Faster Than The Wind

The cats fell in love with the revolutionary, and refused to beat him in a foot race.

So the first thing you have to understand was that it was a different time; tastes were more baroque. The second thing you have to understand is this: the cats were on specially designed lightweight stilts, to give them legs as long as a human’s. The third thing you have to understand: everyone loved the revolutionary. There were none purer in their dedication to the noble cause of freedom. The racing was a distraction, a way to bring some joy in those dark times. How the stadiums would fill to watch the long-legged revolutionary sweep around the track!

The cats had known the revolutionary since they were kittens, and were no less immune to their righteous charms. They always gave a good race, were always close on the revolutionary’s heels, but still: it was obvious. The revolutionary was proud, and would liefer a fair loss than a string of empty victories, so this stung. A person you could talk to, but what can you say to a cat? A cat goes its own way.

So the revolutionary hatched a plan, for once one with stakes no higher than their own pride. How full the stadium was on race day! how bright were the stilts beneath the cats! how joyously they purred when the revolutionary stroked their heads! The revolutionary knew every inch of the track, so this time, coming into the blind corner around the quarter mark, they threw themselves down behind some bushes that grew there. Fast, so fast: if you blinked, they all but disappeared. The stadium roared in surprise.

The cats were no less startled than the smallest child in the stands. Had he gotten that far ahead of them? They put their ears back and charged after. The revolutionary gave them a length, then sprang from behind the bushes and gave chase. The cats were determined to catch up, and never looked back, and the revolutionary, running flat out, couldn’t come close. The distance between them lengthened.

The cats blew past the finish line, and, not seeing the revolutionary, kept going around the track. They caught up to them in the final stretch, and stayed close on their heels until the finish line. A lap ahead, but dutifully just behind; the cats never did quite understand the purpose of these races.

The revolutionary finished the race, and the stadium wept with laughter; laughter and forgetfulness were rare in those days. The revolutionary laughed no less than anyone else: better a fair loss than an unearned victory! But all the same, they never raced a cat again.

Still, you can’t say it didn’t end happily: the cats were content enough to stay at home and curl up on their bed, and wait for the revolution to come.

Epicycles

Even though he knows what’s coming, Paris thrills to put the apple into Aphrodite’s outstretched hand for the millionth time. His soul shivers with the contact, and he grins moonishly in her immobile face. Hera and Athena depart, muttering darkly, as they always do. “You have chosen well,” his goddess murmurs.

Hector takes up his arms again, and laughs joyously at his onrushing death and degradation. He is at the shore of Acheron before his cast off body has completed its first and latest round. “You again!” barks Cerberus. “How do you keep getting out?”

Alexander Hammil is a tongue of flame, speaking lies and misleading truths to a Florentine and his Mantuan guide. He speaks of borrowed cunning, and the daring blasphemy that saw him sail in his dotage to the shores of the cleansing mount. “Thank you, wise Odysseus,” mocks the Florentine, and passes on as he has before. But Odysseus is gone to farther shores, and found a different end beneath the stranger stars.

A House Divided Against Itself

Alexander Hammil has a moment of clarity, when he is red with blood to the waste and when the shrieks of the boy are still echoing off the parlor walls and ringing through the streets, a moment of pure awareness when he recoils in horror. Then he pushes on. The war must still be ended.

He takes the still warm skin from the child’s back and spreads it across the frame, pulls it taut. It lacks the shape of life, but the image is clear, North and South in matrimonial dignity beneath a spreading tree, the work of agonizing hours. He settles himself beneath it and cuts his own throat, quick and clean with a knife.

It will be days before they breach the walls and find him, but Death and History are there before the knife has fallen to his lap, have been there for hours, have always been there, watching.

“So unnecessary,” says History, revolted. “The Union will survive. The Union was always going to survive.”

“Let him have this moment,” Death says. “He tried, poor thing.”

History shudders and turns her eyes away. The Union survives, and Alex and his victim are forgotten, a gory footnote in a gory century, two minor deaths lost amid the noise.

Born of the Earth

Terpsichore dyes her hair red, cherry candy red, the color of revolutionaries and failed geniuses. A royal color, she tells herself, and a warning of danger.

They do not notice.

If they see her at all, it is as a blob of unreal hair moving down the streets. Typical. Even in this she is typical. You can change everything but yourself, her father used to say, but he never changed anything so the advice, now that she is older, is suspect.

She is red to the wrists, rust red, the color of failed revolutions and successful murders. They do not notice. Overworked, underfunded, more concerned with traffic stops than closing cases. They leave Tisiphone alone, new name, new hair, new face, new hobbies. The money she uses to pay the barista is red, dull red; a woman’s unsmiling face glowers up from the note.

The door closes behind her, the little bell at the top chiming. Alexander Hammil blinks, makes change, apologizes. “That woman,” he says, “I’ve seen her before.”

Red Steel

for Monica before she moves

Midway through the last of his life’s three great craftings, the god came to Alexander Hammil wearing the shape of his long-dead brother; came to tempt, to test. “This will not be enough. The curse still runs red and willing in her blood.”

“What is enough?” asked Alexander Hammil. “Enough is more than enough. This is what I can do. Others may yet do more.”

“You might do more yet, if you had the mind.” The god worked the bellows while he turned the steel, hair electric with forge light. “You are clever, you are kind. Steadfast and loyal. He is a good man, but only that. You might yet be more.”

Alexander Hammil said nothing, but kept working.

“Listen, brother: you cannot still this curse. She will fall upon her people like a wolf on the fold. But you, only you, might turn it. You might be the rock that turns the stream aside. Only speak, and he will fall aside. She will see your true worth at last. Lay down your hammer and your tongs! Speak, while still you can!”

“Begone, specter,” growled Alexander Hammil. “We need no more words between us. You think we have not spoken of this, as we speak of every other thing? Leave me to my work. I need no god to hold me to this forge.”

And the god was gone, much pleased, much angered. The work continued.