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"In a Windless Calm"
  Paul Abbamondi
"The Non-Epistemological Universe of Emmaeus Holt"
  Forrest Aguirre
"Lia's Paperhouse"
  Autumn Canter
"Lotophagi"
  Edward Morris
"Wooden Apologies"
  Mari Ness
"Hollow Woman"
  Angie Smibert

"The Lemmings"
  Lee Stern
"Mimes at Dinner"
  Amy Riddle
"My Mannequin"
  William Doreski
"Convention"
  Mark DeCarteret

"Nine Views of Mount Fuji"
  Mike Keith


Lotophagi

by Edward Morris

For Arthur Machen, Karl Edward Wagner, Laird Barron, Tim Pratt and Julia Fair.
Who all know why.

When I wrote the following pages, or most of them, I lived in the woods, twenty miles from the nearest store, seven miles upland from the nearest mailbox, three miles from the nearest land-line telephone.

If you believe the stoners in Washington, there really are trolls in the Seattle steam-tunnels. The Northwest is legendary for the Americanized Yeti of the Sasquatch Nation. The filmic hoax of Bigfoot was no more or less than the Left Coast branch of the Alamagoosalum of New England, mossy scions of the Midwestern Jackalope, kissing cousins of the Texas Chocolocco and Chupacabra, the far-branched family tree limb of the Jersey Devil . . .

And fuck you, too. Cast back my mind and I'm right there, with flowers everywhere, flowers in Pandora's weird honey hair. I'm right there, in the stinky, grubby shades of humanity bickering in tiny close quarters.

Bickering around all the parts of Outside that made it in to our little cultural reservation, in every hut and yurt, every hurt, wrapped in pillowcases and socks, the unnumbered poppets of Maya let loose to lay waste, and eggs, even in the open pavilion of the outdoor kitchen . . .

And what rough imago slouching past your camera turns its head at the flash, while the whales beach, and the seas leach . . .

Pandora was nineteen. Her parents told me she was nineteen. Then they slammed the door in my face. After that, I drove all night to the first strip club I found open at 8:00 a.m., and drank myself into a motel. Later Days, as we used to say at Aeolus Farm. Later Days, and better lays . . .

I went to the woods when I dropped out of college, down that miles-long potholy driveway where, as in the rest of the Willamette Region, enterprising land barons imported half the native flora from other worlds than this . . . I went to the mountains, to the old growth of the Cascade Range. I went to learn their ways.

I went to the woods because I wished to die, to shuck off the last vestiges of civilization long before some stump-jumper found my bones. I went to the woods to abandon my origins and be claimed only by the loving arms of the forest mast, To slough off the life I squandered back in the city.

Back in that one-room palace on Burnside Boulevard, where the outsides of the windows were always black with soot. Back when I was still puzzled, waiting for a future that never happened, shoveling through Augean stables of horseshit just because someone told me there was a pony underneath.

Back in the ten seconds when I tried to begin again, and choked. Back in the darkness before Real Life.

I started looking for a village, remembering stories from a Haitian girl I knew, about the Leaf Doctors who work for the Green Boy, and protect the forest from all harm . . .

I think about Here, and the drowsy, rooty, mossy way any forest calls you to go to sleep in the daytime, find a bed of pine boughs and whatever else is handy and get out of the light, get out of the day, root down into Mother Earth like a cicada, and change . . .

Sometimes, when you go looking for a village, what you find is the Island of the Lotus Eaters, like the one in The Odyssey or The Iliad or whichever the fuck one it was we had to read back at Our Lady. And I . . .

You see how weird I got out there? What it did to me now, when I try to explain what happened? You probably don't. Not yet.

But I'm the only one who made it off that co-op alive.

The last night. The last night I was there.

Comma, damn it.

My new California Grrl (twelve years my junior, with her silver eye shadow and big black spiral earrings and rather athletic ways of nearly killing her old man in bed) wants me to write about the last night at the Aeolus Co-Op Farm.

Sonia doesn't understand. I haven't explained much. Like why I was such a recluse, then, or how seventy people could just disappear and the cops not give a fuck. They were just dirty hippies, I want to tell her. They weren't people. Not to the law.

I remember lying on moldy sleeping bags, on my last night at the co-op. I remember dreaming about the face on the stone that Portland State University dragged out of the Columbia River down at Sauvie Island. That round-eyed, inhuman face, neither condemning nor condoning, natural as a cloud. Impersonal and yet entirely predatory, in the cast of its filed teeth, the jut of its cannibal belly.

I remember seeing the Columbia Stone in the Portland Art Museum years later, and having to go home and take a Xanax. I remember wondering if there was ever human blood spilled across that great stone face.

I remember waking up throwing up. (I haven't been back to the museum. I go to AA instead. It's big down here. It doesn't really help, but it gives me something else to look at . . .)

I want to remember the way it got dark so quickly, even on the edge of Portland, after the November monsoons. We had every dwelling cold-proofed and rain-proofed, an activity that the summer months were for, by mutual consent and to the mutual way of thinking. (That part needed no infighting to accomplish, and fast.)

Every dwelling, too, had its own deadwood or peat fires going in the little scrounged stovepipe flues we had set up one to a room, made from fifty-gallon drums and spare parts. Waking up in the darkness there all those nights, I always felt as though I was eight again, sleeping over at my Gramma's, on the hide-a-bed in the living room by the old wood stove . . .

I remember the way it snowed a good foot or two both years, weird for Oregon even in winter. A.J. made some noises about climate change when he was trying to start up the old Willys Jeep we called Furthur. Furthur's radiator apparently suffered massive reflux at the onset of the first blizzards that fell hard upon the land, and took it by surprise.

I remember that A.J. bought most of the weed I grew. I remember that he was all right. Italian, I think. He talked with an East Coast accent. Never said where he came from. But I remember him. I do . . .

I remember there were flowers everywhere on Aeolus Farm that cold, cold spring the year we incorporated, out at the edge of the Eighty-Second Avenue Miracle Mile toward Boring on the Springwater Electric Railway, out past the Rhodie-Gardens and golf courses, out where Portland starts to become Something Else.

Flowers everywhere, the violet-clad roof down below the tree housing the longhouse structure that Big Scott, our token Polynesian, called the falé, where people slept most of the time. The falé smelled like sex and weed and was generally first-come first . . . whatever you were into, because it had the softest-built beds.

Aeolus was regularly hailed by the armchair anthropologists of the Downtown Weekly papers as an experiment in sustainability, since Deuce Longbow's family bought the land with that purpose and then traipsed away off to Tahiti to die of ingesting some unknown psychedelic, to hear wild-eyed Deuce (or Douche, as some of us came to know the titular oligarch of the collective) tell it.

Douche, of the mad composer hair, and the Gore-Tex clothes he wore until they stunk like rabid, rutting goat, like . . . Mountain Grrl. But I couldn't think about Mountain Grrl. That wasn't always her name, and she didn't always stink.

She used to bathe, like me, and wear weird oils like me, and wash her dreadies a few times a week to keep the bugs out. She was the farm's Chief Engineer, and I was their pet journalist. Everyone dug in their heels when we broke up. No one wanted to leave.

Deuce came down out of his ivory tree-sit tower pretty quick and put a whole new kink in that situation: Him. (The Frankenstein monster of a relationship that resulted when they got together almost put me off women for good, but Moth was no better.)

Deuce, of the big yompin Herman Survivor boots that steamed with pig manure from the two pot-bellied pigs that fertilized the back strawberry patches. (They stank about as much as the composting outhouses, which was barely at all.)

Deuce who kept up the sauna that a long ago "villager" named Jukka had dug into the side of the hill and made of fitted rock, and cob. Deuce, who liked bugs so much he almost socked me for killing a hornet when I was making the earthwork around the picking-garden.

He kept saying this word Ahimsa, Ahimsa. I kicked him in the balls, and down he went. Big Scott had to pull us apart and waddle us down the trail until we decided we were done. It felt like Deuce let him do it. Maybe he did.

Deuce was a touchy one. When I was first initiated onto that land, I saw his hypervigilance as a good thing. Like how he'd always finish people's sentences, and be right.

But after a while, I started to wonder. A lot. After a while, I started to hang wards around my hut, and sleep with a machete I made myself, one that I sharpened on a rock for one and one half weeks. I counted. I waited. I hardly slept. I was getting out.

That machete got me out. I don't like to talk about that. But I remember. Oh, I do.

"Didn't you used to be a Trustafarian?" I remember asking Moth, who was breaking up a big bag of marijuana buds and taking the seeds out before he left my hut with two dozen eggs' worth of ditch-weed. "Didn't you used to go to school? What the fuck are any of us even doing?"

Moodily, I chewed the strip of beef jerky almost forgotten in my right hand, looking at the waterlogged old Samuel R. Delany paperback I wasn't really reading since Moth interrupted me with his knock. Moth made a gesture with one small surgeon's hand that meant he was going to swat me, but he couldn't stop smiling.

I kept looking out the loophole window in the front door, thinking about his willing replacement Pandora, when we made sweet squeaky love in the milk shed and her hot, slithery cunt yanked my cock to shuddering orgasm in sinuous waves, greater and greater each time . . .

What was this? Every time I started thinking about real things, there'd be some intrusion like that . . . I had enough to do out here that I just stopped thinking, for longer and longer periods. But as the Poet said, the hook brought me back.

Like I was starting to know my place in the hunt. Like I was starting to become worthy to hunt, and eat, and feed on the lesser beasts that we could now herd . . .

Oh, my dreams were getting strange, and the thoughts in my own head ran far off course with no brain-mouth clutch in the way, sitting in the Delphic cave of my hut when I wasn't out chopping brush or sowing corn.

". . . You know? Like, how people back in Maya." Moth used words like that like he was reading them from a book he held in his hands, and that irritating little smile never quit flipping up the corners of those big cock-sucking lips. "Civilization never mean it when they say How's It Going. They don't really fucking care. Do you?"

I shrugged. "Like sex and checks and special effects, child, it all depends on position and circumstance."

Moth frowned, his designer eyes that weren't contacts narrowing. "Eww. Meat." He was looking at the strip of beef jerky in my free hand. "You know that stuff rots for four years in your colon?"

I barely looked up. "Seems like you eat meat quite a bit." Moth blushed, and looked hurt. I knew I'd gotten to him. But I was getting really tired of the Come To Jesus meetings. About the only things he was good at were in bed. For some reason. But that, too, got old fast.

"Deuce . . . he told me once that he wanted to start a school for children and just . . . bend them to his will. And that if the aliens took over, he'd sign on with them." Moth's sea-blue eyes seemed to shine with their own light of fear. "And he was totally straight up. I was like 'Oh, haha, Deuce made a funny—'" The smile was instantly gone. "And he's just like, 'No. What you got to say?'"

But Moth left, too. Bound for Parts Unknown, Boring or Forest Grove or homeless on Hawthorne and singing for his supper, or maybe mumbled bones eaten cleaner than wolves could do, clutched by thumbs not quite thumbs . . .

But no one talked about that. At Aeolus we talked, talked, talked everything into the ground, ground, ground, in the weirdest, most stilted vocabulary-by-committee I ever heard. Except things like that. The things that were too terrifying.

It all seems like a dream now. Like someone else's summer job.

All I wanted was a hole in the ground to hide in, and a little time to think. I carved out my tiny chicken-coop of space from a sod hut and a hollow tree behind it, into a cozy outpost of words and images in the forest, drawing on home-stretched vellum and birch bark paper, writing the kind of poems I never thought I could.

Until four members of the co-op (and how that word looks like 'coop' to me even now) disappeared.

Read that again. Disappeared.

They didn't die, leave or get arrested. They just disappeared. Moth, Juice, Goo and Josh. Sounds like a goddamn band. All four of those heads just vanished in the same summer, my second hiding out from everything I was hiding out from, doing everything I was doing, everything I would miss and still miss now . . .

Everyone had a theory. Everyone had a weapon. Everyone had a grudge, a pet beef, a sick hole shining through the set-up . . . which Aeolus was really starting to look like. But the bare fact was that we were being picked off by an unknown factor out in the middle of nowhere, and we couldn't call anyone. No one cared. We'd cut ourselves off from society, and now reaped our cry of Wolf.

There were a lot of malenky homeless tweakers denning in the blackberry brakes and living out of Burleigh trailers and mountain bikes by Johnson's Creek. Often, those wayfarers bashed each other bloody over a teener of meth or a half-rack of Pabst Blue Ribbon. We gave them food when they came by the farm, food and short shrift and very little else.

In pondering the Procrustean bandits of the Springwater Corridor, I feared the worst in my 20/20 rearview. Deuce stalled on getting the cops involved, though we were all residents of the land, and paid taxes from all the enterprises we had out there to keep ourselves from getting Waco'ed. (Hell, we had two sustainability grants from Mayor Adams, and one from the Governor!)

But Deuce kept whining through his black beard about our Rights, how the Cops would Take Away Our Rights, and we have Rights to do Something About It Ourselves, and We're Gonna Post A Watch, and the next night I heard Goo screaming All. Night. Long. Under the ground. All. Night. Long. And no one . . .

People started leaving in droves, and the ones that stayed were the bottom of the barrel. We all kept to ourselves, did what we had to do, bared our fangs and popped our claws. Me the most of all.

No one believed Cassandra, either, when she foretold wars, and rumors of wars. No one believes the cursed prophet who can't keep his nose out of the home brew, or his running mouth from running down everyone, himself the most of all. Blind Tiresias here didn't play well with others, you see. Blind Tiresias came to the land to forget.

I was drunk, and in a blackout for most of the afternoon. I was laid up drunk in my hut. I heard him screaming under the ground. I couldn't sleep, but didn't want to move. It makes me panic, when I get like that, when I drink like that, panic and lock up and I could hear Goo, I could hear him calling out for his Momma and praying to God the Father Son Anna Holy Ghost O My God I Am Heartily Sorry Fa Havin Offended Thee . . .

I tried to tell them, the next day, with predictable results. "Smoke a bowl," AJ told me. "You got the DT's. Take some ibuprofen from the First Aid kit in the falé. Shit, I'll cook youse a steak, if ya hang out for a minute. Yeah, pack that bowl up. And drink some water, like, now . . ."

I stood watch all night long, stoned and hooty owl-eyed, with A.J.'s bolt-action .30-06 laying across my knees. The woods were lovely, dark and deep, and I cursed every ROADWAY NOT IMPROVED sign down the chugging, thundering potholed way there over Foster Road and half the weird little side streets without a name in Multnomah County that shriek in fear at some incorporation date.

AJ took the Jeep into town once a week for provisions to trade weed or salvia or ten other herbs we grew down at the co-ops in Southeast and Sellwood. We had one computer that ran off a solar panel, and a Honda generator for this, that, and the other. With two whole gallons of gas. Go, Us.

I waited for the night to end, and drank coffee from a metal Goodwill percolator on a wood rack across the fire. (Big Scott made that rack. His oddly small hands had the feel for wood.)

Eventually, the sun rose and dispelled the vague, irrelevant mist of fear above the stream that wended through the farm. On the bank of the stream, Mountain Grrl washed clothes on a flat rock and spun rumors out the needle-exchange of her summer wasp mouth and Liza Minelli nose, that Goo had warrants out for his arrest, or he was a sex offender or some dumb damn thing.

(Just FYI, Mountain Grrl was right on half of one count and part of another she didn't know about, but even a busted clock tells the right time twice a day. I never informed her . . . She was the first to leave. She never said goodbye. I'm glad.)

But Mountain Grrl had no corner on anything. Pandora did.

Pandora was a true crone-in-training, and I loved her. She went without a shirt when it was warm, and climbed around in the canopy trying to find the spots with the best echo to play this bamboo flute she had. That night was her six months' anniversary at Aeolus, and she still never ran out of surprises.

Behind us in my hut, the Coleman lantern hissed out its firefly glow on the PGE wire-spool endtable. She brushed a shock of blonde dreadlocks out of her face and whaled out this Ziploc bag of weed that looked like a throw-pillow.

Her cerulean eyes sparkled. I could see a pack of rolling papers stuffed into the top, just beyond the yellow-and-blue-make-green of the seal.

"This is my headies, from before." she told me. "I was saving it." She reached for something in the front pocket of her too-long corduroy overalls. "'Cos this most definitely is a rainy day."

I looked toward the stretched canvas flap of the door. "Should I—" She rapidly shook her head, moving closer to me with her eyes on the seal of the bag.

One soft black anorak-clad shoulder brushed mine. She snagged the papers and peeled off two. "I still owe you, D.K."

I sat down on the mass of sleeping-bags and Army blankets that was the bed, goggling up at the tin ceiling, sealed with cedar pitch boiled from the sap of Large Marge, Moth's waggish name for the thickest tree whose trunk was the right corner of this room.

Pandora was incuriously bending up a massive joint with two of the papers. Eventually, she popped a match on one scrimshaw thumbnail, fired up the fireplace and passed it on down.

We hooked up off-and-on, Pandora and me. Out there, the usual bounds of a relationship were blown wide. We were all friends. She was her own woman. But I noticed every time anyone else got friendlier with her than the huggy sort of group mind would allow, they were gently but emphatically rebuffed. Things happen on their own clock in the woods.

I barely remember what we talked about while we smoked. Before I knew it, we were giving each other shotguns, mouth-to-mouth hits of warm sweet smoke that ended the way a shotgun usually does between a boy and a girl.

I remember she roached the joint with less than a third to go in that round, and pushed me back onto the palette, murmuring: "I'm cold." as she peeled off her anorak and silenced me with another long, wet kiss.

I remember her sucking me off for what seemed like six hours of near-orgasm . . .

Then the air horns were screaming on all sides of us like Hell with the lid off—

(AJ brought them from an RV store when he first joined our little Ewok band, and rigged them to tripwires around the perimeter. If anyone or anything got too close, we'd hear a "WHEEEAAA—" and either go down and shut off the horn, or make ready. One or two of them played a solo sometimes when a varmint or a branch tripped the switch.)

—all screaming at once and we were UP! UP! UP! and charging out into A HIGH, ULULATING WARBLE THAT HOWLED DOWN FROM THE WOODS, LOUDER THAN THE AIR HORNS, and no Person As I Understood the Definition Was Making That Sound, Yet The Throat Was Sentient . . .

We could no longer deny Reality. Reality was colder than the fifth ring of Tibetan Hell. Reality was swirling, smacking branches and mad screams. Reality was dark, hunched shapes clambering and loping all around with glowing clubs and terrible purpose, clubbing villagers like baby seals.

Outside, AJ and Moth were fighting them off with crowbars. Moth had a hatchet, too. He didn't have it long, but he got it back fast right through the back of the neck.

AJ looked like a green ghost in a big Army field jacket with a hood, hanging with rattlesnake rattles and cowrie shells, long black hair in his face, nose sticking out like the cowcatcher of a locomotive. He still held a tallboy of hoarded beer in one hand.

Behind them were scared bangs and thumps from the two nearest huts. Someone threw a firecracker out the window, but its noise was lost in the wind. Green-black shapes clambered along, across, around the trunks, chittering like chimps. They were yanking on everything, trying to pull it all down.

"In the old days, in Africa," I heard Pandora say behind me in a very small voice, "They'd sacrifice one virgin a year to the Monkey God, so that the tree children, the leaf-doctors, would leave them alone for another year. But . . ."

Out in the clearing, AJ whirled right. I bellowed something. A big black claw that looked like a set of mossy lineman's spikes whickered down from an overhanging branch. AJ's tallboy of PBR disappeared. So did his hand at the wrist.

I got in front of Pandora, making myself into a human shield, and gestured for her to stay behind me. She did, but returned too quickly. "God damn it, I—" The spite in her eyes spoke tomes.

I waved her off, pulling the Velcro on my Leatherman and popping the big blade out. I was scared sober. Pandora put one hand on my shoulder. "I am perfectly capable of defending myself, you sexist p—"

My eyes suddenly grew to the size of fear itself. I put a hand over her mouth and gestured at the loop-hole in the door.

One of them was grinning down at us from the overhanging tree just outside. I could smell him. It didn't appear to be a social call.

Pandora reached in one overall pocket for her flute, a pale faery thing, delicate as a collarbone. "Shakespeare, college boy." she whispered. "For music hath charms to soothe the savage beast."

And right there, behind that door, she started in on a tune of her own composition, a thing of bright summer days and the weird butterflies that only live in the canopy, of wild imaginings and nothing in the way.

A lump grew in my throat, but died at the loop-hole . . . Pondering common ancestry and abandoned reactors, breathing through my mouth against the savage terrific stink.

Its face was swollen, toothless, mongoloid. The beard began at the eyes, patchy and straggly over pink, puckered radiation burns whose like I'd only ever seen on my father after weeks of visits to the Oncology lab.

Its hairy body and head were green, wound with symbiant moss. Those horrorshow claws were mirrored where it should have had toes, its legs as thick as young oaks, its eyes . . .

Human. Flatly, undeniably human.

"Where's your co-op?" I whispered to it, feeling insanity lifting me out of myself. The critter remained perfectly still, confused by the sound of the flute, looking like it was trying to remember something.

"How long you guys been out here? Is . . ." I swallowed. "Is anybody expecting you to come home any time soon?" I suddenly felt two inches tall, needing to back up and learn more, try again . . . And I knew that, even though Man's scent was planet-wide, the woods were very dark and deep indeed.

I should never have distracted it.

The next thing I remember after that was coming out of the blackout. Or whatever it was. When I hove out into the clearing, swaying three hundred and sixty degrees as I walked, a scream started trying to come out as I looked around.

There were lights, bobbing up and down, everywhere in the woods. Different fire, like fox-fire, like phosphorous. But phosphorous isn't blue . . .

Fungus-lights, something mucky gobbed on the ends of long clubs. Moth was standing in front of me, leading a line of slumped shadows that walked mostly on all fours. He looked strangely gray. There was dirt and cowshit on his face and hands, like he'd been digging for something. The seat of his Carhartt overalls was bloody.

Toward the back of the line, I saw Deuce, his black eyes hellishly alight, muttering to the shadows in low tones. Deuce, in his old green L.L. Bean coverall, with his wavy hair tied back in a ponytail, barking like the shadows, barking, barking with the shadows, egging them on . . .

Speaking their tongue. Then he looked straight at me, his voice the low, carrying sibilant hiss of a stage magician.

"My family's owned this land for a hundred and seventy-five years," he shrugged. "The Ancestors are like bears. Okay, smarter than the average. You just have to know when to talk to them. And when to feed—"

At that point, the lower half of him walked away from the upper with a splat/flap/SLAP and the thing that had leaned in leaned back up with the side of meat, the haunch, in its claws, and I just disconnected entirely, until—

I came out of it again. "Yeah, just like bears, all right," I agreed. I blinked twice, and found me there on the cold hill's side overlooking the sauna.

Across from me, Josh was running a hand through his graying crewcut. He must have just gotten off late shift down on the water front. He always biked the twenty miles back. Josh was a dock-walloper, and tough. You should have seen him bale hay.

I remember. I do.

"How did I get here," I said to Josh. It wasn't a question. He guffawed, his lined face looking very much like a younger version of the actor William H. Macy. He offered me a hand-blown glass pipe and a black Bic lighter.

"It's Alive," he said in his rolling TV-announcer voice. "What were you drinkin', dude, that apple-jack you were makin'?"

I nodded, having forgotten that everyone at Aeolus knew everything about everyone else, most of the time. Like the exuberant dogs he sometimes owned, Josh plowed on ahead with a big dopey smile, "Was it any good?"

I groaned. "I don't know. Tonight's all a blur. You know, this farm's over a thousand years old? There are parts of it that are really cool. It just needs some love. I heard it used to be a Funhouse. In Dante's time. It . . ."

"How long since you got a good night's sleep?" Josh asked me sagely.

"That's a good question." I had to think on it. "Something usually wakes me up. Either a dream to which I am fleeing, or without strength I come, and need to swim the hell up on out of there no matter what . . ."

I spun one hand, tired and starting to feel it, searching for words. Josh beat me to it. "Where the hell is everybody? I just got back."

I tried to tell him. I did. I can't remember what I said. Josh's eyes just kept getting bigger and bigger.

"We . . . We need to see about this," was all he said. Then he started rolling a cigarette fast.

The fire smelled great. There were coyotes yipping somewhere between Alpine and the horizon. The cowboy moon was a bleached, peeled, pickled skull. "It's like something in the water."

That wasn't exactly what it was like, but I would have said anything to keep talking, at that point. The darkness beyond the lights of the farm looked two-dimensional, flat and featureless as the edge of the Known World in some Arthur C. Clarke nightmare at The End.

Except Clarke had too much hope to imagine the noises I could hear out past the edge of that darkness, too much faith in Evolution over Propitiation . . .

I passed him the pipe. Josh stayed my hand. "Finish that. I'm going to . . . see about this. You're fucked up, man, but . . . I'll be right back. Don't go anywhere."

I waited five hours for Josh to come and reclaim his pipe. I counted the minutes.

I found I could do that, in the dark, huddled around my smoky peat fire and ancient transistor radio spilling out KUFO heavy-metal and gabble into the night.

I had a box of old newspapers, and some Reader's Digest Condensed Books, scraps of notebook paper almost too used to use again. The fire kept going out, every couple of minutes.

I started burning old illusions of the soul, too. Some of them looked like my clothes. Some of them looked like my writings and drawings. Some of those were originals.

Then the lights were everywhere in the woods again. The lights, and the slouching shadows that you could feel staring at you, though they shuffled and brachiated on the other side of that black-gray 2-D void. Their laughter grew louder still, shaking the canopy. Vibrating the forest floor . . .

Overhead, the Western stars were a nightmarish acid trip too vast and inhuman to fathom. Out there on the perimeter, there were too many stars, too many things to be careful of wishing for that might fall on you and knock you flat . . .

In the clearing, the shadows come and go. The First People tie down their wriggling sacrifice, and take their good old time. I see it again. Again. Again. Until the day I die. And then I see it again. It happens again. I dream it Again.

The way I saw them last. Over my shoulder. When I fired the gun empty, threw the machete and ran through the jungle, with a twisted ankle and irretrievable pride, running, running, running like a little bitch. Again. They all do it again.

In the heat of the night, I heard Pandora scream, once. Then there was silence. The kind I didn't like . . .

And when I turned around again, that was the last time I drew breath as anything but a pillar of desiccated salt.

I live on North Hollywood Boulevard now, in LA. It doesn't rain much here, or storm and blow and whack. I have to smoke hash to get to sleep. Sometimes I have to take stronger measures.

But by gods, I have central heating. And no trees anywhere. No places to hide. No . . . got to say it, no loop-holes.

I write hard speculative SF about far-flung worlds millions of years in the future. My books are the size of cinderblocks. Many trees die for me. Hopefully, one of them had the critter in it, the one that was leering at me and Pandora outside my door on the night I lost my mind, and at least one other vital organ.

It growled and puffed up like a baboon when I spoke, swung down on its strong back legs from the tree and punched right through my front door. Pandora was still screaming when he punched out the back wall with her slung over his shoulder.

They picked me up on the street in downtown Portland four days later, babbling. By then, I'd hurt myself quite badly, they said, and would have died.

The Forest Service never found my heart.


I am a 2005 British Science Fiction Association Award nominee and 2009 Rhysling Award nominee who hates talking about himself in the third person. My work has appeared in Murky Depths thrice, Interzone twice, and forty-five other markets in four languages and seven countries. I continue to collaborate with John W. Campbell Award nominee Lou Antonelli on a number of projects, most recently Lou's cameo in my eight-book series There Was A Crooked Man which just hit at Mercury Retrograde Press in Atlanta.