Cancer

So we’d been living quietly enough in the swamp, the hydra and me, and if it wasn’t a glamorous life it wasn’t so bad, either. The fat days had ended, presumably because the mother hera had gotten bored, or hydra, she’d grown big enough, either way, but we didn’t go hungry. There’s plenty to eat in a swamp if you’re not picky.

Anyway like I said, we were living quietly, just the two of us, talking about the old times and the old folks, when news came through the grapevine that her brother the lion had been killed by some dingus and that she was next on the list, even though she wasn’t doing anybody any harm that didn’t come into the swamp first. Meat’s meat, as they say, and a gal’s gotta eat; you can’t blame someone for that, or who their parents were, or anyway you shouldn’t.

Anyway, eventually he rolls up, big and brawny and brooding, handsome enough if you’re into that sort of thing, growling and sobbing from underneath the hood he’d made out of her brother’s skin, weeping and penitential and determined, swinging around a sword and firing off those flaming arrows like a real jackass. Hydra, well, we’d put together that this was what the mother hera had been after anyway, and death or glory, y’know, so, out she goes.

I go out with her; I’m not so big and my parents weren’t fancy, but you do what you can. I took a good couple of chunks out of his toes with my claws before he kicked me way deep in the swamp. By the time I got back hydra was dead, all except the one head that couldn’t die, and he’d buried that under a boulder.

I dug down deep, for years and years, and I’d still be digging if I hadn’t died first. She’s still down there, far as I know, that stubborn central part of her; I like to think she’s grown back, spread subterranean back to the swamp. Always good times there. It’s okay up here looking down, but it’s not the same.

Ill-Met

Somewhere in Maryland and Oberon is drowning an old man in a pool.

Titania, proud Titania, stands beneath the trees watching them in silence. Oberon stoops to the water with the grace and heft of a weeping willow, his long slender arms effortlessly hold the old man’s head beneath the water. Churn of froth as the old man struggles, his black robes heavy and leaden, his eyes wide and rolling white in the the murk of the pond.

He grows still, and Oberon lifts him up by his hair, stares curiously and dispassionately at the slack muscles of his face, shrugs and holds him again under water. Better safe than not.

When he stands he towers, one tree among many, twelve feet or more, long-boned and solid. “Hail, King of the Air,” says Titania, and he moves to greet her without surprise. He is seldom surprised. “The work is done well,” she adds, face veiled in a wreath of smoke.

“Done well or done ill,” says Oberon, “it is done.”

In the uncertain half-light of twilight the court moves to dispose of the body of John Roberts. A flurry of wings, the soft paddling of feet, a small splash. When the light shifts the hollow is empty, the surface of the pool serene and untouched.

Digestion

When he’s eaten everything else he can and the snow is coming down thick and fast, Orlando eats the chyme.

“Now, I did research on this,” he says earnestly over his shoulder to the empty room he’s built into a rock face. “These musk ox, they live on grass. We can eat grass too—grass is edible—but we don’t have the right teeth to get all the nutrition out of it. But the ox, man, he does. He chewed up all that grass out there, and swallowed it down, and spit it up so he could chew it again.”

It’s dark but it’s early. Too hungry to eat, to cold to move, too dark to play dice, and he doesn’t carve. “It’s my birthday today,” he says flatly, “and my mother died. Here I am, in a hole, eating grass, nobody to talk to but you. Shoulda gone to the funeral but didn’t. Shoulda gone to her before she died but didn’t. I don’t know. Shoulda done a lot of things but didn’t.”

His knife cuts into the bag of the stomach he’s been saving for over a month. Deep breath. “Smells sour. That’s good, that means it’s fermented, and that means it’s edible. They got special bacteria in their stomachs to help break everything down like that.” He pulls out a handful of semi-digested grass and shows it to the empty room. “This is dinner tonight. Arctic kimchi. Polar pickles.”

He heats it in a tin can he found on the beach. “We didn’t get along, her and me, once I got a little older. Didn’t get along with either of them, really, but her in particular I just— I know she probably did her best, and I respect that, but—” He chews the chyme meditatively for a few minutes, wondering at the taste. “Sour milk,” he mutters.

Who Trusts Himself Trusts A Fool

Buzz opens the door to the study without knocking, one of a half-hundred things he does that infuriates the old doctor. “Doc?” he sings out. “You in here?”

“Well, who the hell else were you expecting,” growls Dr. Philips.

“Now don’t be like that, old man, you know it’s bad for your heart.” Buzz settles himself lazily into a recliner and helps himself to some of the brandy. “Mind if I bend your ear for a second?” The doctor glowers at him, but he sails on, unabashed. “You see, I seem to have stolen some of the bank’s money, and I—”

Thump of glass hitting carpet as Dr. Philips drops his snifter. “You did what?

“Stolen, ah, some of the bank’s money, do keep up—”

“How much?”

“Oh, rather all of it, I suppose. Most of it in dribs and drabs, but with the audit coming up, I knew the balloon was going to pop sooner rather than later, so I cleaned out the rest of the vault today. Hrm, maybe three, three and a half million?” He grins happily. “Now, take it easy, take it easy, remember your heart!”

“By god, I won’t stand for this,” the old man manages, as he reaches for the phone. “If you think I’ll sit here and listen to you—”

“Oh, well, if that’s the way you feel, dear heart, you go right ahead, but I’d have thought you cared more for your daughter than that.”

Long, dangerous pause with his finger on the dial. “What does Sylvia have to do with this?”

Buzz laughs delightedly. “Why, nothing directly, but my goodness, what a scandal! To have her name dragged all through the papers like that? ‘Husband of Society Heiress on Trial for Embezzlement’? Why, she’d never live it down, you know she wouldn’t.” He swallows brandy, eyes cold and still above the rim. “No, better to hush it all up quietly, don’t you think? Now, if you give me the three and a half million, I can put it back in the vault with no one the wiser, and surely that’s cheap for peace of mind, don’t you think? Your heart, old man!”

Litany of Symptoms

Pale gums.
White sores in the mouth.
Night sweats.
Recurrent colds.
Hair loss.
Development or loss of breast tissue.
Loss of smell or taste.
Red spots or rashes on the genitalia.
Bruised toes.
Persistent fevers or coughs.
Dizziness, nausea, or vomiting.
Blood in the mucus.
Dark brown or black stool.
Swellings at the armpit or groin.
Kaposi’s sarcoma on the legs or lips.
Disintegration of cartilage, leading to the reopening of old scars.
Teeth falling out.
Bleeding of the gums.
Panic attacks.
Sudden spasms of the hand or arm.
Soreness or tingling of the left arm.
Sudden facial paralysis affecting only one side.
Loss of strength on one side of the body.
Sharp stabbing pains low in the back.
Rupture of the kidneys.
Inability to form new memories.
Prosopognasia.
A history of seizures.
An imbalance of humors.
Suicidal ideation.
Night terrors.
Paranoia.
Depression.
Heart palpitations.
Coma.

Death.