Friday, March 31, 2017

The Coffee Potion

You may or may not know this, but coffee shops are dangerous places. Because of the strength of caffeine in espresso, it is the perfect vector for magical potions. Many coffee shops are run by sorcerers and fairies willing to sell these potions and slip them into drinks. They do a roaring trade in love potions.

As it so happened, one young woman was blithely unaware of this fact and she agreed to go out for coffee with a man she didn't much like, but he had cajoled and wheedled until she finally gave in and said yes, one coffee. The coffee shop was run by an evil, or at least amoral, sorcerer who agreed to put a love potion into her drink. He did exactly this and the woman fell in love with the man she didn't much like.

Except she didn't. She wondered why she was in this relationship, except that it seemed an okay thing to do at the time. After all, it meant she was in a relationship, which was preferable to being single, and she was getting laid and there were no better prospects out there at this moment. And so the relationship continued.

There is a problem with love potions. They never last. And after the initial dating period, most couples don't just go for coffee on a regular basis. In fact, the woman barely drank coffee at all.

But it takes time to wear off. They were in a relationship for 2 years and living together before the final effects of the potion disappeared. Then it felt too late to extract herself. It took another year before she left and was happily single again. It felt as if she'd come up for air for the first time in 3 years. As if she was seeing clearly again. And she wondered why she ever got into the relationship in the first place. If you've ever wondered the same thing about yourself, now you know.

The moral of this story is: Beware of anyone who invites you to coffee.

Friday, March 24, 2017

How the Moon Came to Be

Once, long ago, there was no moon in the sky.  Only stars.  Of course this happened long before there were dinosaurs or fishes or plants, so no one knows this but me. And now you.

There was no moon and only stars.  Among the stars was the tiniest of tiny stars.  It was so tiny that if you were to look up at it, you would barely see a twinkle.  Perhaps a little flash and you would wonder, is there a star there.  But you wouldn't be certain.  Then you would move on to looking at the other stars, the bigger ones you could see.

Of course, as always happens to the smallest and weakest beings, the other stars teased the tiny star.  They laughed and made fun of its tiny rays of light and no matter how hard it pushed its little furnaces, the light never got stronger.  Finally the tiny star began to cry and this made the other stars laugh even harder.

The star wanted to die and made a wish, "I wish I were a big star.  Bigger than all the other stars in the universe."

It so happened that the universe heard the star's wish and felt pity on it.  It asked the star, "Alright. What are you going to do about it?"

The star was astounded.  It had never thought that there was anything it could do about it but endure the taunts and torments and suffer being little.  But the universe whispered a secret.  This secret, as we now know it, is called gravity, but gravity worked a little different back then.  You had to decide to be heavy before you could be so.  The little star decided, and heavier it got.  And the more heavy it got the more things got pulled into its orbit, and then into itself.

First there were its planets and comets and asteroids.  Then great clouds of hydrogen came barreling in.  Dark matter and light matter and all kinds of matter fell into the little star's orbit and then boom, was sucked into the star itself.  And the star grew bigger.  It sucked in asteroids by the millions and planets by the thousands.  It sucked in entire nebulae.  And it grew bigger and bigger, until it was the size of the moon.

And then the star stopped.  It was the brightest and biggest thing in the sky and that was enough.  It had no need to continue now that it had its wish.  This was very wise of the star.  But along with wisdom, the star also had vengeance in its heart.  Honestly, who could blame it.  Haven't we all wished to bring torment on the ones who tormented us?

So the star began to laugh at those who had once laughed at it.  And it purposely shone so bright that the light of all the other stars could not be seen at all.  It shown and shown and shown and never stopped shining until it was competing with the sun herself for brightest in the sky.

This could not be allowed.  And the universe came to the star again and said so.  It told the star it was very proud of all the star had become.  But that perhaps it might like to be a little more subdued and allow others to shine as well.  The star got angry at this and told the universe it had no right to push itself on the star.  The star had made itself with no help from the universe and it would do what it wanted.

The universe laughed at this, because the universe is very wise and does not get angry easily.  It told the star, "And who made the things that helped you grow big, if not me?"

But the star, high on its own brightness and hubris, did not care.  "I did the work. Me! No one else. You can't pretend I took anything from you."

The universe was still smiling. "I'm not pretending," it said.

Finally in a fit of beligerance the star said to the universe, "What are you going to do about it?" Meaning that it didn't think the universe could threaten it.  Silly star. Just like that the universe blinked and the star was back to its old self again.  Small and hard to see.

And that was how the universe left things for awhile.  The star, realizing its mistake, cried and cried.  And the other stars, were worse to it than ever.  This could not be allowed either.  The universe felt it had to do something.  It gave the little star back all its size and brightness, but only for awhile each month.  Every month it becomes the biggest and brightest in the night sky and then retreats down to its little form.  One way to shine as bright as it can and the other to remember how truly little one can be.

The star is now called the moon and we say it waxes and wanes.  But it is really a wise little star who has been ridiculed and ridiculed in turn and learned when to shine and when to wane.  And no star makes fun of another anymore.  The little star doesn't allow that shit.

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Lab Pet

About a third of our feces, by weight, is bacteria or about 100,000,000,000 organisms by gram.  They help digest our food, absorb vitamins, and they take up space in the body that might otherwise be open to dangerous pathogens.  Eschericha coli is so common to our bodies that it was once ignored as a possible cause for disease.

Of the hundreds of strains, only a few harm us, and really it isn't their fault.  They are just sitting in our intestines, going about their business the same as all the other E. coli only they produce a toxin.  Even then, most of the toxin produced isn't deadly.  There might be some cramping, some nasty diarrhea, but nothing a little over the counter medicine and a couple of days won't cure.

But then there is E. coli O157:H7.  It can cause the colon to bleed and the kidneys to fail, though honestly it isn't pernicious at all.  Most people infected will just suffer the usual E. coli symptoms.  Some will see a little blood.  Only five or ten out of a hundred will seriously suffer and only one will be likely to die.  It doesn't deserve its nasty reputation in news reports.  Besides, it is our own fault there are outbreaks.  It spreads through our own making from our factory farms and centralized food production.

Mostly E. coli lives a quiet life in our guts, happily helping us, content to live out their lives without our ever noticing them until they die or are flushed down our toilets.   It is a friendly little thing.  The bacteria most microbiology students culture first.  It grows well, fast, easily, and only wants a little food once in awhile.  The bacterial version of the houseplant you can't kill.  It's round colonies rice up from the agar plates like smelly smiley faces.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Peaches-- Part 3

Part 1
Part 2

The constable was neither a cruel man, nor a smart man, nor a dishonest man.  The judge was also neither cruel, nor smart, nor dishonest.  They were simply men, as many men in this world, working away at what they must work at and doing what they could for their families, their friends, and themselves.  Within reason.  There may be some sliding of rules here and there, but no true breaches of duty or crimes committed.  They were, for the most part, good men.  It was as good men they walked up to the door and knocked.  It was as good men that they explained the charges of seduction and sorcery to her father, and it was as good men that they kept her father from beating her too much in his rage.  They led the now bloody girl away from the door of her family and they couldn’t help but feel a bit sorry for this young thing, hurt and frightened and crying beside them.  Did she seduce the duke?  Did she bewitch him and then curse him?  If someone as great as the Duke said so, then it must be so, even if she did look like a harmless little thing.  But perhaps not.  They were fair men and responsible to their duties.  They would interrogate and test her to be certain.

The girl broke easily, with barely a touch of the tools and the fire.  She confessed to every misdeed and a few more misdeeds no one had known of until then, and the constable and the judge were amazed that such wickedness could have sprung up from their own town.  They were good men.  They hated the wicked and to protect their own homes, their families, their friends, the judgement was passed and the girl would burn.

The good people of the town were horrified at the evil that had been among them.  Every girl who had been her friend now denied ever liking her and every boy who had ever admired her now believed himself the victim of a spell.  Even the words of the men who had cut down the trees and the women who had eaten the peaches were not enough to save her and only created scorn and slander and hatred for themselves.  One woman woke to find her chickens beheaded on her stoop and one man was pelted with eggs by children, because no one likes those who defend the evil.  Those voices must be stopped.

The day of the burning came and all the town came to see the temptress get her justice.  Her mother wept, but her father glared at her with all the hatred in his eyes, because he had to, because the rest of his family was now vulnerable and he must be strong and hate his daughter in order to protect them, his wife and the other children.  He glared, and if the hatred was only in his eyes and not rooted in his heart, who, if they knew, would blame him?  Except the duke.  Except the town.  Because anyone who did not hate evil must also be evil.  So her father hated his daughter and no more ill came to the family.  Her sisters married well and her brothers grew old tending the peach trees, though stories still cling to the family like ragged flesh left on a peach pit of the temptress in their lineage.

All were in the town square, gathered around the wood pile and the stake.  The duke was there, gaunt and haggard.  To survive he had learned to eat rotten fruit, to chew through sickly sweet and maggots and worms and to swallow, though each meal made him ill.  In the castle the cook was fired and everyone now ate gruel since there was no need for fine dinners that the duke could not taste.

The constable led the shaking and dirty girl to the stake.  He had to carry her the last of the way.  Pronouncements were made and she was asked if she had any last words.  And though all she could do was whimper, in her mind she recalled the words she had said when she had planted the peaches, “These are the fruits of my labor, may all the little peaches see, that I can still be happy and they cannot trample me.”  It seemed a silly thing for her to think of then, when she was not happy and quite trampled, but then it was a silly thing when she had said then, when she was neither happy nor untrampled.  It was her one way of defiance, even if only she knew of it.

There was a suitable pause for the girl to speak, but she only sobbed, and so the constable lowered his torch to the wood.  First there was smoke as the wood heated, and then there was the crackle of newly born flame among the pyre.

Then something odd happened.  A stick lit on fire.  It had been on of the sticks from the peach trees, cut down and dismembered by the men and the villagers.  Out of the new flame jumped a child, and then another, and another, and another, and another.  Five little children with cheeks as pink as peaches and tummies fat and round.  They danced and clapped and sang:

Oh our father is the duke,
as anyone can see
Our mother she sells peaches
that grow off of a tree.
Our father met our mother
and though he did not know her name,
He led her behind the peaches cart
and plucked her just the same.
Now take up harp and timbrel,
Now take up flute and lute,
and hear how our father
Tasted his own fruits.
Oh, they were soft and sour
Oh, they were sick and sweet
Now he sits in his tower
and cannot eat his meat.
Our mother she was taken
and given all the blame,
Tortured and forgotten
and put to fire and flame.
But we are smart young peaches
and we know our mother’s name
We stole her from the burning pyre
and gave the town her shame.

The children ran off giggling and skipping.  Some of the town’s children ran after them as did some of the adults, but none were able to catch them and no one knew where they went.  It was a large crowd, as burnings tend to attract, and some of the people saw the children, some only caught glimpses, some heard the song and others smelt the burning of the peach wood.  Some saw and heard nothing at all, distracted by gossip and intense discussions of their neighbor’s noisy goose and the virtues of their new cart.  They looked up at the reaction of the crowd and someone near them told them what had happened.  They were sorry and angry they missed the excitement, and when they told their children and grandchildren of that day, they always said they’d seen it all.

Slowly, one by one, the townsfolk stopped looking after the running children and turned back to the pyre, expecting at any second now for the screaming to start and the smell of meat and hair.  But there was only the crackle and pop of sap and only the smell of ash and wood.  The stake was empty and, but for that stabbing into the sky, the fire could have been any simple bonfire, such as the ones they built for spring and fall and midsummer.

The girl was gone.  Some saw this as proof of her sorcery and were angry.  Others were disappointed at the lack of spectacle.  Some, including her father who had smelled the burning of the peach wood, were relieved.  (We do not know what her mother felt.)  And a few, a very few, knew that the gift given was not just the rescue of the girl, but the rescue of the town.  These villagers collected the ashes of the pyre to keep in special places, on mantles and curio shelves.  These people and their families were known to be humble and kind, even to those others would condemn.  They found the good in all who meet them, and told the stories that have been passed down, imperfect as they are.

But what happened to the girl?  How did she get away?  Did she find a happy place to heal where no one was trampled or plucked or forgotten?  Did she come back to town and serve retribution on the Duke and the townsfolk for what they had done?  Did she ever have a purpose beyond being the victim in this story?

Of course she did.  But no one thought to ask until it was too late and she was gone.  It took a decade or more before someone even thought of it.  The ones who tell the stories like to dream she had a happy life—sometimes with the animals and creature of the woods, sometimes living with the fairies and enjoying their revels.  Sometimes they dream she found another town, one better than their own.  Some people have a shrine to her and say she is a goddess of women and fruit, and perhaps this one is the most true of all. Others try to forget the story exists, or are cynical and tired of hearing it.  Many don’t believe it really happened.

You may be disappointed in this story because all the wrongs are not righted and all the heroes do not win.  The Duke was never punished by the people nor did Peaches return triumphant and vindicated for all to see.  But this is not a story of fairness or rightness or justice.  Some peaches are dry and some are juicy, according to their own will, even as we pluck them and complain that one is dry and delight that one is juicy.  This story is not for you.  This story is for the peaches.  This story is not a fruit.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Peaches-- Part 2

Part 1

The men heard this rhyme and understood and each vowed that he would leave the kingdom before he ever again bowed to the duke.  They left the trees as they had fallen, whole and green, unwilling to take part in dismemberment of those perfect trees.  They picked up their bundles, and walked away towards home and the villagers instead came along and chopped the trees into sticks to burn in their stoves.

The men gave the peaches away, to mothers and daughters and sisters and lovers.  To their wives and the wives of friends.  They left none for themselves, but to a man gave away all the peaches.  Only one ever had a bite, when his wife, smiling and with juice running down her chin held it out for him to share, and with that taste he saw her dreams and wishes and hopes and desires, the essence of her and thought, “Why, she’s just like me?”  It was a surprise, and one he never forgot.  Years later their love would be legend, as a tale of romance and requitement, of long standing joy and respect, and of adventure as they crossed many hardships to be together after the wars came.  They are their own story.

But even the men who did not taste the peaches were forever changed.  You would know their names if I told you, because they are famous and their successes are often told.  One travelled with the Princess Henrietta when she led the raid and slew the monsters in the caverns.  She knighted him for his bravery and boldness in battle and gave him her dagger, which has been passed down to the first born of his descendents for these hundreds of years and now resides with his great-great-great-great-great grandson, who will soon give it to his firstborn, a daughter.  Another is the poet who wrote of buttercups and water lilies and whose poems of love and loss you recite to yourself whenever your heart is broken.  A third became a judge known for being fair.  In his time, no witches were burned.  A fourth became a doctor,  who was known to be as safe and adept as a midwife at birthing babies.

The women who ate the peaches, you know of them too.  Princess Henrietta was one.  Juliana the Just was another.  Maxine the builder whose bridges still stand, and of course, Pauline the painter whose frescoes are the pride of the nation.  Others did not become famous or renowned, but all led cheerful and lucky lives into their old age, matriarchs, whose families who truly mourned them when they died.  They were the peach girls, and their smallest deeds are still felt in each and every breath in this city.

But at that time this was still a town, surrounded by farm land and orchards.  The men went their ways and told no one of the children and the rhyme.

That evening the duke sat down to dinner, racks of lamb and roasted potatoes and raspberry tart for dessert.  He lifted his spoon over the first course, a leek and cream soup that was the specialty of the cook, dipped it into his bowl, brought it to his mouth, and then gagged.  He spit and out came a bite of rotten peach with a white worm ducking out of the light and back into its hole.  He raged and demanded to know what the meaning of it was.  But no one knew.  The cook begged his sir’s pardon, but he had put no peaches into the evening dinner.  None at all.

The duke, not very mollified, but hungry enough to go on with his dinner, cut himself a piece of lamb, brown and red with blood puddling beneath the meat.  He brought a bite to his mouth, smelling the char and the spices.  Then he gagged on rotten peach.  This time he did not call for the cook, nor yell at the staff.  He knew it was that temptress who sold fruit at the side of the road.  The one who had seduced him, lowering her head and curtseying day after day as he passed.  She looked demure to all, but he knew better, she was a sorceress and a seductress and she had reeled him in to curse him.

The duke threw his napkin down and left the table, with servants and family members trailing behind him in shock and fear for what he might do if they caught his glance now, in an angry mood.  He called for his man again but his man did not come.  He had left with the workers at the trees, and though he had too much pride to remove his shirt as the men had, he still carried peaches in his pockets and never saw the duke again.  The duke had to find someone else to give orders to, but this was easily done.  He gave orders to find the girl and arrest her for being a temptress and a witch.

What of Peaches, the girl who sold fruit and planted the trees?  Where was she in all of this?  What was she thinking and how was she healing after having been used and discarded?  No one knows.  Like her name, there is no record of her thoughts or doings or if she ate peas and drank punch.  Her story is forgotten, if anyone ever knew it in the first place.  No one asked or wondered.  She has served her purpose and now the only concern is how justice gets served and for that this girl with no name need hardly be there at all.  We shall assume that she washed herself as soon as she could, tried to not wake anyone up as she cried at night, and kept silent.  If she thought or did anything more than curtsey as the duke rode by on those days, we do not know it.  She has her purpose in the story, just as she had her purpose for the duke.  So we’ll leave her to her silence and punch and peas, not knowing that the duke had called for her arrest, the judge has been routed from his dinner table and the constable is coming with chains and iron.

Part 3

Friday, February 24, 2017

Peaches-- Part 1

Her name is not known in our history. We only know her as Peaches because she sold peaches at a roadside stand. It was ere the great duke found her. According to legend she was extraordinary, at least not in beauty. She was fair and plump. Her eyes a bit too wide set and her mouth a bit too small. There were at least three other girls in town with better teeth and brighter eyes. But these girls were not left alone on the roadside selling peaches as the duke cantered past each day. And so he desired her, probably not for her great beauty but because she was there and demure and shy as a common girl, a common girl who sold peaches, and had his thrusting and grunting way with ther. When he had finished and jumped back on his stallion, he flipped a few coins on the ground for the pleasure, raised his hat to her, and trotted off.

So there is no surprise that one bright day he got off of his stallion, pulled her behind her cart of peaches, and had his thrusting and grunting way with her.  When he had finished and jumped back on his stallion, he flipped a few coins on the ground for the pleasure, raised his hat to her, and trotted off.

She was undone.  She felt sore and damp and there was such a hurting in her chest from tears that were now stuck there and fear that had dried inside of her instead of on her cheeks.  She looked at the coins and they worried her.  When she came back home with her unsold peaches and her father took accounting of the money and the peaches sold he would ask her, where did these coins come from, and she would have no answer because the truth would make her father angry with her.

And so, she counted out the money and counted out the peaches it would buy.  She carried those peaches in her apron, held like a cradle with five fuzzy little heads.  She dug a hole for each little peach all in a row by the road and into each hole she dropped a fruit.

That night her father counted the money and the peaches and all matched and was well and she sighed in relief that no one noticed the lump of tears that was now on her chest or the salty fear that was on her skin.

The next day she went to the roadside to sell her wares and the duke had his stallion saddled to go for a ride.  As he passed her on the road he tipped his hat to her for the pleasure and rode on.  But there was something odd.  Five little saplings, tall and thin, were by the side of the road, all in a row.  They weren’t there yesterday, but they were there today, and everyone knows that saplings don’t just appear, they grow.  But perhaps he just hadn’t noticed them before.

She dropped a curtsy as he rode past and dropped her eyes to the ground, unable to look at him.  She kept her eyes closed until she couldn’t hear the sound of his horse’s hooves anymore and then she opened her eyes and saw five little saplings standing where yesterday she had buried the peaches.  She saw them and understood, and so she got a bucket and went to the river and she watered and tended the trees, pulling grass and giving them room to grow.

The sun set and the sun rose and once again she went to the roadside with her fruits and once again the duke cantered past, but he did not tip his hat to the girl.  He didn’t even see her or her cart because the five little saplings were now five bright young trees with leaves so green they made his eyes hurt, and hard green fruits that hung, not ready to be picked yet, but promising later days that would be full of delicious flesh to bite and juice to suck.  But for the duke the promise of later fruit was not an attraction.  He was afraid of the young trees and their hard fruit and his horse slowed as he passed the trees, keeping quiet as if they were riding through a graveyard, trying not to wake the ghosts.  She saw his fright and understood and again she tended the trees and gave them water.

The next day it all happened again, the peaches, the roadside stand, the stallion and the saddle.  But this time he did not ride past her nor did he tip his hat.  Instead he stopped and stared at five full grown peach trees with ripened fruit hanging off of each branch, each peach large and a perfect shade of sunset gold.  And though the leaves were green, the same as any other tree, and the bark was brown, the same as any other tree, and the fruit was tempting, same as any other tree, the duke was afraid of the trees and could not ride past them.  He could not bring himself to spur his stallion forward, but turned him and galloped off, back to his castle, where he jumped out of the saddle before the horse had stopped and called for his man.

Cut the trees down! he ordered.  His man bowed and said he would gather some men to go out in the morning.  But the morning wasn’t soon enough for the duke.  The trees must be chopped down now.  The duke’s man bowed again and set off to collect men and axes.

When the men reached the trees the sun was setting behind them and cast the men in a deep green light.  It was beautiful and the men wondered why the duke would want these trees cut down.  It seemed a shame to do it, seeing them filled with fruit and greenery.  But one did not defy the duke and so they lifted their axes and brought them down into those trees.  But it seemed a shame to let such perfect fruit go to waste.  And so the men left their axes to pick the ripe peaches, but not one of them took a bite.  Instead they took off their shirts and laid the peaches carefully bundled in the cloth, far from where the trees would come down, as if trying to keep each small load of peaches as safe and warm as a child. Only when each peach from the trees was safe and sound did they pick up their axes and begin to heave.  

As each tree shuddered under the blows the men cried tears they could not understand, some ashamed and hiding the grief and others openly weeping as one by one, each tree came down.  The men stood by and wept and wailed as if each had killed his own children.

Then, something extraordinary happened.  Out of each stump sprang a fat little child with cheeks as pink as peaches and tummies fat and round.  They giggled and clapped and raced around the weeping men singing:

Oh our father is the duke,
as anyone can see
Our mother she sells peaches
that grow off of a tree.
Our father met our mother
and though he did not know her name,
He led her behind the peaches cart
and plucked her all the same.
Now we are bright new peaches
But our father, for his shame,
Tried to chop us into firewood,
And take away our claim.
But we are smart young peaches
We hid among the roots
And now the duke our father
Must taste of his own fruits.

Then the children ran off before anyone could catch them, though in truth, not one of them tried they were so astounded.

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Girl With the Tooth in Her Head

It sounds nearly like the name of a thriller novel. Gone Girl, Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Girl With a Tooth in Her Head.  By which I mean she has a perfectly formed adult tooth, roots and all, right in the middle of her brain.  Like all of these sorts of magical creatures, you will meet her late at night and when you are alone.  She seems to prefer parking ramp elevators, especially if it is near a dentist's office.  Another reason to fear the dentist.

She is a little girl in a frilly dress and pigtails and she will open up the top of her head and show you the tooth.  If you react in horror she will jump on you and pull out all your teeth and eat them.  If you stay still she will pluck the tooth out and hand it to you.  Again, to recoil leads to forcible removal of teeth.  Whatever you do, don't freak out.

If you simply take the tooth she will snatch it back and all your teeth will rot and fall out of your head within 3 days.  What you need to do is offer her something in return.  Even if it is just the tiniest bit of yourself.  Then she will take the part of you and let you have the bloody tooth.  When you look for it in the morning it will have changed into a $50 bill.

I know all of this because I met her one night.  I gave her a bit of my skin peeled from a callus on my hand.  Though this seemed the best possible answer at the time, now that I think of it, a magical being now has my skin.  But I'm sure nothing will happen..... Right....?

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Demon and the Bookstore

Part 1, The Demon's Tales
Part 2, The First Sinner's Story
Part 3, The Second Sinner's Story Prologue
Part 4, The Second Sinner's Story
Part 5, The Last Sinner's Story

As much as she loved all of these stories, she was haunted by the lack of more stories in Hell.  Consumed by the reports of books and movies and plays on earth.  So many stories that one could spend a lifetime reading and watching and still not know them all.  The Demon had long ago exhausted all the stories in Hell and they only trickled in as fewer and fewer people read books.

Now, there are demons who stay in Hell to watch over the sinners, and those who leave Hell periodically to tempt people and create new sinners.  Or just to create havoc.  Depends on the demon’s personality.  One of these was a friend of our Demon— at least as much as demons have friends— which they don’t.  She begged him before his trips to bring back books.  Any books he could find.  After all, it’s not like demons pay for things.

Her friend never did.  Just as demons don’t have friends in our sense of the word, they don’t bring back gifts when they travel as we do.  Actually, they don’t give gifts at all since one of the things that makes a demon is supreme selfishness.  He thought the request was rather odd and a bit perverse.  So through the centuries, hearing more and more of the piles of stories on earth, (And then came movies!  And video games!!  Every day there were more and more stories.) she became more and more determined to escape Hell, reach earth, and read every book and watch every play and movie she could find.  To master video games.  To immerse herself in fiction of every sort and kind.

But escaping Hell is no easy feat, even for a demon.  She had a job to do that she must report to everyday.  She had responsibilities.  Not to mention the many safeguards put in to keep people in.  Without which there would be thousands of escapes every day.  They’d learned that within the first few souls that had come to Hell and two of those were still missing to this day.

She was patient.  For 2 centuries she prepared.  She knew she would need things to take with her.  Music to soothe the murderous beast at the gate.  A coin for the ferryman to be taken across the river.  Other tolls and bribes to be paid in one sort or another.  For 2 centuries she did favors, took on extra shifts, did various dirty work, and collected items.  A flute, a violin, a lyre, none of which she could play, since there is no beautiful music in Hell.  A coin.  Various other troublesome gifts.  Until finally she had everything she needed and set out on her adventure to escape Hell.

It was some adventure and several times she nearly didn’t make it.  Her music, no matter the instrument, only served to rile the beast, not soothe it to sleep.  The ferryman declared her coin no good.  Another demon she had paid beforehand decided he should up the price.  And finally, alarms went off and she had to run for her life or risk getting caught and being punished.  Chained and tortured as one who sins against good.  She would risk becoming human.

At the last moment, near her escape, they did turn her human.  But against all odds she still escaped and being human went from curse to blessing.  As a demon they could track her.  As a human, they could not find her unless she sinned.  And being so familiar with what those infractions were, she lead a blameless life.

The next problem was learning to survive on earth.  She’d never eaten something before.  She’d never slept or dreamed.  At first dreaming frightened her.  She woke up in cold sweats, dreaming she was back in Hell and trying to escape.  She woke up and after calming down she realized what she’d done and started to laugh, which greatly disturbed the other inhabitants of the homeless shelter she was sleeping at.  But she was so delighted.  Her own mind had begun to create stories.  She never knew that could happen.  It was wonderful and she meant that in the original sense of the word, in that it filled her with wonder.  It seemed all creatures on earth spent some time asleep, and all of them created stories, down to the last lark and katydid, they dreamed.

Now on earth she understood how so many humans wound up in Hell.  There were the greedy, the selfish, the liars, and the hypocrites. Those who did not help their fellow humans.  Those who ignored the cries of the oppressed, or worse, were the oppressors.  She did not try to save them.  To attempt it would alert Hell to her.  It was dangerous to be either too bad or too good.  She simply lived quietly and did what she could to help others, even if it meant a little less reading time.

In the end she found a job in a small bookshop that sold both new and used books.  It was in a tourist town and during the summers they were busy and during the winters she had unlimited time to read.  She went to the movies every week or sometimes more.  She bought season passes to the local theaters.  She bought a computer and all the consoles and played through the story mode of video games.  She learned that it was true, there were more stories than any one human could read or watch or learn in a lifetime.  Lifetimes were also a new concept for her.  The idea that eventually she would die and the stories would go on without her.  It made her read and watch and play as much as she could.  Time was short.

I won’t tell you where she is.  It may put her in danger.  But I will tell you that there are a few signs by which you can recognize her if you look.  She is more hairy than you will be comfortable with.  Her eyes are a bit more black than you’ve ever seen in a real person before.  The irises a little larger than normal eyes, just enough to make you shiver, not enough for you to realize why.  You will fear her for no reason you can think of at all.  You don’t need to.  In truth she is better than you because she has been so much worse than you will ever be.  It’s a strange sort of logic.  She will not harm you.  She will not lead you astray.  She has only come for the world’s books.  She has no need for you.

Friday, February 3, 2017

The Last Sinner's Story

Part 1, The Demon's Tales
Part 2, The First Sinner's Story
Part 3, The Second Sinner's Story Prologue
Part 4, The Second Sinner's Story

The Demon had a favorite story of all.  Like a child who wants the same book read to her over and over again, she loved this story and asked for it on her worst days—which there are a lot of in Hell.  It was told by an old man who had been there for 400 years.  Or was it 500?  Both the man and the demon had lost count.

He had lived during the height of the witch trials and had accused many people of being in league with the Devil.  (Oh, if only he’d known what that truly was when he had been alive!)  He had been to hangings and burnings.  He’d felt the glow of heat from the flames and heard the sobs and screams of the condemned and he’d felt righteous and good.  (Oh, if only he’d known what was good and evil!)

He’d spent the first 2 centuries in Hell arguing that he should not be there.  He’d been good.  He’d been rightous.  He had only done what he thought was right in God’s eyes. He had rid the world of Satan’s workers.  He had carefully kept himself from sin.  He was a servant of the church!  He did not belong in Hell.  But he’d long ago accepted his fate as fair and just.
The story he told was one he’d heard in life.  It was told from town to town and place to place about a witch hunter who, unlike him, had repented and been saved from the fires of Hell because of the work of a demon.

It had happened in Europe in a town that had nearly killed every woman and were still condemning more.  The smell of woodsmoke and charred flesh was so thick in remained in the town square even after the fires had burnt out and the coals had gone cold.  It happened at one particular burning as the innocent woman had stopped screaming and succumbed to death, that out of her body stepped a demon.  The crowd gasped in horror and fear and pleasure that there was now such proof that the woman had indeed been possessed and deserved to die.  After all, a demon had come out of her dying body.  And it was clear it was a demon.

It had glowing eyes like the coals.  Cloven hooves instead of feet.  It had curling horns on the side of its head.  It’s skin was charred and cracked and in the cracks they could see the glowing coals of hell, as if it was itself a piece of wood burned and nearly turned to charcoal.  They would have thought it was the Devil himself except that it was so obviously a woman.

It had no clothing on and its breasts were large and swayed as she moved, stepping carefully among the coals and wood as she climbed down the pyre and came into the crowd.  They all stepped back, fearful of being near her, but also too curious to run.  This demon could do nothing to them.  They were the righteous.  And none was more righteous than the man of God, chief torturer and accuser of the devil.  He stepped in to banish the demon, raising his cross and demanding the demon return to Hell whence it came.

The demon did not return to Hell.  She didn’t hiss or recoil at the sight of the cross.  What she did was laugh.  She laughed and continued to walk towards the man.  Again he shouted, “In the name of God, I demand you go back to the fires of Hell!  In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord I demand you begone you servant of Satan!  Begone and bother these good folk no more!”

But this had no more effect than it had before.  She spoke and her voice was beautiful and smooth, almost the voice of an angel, it seemed perverse for such a voice to come from such a creature.  But then again, Lucifer had been beautiful once.

He held his ground as she neared him.  As she reached out her hand and took the crucifix from him.  She tossed it into the fire.  “I am a servant of Satan, it is true.  But I could not do so good a work for him as you.”

The man of God had no brave words for her now.  He froze in fear as she lifted his chin with one sharp, black fingernail.  “You send so many to Hell.”

And through his overwhelming fear at the nearness of the demon his heart soared.  It was proof he was righteous.  It was proof he was doing God’s work when he did it so well the demons came themselves to stop him.  “I do God’s work,” he spat out at her.  “The proof is that you are here, demon.”  His courage bolstered he again shouted, louder than before, “Back, demon!  Leave these people and this place and go back to Hell!  In the name of Jesus Christ I command you!”

The demon did remove her talon from under his chin and took a step back.  She cocked her head in curiosity.  “I had left these people.  They were under the Lord’s protection until you came.  You led them astray.”

And with those words the man faltered for the first time.  “I cleansed the wicked from this town.”

“You killed the innocent,” she said.  “How many innocent in this town alone?  How many in the last one?  You’ve murdered hundreds.  You caused good people to turn against their neighbors.”  She turned to the crowd and pointed at the richest and most respected man in town.  “You knew G____ was not in league with the Devil.  You wanted his land.”

She pointed to another respectable woman and her teenage daughter.  “You never saw a witches’ sabbath.  You wanted attention.”

She pointed to a child and knelt down beside him.  She spoke quietly, gently, as if she were instead an angel offering forgiveness rather than a demon condemning him.  She held out her hand, palm up and said, “Give me the button.  The button you stole that condemned Mistress V____.”  The child hiccuped a sob and dug in his pocket.  He gently laid a gold button in the demon’s hand.  It seemed to glow in her charred hand, lit by the red coals under her skin so the simple button looked as if it had been forged in Hell.  She closed her fingers around it and held the fist to her mouth, as if she had just received a treasured item.  Then she laid her other hand on the boy’s shoulder and quietly said, “Thank you.”

She stood again and turned to the witchfinder.  “You condemned innocents to die and condemned villages to burn for all eternity.”  She stomped her foot with the word, you, moving closer to him.  “You spread your evil even down to the children.”  Again she emphasized the word ‘you’ with a stomp that seemed to shake the ground beneath them.  From her foot the very land cracked and the fires of hell glowed through them.  The screams of the sinners echoed quietly as if from far away.

She walked over to the witchfinder and with every step more glowing cracks opened at her feet. “They bore false witness, coveted their neighbor’s goods, stole, and finally cheered and murdered right there with you.  You persecuted others for righteousness sake and gave a few the kingdom of heaven, even as you condemned entire towns to Hell.  You know nothing of the God you claim to follow.  You are my greatest servant.”  And though she whispered her last words in his ear, it could be heard by the entire crowd.

The man trembled, finally convinced.  He knew it was true.  Every bit of it was true.  He fell to his knees and grabbed at the demon’s legs like a begging child refusing to let go of his mother.  “Forgive me!  Forgive me!”

The demon laid her hand on his head, as gentle as a mother comforting a child.  As gentle as an angel bestowing grace.  “It’s not me who matters,” she said.  “Do not ask this of me.  You must ask this of God.”

And with those words she seemed to slowly fade until he was left holding onto nothing.
For the next few days he had to run for his life as the angry townspeople chased him.  He escaped and in the next few week wandered aimlessly, alternately crying and praying for forgiveness.  Within a few years he had left the church and settled in a city using a different name.  Under his own name he published tracts and treatises proclaiming the uselessness and folly of the witchhunts.  His words were joined with the words of others and put an end to the terror and madness almost entirely.

In the final 30 years of his life he committed himself to justice and peace, offering solace to the criminals and fighting for mercy and release.  He protected innocents and preached forgiveness for the guilty.  He did not attend a church, but instead prayed every day for forgiveness.

At the end of those 30 years the former witchhunter died.  As he drew his last breath he prayed his last prayer and closed his eyes.  His spirit left his body and he saw a face.  A face he recognized.  It was the face of the demon, though it was no longer charred or cut through with glowing fissures.  Instead it seemed to glow with a fabulous light.  Her skin was whole and clear and she had six pairs of softly feathered wings.

In spite of this change he knew her for who she was.  The demon who had come to him that night with the smell of burning wood and flesh.  The demon who had told him his entire purpose in life was a lie.  And in spite of all his repentance and prayer, she was here for him.  It had not been enough.  He was not surprised.  He had always felt there was not enough prayer in a lifetime to forgive the sins he had done.  The lives he had taken.  The souls he had condemned, however righteous he had felt at the time.  Ever since that night he had always known he was condemned to hell.

In resignation he took her hand and accepted his fate.  He bowed his head and closed his eyes.

When he opened his eyes again he found himself walking on the softest of clouds in front of a shining gate.  He could hear angels singing and smell the fresh air of an eternal spring day.
“I don’t understand,” he said.

The shining demon smiled at him and caressed his cheek with her soft hand.  “My child, if I’d come to you as the angel I am and told you what you were doing was evil, you would have believed I was a demon sent to trick you.  But I knew you would believe in a demon and never suspect I was an angel come to trick you.  Now go.  You are loved by God.  You are forgiven.”

This is where the story ended.  The man who told it would always cry as he told the end which pleased the demon.  She didn’t even need to torture him with spikes and pain.  Telling the story was torture enough and so as he told it to her again and again she gave her arms and voice a rest from whipping and beatings and yellings.  She could stop to just listen.  She did not cry at the end as the man did but sighed happily and with a lighter heart, pleased in the knowledge that however bad it was in Hell, it must be worse in Heaven when even the angels want to be demons.

Part 6, The Demon and the Bookstore

Friday, January 13, 2017

Second Sinner's Story

He made himself lick the blood from his fingers like the vampires on television did.

Part 1, The Demon's Tales
Part 2, The First Sinner's Story
Part 3, The Second Sinner's Story Prologue

This is the story of a vamplet who thought he was badass and what became of him. (Which is nothing good because if it turned out well the demon wouldn't have liked the story.)

Once there was a very spoiled boy.  He was a prince, or at least as close as one gets to a prince in modern America.  His parents were famous and he never wanted for anything.  He felt the entire world was there just to do for him.  Once, at hockey practice, he paid a teammate $20 to tie his skates for him since he couldn't be bothered to bend down and do it himself.  For a moment the locker room was quiet as his less fortunate teammates decided if he was or was not joking.  Finally one shrugged and said sure, he'd do it.  The coach found out about it and was furious.  He said that if the prince was too lazy to tie his own skates he was too lazy to play.  He was benched the next game, but only for one period.  After that they were losing and the coach decided he had to put his best player in.  The prince scored a hat trick and they wound up winning by one.  This incident taught the prince two things: first, that there was always someone who would do anything for money, and second, that the rules did not apply to him.

Perhaps he would have been less insufferable if he had any weaknesses, but he did not.  He could always run the fastest, hit the hardest, get all As on his homework, win the lead role in the school play, and play violin like a prodigy, whether or not he practiced.  But for all his gifts and abilities and intelligence and strength, he still wanted more.  Because there were times when he truly had to compete and try to be the best.  It was never against a single other person.  No one person could be as marvelous at everything as he was.  But one would be able to run as fast as him.  Another would be as good at violin.  And last year he had nearly lost the title of Homecoming King to another boy whose only knack was making friend and being handsome.  It had come down to two votes which were the prince's own that he had to sneak into the ballot box later.

What was worse was that his perfection would not always last.  He would not always be the strongest and best looking.  He would get old and his skin would sag and his hair turn gray (he could not fathom that he would go bald), and he would have to work to keep his middle from spreading.  It was a terrible fate and it would not do.  He was more special than anyone and he should always be like that.

One day he was watching television and came across a show about vampires.  The vampires were sexy and faster and stronger than humans.  They did not age or wither.  They did not die.  And on top of this, there was an irresistible charm to them.  It was everything the prince wanted and he set out to find a vampire to turn him.

Everything is possible if one has enough money and the full story of his finding a vampire and being turned into one is boring, so we'll skip that part and go to the night after he became a vampire on his 21st birthday.

The prince, now even stronger and faster and handsomer than before, gloried in his new form.  He tested his now super limits, leaping up to impossible heights and lifting cars with one hand.  He grabbed at pretty women's breasts and asses as he passed them in the streets, secure knowing that even if there was a boyfriend or husband to protect her, he would be no match for the prince.  He felt invincible.

The vampire who had turned him tried to tell him of the rules.  That they are a fragile and dying breed.  That the prince would need to be careful.  At least that was how the vamplet told the story to the demon, who was soft-hearted and preferred when victims deserved their fate.  That happened so rarely in life.

The prince, of course, was not careful.  He broke into an apartment and murdered everyone there: a woman, a man, and their three cherub cheeked children.  He felt no remorse.  Only power.  He reveled in licking the blood, or at least he did the first time.  The first sign that being a vampire was not like the visions in television was the warm, thick feel of blood in his mouth.  It reminded him of the meals they gave his grandmother when she could no longer chew anymore.  Things like meatloaf put through a blender. The first time he drank it he gagged.  Still, he made himself lick it from his fingers like the vampires on television did, just for the feeling of being strong and bad ass.

There was a problem though.  It was one thing to revel in blood and power for effect, but here there was no one to enjoy the effect.  No one watching as he conquered the family and brought them to a gory death.  No one to appreciate him.  He sat the corpses of the family up and pretended they were his audience, but as he had little imagination, this did not work.

The next night he knew better.  He left one alive to watch him kill and eat her family.  Though he wasn't very hungry, so he didn't eat much.  But still, he was a vampire and felt he should kill.  He made the girl smile and clap for him.  She did all this through frightened tears and he enjoyed that he had someone who would do what he wanted and he didn't even need to give her money for it.

That night the other vampires of the city found him to give him a warning.  He had to be careful.  He was bringing too much attention to himself.  The humans will notice and find him.  But of course he did not listen.  It made him moody and cross all the next day.

That night he hunted again, even though he really wasn't hungry now.  The other vampires watched in fear, deciding how and when to kill him before it was too late and the humans noticed and went hunting for all the vampires.  It was too late though.  The humans had noticed and were banding together.

They found the prince first and came during the day, when he was sleeping.  They came with garlic and crosses and stakes made of hawthorne.  They staked him in the heart, which they then ripped out and burned and drank the ashes mixed with bourbon as they toasted each other on their fine kill.  But it wasn't enough.  They knew there were others.  They hunted them all down and killed them, even the ones who hadn't killed in a hundred years.  Because to them all vampires were the same and to be eradicated, not just the stupid and cruel ones.  And this was how the second sinner's story ended.

Part 5, The Last Sinner's Story
Part 6, The Demon and the Bookstore