Briars

They have no childhoods, because they were made, not born, but a certain amount of socialization being deemed useful for their later life they are raised in creches with other automata, rooms noisy with the mindless chatter of seven times seventy copper-wired semi-deployed workers. Noise is an indulgence, one they will be trained away from, later; what do they need to talk about?

Their factories are silent and swift; the machines are kept quiet for the pleasure of the lone human overseer. Morning and night they are fed the same thin flavorless paste; all the nutrients necessary to maintain smooth operating, though at the cost of a certain unavoidable about of noxious offgassing.

Every so often one of them slips into the bowels of the machines, and the floor bursts into clangor. They do not mourn, because they are interchangeable; another one will issue from the creche soon enough and the work will continue. They clean the machinery of the bright fluid and move on.

Now, though: the overseer, heavy with sleep, has slipped from his high perch and fallen to the floor. He shatters, and the factory slows, stops. They gather around the spreading pool of his blood, the same clangorous red as theirs.

The factory bursts into noise, swells, grows louder, louder, a dam broken through at last.

went for mail picked apples

Fifty years and more we were together, John and me, through good luck and bad, summer rain and winter drought, brought together by the promise of easy gold. We never found gold, though the bug got into John’s soul, sure enough, and even now he’d be panning in the stream if he were here to do it, but we found each other and that were riches enough.

I cooked, he cleaned; he sewed, I tended garden. This sweet land, these mountains, the home we made in the hills after the Miwoks had been driven out and the Chileans had quit or set out for Seattle and points north! Near enough the road for guests, and a spare bed or three for those needing one—I neither needed the company nor minded it, but John was a social feller and liked to see new faces every so often.

We made it to our Jubilee, Tennessee and Old Pard, and a happier marriage two old miners never had. I don’t begrudge the Time that has stolen him away, but I’m not inclined to wait patiently in this empty house for someone that isn’t coming, and neither am I inclined to make him wait.

We spent a lifetime together and more; why should we not spend eternity too?

Felis Domesticus

The vampire was a cat lady.

She hadn’t been much to look at in life, and undeath hadn’t done much to change that. Respectable-looking, that was her lane. She’d had a cat when she was alive, but she’d gradually picked up more in the decades since. It was nice, being surrounded by life;  plus, they kept the same crepuscular schedule.

She didn’t see people very often, so the cats were good company.  When she got hungry, she’d pick up some guy at a bar and bring him home and, well. Do what she needed to. Once in a very long while she’d get a visit from the cops, if the bartender could bother to remember her face. You were the last person, that sort of thing.

Yes, she always said. She’d been lonely, and she’d thought that maybe this time— but she hadn’t heard from him since. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, she’d say. None of them ever come back again.

Half a dozen pairs of eyes would shine in the dark.

It’s hard, I know, the cops would say. You just have to keep trying. You’ll find someone.

Thank you, says the vampire. I hope so. I hope you find him soon. I hope he’s okay.

The Cure

The first leaf, bright green, springs forth between her eyebrows and Brienne stares at it in confusion. What in the world?

She goes after it with the tweezers but it won’t budge. It doesn’t hurt to tug at it, exactly, but it doesn’t move, either. She might as well be trying to tweeze off her nose.

If she had the money—if she had the insurance—she’d go and get it looked at, but she doesn’t, so she doesn’t. She puts on sunglasses and pretends she has awful headaches and hopes no one notices. If they do, they’re too polite to say anything.

After a month or so it’s gotten too big for those tricks, so she calls in sick—they’re not happy—and she really goes after it, because what else can she do? She wraps her hand around the base of the leaves and pulls.

It’s not pleasant—it’s awful—but her skin parts around the root and she’s left holding the firm red weight of a radish. Brienne stares at it, her mouth watering in anticipation.

What Is United Must Dissolve

In bed and the hammer descends, shattering you awake. “Oh, fuck,” you say, and then you can’t do anything but quiver.

The edge of the bedside table is right there, right there, and you’re plagued with visions of how easy it would be to flex and crack the eggshell of your skull against it. Your eyes, mere jellies, could catch on the corner and pop pop pop! It’s a seductive vision, the Lear of your body hapless before the Goneril of your mind, take that, and you quiver with the desire and the fear, both.

Your every muscle is a high-wire act, strung possibly tight between buildings, and it’s only that tension that keeps you safe. Your traitor hands are ready to lunge for your condemned eyes, your exiled cheeks, but they’re far, so far away, and the whole country of you is in active revolt.