Hemingbird t1_itzzvuq wrote

They led her to the Marks and Spencer makeshift quarantine facility and all the way there no one said a word. Bobby seemed to be having a grand time, taking in the capitalist richness of the sights, but Moore was firm in denying her the pleasure of checking out skirts and blouses.

Hayma joined them; she came bearing a fist full of silver-tipped arrows and a necklace of garlic. Bobby smirked at the sight of it. "Silver and garlic? How did you guys survive for so long?" Laughing she snatched off a bulb of garlic and she swallowed the whole thing. "See? You can't trust myths."

Moore scowled at the vampire girl. "I have encountered your kind before. I know your ways. If you felt like it you could tear all our heads off without breaking a sweat. What are your true intentions? Why are you here?"

Bobby cleared her throat. "First and foremost I'm here to pick up a new outfit. But I'm also here as an envoy."

Hayma scoffed and tightened her bow. "An envoy?"

"Oh yes," said Bobby. "We can't drink zombie blood. It kills us. We need the real deal." Licking her lips she stared at Ralph's neck. He gulped. "We're all starving. Not too many humans left out there, we're running out of snacks."

"What's your point?" said Moore.

"It's simple! We need your blood and you need our protection. What I am proposing is an alliance. Like ravens and wolves. Did you know that they work together? Interspecies cooperation! What do you say?"

Moore spat at the ground. "There are no more ravens," he said. The rest of his flock of bird-watcher guards nodded their heads.

"True," said Bobby, "but there are still humans. I have been traveling all over making deals on behalf of my kind. There are thousands of us, working together to survive under the red sun!"

There was little use in trying to keep Bobby quarantined. She had the strength of at least a dozen men and hellbent on finding herself a new outfit she spent her days browsing through the floors of the mall. Eventually Moore warmed up to her. They were running out of non-perishables and there was no way they could sustain themselves long-term on diet soda alone. They had hundreds of shelves of the stuff. "We're going on an expedition," said the old King of the Birds one day.

He and Bobby had been talking, making deals in the dark. Apparently there was a shelter nearby filled with goods that were of little use to vampires but a godsend for humans.

Ralph, Moore, Bobby, Hayma, and four senior sentries braved the daylight together, which apparently was of no concern to their vampire friend, and for the first several hours everything seemed to be going fine. Then came the horde.

The smell was like a cemetery dragged through a garbage dump, groaning towards them like a school of ghostly piranhas. It was an ambush.

Bobby calmly sat down at the pavement while the rest of them gave what they had to destroy the zombie brains, to halt the unrelenting march of the horde. The zombies avoided her. Slouched around her.

"Help us for god's sake!" cried Moore and Bobby grinned like mad.

"Can't you see?" she said. "These ravens of mine led me to your little hideout."

Just then a feathered corpse flung itself at Moore's neck, dug its talons deep into his flesh. He stared at it with wide-eyed wonder. "The Stresemann's Bristlefront ..."

Hayma fired an allow clean through its avian pallium but it was already too late: the undead bird had torn out Moore's jugular. She was the next to fall as the necrotic wave rushed over them like a graveyard tsunami.

Bobby grabbed Ralph by the arm. "Let's get out of here," she said. Her fangs glittered in the red sun. Ralph put his handgun between her emerald eyes, felt his finger tremble at the trigger. Tortured screams and deathly growls surrounded them. "I could really use a hand ..." she said. Ralph closed his eyes. He thought of the madness, the red skies of doom, the feelings of dread and horror that refused to let go of his heart.

He pulled the trigger.


Hemingbird t1_itzni2x wrote

One morning near the end of October not long before the cycle of day and night had become an oscillation of jet black to blood red (the billionaires crashed and burned in their attempted escape, triggering the Kessler syndrome which in turn resulted in blue light mostly scattering away on account of the earthly mist of space junk rendering the heavens at daytime a doomsday red), Ralph woke to hear sirens.

The perimeters of the Mall of America were closely guarded by a group of octogenarian bird watchers who had all given their last fucks a long time ago in this world with no more birds, led by the venerable William Moore who commanded the respect of the rest of them for being the only one among them who had ever seen the long-tailed Stresemann's Bristlefront—this army of incontinent sentinels worshipped at the alter of Moore.

Ralph entered the hall of computer mirrors, the security HQ, covering his ears and shouting indistinctively at the cucumber-calm Moore who sipped his root beer while keeping his eyes fixed on one screen in particular.

The sight itself was absurd, unthinkable—one woman alone slashed her way through the horde of zombies and she did it with a pixellated smile on her face. On the greenish-gray monitor she parkoured her way through the parking garage in a bulbing-thick parka. With a flick, Moore turned off the alarm and he looked up at Ralph with an expression that could only be described as heartfelt Stoicism. "She's all yours, Henderson," said the King of the Birds. "Get down there. Help her out. Find out if she's been bitten." He paused for a few seconds, then said grimly, "You know the protocol."

Ralph knew the protocol. A small cut on your inner thigh was enough to get you exterminated, and it didn't matter if you had a perfectly good explanation of how you got it that didn't involve any zombies—the MO of the MOA was radical risk management. It was how they'd prevented an internal outbreak, how they'd been able to stay alive for such a long time, and the raptorial cabal had made Ralph their henchman in such affairs though he personally couldn't stand it, couldn't stand the gut-wrenching horror of butchering those who had risked their lives to make it to the compound on account of miniature scratches behind ears, down the nape of their necks, under a crooked toe.

The barricade had stood unmoved for weeks, even months—Ralph had started to suspect there weren't any more survivors out there, only legions of undead on their drunkard's walk towards gray matter tartare, cerebrospinal juice; synaptic sushi and dendritic spaghetti. Clearing a path would be hours of work and Ralph steeled himself for the task ahead. That was when the woman broke through of her own accord.

Her Kool-Aid crash made him jump back in panic. She grinned. In her hand she held a long serrated blade, dripping with dark-red blood. A necrotic hand, severed at the wrist, clutched her left foot. "So this is the mall, is it?" she said, sheathing her blade. Blood spurted from the sudden pressure as she hadn't even bothered to wipe it off first. Ralph nearly fled. Nearly put a bullet between the woman's green eyes.

"Stand down," said Ralph. He pulled out his handgun and took aim at the stranger. "Remove your clothes. All of them."

She laughed. "Who are you? The TSA?"

The woman took off her parka, underneath which was a long-sleeve satin pajama top, cream white with faint dots of pink hearts. "As you can tell, I came to the mall to get a fresh outfit. The apocalypse took place while I was still in bed, you see, and I've been on the move ever since." She held out her hand. "I'm Bobby."

"All of them," Ralph repeated. He tightened his grip on the gun, tightened his lips.

Bobby looked down. Her pajama bottoms were shorts but there were no traces of either wounds nor bruises down her smooth legs, waxed with the precision of Mr. Miyagi. She noticed the hand holding on to her leg. She shook it off and it flopped along the floor, then it started moving like some pentapedal freak of nature.

Ralph took a step back. "That's a contaminant!" he cried, pointing his gun at the digital spider.

"I prefer a more hands-on approach," said Bobby. She walked over to the hand and to Ralph's horror, she picked it up as if it were a housecat and she flung it out the way she'd entered. She put a finger to her lip. "Or is this more hands-off?"

This stranger was unlike any other Ralph had ever met, and that included the Burmese world champion archer who spent most her days in the Barnes & Noble. Bobby allowed him to inspect her and to his great disgust she seemed to take pleasure in it. Afterward, they put the barricade back together again and Bobby's strength took Ralph by storm—she carried cinder blocks as if they were matches and with her assistance it took no more than fifteen minutes to get it all back together again.

He escorted her up to the HQ. Every other minute or so, she dragged him into an abandoned store. "You're not here to go shopping," Ralph grumbled.

She laughed. "Oh, but I told you that was why I came. I needed a new outfit."

Eventually they made their way up to the security room, past the guards armed to their dentures, and Ralph introduced Bobby to the legend himself—William Moore.

The King of the Birds took one look at her and gave a great sigh. "Oh, wonderful," he said. "You've killed us all, Ralph."

Ralph didn't understand. "Huh?"

"I guess I never told you explicitly. I told you not to let any zombies inside, but I never said the same about vampires."

"... Vampires?"

Bobby grinned, baring her fangs.


Hemingbird t1_itw1yj1 wrote

The sound sent a zap all the way down my spine. It was my mother and my presumed father. They were ... laughing.

As I headed down the stairs, accompanied by the ever-curious Stella, I felt sick. Minutes earlier my mother had been all fire and brimstone and now she was having a good time? I did say I'd give them some space, but I was hoping it would be the kind of space like an arena, a boxing ring, the Colosseum.

"You haven't changed a bit! Still perky in all the right places."

"Oh, stop! At least you haven't changed. That much is clear."

I cleared my throat. "Having a good time, are we?"

They stared at me like a pair of embarrassed teenagers. "Sweetie," said my mother. "There's something we need to tell you."

The man nodded firmly. "It's long overdue. We should have told you ages ago."

"You're Zeus, the god of sky and thunder. And I am your son."

John Tremblay—or Zeus—nervously adjusted his beanie. "Y-You knew?"

My mother couldn't stop gaping.

"That banshee you brought into the house? She spilled the tea. Told me all about my father, king of the Olympians, and how there have been rumors of an open seat. Do you know how long they've pestered me? With their proposals and their singing and their—"

P̶o̴l̵l̴y̸ ̵w̶a̷n̶t̸s̴ ̷a̷ ̸c̴r̸a̴c̶k̴e̷r̷

M̷a̸y̷b̴e̵ ̶s̶h̵e̸ ̵w̵o̷u̷l̴d̸ ̵l̷i̴k̶e̷ ̸s̴o̷m̶e̷ ̷f̵o̵o̷d̷

I nodded my head towards the stairwell. "You hear that? That's the sort of stuff I've been dealing with."

My mother blinked. "I can't hear anything."

"Well ..." said Zeus. "You can't blame a father for wanting to check out his son's bride."

"She's not my bride. She's a banshee."

"That's a bit harsh."

"No. She is literally a banshee."

"Oh. Ooof ... I was standing outside, just keeping a watchful eye on things in the form of a bird, when she leapt out of a shrub. Said she was to be my daughter-in-law. Said the details had been all taken care of. You know, I thought she seemed a bit down and about but I didn't know—"

"Who are you guys talking about?" said my mother. "A banshee? Like in folklore?"

Zeus snapped his fingers and there was a shrill whelp from upstairs.

"Wait," said my mother. "The shower is running. But you're down here. So who is up there ...?"

That was when the banshee came walking down the stair, looking nothing at all like a horrific thing of folklore. She was wearing one of my mother's dresses, scarlet red, and it gave her a sheen of Freudian elegance. "I hope you don't mind ..." she said. "I found it in a closet. Mine was all wet."

I couldn't speak. I couldn't think. The air around her seemed to pulsate with every step she took. No, that was my beating heart. I tried to breathe.

Zeus clapped my shoulder. "Not bad, son," he said. "Not bad ..."

The banshee ran over to me and grabbed my hand with tears welling up in her eyes. "Husband." She looked up at me.

"Y-You got married?" My mother shook her head in disbelief. "You were only out for a few minutes! I know you said it was an interesting walk, but this ...!"

Her hair smelled like coconuts.

"My name is Raethshael. You can call me Rachael ... If you want to."

Zeus removed his beanie and used it to wipe his eyes. "Takes you back, doesn't it? Ah, to be young and in love."

"He's thirty," said my mother.

Zeus nodded. "So young ..."

Stella wandered down the stairs and meowed harshly.

"Who is she?" said my mother.

The banshee looked at her with a blank expression. "I'm Rachael."

Clearing his throat, Zeus said, "Ah, I went ahead and removed the layer between the land of Myth and the land of the Other Stuff. That's why you can see her. Well, I'm glad you was spared the first look! She looked like something the cat dragged in."

Stella frowned.

"The rumor is true," he added. "I have been doing some thinking, up there on the Olympus. We live in a post-truth society, I'm not sure you have heard?"

"... I'm familiar," I said.

"Good. You see, there are a lot of mythological stories out there. Way too many of them. It's hard to tell what's fact and what's fiction. I see the irony, don't worry. So I was thinking, wouldn't it be nice to have someone around who could sort the fake myths from the true ones? Someone to help us sort this fantastic mess out."

"Uh, what do you mean?"

"I'm talking about you! We could use a bright young man like yourself up there. And we'll have a grand wedding feast, of course! Well, officially you're just the guy I hired for the job. It's ... a bit tricky."

"Hera," said my mother with a scowl.

"Right. Hera. She doesn't know about this. Doesn't know about ... you. Or your mother."

Rachael squeezed my hand. "We'll get to live up there? On the mountain? I've always wanted to see a mountain."

Zeus let out a thunderous laugh. "Mountain! Well, it's more like a kingdom. And it's up in the clouds, not on the actual mountain. Can you imagine?"

"I can't," I said.

"And neither can I!" screamed my mother. "What's all this? You're going to take my boy up to some cloud palace? Along with this woman I've never seen before? No. I won't allow it. This is absurd!"

There was a prolonged silence. "All these years, when you counted out the distance from my thunder bolts," said Zeus. "Were you asking yourself whether I was close?"

"What? Of course not. It's just ... something to do."

"Take your anger out on me, sweetheart. Not on the boy."

"I am taking it out on you!"

"I think I should get to say something," I said. They stared at me. Zeus, my mother, Rachael, and even Stella. For a moment I pictured myself thirty years older, still living with my mother. I shuddered. "Maybe it won't be so bad."

"What?" said my mother.

"I've always had my head in the clouds, haven't I? Why not try it out. I might like it."

"Yes!" cried Rachael. Then she cleared her throat and Stella's hairs all stood up on end in anticipation of the song of the banshee.

Wise men say

Only fools rush in

But I can't help falling in love with you

It was beautiful. Her voice was like velvet. She stared at me with a look of tender love. "Y-You sound different."

She smiled. "I guess you were right. It really did help, drinking that 'shampoo'."

"You drank the shampoo!?"

"Yes. The coconut drink. It was bitter ..."

"That's ...!"

My mother was shivering. She look about ready to punch a banshee.

"That's Presley! That's the King!"

"My favorite ..." Rachael said shyly.

My mother moved her hips, and Rachael moved hers in return. Soon they were both dancing and singing. It was terrifying.

"She's wearing your mother's dress," said Zeus.


"Using your mother's shampoo."

"... Yes."

"You know, there's this guy I know who has experience with these things. I'd love for you to meet him."

I gulped. "Oedipus ..."

"That's right! You guys know each other?"

"I've heard of him ..."

He knocked the air out of my lungs with a clap on my back. "That's my boy! That's why I want to hire you as our fact-checker. You have a mind for these things."

Zeus joined the dance floor while Stella and I stood watching the three of them shake their hips from the sidelines. Rachael grabbed my arm. "Husband. Let's dance."

Stella groaned a caution. I thought about uncle Barry and his enormous left foot. In the end, I relented. Zeus conjured up a sphere of ball lightning and it danced above us in wild circles. We joined hands and awkwardly moved together in a frenzy for what felt like hours and hours.

It was the most fantastic night of my life.


Hemingbird t1_itvm8j9 wrote

He walked right in with the banshee hanging onto his arm. She grinned. "My father-in-law," she said, tilting her head towards him. "We met outside. I told him all about it, about our upcoming wedding."

My mother dropped her coffee mug and it shattered. "Oh, fuck," she said.

"Lydia," said the man. "It has been ages. You look as stunning as ever."

He did not look entirely like what I'd expected. His lustrous hair and his majestic beard, sure—that was in keeping with what I'd imagined. But the checkered flannel, the mustard yellow beanie, the dirty denims ...

"What are you doing here, Z—I mean, John."

'John' rubbed the back of his neck. "Well I just got back from O—"

"Ontario," said my mother.

"Oh! Right! Ontario." He blinked at her. I couldn't help but roll my eyes. They really thought they were fooling me?

The banshee ran over to me and gave me a wet, slimy embrace. "Husband!" she cried.

My mother stared at me. From her perspective, I had just been hit by some invisible object. She probably assumed it was shock.

"Why are you here, John? Look at the boy. He's having a breakdown. And of course he is: how dare you show up here unannounced after all these years?"

The banshee hugged me. She grinned. "Your father is charming. But not as charming as you!"

"I'll, uh, I'll give you two some space," I said. My mother turned towards me, frowning.

"No, no. He's leaving. Aren't you, John? You just popped in for a second to torture us. And you're leaving. Out, out!"

"Don't be like that," said the man. He walked closer to her. "... Do you still count the seconds whenever there's a flash of lightning?"

My mother's cheeks turned red. "No, that's ... What! Why would I do a stupid thing like that?"

I led the banshee up the stairs to give the two of them some privacy. Well, I walked up the stairs. She hung on to me like a leech.

I̶'̶m̵ ̴s̶o̶ ̵h̷a̴p̴p̵y̸ ̵'̵c̶a̶u̶s̶e̸ ̸t̵o̶d̷a̴y̸ ̶I̵ ̸f̵o̴u̷n̸d̷ ̴m̵y̵ ̷f̶r̴i̶e̶n̵d̴s̵

T̶h̴e̷y̴'̴r̸e̶ ̵i̴n̴ ̶m̸y̸ ̴h̴e̵a̵d̴

We went inside the upstairs bathroom and I handed her a bottle. She looked puzzled. "This is shampoo," I said. I handed her another one. "This is soap. Please. Give them a try."

She nodded her head and opened her mouth.

"N-No. Not like that. Take a shower. Wash your face. Wash your hair."

I opened the door to leave.

"Will you not be joining me?" she said as she slipped out of her dress.

"Uh, no. No, I won't."

She let out a faint groan. Then, thankfully, I could hear the water running. That banshee really needed a good wash.

Stella came over and sniffed the closed door. She looked up at me. I shrugged. "I didn't invite her in. Don't blame me."

C̸o̴m̷e̶ ̶a̶s̵ ̸y̴o̶u̶ ̸a̴r̷e̸,̶ ̷a̴s̴ ̶y̸o̴u̴ ̸w̵e̵r̷e̷

A̷s̷ ̷I̴ ̸w̸a̷n̴t̶ ̷y̴o̷u̸ ̶t̶o̵ ̷b̴e̴

Her singing was as terrible as ever. But then I heard something else.


Hemingbird t1_itvho8t wrote

"Did you have a nice walk?" asked my mother. Stella gave me a look and raced up the stairs.

"It was ... interesting."

Looking at her now I tried to somehow verify what I had just been told. I was a fact-checker, wasn't I? Well, an unemployed one, true, but a fact-checker nonetheless.

"Was it? That's good."

Her smile lines, rosy complexion, silver hair—these were all pieces of evidence. She wore a moss-green sweater. That seemed irrelevant. Her pants were off-white. Also irrelevant. I would have to do some digging. Maybe start off with a bluff.

My mother took a sip of her coffee. "Oh, I ordered an ancestry kit earlier. DNA stuff, you know." She spat her drink out in shock.

"W-Why would you do that? Those things, haha, they're all scams aren't they? They said so on Charlie Rose."

"Charlie Rose hasn't been on for five years. They aired the last episode on November 17th, 2017."

"Is that right? Well they still had those things back then. Or maybe I saw it someplace else. It's just a scam. That's what I've heard. A guy swabbed the cheek of his chinchilla, and they said he was related to Genghis Khan! Can you believe it?"

"I can't."

She tapped her fingers on the kitchen table and she grinned wildly. "I'm sorry but I don't think the test will work for us. It's a ... genetic mutation. Yes! It throws everything off. You know I've told you about your uncle, the one with the enormous left foot?"

"... Barry? The one who wanted to become a dancer?"

"Yes! Well, he never made it of course. But he took the test. Yes, he did. And, well, the results came back negative."


"Yes. They couldn't make sense of it. Said our genetic heritage is all tangled up." She shook her head and let out a sigh. "Probably a bunch of cousins and siblings shacking up. Sorry to have to tell you like this. Yes, that's the reason why that ancestry test of yours will be no good. They won't be able to make sense of it because of all the, uh, you know."

"I don't think ancestry tests ever come back negative."

She shrugged. "It happened. So you might as well forget all about it."

"I guess I'll give Barry a call."

She raised a brow. "You'll what?"

"I'll call him. Ask him about his results. Might be interesting, you know."

I reached for my phone and she grabbed my arm. "No," she said. A few seconds went by. "He's a terrible drinker. Ask him about it and he'll become enraged. He'll come over and he'll beat us. He'll step on us. With his enormous foot."

"Isn't Barry a pediatrician?"

My mother twirled her hair and stared at the floor. "Doesn't mean he's not a mean drunk, does it? Functional alcoholic. That's what they call it. They talked about it on Charlie Rose."

I had reached an impasse. It was clear that she wasn't about to divulge anything.

H̴e̸'̴s̷ ̴t̸h̸e̴ ̶o̵n̷e̶

W̴h̷o̴ ̷l̸i̵k̷e̴s̴ ̶a̴l̵l̵ ̴o̶u̷r̵ ̶p̷r̴e̶t̵t̶y̶ ̵s̶o̸n̷g̵s̷

A̵n̴d̷ ̷h̶e̶ ̷l̶i̵k̵e̸s̴ ̷t̷o̷ ̸s̴i̴n̷g̴ ̵a̴l̸o̴n̵g̴

There was another flash of lightning, followed by an immediate roar.

"Sounds close," I said.

I could see pearls of sweat forming on my mother's forehead. Did this mean that it was true?

"You never told me about my father, did you?"

"What? Of course I did. He was a failed musician from Ontario. He abandoned the both of us before you were even born. I've told you the story countless times."

"What was his name?"

She scoffed. "I've told you that as well, haven't I? His name was John Tremblay."

"Yes ... One of the most common first names in Canada, and one of the most common surnames. What are the odds?"

"Fairly big, I'd say." She squinted at me.

"I guess that's technically true. But it's also true that it's so common that it's impossible to track down a guy like that. There's too many of them. Too many John Tremblays."

"At least one too many, if you ask me."

"That's not his real name, is it?"

She stumbled over her words trying to deny it. And just then there was a knock on the door.


Hemingbird t1_itvbrzj wrote

There was a flash of lightning and my mother started counting. She stared out the kitchen window, pouring milk along the rim of her bowl of cereal, and when the thunder came roaring she jumped. "Ten seconds!" she cried. "Divided by five: two. It struck two miles away."

"Fascinating. The milk ..." I pointed at the kitchen counter, dripping. Stella, our cat, frowned at me, her face painted white from the unexpected boon of fortune.

"Oh! Oh!"

It was just the three of us. Ever since I got laid off as a fact checker for the local rag I had been living the greatest fear of people my age: moving back home. To recuperate. To recover. The problem is that while children can learn to see their parents as people, it is impossible for parents to do the same. In their eyes, you will always be a child. Always a burden, whether or not they feel happy carrying it.

Outside I could hear the frog-like song of a banshee. She had gotten it into her head that I liked Elvis, but my mother was the one infatuated with the old hip-shaking rockabilly devourer of peanut butter, banana and bacon sandwiches—Christmas was always hell, always Blue.

A̷r̴e̸ ̵y̶o̵u̸ ̴l̸o̶n̶e̴s̵o̵m̷e̷ ̶t̴o̷n̵i̸g̵h̴t̶?̸

̴D̶o̶ ̸y̸o̴u̵ ̴m̷i̸s̷s̸ ̸m̷e̵ ̸t̷o̸n̷i̶g̸h̸t̷?̷

The banshee was tall and thin; a slender woman. She'd been serenading me for weeks and the only death she heralded was the death of a good night's sleep. Of course, my mother heard nothing. Stella, though: she heard everything.

"No hissing, Stella! I have to clean up this mess. Yes, I know you wanted to lap it all up. Boo hoo. We all got problems."

Of course my mother failed to notice that Stella wasn't looking at the spilled milk and she wasn't crying over it: she was, as was I, infuriated with the banshee frog song cover of the King.

W̸i̴s̴e̴ ̷m̴e̷n̵ ̸s̶a̷y̶

O̶n̵l̷y̶ ̵f̸o̴o̴l̶s̶ ̸r̸u̷s̸h̴ ̴i̵n̶

My boss had wanted me to join the team for a team-building event that included booze, games, and ... boating. I couldn't tell him why that was impossible for me, I couldn't tell him about the dead fish eyes of the mermaids and their seaweed lassos. "You know," he said one day, "there's people saying we live in a post-truth society. And the readers, if there's something the matter with a piece they'll set us straight with an email. They're happy to do the work for us. Why don't you take some time off?"

All my life I'd been living in a post-truth world, filled with banshees, mermaids, werewolves, unicorns, dragons, vampires, and kleptomaniac faeries. They all wanted a piece of me. I told my mother about it when I was a kid but she took me to a psychiatrist who chalked it up to an overactive imagination. "Escapism is common in children with abandonment issues," he said as if I weren't present. "Well these fantasy creatures are all obsessed with me! That's one way of reducing the cognitive dissonance. Maybe my dad doesn't want me but this dragon can't get enough of me. I have a paper published on it, actually. It's called the Harry Potter syndrome." My mother shattered the man's glass-framed diploma over his head and she took my hand, said we were leaving. I had to go live with my aunt for a while after that, but I truly appreciated her support.

"I'm going out for a walk."

My mother looked up at me with a mouthful of cornflakes. "In thish weather? Nhow?"

I shrugged. "You're eating breakfast food right now, aren't you? Maybe we're both messed up. Maybe our internal clocks aren't synchronized with the world out there." Stella meowed and motioned for the front door. She apparently wanted to join me. I expected she had some choice non-words for the banshee.

"B-bring a raincoat. And a hat. And gloves. And—"

"See you later!"

We found the banshee crouched inside a shrub.

Y̷-̵Y̵o̷u̷'̵r̸e̷ ̴h̴e̴r̶e̴ ̴.̷.̷.̷

H̵a̷v̸e̴ ̷y̴o̸u̵ ̵.̶.̷.̶ ̸H̷a̶v̸e̴ ̷y̴o̶u̶ ̵d̵e̸c̶i̸d̴e̴d̷ ̴t̸o̴ ̸m̸a̵r̶r̵y̸ ̴m̸e̶?̷


The banshee cleared her throat. She wore a blue, translucent dress that stuck to her like saran wrap. Her hair was long and dark and frazzled. Perhaps I'd give her one of my mother's shampoos. "You're here ... Does this mean you have accepted my offer of marriage?"

She assumed the fetal position, her thin fingers wrapped around her thighs like anorexic branches. Her skin was a post-mortem white and her eyes were all kohl. "Uh, no," I said. Stella let out a smug meow.

"Ohh ..."

W̷e̸'̷r̵e̶ ̵c̸a̷u̴g̸h̴t̸ ̸i̸n̶ ̴a̸ ̶t̸r̵a̵p̸

I̵ ̶c̷a̴n̷'̶t̸ ̶w̴a̴l̸k̵ ̷o̴u̴t̷

B̷e̴c̸a̸u̷s̷e̷ ̵I̶ ̴l̷o̸v̸e̵ ̶y̶o̷u̷ ̸t̶o̵o̶ ̷m̵u̷c̵h̸,̶ ̸b̸a̷b̶y̴ ...

Stella hissed. "Please," I said. "No more Elvis."

The banshee looked up at me, stunned. "B-But ... you love Elvis."

I shook my head. "I don't care about Elvis. Never liked him."

She started sobbing and even Stella seemed to feel bad for her, looking up at me with a concerned expression. A bolt of lightning lit up our garden and it didn't do wonders for the mythological girl's corpse-like aesthetic.

"Easy now," I said. "Even if you started howling like Kurt Cobain I still wouldn't be into it."

Her face shot up. "Cobain? Nirvana? So that's what you're into ..."

"No, that's—"

W̸i̴t̷h̷ ̵t̶h̷e̴ ̸l̶i̷g̵h̵t̵s̸ ̷o̵u̵t̵,̴ ̷i̴t̵'̸s̶ ̵l̴e̵s̴s̸ ̴d̵a̴n̶g̶e̸r̴o̷u̸s̴

H̶e̸r̶e̸ ̸w̵e̵ ̸a̴r̴e̵ ̷n̶o̸w̸,̵ ̵e̴n̵t̵e̴r̷t̶a̵i̶n̸ ̶u̷s̴

She looked serious and determined. I sighed. "It's not about the singing. I'm not into ... fantasy creatures. All my life you guys have been following me and I've never gotten an answer as to why."

The banshee stood up and caught some shrubbery in her eye. She wailed. Then she composed herself. "So if I give you the answer, you will marry me."

"That's not what I—"

"If I tell you, you'll let me inside your heart-shaped box. Okay. I will tell you."

Well. I never agreed to anything so I figured if she misinterpreted my silence as acceptance, that would be alright so long as I got a straight answer.

"It has to do with your mother," she said and there was a perfect roar of thunder.


Hemingbird t1_itm0meb wrote

Phil saw a fat man and his lean wife at Nathalie's stand. The Belgian woman ditched her MBA halfway through and joined their company because she wanted to, "Have some fun for once." Scamming people day in and day out? That was fun? He gave it some thought. With the MBA she would've been able to scam folks too, and at a higher level.

He inhaled deeply. The cigarette smoke irritated his lungs, but he was way past caring. Annoying children ran around screaming their little heads off and he wanted to strangle all of them. All at once, preferably. Perhaps with a very long chainsaw ...

He felt something stir within him all of a sudden, just as he stepped on his cigarette. Was it because he'd skipped lunch? He looked at the fat man and his wife and he thought, that's me over there. That's my wife.

Nausea overcame him like molasses of terror. He stood transfixed, in oversized, red shoes, as the husband and wife walked away. Only the wife seemed to be smiling.

"Hey, Nathalie. Who were those people?"

Nathalie was busy removing some gunk from her teeth. "Huh?"

"The guys you just scammed. Who were they?"

She plopped her finger out of her mouth. "Scammed! I didn't scam anybody. In fact, I helped them. Gave them the name of that scientist I was telling you about the other day."

"Wasn't he a scammer too? Only with an office downtown and all?"

"No," said Nathalie curtly. "He's a serious man. Serious and clever."

Phil didn't feel well. Phil? Was that his name? Suddenly he was not so sure ...

It was dark.

Inside the sack the scent of myrrh and cinnamon had made him nauseous. Was it worth it, really? Wasn't this a bit much, just to visit that pompous Roman?

The perfume was sure to win him over. It hadn't failed her yet. The way to a man's heart is via his nostrils. Anippe, his wet nurse, assured Phil that the fragrance could make even Ra fall in love with him.

Him? Was that right? Phil ... The name didn't seem right.

It was dark.

He opened his eyes to see the gorgeous creature before him, bubbles rushing upward from its head towards the surface. He wrapped his tentacles around the lovely creature's hand ...

Did he have tentacles? All this water around him—was it usually like this?

It was dark.

Phil slowly nodded his head and admired his own calligraphy. Most of the principles, and reasonings, contained in this volume, were published in a work in three volumes, called A Treatise of Human Nature: a work which the Author had projected before he left College, and which he wrote and published not long after. Why, yes. It sounded quite alright, didn't it? God, he was talented.

The world would remember the name of Phil—

Wait, was it really 'Phil'? Wasn't it something beginning with a D?

It was dark.

Phil opened his eyes and there was Barlow, gasping. "Well?" said the scientist. "How was it?"


Hemingbird t1_itlvwlo wrote

"I was Cleopatra's ... wet nurse?"

Phil McClaymond adjusted his overalls and scratched at his graying beard. The sound of children's laughter ricocheted between the ferris wheel and the merry-go-round, bullets of fun, and behind a giant plastic sculpture of a skateboarding dog an expressionless clown sucked wearily on a cigarette. He didn't seem to want to be caught in the crossfire.

"Cleopatra IV, to be precise. The one everyone thinks about, the one who went down the Nile with both Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony—she was the seventh."

"How exciting!" said Lucy. "Listen to that, Phil." She grabbed a fistful of his left, blubbery pectus. "It's not so hard to imagine, is it? You've got moobs for days. Of course you were a wet nurse in a former life. It makes perfect sense."

"Fuck off," Phil grumbled. The clown behind the sculpture put out his cigarette with an oversized shoe. "You know this is all bullshit, don't you? I only agreed to this to be a nice husband. Like when I let you do a tarot reading in front of my whole family. It was my 50th birthday, if you can remember. They still bring it up, laughing their asses off."

"Beep," said Lucy, giving her husband's chest a final squeeze. "Don't be like that. This is just harmless fun, isn't it? And if it weren't for that tarot reading your brother would've made the whole day about him, wouldn't he? He wouldn't shut up about his yacht. That was when I dug up the deck of cards."

Phil let out a gentle sigh of resignation. He never seemed able to find a complaint she couldn't somehow reverse.

The fortune teller cleared her throat, then coughed. "Oh. Sorry," she said, wheezing. "A slight irritation. It comes and goes." Catching her balance, she said, "Your wife is right. This is harmless fun. Standard fare at a standard fair, eh?" She studied their faces for traces of laughter, squinted, then clicked her teeth. "If you're looking for the real stuff, and I am talking here about stuff with real prices as well, there's a place you can go."

"I know of a place you can go as well," Phil muttered.

"Oh? Tell us more," said Lucy.

The fortune teller pulled up an iPhone and fumbled with it a bit before landing on the homepage for some guy called Steve G. Barlow. "He's a scientist," she said quickly. "This isn't hocus pocus. This is the real deal. Like geology, archaeology, or homeopathy."

Phil wanted to submit a complaint at the mention at the last item on the woman's list, but his wife emphatically nodded her head, saying, "Yes, yes. I see. He looks clever. Is he clever?"

The fortune teller assured them that he was indeed clever and that he traveled to conventions all across the globe. She coughed once more and she cupped a hand before them with a hopeful look.

Steve G. Barlow's office was sterile, austere, and looked to be decorated by the same kind of people who decorated airports. On the wall hung rows of diplomas and columns of dreamcatchers. Phil frowned at the very sight of them.

"Ah. Mr and Ms Claymond, I presume?"

"It's McClaymond."

"Oh. Scottish descent, I take it?" Barlow widened his eyes. They were like bright blue marbles trapped in spoiled milk. He had a face like a rubber mask and the sort of haircut monks stoically donned to make themselves as unappealing to women as possible.

Fuck off, Phil wanted to say. Instead he said, "Right."

"Could be memories of summers spent as an Edinburgh druid resurfaces. You never know. There's no genetic link between past lives, of course. The transfer takes place via morphic fields, resonating like spacetime ripples from then to now, there to here."

Lucy jittered with the excitement of a golden retriever. "She said he was a wet nurse. For Cleopatra."

Barlow raised a lone brow. "Who?"

She pointed at her husband. "Phil. One look at his moo—I mean his pecs—and you know it's true." Lucy softly planted a kiss on her husband's cheek.

"No," said the scientist, "I mean who told you that?"

"Some fortune teller," said Phil.

The scientist snorted. "I'm sorry. What we do here is science. I hope you won't be disappointed when I tell you fortune telling is all bullshit."


"Bullshit!" cried Lucy. "It's just harmless fun. That doesn't mean it's bullshit."

Barlow shrugged. "If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck ... It's probably not a moose, is what I'm saying."

Lucy grumbled. "Those are some fine dreamcatchers you've got on the wall ..."

"Oh. Yeah. My daughter makes them. I buy them. Because, you know, who else would?"

His wife's face was starting to glow a slight red, Phil noticed. She tossed her black curls aside absentmindedly like she had a tendency to do before launching into a full frontal assault.

"So past lives, eh?" said Phil louder than necessary.

"Yes! As you're aware, neurons fire in rhythmic oscillations in frequencies from 8-25 Hz, alpha to gamma. This is a process of communal synchrony not entirely unlike the flashing of fireflies—collective dynamics is the proper term—and I am sure you have marveled at the murmuration of starlings, the colonial hivemind of ants and bees.

"The morphic field operates in a similar manner to the electrical field of charge and potential under your scalp, rising and falling like the hills and valleys of some ethereal plane. Our ancestors tended to walk in lockstep with its steady, comforting hum, but today we are deaf to its sound. Why? I suppose it's our disruption of the inherent harmony of nature; our very lives are dissonant, chaotic; we stuff pelicans full with microplastics and we poison the water we drink with chemicals that—"

Barlow gasped for breath. "I am sorry," he said. "I just watched My Octopus Teacher. It is a beautiful documentary, tinged with sorrow." Wistfully he glanced out an office window. "Those birds that soar in the skies outside, they have the wisdom of every life they've ever lived in their trembling hearts, I'm sure of it."

Phil tugged at his wife's cherry sweater, begging her with his eyes to escape this lunatic along with him. Lucy brushed him off.

"Birds can remember their past lives?"

"Oh yes. Well, I believe they can. A friend of mine has a parrot that recites verses in Latin. It must be morphic resonance. There's no better explanation."

"H-How does it work?"


"The website said you had some sort of device. Something to connect one to the, uh ..."

"—Morphic field! Yes. Let's get started, shall we?"

It didn't look like much to Phil. A pair of earbuds, a pair of contact lenses. This guy charged $500 a session and Phil's stomach sank at the thought of every dollar he had spent on scammers that had impressed his wife and he wondered, for a moment, whether it might all add up to a yacht.

It didn't feel like anything either, wearing them.

"Let me know if you feel uncomfortable," said Barlow.

"I've felt uncomfortable all day," said Phil.

"Oh, and drink this."

With the lenses everything looked blurred, but Phil could recognize the plastic cup though he couldn't quite place the smell. He sniffed it. "Damn," he said. "What the hell is this stuff?"

Barlow blurred a smile. "Ayahuasca," he said. "It gets the process going."

"Isn't that a drug?" asked Lucy.

"If you ask me? No. If you ask the FDA or the DEA ... Well. I only request that you don't ask either of them."

Phil shrugged. "Bottom's up," he said and he drank the bitter stuff in one go.

For a few minutes, nothing happened. Then, right afterward, everything happened. All at once.


Hemingbird t1_itg1hnm wrote

Republican state Sen. Michael Buckley stared at the almighty creator with all the vehemence of the GOP. "What's with the getup?"

God shrugged. "I really thought it would be the squids. I mean, apes? Last time I checked in on you guys you were flinging shit at each other." He took a look at the protesters outside the bullet-proof window. "And not much has changed, as far as I can tell. I'm sticking with it. I still have hope for the squids."

"They'd love you over in Japan."


The senator frowned.

"I went to Tokyo last week," said God. "Took a stroll down Akihabara. That's an accurate expression of shocked surprise. Eh!?" God moved his tentacles around.

GOD IS A LIE. ALL HAIL CTHULHU OUR LORD AND SAVIOR. ASK HIM IF HE'S SEEN SQUID GAME. The protesters were a mixed bunch. When God announced he was coming down to Earth to check up on his creation, the GOP cheered. When he revealed that he'd taken the form of the humble squid, no one really knew what to think. Still, it was Michael Buckley who had managed to score the first interview with the almighty creator of the world and he was hoping to clinch the primaries with the revelation that God favored both conservatism as well as Buckley himself. A particularly fervid protester held a sign that simply said, AS A SQUID INKETH. "It's clever," he mouthed with desperate eyes.

Sen. Michael Buckley cleared his throat. "You were in Japan? But this is, as I understand it, your very first interview with humanity?"

"Oh yeah."



"I can see why you would be reluctant to present yourself in all your glory before a godless nation. As Christians, we—"

"You're Christians?" God blinked.

"... Yes. As Christians—"


"What's that?"

"Well ... It's just that I'm not all that big on religion."

"You're God ..."


"God isn't 'all that big' on ... religion?"

"That's right."

"... May I ask why?"

"I'm glad you asked! I like to think of life as controlled anarchy. I made a little RNA soup and chance and necessity is what has led us to this exact moment. Freedom is important. Anarchy. That's how evolution works, you can't put all your eggs in one Darwinian basket. You need diversity. And religion is the opposite of that, with its demands that everyone act and think the same. It's stifling, frankly. It's not controlled chaos. It's chaos, controlled. And that's no good. No bueno."

"D-Darwin? Evolution? Wait, did the libtards get to you? What have you been smoking? You created everything."

"I set things in motion, but that was pretty much it. And Earth is, I'm so sorry to tell you, my least favorite of my creations. Because of religion. It's like you've made this wonderful salad and then suddenly there's a bug in it and you're like, oh man, that's disgusting. And you're sad because you were proud of making the salad, you looked forward to eating it, but that little bug just ruined everything. And that's how I think about religion: it's a bug in my salad of creation."

"B-But what about Jesus? What about the afterlife?"

God squinted his eyes at the senator. "Jesus? Afterlife?"

"There's ... no Jesus? No afterlife?"

"Oh! Well there was a prophet."

"There was!?"

"Yes! She was a squid, though."

Michael Buckley slunk down in his seat. "Your prophet was a ... squid."

God made a tentacular gesture. "Again, I really thought it would be all about the squids here."

A protester outside scowled at the two of them from behind the glass. NO SQUID PRO QUO, his sign read.

State Sen. Michael Buckley groaned. Of course it was a live debate. Of course he would have to be the one to interview God and break the news that their treasured desert carpenter turned out to have just been some guy. That there would be no afterlife. That God didn't care for religion. They would all blame him for it. He'd never become the Republican candidate. "What are you even doing here, then?" he said. He could feel the veins of his forehead throbbing. "You're not the almighty father—You're a deadbeat father!"

In the moment, insulting God felt like the right move. But when he saw the sly smile curl across God's molluscular lips, he knew he had fucked up.

"Why am I here? I am here to remove the bugs from my salad," said God.

The divine squid creator of all things stood up and let rip a pulse of electromagnetic radiation like a laser of pure sunset. Red, hot, and searing the beam moved like a cosmic whip from state Sen. Michael Buckley's groin to the top of his wig. I am sizzling, thought Buckley's left hemisphere. Hot hot hot, thought his right hemisphere. Then neither thought no more.

Outside, the man holding the sign saying ALL HAIL CTHULHU OUR LORD AND SAVIOR slowly nodded his head while the rest of them ran for their lives. "Badass," the man mouthed. "Bad-fucking-ass."


Hemingbird t1_isuv4jv wrote


Goblina's family took turns lifting me. Her little brother, Gobrey; her elder sister, Gobannah; her mother, Gobessica; her father, Gobilliam; her grandmother, Gobanelle; and her grandfather, Gobius.

"It's like lifting a feather!" cried Gobius.

"No, more like a potato," said Gobrey.

After they'd all deadlifted me and put me down, they stood in line with hopeful looks plastered all over their greenish faces. I turned towards Goblina.

"R-Right!" she said. "Alex is human, as you all know. He doesn't really ... lift people."

A silence fell over the wonderfully-decorated cave. Goblin Christmas was a big deal, and Goblina's family celebrated it with an intensity I'd only seen in my own family after an unknown relative had left us a hefty inheritance.

I cleared my throat.

"And that's more," she added, "he doesn't really like ... being lifted, either."

Gobilliam shook his head. "Nonsense. Everyone enjoys being lifted. Everyone enjoys lifting people. That's what we do."

"Ah," said Goblina, "but the humans—"

"Is this about your uncle?" asked Gobessica. "We heard about what happened. Is he alright?"

"Oh. Yes. He's fine. A couple of stitches, that's all."

"What happened?" asked Gobannah.

I looked over at Goblina. She gulped. "I got a bit excited and ... I tossed him right up at the ceiling fan."

Gobilliam let out a roar of laughter. "That's my girl! That's the strength of our family!"

Goblina's grandfather scoffed. "So you're worried you'll throw us into the ceiling fan? This is a cave! There's no fan. The temperature regulation is all natural. And frankly, I don't think you'd be able to lift me an inch!"

"Grandpa!" said Goblina.

"What? The boy thinks he's so strong that he'll hurt us, and he's just a weak little huma huma?"

"Dad!" cried Gobessica. "Watch your language."

Gobius shrugged.

"Actually," I said, "I don't think I'd be able to lift any of you. And Goblina ... When you throw my relatives up into the air it makes me feel a bit ... emasculated."

They all stared at me. "I can't help it," I added. "I feel embarrassed."

Goblina look deeply into my eyes. "Why haven't you said something?"

"I don't know ... I mean, I think it's really cool that you're strong. But I'm a guy. I'm supposed to protect you."

Gobannah snorted.

"Protected by a shrimp! Gwahahha."

Gobius rolled on the cave floor in a fit of laughter.

"You never said he was so funny!" said Gobanelle. "So that is why you like him. We discussed it before you two came. None of us could come up with an answer."

"Grandma! That's rude!"

"I'm serious," I said.

They all stopped laughing. My words echoed through the cave, coming back to mock me.

After a while, Gobius said, "There's no shame in being a weak little huma huma." He nodded to himself. "Orcs lift each other as a greeting but it is also a way of maintaining our strength and of making sure that we're all strong enough to defend each other."

"That's right," said Gobanelle. "Of course you feel weak and pathetic and like a little shrimp when you can't lift the ones you love!"

"It's like the old ballad," said Gobius. "You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains. You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas."

The rest of the orcs joined in. "I am strong, when I am on your shoulders. You raise me up to more than I can be."

Their eyes twinkled with tears.

Gobius suddenly clapped his hands together. "That settles it!" he said. "You shall become strong, my boy. You shall become strong!"


Hemingbird t1_isuoy6l wrote


"P-Put me down, Goblina!"

"Uhh ... You're bald."

Goblina stood in the middle of our living room, triumphant and confused. My father squirmed above her.

"Not like that!" he hissed. "Not. Like. That!"

After the incident—it was the third time my orc girlfriend Goblina had deadlifted a relative of mine against their wishes on this day alone—we all ate ice cream together in silence. My father kept stealthily touching the top of his head. Uncle Peter stared at Goblina with a look of awe. 350 pounds and she'd lifted him above her head without breaking a sweat.

"Goblana, I think it would be wonderful for you to meet my friend Sue," said my grandma.

"It's Goblina," I corrected her.

She turned to my orc girlfriend. "How about this Sunday? We can call it 'brunch'."

"Sue?" said uncle Peter. "Isn't she the one from your bridge club that owes you money?"

Grandma's cheeks went rouge. "Well! Maybe she owes me a dollar or two. Does she? Oh, perhaps you're right. I didn't even think of that."

Earlier, Goblina deadlifted my grandma as a greeting and she didn't even bat an eyelid. "Interesting," my grandma had said. "How interesting."

My father let out a deep groan. "Your grandson's girlfriend is not your hired muscle." Then he added, "If you absolutely need some help getting your money back, I guess I can step in."

"You?" said my grandma. "What are you going to do, write her a stern letter?"

"Folks have said that I look quite intimidating."

Uncle Peter raised his brows. "I think they mean you look sort of like a rapist."

"Rapist!" cried my father. "What the hell do you mean by that?"

"Hmm," said grandma. She squinted her eyes at my father. "That might do the trick."


"If I were to leave the two of you alone for a minute ... The imagination has a tendency to run wild, you know."

My father left the table. Hopefully he was headed to the bathroom to shave off his pencil mustache.

Goblina sat with hunched shoulders scooping up tiny bits of ice cream. Of course my mother had chosen pistachio. "You have a lovely home," she said.

"Well, it's no cave!" my mother replied.

"Yeah, but it's still pretty nice."

My mother frowned.

"Brunch?" my grandma mouthed. She made a fist, crackling with arthritis.

"Boy I'm stuffed," said uncle Peter. He slapped his belly. "Not even Hercules could lift me now."

Goblina's left eyebrow twitched.