• fiction,  short stories

    The Rare and Delightful Mirror-Book

    For the first time, I open a book and I find a mirror inside. I’ve heard that you can find mirrors in books, sometimes; most of my friends have had it happen at least twice, and Angelina from across the street has it happen so often she probably doesn’t know that books are actually made of paper.

    But this is my first time, and it’s spectacular. I see a face I know inside the book: a round face, the freckles Mom always called constellations, my inquisitive eyes (which I have always thought are my best feature), and hair that looks like it belongs to a street dog.

    I don’t look like a street dog in the reflection. Somehow, in this context, I look like an unruly adventurer. The impish smile that gets me into so much trouble belongs to someone exciting! Someone, perhaps, with a pirate’s hat and a sword—or maybe a wizard hat and staff, or—

    My reflection moves even though I do not. From the mirror extends a hand that is just like mine. The fingernails are chewed down to the quick. Of course I take it; I’ve never had the chance before, and I won’t miss it now.

    When I fall through the mirror, I find myself wearing a familiar costume: shining armor that matches the bright-silver fur of the horse beside me. I’ve always read about knights in shining armor. But never have I fallen straight into those clankity-boots to find my face reflected back in the polished shield mounted to my horse’s hip. I look good as a knight in shining armor. I wouldn’t have expected that.

    The horse lets me mount, because I’m good with horses—who knew I could be good with horses?—and skillfully do I ride up the mountain, urging her onward.

    “Let’s go, Streakfire!” I say. “Let’s go!”

    We fly together, like I never knew I could fly, and the whole world of the story falls out below me. There are villages below filled with people who need to be saved, and I’m the only one who can do it—me! In the forests await adventures I’ve seen others survive. Hardship awaits in the darkest caverns and deepest tunnels, but it’s only the kind of hardship which proves I can handle anything.

    My horse and I arrive at the mouth of a dragon’s cave, and this part, I dread. I know how others have done this. I know I should kill the dragon. But oh! He’s beautiful! He rears above me with multifaceted scales that catch the sunlight as surely as my armor.

    The dragon asks, “What do you want?”

    “I came to see if you need anything,” I say.

    “You don’t want to hurt me?”

    “Never.” And I’m shocked that I can say that, because the story shouldn’t progress that way. I never thought it should. I didn’t like it. I wanted the heroes to be nice—like I’m nice—but so often the books just don’t do that.

    This is my mirror in my book, my life in my book, and I never draw my sword against the dragon.

    The chapter ends with a long talk between the two of us. Streakfire eats grass at the mouth of the cave and I make my favorite pie for the dragon to eat. I love every minute, every word, every turn of the page. To think that someone like me would make friends with a dragon!

    When it’s time to close the book, I slip out of the mirror, and I hug this beautiful thing to my heart. I disappeared for hours. At last, I found myself in a story. At last I could go into the mirror, like so many others do, and at last I can see myself as something else. It won’t be the last time, either. The dragon still waits in chapter two.

  • featured,  fiction,  short stories

    The Wolf Made Differently

    Thyra didn’t like how kneading dough hurt her hands, but Mother wouldn’t let her stop. “Dig in deeper and work through the ache,” said Mother. “That’s what it feels like when muscles grow strong.”

    Thyra didn’t especially want to grow strong–at least not back then. “Strong” was the word everyone had used for the men when they left on a viking. “Strong” meant those tall men, with those wide shoulders, carrying straps of leather over their shoulders as they talked too loudly on the way to the docks, and “strong” meant the occasional lash-out of a foot when the thrall dropped a crate that was meant to reach the longship, and “strong” also meant the stench that followed those big burly men when they returned victorious and fewer after some months.

    “We all need to be strong,” said Mother with the muscles around her eyes drawn tight as she kneaded her own dough harder. “We don’t get to decide we don’t want to be strong.”

    Want, Thyra understood, was unimportant.


    Ulfhild was one of the daughters at the farm down the hill. Her family was poor enough that Mother didn’t want Thyra to make friends with Ulfhild, mostly on account of The Risk, something that Mother said with an air of grownup mystery. The Risk was something that had happened to Byggsen Farm before Thyra was born. The Risk was the reason that Mother was especially kind to her thralls, even pitying, and would let them sleep on the floor in front of her fire when nights were cold.

    “Ulfhild’s farm is a few dead goats away from this,” said Mother, bobbing her head toward her thralls.

    Thyra’s impression of the people who worked the fields was negative. They weren’t strong, but they were smelly, and certainly worth pitying. (“Odin’s least favorite,” Mother once said in Thyra’s earshot, and Thyra had understood that as well as she had understood anything else.)

    Ulfhild was subject to The Risk, and it had something to do with thralls, but Thyra couldn’t imagine Ulfhild having anything in common with thralls besides two arms and two legs and a head with a face on it. Ulfhild had thick hair the same color of red as the cinnabar on a shield. It grew in loops that Thyra could wrap around her fingers. Ulfhild hated it, for some reason, just as she hated the dresses she was expected to wear. She complained a lot about the same things Thyra found most delightful in life.

    “Working in the garden!” Ulfhild would complain, punching at a haystack until her face got red. “Livestock husbandry!”

    “Would you prefer to go on a viking, then?” asked Thyra with a wrinkled nose.

    “Maybe I would,” said Ulfhild.

    Oh, Ulfhild was wild, and entirely unladylike, unlike any of the other daughters of the karls. Even the blacksmith’s daughter had never been known to rip off her dress and go tearing naked across the village, screaming, just to escape her nagging mother. When someone finally caught Ulfhild under his arm, she was kicking the entire way back, and laughing, and screaming, and biting like a complete wild animal.

    “Strong boy you have there,” said the man, tossing Ulfhild at her mother’s feet.

    The mother had been embarrassed, Ulfhild had been abruptly quiet, and Thyra (watching from a textile shop nearby with her hands in her mouth to stop laughing) found herself desperately smitten with Ulfhild for being such a nuisance.


    One night Ulfhild appeared in Thyra’s bedroom when the moon was big and the fjord was bright because nights never got very dark when it was so warm. Ulfhild’s tanned-and-freckled face glowed. She had chopped all that pretty cinnabar hair off. She was crouching over Thyra’s bed, and she said, “I wanted to tell you, I’ll come back, and we’ll get married.”

    Thyra thought it must have been a dream. None of this made sense. Why would Ulfhild come back, when she was already there? She was no more than an hour’s giggling, arm-pumping, foot-flying run away from Thyra’s home at any given moment. And how in the world could they get married? They were both girls. They had a duty to their families to marry well, and marry men.

    Thyra liked the idea of marrying Ulfhild, in her dream, and she said, “Come back soon.”

    It wasn’t the first time that Ulfhild curled up in bed next to Thyra. They used to do that all the time when they were small, when their mothers were still friends, and Thyra remembered well the feeling of cheek against cheek and mingling breath as they faded into sleep. But Ulfhild’s breathing was choppy and wet like she was crying a little bit. Ulfhild never cried. It was definitely a dream.


    Thyra awoke to a single coil of cinnabar hair in her bed. She put it into a jewelry box of yew and ash, locked it, and hung the key around her waist.


    Ellingboe Farm was empty after that night. Mother told Thyra, “You’re old enough now, you should know. Ulfhild’s father couldn’t repay his debts and he was beaten to death in his paddock. The jarl came overnight. The rest of the family was taken into custody to pay off his debt.” And now the jarl had more thralls. That had always been The Risk.

    Although Mother didn’t say Ulfhild escaped the arrest, some of the men had left on a viking just that morning, off to join another raiding party in islands to the south, and Thyra remembered her dream. She somehow knew Ulfhild had gone with the men, because Ulfhild was strong.

    “You have to be strong too, Thyra. We all do,” said Mother.


    Thyra mastered kitchen and garden at her mother’s side, but only when winter came again did Mother decide Thyra needed to manage the thralls. “Keeping the thralls to work our land is the difference between us and them,” said Mother.

    “Us and who?” asked Thyra.

    “Them,” said Mother. Byggsen Farm and Ellingboe Farm, probably, although Mother never said it. She hadn’t even told Thyra when Father laid claim to both lands and extended their own farm to take the entire hillside overlooking the fjord, contentedly filling spaces vacated by tragedy.

    Managing the thralls really meant managing the one given the most responsibility, who they called Foot. Foot used to be a farmer and the other thralls respected them. Mother took Thyra every time she gave instructions to Foot, and Mother lent Foot keys to accomplish various tasks around the farm, and Thyra learned how to speak with disdainful authority and point fingers and to pretend the smells didn’t trouble her. It unsettled Thyra to look at the thralls, neither boys nor girls, but simply Odin’s least favorite people, defined only by how much they deserved their fate.

    Also, Father started showing interest in Thyra at this time. “You have gotten very tall,” he said, “and your hair is very long. You look a great deal like your mother at this age.” This Age was a special concept, much like The Risk. “The jarl wants to see you. Put on your prettiest dress, would you?”


    Of course Thyra had been to the jarl’s longhouse a few times; many holy tides brought them to Halfdan’s bonfire for celebration or mourning. But Thyra had always been a shadow of Mother. At Father’s side, under the scrutiny of Halfdan, Thyra had become something else.

    Thyra was presented in her prettiest dress, wearing some of Mother’s jewelry, and Thyra’s hair was braided in two long lines down her front.

    The jarl looked over Thyra. He said, “Thirteen summers already?”

    Father said, “Mother has loved her dearly and would keep her forever, if she could. Thyra has been a pleasure for our family.”

    But now it was Thyra’s duty to be a pleasure to the jarl’s family. A contract was drawn, arranging for Thyra to marry the jarl’s younger brother, Skarde. “Younger” only meant that he was a man of some fewer moons; he was still a very bearded and very scarred fellow with a large brewery and the need for a wife to run it.

    “I’m to marry?” Thyra asked of her mother later. She hadn’t entirely understood the contract process. Father had never explained it, and he was too happy on the journey home to answer questions.

    “You’ll make a good wife,” said Mother. “You know everything you need to run Skarde’s household. He is rich. He is kind.”

    Thyra despaired. There was a lock of cinnabar hair in her jewelry box which promised Thyra would marry someone else–though Ulfhild had never returned from her viking.


    Perhaps Ulfhild hadn’t gone on the viking. Perhaps she was with the jarl’s thralls after all.

    Thyra watched some of them working in the fields, backs hunched, clothing spare, heads lowered. She couldn’t imagine Ulfhild among them. Ulfhild wasn’t like them at all. Although Ulfhild wasn’t a boy or a girl either, much like the thralls. Ulfhild was simply Ulfhild. Thralls were simply thralls.


    If Ulfhild hadn’t come back for Thyra, it was because Ulfhild was dead.

    The thought killed whatever part of Thyra felt tempted to be a nuisance and refuse the marriage.


    Skalde and Thyra formally met and married shortly thereafter. Thyra received the dowry and mundr from her proud, drunken father. “Those are for you,” Father insisted. “Hide them from Skalde, if he seems the type to take them away. Tell me if he is terrible to you as soon as you can. You are pretty. We can find you a kinder husband if this one is terrible.”

    Thyra did think Skalde was terrible, though he didn’t hit her, or scream, like she’d seen other men do sometimes. He was very quiet for the most part. He spent a lot of time after midday thinking and smoking and coughing then smoking and thinking some more. She asked once what he was thinking about, and he wouldn’t tell her.

    That wasn’t terrible, nor was it terrible to manage his household. Thyra’s hands didn’t hurt when she kneaded dough anymore. She was strong from shoulders to finger joints. She had grown powerful hips getting down to collect milk for Mother, and she used that strength to climb the many stairs and terraces of Skalde’s brewery–Thyra’s brewery–where most of her work involved the thralls on the farm.

    The thralls brought out the worst of Skalde. He went from pensive to terrible when they were around. Nothing the thralls did could please him, though the thralls were many, and worked hard as any. He beat them often. The inhuman yelping noises made it difficult for Thyra to rest.

    Beating the thralls always made Skalde want to come to Thyra for comfort, and that was terrible too. He smelled strongly of sweat. His body was heavy over hers. It hurt when he pushed himself into her, and he left her bed filthy.


    Mother spoke to Thyra differently once both of them had belts filled with keys to their respective households. She no longer said things like, “You’re old enough to know.” That was more than evident. Especially because Thyra was growing a shapelier figure, breasts and long legs and all, truly womanly.

    With this dramatic coming of age, information was conferred among peers instead. Simply, plainly, Mother said, “Your husband hates the thralls because they used to be Vinlings. The Vinlings killed his parents. Then these thralls bred the disease that killed his last wife in childbirth.”

    For these reasons and more, Mother explained, the thralls were meant to be treated the way Skalde treated them, no matter how it startled Thyra.

    “They’re thralls, after all. It’s not a terrible thing to do,” Mother said.

    Thus Skalde was not terrible, and Thyra’s parents saw no reason to divorce when things were going so marvelously, and Thyra was still married when Ulfhild finally returned.


    Several raiding parties returned at once and it was a time of great celebration. It brought everyone in the village and surrounding hills to the harbor, where they received many strong warriors, many bags of crates of supplies raided from enemies, and a few new thralls. The leader of the expedition gifted these thralls to Jarl Halfdan. The jarl was so delighted, he announced a feast to take the entire night.

    Among the cheery crowds, standing at her husband’s side, Thyra spotted a familiar face and recognition struck instantly.

    Ulfhild was among the returned men. She looked like a short man with small hands, and that was the only distinction. Matted with dirt and pitch, her hair was the color of charcoal beside a few bright-orange hairs stuck under her chin by sweat. Her cheeks had gotten thin. Her eyes had gotten shadowed. But it was Ulfhild, and Ulfhild recognized Thyra too, and they looked at each other for a long time across the bonfire.

    Thyra’s soul soared to see Ulfhild, beautiful Ulfhild, dirty and freed.

    She wondered what Ulfhild saw differently in Thyra. Did she notice Thyra had become a woman? That she was married, and buxom, and wealthier than ever? Was Ulfhild angry? Was she proud?

    Across the bonfire, Ulfhild raised her pint in acknowledgment of Thyra. Skalde believed the gesture for him. He returned it. Thyra’s heart fluttered like a captive bird.


    Ulfhild had been fighting Vinlings and she didn’t want to talk about it. “The Vikings see me as one of them,” she said gruffly, indicating the other raiders. Skalde was hosting some of the raiders at their house. This necessitated that Thyra tend them with food and drink, but Thyra had stolen away from the kitchen thralls to speak with Ulfhild behind the barn. “I acted like one of them, and I became one of them, and I don’t want to talk about it.”

    “They think you’re a man?” asked Thyra.

    “They will,” said Ulfhild stubbornly.

    There were other girls among the fighters, all like Ulfhild. Strong enough to survive a harsh journey by longship. Ferocious enough to put the torch to Vinling houses. Willing to swing an axe blade at Vinling throats. And when Ulfhild was doing these things, she was as good as a man.

    “There’s no telling the difference between us when we fight,” said Ulfhild. “Nobody cares what I am if I can fight. And I can. I’m good at it, Thyra.” She said it like it haunted her, even when she promised she would always fight to keep this privilege.

    Ulfhild didn’t belong back in a village of farms and shops and houses run by women–proper women, like Thyra, married shortly before the start of her catamenial phase to usher her into womanhood, wearing dresses, bearing keys, and feeding guests.

    “There is talk of a trader who wants protection through Vinling lands, and I will go with him,” said Ulfhild. “He is hiring boys like me.”

    Thyra cupped her old friend’s cheek in her hand and said, “You promised to marry me.”

    Ulfhild said, “You didn’t wait.”

    “My heart waited,” said Thyra, and they kissed.


    The trader didn’t leave for a few weeks. Thyra stole time away from her duties to be with Ulfhild. Ulfhild slipped into her bedroom at night, like when they were children. Whenever Ulfhild appeared, she was dressed like a beardless young man, hiding her frustratingly delicate features under the furtive brim of a cap, more afraid to be seen as a woman of marrying age than as a man visiting a married lady too often.

    Ulfhild’s body had changed from small but lanky into square with muscle, scarred from battle. She touched Thyra too harshly sometimes, but never as harshly as Skalde. Thyra loved that their kisses didn’t burn from a beard. She wished she could have remained curled in bed with Ulfhild forever.


    One full moon after Ulfhild left again, Thyra realized she was pregnant with child. It had to be Skalde’s. He was the only one who could perform the “husband’s duty,” as Mother used to say, in just the way that made a woman capable of bearing an infant. But Thyra imagined that it was Ulfhild’s child.


    Thyra gave birth to two of Ulfhild’s children before Ulfhild returned again.


    The Vinlings were restless; Jarl Halfdan called up levies for battle. Skalde was going to command one of the longships and its company of warriors himself. “A Vinling raid struck the village to the north, and we’ll be next if we don’t send them back to their miserable pit,” said Skalde.

    Thyra prepared him for travel in all the ways that her duty demanded. She had learned to leave most work to the thralls when she was pregnant; she had found a new Foot of her own to position as their leader. Thus Thyra only needed summon supplies to be stocked in the vessel that Skalde had built, and Thyra offered Skalde tender womanly comforts in his bed the nights before he departed.

    Calling the levies had also brought in others looking for coin, and Ulfhild returned with a group of mercenaries. She had gone from working for one trader to working for another, and another, and another, until reputation sent her to work for an allied jarl, who rewarded Ulfhild handsomely for the bravery of her axe. Ulfhild was becoming wealthy in her own way. She had finer armor, weapons of her own, and arms strong enough to carry Thyra behind the barn to kiss her forcefully.

    “I will be on Skalde’s ship,” said Ulfhild.

    “Then you will be with him when metal strikes metal,” said Thyra.

    They only called her Ulf now. Ulf, the wolf, a fearsome fighter despite her slightness of form, and she had become harder while Thyra became softer. Ulf worshiped Thyra’s hanging belly and drooping breasts. Ulf inhaled the oils Thyra put behind her ears, just so that Ulf could smell them.

    Ulf got the last kiss from Thyra before the longship set out. Thyra waved to them from the harbor, and Skalde thought the gesture was for him, so he returned it.

    Already, Thyra was pregnant with Ulf’s third child.


    It was luck that they brought Skalde’s body back when he died. Most bodies couldn’t come home. Thyra looked over it with her children to one side, her mother to the other side, and she felt the certainty of Skalde’s death sink into her bones.

    “The Vinlings are angry,” one warrior told the jarl. “They fight with the rage of ghosts.”

    So when they buried Skalde at sea, Thyra offered a pair of the Vinling thralls to go with him as an apology. The same Vinling monsters who had taken Skalde’s parents took Skalde too. It was wrong by everything that Thyra had been taught. The thralls deserved it.

    She poured drink down their throats until the two of them could no longer stand upright. Her mother dressed and anointed them. The thralls were seated to either side of Skalde, pushed out to sea, and set on fire from the shore with arrows. The thralls screamed when they burned. The screams were even worse than when Skalde used to beat them. One of Thyra’s children started crying, but she silenced him with a hand on his shoulder and a few whispered words. “Thralls are Odin’s least favorite. This is how it’s supposed to be.”


    Thyra continued to manage the brewery, now her own. She still had the jarl’s support. She still had a child in her womb. She had the knowledge and power that she did not need to marry again, and when Halfdan suggested that Thyra wed another of his brothers, Thyra had the authority to refuse.

    She was unmarried when Ulf returned from his viking regarded as a man. There was no doubt in those who followed him. He had proven himself a fierce warrior by killing a Vinling jarl. He was dripping with Vinling jewels, which he delivered to Thyra, holding them up in his hands, a glittering mountain.

    “I came back,” said Ulf, his scarred features still delicate and rimmed by cinnabar curls. Somehow he had managed to grow a few hairs off his chin. He was old enough he should have had a full beard, but even those few hairs were a miracle of truth upon Ulf’s face, and Thyra fell upon him with delight to pet Ulf’s beard and kiss Ulf’s lips and know the comforting home of Ulf’s hands.


    They married at last. Nobody talked about how Ulf had been born, or what had become of his family, or the name they used to call him. He was simply Ulf. A fearless conquering warrior with wealth made off the hides of his enemies. He had put three babies into Thyra’s belly. He was the man of their home.

    Very seldom did they sleep in their separate rooms.


    Thyra thought all of this was just right.

    She had her man, her house, her wealth. She thought that she deserved it.


    Ulf was unrestful. He was often quiet but unhappy in the daymark after midday, smoking his pipe and thinking hard, staring out at the fields. He didn’t get up to beat the thralls the way Skalde did. Instead, he stared in the direction of the jarl’s house. “We have been invited to spend Midsummer with them,” said Ulf gravely.

    Thyra and Ulf alike had many duties to fulfill in this, divided among woman and man, and both were capable of doing their duties. Thyra found joy in the preparations of supplies to take to the jarl. Ulf seemed unhappy.

    He remained unhappy as they paid homage to Halfdan, who greeted them warmly. “Shield-maiden become brother,” said Halfdan fondly in greeting to Ulf. Halfdan embraced Ulf as he would have embraced Skalde. They had battled together against Vinlings. They were family.

    At the jarl’s home, Ulf stood outside, watching the thralls work and smoking his pipe and looking troubled.

    “Come to bed with me,” said Thyra, embracing him from behind, her cheek pressed to his back.

    “Did you know I felled Skalde?” asked Ulf, facing into the darkness. “He would have survived his battle-wound, but I finished him.”

    Thyra hadn’t known that, but that was what she expected, and she was happy for it. “His death was meant to happen as such,” said Thyra with the peaceful, mysterious calm that Mother had always said such things.

    Ulf said, “My brothers and mother died in these fields as nameless thralls alongside Vinlings because they were poor. How could those have been their preordained deaths? How is our victory intended, but theirs not?”

    “That’s the way of life,” said Thyra. She squeezed her eyes shut. They pricked and burned with tears.

    “Our deaths are destiny, but our fates belong to us. Our fates are dark. We aren’t meant for success.”

    “You’re frightening me.”

    Ulf apologized. He carried his pregnant wife to bed, as she had asked him. He made love to her the way only warriors could. He was gentle as his muscles were strong. It was an honor for Thyra to feast herself between his legs, servicing him with pleasure as she used to with her head under Ulf’s skirts in the fields.

    It didn’t bring him peace. They clutched one another in love and slept drunk under the midnight sun.


    The Vinling raiders came behind a wave of fog, when none of the look-outs knew they were coming. They brought allies and mercenaries. They brought vengeance with them. Generations of rage borne upon longships. Armed with gifts from the Dreggsen clan, who hated Halfdan.

    Thyra awoke alone to screaming and smoke. She bolted outside. The eldest of her children was dead upon the stairs, a spear through his chest, and her screams joined others.

    She raced in search of her other child, but could not find her.

    Instead, Thyra found Ulf outside, handing small axes to thralls.

    “What are you doing?” asked Thyra.

    The thralls fled with their weapons, going for the hills, and Ulf said, “I had to free the ones the Vinlings would kill.”

    “They killed our son!”

    Oh, and how Ulf was filled with rage at this. He no longer looked so small and hard when he shifted into the mindset of battle. He became a wolf unlike the other wolves.

    He took his axe and he said, “Our deaths are predetermined, Thyra.” He kissed her again. A last time. Then he gave Thyra a knife.

    Vinlings fell swarmed the jarl’s lands. The village burned on the coast, blackening the sky, and it turned the invaders into faceless shadows as inhuman as any thrall.

    The wolf devoured them.

    Ulf howled and roared and swung, cutting through his enemies to create a path safe for Thyra. But he was only one man. He was destined to kill two Vinlings–four of them–six Vinlings and a Dreggsen–and it was much more than any other solitary warrior could have hoped–

    But the jarl’s longhouse burned and too many warriors were still too drunk to pick up their blades before they died.

    Like his son, Ulf took a spear through his heart.

    He struck his knees with the spear wedged halfway through his chest, and he looked to the sky, and he howled one last time before he died.


    Ulf died along with Halfden and his family. Most from the other visiting houses died too.

    Thyra wasn’t killed.

    Strong hands beat the terror out of her heart and the fight out of her limbs. She was dragged past Ulf’s body, blankly gazing at the sky from the mud, and Thyra felt herself become all-empty. She was reunited with her daughter in an enemy longship. Both of them were stripped of their jewels, keys, and cloaks. “They don’t need them,” said some strong man standing overhead. “And my wife will love these jewels.”

    Piece by piece, womanhood was taken from Thyra and her daughter.

    They sailed to the Vinlings on the ship with three others from the village and twenty happy warriors.

    The village of their home stayed behind them.

    Thyra tried to tell her daughter, “We will fight, sweet girl,” but she was kicked into silence. They weren’t allowed to speak as they willed, any more than they were allowed to wear the adornments of womanhood. Thralls were not permitted those sorts of things.


    Jarl Ødger and his wife Yrsa held a great feast when the first of their army returned victorious. “A great day!” Ødger said joyously, holding his wife in his arms.

    “Revenge against those cursed Haggenlings,” agreed Yrsa.

    Ødger felt himself in a generous mood, surveying the great wealth delivered in his honor. They had brought pieces of Halfdan’s longhouse. They had brought thralls from among his people, who wept on the ground the way most thralls did, at first. And they had brought every scrap of jewelry that they could find.

    “None survived to stop us,” said a warrior proudly.

    Yrsa and her daughter Revna received the bulk of the jewelry as a gift. Revna received Thyra’s jewelry box, which was carved with an elaborate wolf on the lid, and contained an elaborate lock that must have been opened by one of many keys included with it.

    Revna had only just found the key to open the jewelry box when Yrsa came to get her.

    “You’re old enough now, you should learn to handle the thralls,” said Yrsa. “You should see how they are acclimated to service here.”

    “I’m coming, Mother,” said Revna. She tried on one of Thyrsa’s necklaces and liked it. Underneath the large stone, she found a curl of cinnabar hair tucked away, hidden like a secret. Revna paid barely any attention to it. She slapped the box shut and followed Mother onward for their womanly duties.

  • Staircase to basement room.
    cozy,  fiction,  short stories

    My Eldritch Life

    My new house is a little strange, I’ll grant you. The rooms seem to rotate in and out of existence. Oftentimes I wake to find a staircase I’ve never seen before, just sitting there, and the floors can’t decide whether they’re carpet, marble, bare dirt, or mahogany. But it wasn’t too much trouble. I didn’t even realize I had a roommate until an eldritch creature slithered out of a brand-new closet to talk to me about the last three days.

    “Oh, it’s been three days since I moved in?” I asked. “Time flies.”

    Ilgilgrit’f’n said, “Most people are begging me for an exit door within eight hours.”

    “That sounds distressing.”

    “Well, it is,” zie said, “but I’ve rather come to expect it. How are you managing everything so normally?”

    I shrugged. “Well, it’s sort of like life, isn’t it?”

    “I don’t follow.”

    “The house is like life,” I explained. “It’s just a series of rooms to which we can never return. If I leave something behind, I know I can’t go back for it, so I take only what I need and don’t worry about the rest. All of these rooms are really nice. You’ve done a great job decorating the place.”

    Taken aback, but also flattered, Ilgilgrit’f’n asked, “Thank…you?”

    The house was rumbling again. It was unsettled, shifting around me, and I picked up my knitting back from the couch. Beyond the doorway, the staircase swayed, twisted, and blurred, before turning into another hallway. The wall at my back started oozing shadow. It wouldn’t last long.

    Knitting bag over my shoulder, I beckoned for Ilgilgrit’f’n to slither at my side. “Have you ever tried to go back to the same room twice in a dream? You can’t do it. Your brain doesn’t build a house for you to dream inside. You’re just imagining one room after another. So…it’s like that.”

    “I thought the house was like life,” said Ilgilgrit’f’n.

    “That too. Life, dreams, potato, potato.”

    The hallway stretched ever-long, passing a kitchen dappled by afternoon sunlight and taking a left turn right after the den where a fireplace burned in the depths of winter evening. I decided to sit by the fire with my knitting bag.

    “Most people go insane with this stuff,” said the eldritch beast.

    “I don’t blame them,” I said. I went back to reading my book. “Living is pretty insane.”

  • A figure standing silhouetted by the light at the end of an underground tunnel.
    featured,  fiction,  short stories

    The Bunker After the End

    I thought I was alone, after the end. Then I found the bunker. Then I realized there had always been people inside. And they were hiding from me.

    The few who didn’t try to run away, screaming, donned full HazMat suits before approaching me. I was sobbing by the time they encircled my crouched body in a creaking mass of canvas suits and sheer plastic face protectors.

    “I’ve looked for you so long,” I wept. “I have been so lonely! Why won’t anyone touch me? I haven’t been touched since I was a child!”

    “You’re sick,” insisted a man in the suit.

    I felt wonderful, and I had always felt wonderful, my body functional as any toad swimming downriver, or the birds flapping in the sky, or the other companions I had held dear in my excruciating solitude.

    There was nothing but abyssal loneliness in the concrete box where they shoved me.

    “What are we going to do with her?” asked a woman outside my door.

    “We have to kill her,” said the man. “She came to find us. There’s no more time.”

    “Kill me?” I asked, banging on the inside of the door. “Kill me?”

    I sobbed that my weakness had sent me to this bunker, into the arms of humans; I sobbed that I had not simply been satisfied in my freedom of the outside world above. Instead of cherishing the grass under my bare feet, I had wondered what it would be like to hold hands with another girl. And now this was my reward for wanting people. This bleak room, these bleak words, my bleak heart.


    The woman let me out of the cell. “Lisa,” she said. “I’m Lisa.” I didn’t have a name because I’d never needed one. I was simply me.

    Lisa felt bad for me. Against everything that the other survivors recommended, she wanted to take me to her room, and feed me, and clothe me, and treat me like any neighbor in their little bunker.

    “You’re so small,” she said. “There’s nothing about you that might threaten us, no matter what they say!”

    She had never lived in a place with grass or sunlight or toads. She lived in a closet with a mattress, which she was eager to let me rest upon, and a few dirty scraps of cotton that formed her wardrobe. Lisa embraced me with her generosity. I was so pathetic that I loved her for it.

    Until the others found my cell empty.

    Until the others came running to Lisa’s room, so angry with her that they shoved her – threw her – and her head bounced off a shelf and the life went out of her eyes instantly.

    “Kill the outsider!” shouted a man.

    They chased me down the hall of their bunker with furious hands groping at my back, pipes swinging at my head. Finally one struck me. I fell to the ground and blood poured out of my face.

    “Kill her!” said another. “She’s dangerous!”

    The wolves had stolen my food while I was sleeping. The storms had drenched me when it was too cold to be wet. The bees had stung me when I got too near their hive. But they had only hurt me out of the nature of their existence, and there was no comparison to the rain of blows they smashed upon me.

    In my anger, I did what the wolves did, and I bit someone’s hand. The copper taste of blood filled my mouth.

    “Dammit!” The man jerked back and shook the blood off onto the floor in little drops.

    “She got him! Kill him!”

    “Get them both!”

    “What?” asked the man, turning wide eyes upon his friends as they turned their pipes and fists upon him.

    He didn’t let them kill him easily.

    He was more of a fighter than I was. He drew more blood. And each time he drew blood, the vitriol spread, the violence spread, and the men turned upon each other to fight and bite and tear.

    One of the doctors fell near me, dying with his face halfway crushed. He had enough consciousness to tell me, “You brought the virus from outside, inside. You brought the violence with you.”

    “It was always with you,” I spat back as he died.

    The killing spread and men fell. The injured ones went on to injure others. They ran into the other rooms to fight, and the infection spread further.

    I didn’t wait to watch it. I just picked up what was left of my bloody, aching body and I ran outside, to the grass, to the trees, to the forest, to an unforgiving sky with a blazing sun that never meant to hurt me.

  • Acrylic Acacian in Africa by a private Painter
    automating jobs,  existential screaming,  futurism

    I guess I’m not done having Feelings about AI art yet

    Ethical AI usage has plenty of room for the “wow!” and “this is so fun!” factor, among other personal uses. I just think that right now, the dataset acquisition is reprehensible, the enrichment of the company owners at the expense of artists is the absolute worst of capitalist amorality, and AI art is not capable of providing a net positive to culture until these issues are resolved.

    There is not really any ethical use of AI to generate art if you aren’t using your own datasets and running it on your computer.

    With big companies like Midjourney, you will be using datasets acquired without consent. You will also be providing more data and money to help the business do better theft.

    I totally get why it’s fun. It feels like visualizing dreams. Referencing things that are familiar in this surreal ways. I love that some folks seem to be having this cool community experience with it, sharing things and learning. It must feel enriching.

    I wish that the system that your joy enriches were not *so terrible*. They do not deserve you.

    My ire is always aimed at the system, the moneybags, not the people who are navigating the same moral complexities I am and often reaching different but equally valid conclusions.

    That said, I am asking friends of mine who do it for fun to consider if this is the fun you have to do? There are *so many* fun artistic pursuits. Right now this one is on the forefront of everyone’s minds because it’s novel, but…we don’t have to do it.

    We don’t have to help the people hurting artists because we are having fun with it.

  • A small potted plant with long green leaves. The leaves have scalloped edges and look reddish/shriveled from cold, but it's definitely alive.
    plants,  resembles nonfiction,  slice of life

    The scariest plant I know

    Let me tell you something about a plant named Kalanchoe daigremontiana, also known as Mother of Thousands, or (appropriately) more ominously Devil’s Backbone.

    I believe Devil’s Backbone is a legitimately scary plant. The scariest plant I’ve ever encountered.

    The first thing you should know is that it’s toxic. It contains cardiac glycosides, and big doses can kill pets, livestock, and small children…in theory. Fatal doses are incredibly rare. But I can’t imagine it’s very much fun to consume cardiac glycosides and stay alive, either.

    There are many more toxic plants, but Devil’s Backbone is also difficult to contain: every single scallop around its edge will make babies. You can see a few are still attached. Most are in the soil, already establishing new roots, which will produce more plants with scalloped edges, each of which will…you guessed it.

    Babies are small and lightweight. They travel easily. They will fill the pots of your other plants. They will jump on your clothes to go outside.

    So you can’t really contain this poisonous plant…unless you’re ready for it.

    Surely, everyone who owns Devil’s Backbone is ready for it, right?

    Ha ha! The scariest thing of all is that you can find Kalanchoe daigremontiana and its close cousin, K. delagoensis, at pretty much any major chain hardware store that also sells plants. You can find much-prettier variegations than this. They’re so attractive! Especially when they flower.

    There is no warning about the toxicity or prolificity of this plant in the places where it sold. NONE. (There are a lot of very toxic plants sold with no warning. For instance, lilies can cause kidney failure and death for house cats within hours of taking a single sniff of the pollen. If you knew that, you didn’t learn it from the store where you bought lilies.) (NEVER have lilies in the house if you have cats. EVER.)

    Anyway, I have been scared of Devil’s Backbone for a long time, so I’ve never stopped thinking about it, and become progressively obsessed, and now here we are.

    I bought myself a Devil’s Backbone.

    It came from TX, around 1700 miles away. The package got lost on its route to me. It took two weeks to arrive in the coldest winter Nevada has experienced for years. I fully expected to open the box and find a dead black frozen plant! I was at peace with this outcome: “Perhaps Fate is telling me I should not have gotten this cursed plant,” I thought to myself. “I accept the Judgment of Fate.”

    When my keys first penetrated the box’s tape, I was struck by the strongest botanical scent. I was convinced that was the scent of rot.

    I kept cutting.

    I found the box brimming with cotton, packed totally full. As I pulled the cotton away, the babies started dropping. Little green cardiac glycoside bombs on my counter everywhere. Still green. Many rooted.

    And within the cotton, a slightly cold, little shriveled, but mostly healthy Devil’s Backbone.

    Fate might have said “You don’t want this,” but the Devil herself said, “Oh, you want me. You know you want me.”

  • fiction,  prose

    Look At Me

    I’ll coruscate for you, if you want me to; I know you’ve been lonely in lightless liminality so long. When my spine bends the body twists and light travels where your fingers once wanted to go. I’ll coruscate. You’ll watch. We’ll stand apart, separated by photons and a few breaths and beads. When the light comes in, I’ll shine it your way, if you promise to look. Lift your head up and open your eyes until you see.

  • movie reviews,  reviews

    “The concept of progress acts as a protective mechanism to shield us from the terrors of the future.”

    I made the mistake of watching Lynch’s Dune two days before Villeneuve’s Dune was released. Months later, I still find myself unable to decide which is the “better” movie. I suspect it’s Villeneuve’s. Certainly, Villeneuve’s is much more successful in the box office. Yet I can only think of Villeneuve’s Dune in terms of how it lacks compared to Lynch’s Dune.

    Dune is largely considered impossible to adapt, which is silly, because Lynch did fine adapting the whole book. Turning half of the book into a montage may not be what certain fans prefer, but if you watch the movie for itself in Watsonian fashion, it makes sense: Paul Muad’Dib is created by the events in the beginning of the movie, and we see his creation being the downfall of his enemies when he fights Sting And Friends at the end. It is a story at mythic scale that does a “one two, skip a few, ninety-nine, one hundred” approach to the plot. You can try to argue with Lynch’s approach, but there’s no point, because this is David Lynch we’re talking about.

    Villeneuve’s Dune isn’t a complete story in itself. It ends halfway through the book, in a fashion both anticlimactic and abrupt, and does not attempt to construct a standalone story out of that material.

    In the meantime, the movie drags us through many long, slow scenes that amount to little more than concept art while establishing world and mood. I genuinely believe that the amount people enjoy this movie is dependent on how likely they are to repeatedly peruse an Art of Dune coffee table book. Although I love concept art, this isn’t in a style which appeals to me. It’s minimalist, geometric, and nearly monochromatic to almost a comical degree – as though Villeneuve was making a deliberate move away from the lush Baroque world Lynch built.

    What do you think the future will look like after humans have spent a couple thousand years trucking around the galaxy? Will we have ancient structures that glory in the accumulated wealth of our empire, or will we be utilitarian?

    What do you *want* the future to look like? If you think, “I hope the future has a lot of sheer sandstone faces,” then I bet you will love to stare at Villeneuve’s Dune.

    Similarly, I found the actors’ performances less compelling than in Lynch’s adaptation – probably because many of them were flown in for a partial movie shoot, whipping out a few scenes under the promise they will have a lot more scenes in the second half of the movie that has yet to be made. But Villeneuve’s vision for this movie also involves making Paul Atreides a “normal boy” who is moody and irritating, completely unlike Lynch’s Paul Atreides, who feels like he was born a legend and will die a legend and belongs to the mythic forces surrounding his life. The sense of drama is so different.

    I could continue enumerating the elements of this adaptation which I found to be inferior, simply because they are so much less *interesting*, but I think I’ve said enough to make it clear I’m more of a Weird Movies Person than a Whatever Villeneuve Was Trying To Do Here person. I can’t evaluate this version of Dune on its own merits, and I don’t want to. The fact I sat through it for so many hours isn’t just because Oscar Isaac is one of the hottest people on the planet. I was clearly some kind of entertained. But it will never be anything but the Lynch’s Dune turned down from 11 to a 4.

  • existential screaming,  featured,  slice of life,  the worst timeline

    The World is Outside

    Days after it begins, I find myself missing Disneyland. I sit in a chair in front of my television, longer in diagonal than it is tall, and I don a headset. It is a heavy thing that covers my eyes and bands my head. I adjust its fit with dials until a television floats in front of me in the void, clear as though I sat in an empty cinema. I haven’t been to a cinema in a while. I’m not sure if I’ll ever go again.

    Speakers ring my room, seven-dot-one of them, and when I select a video on my console, sound engulfs me from all of them. Within the headset, the TV has yielded to a lifelike environment. A 360 video where I can turn my head and the sounds will follow. I stand on a quiet street of Disneyland, on the way to critter country, in the blue early morning when most would avoid Splash Mountain.

    From my chair, I walk up the line. I look up, down, left, right. I’m aware I’m not in control, but I feel like a passenger along with someone else, and we take the line briskly. It’s warm in my house but I remember how cool the air flows in the line for Splash. I have walked past those lights in reality, in the before times, when queues were packed and I could be drowned in an ocean of overheard conversation.

    My home theater smells faintly of popcorn; with the scent memory comes along churros, turkey legs, hot pavement. I’m really sitting in the log ride now. I’m going on the flume. The ride sings and sways around me, and even though I don’t get wet on the final drop, my heart thrills in anticipation.

    The video ends there, when we’re climbing off the log at the end. Taking off my headset is disappointing the way it’s disappointing to step off a ride. You have done the good part. You waited in line 35 minutes for a 4-minute thrill. The headset slides away and I remember I’m still in my dim home theater, with neither churro nor Mickey. My Echo dot rim shines orange. Another delivery from Amazon. Everything is deliveries now. Everything comes to me here, in my fortress.


    Later, my children wear the headset for the ride. They giggle and shriek through it. To the imaginative child, it is all real. I hold my five year old in my lap, nose pressed to his hair, and I imagine that I’m really in Disneyland with my kids, that everything is fine, that humanity is connected.


    I needed more nicotine, so I prepared to go outside. I would ride my hoverboard today. It extends the trip, turning ten minutes there-and-back into an hour, and will give me priceless exposure to sunlight.

    To leave, I prepare. I remove my face mask from the cloth bag where it’s sat for the last week, airing out. I tie the top straps above my ponytail to relieve my ears of the pressure. I tie the other one low, and the mask it long enough that it conforms to my chin. I tuck the upper hem under the rim of my glasses.

    Atop that, I wear a hat. And then there is sunscreen. My backpack. My boots. I leave.

    I soar over the sidewalk through a mile of quiet suburb. When I see people coming, I get onto the street to offer space. Some of them are wearing masks. Some aren’t. People jog, walk their dogs, walk their children. The parents look exhausted. The retirees look angry.

    My second mile parallels an arterial road feeding the golf resort. It’s quiet too. Handfuls of cars pass, each as distant from each other as though their pickups are afraid to inhale each other’s fumes. When I wait at stoplights, I do little circles on my hoverboard, swirling in place. I press the crosswalk button with my knuckle and scrub the skin furiously on my shorts.

    It’s one step onto the hoverboard at the beginning of my trip and one step off at the gas station. I use my cell phone to lock the hoverboard and leave it tucked behind the bench. Even now, this neighborhood is low on property crime.

    I get a bottle of wine, candy for my children, a Gatorade. I wait in line for the register on one of the floor’s blue marks, indicating every six feet. When it’s my turn to pay, I request refills for my electronic cigarette, and show my government ID through a plastic sheet to the cashier. She’s not wearing any protection. Her eyes are bruised.

    With my backpack loaded, I step back onto the hoverboard. It’s quiet on the way back home, along a mile of artery and a mile of suburb. I step off at home. I leave it by the front door. I remove my shoes before coming inside. I take everything out of its packaging and hang my backpack by the front door. I wash my hands, thoroughly, while singing Mr. Brightside under my breath. A strawberry plant hangs over me at the kitchen sink, shriveling from lack of sunlight.

    Then I refill my electronic cigarette and inhale the taste of Virginia tobacco, stinging on my tongue, exhaling in plumes.


    I’m lying on the bed in my home loft. I recline against a beanbag chair, my legs propped up by a pillow. A detective show is cast upon the white wall next to me. The image is so large that the people are real-sized. I’m sitting just beneath them, a silent observer to their investigation, in a time and place where the streets were crowded and people only wore gloves at crime scenes.

    The room is dark besides; I’ve put a  blanket over one window and tucked a jacket under the blinds of the other. The projector hums quietly, puffing warm air into a warm room. The ceiling fan sketches lazy loops on the ceiling in shadow. My only company is my cat. She purrs against my hip.

    In my hands, a game console. While murders are solved above me, I harvest fruit in a digital world. I shake it from trees and pick it up from the ground. The graphics are sterile. There’s no dirt under my nails, there are no spots on the fruit, and they never fall rotten. There is value to the stylized act of digging and picking and building in this game. Every little task is monetized. It feels productive.

    When my five-year-old climbs onto the bed, I realize it’s gotten dark and I’ve had a migraine unnoticed for hours. My head is heavy. The child wants to snuggle. I gather him against my body, abandon the console, abandon the detectives, and slither between the covers of my bed with him.

    He sings while he falls asleep. When he’s limp, I engulf myself in a bathrobe and step out onto the balcony. The lights of suburbia spread below me. The horizon’s still a tiny bit orange-blue where twilight surrenders to nighttime black. The artificial stream in my back yard gurgles cheerfully, and the real frogs croak loudly. They briefly silence when I press the button on my plasma lighter to light my pipe. The buzz of its arc disturbs them.


    I’ve already been at my computer for hours when my nine-year-old wakes in the morning. I stare at two monitors: one shows a news feed updating me on statistics, deaths, responses across the country; the other showing a game of Frostpunk, where I struggle to keep two hundred-some survivors alive in an apocalyptic blizzard.

    “I’m cold,” my child complains.

    I shuck my robe and wrap them in it. We stand beside my open window, hugging each other sleepily, without words. I’m so tired. I can’t sleep because I’ve had too much nicotine and caffeine. My body won’t calm down. But there is a measure of rest in holding and being held.

    The birds are especially loud in the mornings these days. I don’t think they’ve always been so loud. I think they like how fewer cars there are, how the world’s intensity has been turned down a few degrees. Still, there are sounds of human activity; the spring breeze carries the grumble of car engines and lawnmowers to us.

    “Don’t you love how the morning sounds?” I asked my child, who is so tall that I can rest my cheek upon their head.

    “No,” they said. “Because it reminds me the world is still out there.”

    I don’t like those reminders either. I was anxious to leave the world, but became even more anxious to return to it. There are more cars starting than there were a month ago. Businesses are beginning to open. People have to work. It’s safer inside, it’s safer away, but the world is still out there.

  • Diaries,  slice of life

    Seven Ways to be Stoned


    You’re in New York City for the first time. Your friend’s walk-up is cluttered and cozy, as homey as it should be, and it smells like weed. She smokes a lot. She eats even more. You haven’t done much before, but she offers a bowl to you, so you clumsily navigate lighter and pipe.

    Truthfully, you’re scared to have a lighter that close to your face. But you’re in your twenties, your friend is in her thirties, she’s like your big sister. You want to look like you know what you’re doing. So you light it–flick–and your nose gets warm while you touch the flame to a corner of the herb. You inhale as it smolders. You get a little smoke. You think.

    You go out on her balcony, which is small and made of wood so wobbly you’re not sure it can hold your weight, much less a charcoal barbecue. Neither of you know how to use a charcoal barbecue. You laugh a lot trying to get it to light in the wind. You keep a fire extinguisher on hand just in case.

    You feel the warmth after another hit on the pipe. The vegetables you grilled with your best friend taste better. You laugh a little louder.



    It’s cold outside, but you don’t want to smoke inside. You put on a balaclava. You wrap yourself in a bathrobe. You put on slipper socks. You huddle under a blanket on your balcony and light your bong, hands cupped around the pipe to shelter it from the wind. It still won’t light and your fingers are getting stiff. Grab the plasma lighter. It’s not as good, somehow, but it will make your herb burn even when the wind is blasting.

    You take a couple deep hits that make you cough plumes into the chilly night, and the smoke is sucked away to disperse against the crystalline starlight. The harsh hits are bad for your lungs. You go inside, take a shot of Pepto to soothe your throat, puff on the inhaler to open your lungs. You settle into bed with a cold nose, cold fingers, and a dizziness that makes the room sway in the wind with you comfortable in its womb.



    You’ve gotten good at baking with cannabis. People like your cookies–some of them say you can’t taste the weed on it, which isn’t true, because your husband cringes to nibble. But many people like the skunky taste. You like the skunky taste.

    You’re careful with the cookies. You can’t have children getting into them, so you entomb them in a bag, carefully label it with contents and date, and stash it in the very back of the deep freezer. Since you’ve filled it with almond slivers, oats, and raisins, your kids won’t eat them even if they find them. But you want to be sure. You want to be responsible.

    You’re so responsible that you don’t try the dough or the cookies. The butter must be infused, and the cookies baked, cooled, and stored, before your kids come home from school. You don’t want to be stoned when they get here.

    Once they’re safe, you clean the skillet where you made cannabis ghee and prepare an omelet. It doesn’t taste like weed. Only when you’re sprawled on the couch in awe of the music melting through your muscles do you realize you didn’t clean the pan enough, and now you’re very, very stoned despite your naive efforts. On the bright side, while your cookies do taste like weed, your omelet did not.



    It’s a cold, windy night on the Pacific coast. It’s so dark that the beach and the ocean are indistinguishable from each other. You’re in love with the woman at your side, sneaking onto the boardwalk amid the dunes. You haven’t told her about this big warm secret coiled in your belly. Your bodies hold warmth between them while you shelter the pipe. It’s the second pipe you bought on this vacation. The first one wasn’t properly drilled with holes, and it weighs down your pocket. It’s pressing against her thigh. She smells like coconut oil and she’s beaming at you when flickering lighter shines gold on her face.

    You both inhale. You take all the smoke inside of you and breathe with each other, seated on the sandy steps. The ocean roars slower than your breath. There’s a dark shape on the shore. You can’t be sure if it’s a signpost or a man coming to bust you for getting stoned on the beach in the middle of the night. It’s scary. But being scared is funny.

    Her skin is so soft, so smooth. You don’t know it yet but six months later, you won’t be talking. This moment that makes you giddy with the joy and desire will be only a memory. The shape on the beach is a signpost. Nobody cares you’re smoking in the dunes. You’ll still have the pipe without a hole drilled properly, and sometimes you’ll hold it in your hand and remember how her braids felt against your lips.



    This morning, your cat died. She was in your arms, swaddled in a towel, while a gentle veterinarian injected the medicine to stop her heart. You carried your kitty to the car so she could be cremated. You set her in the back seat on the towel. That pile of fluff is all that remains of a life you loved and cherished and tended your entire adult life. When the car drives away, she’s gone.

    There are cannabis cookies in the freezer, carefully labeled and stored out of reach. Each one has about fifteen milligrams of THC, you estimate based on how they make you feel. You eat two, three, four. You keep eating them until you feel nothing but dizzy warmth. Until your eyes are too dry to cry. It’s not healthy, you’re not coping, but maybe you don’t have to cope right now.

    A couple of days later, your baby is brought back in an urn. You hold her. She weighs nothing. She no longer purrs and rolls over to get belly rubs. She doesn’t put a paw on your arm while you’re using the computer mouse. You make a shrine to her because she’s so big inside you, some of that feeling has to be set down somewhere else.

    Two more cookies, three more, four. The months pass and you’re always stoned. But by the end of it, you can hold her urn and cry. You stop taking so much weed. The emotions come back and you live in a life without your cat. Somehow you handle it. You have to. Grief doesn’t feel better when you’re stoned, not the way that love and music do.



    It’s an afternoon on the weekend. Your kids want to play LEGO. You popped a chocolate earlier, so you’re mellow, and life’s stresses have faded away. The house needs to be cleaned. The yard’s a mess. You haven’t showered. But now you’re on the couch, cozy and floating, so it’s easy to give yourself permission to fuck off and play LEGO.

    Your son gives you the broken minifig without arms. He plays the one with long hair. You climb walls and jump off with silly cries and your children laugh and laugh and laugh. It feels good and simple, the way childhood felt. Anything can happen. The couch can become canyons. The pillows are trampolines. When your kids bounce, you bounce too, and their kisses feel like going to heaven. If only they could always be this happy. If only you could always let yourself be this happy.



    It’s raining. It doesn’t do that much around there. You grab the papers, the grinder, the funnel, a lighter. You settle under a blanket on the couch in your gazebo. Rain dribbles off the edges while you pack a joint.

    Life’s been hard, and you’re tempted demolish that joint in one go. Suck it down until there’s nothing but a roach too annoying to smoke.

    But you take it slow. A couple good hits and you stub it out. Then you lay back on the couch, close your eyes, and listen to the rain, knowing that there’s nothing to do today. The rain is like music. It feels good when you hear it. Sometimes the wind blows drops against your cheek. Your husband is with the children, your dogs are warm on your legs, and there’s nothing but you and a few puffs of smoke on a wet gray day.