"You want fries with that? It comes with fries you know."
"Did I ask for fries?"
"Uh, no. I'm just sayin' that if you order the pattymelt that it comes with fries."
"I don't want fries."
"I still gotta charge ya for 'em."
With military precision my pattymelt arrived about ten minutes later and she still brought the fries.
"I really don't want these." I said pointing to my plate.
"Well the thing is, I gotta charge you for 'em," gum snapping as she spoke, "so I went ahead and put 'em on the plate..."
The waitress droned on, I wasn't surprised though. It had been like this during the entire tour. The van, driven usually by me, would pull into some podunk town, find the worst possible diner and then, zombie-like, we four wannabe rockstars would pile out and slouch into the first available naugahyde booth. We had been doing this same routine for about four weeks when I first noticed the pattern. It got to the point where no matter what I ordered, it tasted the same. Like donuts. Our frontman, Danny said that this was the mark of a fine diner. Danny had a cast iron stomach and could talk about the most disgusting things imaginable while eating. Once, in a diner in Jersey I saw him kill a cockroach that was making a beeline for his omelet without missing a bite. "Hey, I didn't order this," he said while scraping the carcass from the formica table. Then, while still chewing his last bite, he ordered, "hey sister, lemme have a hunk of that pie will ya?"
This was life for us at the time. We took ourselves very seriously and were unified in the notion that at any moment a major label A&R guy would appear at one of our ill-attended shows and make us the stars we thought we were entitled to be. We were living in the crease of society and were able to make enough dough to cover the essentials; beer, cigarettes and guitar strings. The songs were good, or at least our girlfriends thought so, and we really clicked on stage as long as nothing went wrong. Things usually went wrong. There was a long list of things that could go wrong.
Anything that happened at night in a club, any problem that may have arisen while we were on stage was always talked about while we were eating. Strange, but I don't remember ever sleeping while we were on the road, though I'm sure that I must have. Once in a diner in El Paso, Texas I sat, staring, bleary-eyed and hungover at two grease pools that were allegedly eggs. Though it was clearly a breakfast choice the waitress had still uttered those magic words, much to my chagrin. "Uh, honey, you want fries with that?" She was going too far.
I felt the tension mount as the band got ready for another long castigation from me on the sins of french fries. I was too tired to let this one have it. I meekly muttered, "No." This place was too much, even for Danny. We all sat there unsure of what to do. I was sure of one thing, there was no way that I was eating what was in front of me. We all just sat there not saying a word. The smell from these alleged food products was giving me a tremendous headache when all of a sudden, John Locke, our drummer, blurted out "I AM NOT EATING THIS!!" no one even looked up at the normally quiet John Locke. He said this in every other stop that we made. Truth was he only ate about once a week. I would not have believed this fact but I lived with this man in very close quarters for an extended amount of time and I like to think I know what his habits were. John Locke was a first class beer drunk. He would usually start drinking as soon as we got to the club. Before that, if he was awake, he would drink coffee and smoke cigarettes in the back of the van. He rarely said more than three words at a time. The only response he got was from Danny. "Good, can I have the rest of your...whatever that is?" Danny could never admit that a place actually had inedible food. If the sign outside said 'restaurant' that meant that whatever they served you inside was fit to eat. John Locke looked at Danny and then contradicted himself by saying "Nope, I not quite done yet." He remembered that no matter who ate the food in front of him that he would end up paying for it. Grimly he picked up a fork and started in on his order.
There was actually a space of three full days on the tour where I managed to trick the conspiracy of waitresses. I had taken to eating only pancakes. Pancakes. I was amazed that it had taken so long for me to figure this out. No one ever ate fries with pancakes. Then one day in Spearfish, South Dakota, I met my match. We decided to eat before retiring for the night rather than in the morning. I ordered pancakes and eggs as it was the special of the day. The waitress was a chubby biker type. She was only thinly disguised by the official polyester waitress uniform. I knew right away that my happiness would be brief... She actually leered as she said it. It was as if she had been waiting all night, I couldn't believe my bad luck. Lenny, our guitar player, muttered "Shit, here we go again." I immediately started in on my usual diatribe.
"Who the hell eats french fries with pancakes?" I complained.
"Listen, you little shit, I'm not gonna take in crap from you tonight you understand."
I was slightly shocked but no less determined.
"Did I ask for fries?"
Danny and Lenny tried to get me to stop but it was too late, I was on a roll.
"I don't give a damn what you asked for, you little punk." She was raising her voice now.
I knew I had her even though I was scared.
"You gotta care, you're the waitress and if you didn't, you wouldn't have asked."
She sighed. She was down but not out. I didn't figure on what she said next though.
"If your're still in town when I get off I am gonna kick you skinny little ass. Do you understand me?"
I sat there blinking, bare arms sticking to naugahyde. I had no response. My mates had abandoned me in my struggle against french fries. They were all doubled over laughing. I wasn't laughing. I knew she meant it. She had dealt with those like me before. I was beaten and I knew it. I sat there staring at the fries on my plate. It was a conspiracy. They were all out to get me. The only recourse I still had was not to eat them. Unfortunately that really wasn't the point though. The fact that they had to be there at all really burned me. I was so dejected that I volunteered to drive the van through the night rather than stay one unnecessary second in this godforsaken hell-hole in the badlands of South Dakota. We were playing Fargo the next night and by comparative standards the food would be fit for Kings. Danny walked along side me as we made our way through the expansive gravel parking lot, the gravel crunched beneath our boots. "I knew she was trouble," he said. I was silent, he was right. "Cheer up man, the sun'll come up in Fargo tomorrow and you'll be able to get even with all of 'em then. Might want to think about ordering cereal though - just to be on the safe side."
All in all it was the food that I remember most. I have since moved from the crease of society into the quick. I am older, I drive a station wagon and have a respectable job. But every now and then during the heat of summer I pick a direction at random and hit the highway. The feel of the wind in my face, and the sound of radial tires whining on the asphalt is exhilarating...and sometimes, if I try really hard, I can almost catch the no-so-subtle scent of fried bacon and boiled coffee...and if I press the illusion just a little bit farther, I can hear the rustle of a polyester waitress uniform and am always startled when the amalgamation of all the waitresses in all the dirty cafes utters that beautiful, succinct aside, "honey, you want fries with that? ...comes with fries you know."
A couple of nano-seconds later, the cathode ray tube emits light and gives forth sound.
"La la la lala! Be a swell dude! Use drugs and be rude!"
The camera fades out from the face of a happy drug user, which generally transforms to the intro of "Eye Witness News". Once this has finished, the face of a news readers appears on the screen.
Narrator's voice: Here's John Scragg with the "Eye Witness News" headlines of Blibicon 3rd 1991. This morning at about 7 AM C.E.T., the world of science plunged into turmoil as archeologists stumbled upon the remains of what is thought to be an information carrier of some kind. It is believed to be as archaic in comparison with the current opto-floptical disc as the nuclear bomb was in comparison with current conventional weaponry, yet its bigger size leads to speculations about a possibly bigger storage capacity. Some primary dating has been performed, and it is believed that this morning's discovery is as important to our knowledge of an eventual prehistoric man as the discovery of artificial meat was to vegetarians! But, now, let's get down to our correspondent on the spot. Come in, Jack!
Film cuts to reporter, standing in a kind of quarry. Scientists are walking around. Outside the quarry, behind a fence that is guarded by dogs and police officers, there are a couple of dozen people headed by some that look like spiritual leaders of some kind. The latter are dressed in snot-coloured robes, wielding hankies. They are, quite obviously, demonstrating against something - probably the excavation going on in the quarry.
Jack (on the spot): Yeah, sure, John. That's the general opinion amongst the scientists here, too. All morning, they have been walking to and fro with pieces of this newly discovered ancient thing that's believed to be an advanced media carrier of some kind. They have also found pieces of decayed paper which they believe can shed some light on the thing's origin and, even more important, its age. The crowd is surely not agreeing with what is happening. Spiritual leaders clad in snot-coloured robes are heating up more and more people, and...
...Ah. One of the scientists is coming my way now.
Sir, may I be as bold as to ask you what you have found out already?
Scientist (looking uncomfortably towards the mob outside the fences, then turning towards the camera while adjusting his tie): Well...erm...we're not yet entirely sure. But it is my opinion that we have stumbled on something that will shed new light on our knowledge on the subject of pre-historic man.
Jack: Pre-historic man? Isn't 'pre-historic man' a sensitively controversial subject these days? As you know, the existence of these hypothetical ancestors to our race is still fairly unconventional. As a matter of fact, the church has tried to abolish the theory altogether, since...
Scientist (slightly agitated, in a way that shows that he has been it many times before, and indeed that he has already said what he is going to say equally many times): You can't keep on believing a book that says we've been created from the remnants of some Huge Divine Prophet's nose excreta, now can you? Believing is OK, but once scientific proof is collected that tends to tell you otherwise, it's a bit stubborn - not to say stupid - to keep on believing this nose excreta stuff. I guess our spiritual leaders are just worried they'll be losing a lot of power - and money. Well. Duty calls me, as you see, so I'd like to excuse myself. Thank you.
Jack: Thank you, sir.
The scientists scurries off to somewhere else in the quarry. The camera pans out a bit, and once again shows the demonstrating mob outside the fences. We see the reporter move towards the fence, in the direction of one of the more prominently looking spiritual leaders.
Jack: And what do you, as a representative of the church, think of everything that is happening here?
Spiritual leader (almost lethally agitated): It's bloody blasphemy it is! Everybody knows that all this evolution crap is nonsense! "The Divine Prophet sneezeth and thus we were created," thus the Ibleb sayeth. How can someone believe something different? The possibility of our civilisation having evolved from ape-like bipedal life forms is altogether ridiculous, preposterous! The items these blasphemists are currently digging up have been put there by the Agnostic Hanky Front!
Jack (on his face appears an expression that can be described as being somewhere between 'surprised' and 'shocked'): The AHF? The left-wing revolutionists sponsored by the Great White Handkerchief that is thought to irradicate the entire Universe during the Apocalypse? So what you're trying to tell here is that this excavation could be a con or something, or, worse, an Agnotic omen?
Spiritual leader (nodding): Yeah. Sure thing.
As if signalled by the spiritual leader, the other snot-coloured-robe-wearing people (probably disciples of some sort) start to chant, heating up the crowd even more.
The crowd: Blasphemy! Blasphemy!
Crowd member #1: Hail the Divine Prophet!
Crowd member #2 (blowing his nose firmly): May the Green Force rule forever!
Crowd member #3: Down to all AHF Revolutionists!
Crowd member #4: Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!
The police officers start to bark, and the dogs have to go through heavy physical excercise to restrain them.
Jack (retreating from the fence, that is budging a bit): Things are getting a bit too hot here. So it's back to the studio.
The camera shudders as the fence budges a bit more. Screen remains black for about 2 nanoseconds. Then, the face of John Scragg appears again.
Narrator: Well, well. Aren't we hot on the news there. In the studio I have with me Professor Leo Uther Natic, PhD. Professor, what is your opinion about the 'prehistoric man' topic?
Professor (after blowing his nose and examining his hanky's contents for the possible presence of gems or, indeed, entire new galaxies with new civilisations): Well...erm...erm, what can I say? This subject is rather difficult to relate to your viewers, as they have pressed upon them the stigma of conventional religion which is generally thought to be the sole thing responsible for eventual scientific...er...fuck-ups as we tend call them. But I can have a go at it, I think. It is a common belief nowadays, in scientific circles that is, that we have not been created through any nasal excreta - and this theory is highly disliked by church leaders. Recent discoveries of skeletons much like ours, but dated over 5000 years old, have fueled our thoughts. There may indeed have been civilised life before the beginning of our history, now 1991 years ago. Especially the things found in the quarry this morning lead us to believe that this 'missing link' between the apes and us had the ability to build primitive tools and weapons. It is rather ironic that this 'missing link' had its own year reckoning, and that the deposits found in this excavation seem to have been formed in their year 1991. '1991 B.C.', as they call it. But...
Narrator: Sorry for interrupting you, but did these people also have a religion? I bet everyone's dying to know this.
Professor: Yes. They had. It was ridiculous, of course. They believed in some kind of entity they had never seen. This entity floated somewhere they referred to as 'heaven' - this is well before the ozone shield, you see - and this particular entity also had a son that died by being nailed to a tree or something. Well, that's all we've been able to find out so far. They may have had other religions as well, but our excavations are in far too early a stage for any speculations on that. We also know something about their means of multiplication. As far as we've been able to find out, the males repetitively sent angels to females which then got pregnant.
Narrator: Quite a crude way of fucking, don't you agree? But can you tell the viewers anything about what has actually been found this morning?
Professor: Well, a lot actually. Apart from various pieces of cutlery and pots that seem to indicate that they still ate manually and cooked on heat sources, we found lots of media carriers. In the time when these excavations were formed, they seem to have been present in two rather popular forms. One is about 10 centimetres in diameter and silver in colour. It seems to contain a great many tiny impressions, which we believe is a rather primitive way of storing digital information. For all we know, there could be sound on them, or text, or images. We don't know, quite frankly, as we have yet to find a device in which we can decode the information contained on them. The second medium is clearly magnetic and about 7.5 centimetres in diameter. We have found devices with which to use these, but these resulted in "Disk may be damaged" error messages which lead us to think that the magnetic information has been lost due to the 5,000 year timespan that has passed between its creations and its discovery. Also, the thick layer of carbonated dust and oil residue that covered up everything may have some kind of negative effect.
Narrator: Carbonated dust and oil residue? Is it possible that this indicates some kind of catastrophe due to which this pre-historic man virtually died out?
Professor: We don't know for sure. It seems that some kind of large fire - a kind of global fire, possibly caused by a war - did it.
Narrator: A war?
Professor: Indeed, Mr. Scragg. A war. This prehistoric man seemed still to resort to war now and again, which seems to indicate that their intelligence levels were infinitely lower than ours. It's amazing that we should have evolved from such creatures that were quite clever on one side yet incredible dumb on the other. I find no scientific proof for this Nose Excreta business, but I am beginning to think perhaps it would be a theory to be preferred - if only on aesthetic grounds - when compared to what we are finding out on pre-historic man.
Narrator: That surely sounds very interesting, Mr. Unatic.
Professor: It surely does, Mr. Scragg. But let me tell you something else. Ever heard of Pink Floyd?
Narrator: You mean this strange bunch of guys creating a somewhat unconventional kind of music, stating that they're the reincarnation of a 5000-year old pop group that used to consist of pre-historic men? I seem to recall them having an album out at the moment. Isn't it called "Dark Side of the Moon" or something?
Professor: Well, that is the crude interpretation of a someone who is obviously not much in touch with current-day geriatric culture but, yes, they are and their current product is indeed called that way. A brill album by all means if you ask me, but please don't quote me on that or my children will divorce my wife and I will have to disown her. There is now reason to believe that our current-day Pink Floyd are a bunch of hoodwinkers as we have now reason to believe that they are in fact but the reincarnation of a pre-historic computer demo program coding group.
Professor: Indeed. We have found one of those strange magnetic media carriers which had a kind of adhesive label attached to it. This label read "Dark Side of the Spoon demo". Of course we couldn't verify its contents due to the aforementioned wear and tear inflicted by time. This does, however, shed new light upon the supposed connections between computer program code and longitudinal vibes.
Narrator: I see.
Professor: The album is quite brill, though. But don't quote me on that.
Original written February 1991. Rehashed slightly on August 22nd 1997.
The thin layer of ice covering the snow cracks beneath my heavy boots like eggshells, the only sound left in the empty black night. I pull my cloak more tightly around myself, more to hide the fresh bloodstains than from actual cold. My eternal shadow, nocturnal buzzards, circle overhead, their appetites barely sated by the thin child I led into the field to play, she of hollow bones and little flesh.
I was pretty disappointed with her, too.
I'm glad I let her die.
City lights blink in and out of the trees. A lone automobile roars up behind me, then passes, wheels spraying up slush from the uneven potholes in the road. A little bit of slush lands on my flesh, and I watch it, fascinated, as it seethes and disappears from the heat of my body.
Small packs of domestic dogs stage mock wars in the fields. My fingers curl into claws automatically, unconsciously, but I hold my peace and pass them by without so much as an audible whimper of lust. One dog might not be missed, two dogs might not be missed, but a whole pack of dogs and a missing child would not go unnoticed.
I reach my driveway just as the sky turns from black to a fluorescent twilight blue. "I'm not going to be good for anything tomorrow," I say aloud, more to practice the colloquialism than to actually express a sentiment. The door of the garage yawns open as I approach, and I enter its musty confines gratefully, allowing myself to sink down to the oil-splattered pavement and stretch out on the cool concrete, just for an instant, just enough to let my mind go blank.
An alarm clock goes off from somewhere inside the house. I sigh and climb to my feet, pulling my cloak off and hanging it up on the hook by the door. I stumble into the bathroom and splash cold water on my face without turning on the light. I pull my blood-soaked shirt and jeans off and step into the shower with them, the water from the tap loosening the dried blood, making it wet again, splashing red all over my chest and face, just like last night. I feel myself getting erect at the mere memory of the pale wraith, and I force myself to think about something else.
The sun has almost completely risen when I walk back into the living room, my bare feet leaving wet prints in the worn carpet. I pull on my work clothes - white dress shirt, gray slacks, patent leather shoes - and brush my hair into a straight black slick. Bloodshot eyes stare back at me from the hallway mirror, but otherwise, I look. Perfectly. Normal. I am, as usual, the first person in the office. I start up the coffee machine and wander through the building, letting myself fade into the automaton the company wants to see. My boss breezes in a couple of minutes later, greeting me with a cheerful "Good morning!" before disappearing into his own office. I smile back an instant too late, then hurry to my desk and try to look busy.
The day passes uneventfully, like always, a million routine details, a million little lies and vicious gossip and stupid jokes floating through the office. I am too haggard to really pay attention, and spend the day shuffling papers and drinking coffee. I have to stay awake one more day, one more night, and then I can sleep for two whole days.
I am out the door before the clock actually releases me. I have to be back in the field by midnight, and I have to have my prey with me.
The coffeeshops are no longer an option. I met my last two victims there, and I doubt if any other patrons would be stupid enough to leave with me. I hit the coin laundromat instead, bringing my pile of mangled clothing with me.
The only other people in the laundromat are two ancient fat women - the thought of stripping them naked and mutilating them makes me limp. I buy a newspaper and pretend to read, convinced that this is the place, that supper or love or both will meet me here tonight.
And then she walks in. Thin, not too thin, a pillar of marble and bone and flesh. Her thick blue veins pulse flirtatiously along her white neck, beneath her mane of black hair. She sets her basket of dirty clothes down on the counter and begins filling up two of the washing machines, brushing her long hair out of her face with one hand as she separates colors from whites. I catch her eye from over the newspaper and smile - the pleasant smile I've been practicing at work - and she, amazingly, smiles back. I go back to pretending to read the paper, determined not to rush this one.
"Do you mind if I sit here?" She stands before me, empty basket held in one hand, her purse slung over her arm. I grin, somewhat maniacally, and scoot over the slightest bit, making more room for her. "Thanks," she says, sitting down, her leg almost touching mine. "You don't know how many weirdoes try to come on to single women in laundromats."
I nod, trying to think of something to say. I end up clearing my throat and folding up my newspaper.
"You alone on a Friday night as well?" she asks, sympathetically. "I don't know anyone with a real life who does laundry on Fridays." She stares off at the far wall and sighs meaningfully.
"No sense in us both being alone," I venture, hoping it doesn't sound as corny to her as it does me. A little smile plays at the corner of her mouth, as though she's trying not to laugh. I try again, floundering, "I mean, we don't have to spend our whole night washing and folding and ironing clothes. We could step out for fifteen, twenty minutes for a beer or a cup of coffee, possibly. The laundry won't get done any faster with us watching it."
"Are you a weirdo?" she asks, point blank.
"Uh, no," I answer, wondering if I've gone too far.
"Okay." She stands up and stretches, her long black hair almost touching my face. "A beer sounds lovely."
We go out to my car and I hold the door open for her, the quintessential gentleman. I pull out onto the main road and watch the sky grow darker, the stars just beginning to peek out from behind the clouds. "Did you have any place in particular in mind?" I ask her, just to appear interested.
"Ah, not really." She seems somewhat preoccupied, staring out the car window at the streetlights and evening crowds.
"Are you all right?" Part of me is genuinely concerned, and the concern feels like a cold knot in my stomach.
"Yeah, I guess." She tosses her hair and looks at me, somewhat sadly, resigned. "I hope you don't think I'm too forward, just taking off with you like this, but I just got out of a really serious relationship, and I don't know what single people do together, how they're supposed to act, all that stuff. This is a really weird time for me right now."
"For me, too," I say, and leave it at that.
The sky grows black quickly, just as we reach the edge of town. She looks at me nervously, out of the corners of her eyes. "Don't worry," I say quickly, "I just want to show you something. It'll only take a second." I smile the friendly smile again, and slow to a stop underneath the trees. I get out of the car and walk over to her side of the car and open the door for her. She gets out slowly, nervously. "Relax," I say, and begin walking toward the field. After a few seconds I hear her footsteps crunching trough the snow after me.
I turn on her just as we're out of sight of the road. She fights back, much stronger than the pale secretaries and art students I've had here before, but I have the advantage of surprise. My sharp teeth rip through her flesh, first tearing into her left breast, then finding a home in her alabaster neck. The veins spit blood sluggishly into my mouth, down my throat, and I take just enough to make her mine. I drop her onto the snow and lean down to whisper into her ear. "You will not die," I say. "I have given you immortality, and I will be back to claim you tomorrow night. Do not be afraid, my angel." She stares back at me through eyes that see nothing, filming over like ice on a frozen pond. I kiss her lips gently, and arrange her still-twitching limbs in a way that looks somewhat comfortable. Reluctantly, I go back to my car, impatient for the next evening.
And the next evening, I find I have taken too much of her blood, or done something wrong, for she is gone. Dogs have ripped her body to pieces, leaving chunks of her out in the open for the birds of the night to carry back to their young. A ripped shred of scalp beckons to me from a tree limb at the end of the field, the wind having turned the strip of long black hair into a macabre streamer. From the right angle, it almost looks like she is there, still alive, hiding behind the line of trees, her long, soft hair giving away her hiding place - but only for an instant.
Life had been terrific. After Sagyr had finally succeeded in defeating the wicked witch Xandrilia and found the potion that enabled him to regain the shape of his former self, people from all over the world had visited him. For them he was the greatest magician alive, which he had no reason to dislike.
For many years, people would come to him whenever they needed minor bits of magic to be done. Some time ago an apprentice by the name of Kurgan had even requested his aid concerning the release of an entire enchanted land!
Sagyr had it made. He was invited to royal parties and trivia quiz panels; he was asked to cut the ceremonial ribbon at official openings. If he would have lived in our days, in our plane of reality, he would have been contracted for washing powder commercials.
He had nothing whatsoever to complain about. Life was terrific, and it looked set to remain that way, smiling broadly at him.
Until one day a soft, wet knock could be heard on the wooden door of his humble abode. It was already getting late - the moon was full and the sound of wolves' howling would have made chills rush up and down his spine if he wouldn't have been Sagyr, the famous, powerful sorcerer.
He was in the middle of mixing ingredients, trying to make a potion that could change gold into the lead he needed because his washbasin was leaking. He muttered a soft curse when he heard the knock.
It was repeated. It sounded as if a small lump of meat was being pounced into the door.
"Yes, yes," Sagyr muttered. He staggered to the door.
The awkwardness of his movements made him think back of when Xandrilia had changed him into an animal. He hadn't liked it, but at least he had been able to fly like an eagle, hear like a bat, buzz like a dragonfly. Being enchanted had had its good sides - one of them being the lack of his arthritic symptoms.
He muttered another curse when he opened the door and saw nothing but the endless black void of midnight out of which only arose the howling of wolves and the odd sound of owls. The curse was followed by some words that would have made Eddie Murphy blush if only he had lived in the same time and, indeed, in the same plane of reality, which of course he didn't.
Sagyr returned to his cauldron, intending to continue mixing ingredients. Maybe some eye of newt? Some tongue of frog? Wings of bat? Some Plantiac?
When he was about to take a swig of the latter, he suddenly noticed something green on the ground that mysterously made the name "Kermit" appear in his mind.
He discarded the thought and instead bent over to look at it more intently. It was a frog and, although it was a strange thing for a frog to do, it held a little scroll between its front paws.
Sagyr took the little scroll and unrolled it. On it was a totally ridiculous text.
"EVEN THOUGH IT MIGHT SEEM ODD TO YOU RIGHT NOW, I AM ACTUALLY A BEAUTIFUL PRINCESS. ALL YOU NEED TO DO IS KISS ME."
Sagyr thought long and, it can be supposed, hard. He knew this was ridiculous but the only thing he had always longed for was a female companion - just about the only thing with which his fame had not awarded him.
He took the frog in his hand. It felt like wet clay, and looked revolting. All he had to do was kiss it and he would have the companion he had wanted so long. Finally he would no longer be alone when mixing potions - and he would no longer need to do all the paperwork involved with his sorcery practice.
Wow. And a princess at that! That was even better than, let's say, the ordinary everyday girl.
He closed his eyes and thought fervently about the first girl he had ever cuddled on junior apprentice school - who had, accidentally, also been the last one.
He kissed the frog.
A flash of bright lightning split the blackened night sky in two, immediately followed by a crack of thunder sufficient to scare off Death.
Sagyr opened his eyes. Princesses surely weren't as beautiful any more - not like he recalled them from the good ol' days. The one standing in his laboratory right now had long, grey, ragged hair that clung to her body as if she had just emerged from a pool of mud - which was a fitting description for the rest of the state she was in.
The note must have been mistaken. She didn't look like a princess at all. She looked more like an evil witch of some sort, like...
"Xandrilia!" he exclaimed in a voice tinged with fright, stepping back in awe.
The witch didn't say anything but her eyes mutely spoke of death and revenge. Quite forgetting all about the fact that she was standing in front of her arch adversary in a rather nude, befuddled and altogether silly way, she spread her arms and cast an evil glance skyward.
Sagyr took another step back. He felt his throat tighten, as if powers beyond his own were at work. Sweat appeared on his brow.
What could he do? His potions were out of reach. He had given his magic wand to a chap called Geraden two days earlier. There was no way out. His powers were of no avail here. He could beg for mercy, but something told him Xandrilia was not in the mood.
Another flash of lightning seemed to yank the heavens asunder. The crack of thunder that followed would have been enough to cause mayhem in hell.
He felt a strange sensation in his stomach that quickly went to his head. He felt fur on his arms. Or were it feathers?
Xandrilia laughed like only triumphant evil witches can laugh which is in an altogether very evil way.
No. Not again. Not now. He could learn to hate fate.
Originally written September 20th 1991, rehashed a bit - and with a different ending - March 16th 1997.
Mrs. Smith awoke at six a.m. sharp. She had been doing so for the past sixteen years. She always followed the same pattern. She did it so well. First she would stand and stretch, then she would take a half empty glass of vodka, that she would place earlier that evening near her bed, and drink it down without a breath. She would then head to her bathroom. There she would brush her teeth; up and down first and then from side to side. She would then proceed to brush her tongue because she knew how important that was and how little attention people paid to the matter. After all the brushing Mrs. Smith would head to the bedroom and put on her clothes.
Mrs. Smith would first take a small vodka break because she always had a hard time deciding what to wear and today would be no different. After selecting her attire for the day she would head for her breakfast nook. She didn't feel like eggs today , so instead she had a small glass of vodka. Keeping track of time with the clock on the wall made her sips from the glass frequent and lasting.
At 7:45, Mrs. Smith would get in her car for the long journey ahead. Mrs. Smith was an excellent driver . She always remembered to stay two car spaces behind the car ahead of her. While driving down the busy street, Mrs. Smith noticed Steven standing in front of a coffee shop. Steven was an old friend of Mrs. Smith. She had met him about fourteen years ago . He had helped her through many difficult times and she felt as if they were the closest of friends. Steven was a wonderful person with so much to say. Everyone loved Steven because he was a great conversationalist and incredibly charming. He always had the greatest anecdotes and stories. Mrs. Smith pulled up next to the curb and waved Steven over. Steven leaned into the car and in the most insensitive voice asked "How much?" Mrs. Smith replied with "Twenty, please." After the transaction, Mrs. Smith continued down the street.
Mrs. Smith wasn't a junky or anything of the like, she was merely buying for the weekend. Her friends and she had been talking about going to this up-town club and she knew it would be great to take a little that night. Her friends always entertained the idea of going to the club and this week-end they were sure to go. As Mrs. Smith turned at the corner she saw her favorite Deli and decided to stop in for a second. Once secured in the bathroom she cut a few lines on her license and rolled up a one dollar bill. She laughed to herself as she thought of a couple of her friends having to snort two lines at a time. She knew there was no need for that, and quite frankly it yelled out "Junky."
After about the third line there came a loud pounding from the door. Mrs. Smith thought, "What the hell?" for she would never say such a thing. She decided to finish her lines when a second set of poundings startled her and sent all the ______ on to the floor. The pounding grew louder and louder until Mrs. Smith couldn't take it anymore. She then reacted in a way very unlike herself. She opened the door at a fast speed and without hesitation grabbed the young woman by the hair and slammed her into one of the bathroom walls. She then proceeded to slam the young woman's head onto the white porcelain toilet. Mrs. Smith was using every bit of strength and hate she had. She began to yell at the top of her lungs, "This is for losing my job three weeks ago, and this is for losing my husband two weeks and six days ago, and this is for losing my children two weeks and five days ago, and this is for yesterday's eviction notice and this is for making me blow twenty dollars worth of fame and fortune on to this disgusting floor!" Mrs. Smith, along with the cold thumping sound made by the young woman's lifeless head slamming into the now red porcelain toilet seat, could be heard for blocks.
Mrs. Smith was found guilty of capital murder and sentenced to death by lethal injection. Mrs. Smith discovered at the trial that the young woman she so violently attacked and killed was a police officer. Police officers, as we all know, are quite familiar with the sound one makes when snorting an illegal substance. Mrs. Smith was having an unusually bad day. The bailiff showed Mrs. Smith to the holding room and explained to her that she would be transferred later that evening.
The rusty lock opened a dark and damp corridor that led Mrs. Smith to her private quarters. As she walked, with the help of a guard, she could smell the green her beloved child used to use to give life to his trees. She could also see the shades of pink that once filled the smile on her husband's face. Mrs. Smith was beginning to understand how her mind would sort and organize her daily events. The bars now devoured her as she sat in the corner of her cell . Her bound wrists were wrapped around her knees keeping her legs from sliding out symmetrically to the floor. She could hear every horrible whisper for miles. She rocked herself back and forth while her mind entertained the idea that God would call and she would go home soon.
The priest that visited Mrs. Smith later that day left with no confessions and a rumor that God and Mrs. Smith had discussed and finalized the whole dead women in the bathroom incident. Mrs. Smith had explained kindly to the priest that she hadn't any need for a middle man and that his services weren't worth her time. Mrs. Smith's final visitor came to show Mrs. Smith to her end. At first, Mrs. Smith was barely able to sustain herself on her feet, but as soon as she grabbed hold of a single train of thought she began to fight and yell. "God is going to call, I know she will, she said she would call later today or maybe tomorrow," screamed Mrs. Smith with a fantastic mixture of rage, fear, and conviction over and over. Mrs. Smith had never fought like this on her way to a fix before , but this was going to be the first time she main lined and she wanted to consider her options a bit longer.
The guard forced Mrs. Smith into restraints and aided the Doctor until he was no longer needed. Mrs. Smith continued to ramble about the ringing, God, and sterilized needles. Mrs. Smith's thoughts began to transform as she laid strapped to the bed with a sterilized needle piercing her flesh and vein with an alien substance. Mrs. Smith could see the very first time she had a drink and how sick she got the next day. She remembered her first line and how sick she felt the next day. She struggled to get a clear picture of her family but the mirror she looked into was covered in a thin white film. Mrs. Smith could no longer fight nor speak. As the solution began to displace her life, Mrs. Smith became very conscious of the sounds surrounding her. She could hear the tiny drops of solution, ordered especially for her, as they entered the long stretch of plastic-to-vein connector, the clock on the wall ticking louder and louder, the sound of her heart as it raced to kick open her chest and, most importantly, she could hear God ringing the phone. The ringing was unbearable, it made her chest hurt from the pounding and her ears hurt from the drops ticking and then when she could no longer take it... white.
"Do you believe in love at first sight?"
The voice that asked her this question took her totally by surprise. She had just spent an hour or so idling around, looking at an orchard of particularly fine apple trees. She had let her mind wander freely around, join the birds in flight and song, enter the bodies of various other animals that roamed the garden. She felt good, at one with nature yet completely free, and very content.
She turned around to face the voice. She looked into the face of a man. She had never seen a man before in her life, but she had always reckoned this was what they looked like, without anyone ever having told her. He looked pretty much like her own reflection in a pond, only he had a flat chest and where she just had a fluff of hair he had, well, a dangling sort of fat worm, a kind of added bonus? She looked at it for a while, then her gaze returned to his face.
His face, too, was different from hers. It was rather more rugged, and where her skin was covered with soft, almost peach-like hair, his seemed more, well, coarse. She could not resist the temptation and stroked his cheek. Coarser, indeed, she could only compare it with pig skin, or elephant skin, although not quite as rough as those. She next stroked her own skin by comparison. Yes, that was definitely a lot more agreeable. She took the man's hand, as if to convince him of his own rugged coarseness, and let him stroke her cheek in return.
Ever since she could remember she had thought about the concept of a man. She had never seen one before in her life, and nobody had ever mentioned them to her. It just seemed that the idea had always been in her mind to muse about. It had always held a peculiar kind of attraction to her, though she never quite knew why or how.
"What was that again?" she asked.
The man seemed a bit taken aback. He, too, had never in his life seen a woman before. He, too, seemed to have had the concept in his mind, innate. He, too, had dreamed and fantasised about these weird and wonderful creatures he'd never met, these women, she-men. He had made up quite a few different names for the concept, but now all of a sudden 'woman' sounded particularly apt, for some or other reason that he couldn't quite put his finger on. He had never quite realised that a woman would be different from himself, but now that he saw that she was, he reckoned it was quite logical. And he had to conclude that whoever had thought up the woman standing in front of him, or whoever had created her, had definitely improved on his own physical appearance. Where he had hair on his chest, hair in which little insects always got stuck when he ran from place to place, she had these two wonderful things. He had never expected them to be there, but now he saw them it seemed very, well, logical. They simply ought to be there, and they were there in a most agreeable way. He looked at them, hesitant to see if they, too, were as soft as the woman's cheeks. In the end he did. Her cheeks turned a faintly more intense hue of pink, almost red, and she looked down. The breasts were even softer. He had never in his life touched anything quite as soft as those cheeks - the sensation of the thin, soft hairs creating a pleasurably tingling sensation on his fingertips. And now already he had touched even softer skin, and it made him sense a strange kind of wobbly moving feeling in his guts. Like leaves blown by an autumn wind, maybe, or like hummingbirds wanting to make a nest there. He loved hummingbirds.
He also had to conclude that her general form was a lot more appealing than his own. He, too, had looked at his own reflection in brooks and ponds. It looked quite different from any of the animals he saw around him, even from the bigger monkeys with which he shared a general if somewhat less gangly semblance. He thought he looked pretty sturdy and, well, ready for the world. The woman, on the other hand, was shaped more delicately, with curves where he had none, a more subtly built face, and those breasts which his eyes just couldn't get enough of.
"I asked if you believe in love at first sight," the man repeated.
The woman was yet unfamiliar with the concept of love, let alone love at first sight. But the word had a pleasurable ring to it. It sounded nice, in the same way words like 'cuddle' and 'hug' rolled off one's tongue agreeably, in the same way these words couldn't possibly refer to anything base, dirty, or vile.
"Love," she said, pronouncing the world just for the hell of it, savouring the sound it brought, like sampling particularly fine fruit juice.
She looked at the man again. She didn't know that she made him feel all wobbly inside his guts, but she noticed she felt as if something was amiss in her own tummy. It was a feeling close to nausea, but not quite the same and eerily more, well, fun than the similar sensation she sometimes had the morning after she'd eaten that particularly tangy fruit that only grew on a few trees and that also made monkeys go all woozy and unbalanced.
A breeze picked up his scent and made it brush past her nose. She had never smelled anything like him before. Although it wasn't like the smell of flowers she so much liked, it had faint undertones of attraction, of good.
"Love," she repeated, faintly, as if in a dream.
The wind now changed direction for a bit, bringing the scent of the woman to the attention of the man. He closed his eyes and inhaled slowly, deeply, filling his lungs with her. He had never smelled anything like her. The wobbly sensation in his stomach worsened, but he didn't mind. Not at all. He became aware of another feeling in his lower abdomen, a feeling like he sometimes had upon awaking early in the morning when he had to pass water. Only, like the woman's smell and the way she looked when compared with what he was used to, it was something similar yet importantly different from anything he had experienced before. He didn't quite know what to do. The silly thing was that the woman also seemed wholly at a loss as to how to react to his question, a question which he considered pretty straightforward and easy to reply to. A simply "yes" or "no" would suffice.
"I think I do," the woman now said. Love, she thought, must be something really good, exquisite, really powerful, something that, yes, it sounded right, could conquer all.
She looked in the man's eyes. They were blue and appeared cool but at the same time full of feeling. Nobody had ever looked at her like this, and she was sure that nobody would ever have, even if there had been other people around that looked at her in the first place. There was a subtle difference in the way his eyes appeared when compared with hers. Like his overall appearance, they seemed less refined. Not in a bad way, she added to herself, but, well, in quite an attractive kind of way. She didn't really know who or what put these thoughts in her head, but they seemed to be the proper thing to do, something directed by the flow of nature. Nature. She liked nature. She loved nature. Yes, she knew what love was.
He, too, returned her look by examining her eyes. He noticed her lashes. They were longer than his own, he noticed, and it made her eyes look rather like stars. He could look up into the night sky for hours, just philosophising about the hugeness of black, those manifold small flickering dots, and the way some of them seemed to belong together and form vaguely identifiable shapes. But the woman's eyes, he thought, were a different kind of stars. Where stars just looked back unwaveringly, you see, the woman's eyes blinked, darted away shyly, quickly returned to his, and seemed to have a hidden depth to them. He had to tear his gaze away for fear of being sucked in, drowning, not being able to breathe anymore. Yet already he thought that drowning in those eyes would be altogether more enjoyable than any other sort of drowning. He was sure that the lack of air to breathe would be replaced by some other ingredient that was even better, though he knew not what.
"You do?" he asked. There was an trace of incredulity in his voice. Could he be this lucky?
He wasn't quite sure if the woman realised exactly what he had asked, if she really understood what he wanted to know. But he felt with all his body, to such an extent that the hairs on his skin erected themselves in spontaneous goosebumps, that it was extremely important that she did. It seemed like there had never before in his life been such a vitally important thing as this. His future, the entire future, might hinge on it.
She nodded her head, slowly, with deliberation. He hadn't noticed her hair before, but now he did. It's funny, he thought, how someone's movements can suddenly accentuate a particular part of the body. Her nodding her head caused his attention to be drawn to the mound of dark blonde, curly, if somewhat unruly-appearing hair. He wondered what it would look like around his hands. She, too, as if sensing that he was getting lost in her hair, examined his. There was rather less of it than there was on her. A lot handier to get tidy in the morning, she found herself thinking, though she was quite content with hers.
The next moment they experienced what was likely the world's first ever occasion of animal magnetism between two people. They each took a step forward, without talking. It seemed the best thing to do, it would make it easier to touch each other. Touching was a thing they both were very keen on doing. They now stood close together, separated only by a thin layer of the breeze that had earlier helped them to communicate their own particular body scents. It was no longer needed now they inhaled each other more directly. He decided to look if her hair around his hands would indeed look as beautiful, as right, as he had imagined. It did. It gleamed. It felt as great as it looked. She stroked his hair, too, it was a natural reciprocation. Forces more powerful than her own were at work here. She realised that she was not completely in charge of her own destiny, but it felt good to be sucked into this little maelstrom of sensations and emotions, like perhaps there was something more important in life than anything she'd held precious before.
Next, letting themselves flow with the maelstrom, their mouths found each other. Nobody had ever taught them to kiss, nor had they ever seen anyone else do it, but it felt magical and beautiful and, they both realised instantly, exciting. After the kiss they both took a small distance again, looking at each other, appraising, agreeing. This was it. It would work. It would be beautiful. It was the right thing to do.
As if in a story with a sense of melodrama and all that, the sun began to set around that time, amidst a wildly colourful cloudy palette of the most beautiful purples, pinks and reds. They marvelled at it together. Of course they'd seen the sun set countless times before, but now the two of them had met, in some weird and inexplicable way, it seemed to have attained an extra sheen that neither of them had ever seen before. And, much in the same way as their togetherness, it seemed right and wonderful and beautiful and good.
A blackbird sung its evening song and that, too, now sounded different, better.
When they, again as if they lived and breathed in a story, walked off into the sunset, the man seemed to inhale happiness and content with every step he took. He could handle the world now he had found what he never even knew he had always been looking for. The woman felt a faint nagging sensation, all but imperceptible, a tiny mental commotion that seemed to conflict as much with all the happiness the man radiated as with everything she felt and radiated herself.
Eve couldn't quite put her finger on the feeling and tried to ignore it. Ignoring it felt like the right thing to do, anyway, so she pushed it back and let herself be swept away by the currents of that beautiful word, that word that tasted so much like the finest of fruit juices, 'love'. The curious nagging feeling would disappear in due course anyway, she hoped.
Written June 28th 1997 during a particularly thin patch in my relationship. They say that a good author can put a distance between himself and his personae; by that standard I guess I am not particularly good...