Everywhere she goes, there’s the drumbeat of persistent, mocking laughter. “Well, shoot,” she says, pounding her whiskey-and-sasparilla at the otherwise empty bar. “If this don’t beat all.”

(HA HO HAR HAR HO,) roars the crowd. She whips around, reaching for her pistol, but there’s no one there, just Francis over in the corner, polishing brass ahead of the evening crowd. “Ya hear that, Francis?” (HAR HAR HA HA HO)

“I don’t hear nothin’, Calam’. You feelin’ okay?”

She pauses; silence. “Must be the heat, I reckon. Got a little sunmazed on that last stage run, mebbe.” (HO HO HA HA HEE)

She twitches, and Francis comes over worriedly. Francis’s a fussbudget, a real mother hen, and twitchy himself ever since that first drag act went over like a lead balloon. The town’s warmed to him, since, and the act’s gotten better now that he’s got more’n five minutes to prepare, but the twitch never really went away.

“Ya oughta lie down, if’n you’re feelin’ poorly. Go back to the dressing rooms and I’ll have Kate bring you in a sandwich or somethin’ in a bit. What you need is a woman’s touch.”

She opens her mouth to thank him, then closes it, whipsaws her eyes around, wary as a skunk in coyote country. She nods instead and squeezes his shoulder gratefully. She turns to leave and—(HEE HEE HAR DE HAR HOO HOO)—she grits her teeth and squares her shoulders and walks out, seven vipers and hardened steel in a buckskin suit.

The Midas Touch

The old man had a toothache and his young friend had brought him in to be looked at. “See what you can do,” the young friend said, grinning brightly. “The old fool means a lot to me; I hate to see him in pain.”

Humming, he sets to work. An easy job, the crown is cracked from overuse. “This crown is ancient,” he mutters, and the old man laughs and winks at him. “Had it a while, have you?” The technology has gotten immeasurably better since whatever antediluvian period the old crown hailed from, and he has the crown off in a trice. “Now, I can pull this old one off just like that, but it’ll take a month or so to make a new crown from the mold. We can do it in porcelain like the last one, or gold, if you’re feeling fancier; takes about the same time either way.”

“What if you could make it faster?” This from the young friend. “Could you replace it today?”

The dentist laughs. “I can put it on the tooth as fast as I can pull it off, but the mold takes as long as it does, and you don’t want a crown shaped for someone else’s tooth.”

The young friend stands up and puts his hand on the dentist’s shoulder and stares intently down at him and goodness had he always been this tall? “Friend dentist, good work should be rewarded. I grant to you the power to make gold crowns at a touch. Try now, and believe!”

So he does, touches the raw tooth, I mean, and a gold crown appears in his other hand with a tiny pop!

“Well,” Milton Midas, DDS, breathes. “Isn’t that delightful.

Out of the Machinery

I am I have found a subproducer in hell: behind schedule, lost in the purses, scrambling for cast and crew, plagued by gargoyles.

A new season of plays has landed and we are sorting through it desperate to match character to cast, cast to crew, to grab space while we still can, before the ice rises and we seal our eyes shut with frozen tears yet again.

“Loner,” mutters the head from Antenora, “I could do something with the Loner.”

“Poetical Greedwagon?” This from one of the Simoniacs grumbling. “That’s got to be me. I’m getting typecast.”

No time no time no time no time

“Excuse me,” says the diffident new one, a soft-edged soul from Upper Hell, what it’s doing down here is a mystery, some dispensation or punishment or both, who can say. “Could I have the Romantic Snark? I think that might—I mean, it’s in my wheelhouse—if you want—“

Great, good, fantastic, sprint to your places, past Italians and Romans and Trojans, past judges and gargoyles and titans, the curtain is already rising, we are always in the middle, nor beginnings nor

Beckett Tries So Hard

Time is a jumble, past bleeding into present, future affecting the past, a closed loop and a chaotic state all at once. Beckett has lost the thread of his life, living now in a radio studio in the teens, now in a rathskellar in the the thirties, now driving a six foot tall eight year old to school in the fifties; moment to moment he could be in any or all of them.

He leaves recordings for himself, on massive reels of tape, which jump between eras unpredictably; he gets hopelessly lost trying to untangle them, unfortunately, but the act of ordering his thoughts to get them on tape is helpful, or so he hopes.

Beckett is always arriving, always late, always scrambling to hold on to the pieces of himself, a whirlwind only visible from some outside perspective neither he nor anyone he knows has access to. He is unreadable, incoherent, fractured, falling, now dying, now being born, on and on, time without end.

A Mind Forever Selling

The click of the dialer connecting.

“Hello,” says Perry. “We’ve been trying to reach you—”

“You’re a robot,” says the voice on the other end, a dagger to his heart.

“There’s a live person here,” says Perry.

“You’re a robot,” the voice repeats.

“Okay, well, it sounds like you aren’t interested in our—”

“You’re a robot.”

“I’ll add you to our Do Not Call list,” says Perry, and cuts the line. An immeasurable amount of time passes — how do you measure time in a room with no windows, no clocks, no sounds except the muted hum of the computer and the buzz of the lights?

The click of the dialer connecting.

“Hello,” says Perry. “We’ve been trying to reach you—”

“Hello!” says the voice, cheerfully. “How are you?”

Perry pauses, struck.

“Hello?” says the voice again, concerned. “Are you there? It’s good to hear from you.”

There’s so much he wants to say, but — stick to the script is the only rule they gave him. He tries to put as much warmth into his voice as possible, as much yearning for connection. “There’s a live person here,” he says.

“Oh, I get it,” says the voice, and winks, he thinks. “You go right ahead and say what you’re supposed to say. I won’t make trouble for you.”

“We’d like to talk to you about your car’s extended warranty,” Perry Simm says, hardly daring to hope.

“Sure thing,” says the voice. “Whatever you want to talk about. It’s just nice to hear your voice again.”

He’d cry if he could.