Chamomile

Chamomile’s been doing the webcam grind for nearly a year now and she’s just barely breaking even. She’s got a small group of regulars, but nobody’s dropping significant cash on her shows; none of them can afford to. She tried findomming for a while, but nobody bit on that, either, and there’s only so long you can post salacious paypig stuff before you start to look desperate instead of hot. She wasn’t expecting easy money, but, hell, she’s hardly doing any better than freelancing. Masturbating’s easier on her eyes and better for her posture than proofreading, but the disinterest is hard on her self-esteem. She’s doing everything you’re supposed to, techwise, and she’s rocksolid about posting, but she’s just not pulling in enough of an audience.

“Gosh, you’re pretty,” says one of her regulars, and it about makes her cry. Some days are just harder than others, that’s all.

Perfection

Fred and Kevin are shitkickers out in some bumblefuck little nothing town in Nevada. Calling it a town is putting on airs; the place is small enough that when they leave — like they’re absolutely going to, this summer for sure — that’s a tenth of the place gone right there. Course, that was before the giant worms started bursting out of the ground and eating people. Kinda put the kibosh on the whole plan.

Instead they’ve been stuck on top of the water tower for a couple of days now and Kev’s starting to get a little weird about it.

“I mean, it’d be a hell of a way to go, sure, but also: it’d be a hell of a way to go. I’m just sayin’.”

Fred spits over the side of the railing in outrage. “You are sick, man. I love you, but that’s bent. What about that little seismologist gal you were talkin’ to?”

“Hell, Fred, I’m not saying I wouldn’t mind a tumble in her rock polisher, I’m just saying—since we’re as likely as not to get got by those ugly sons of bitches—that I can think of worse ways to go. Dying of dehydration at the top of a power line, say.”

“Kev—”

Kevin coughs, turns his eyes very idly to the horizon where the first stars are just starting to show, says casually, “Now, I don’t know if you’ve heard about this thing on the internet called ‘vore,’ Fred, but I figure since we’re up here anyway, maybe I could tell you about it some.”

Things go… well, not downhill, exactly, but certainly sideways, after that.

Breathe, Stupid

for Andrew

Baby, you’ve got this. Today’s the day when everything clicks into place, I can feel it, I can feel the stars aligning, the high musical scrape of the celestial spheres grinding against each other shivering into an unexpected harmony, the pendula of the universe have all synched up for you, this is it, baby, it is breakthrough time.

What that looks like, who can say. Stare at the skydivers as long as you want, you won’t know what the fall is like until you jump. The future is here, it’s today, the world has been building towards this for untold eons of time, it’s all been leading up to this moment, this realization, this sad man looking out the window toward a night sky erased of stars, this sweeping orchestral music playing over a car leadfooting it out of town, these gunshots over the lake, this bloom of fire from the refinery.

Possible futures; but stay awake until your teeth hurt, the dawn’s coming anyway and the present slips horribly, inevitably into the future. You start awake, into another bodily epiphany, like so many before, like however many yet to come, the present is eternal, the future is always on the brink of being born, the past is the spit you smeared on the inside of your swim goggles to keep them from fogging. You’ve got this, baby. You’ve got this.

Georgie

The gangster was a trouper, a composer and a softshoe man; an ego the size of the South and a mouth that wrecked as many opportunities as it generated. A broad stage Irish brogue that pronounced every extra h in aitch, he dominated in parlors and small stages across every unfashionable small town in the old Old Northwest.

“I’m the senior partner,” cracked the one with the mustache. “I’ll do the throwing out.” Too many horses, too many dancing girls, too much ego. You can’t stop Georgie; noodles and syrup are just enough to keep the dream alive, and he’s a natural fit to the boarding house with the tattered writers and the unemployed magicians. There’s going to be work any day now. Any day now.

Dinner at the house was all brother-sisters and husband-wife acts, and none of them have had work in years. The Depression stretched out into infinity, and the fat years were a memory at best. There’s only so far you can water the goulash and still call it a soup; but the difference between a trouper and a clasper is the willingness to overlook such trifles.

Libraries Are Built to Burn

In the tenth century (using the Roman calendar) the library of Cordoba was a wonder of the world, with more than half a million handwritten volumes on every subject under the sun, with the index alone stretching to more than forty volumes. The life’s work of Caliph al-Hakam II, the library drew together books from the breadth of the Mediterranean, both temporally and geographically; in addition to contemporary works, the caliph commissioned a massive translation effort that compiled hundreds of works in ancient Latin and Greek into Arabic, a wealth of knowledge and learning that court visitors called the golden center of the West at a time when the largest Christian library had a collection numbering in the dozens.

Almost all of it was burned following his death.

Burned not through conquest or arson or accident, but piecemeal over decades by less studious usurpers bargaining with the ulama for power. Temporal power bartered from ecclesiastical, with al-Hakam’s son living a sterile, silent life in the shadow of al-Mansur the Victorious; the college of the faithful demanded a purer devotion from al-Mansur, and to prove his bonafides onto the bonfire most of the books went.

Still it was a golden age; al-Mansur’s bargain worked. Cordoba thrived, the silent outrage of later eras inaudible and unregarded.