"It was you, Cyn. I magnetted you."
"Wait a minute, Randy. Do you mean you magnetted something to me? What was it?"
"No. I magnetted you. Your body."
Cynthia tried to remain calmly rational, to remind herself that concern for Randy was more to be attended to than the embryonic, insupportable suspicion beginning to stir inside her. Nevertheless, she could not help half-yelling, "My body? You can't have. You've never magnetted a person before."
"I know." Randy beamed self-consciously. He knew that he wasn't supposed to be proud of himself. "It was the biggest magnetting I've ever felt. 'Cause your love is so big."
"My love? For whom?"
"You know. For Josh."
"For Josh." Cynthia echoed the words deadly, then drew a deep breath which was interrupted by a choke.
"I'm sorry, Cyn. Sorry."
She raised her panicking eyes and saw that Randy was crying. She must, for his sake, control herself.
"It's okay, Randy. Whatever it is you've done. But . . . tell me what happened. Exactly. Where did you magnet me to?" She felt herself fighting simultaneously to know and to hold knowing at bay.
"To be with him."
"To be . . . with Josh? Last night in his house? In . . . his bedroom? In his bed?"
"I guess so," Randy answered vaguely. She had never figured out how to explain to him about sex as distinct from love.
Cynthia couldn't move even a facial muscle for a full minute. Then, "Sandalwood in my hair. Oh my God . . . " she whispered.Return to story descriptions.
I cannot explain it, but at the moment of the most horrifying thing that had happened to me, horror deserted me. I cannot explain why when the vagrant sat beside me I was freed to move again.
But what I did -- why God knows -- what I did when I saw that seldom washed head that, night after night, had only a spare shirt wadded up beneath it to cushion it from the ground -- what I did when I saw it looking down at me was to offer it my pillow.
Not in words at first, for I could not at once find my voice. But when he continued to sit there so still, not responding at all to my gesture, I heard myself whisper, shakingly, "Sleep here -- please. There is plenty of room." And again, when he still did nothing, "Please. For God's sake . . . "
At this he stirred and slowly shook his head, and it seemed that he might have smiled a little, though the light on his face was not good enough for me to be sure. I do not know how I expected his voice to sound, but it was not like this -- so careful, so controlled, and yet so free from anything false. He said, "I did not come to be taken in, but to take you out."
Then he turned back my covers, lifted me in his arms and carried me outside, not bothering to shut the door behind him.
At that moment, and at that one only, what advertised itself as the voice of sanity told me to scream. I was opening my mouth to do it, when the vagrant began softly to sing to himself a verse from a song my father had sung to me as a child: What care I for a goosefeather bed, / With the sheets turned down so bravely, O? / For tonight I shall sleep in a cold open field, / Along with the wraggle-taggle gypsies, O!Return to story descriptions.
He dreamt of love in the nave of Bourges Cathedral. The vault soaring 38 meters above his head, the moon radiating upon her hair through the clerestory windows; rich red and blue of ancient glass, blue of her frigid fingers, red of his rising blood. She was a half-starved waif seeking shelter from inclement weather, and what she had found was the impatience of his appetite and the tempest of his heart's-need to wander in her till he was lost. It had been too long since he had known such release, and good was too plain a word for how it felt. He wanted to revisit the stations of this passion again and again.
But an error had been made, his backward sense of propriety not calculated on. As pressing towards conclusion he began to carry her to the sanctuary, a part of his mind not wholly controlled by the dream mechanism took it upon itself to protest, "On the altar? Christ, how tasteless . . . "
In the master bedroom of Unit 486, Tower 31, Kevin O'Loughlin woke, looked over at his wife Lynn, and wished he were in love. Lowering the partition of his sleeping cubicle, he rolled into the neutral zone between his cubicle and hers, designed for other activities than sleep. Lynn's partition, as always, was down; she had never used it yet in thirteen years. He reached across it: the anti-climax of his dream had left him wanting. But before his hand made contact with her quietly naked hip, guilt changed his mind. Slipping off of the dream couch, he hauled on his sweats and went to the Tower Gym to work out instead.
Because he wasn't in love, though he couldn't remember how or when he had ceased to be so. Not that one had to be in love to have good sex, he told himself as he propelled his body from one torturous piece of exercise equipment to another. But he cared about Lynn, too much not to be bothered by the dishonesty of spending in her the coinage of desire earned by another woman. He overcame this scruple a ritualistic two times weekly, and though she never said so, Lynn's weariness with the ritual seemed more deeply despairing than his. He wasn't in love, she wasn't in love; Bourges Cathedral had been condemned and razed during the Great Reconstruction. And, by God, he was going to complain to Adventures in Dreaming Unlimited about deceptive advertising, because the Bourges program had been rated RT. . . .Return to story descriptions.
In one wine-dark fingernailed hand, Nat nursed her Hydra Cabernet; her other hand fiddled unconsciously with the catch on her oversized evening bag, the one spangled with lyre-shaped sequins. Not for the first time, her hundred and forty-six dog tags spilled out onto the neon floor of the Pantheon's bar.
Swearing creatively to the amusement of her tablemates Rache and Shirl, Nat put down her goblet, stooped so that her sarong-style dress no longer left anything to be imagined, and began the crazing task of retrieving electrum necklaces from among flashing lights that made them blaze forth tantalizingly only to disappear with as much ease as had the hundred and forty-six men from whom she had won them. Between ribbons of neon the floor was transparent, disclosing a massive auditorium below; the bar's ceiling was mirrored, and its walls unreflective black. The decor drew all eyes down, to the stage that was the Pantheon's ground for being, as surely as the height of Olympus compels the gods homeward.
Only the best played the Pantheon, and the competition to hostess there was bitch-making. It was the only venue in the West Quadrasphere where the best would play. If a hostess wished to vie for the most coveted tags, she must "work the Pantheon or emigrate."
Rache and Shirl watched with unmasked envy as Nat restored the last of her dog tags to her bag and returned to her tripod-seat and her wine.
"Next time she dumps her trophies, Borland's or DeBrett's will tumble out, too. Lord Zeus, let the one who doesn't tag her take a tumble with me!" If Rache's drawl was its usual lazy self, the eyes under her fuschia lashes were quick to assess Nat's reaction.
Nat's face turned several colours contained nowhere in the neon spectrum. She felt the consumed portion of her Hydra rise again in her throat, the impenetrable cool she was reputed for quiver and crack. "When did you hear that they were coming?"
"Word of the gig arrived this morning when I was doing scribe duty in the Sugarbowl. Of course, I immediately thought of you. They'll be here on Argo 24th -- it's the one you've been waiting for, Nat. . . ."Return to story descriptions.
It was the solstice of winter, when the Lot fell upon me to go to the Citadel. The sun's orbed candle, crimson-hued as blood, reeled drunkenly before the intemperate breath of the mountain winds. Cold was my body beneath thick folds of my cloak, and colder my heart with fear of the Task that was laid on me. There had been those more fearful than I, who had leapt from the jagged heights which ring the valley before their turn came.
High, high upon the uttermost of peaks in all this northern land stands the Citadel. Its stones, grey in their quarrying, are bleached to ivory by sluggish rays that do not warm them. Its shape is unsettling to gaze on, though not unlovely. The cold of the land, perhaps of every land, emanates from the Citadel and returns to it; however bitter the air it neither freezes here nor snows, nor is the valley blessed with rain except rarely between long droughts. The wind keens within the Citadel's circle of peaks and echoes from them, and the wind carries voices which utter dark sayings in tongues no man living can understand. Yet ever and anon at sunset, a gust from the hinterlands penetrates the valley, bearing with it perfumes that linger still from long-ago Paradise. Then the clouds which wreath the Citadel's Crown turn rose and golden and its stones lighten to perfect white, and there is no place of deeper heart's desiring within the far-flung borders of Earth.
Even now it was nearing dusk as I climbed the unkempt path, seeing the watch-fires on the peaks wink like conspiratorial eyes, hearing the catamountains and the wolves of evening dispossess themselves of unclean spirits by shrieks and howls. My laden basket was burdensome upon my arm, and more burdened was my soul with dread. Those of my caste the servers were forbidden to refuse the Lot; refusal was permitted only to those of blood more closely approaching the Royal. The King's seven counsellors had refused the Lot, and the priests who administered the Citadel's corrupt manner of worship. In their stead the Task was laid on pedlars, wainwrights, and stonemasons, on beldames so worn with child-bearing that the strain of steep path and stairs made the air whistle through their lungs like wind through a swan's pinions. The Task was laid on cobblers and shepherds and wandering scholars, and tillers of the soil who sustained families of ten from a small garden's worth of ground. The Task was laid on a semptress, who once stitched the beauty of the Citadel at twilight upon the thin blanket which too poorly warmed her bed.
The semptress was I, and the Task was to bring food to the King. . . .Return to story descriptions.
Robin couldn't sleep, that night nor the next. Dana had, it seemed, taken the voice of R. G. with him when he went. She began to wonder, sickeningly, whether the graft were not dead and rotting in her brain.
At about midnight of the second night after Dana's leaving, while she lay staring at the ceiling and thinking how if she didn't sleep soon she wouldn't make it to work in the morning, she was startled by a sudden whimper of, I miss Dana.
Her heart quivered with relief that the graft was still alive, while at the same time shrinking from its words. She said nothing, didn't respond to it even in her mind. In a few minutes came the whimper again, I miss Dana, Robin.
Robin breathed deeply, and answered, "I don't. I don't miss him at all." She wondered if it hurt R. G.'s feelings when she disagreed with it.
And after a few more minutes, I miss Dana, Robin.
Every few minutes till dawn, and all the day following; Robin felt she must go mad from hearing it one more time. The graft whimpered this and it said nothing else. Sometimes she had a strange compulsion to comfort it: "Don't worry, R. G. He'll come back." But she knew that Dana wouldn't come back, except in response to what she wouldn't, couldn't give. At other times she wanted to take hold on the graft's tiny throat, if it had a throat, and make sure with a twist of her wrists that it never spoke again. But since it was inside her she could only harm it by harming herself, by bashing her head against the floor so hard it shattered.
And then on the third evening as she faced with dread another sleep-starved night, she thought, maybe it's only lonely. Her pre-Dana boyfriends had all long since vanished or committed themselves to other relationships; she was no longer close enough to her work friends or family to see if they might set her up with someone, and she would have been too proud to ask them in any case. She had never been one for singles bars, but there was a first time for everything.Return to story descriptions.
The Fool cut another caper, and peered into the blackness beyond the footlights.
"Is anybody there?" he called. "If so, applaud!" His impeccable King's English reverberated from the proscenium arch to the obscenely huge crystal chandelier whose existence he took on faith to the hindermost gallery and back again. He paused listening a moment. Then, seeing that his query's echo was its only answer, he appended, "Or hiss! Or throw tomatoes! Or . . . oh, God."
Dejectedly, he slumped into a sitting position. A loose sliver of the overworked boards attached itself to the back pocket of his Bermuda shorts; he caught it just in time to forestall its piercing through to his flesh. A sign that I should try again, he wondered? Probably not, but since I'm a Fool . . . He got to his feet, drew himself up as straight as possible, took a deep breath, and projected with all his might.
"Is anybo . . ."
From upstage came a peevish interruption. "For pity's sake, man, stow your senseless chatter! I swear, you are as mad as any hatter."
It was the voice of the Majestic Marquis, formerly the Dashing Duke, formerly the Piratical Prince, formerly . . . But the Fool couldn't remember any further back than that. Embarrassed if not repentant, he stepped away from the stage's edge to which he had been so close his big toes had hung over, then turned reluctantly and went down on one knee before his sovereign.
"I humbly beg your pardon, Worthiness," he mumbled. "As your true subject, I can do no less."
The Majestic Marquis dismissed the apology with a sweep of his lace cuff. He was always quick to forgive offenses, though whether out of a good nature or a short attention span was never quite clear.
"Come, come, Fool never mind it what? Be merry! And join us in another glass of sherry!" He laughed "Ha HA ha HA ha HA ha HA ha HA" nudged the Brazen Beauty who hung on his brocaded right arm, and gave a surreptitious squeeze to her scantily but expensively draped derriθre.
The Fool, sighing, took the drink he was offered, and sat down to brood beneath a weeping willow sketched impressionistically on the nearest flat. Maybe, he thought, the Marquis is right. Maybe the Audience is a myth. Maybe there is no Playwright. Maybe the stage is ALL THERE IS. Maybe I'm a Fool to care.Return to story descriptions.
Susan opened her passport, and a thing happened to her which could not happen, humanly. Miracle enwound her like a gordian knot, never to be unloosed in life.
A peculiar jolt rocked her equilibrium. The floor seemed suddenly a further distance beneath her than it ought. Is this what Alice felt when she drank from the bottle in Wonderland or was it the cake that made one taller? In her dizziness Susan tipped over her unfastened handbag, spilling out her comb. When she lifted the comb to replace it she saw that someone else someone with thicker, darker hair had been using it. She had not noticed this when she had combed her own hair a moment ago. She shook herself sharply, trying to right what had gone topsy-turvy in her senses, every one of which seemed to be receiving its data in some subtly different manner than before. Even her cherished passport felt unfamiliar, stiffer and bulkier in her hand. As she pressed her other hand against the door leading back to the main terminal, Susan looked down at the page to which the passport was opened.
It was one of the pages on which visas were stamped. She knew the stamps by heart, the ones from France and Belgium, Italy and Austria; and particularly she knew the series from the London stop-over ending with "* Immigration * Officer * (622) Embarked 24 July 1970 Heathrow (3)." Instead of these she saw a confusion of stamps from places to which she had traveled only in literature and imagination: New Zealand, Africa, Tahiti, India, Japan. . . . Blinking to clear her malfunctioning eyes, she turned the passport back three pages to the front. "Name: Susan Paddock." Yes, that was her name that was her name. She was recovered. Then, following her name, she read: "National Status British Subject: Citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies."
Whose passport is this how has it come into my handbag? Turning one page more, she looked where her child's photograph should have been, and saw the picture of a full-grown woman with black, black bewitching hair.
Susan observed, as if from a vantage outside herself, her own mind struggling to stem the tide of strangeness which rushed upon her. She snapped the passport shut, revealing the Royal Coat-of-Arms upon its cover; she slipped it into her handbag, remembering within it, "Birthplace: Pangbourne, Berkshire, England." She stepped through the restroom doorway, and as the door swung closed behind her her struggle was overflowed by cresting inevitability and drowned.
Her eyes locked with those of a silver-haired man. She swayed as a fresh surge forced her deeper. The man was a stranger, and yet was known better by none, was dearer to none than she. Taking tender hold of her arm, he spoke in the accent best loved by her and in the tone of one loving her best of all that lives in the world to be loved.
"Susan why ever are you here, still? I had thought you were in England yester morning."
Sir, you must mistake me for but the words would not form themselves, not on her lips nor even at the edge of thought. Feeling all at once ill unto death, Susan caught sight of her own reflection in the gift shop window.
She opened her mouth, and it was as if a costume which had not hung straight fell suddenly into its proper folds.
"I waited for you, Daddy. As a surprise I hope you're pleased. I know how you do brood on long flights alone."
The illness passed; she heard herself speaking. The accent was English. The voice was hers.Return to story descriptions.
Every night for a month the dream recurred. Every night she was delivered from it just before the fatal final note. Sharon began to question her sanity; she remembered, somewhere in the month's midst, that the name Martin came from "Mars," the god of war. Then entered the last midnight but one before her ticket was to be exchanged for a rite more esoteric than any she had known.
Her dream now over for the thirty-first time, her body still quaking with the aftershocks of its climactic horror, a car passed slowly by outside her window, and its headlights for a moment illuminated the room around her. Awake, knowing herself so, she saw a shadow, but it was not the whip-wielding shadow of her dream. Ten cubits from tip to tip like those of the cherubim guarding the Ark of the Covenant, across the ceiling above her stretched the silhouette of wings.
Before she might distinguish what lay between them, man-shape or alien other, she heard a piercing cry as of mingled surprise and rage. The shadow quivered, and went out like a blown candle flame, while the headlights' exposure lingered an instant longer. Then darkness returned, utter as if the light had not been.
When her heart's seismic calamity had grown stationary enough to allow her to stand, Sharon rose from her bed, walked without switching on her lamp to her apartment door, and, shutting it resolutely behind her, wore away the hours till sunrise pacing the hall outside in her nightshirt. She would not remain for what lay between the wings to settle on her and dictate her dreams as for a year she had done, not after the doubt it had at first conceived in her was now brought again from dormancy to such a birth as this. She had caught it in the act, whether of hallowing or damning her she was not yet sure. But she knew that by the headlights's beams she had witnessed what had not meant to be seen.Return to story descriptions.
A day has passed according to the prison sirens, and still he's done nothing, not spoken to me again. I can hardly raise my head a centimeter I must be in my fertile time now, maybe even near the end of it I doubt that I have more than a day left. I may fool him yet, pass the point of no return before he gives me the cure; then unless he's a necrophiliac he'll be out of luck. Or rather, in luck alive. But probably not for long. The Authority wouldn't have sent him to me if they weren't set on getting rid of him. Which piddling clause of what petty law of theirs did he break?
He's moving, at the door again. "Eva," he says, "how are you?"
I haven't the strength left to waste on this charade, and don't answer.
"Eva, can you come to the door?" He pauses, waiting. "Eva, if you don't answer me, I'm going to come in." Another pause. "Eva, I'm coming in now."
I hear the latch undone; the door swings opens, and he steps through. I see no more than his shadow now for the blurring of my eyes. He walks to where I lie curled up, and kneels down next to me.
"My God, you're close to it, aren't you?" he says. He touches my face; I flinch; he pulls his hand back quickly.
For some reason I think of my hair again; try to smooth a tangle, but my fingers won't work. Though men have praised my body as voluptuous, confinement and repeated sickness have largely ruined it, and I suddenly feel ashamed. Tears beat against my eyes inside, the sickness's last insult to my control; I haven't cried in years. I can't bear it, not any of it the sickness, the fear of death, being a woman, being near a man.
"Why don't you do it?" I mouth, producing no more sound than breath itself, and a silent sob sends a convulsion all through me.
"I was waiting for you to ask. Do you want me to make you well, Eva?"
I'm becoming delirious, hearing tenderness in his voice that can't be there. "Yes," I answer, choking on the word as my sex has choked on it for generations.
He gives me the cure; at first I hardly know what he's doing, then as its effect begins to take, I begin to feel pleasure. (And as always loathe myself for feeling it is this the Factor's crowning outrage?) It's I had almost said good, but well, better than with many men. Maybe better than with most. Maybe . . .
. . . I wake from a long nap, through which a voice seemed to praise me with all the sweet falseness of dreams, "Eva, you have beautiful hair." I feel wellness surge through me like the drug in the veins of an erophane-addict. He Alec isn't with me, but I hear movement from his cell. Why haven't they taken him away yet?
"Eva, are you awake?"
"Yes." Repeating the last thing I said to him, this time in a voice that sounds lovely even to me in its clearness. It must be the wellness following on long-sickness and near-death, that makes me feel almost happy.
Alec starts to say something, and his voice seems to have something wrong with it. "Thank you, Eva," he whispers hoarsely at last.
I had thought that I was awake, but I'm not sure now; if this isn't a deceitful dream, it's gone on too long for a joke. No man thanks a woman for giving her the cure, rather demands her thanks, grudging as it may be, expressed by performing some service sexual or otherwise. I wait for him to say more; he doesn't. I say, "The guards will be coming for you soon. I'm surprised they haven't been here already." I consider telling him right away that he's fatally infected, but decide to wait.
"They won't be coming for me, not for awhile yet. I have friends in high places." His voice sounds worse, strained in a way that's somehow familiar.
"If your friends are so high and mighty, what are you doing here?" I retort. Then suddenly I know what it is about his voice. My God, is what I carry deadly enough to kill them so quickly as that?
I'm on my feet; I open the door to his cell; I look in. And I know, at once without any doubt. If there's anything I recognize the symptoms of, it's . . .
" . . . the sickness," I say, an incredulous smile spreading across my face. "You have the sickness."
"Yes," he answers.
I laugh long and loud, not at the fact that he has the sickness I would have preferred that it were some other man but at the sheer poetic justice of it. What went wrong when the Womb technicians injected me, giving me the ability to turn the tables and revenge my sex, and how many other mistakes have they made? Oh, it's too deliciously perfect . . . and in fact, it can't be true. Alec's way too far gone.
As if he reads my mind, "It works faster with us. Much faster. I have one day, maybe not more."
He's right, though I wonder how he knows this. He already looks as bad as I was when they brought him to me.
"Is the cure the same for you?" I ask. "Do you need me to give it to you?"
I never knew power, the rabid intoxication of it, till this moment. I've dreamt of this, savoured it slowly time and again as an impossible fantasy is there any woman who hasn't? Now it's the life of my enemy, not my own life, that hangs on my "yes." Shall I speak that saving word? But of course . . . never. To watch a man die as all women die at last. Oh, I've dreamt of this. . . .Return to story descriptions.