Archive for the ‘fiction’ Category

The TA

October 12, 2013

“Come in”, I said.

A tall, bulky graduate student came in.

“So you’re my new teaching assistant”, I said, gesturing at him to sit.

He sat, laughing nervously. “So the department tells me.”

“Great. Well, since the department tells me I ought to talk to people, which I myself don’t really see the need for, I’m not here to research people for Pete’s sake… uh, why don’t you hype yourself up a bit?”

“I am the best teaching assistant in the world.”

“Oh.” The thought seemed revoltingly improbable. “Please, prove that.”

“I know everything this course can contain, and twenty percent more.”

“Good.”

“I am resistant to all foul play. I am so hunky” — chunky, I thought — “nobody will start anything with me. I drop into my teaching suggestions of gang affiliations, and good relations with all possible thesis advisors. I speak smoothly and act dashingly, but am impervious to all attempts of sexual seduction.”

I blinked; he explained.

“My wrist is my only lover. I desire no other. Also, I do not form emotional attachments to my students, for I could never love a creature lesser than myself” — not setting the bar very high there, I thought — “and thus if the need arises to silence a troublesome student, I can do it with no hesitation, and I live on the outskirts in a house I own, next to an old graveyard.”

“Wh— where you can…” I hesitated. “Bury the—”

“No no! I am financially stable and in no need of bribes, that is all. And finally, I have no sense of humor.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Is that a good thing?”

“A very good thing. If necessary, I can memorize your jokes and pretend uproarious laughter at them, if necessary.”

Eyeroll. “Not necessary.”

“If the students attempt to escape my inquisition by cracking one, I shall not react to it. Not at all. I will stare, unsmilingly, and persist until my evaluation is complete. If absurdist teaching is required, with its heightened peaks of anxiety-caused concentration, why, I can introduce any statement as if it was a joke and one ought to understand it to laugh at it!”

“I don’t really hold with all this pedagogical stuff…”

“Me neither. I have no pedagogical training.”

“Is that good? I’m told people should… well, not that I have it myself.”

The TA smiled. “What is pedagogy but baggage? Lists of what to do, what to not do? I do not believe limiting myself is the right way. There is no law in the classroom. No routine. No human rights… nothing for the little ones to hide behind when my brilliance flares at them!”

“Right. Right.”

“You are Zeus! I am Heracles! There’s a hydra in the stables!”

“Right.”

“When the clouds of chalk-dust dispel, I will be the only one left standing!”

A cat fantasy

July 30, 2013

Went to John Scalzi’s blog — famous blogger and sci-fi author; bacon hub of the universe — and saw he was looking for a new caretaker for his mother-in-law’s cat.

Said, “Great! Inspiration!”

*

“Look what’s on eBay. ‘JOHN SCALZI (WHATEVER)’S MOTHER IN LAWS CAT!!!’, for sale.”

“That’s strange.”

“I know! Like who would want to—”

“I mean, only 300 bucks? Is it fake?”

“Uh, there’s… there’s a picture of… right, someone holding the cat in one hand and, in the other… ugh, a black-and-white photo, taken with the biggest, blurriest scope the DEA ever had… a picture of Scalzi handing the cat to this creeper, it says it is. So it’s a John Scalzi-handled cat if nothing else.”

“That’s cheap! Let me sign in—”

“Wait. It’s not the whole cat.”

“Wait, what? This better not be what—”

“See? ‘This auction includes a signed print of the confirmation diptych and a tuft of authentic John Scalzi cat fur tied with an authentic wire from John Scalzi’s car.’ And there’s a dozen of these auctions! Poor bald cat.”

“Wait, signed by whom? Scalzi or this creep?”

“I would reckon… oh hey, Twitter. Scalzi is having car problems.”

“Must be those wires.”

“Right.”

The Divinity of Dogs

May 24, 2013

Another book title I saw, and then thought of a different use for.

*

We should have known. It was in the word, even. Not in every language, but then again they don’t speak English in cat-haunted Egypt, or in the land of frogs. But in English, if you spell “dog” backwards you get “god”.

Oliver was a good dog, as we judged him. (Who is man to judge a dog, I know; but this was in a different time.) Ate what we gave him, ate no shoes, chased no cars or cats; did not slobber overmuch; did not cause trouble.

Not until I threw a ball one day, August 16th, 2013, and instead of fetching he levitated six feet off the ground, turned so his belly was towards me and his old-dog eyes looked down at me down his muzzle, calm and full of understanding.

“O— oliver?” I gasped.

“I AM HE”, Oliver said. His voice was all silver ringing bells and ocean waves and blocks of Carrara marble; it’s difficult to describe. He was… imagine a dog with its head out of the window of a moving car. Hair rippling, flews flapping, its expression full of wordless satori.

Now imagine the whole dog flapping and streamlining like that, except there’s no wind, and the wind comes from all directions at once.

Oliver’s eyes were the eyes of no other living thing. They crawled with knowledge no words could contain.

My dog had gone apophatic as fuck.

“You have treated me well”, Oliver thundered; gentle, irresistible, much larger than me. “For that I place my mark on you.”

Golden light came from him, and washed over me.

Then he was gone, upwards, in a silver bolt of light. I could see other such pillars, upwards lightning, in many colors. Red from the direction of the Johnsons’, whose dog Wetnose had been reddish brown. Black from the Svenssons’, whose dog had been Ol’ Dumbface, a black German shepherd.

From the direction of the Brauns’ house — they hadn’t been good to their dog, Fluffy — a voice like an angry god, for that it was: “BAD HUMAN! ROLL OVER! PLAY DEAD! BEG!” — their dog was really rubbing their nose in it.

I wobbled inside, where the sun of my life saw the golden halo around me, and asked: “Darling, did the dog—”

“The dog”, I interrupted, then hesitated. Then said the only words I could, and then dissolved into laughter and tears. “Who’s a god dog? Oliver’s a god dog…”

*

If you ask me, you shouldn’t title a book “The Divinity of Dogs” unless it reifies the title something like this.

The Dog with the Old Soul, take two

May 20, 2013

See the previous post for context: you sees a book title, you gets a idea what it could be but isn’t.

This wouldn’t be a story of “the love, hope and joy animals bring into our lives”.

*

“Ph’nglui mglw’nath Cthulhu right now”, my dog said, its eyes popping, revealing expanding blood-red spirals beyond, crimson searchlights that, in defiance to all dog geometry, yawned wide enough to swallow me whole.

I fell off my chair, backwards, away from the dog.

The dog rose up on its hind-feet, forefeet spread apart like hands. Smoking blood poured out of its mouth, hitting the concrete floor with hisses, eating holes into it; holes up from which shone a flickering yellow light, and echoed an unvarying electric scream.

“The end is nigh”, my dog said, spraying smoking blood all over itself and me as it spoke. The blood burned like acid. It made the dog’s fur wilt and slough off its thin frame; what this revealed was not a dog.

“Ia!” my ex-dog said. “Ia! Nyarlathotep! The end is here!”

The Dog with the Old Soul

May 20, 2013

There’s a book called The Dog with the Old Soul, by Jennifer Basye Sander, subtitled “True stories of the love, hope and joy animals bring to our lives”. It’s also translated into Finnish with the same title, which is why I’ve seen it twice in my generic general store, and both times been struck by the same thought.

Namely, “That book is not in a genre that interests me; but it would be a good name for a book in a genre that does.”

That is, weird.

*

The beagle looked at me, sad in the way that only droopy-eared, long-faced beagles know.

Then it said, “That is how I died.”

I put the rope down and looked at the dog. Then at the rope, the unfinished noose. Then back at the dog.

“I hanged myself in 1294”, the dog said, its mouth hanging open, this hollow, uncanine whisper emanating from its mouth. “Before the mob came for me.”

“Dear God”, I swore, “so I’m not only suicidal, I’m having food poisoning hallucinations too?”

The dog shook its head; its ears flopped heavily from side to side like furry church bells ringing someone’s death. “They used to say I was a demon. It is not better to be bad hamburger, John.”

I sat down, avoiding looking at the dog the best I could. That left the rope, which wasn’t better, and the walls, which weren’t much to look at. The car — the less said about the car, the better. “My dog is possessed?” I wondered aloud.

“No”, the dog said dolefully. “This is just reincarnation. But only the wizards talk. I met a wizard in a pigeon, once.”

My eyes turned at the dog; it was staring at me. I stared at it.

“He had the most terrible headaches.”

I swept fingers through my hair, absently noticing the terrific amounts of sweat there. “I really should call an ambulance right now.”

“Usually”, the dog said, with pity in its eyes, “that’s done after the hanging.”

It lowered its eyes. “Not that it helps any, then.”

There was a knock at the door. “Honey! Five minutes!”

I looked at the dog, not quite finding anything to say.

“Wuff”, the dog said.

“What’re you doing there anyway?” came the voice through the door. “Something wrong with the car?”

The dog stared at me, tongue lolling out, eyes friendly and empty. It panted a bit, then began scratching an ear.

I cleared my throat, raised my voice. “Just playing with the dog, dear! I’m coming!”

I got up, the rope in one hand, went in a careful half-circle around the dog, unravelling the knot, and dropped the now un-noosed line in a bin by the door.

As the door shut after me, I thought I heard a hollow, uncanine whisper: “Not even a thank-you. I don’t know why I bother.”

Not dead

April 22, 2013

Not dead; just lazy and preoccupied.

Partly by thesis twitchiness — it’s in the hands of the people who will say if it is worth sending to the opponent. It should be; all of the four papers are published and thus can’t be transparently shit, and the introductory part is… uh, bland and brief.

Partly I’ve been occupied by teaching; the department thought that my prolapsed schedule could be funded by making me teach: now (for the first time!) this meant actual lecturing and not just TA-work. Lecturing has been fun; I’ve been trying to channel a mixture of Extruded Lecturer Product #3 and George Carlin. (Trying to channel Bill Hicks would not work.) Time — the thirteenth of next month — will show if I’ve managed to make anything stick in the heads of the little ones.

A lot of spit, probably.

Thirdly, my mind’s been partly occupied since January by yet another Erisian holy book. As usually, weird crap is easy; weird crap of quality takes a lot of polishing. At the moment the turd is 691 pages in 6-by-9-inches size, a lot of it recycled from the previous two books, and over a hundred pages is just quotes, one per page. (One might be Sappho, and the next Ernest Kline.)

For a while now I’ve been stuck stealing mythology: rewriting Aesop’s fables and writing a really odd twenty-five-page version of Snow White (representative sentence: “This last cry was because Snow White kicked him in the head, and he himself tumbled into the empty pit.”) and, er, a really horribly id-written version of Little Red Riding Hood with too much blood, gastric juices and general deviancy for me to be blogging it just yet.

Instead, here’s a random imitation of Brothers Grimm. (A problem with this mode of storytelling is that I, as a modern reader, start getting paranoid as I write. Like, “does fairy-queen sound homophobic?”, or “wait, no, ‘she touched the children’ sounds really bad. I wasn’t going for that. I wasn’t! Rats! Hamelin! It’s all ruined now!”)

* * *

The Fairy-Queen and the Woodman’s Children

A brother and a sister, the children of a poor woodman and his wife, were playing in the forest when a fairy-queen approached them. She was the most beautiful thing they had ever seen, and she wasn’t wearing any clothes at all.

“Are you the children of the man who cuts down trees?” she asked, and the children said this was so. “Tell him to cease”, she said, and vanished.

The children were scared, and told their parents nothing.

The next day, as they were playing at the forest’s edge, within sight of their hut (for they were scared), the fairy-queen appeared again, her eyes as pale and cold as her flesh, her lips and nipples red as blood. She again told the children to tell their father to cease the cutting down of trees. She vanished, the children ran inside, and could not tell their parents, for they were overcome by fear and shame.

The next day the children did not leave the hut, but stayed inside as their father went to cut down trees, and their mother went to wash laundry in the river. They kept the door shut, and the windows covered; but as they turned towards the hearth the fairy-queen was standing there, tall, pale and terrible in her beauty.

“You did not tell”, she said.

“Please”, the boy cried, “we were scared!”

“And ashamed!” the girl moaned.

“He would not believe us!” he said.

“It’s our livelihood!” she cried.

“It is more than that”, the fairy-queen said, looming over them, her hair spreading behind her like a great pair of wings. “You did not speak because I put a spell on you, a spell so you could not tell of me to your parents. Do you know why I did this?”

The children only wept.

“Because the trees your father cuts down have no voice either.”

And she touched them both, and they lost their voices.

Then she vanished.

The Boy Who Cried Wolf (Extended Director’s Cut Edition)

February 20, 2013

A boy, a shepherd boy, ran into the village, crying: “A wolf! A wolf is coming!”

The villagers said, “This boy is nuts. This is the eleventh time this week, and each time before there has been no wolf.”

“Seriously, honestly, it’s worse this time!” the boy cried, “A wolf is coming! It ate all my sheep, swallowed all of them whole, and it’s coming to eat all of you!”

“Now this is serious”, the mayor of the village said. “You say all your sheep are gone without a trace?”

“Yes! The wolf picked them up one by one, dropped them into its great cauldron-like maw and swallowed them without any chewing at all!”

“I think”, the mayor said, “And having thought, and conferred with the good men of this village, I believe you took the sheep to the next village over, sold them there, and made up this whole wolf story to cover up your theft of this common animal property.”

“Honestly I did not!” the boy cried — but the constable, who was a big burly man and much quicker than seemed right, caught him by the neck and threw him in a cellar to wait for the law-meet the next Thursday.

That night, then, there rose a great racket from the house next to the mayor’s, which was next to the woods; and the mayor came out in his glorious purple satin nightcap and his white nightrobe and his rabbitskin slippers, and banged on the neighbor’s door, screaming: “For fuck’s sake, keep quiet you howlin’ lunatics, honest people are tryin’ to sleep in here!”

As the racket had already ceased at this point, the mayor felt good about himself and went back to sleep.

When morning came, however, the house was found empty, and none of the people who lived there, or their animals, were ever seen again.

“It must have been robbers, robbers that I scared away”, the mayor said, standing in the empty kitchen.

“But they’ve taken none of the forks and the icons, or any other objects of value”, the much too quick constable said.

“Then they must have been worse”, the mayor said. “Slavers, I reckon; slavers, kidnapping good hardworking people because indolent and bothersome people do not make good slaves.”

The next night, the house on the other side of the mayor’s house erupted in clamor — since this was a small village, on the other side of that house was again the forest.

“Oh dear”, said the mayor, and ran to the constable’s house — but the constable was already out and the noise was waking up the whole village, so the mayor ran back to the house of the noise and banged on the door.

All at once, the noise ceased, except for a quiet thumping, as if of a hand palpitating against the inside of a rough wall-hanging of wolfskin.

“Come out, whoever you are!” the mayor cried, and then, out of courtesy and fear, added, “Or whatever you are!”

Behind him, a mob was forming, with pitchforkses and torches and big staring scared eyes.

“Go in!” the ditch-digger cried.

“Who, me?” the mayor asked.

“Yes, you! You can speak to the taxmen and the knights and the knaves alike; if there is any in this village that can talk to slavers or whatever, it must be you!”

“Oh for fuck’s sake”, the mayor muttered, and slowly pushed the front door open a bit, and slipped inside.

At once something slammed the door shut, and pressed him against it. It breathed heavily and with great smell; it was taller than a man, and bigger than a horse; it was all over covered with wolfskin, and it was giant wolf!

“Hello”, the wolf growled.

“I have come here to speak to the slavers!” the mayor gasped.

“You fool”, the wolf leered, pressing its face against that of the mayor, “There are no slavers. I made that up.”

And, in a movement much too quick for a beast of its size, it contorted its back and rolled its eyes and drew in its hair; and in its place stood the constable, grinning and licking his lips.

Of the family that had lived in the house, or of their animals, there was no sign — save for a weak shaking of the constable’s belt buckle over a big, swollen belly.

“You are a wolf!” the mayor cried.

“You’re nuts”, the wolf-constable leered: “There is no wolf, and I think you’re in league with the slavers who just ran out the back door.”

And the thieving boy and the slaving mayor were both put to death, and the constable found them a grave nobody else could ever find.

The Frog and the Ox (with apologies to Aesop)

February 20, 2013

There was a frog that, hopping along the side of a pasture, hopped above the tall grass and saw an ox in the middle of the pasture.

“Ho!” the frog cried, “What manner of creature are you that you are so humongously large?”

“I am an ox!” the ox bellowed, as oxen do. “I am bigger than you, frog!” — oxen are fond of simple statements — “the head of my see-ox is bigger than you!”

At this, the frog bristled — not literally, for it was not a bristle-toad — and cried: “Why, you boasting animal! I’ll huff and puff and bloat myself to be bigger than you!”

“I wouldn’t like to see that”, the ox lowed. “And I do not think I shall.”

“Galumph”, the frog said, drawing in air; and then it said “Galumph” again and again, swelling like a pale-green balloon.

“Nonsense”, the ox said, shaking its head. “It is not in the nature of things smaller than me to be bigger than me. I may not be a professor in logic, but I know that much for sure.”

“Galumph!” said the frog.

The frog swelled, first to the size of the ox’s head; then to half the size of the ox; then almost to the size of the ox; and the ox watched this with concern.

“You should cease”, it mooed, “or you might burst.”

“Galumph!” said the frog, swelling to just a hair’s breadth of the ox’s size.

“Galumph!” said the ox, hastily gulping in air and pushing its cheeks and fat bellies out.

“Galumph!” — the frog swelled some more.

“Galumph-uh!” the ox gasped, swallowing air and feeling its bellies roil as its cheeks and eyes bulged. “Insolent beast!” it thought — but it had no time to speak, for again the frog went “Galumph!” — and the ox drew in a great breath, `´Galu—”

And then there was a great big wet boom.

“Hiccups!” the frog went, deflating. “Hiccups, hiccups, hiccups!”

And it looked around the pasture everywhere, but of the ox there was no sign nowhere; just a sunburst of blown-down grass where it had stood, a faint smell of methane, and a twinkle in the sky, as if of something big, ox-size, sailing over the sun and the moon.

THE MORAL OF THE STORY. Those that are born big should not think growing up is easy.

The Cat and the Gods (or, one more distorted Aesop)

February 20, 2013

Gods were arguing over whether a living thing could change its nature. Zeus said it was impossible, and the gods agreed this was so; but once Zeus had retired, Aphrodite said she believed improvement, or impoverishment, was possible. As Hermes kept up Zeus’s position, they set up an experiment.

They found a cat in Aeolia, and turned her into a young woman of great beauty and intelligence, and of amnesiac origin, probably due to pirates (she thought) — a fisherman found her on the shore, wet and half-dead and miserable as a drowned cat, and fell in love with her. In a week, their wedding-feast was held.

Now, as Aphrodite watched from the window and Hermes from the crack of the door, a mouse was let into the hall. The couple was behind a long table, smiling, raising their cups; the fisherman’s relations and the local people filled the hall with joyous noise and discordant singing.

Into this, the mouse scurried, from table-leg to table-leg; and the girl’s head turned without her willing it; and a yowl escaped her throat unwilled, in a barely human sound. The hall fell silent; the bride stood up, trembling, stiff, all senses on the mouse — and then she leapt over the table, eyes burning, skirt flaring, and dove on all fours at the gray beast, teeth bare.

The crowd scurried back in confusion and horror as she chased the mouse, palms and knees slipping on the floor, and as a fist came down on the mouse and white teeth tore it apart, splattering a gown with red blood and gray fur.

“Nature wills out”, Hermes said with a laugh, and the two gods departed while behind them the hall exploded with screams of disgust and outrage.

The marriage failed there and then; the fisherman went to the sea and did not return; the bride ran to the hills, and was not seen again; and the locals did not speak of the event, except in hushed voices when no outsider was there to hear.

But it was said that when the moon was full and the sea calm, one could hear a peculiar sound from the hills, as if a cat was crying — which is nonsense for it is not in the nature of cats to cry.

The golden goose (or, further perversions of Aesop)

February 20, 2013

There was a goose, and the goose had an owner. The goose was peculiar, for it laid eggs of pure gold. The said eggs were not good for eating or making more geese; but the owner sold them and grew wealthy with the first egg, rich with the second, and greedy with the third.

He then told himself: “Three golden eggs have come out of my goose. I could wait for more, I could; but people are talking about me and my gold, and I fear I hear mutters under the eaves and see eyes behind the windowpanes; if I do not act quickly, some villain will steal my goose, and it being (except for the golden eggs) in all aspects a perfectly normal goose, it will be beyond my powers to recover it once it has been stolen. Thus I need to extract all of the gold now, before disaster strikes.”

Thus he then chopped off the goose’s head, and slit its belly open — but, much to his shock and dismay, found the goose perfectly ordinary on the inside as well, with no eggs, lumps or even nuggets of gold within.

* * *

There was a goose, and the goose had an owner. The goose was peculiar, for it laid eggs of pure gold. The said eggs were not good for eating or making more geese; but the owner sold them and grew wealthy. This was of little interest to the goose, for the goose was in doldrums and despair: it had no children, for all its eggs were gold through-and-through, and golden eggs do not hatch to piping gooselings, do not give progeny to quacking follow their mother.

And the goose spoke to the owner, saying: “My owner, my lord, my God: I am a freak, a mistake of nature, a miserable thing. Instead of life, I produce hard, cold, dead metal: I am a worthless being. If you can heal me, fix this horrid mistake in me, I would forever obey and worship you; but if that is not within your power or will, at least give me a death, so I may be as dead as these infernal mockeries of new life that I lay.”

And the owner killed the goose, and the goose had peace.