“We are unfashioned creatures, but half made up,
if one wiser, better, dearer than ourselves—
such a friend ought to be—do not lend his aid to
perfectionate our weak and faulty natures.”
The candlelight shadows shivered at the sudden opening of the door behind her.
She caught her breath and readjusted herself—but didn’t get up from the chair. Two heartbeats later, she recognized who it was by the faint smell of rotting flesh beneath the perfume and alcohol and decided to stay still. If he was going to kill her there would be no stopping him, anyway.
Without preamble: “Who is Fritz?” the monstrous visitor demanded.
She had to sigh at that: “Who, indeed?”
The daemon circled into view, towering over her with the grave air of a parent about to tuck their child in for bed. Beneath his overcoat and breaches, he was wrapped from head to toe in soaked bandages of methanol and gin. And where bandages failed, so, too, had his yellow flesh—rather the sinews and blood-soaked innards underneath were quite visible.
But she did not avert her eyes. She did not scream.
“Coming!” The doorbell chimes again, mocking me. Grabbing the half-empty candy bowl, I open the door– “Huh!” I gasp. It is HUGE. Its front paws planted on the porch: two…
He was very nearly already dead when he came to see me. Not at all what I had expected from the High Father: the Great Winged Serpent Who Rules All.
My first glimpse of him was through my specially located peephole. He leaned heavily against his wooden umbrella. He wasn’t dressed in ceremonial garb, rather he wore a light windbreaker and khakis. Picture a Chicano George Burns.
His face was completely hidden behind his own wrinkles. But his smile was patient. It had taken me several minutes to come downstairs in the lift and answer the doorbell in my wheelchair.
I asked who it was as I opened the door. Without a word of greeting, he stabbed at me with an exacto knife– of course he was too weak and only succeeded in falling on me and clumsily knocking us both over, back into my foyer.
As long as anyone remembered, K…(that’s what they called him: “K”– the letter, not the nickname)…K was always counting: One, two, three as he walked. He measured time when his teachers talked, usually thousands, when his friends played tag (Edgar was the best, he always tagged someone before eight)– his first kiss was a one. But later him and Sally kissed all the way to seventeen before his friends caught them behind the school and made fun of them…
K sat in his room one night, long after everyone was asleep, and stared at the Sudoku book on his lap. It was a gift from his parents. His “focused” behavior– no one used the word “obsessive” in their house– was a source of shame for his parents. But they also realized that his genius wasn’t all bad. K got to hear his Dad tell people lots of jokes about visiting Vegas.
K was ashamed of how well he did at number puzzles. But he was proud, too.
He stared at the first puzzle in the book. He saw a grid of eighty-one squares, nine-by-nine– or, if you prefer: a grid of nine 3-by-3 grids. Selected squares had a single number, one through nine, inside them. Most of the squares were blank and you were supposed to fill those in. Each row, each column, and each 3-by-3 box within the overall grid was supposed to contain only one each of the nine digits, one through nine. That was the puzzle.
If the carving wasn’t so fun, I’d skip it all and stay home. The pumpkins make me sweat. I have to surprise ’em, or else they’re hard to carry. #…
“Not in some distant Brave New World, but in the here and now, the government is assembling dossiers on American citizens, and then assigning them each their own Threat Assessment Color — red, yellow or green…”
–Matt Bivens, The Nation Magazine, March 11, 2003
6am XMAS 2045
Nathanial waited all morning for his mother to wake up. Most mornings he fed himself and dressed himself and went out alone to catch the bus; but this morning was different. It was his birthday. And it was Christmas. So he wanted to see if he’d gotten any presents. He could go after lunch and stay at school through 7pm in order to avoid demerits.
He brought his mother some coffee. He liked running the coffee machine. It made him feel older than five. He was always very careful to not put too much water in just like his mother had showed him. He put his winter gloves on so that his hands wouldn’t get burned when he poured and carried the cup.
Setting the cup down on the faux wood nightstand, he then climbed into bed next to her. He burrowed into her long black hair and joined her under the covers.
Each blanket had some holes, but between them all, she was well wrapped. Slipping his hand out from its glove, he reached over and felt the cold skin of her cheek. Even wrapped in blankets, her skin was always cool. She needed him for that. He was her little furnace. That’s what she called him. He loved to snuggle. When she was asleep he remembered every nice thing she had ever said to him.