“Apollo and Athena walk into a bar …”
Fendii did his best to belly-up to the bar at Neptune’s Poison, Hell’s premier drinking establishment, but he was very small for a demon, and the massive structure came to a point just below his shoulders. Truth be told, he was only half-demon, on his mother’s side. He was small for a cambion as well.
“What’ll it be, friend?” Neptune stood behind the bar polishing a glass. As usual, he was dressed in a silk shirt and tight leather pants. The paisley shirt hung open, revealing mounds of turquoise chest muscles. The sea god never bothered fastening buttons. He’d opened the bar centuries ago, back when the Old Gods first fled the Mortal Realm. His pecs pumped rhythmically as he ran a towel around the rim of a sparkling glass.
Fendii did his best not to stare. “I’ll have a whiskey. Neat.”
“Tough day in court?”
The tiny demon was flattered that the god remembered who he was and what he did for a living. “Seems like everybody in the office is on vacation. Except for me. It’s made for a very long week.”
“You realize it’s only Wednesday, don’t you?” Neptune was generous with his pour. “I know. How bout a joke? I’ve got a good one. Apollo and Athena walk into a bar …”
For Kisses Play’d
T. Lee Harris
Although the October evening was cool, the French doors along the outer wall of the ballroom were opened wide to counteract the cumulative effect of so many candles and humans crowded into one space. Byron Peale situated a chair just within one of those doorways and helped his long-time friend and mentor, Benjamin Franklin, into it.
“Are you certain this won’t be too chilly?” Peale asked. “With your gout flaring up, I’d think you’d want warmth.”
“Nonsense,” Franklin said. “This will be quite pleasant. I’d prefer a little chill to sweltering and – Ah! Just the thing,” he exclaimed as a pair of liveried servants set a small table between them and placed two elegantly engraved brandy glasses on it. Dr. Franklin took one tumbler and shoved the other closer to Byron. “Take it. Swirl it. Act naturally.”
Grinning, Peale did as instructed. Inhaling deeply of the heady scent of the liquor, he allowed his gaze to roam. He was pleased to see that there were few mirrors. The ones that were there, were mounted high and served as reflectors for the crystal and brass sconces dotting the walls. Ironic. Before his change just a little over five years before, he’d loved ballrooms lined with mirrors. Loved to see himself whirling past with an elegant lady in his arms. Now there would be nothing in the mirror but the lady, seeming to dance with air.
A tap at the door had me standing on the cool floor in seconds. It was Chess. He smiled broadly. Beautiful teeth. Beautiful everything. There’s something too perfect about this place, like it’s all a facade.
“Hey sleeping beauty, you’re missing the fun,” he teased. He stuck his head in past the door, so obviously checking to see if I was alone, then stepped into the room and closed the door.
It felt better than awesome when he slipped his arm around my waist and pulled me way too close to him, at least that’s what my mother would have said. I thought it felt pretty much like my vacation was getting off to a great start.
Food and drink were plentiful when we finally arrived at the luau. We both grabbed a kebob of cheese and something, another umbrella drink, and plopped down around the fire. Young full-breasted women in grass skirts that were embellished with red and gold tassels, danced around us with their hips gyrating as fast as my old washer on spin.
The Mechanics of Art
I had visited her place of work before, but not in recent months. I knew that she was working on a ground-breaking project, but she had been too busy to explain what it was about.
She lit the lamps around the walls and locked the door behind us.
In the centre of her work bench was a large piece of machinery, draped in sacking.
She pulled off the cover with a flourish and gestured to me to examine the contraption.
It was a wooden box, open at the back and front, filled with numbered cogs and levers, interconnected so intricately that I was afraid to breathe on it.
Attached to one side of the box was a typewriting machine, and from the other side protruded a mechanical metal arm, with an articulated hand. Attached to each joint of the hand and arm was a slim metal rod, ending in a buckled leather strap, and from under the machine, a winding handle protruded.
Violet looked at me expectantly as I examined the thing.
“Um … well, this is certainly impressive. Yes. Well done, old girl.”
She raised one eyebrow.
“Do you understand even remotely what this is and how it works?”
“Well, not entirely….”
“Take off your jacket.”
I gaped at her.
“Take off your jacket!”
I obeyed hastily, having learned that doing so was the best response when my beloved was in a forceful mood.
Behind the Green Shroud
Though I have the body of a weak and feeble woman like Good Queen Bess, curiosity compels me closer to the object covered in the green shroud – the same object which has haunted me and called me to the place just above the mantel for years.
Just as my fingers reach out to touch it, I hear the booming voice of my mother.
“Do not touch that, Ada!”
I freeze and slowly remove my hand. This is one of those frequent moments when words fail me.
“You know that portrait is forbidden. Surely, your grandmother and I have told you so enough times.”
Her eyes bore into me as I step away from the painting.
“It’s time to put this nonsense about your father out of your head; you’ve already been corrupted enough by it.”
I don’t even bother arguing with Mother. None of the scandalous stories people made up about me were true, but she was always quick to believe them.
“Yes, Mother,” I reply, my head bowed
“Good. Now that I have gotten through to you, I trust you will keep better company and stay away from portraits of dead fools.”
A House Divided
The old man leaned forward to address with more intensity the twelve-year-old boy standing in front of him. “A house divided against itself can’t stand. We are meant to be whole. Do you understand?”
“No,” said the boy. “Are you saying – I don’t know what you’re saying, Gramps. What house?”
The old man patted the place beside him on the park bench. “Sit down, Peter. Now tell me about that tree.” He pointed to the grand oak that stood in the center of the small park, then stroked his neatly trimmed white beard as he studied his grandson studying the tree.
“It’s a white oak – Quercus alba – and very old.”
“Is that all?”
The boy adjusted his brown-framed glasses, frowning in concentration. “It’s a hardwood. It grows mainly in eastern and central North America.”
“What else is there?” asked Peter.
“What do you think of the oak, beyond the scientific information? What is your opinion of it?”
“Opinion? Like – do I like it?” He shrugged his slim shoulders, unconcerned. “I guess it’s all right. It’s just a tree.”
“I see. Just a tree. Tell me, what would that tree say if it could talk? Do you wonder about that?”
Father Jericho put what he probably hoped would be a calming hand on my shoulder. His hand was soft and heavy, like his voice, like his eyes, and the weight of it did calm me a little.
“Shalla,” he said, “prayer is prayer.”
I whispered what I had just shouted three times, the last shout so loud, he had rested that calming hand on me: “They aren’t people.”
He said nothing more, just stood by me as I watched the bank of units – ten rows, each unit one meter cubed, a solid floor-to-ceiling bank stacked eight high. They were painted sky blue, except for the stiff double pincer-like extrusions on the fronts, which were silver, and the scarlet beaded chains that ran, in a continuous loop, through the pincers.
The chains paused. The digital read-out that ran across the units paused. The read-out on one unit began again and, after a few seconds, the read-outs on the others synchronized with the singular unit and they all began again, beads clicking, black digital letters scrolling, “Hail Mary, full of grace….”
I grunted in disgust and shook myself free of Father Jericho’s suppression, turning my back on the robots and slamming out of the room. I couldn’t think of it as a chapel, no matter how dim the light or how lifelike the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary looked.
The Art and Science of Naming
Janet Wolanin Alexander
According to the dictionary, a name is a term of identification. Somewhere I read that naming is a poetic act. I, however, think that the bestowal of a name is both a science and an art.
Last July, while trail riding, a friend and I stopped at a stream crossing to hydrate our horses. The bed was almost empty; only two pools of water were nearby. Highlander and I headed upstream to the farther pool, leaving the one at the crossing for Mo and Gretchen.
After Highlander sated himself, we turned around and saw Gretchen and Mo standing where we’d left them – but now inside a cloud of butterflies! The image of figurines inside a shaken-glass globe sprang to mind, a summer one with flapping wings instead of falling flakes of snow.
Three Raccoons and a Canoe
The light is on in the garage this morning and its door is wide open. Hugh isn’t due back for a few days, so I’ll have to check this out myself. A little indignant, a little cautious, I walk out there. The canoe is missing. From what I know about my little squatter buddies and their capabilities, I’d say it’s worth looking around nearby. They’ve had a few hours, but canoes are heavy items.
Sure enough, the lawn looks like someone has dragged something heavy over it. Strange as it seems, I’m not upset with the animals, more incredulous that I am witnessing a natural wonder. Humans believe themselves an intelligent species, but these little guys have worked out the security features we have installed in our garage – the light and automatic door – and unlatched the canoe from its carrier. They worked while I was away, or asleep, and got away with our dented aluminum water-craft. The trail can’t be very old, though.
They’ve made it about forty feet or so through the rock studded grass. Two of them are prostrate in the weeds, seemingly trying to get their breath back.
The Map Is Not the Territory (a hybrid story-essay)
Brett Alan Sanders
A couple of years later, in another teacher’s class and in what he would long remember as one of the truly indispensable moments of his secondary education, our boy made a closer study of those inveterate nonconformists, Thoreau and Emerson. And when he did get around to reading Walden in its entirety, it revolutionized his thinking all over again.
At the time, anyway, scarcely out of the woods, it was enough just to soak up the experience of this thing called living in a world, hanging onto a planet spinning wildly on its axis and circling the sun; so much smaller than the tiniest subatomic particle as to practically come out a negative number, swallowed in the black hole of the infinite.
And so his life progressed, careening from adventure to adventure as from book to book. Until suddenly there were a pair of children, a wife, a house, a passel of cats – and the practical scholar fell into a universe of responsibilities, the harassed but honest profession of teaching, and a modest literary life.
Then suddenly, finally managing to push his head above that whirl of activity and enforced busyness, he realized he had gotten old. And, thus, that he might as surely be dead tomorrow or next week as in five years or another twenty. It might, therefore, behoove him, as an almost forgotten figment of his adolescent past might have put it, to take stock of his life and the principles he had professed to live by.