatever they might be, were beyond his control.
See you after school.
The suspicion grew sort of gradually, a nagging doubt at the back of her mind, like thinking you’d left the oven on. First just a vague sense of something out of place, and then bit by bit the specifics began to fill in; and then it was a growing, solider certainty.
“Are we — ” Zoe started, and then she stopped playing entirely, resting her bass against her chest and pulling off one cup of her headset. “…Are we playing in the wrong key?”
Andy looked at her for a second, frowning, his fingers starting to falter as his concentration broke. “No. What? No.”
“I think we are, though.”
“No.” But then he looked down at the fretboard, and his frown deepened. “Yes. …Fuck.”
“Rental,” was the first thing Col managed to gasp when he finally separated their mouths, wheezing into Gary’s, “rental, rental, god damn you, rental.”
[AUTHOR’S WARNING: This story may be disturbing to… humans.]
You had to be so careful about blood these days.
Saburou lifted his lantern higher, squinting at the small swath it cut into the darkness. He swallowed. Maybe, he thought not for the first time, he should just turn back.
Cleaning the monastery at the start of spring was a tradition almost as old as the monastery itself – or so the abbot liked to tell them all, when the time came around each year. Whether it was the truth or just meant to inspire the acolytes with a false sense of importance was anyone’s guess. Either way, what it meant for Saburou was that the other acolytes – and many of the fully-grown monks, come to that – conspired to stick him with the worst job they could find, out of all the tasks that needed to be done. Last spring it had been cleaning the toilets, which frankly he was surprised it’d taken them so long to get around to; the spring before that, it had been scrubbing out the rat-infested storeroom where a wet, leaky winter had rotted away almost a whole harvest’s worth of rice and gourds. No matter what they ended up foisting off on him, though, he just squared his shoulders, set his jaw, and did it, without arguing or whining or – worse yet – tattling to the abbot. When things were at their worst, he recited mantra in his head, in spite of the decidedly fleshly circumstances, or overcame the smell of old dried shit by forcing his mind into contemplation of how the physical world was truly an illusion. Which was fairly comforting, at the time.
by fightfair and Tsukizubon Saruko (月図凡然る子)
The fight started after the last gas station stop up I-5 before the turn-off, although it didn’t start as a fight. Just as (Jon would maintain to himself, pathetically) an attempt at advice — but in their still-rattled state after their near-miss with that 14-wheeler it had bristled Cris immediately, which in turn had stung Jon, until the whole thing was blown out of all sense and proportion, another shambling, misshapen beast loping off across the landscape, tearing down buildings and ripping up powerlines without losing its fangy malformed grin. That was the thing: it was always stupid to start, always nonsense. Otherwise they might notice it instead of letting it fly under the radar, and could stop it before it began to grow.
So there I was. My wrists tied to my ankles, face-down on the matty carpet of what appeared to be an empty bedroom converted to big metal cages, listening to the occasional plink-plink of what sounded like the world’s loudest leaking faucet from the next room, and sharing my cage with what had until very recently been the person I disliked most in the entire world. I was thinking of bumping him from the title in favor of the person who had put me where I was now, see, but even then, I have to admit, it was going to be a close call.
“Oh, that’s nice. Really nice. You — ”
Shut up, Dan. I’m telling this.
The first time Nate met Jase was in ninth grade: the afternoon after his first day of high school, in fact. There was an independent record store near the university campus, on the basement level of another storefront, that he could get to by bus if he needed to, and he definitely needed to after all that cold sweat and tears of boredom. It was his favorite place in town; he’d found it in the yellow pages in a fit of desperation, when all his naive attempts to find The Feelies at the mall or the shopping center had been in vain. It was seedy and mildew-smelling, with only a hand-lettered sign on black posterboard out front to mark it, and all the walls and ceiling inside painted a glossy black — although you could barely see any of the walls because the whole twenty-foot-square space was floor-to-ceiling with racks of cassettes, sometimes at haphazard angles or looking like they were about to fall out onto the floor. The guy who perched at the jackleg counter was a pudgy 20-something with shaggy hair and horn-rim glasses, who wore long flannel shirts and always seemed to be reading books by Immanuel Kant. The one time Nate had made his mom bring him, she’d taken one look at the place and looked about to faint. It wasn’t a mistake he ever planned to make again.
by Tsukizubon Saruko (月図凡然る子)
It had all happened so quickly.
Consciousness crept back in slowly, reluctant to be complete: like dawn breaking on a dark and cloudy day. Her head hurt, and fresh pain seemed to jostle into it with every rocking, jerking movement under her. She was, Cybele became dimly aware by degrees, slung face-first and sideways over the withers of a galloping horse, close against the knees of some rider who was holding her steady with a hand in the small of her back. Her arms were stiff, her wrists bound together behind her. She could see nothing, and perhaps it was the darkness in part that accounted for her confusion; some scarf or cloth had been bound around her eyes.
by Tsukizubon Saruko (月図凡然る子)
illustrated by by Sakana Sara (魚 サラ)
They found Lily’s body on September 8th, late in the morning. It was a Monday, and Mrs. Packard had to open the copy shop where she worked, much earlier than Lily was supposed to go to school; but she got a phone call at her job around 9:30 from the school receptionist, asking why Lily hadn’t either come to her first two classes or called in sick. She went home right away, and in the end broke open the door to Lily’s bedroom, and found Lily lying on her bed, watching the ceiling with a rapt, fascinated, almost peaceful expression. Her wrists had been carefully cut in two long lower-case t’s, and the short, sharp vegetable knife that had done it rested just at the edge of the grip of her fingers, as though she were deep in thought and about to tap it like a pencil to focus her mind. The blood had dried around her hands in two small puddles on the pink bedspread, like punctuation; a colon, maybe, opening a list of her mother’s screams. They eventually brought a neighbor running over to find her, to pull her away, to make the phone calls and arrangements when she couldn’t be calmed down, couldn’t be coaxed or embraced into sense. There was a special announcement at James High, and most of the senior classes were allowed to go home after second lunch.
Allison didn’t go home. She meant to at first, but then she drove around town in aimless, spreading circles, running at least two red lights, dried salt all over her cheeks. When she passed the library, where she and Lily had been going to meet to share headphones and watch a movie for History, she braked the car to a shuddering halt and fumbled off her seatbelt, flung open the car door, and leaned out of it and threw up.
by Tsukizubon Saruko (月図凡然る子)
The first time he met Austin, River was sitting on the curb on 50th Street just past Radio City Music Hall, trying not to puke or have a freaking breakdown or whatever it was he was about to do. Which was embarrassing enough by itself.
He’d been there for two days. Mostly at the venue in general, but a fair amount of it on the curb, too: camping out by himself to get in, his head on his backpack and gnawing through two Robert Jordan novels and half a John Updike. And then, of course, he’d sat through the entire draft, which was probably the most boring thing ever created by the human mind even for people who cared about it, and sometime in the middle of the seventh round it had hit him, really finally hit him, full force in the brain. Not me, was what had been written on the brick that smashed in his mental window. Not, in a million years, River Lewis from White Spring Hills, Colorado, population fewer people than he now went to college with. He would not stand on that stage and hold up a jersey into the lights with a slightly lost grin on his face. It was never going to happen. Have all the fantasies you like, this unseen iceberg, this Titanic-wrecker said; go ahead and hear them say your name in your own head. Hell, be Mr. Irrelevant in your picture, if that gives it that little comforting ring of veritas. Just don’t make the mistake of getting any of that confused with the possible world. This is a game you are not even in.