“Paperbacks From Hell”: A Really Fun Writer Takes on ’70s/’80s Pulp Horror

25 09 2017

Are you a child of the 1970s and/or 1980s? Did you grow up sneak-watching slasher flicks like The Slumber Party Massacre and Silent Night, Deadly Night while your parents slept? Were you the kind of kid who felt there was only one holiday worth celebrating, and that was Halloween? Was Elvira your number one crush? If you answered yes […]

via Book Review: Paperbacks from Hell by Grady Hendrix (Quirk Books) — CULT FACTION

Colonel Sanders and the Demonic Lover

1 06 2017

I love the conjunction of genres and the taming of monsters that occurs in paranormal romance, and much of OGOM’s research centres on this. The demon lovers of paranormal romance range from vampires (of course), through faeries, angels, and werewolves; the odder candidates include mermen, gargoyles, and even ghosts and zombies. But the monstrous lover…

via Colonel Sanders and the Demonic Lover — Open Graves, Open Minds

Writers: Your Weird Obsession Will Become Fodder For Future Grad Student Thesis

8 04 2017

“…it’s what happens in the United States when a truly radical ideology takes over.” This is George Romero’s answer to the question of what his film Night of the Living Dead is about. To me, this is a most thoughtful and complete assessment, and perhaps what explains the movie’s enduring success. Of course, on […]

via The Importance of Theme in Horror… and Zombies… and Dogshit — S.E. Casey Author

Writers: “Weird Fiction” Via Movie “The Void”

6 04 2017

First the trailer:


Now the review:

If Stuart Gordon’s “From Beyond” and John Carpenter’s “The Thing” were to have a baby in the hospital from “Hellraiser II”,  that baby would grow up short of its potential and  be “The Void”. I don’t mean that in an insulting way, but if you like your body horror with a dash of Weird, then “The Void” is for you.

Describing the plot is difficult because much of the backstory is revealed as the plot unfolds. Two rural guys shoot people dead, one flees and is picked up by a sheriff and taken to the local hospital. This hospital is closing soon due to a recent fire. Which killed the child the sheriff had with his ex-wife the ER nurse. Speaking of preggers, a country teen is about to give birth and her grandpa is there for support.  A kindly doctor, another nurse, a trainee, and another patient are introduced. A state trooper arrives.

Then within fifteen minutes of film time, there is a three-way guns out stand-off, four of these characters are dead and one has mutated into part Grizzly Bear, part butt polyp. Lovecraftian hijinks ensue. In a place beyond time and space, pacing is a problem in “The Void”.

There are magic tomes. There is a sub-basement where none existed before. There are strikingly-clad anonymous cultists. There are double-crosses and mistaken motives.

The plot holds together. The magic system is kept as simple as possible. The actors do great work with an occasionally awkward dialogue.  However, the effects rule this movie. The undead polyp creatures are all practical effects and they are gooshy. Gourmets of  horror movies will see “homages” to “Hellraiser II”, “The Thing”, “The Fly”, “From Beyond”, “In The Mouth Of Madness” and probably more.

Was there anything fresh? It’s a hell of a thing to note, but frankly, cutting pieces off your face doesn’t have the shock it once had.

First time script writers and directors here, they kept to the tried and comfortable, yet kept out of the actors way, so the performances were quite good. Someone once said you can tell if a horror was written by guys in his 20s, because those horrors will have churning uteruses, and that’s because guys in their 20s are just finding out how gross pregnancy can be. And man do uteruses churn in “The Void”! It’s all within the theme of birth and fate, but still dudes, there’s a reason why men have a waiting room.

Wait for “The Void” on Netflix.

Now the writing blather:

Note that I noted “homages”. I do not understand “homages”. An artist’s job is to swipe ideas and before using them, file off the serial numbers. Filing off serial numbers is an art. If a reader can immediately recognize a reference, the writer has only mimicked, and not made the most of the reader’s time.

That said, what is “Weird Horror” or “Weird Fiction”, and what can we do about it?

Here’s Wikipedia.

You will notice in Wikipedia that Lovecraft’s definition is essentially “spooky stories where spooks can get you anywhere”. Noted editor S.T. Joshi’s academic sub-categories have diluted that dread further until it has become watery Red Bull.

The problem is that back in the 1930’s, the Weird creatures invented by Mr. Weird himself H.P. Lovecraft, those creatures were unfathomable. Now they make Cthulhu plushtoys. Non-Christian monsters are the norm now.

For me,  “Weird” contains these elements:

  1. Unknown forces existing outside our dimensions (“beyond Time and Space”).
  2. The questioning of reality itself (are we in a movie? Is that crazy guy actually shaping reality?)
  3. The interrogation of how consciousness fits within reality, especially within flesh.

For me, the goal is to create nausea, not just polypy-squid nausea. Existential nausea is the feeling you get when you consider that not only will existence go on without you, it has been without you for longer than you can comprehend both before and after, in a place that is the briefest flash in existence, if indeed “existence” actually has objective substance. Hold me.

The use of a nameless cult who know The Truth, or a scientist finding The Secret, or an artist who can shape The Universe, is how we get the reader to connect with nausea. The POV character has one assumption peeled away (like the real purpose of mission), then another (that his mission is safe), leaving to fall away the rules of society, of perception, of nature, of value, then finally, of comprehension.

If you want to learn more about “Weird”, try the movies mentioned above, especially “From Beyond” and “In The Mouth Of Madness”. Also try:

  • “Resolution”, like “ITMoM”
  • “Absentia”, for critters beyond T&S

In fiction, try:

  • Any H.P. Lovecraft, especially “The Whisperer In Darkness” and “The Color Out Of Space”. They would be standard Doctor Who fare now, but that tells you something.
  • “The Grin In The Dark”, as much as he bumbles in this book, Ramsey Campbell has some really cool ideas about the development of consciousness.

Do not try “The Weird”, a compendium by Jeff and Ann VanderMeer. I love this book, but their definition spreads so far afield as to be nearly meaningless.  Read it for entertainment.

These brief lists are of media which provokes that feeling I described.

Are there books or movies that make you wonder if you are safe at all, or sane, or even exist?  TELL ME.

$0.99 Body Horror: From The Stoker Preliminary Ballot To Your E-Reader

9 03 2017

“I LOVE ‘THE FLESH SUTRA’!”  –  Nancy Holder, NYT Best Selling Horror Author

Only 99 cents to your e-reader from Amazon. Erotic body horror under gaslight. Four Stars on Amazon. Dare to try “The Flesh Sutra”.


Some Intriguing Horror Prose Reviews

12 02 2017

Prior to launching Horror Novel Reviews some four or five years ago I knew a slew of amazing authors. Talents like Richard Matheson, Stephen King, Dan Simmons, Robert McCammon, Joe Lansdale and Dean Koontz are kind of hard to miss. But what of the “little guys” – you know, the authors just beginning to hit […]

via The 10 Greatest Horror Authors I Discovered Through Horror Novel Reviews — Horror Novel Reviews

“Body Horror and Psycho-Sexual Transcendence”

12 12 2015


We were in our places, Olivia at the door and I in the wicker basket. The windows were concealed with heavy curtains to keep out the afternoon sun, but oil lamps pushed back the gloom. The lady who entered our study first was the old friend of Olivia’s family, who embraced Olivia, then introduced her guests. The other matron wore black; she was the hopeful patron. The men were young, one balding and mustached and the other dark and intense. They were surprised by her frank smile, by her firm handclasp, and smirked to each other.

The basket that hid me was a cubit square. Within it, I sat naked on a thin cotton mat, waiting for my cue.

After brief pleasantries, Olivia bade everyone sit at the mismatched slat chairs around our worn table. Slowly, not without drama, she turned the gas lamps down.

“Everyone take hands, please. This afternoon, we speak with the spirits. I need for everyone to speak these holy words of the Hindu. Om mani padme hum.”

Her resonance and theatrics gave the others confidence. The older ladies intoned with Episcopalian reserve. The men seemed strangely comfortable with the trappings, and joined in.

The chant rose in pitch.

This was my cue, as thespians say. I lay back and breathed deep, humid air inflating my months-old lungs. As I inhaled, I imagined the proper yantra symbol. I exhaled my own mantra to release my spirit from my misshapen flesh.

“Come to us, Alecsandri. Come to us, spirits.”

I continued my chant and let myself drift, imagining myself in warm black oil. As she implored, the study was swallowed by the warm oil. My spirit rose from the basket. My hands glowed, my fingers lithe.  My spirit body shone golden and tall, like before I had forced myself into Thomas Spalding’s brain and was reborn in the manikin shape.

The bodies of the attendants glowed with auras of life. Rainbows flared along the older women. The bald man’s was a healthy bronze. The young man’s was odd. The flares were violet and tight, like a gas burner pressed by a weight. Olivia’s lavender opened and extended across the room as she entered her trance, so that she could communicate with the spirit realm.

Unseen by the others, I drifted to Olivia and caressed her neck. Touching her spirit was like touching soothing wool on a winter day. Feeling me, her head eased back and magenta sparks streaked her neck after my fingertips.

She said, “My spirit guide is with us. Are you ready to help us, Guru?”

Her head fell forward and she affected a deeper, thicker-tongued man’s voice, an impersonation of me when I was human. “Olivia, I am always pleased to make new acquaintances. These are charming people.”

She sighed and rolled in her seat, as if buffeted by forces within. In her voice: “I sense a presence with you, Guru. Who is with you?”

I had been too distracted by Olivia to notice. A disembodied glow had appeared by one of the women. It was the size of a grown man, and boiled red. It pointed to the older woman.


“I love ‘The Flesh Sutra’!” – Nancy Holder, NYT Best Selling Horror Author

My debut novel was on the preliminary ballot for the 2015 Stoker Awards.

“In this excellent novel, the writing is crisp, the characters sharply drawn, the plot engrossing; as a result, this tightly written and propulsive narrative addresses postmodern angst about humanity and spirituality in the context of body horror and psychosexual transcendence with literary flair and at times deeply disturbing imagery.”

Order it below.

Light Text - High Resolution


4 06 2014

That night as the Malabar Flats Ferry crossed the Quand, three velveteened courtesans with retinues all gaped in surprise. The moonlight showed some few plug-hatted Scout aspirants who were frozen and staring. The moonlight showed throngs of blue-jacketed merchants clutching treasured permits for an evening’s loache, all of whom fidgeted as if under their mother’s gaze.

In the middle of the foredeck, Respiration Greatsergeant stood, her braids swept back from her face, the sheen cast upon her dark, flawless skin. Her black knitted shawl pulled back from the simple black smock, pulled back to show its blue-green sigil “Greatsergeant”, which was oyster-shell-embroidered in the thick-footed zhe-fherem lettering style allowed only to authority.

Her presence pressed all talk on the boat to murmurs.

Two steps behind Respiration, respectfully, stood Obdurate, who managed to stay at attention well in the slightly rocking boat. Beside the officer stood Calzjha, haggard in the blue suit of the Foofaloof, the Brumpf basket under her right arm.

Within that basket, frantic Warren received this: [Squire, it seems I have talked my way out of it.]

The weasel shrieked and banged open the lid.

[Calzjha, our liege lives! He says he has talked his way out!]

Calzjha whispered to the soldier and the goodwife, “The Earl is well. He has communicated so.”

Both sighed, but more so Obdurate, for he could not find in the Greatsergeant Keep a portable weapon more menacing than an old, oiled dagger tucked in his tunic. He had been in a panic that they would run into a jezr-ji team, but was relaxed a little on the ferry.

“Where is he?” asked Respiration.

Warren conveyed to Calzjha, [At the Wetward Gate.]

They looked to the dock and saw at the dock, at the head of the crowd between two figures in plughats, stood a smaller man. The lanterns of the ferry brought white light upon the dock. The Earl’s suit was battered from the day’s exertions. He grasped the scuffed toolbag and a jug. He favored his right leg from his earlier sprain. A welt dulled his left cheek. But gone from his eyes was the vaguedespair of that afternoon. Unseen by the deputies beside him, his dark eyes glittered with a barely-suppressed enervation.

[My liege!] Warren queried, [Are you well?]

[Do you mean these two? They are to keep me under lock somewhere.]

[They seem formidable. Are you certain you are well?]

[I haven’t felt better in months.]

The grimace was almost palpable. [You ate that poor crab’s body.]

[I did not, Warren. A taste was all that was necessary. The remainder, and even that bite was disposed of by a maid. My crab-madness is gone, thank poxied gods! But after the meal, I have taken a new obsession.]

[Ah. Should I pretend gladness, my liege?]

[I will understand if you do not.]

The ferry drew close. The crowds on the boat and the dock drew toward each other. The two scouts Varalam and Tlezjoy kept close. The Earl fidgeted.

Fazgood thought, [Quickly! We must create a performance to ease me away from these deputies.]

The ferry touched the rope bumpers around the dock. The rail was raised, and all on the boat made way as the paragon’s party stepped forward.

[Ah!] the Earl considered, [Calzjha must chastise me. Quickly! Tell her she is angry for my wandering away to gamble. She is to hustle me onto the ferry, and the –]

Respiration stepped forward and said to the deputies. “We shall accept him. You have my thanks.”

Fazgood blinked in surprise at her improvisation, then gave an abashed look and mumbled. “I thank you, Paragon.”

“You must be ashamed, aspirant!”

The command broke the air like a slap. Among those witnessing, some three dozen people on dock and boat, all of their breath stopped.

The Earl suppressed a glare, then cast his gaze down contritely. He whimpered. “Yes, paragon. I am! Indeed!”

“Indulgences are earned through honor and effort. That includes whoring.”

Fazgood snorted in umbrage at the chosen offense, but held his objection.

The deputies sneered.

Respiration swept a graceful hand. “Let us step away to allow the others to pass.”

She stood aside to allow the ferry throng to exit.

Fazgood nudged a deputy with his toolbag and cried. “What do you wait for? Step away! Step away!”

The scouts pressed themselves aside as the bauds and merchants left the ferry. Those accustomed to the Goodwife’s presence cast bemused looks at those freshly surprised. All grimaced at the presumptuous aspirant. Fazgood kept his face down in shame.

The Goodwife Greatsergeant looked to the deputies. “I thank you for your assistance. Your task is ended.”

Tlezjoy replied, “Our Inspector said that we are to keep him under our watchful eye.”

His right foot stepped onto the ferry.

“You may tell your Inspector that your task is ended.”

The foot, however, did not withdraw.

Said Tlezjoy, “Pehzpersist understands that he is to accompany us.”

Among the ferry, and among those lingering at the dock, all breath stopped again.

Respiration offered a hand to her left. “Then this good soldier…”

Obdurate stepped up. His uniform glowed in the lanternlight, the image of polite and efficient society. He looked upon the deputies with disdain.

The goodwife continued. “…will help insure that all have a greater understanding.”

Obdurate snatched the tziembroask bottle from Fazgood’s grasp. “This one will be no problem at all, paragon.”

[This is getting to be quite enough!] thought the Earl.

[Steady, my liege.]

Varalam pressed. “Paragon, is there a service we could provide? Our service could be to accompany you home as a show of our faith and support.”

“Your faith and support are taken close to my bosom and do warm my soul, good scout. Tell your inspector that his respect is a firm, dry stone upon which all can surely stand. I thank you. Your task is ended.”

Visibly moved by the praise, the Adactoid bowed. Tlezjoy pouted at losing an opportunity to torment Pehzpersist. He stepped back onto the dock and bowed.

A final ease of her hand and the ferrymen closed the rail and blew the note for the riverwhales to swim for the bank. The ferry moved away.

[She did play that well, Earl,] noted Warren.

[Respiration has strong nerve,] Fazgood agreed. [She flattered that Adactoid just so.]

The ferry ride back seemed very long. At the dock, two rickshaws were procured. Tense and exhausted, none exchanged a word or thought until the Greatsergeant Keep. The youngest cousin maid opened the door, eyes severe and mouth pinched with consternation.

In front of the maid, the Goodwife wheeled upon the Earl. “As your patron, I command you go to your room and rest for studies tomorrow.”

The Earl withdrew, with a last sidelong glance at the bottle Obdurate still held. He passed Calzjha. He thrust the toolbag into

Calzjha’s hands. Within its pitch-canvas, water sloshed.

Calzjha flushed and took the bag in her free hand.

To Obdurate, Respiration said, “Again, I am under some obligation to you, adjutant.”

She presented her hands. He held them in a polite acknowledgement.

“It is my duty, and my honor to help you, paragon.”

Calzjha and Warren watched, knowing the sublimity of that couple’s feelings. As Fazgood took the stairs, he made mocking faces of the subtle lovers.

The soldier departed. The Foofaloof declared a need for a contemplative walk by the river, where all understood it was to dispose of the unfortunate burden in the toolbag. The Brumpf accompanied the Foofaloof as a means of communicating in case of emergency. Obdurate noted the need for safety, and so swallowed his nausea at the task at hand, and also accompanied Calzjha on her task.

Respiration ascended to the contemplations room, where under the maid’s presence, they sipped tea, and stole glances at the waterclock. The Foofaloof returned at half-past the twentieth hour, set the Brumpf to return to their room, and declared the walk satisfactory, though Obdurate did gurgle a bit.

At the twenty-first hour, the women retired for the night. Calzjha withdrew down the hall to the room she shared with the Earl.
Calzjha found him sitting upon the bed; metal clacked in his jiggling left hand. He raised his right hand and dropped it toward a roll of fine blue wool cloth in the corner of the room. The center of the roll twitched. The end of a knitting needle joined others buried deep. In an open cask across from the door came a rasping snore; Warren was taking the opportunity to nap.

The Earl glanced at the bag in Calzjha’s hands and said nothing. He flung another needle deep into the cloth.

“Warren told me all,” Calzjha said. “You did not have to go get that crab.”

“Indeed? I did. It was part of my plan.”

They spoke in the pidgin that was familiar to them both, mixing Rahsic and Adanikarese.

She said, “You could have waited a day. You placed yourself at risk.”

The Earl rose to the bolt of cloth, and slipped eight needles from within the center of the roll.

“You act as if you are a bodyguard,” he said. “I thought I was traveling with a pilgrim.”

“You endured your cravings for months as we traveled here. One more day would have been nothing.”

Fazgood sat back down. “Why should I have waited?”

“You rushed and were captured. You always counsel patience.”

“My plan required swiftness. The Inspector had been seeking me. One day later, and that Inspector would have had me dead.”

Rattle, fling with his left hand this time, thump.

“Not with me beside you.”

“Ah! You would have been with me. If only I could share that certainty.”

“You always counsel patience! Why did you rush?”

“I have patience with my plans, not yours.”

“There is more to the world than just your fleeing it.”

“I have seen much of the world. It often requires fleeing.”

Rattle, flick, thump.

Calzjha sat on the edge of the bed. “I had to become a woman. This is an indescribable opportunity. This household has such influence. I have to help heal it, and Obdurate and Respiration are more receptive to me as a woman.”

Rattle, flick, thump.

“I know you don’t like me as a woman. But you are not attracted me when I am a man. You notice other women. Am I repellant?”

The rattling stopped.

Said the Earl, who shook his head. “You meant that question as a joke, am I correct? It takes me effort to get a door unlocked. When you tuck your chin and take a deep breath, entire castles open.”

Flick, thump.

“Are you jealous? Is that why you are angry when I am a woman?”

The Earl gave an aggrieved sigh. “What did you do with your testes?”

Calzjha sagged and accepted the change in conversation. “I buried them by a large tree just within Cliffside-Bastlements. Obdurate disposed of the toolbag. I note there are few animals in the city which may dig up my testes.”

“No animals who dig may live in the cities. That is part of the Concord. If Warren was even on set his feet on earth, there would be much scrutiny.”

Within his thick velvet, Warren raised his head and yawned.

“It is good that you have awakened, for –“

Warren fell forwards into the cloth, and back down into sleep.

The Earl sighed, [Chief Litigator.]

The weasel sprang up, eyes glassy, [Yes, my liege!]

“Before we meet with the others this evening, I must tell you of a change in plan.”

[You…you have changed plans? ]

“I am taking the curative of planning a betrayal and murder. No, not either of you.”

“A murder!” Calzjha said. “But you are no assassin!”

[You say that ‘death only brings more death, and brings mercy to those who deserve worse.’]

The Earl set the needles on the bed. “Warren, Calzjha, he lives. He flourishes. I will throttle him.”

Both were baffled.

“The youth who betrayed and murdered my mentors and set me upon my path. It is that very Inspector.”

Warren sagged into the cloth. [Fluxion.]

Calzjha hissed in astonishment.

“I knew the two of you would appreciate the circumstance. But the adjutant and the lady of this keep must not know. They would slip and find themselves on the Royal Road for keeping my secret. And Hrikinik sends his regards.”

[Of course he is behind this!]

“Hrikinik!” Calzjha spat. “You spoke with him!”

“Yes, and he sends his regards.”

“He did so merely to aid his masturbation. How did you speak with Hrikinik?”

The Earl related his discovery of Mehzadapt’s success, the cunning distillation of Fazgood’s murderous desire, and its placement in the relish. Warren was greatly relieved that tasting the moosecrab’s flavor was all that was needed to bring the plot to completion.

Fazgood laughed. “That is the best part: Mehzadapt believes my memory of him is gone.”

Calzjha’s face went dark with rage. “You wretch!”

Fazgood grimaced with exasperation. “Again, I fail to impress.”

“You dragged Warren and I across an ocean to risk our skins on a lie!”

“Steady your nerve, young lady.”

Warren affixed the Earl. [My liege, isn’t revenge a game for fools?]

“What are you about?”

[You had said “Revenge is a chump’s game for chumps who deserve lives of chumpery.”]

“I must have been drinking.”

[Wine, my liege. Wine always makes you philosophical.]

“Indeed. Take note of this legal precedent, squire: from this day forward, it is the law of the Earldom that I will take revenge to much applause.”

If thoughts could groan: [My Earl, I thought you had matured beyond despotism.]

“These are base times, squire. But…a moment!”

The Earl stood and made to be confused. “You…you find this motive of revenge more offensive than being dragged here so I may eat moosecrab?”

[We accompanied you so that you would stay safe. We thought you were going senile.]

“Which would you prefer, Chief Litigator, my foolishness or my health?”

[Of the two, it would be your health. But I would more prefer –]

“Only those two options!”

The Earl rounded upon Calzjha. “Warren prefers my health. What say you?”

“Yes, I prefer you healthy. In life there exists possibility. Such as: your reconsidering the murder.”

“Splendid! We are agreed that I am far better restored.”

“We knew nothing of murder.”

“You are not doing it.”

“You are no assassin.”

Midnight’s arrival was appreciated by all of the conspirators. Through stealth and familiar routes, all of the parties assembled under dark in the master bedroom. A white lanternette had been retrieved from the hidden room, was lit and placed upon the floor. The

Earl brought a length of blue cloth, which he placed at the bottom of the door to keep light from showing under it. Wrapped within it was the second bottle of caml-zre. Through the secret door crept Obdurate, who brought with him the tziembroask jug and the remainder of the first bottle of caml-zre, and for this was roundly commended by a certain other party. Warren was posted at the door hinge, and beside a gap in the placed blanket, to listen for the maids. Respiration opened and unfolded an ablewood vanity, and set five porcelain tumblers upon its counter. The Earl’s surprise caught her notice.

She explained. “Obdurate bought these this afternoon.”

Obdurate’s expression was restless and nauseated. “Yes! About that! Fazgood, you must leave Harmonium. Every lotcaster in the city is searching for you, and they already know so much. Please escape.”


Obdurate described his infiltration of the Terhane Residences, and his eavesdropping upon the lotcasters.

A curt nod from Fazgood. “Sharp work. You told me something that will preserve us all; tomorrow we avoid these lotcasters running around.”

Surprise lit the adjutant’s face.

“But,” added the Earl, and rubbed his aching knee. “in all things there is a time to flee. We have not reached that time. You are still bound to that fiend General. I am bound to the Inspector. There is a way out for both you and I.”

He continued. “You suggest that I am here through selfishness. I disagree.”

His expression tightened at the memory. “The scouts had cornered me over my dinner at a conference house. Before me was a porcelain plate, a bottle, even the sharp edge of the crab shell at hand. I could have used any to aid an escape.”

A glance at Calzjha. “I could even have killed one of them.”

Calzjha and Warren both noted the remark and stiffened.

The Earl continued. “I might have escaped the room, perhaps have escaped the Due and even Harmonium.”

Calzjha muttered. “That would have left me captured and interrogated.”

Realization seeped into Respiration, and her lover also cast his eyes down.

She opened the bottle of tziembroask. “No amount of resolve from Calzjha would withstand that scrutiny. We would be found out.”

“Indeed,” said the soldier. “All would have been lost.”

She poured cups of tziembroask. She offered them. “I have tried this before, many years ago.”

Calzjha snorted. “It is not to my taste. I will enjoy a little caml-zre.”

“Would…your litigator care for one?”


[I thank you, Goodwife. I would appreciate some caml-zre with water.]

Obdurate gave a hopeful look and accepted his tziembroask. “Tziembroask is so bitter, but in ‘The Nimblest Man’, it is written you make concoctions with this liquor. I had thought that must brighten its taste, for you drank so many of them.”

The Earl took his cup with a sharp laugh, then realized Obdurate was serious. Still smiling, Fazgood looked to Calzjha. “Are any of your perfumes worth mixing for flavor?”

“You will not.”

Respiration waved a hand to distract the argument. “Fazgood, what did you tell the Inspector?”

“I had to tell Scout Inspector Mehzadapt that the testicles in my toolbag were not mine. He took that for granted.”

“He saw my testicles?” Calzjha was affronted.

The Earl said, “I had to prioritize. He knew from sight that they were fresh. I was tempted to say I had collected a debt, but he would have asked confirmation from the garnishee. So I told him of you, Calzjha, and of your race. I told him that you were not from the Ijkallas. You should have seen his smugness! A smug ape even as a child!”

“How did he react?” asked Obdurate.

Fazgood scratched his shin. “He had discovered a ruse that had fooled a Mezzo-Barritone of the highest judiciary. Even that knowledge did not satisfy him.

“I let him threaten and bluster and so bought myself time for a very good lie: I told him that Calzjha and I had served as guides for the general in the Ijkallas. We had been partners with the general in some diplomatic irregularities, like extorting cooperation from the Ijkallan leaders, and using Ijkallan enchantments to cover out activity. Then Calzjha and I found some more of the general’s irregularities in the quartermaster accounting. With that knowledge, we decided to play our ruse in Harmonium to leverage both the general’s shamed wife and his accomplice, the adjutant.”

The soldier groaned. “A Scout Inspector believes I am an embezzler?”

Calzjha gasped and marveled. “You invented that at that moment! Surrounded! Did he believe it?”

“The opportunity to gain advantage on a General and a paragon is so heady, he dare not believe it.”

Respiration sipped her tziembroask. She did not make a face, but did look down into the cup, perturbed at the flavor.

“Something puzzles me,” she said.

“Perhaps it could wait,” said the Earl. “Obdurate, what if the tziembroask were mixed with the caml-zre?”

Obdurate was still stunned.

The Earl reached for the caml-zre and peeled the wax seal.

“How is it that the Inspector took interest in you?” asked Calzjha. “Does he know you?”

Fazgood considered, then nodded. “I had a portion of my soul distilled, to obscure my memory of my home, and thus my identity.You’ll never imagine where my identity was secured!”

The adjutant looked up with an expression of unease. “In your relish.”

Fazgood deflated.

The soldier told of his numerical discernments, and his conclusion that the Earl had distilled himself. Both Calzjha and Respiration gave the young man flattering admiration.

Despite his jealousy at the attention, the Earl nodded. “That is a remarkable method.”

A thought took Respiration. “Something else does not seem right.”

“Would you like some caml-zre in your tziembroask, Respiration?” asked Fazgood.

“Why would the Inspector see you off into public? What assurance did he have that you were not telling a profound lie about everything, and that you were ready to ‘disappear into the night?’”

“My superior convincing.”

“What other than that?”

The Earl nodded with appreciation. “Ah. You have me.”

He set his cup upon the floor along the outside wall and asked, “Have you seen an obligationist’s work?”

All were dismayed. Obdurate and Respiration shook their heads. Calzjha clenched her fists to her temples. At the door, Warren wailed.

[My liege! No!]

The Earl said, “one’s word and nature, become bound to the obligationist. If the one so obligated were to disobey the obligationist, that one’s word loses value. As does my material. You may see.”

The Earl stepped to the lanternette and pulled up the cuffs of his pants. Three small, raw ulcers had bloomed upon each white shin.

Fine gray dust cascaded upon his shoes.

He raised his eyebrows. “Already, I become undone. Because I disobeyed and left the company of his deputies.”

Shocked, they drew close, even Warren, and examined his legs. Respiration put her hand on the Earl’s arm.

Respiration rose and stood beside him. She whispered, “What do you mean?”

“Remember at the ferry, that the deputy spoke of my ‘understanding?’”

“I…I thought he was merely imposing upon you.”

“No, I had been ordered by the Inspector to stay with those deputies. That big Adactoid was waiting for me to insist ‘I must go with the deputies, goodwife. It will be quite alright.’ I found those two boring and possibly brutal. I prefer this.”

Obdurate touched the ulcers. “But you must renegotiate his command! You will crumble into dust within a week!”

Warren added: [The only ways out of an obligation is to fulfill it, for you to be imprisoned, or for you to die!]

Fazgood let down his pantlegs and retrieved his cup.

The Earl sipped and swirled his cup casually. “True. Tomorrow, I will be only a little gray and spotty. I will seek out that ape Inspector and renegotiate my behavior. This will heal.”

Calzjha said, “But if you plan to kill him –“

“I could think whatever I wished without consequence. It is the action that causes the undoing.”

“What have you done?” Calzjha’s eyes were wet.

“Will you keep quiet!” hissed the Earl. “What did I do? I ensured the Inspector’s trust. All he needed was to confirm that there was something to my story. I assure you he would have killed me to frighten all of you, then had all of you likewise obligated.”

The Earl pointed at the hidden door. “With that little charm, Mehzadapt could obligate the Royal Family.”

In that close, humid room, all chilled.

“He had doubts when I left him,” said the Earl. “Doubtless he is belaboring his lotcaster to confirm the conspiracy I created.”

[So he is chasing his own shadow.]

“He is a crime boss. He lives by lies and threats. You should meet the fellows he has made his deputies. I remember that Scout

Deputies are supposed to be chosen as stalwarts and examples. Mehzadapt’s deputies are worse citizens than my subjects back at the earldom.”

[Did the deputies try to kill you?]

“All they needed was the command, squire.”

[Then they are not worse than your subjects: your subjects tried killing you many times on their own.]

“Yes, true.”

Said Respiration, “At the dock, that skinny Therihe had a smile like a wild dog. And that Adactoid looked like doom.”

“There was at the consultory this one fat, crafty fellow who stank like eggs, and went terrified around alcohol. He got me to wondering …”

Warren turned from the door. [A rotten egg smell? A terror of alcohol?]

“They sound like pitiful associates,” remarked Calzjha.

“They are a bunch on their last chance, and Mehzadapt makes them his deputies. He had to fight them a little too. Give me a splash of that caml-zre.”

“Poor discipline,” remarked Obdurate as he poured.

“Of all, a soldier would note that.”

Warren quickly turned back to his duty at the door.

The adjutant said, “Poor commanders promote beings they can control. Good commanders promote those who inspire the best.”

The Earl swirled the liquors in the cup and sighed, remembering his own personnel problems over his many careers. “Indeed. But now comes your moment to inspire, adjutant.”

“Truly? What would I do?”

“I will tell you, but you must have faith in me.”

He sipped and puzzled over the taste. “I had faith in you until I drank this.”

“Ignore the drink. The only way out of this is for you to sympatile the General in confidence. Make the message as secret as possible, but he must receive it quickly, hence the sympatile. You are to tell him that you suspect his wife has made him a cuckold.”

“What?” said the young man.

“Mind your cup.”

Respiration whispered, “You are joking.”

The Earl took the tziembroask and added another splash.

He sipped, and his face hardened with anger. “This has boiled my blood for the last two days, and I have kept my mouth shut. Now listen: You have brought me in to resolve this problem. You have read that god-poxied book –” he slipped into Adanikarese at that word “ – and know all I have done. There is a path out of this situation. At the end of that path, you will have each other, and the kingdom will be safe. I cannot tell you the path because the fewer who know, the easier to keep secret. The circumstance is going to get ugly. If you heed me, you will survive. If you do not heed me, all of us are doomed.”

Respiration nodded. Obdurate took a breath, then held her hand.

Fazgood insisted. “If I lack your cooperation, I might as well go to the Citadel and tell them everything, for that is what will happen anyway. Do you understand?”

“Do you have a plan?” asked Calzjha.

“Yes. This is the first step…”

The Earl told the adjutant. “You will sympatile the General. You will tell him that you suspect she is taken with the new guest from Ijkalla. Say that you overheard the guest boasting to her of being a magician. That he knows of a curse and knows how it can be destroyed and the Kingdom saved. You are puzzled by what he meant by that. Understand me?”

“Yes,” he said with resignation. “I must play a fool.”

The Earl said with annoyance. “Which as Calzjha will tell you, is the most challenging role.”

“Just dither. You dither well,” Calzjha smiled.

“It will not come to lying face-to-face, not yet. If the General believes you know any details of that curse, we are all doomed. And if he corners you and he gets something out of you, say you know nothing else and ask questions. If you have to, admit to a small lie to hide the truth. He will have some barking left, but your questions will bind him up.”

“But my husband is suspicious of everyone.”

Said the Earl, “Give him only the information he asks for.”

“This is like in the book,” the soldier took a breath. “When you were instructing the new spies for the Three Cities.”

The Earl pondered at the mention of the book, then: “Also, you can do some open duty for your country, and send the lotcaster college this message: the Scout Brigade lotcaster was in the Foreign Due. The lotcaster was a Booloob named Reedtickle. I doubt he had valid permission.”

“I’m certain he did not.”

“That will bind up our Inspector. When you are finished, tomorrow tell me everything. Remember all details.”

“I can do it.”
“Then, our regards to the Kingdom,” Fazgood sipped. “And to dead friends.”

All held their cups in both hands and nodded. The mood grown reflective, they drank in silence for another round. Warren lapped at his serving only twice, methodically, five licks each.

Her second tziembroask finished, the lovers looked to each other. With the speed of youth and ardor, without anyone’s notice,

Obdurate had already taken off his coat.

Noted the Earl. “I take my leave.”

All bade him farewell.

He added, “Tonight should be pleasant. Blood heats when pressed by a sword.”

Calzjha gave a smile, and waved farewell again.

The tziembroask had warmed Respiration so that sweat sheened her dark neck and brow.

[Are we safe to exit, squire?]

[Yes, my liege.]

They opened the door just wide enough to allow their passage.

[This has been an exhausting day, squire.]

[Will you sleep, my liege.]

The Earl scratched. [By the time I fell asleep, they would be finished.]

[That is doubtful, my liege. Last night, they went well past the third hour!]

[Past the third hour? Such is youth.]

[Actually, it was Respiration. Obdurate was enthused, but the lady was –]

[Warren, I do not need to know this.]

[Ah! Yes! My apologies! That was –]

[You are tipsy, squire. I will keep the confidence.]

At the top of the stair, Warren looked back at him. [My liege, are you well?]

[I am well. I am not so tired as I thought. Why don’t you sleep? I’ll sit here with my tziembroask.]

[If that is allowed, perhaps I will just stretch out.]

The Earl graciously set his blazer upon the floor. Warren lay upon his side and drowsed.
Fazgood sat at the top of the stair, forearms atop his knees, cup beside him to his left. He looked down the dark hall, looked up at the bricks on the ceiling, and began improvising upon his plan.

Book Launch for “The Flesh Sutra” at BaltiCon, May 24

30 05 2014

The end of Chapter Two, “The Mother and The Worm”, helped me realize that the best themes and symbols are totally accidental. Right now, I believe the best thing artists can do is present their own secret, lonely religions.


“MAD EARL FAZ” Chapter Seven (a family reunion with resulting threats)

12 03 2014

Cliffside-Bastles was the second neighborhood of the city, and was older than the customary’s neighborhood of Paradesend. Despite that age, the only way one could tell the difference was in the girth and height of the trees, which had grown to fill the wide patches of land set aside for their use. However, the sidewalks lay flat around the massive trees; no root pressed the pattern of the bricks to rumple them like an unmade quilt.

Fazgood had been silent since they had read the broadside. Sensing his sullen mood, his associates knew not to ask until the storm had passed.

Calzjha remarked, “How tidy this is! How do they keep the roots from ruining the surfaces?”

Warren looked up from the basket. [Are you certain you want to know? I could inform you, but you’d just lean on the lid again.]

“The Compact keeps all in cooperation,” muttered Fazgood. “Civilization helps nature something something.”

The Earl and Calzjha walked along the brick. Birds chirped in the trees. In the distance, one could hear the echoes of the traffic’s clatter.

Calzjha asked, “Where are we going?”

“I am going,” said the Earl, “to where I am going. Why are you going where I am going?”

“You are my translator. You must accompany me wherever I go.”

The Earl looked around, sighed, then turned back up the sidewalk. “I am not accompanying you anywhere. You are accompanying me.”

“The populace doesn’t know that. We must keep our roles.”

“I set up appointments for tailors to visit. Go back to the customary.”

“I asked the customarians to cancel them. So where are we going?”

“If there is anyone in this city who can leverage a moosecrab, it will be who we are visiting.”

I have to seek out one of Them.

Calzjha looked to the sky. “We must return by the seventeenth hour, otherwise we will miss the lecture on the Exults.”

“Be annoying, and Exults will love you. The best bribe is perfumed dust for their feathers. There is your lecture.”

A small fountain pattered at the head of the street, and next to that a small grocer. They drank their fill, the Earl soaked a handkerchief and mopped the sweat beneath his new hat. Then he purchased some roasted doakbreads from the grocer, and some sticks of sugarcane, all of which had caused them to be thirsty again which made them drink again. Fazgood asked for directions to Scrivener’s Dilligence Street.

Two streets farther down, Scrivener’s Dilligence Street presented as a particularly quiet and shaded lane of cozy homes. The Earl counted off the six houses, found the door of the seventh. With a leftover length of the hard sugarcane, he knocked upon the stout sliding door.

Calzjha whispered, “Who is this?”

Fazgood tilted his hat down to hide his face.

The door slid open. Before them stood a Therihe woman of middle-age. Blond locks framed a square face and square jaw. Bright blue eyes twinkled over a freckled pug nose.

She seemed startled. “Ah! Good afternoon to you! I have no need for vendors today. I am expecting company soon.”

Fazgood found himself bouncing on the balls of his feet in anticipation. “Good afternoon. Is this the house of Yet-More-Muscular Claimant?”

The woman’s hands rose and wrung her apron. “Yes, it is! If my husband asked you to stop by, he is so helpful, but I am so behind in my cleaning, and I do have a visitor coming. Could you come back tomorrow? I will be a little less scattered.”

The Earl replied, “I’m afraid this is an important matter, Goodwife. It has been four years since we set our last appointment. When your husband posted at the Three Kingdoms embassy.”

Fazgood shifted his hat away from his brow.

The woman’s bird-like hands eased slowly to her sides. Her face changed. Her eyes gained a heat and focus.

“Fluxion,” she said. The woman glanced around beyond them at the neighboring homes.

That alone buoyed the Earl’s mood.

“Goodwife, I was so overjoyed to hear of your husband’s posting! The Royal Foreign Affairs Department! You’ve gained your dream of living back in Harmon –-“

She spoke a little louder, “I am sorry, but you have the wrong house.”

She snapped the sliding door shut. But the Earl shoved faster with his sugarcane, and stuck it in the doorjam.

Calzjha looked to Fazgood, stunned: She has his jaw.

Leaning upon the stick, Fazgood declaimed as she tried to press the door shut, “If I could have just a moment of your time, Goodwife, on a matter of importance. We would just be a moment.”

They pushed and struggled.

“Honestly, Goodwife! I cannot! Restate! The importance! Of a brief discussion!”

A hiss came from behind the door. “You would not want the police, would you?”

Calzjha glanced at the nearby doorsteps. No movements stirred at the curtained windows.

“Goodwife! I would sell my wares to whomever you invite! As long as I’ve –- a voice in my throat!

The last part he ended at a shout, which made the door slide open.

The woman’s crinkled smile had returned. “Enter and be quick.”

The Earl took back his cane and ignored its scuffs. “Fazcelestial Claimant, may I introduce my associate? You may call him ‘Grand Foofaloof.’”

“Please enter my home. Now.”

Once the door shut, so once again did the smile flee. Fazgood offered her his cane and hat, but she glared and led them deeper into the house.

The rooms were simply furnished with well-crafted low tables and cabinets, much like the customary’s furnishings, much like all homes in the kingdom. The difference was that the walls were lined with thick tapestries of gardens and landscapes.

A tea set sat deployed on the common room’s main table.

The Earl sat on a cushion and picked up a delicate cup. “How hospitable! I’m parched!”

She took the cup from his hand. “I am expecting a visitor.”

Calzjha said,  “I hope we aren’t inconveniencing you.”

Fazcelestial set the cup back upon the table. “I’ll get you a cup. Would you like a cup also, Squire Grand Assumed Name?”

“No. Thank you, Goodwife.”

“Fazgood, is that weasel still with you?”

Warren peeped out of the basket. [Nothing for me! Nothing at all! Thank you, Goodwife Claimant!]  The basket lid closed with a bang.

“How can you get used to that talking in your head?” She knocked a hand against her temple, then stomped into the kitchen.

Calzjha whispered, “You told me your sister lived in the Three Cities.”

“She arranged for her husband’s promotion this Spring.”


The woman stomped back into the room. She slammed a small earthenware mug onto the table before him. It was thick, coarsely-glazed and valueless, as one would give a child.

She passed a hand behind her and sat, arranging the seams of her skirt. “I have received your letters. I do not want to know who you are involved with this time. I truly do not.”

“I left the employ with the royalty of Adanikar. I had time and resources to see the world.”

She reached into a blouse pocket and pulled out a small pillbox. “So you violated a Royal edict of exile to return.”

“Yes. I have a hankering for moosecrab.”

Her jaw clenched. “Of course you do.”

She counted out three pills, poured herself tea in one of the delicate cups and swallowed the pills.

Fazgood held out his coarse cup.

She poured. “Drink. Now.”

She turned to Calzjha. “Squire Co-Defendant, do you know my brother is sentenced to public torment and branding if he was to return to this city?”

Calzjha said,  “He…told me as much.”

Fazcelestine set her cup down and breathed into her folded hands. “Then he told you nothing. He joined a rebellion against the Scout Brigades. They tried to start another brigade centered in the Foreign Due. The bunch of them were declared outcasts, then while they were being captured a fire broke out. All of them died save him.”

“But he said he left when twelve years old.”

“He was.”

The Earl nodded. “I was precocious.”

The Earl’s sister gave him a grievous look.

She then said to Calzjha. “Squire Doom-struck, did you know it means branding for anyone who helps him in any way?”

Warren’s head popped from the basket. [Yes! We are sworn to see this through, no matter what his state of mind.]

“That’s what a familiar would say. But you, Doom-struck, you stay no matter how mad he may be.”

The young man stiffened. “We had been through more dire threats. We have infiltrated palaces! I wanted to come. Wherever Fazgood is, chaos seems to follow. In my religion, we seek to learn from disorder.”

She leaned to Calzjha with a look that was almost pity. “Enthus help you, you aren’t lovers, are you?”

Calzjha sagged, trying to conceal disappointment. “No.”

[Thanks to all gods!]

The lid closed with bang.

Oblivious and ruminating, the Earl shook his head. “People believe it is a blessing to be touched by the gods. I tell you it is not. Everybody pesters you for favors. And one cannot get a decent meal like good common folk can.”

The young man looked to the Earl with shock. “You have caused your sister to risk herself. She knows of your presence. She could be branded.”

Fazgood set his cup down and made to look sad. “And that causes me great pain.”

There was a knock at the door.

Fazcelestial drew a deep breath through her nose and closed her eyes. “It is essential that you go into the kitchen.”

Fazgood grinned. “Have you moosecrab there?”

She swelled with rage. “I will help you find your moose-crab. Go to the kitchen. Quietly. Now.”

“My dear Foofaloof, let us retire to the kitchen. My sister has household business to attend.”

There was another, sharper knock.

All rose. The lady of the house shoved the coarse cup into the Earl’s hands and the visitors retired behind the kitchen door.

The three guests peered around the kitchen and found it to be a simple affair, but with utensils and pots to be of the newest design.

Calzjha leaned to the Earl’s ear. “How can you treat your own innocent sister so poorly? To extort your own family!”

Fazgood suppressed a giggle.

Warren eased his head out. [Calzjha, you have no idea! You witnessed a singular event!]

The Earl nodded with glee.

[She is opening the front door!]

Outside, they heard Fazcelestial’s chirping: “Welcome, Ward Leader! Welcome!”

A hearty man’s voice: “Good afternoon, Goodwife. I hope that you and your family are well.”

The echoes of the voices changed as the two citizens of the Kingdom entered the common room and sat for tea. They exchanged pleasant talk of the weather and the beautiful fruits at the market.

The Ward Leader said, “I’ve visited your home before, but I meant to remark on your tapestries. Very…singular decoration. From your husband’s days at the Three Cities?”

“Oh yes. They’re lovely and they do help to keep the cool air in.”

Fazgood whispered, “They help to keep voices in, too.”

[Ha! And incrimination at bay!]

Calzjha gave the amused two a look of puzzlement.

The Ward Leader said, “You had told me of an issue you wished to discuss with me outside of the official meetings. How may I help you?”

There was a profoundly sad sound, like a songbird pining unto death. They realized it was Fazcelestial sighing.

The Leader, concerned: “Great maids, madam! What grieves you so?”

“It is my poor son Fazprime! The placement exams are coming in ten days. He desperately wants to get into administration like his father, but his school marks haven’t been…. He’s always been a good boy. A hardworking boy.”

“I would not presume, Goodwife, but are you about to ask about his placement tests?”

“Ah, Ward Leader! Am I so easy to read?”

“You are without any pretense, Goodwife. It is my job to know people, and to me you are as guileless as a newborn.”

“Ah! I had prepared such an entreaty. But I will leave arguing to my betters. I will just ask: could you help my poor Fazprime to be admitted to civil service?”

“I would consider it, but such intervention is rare and unusual. Questions would be asked, and Fazprime…is not up to the demands of the duty. This is what the test scores say. You may find him a career with…perhaps the Scout Brigades.”

Honest annoyance slipped through her voice. “There is no enemy to pilfer anymore! The Scouts have become layabouts and savages.”

The politican struggled to convince. “There may come a time when the Brigades will come again to the fore. He is well-suited.”

“But it is so well-known that people do change with responsibility and age.”

He consoled. “My son knows Fazprime and says he is the best sort. But the tests are strict for a reason. Your husband can tell you better than I about that.”

“Are you decided then, Ward Leader?”

“I am, Goodwife.”

“I see.”

“I regret disappointing you, but it is the way of my responsibility that I cannot satisfy all.”

Her voice brightened. “Ah. Do not feel sad for me. But let me tell you something amusing. Such an odd thing had happened the other day, I truly must tell you.”

“Perhaps you could tell me another time.”

“Sir, I had taken an evening’s walk and I had become confused. Silly old me! My husband says my sense of direction is like a butterfly’s. I meant to enter back through my home through the backdoor, but discovered that I had walked down the wrong street and behind the wrong house! What a fool I felt!”

“Ah. How awkward for you.”

“Yes! I remember that the house I almost entered was two streets away and three houses farther down and on the opposite side. I have been preoccupied, but still, I should wear a bell or something so I can be found!”

“Goodwife! A bell? Ha! That would be unnecessary! But…which house did you say you had wandered to?”

“Two streets away, three houses farther down, and on the opposite side as mine.”

“That would be…. Why, Goodwife! That would be my house! We would have enjoyed your company!”

“I felt uncomfortable as it was. Surely you understand. There I trembled in the dark and everyone indoors because it was raining. But as I departed, I suppose it was your back door, I had almost stumbled over a canvas sack. It tinkled a bit. I looked inside, and it was a collection of smashed glass.”

There was silence.

In the kitchen, the three looked to each other to see if any had deduced the significance. All shrugged, then eagerly pressed their ears to hear more.

“Good sir, I always find use for discarded items. It is doing our best for our kingdom!”

More silence, then: “So you took the sack…home?”

“I thought I had. I remember opening the sack and seeing all this beautiful green glass that I knew I could find a use for. But it all had such an odd smell to it. And there was so much of it. I resolved to wash the glass later, and so I set the sack aside.”

Fazgood suppressed an amused groan. Warren closed his eyes and shook his head with pity. Calzjha pouted, still puzzled.

The Leader’s voice was measured and careful. “Where did you put that sack?”

“Do you see? There I am again: lost! I set the sack aside, and I can’t remember where I had set it!”


“Silly me! I’ve looked everywhere.”

Silence again. In the kitchen, none dared breathe.

The Goodwife spoke, “Why sir! Are you well? Have some more tea!”

“I…I could help you look.”

“Oh, the bag’s safe somewhere! I know it is! It’s that with worrying about Fazprime’s acceptances, my mind is a waterspout! Hoosh! All flying everywhere.”

“Your worries are causing you to forget?”

“Indeed sir. I do wish you could help me sort my mind! Otherwise I would never remember about the sack, and I’d have to start asking the neighbors.”

The Ward Leader’s voice had a high, tense quality now: “That sack…contained bottles from many, many years of entertaining guests.”

“I wouldn’t know what they contained, sir. Or how recently the labels on the bottles had been printed. Are you certain you will not have more tea?”


Calzjha looked at his compatriots, not certain whether to take umbrage at their mirth.

Fazgood leaned to him. “Green bottles are reserved for the hardest liquors.”

Calzjha whispered, “But alcohol is popular in the kingdom.”

“A rumor that he drinks unseemly amounts would cast doubt upon him.”

[That sack could ruin him, you fool!]

The young man was aghast.

The three heard the Ward Leader stutter his need to leave, which the Goodwife accepted graciously. He tersely bid good-day, and she returned it with an abundant cheeriness.

Footsteps. The door slid open. Fazcelestial stood in the doorway, her eyes like those of a rabbit-sated raptor’s.

The Earl allowed an appreciative nod. “That was well played.”

She accepted the compliment coolly.

Calzjha stammered, “Wasn’t what you did illegal?”

Fazcelestial sorted her cuffs. “I have no idea what you are talking about.”

The Earl gave a vexed glance. “I have told you before about asking useless questions.”

[Please do not annoy her.]

The woman escorted them back into the common room. The cups and cushions evidenced the unseen events.

She said, “While I was speaking with the Ward Leader, I had a thought regarding your situation. You want your moosecrab? Try the zoo.”

Fazgood rapped his knuckles against his temples. “Ah! The zoo!”

His sister smiled with satisfaction.

The Earl scratched his head. “I had been considering crabs already dead and cooked. But a zoo crab would still need cooking. Sister?”

Fazcelestial spat air and looked upon him with disdain.

“I apologize, sister. I remember now: your husband does the cooking.”

“He cooks barely to my standards, and certainly not to your tastes, Earl Pet’s-Palate.”

Fazgood tapped his associate’s shoulder. “And she thought of my crab while entertaining a guest! Did I not tell you she was remarkable?”

Calzjha regained his composure. “You did…tell me. Indeed.”

“Normally the Foofaloof is a better liar. Your performance left him speechless.”

“Such a trait is worth learning,” she replied.

“Another thing about families, Foofaloof: never overstay your welcome. Dear sister.”

“Dear brother.”

“I have so many questions: how is your family?”

“You heard of Fazprime’s predicament. He does well otherwise.”

“Yet-More is advancing up the ranks of governance.”

“Yes. However, Squire Inky-Fingers needs to show more initiative, and do less scribbling.”

“The two of you will make a wise Prime Minister one day. Have you heard from brother Fazclever?”

“I send him money. He sends me his artwork otherwise.”

To Calzjha: “Being an artist does not pay much, but our brother’s talent is unique. What of our brother Fazduty?”

“Promoted to Master of Sergeants in the Prince’s Border Guard. He receives your letters. He shreds them in his teeth.”

“It is his own fault that he is honest.”

“You tell him that.”

The Earl dropped his voice to a whisper. “What of sister Fazarboreal?”

“She and mother have fled to points unknown.”

“Then we shall extend pity to ‘points unknown’.”

He leaned closer. “Have you been to see our old house? The Faz lodge in Creedlesbrook?”

“They tore it down and built a grander one. Do you know how many thousands have lived there since we left? Where do you get your sentimentality?”

Fazgood shrugged, not a copy of the Harmoniad Shrug, at a loss for a quip.

He turned to Calzjha. “Foofaloof, please have a look outside?”

Calzjha noted the stillness between the siblings and bade the goodwife a pleasant stay. She shut the door.

“Where did you pick up this poor patsy?”

“I happened upon him in Adanikar.”

“He is in love with you.”

“He’s still young enough to think all of this is exciting.”

“Yet you do not ditch him.”

Fazgood’s smile had gone. He looked out the window at the street.

Her expression of pity returned. “Shadows fall quickest near thieves.”

“I think the street is clear,” he said.

She reached for the door. “If they come asking, I will tell them you were here.”

“I know. I wouldn’t want you to gamble all of this.”

“I’ve said it before many times, I’ll say it again: Stay away, Fazgood. Never come back.”

“I am sorry, sister, but we are stuck with each other.”

“You may…continue sending your letters. My husband gains such enjoyment from them.”

“Extend my regards to your family at some time when it is safe to do so.”

Fazcelestial opened the door and the sunlight streamed in. Her light, dizzy smile returned. “Good day to you, vendor!”

The Earl’s own affable smile returned. “I thank you for your time, Goodwife. I hope the remainder of your day is pleasant.”

He stepped onto the stoop and joined Calzjha. They walked up the street and heard the door close behind them.

Calzjha whispered in Adanikarese, “And that is all? You had not seen her in years.”

“Each family is a nation. Each have its own ways.”

Calzjha walked along, his graceful stride having an unusual weight. “Warren —Brumpf?”

The weasel popped his head from the basket. [Yes?]

Calzjha’s expression froze at the mistake, then resumed his whisper, “In the kitchen, you mentioned ‘a singular event.’  What event?”

[Few have ever gotten leverage on a member of our liege’s family and kept their bones or their fortune intact. Fazcelestial herself blackmailed our liege during his stay at the Three Cities.]

The young man shook his head in dismay.

Fazgood nudged his young friend and asked in Rahsic, “Do you know what you need, good Foofaloof?”

Calzjha noted the Earl’s sudden heartiness and replied. “Moosecrab?”

“Indeed! We are half-way to our goal. And the zoo will keep our crabs safe. Now: to a cook.”

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