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.

Delivery

What she learns, Colleen, later on, is that swallowing is the easier part. By then her throat, her jaws, her muscular stomach have grown hard and used to the unsteady traffic of billiard balls, live frogs, hat pins, human hair, soap bars, steel wool, razor blades. Going down is—not easy, never easy, nothing is easy anymore—but a practiced sequence of contractions. She is tough as nails, and her teeth are sharp and honed on tin cans.

It’s the return that gets her, still. Down, she’s working with gravity, at least, and there’s a pleasant tidiness to a table cleaned down to the boards. Up, though; she burns with the strain, aches to split herself open directly instead of passing a week’s worth of assorted garbage through the unready flex of her mouth.

She locks her teeth against the inevitable, but the six ball won’t be denied. Colleen jackknifes and deposits a whole pool set on the bedspread.

Cauled Home

Short days and long nights: you grow even pastier than usual in a light filtered almost entirely through a thin film of water. “You must love it here,” chuckles one of the others, digging an over-familiar elbow into your ribs for the last time.

True enough, you suppose (pause to wipe your lips clean, your chin, your jaw, your neck—you’ll need to replace that shirt now); there’s definitely more room here, more time, more empty corners waiting to be filled, but you find yourself missing the sun somehow more here, rather than less. At least elsewhere you could fret about what you couldn’t have. Here you can stare directly up at the sky at noon and see only a vaguely brighter patch of indifferent sky. It’s all so unsatisfying.

Then too is the cold. You’re always cold, regardless of the weather, but there’s something about the insistent watery chill here that plagues your dreams with images of decay: the eye of a possum misting over, a mouse mildewed into the upholstery of a car seat, mushrooms growing from the corpse of a fallen tree. You pick at your skin obsessively, terrified of moss taking root, of lichen blooming out of some disregarded crack.

Edith

The city was raw as a scraped knee when the strangers came, pleading to be let in. They were trouble, innocent trouble, and I told him so: safer to camp in the hills overlooking the plain, and I told them so, but he knew what was right and took them in regardless. Here where we live piled one upon the other there was no hope of privacy, and nowhere to run. “You risk their lives with this kindness,” I said, “and ours.” But he took them in regardless.

Salt, he said, bring them salt, and I brought what we had, enough for the four of us in our humility but not for honored guests. Bring more, he said; have faith, he said; the Lord will provide, he said. “There is no more salt,” I said. “You see it all there before you,” I said. Go you and find some, he said, so full of generosity, so what could I do but go and beg from our neighbors? And thus the secret spread, as I knew it must.

The rest you know: the city swarmed up like a kicked anthill, and he offered us over to their jaws, to no avail and no credit. We fled for our lives, into the hills overlooking the plain, for safety, for safety. “I told you so,” I said. Don’t look back, he said; doom comes in remembering.

A Bell Ringing In A Soundproof Booth

got away from him. Even that moment of anticlimax does not, cannot, exist. The hill starts to fall away into the sky, he starts to hope, in spite of himself, that this time is different, that he’s finally worked enough, strived enough, that he’s beaten them, that he’s won, and then—

There is no gap, no irritated, weary trudge down the hill. Too chaotic by far, that, too much chance for the boulder to build up speed, to escape. So, instead: he is merely mid-stride, lungs and legs already half-jelly, shoulder and neck pressed against the uneven surface of the rock, at the bottom of the hill, looking up, that half-moment of triumph still ringing in his ears.

He can’t be sure that he has done this before, that this isn’t the first time he’s set himself against the hill, the boulder, the gods. Time is slippery, here; the light never changes, the asphodel never crumples beneath him, the boulder never wears a track into the hip of the hillside. Memory is clear, clear and perfect, and the sentence laid upon him as fresh as yesterday.

Let him be perfectly clear: the boulder never