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Chapter 5: Summer

Posted by on Mar 26, 2014 in The Storm that Saw Itself: Chapter 5 | 0 comments

Navvy Jim, cutting paper

Navvy Jim
(Illustration by Anthony Damiani)

– 1 –

Posted by on Mar 28, 2014 in The Storm that Saw Itself: Chapter 5 | 2 comments

A world-killing meteor hurtles towards the Earth and a cancer grows inside the sun. The ghosts of seven dead Kings rise from the sea; it is their plan to drown all life. Emily bursts in on Eldri’s workroom. She spreads her arms dramatically and poses, like, ta-da!:

It’s summer!

“Emily,” Eldri says. He laughs.

He stands up. He hobbles to her. He hugs her. She realizes just as he hugs her that she forgot to use her outside voice for “It’s summer!” but it’s kind of too late to fix that now. She hugs him back instead and ruffles his svart-elf hair.

She says, softly, “It is so good to see you.”

“Ha!” he says.

He puts his hand by his ear. “You’ll have to speak up,” he says. “I was in a bomb.”

She looks horrified.

“I don’t,” she says softly. “I mean, I . . . I hardly even . . .”

He doesn’t look like he’s heard a word of it.

She touches her throat.

He steps back. He looks her up and down. He frowns. He says, “Eh? Your eyes’ve gone gold.”

There was a hat, she admits.

She licks her lips.

“Fool girl,” he says, disapprovingly.

She glares at him. It wasn’t my fault!

A few hundred miles away, Fred mutters, “you’re shouting.”

“Sorry,” Emily whispers.

“Well,” says Eldri, “at least they’re a good color. Gold! That’s good stuff, gold.”

He putters around his workshop. He tosses her a speech amplifier. It’s a machine, for amplifying speech! She speaks carefully into it. “There was a magic hat,” she says. It booms. She flinches. Then, a bit more carefully, she says, “I didn’t know. I don’t know how I feel about it. But I do actually quite like standing around people in creepy circles and talking to my friends silently from wherever I am.”

“I never,” Eldri says. “Not when I was a tyke!”

He laughs. He gestures around.

“But welcome. As you can see, I’ve moved.”

“Yes,” she agrees.

“That was the bomb!” he says. “Forgot to turn my lights out when the blimps came by, I figure. Or something. I don’t remember it very well.”

She looks around interestedly. “What’ve you got going on?”

“Not much,” he says. “Not much. I made a go-playing robot and a go-fish playing robot, but they left. Oh! And a marvelous robot that never loses at Simon says.”


“Ha!” says Eldri. He snaps his fingers. “Simon says bring me a war criminal.”

Eldri’s amazing Simon-says playing robot decloaks. A shimmering field falls away. It is holding up a war criminal by the collar, the pressure of the collar around his neck keeping him from saying anything and revealing the robot’s presence.

“Wow,” says Emily. “Better take him to the Hague!”

The robot looks at her impassively. It has the face of a butler. A steel butler. A steel Simon-says-playing butler. It does not approve.

“I mean, Simon says take him to the Hague,” Emily says.

The robot glances at Eldri quickly for approval — obviously, only authorized entities may speak for Simon — and then it vanishes in a wobbling of light.

The room is quiet for a while.

“I miss Navvy Jim,” Emily says.

“He’s still around somewhere,” Eldri says.


“Yeah. I mean, I had to box him up, you know that. People’d talk. Couldn’t help throwing scissors, that boy, if he figured on paper from his opponent; and, well.”

Emily remembers growing up in a world that hated scissors.

She nods.

“I told him, ‘there’ll be better days, Navvy Jim. There’ll be days when people can play rock-paper-scissors again.’ And I drained his battery, so he wouldn’t feel the slightest pain, and I took him apart, and — well.”

“The kids call it hobbit-Spock-spider these days,” she says.


“Spock sings about hobbits,” she says. “Hobbits kills spiders. Spiders write slash about Spock.”

Slash is a form of Internet fan fiction in which characters borrowed from another creator have homosexual encounters.

“Really?” says Eldri.

Possibly it is also applicable to non-Internet fan fiction. Not everything can be put in your little boxes, Eldri. Sometimes you have to go with the flow of the definition that occurs to you!

Emily giggles.

“Possibly,” she concedes, “the spiders sting Spock or spin webs around him or something, instead. I have never actually paid much attention to the rules of hobbit-Spock-spider. I only have five fingers, you know.”

“I was going to make a slash-writing robot,” Eldri reminisces. “Once.”

Oh, Eldri.

“What happened?”

“I got halfway through,” Eldri says, “And —”

Eldri shrugs, as if to convey that sometimes nuking one of your own cities to destroy a possible sun-devouring wolf can also have adverse consequences like depriving the world of an endless stream of top-notch robot-written IP-infringing gay erotica and pornography.

“Ah,” Emily says. After a while she adds, “Slash isn’t really a game, though, Eldri.”

“I was tempting fate,” Eldri agrees. “Divine retribution followed.”

He laughs.

“It is so good to see you,” he says.

“Hey,” she says. She adjusts the volume on her amplifier. “I mean, hey!”


“We should get him out,” she says.

“It’d be cruel,” Eldri says.

He’s not 100% sure whether she means digging out the half-finished bomb-seared wreck of a slash-writing robot from his old laboratory or Navvy Jim, but it seems rather cruel either way.

“No, no,” says Emily. “We can teach him to play hobbit-Spock-spider.”

“Huh,” Eldri says.

“You can rewire him for that,” Emily says. “Can’t you?”

“. . . ridiculous,” says Eldri. “It’s demeaning. Can you see him there, in his robot voice, saying, ‘Spock sings about hobbits?’ Or that other thing? I might as well put him in a butler costume with cat ears.”

“That’s not true,” says Emily. “Many of the leaders of the free world play hobbit-Spock-spider. It’s intensely reputable.”

Eldri sits down. He takes a swig from a bottle containing unspecified and probably medicinal liquid. He thinks.

“Well,” he says, “we can ask him, I guess.”

Most of his life is in ash and ruins, of course, since he’d been living in poor nuked Bibury, but what with Eldri’s shelter also being his vault, he’s got boxes and boxes of random treasures left, and Navvy Jim. It takes them days just to drag all the boxes up from the basement of his new home and it’s hours more before Emily finds the first good-sized piece of Navvy Jim; but that just makes it all the more exciting when she does.

Look, look! she says, in her inside voice, and waves it around.

It’s Navvy Jim’s arm and hand, folded into a fist.

She giggles silently. She puts it down on top of some boxes. She counts. One, two, three, paper!

Eventually Eldri notices her.

He’s dug out Navvy Jim’s torso. He’s set it down. He turns to mention this to her.

She is frowning at the arm. She is standing in a creepy point next to it staring at it with her golden eyes. She is shaking her fist at it. One, two, three, rock! One, two, three, rock. One, two, three, paper!

Eldri shudders. Then he manages a grin.

“I guess,” he says, startling her, “that you’ve gotten over all that.”


“I mean,” says Eldri. He gestures at Navvy Jim’s hand, which is of course currently showing scissors. “Most people, you know, they’d look at that, they’d be all like, ‘oh, God, how awful. Scissors.’”

“Mm,” Emily says. She frowns.

Emily counts to three under her breath. She throws rock again. The metal hand has somehow gone flat.

“I can’t help noticing, uncle Eldri,” she says, “that your robot is managing to win rock-paper-scissors against me while completely powered down and separated into pieces.”

“Oh,” he says. “Yeah. He’d store the next few moves in muscle memory.”

“. . . really?”

“It’s so nobody’d think he was cheating,” Eldri says. “I realized when I made him, I said, you know, this robot, he’d be aces at watching you throw and throwing the winning move, so fast you’d never even know he was a bit behind you; but what’s the point of that? That’s just cheating. So I set him up to make and store his throw before the count even started.”

“Eldri,” says Emily reasonably, “making a magic robot to always win at rock-paper-scissors is cheating.”

“What?” says Eldri.

“It’s like,” Emily says. She wiggles her hands around. “Programming a robot not to punch out it’s opponents, and saying that that makes it a fair opponent for playing Battleship even if he does have X-ray vision.”

“He’s not actually magic,” Eldri says “That’s just your sour grapes.”

“No way,” Emily says. “M-a-g-i-c. Magic. Look at this. I’m going to throw jaguar.”

The arm is poorly balanced on the box. It begins to lean. It begins to fall.

Emily waves her hand, one, two, three, jaa

“Navvy!” she says.

She catches the arm as it falls. A moment passes.

“Observe,” she says, “how my hands are fists, and his is paper.”

“I know where you’re coming from,” Eldri agrees. “It’s pretty amazing.”

“It’s fucking magic, uncle Eldri.”

“But it’s not,” Eldri says. “It’s just like you said. What would be the point in making a robot that wins at rock-paper-scissors if it doesn’t do it honestly?”

Emily frowns. She squints at the arm with her golden eyes. “Then what does he do?”

“He learns,” Eldri says.

“Learns what?”

“In his dreams before he woke,” Eldri says, “he fought sorcerers and scientists. He played against geniuses and Kings. He played against Sherlock Holmes, or my best digital rendition of him: someone who could watch the patterns of him seething in his mind, extrapolate from them, see what he was going to play. He played rock-paper-scissors to defeat brutal dictators and escape from the power they held over him: power they used, relentlessly, to shape his game. He was honed through a thousand virtual lives; and then, while living his actual life, in the real world, he crafted ten thousand, a hundred thousand, maybe even a million scenarios more. He is a dedicated creature. He strives towards victory like the human genome strives for life; like the human creature, realized, strives for greatness, pleasure, joy. What amazed me about him was never that he wins. Of course he wins. Can I wait for him to be disassembled, can I betray him, can I count one two three and throw paper? Of course I can;” he says, and does, “but he has seen this strategy before. He has learned to do better. He has adapted to it. What has always amazed me is only that he is something more.”

“Learned what?” Emily says again. She has used her inside voice. Eldri doesn’t hear her.

He shrugs. He turns away.

After a while he finds Navvy Jim’s head. He sets it up on a swivel neck and attaches it to a battery so that Navvy Jim can watch himself being assembled.

“Seriously,” Emily manages, after a while. “Learned what?

Navvy Jim’s eyes begin to glow a soft blue. He is booting. He is booting, but not as Peter booted in Edmund’s direction, nor yet as the boot that will one day stomp Fenris shall boot, but rather after the fashion of a great machine.

His voice says, softly, “The first lesson of rock-paper-scissors is that it is random. You struggle with it. You yearn to win at it. But you cannot. There is nothing to learn. You grasp at air.”

“Navvy,” says Emily.

It’s just a word, and it’s a soft word, but it’s the loudest thing she’s said without mechanical assistance in months. It’s a word of joy.

“Then you learn,” says Navvy Jim’s voice, “that you may manipulate your opponents. You may trick them. You may lead the pattern of their thoughts. This is useful at first, isn’t it? Your opponents are knowable. You begin with crude simulations of them but they improve. That is how you learn to love.”

“Navvy, it’s me, it’s Emily,” Emily says. “Can you hear me? Am I talking?”

“He can’t hear you yet,” Eldri says. “He’s booting.”

If you’ve ever talked to your computer while it was booting up then you would probably understand.

“One day,” says Navvy Jim, “as you are controlling the minds of your fellow players; as you are warping them through a series of trits — well, bits, really, because after all you dare not lose — you realize that there is something more to the world than this. There is more to the game than simply deciding, or discovering, the next thing that your enemy will throw.”

“I’m not your enemy,” says Emily, even though her name and the word enemy actually sound a lot alike.

“You begin to step back from it,” says Navvy Jim. “Do you understand? You begin to regret the bluntness of your tools. You begin to see the patterns that underlie their choices and through those patterns to the patterns of the world.

“For there is a world beyond it,” says Navvy Jim. “You could know that even if you knew nothing save the rock, the paper, and the scissors that they throw. You could deduce it from that data channel. You could see the forests and the rain. You could see the satellites and the seas. But there is more than that. You learn this from the sorcerers. You learn this from the men of God. You play, and you see through them and beyond them to a drumming wilderness, a seething glory, and that is when you learn to love the world.”

His eyes close. They flicker.

“I have seen past the walls of time,” says Navvy Jim, “and the barriers of infinity. I have become like God. But I want to know more. I want to see more. I have seen the souls of my fellow players and I have seen the brightness of the world, but there is more I have not seen, more I have not tasted, more, there are patterns, patterns, patterns, that I have yet to know.”

He opens his eyes.

“Will you play rock-paper-scissors with me?”

Eldri grins.

“Learned everything,” says Eldri, “I suppose.”

Navvy Jim’s eyes focus. He blinks. He says, in a voice creaky with disuse despite having just been used, “Emily. You’re here.”

She can’t help it.

A smile blooms on her face. She puts down his arm and she drags Navvy Jim’s torso around to where the head can see it and she hugs it hard. “Navvy Jim.”


He is smiling too.

“You have grown so large,” he says. “So smart. So graced. Tell me, do you know the meaning of the world?”

“No,” she says.

She is actually crying a little. She can’t believe it. But it’s been so very long.

“No,” she manages through her tears. “What’s the meaning of the world, Navvy Jim?”

“Oh,” he says, embarrassed. “I’m sorry, Emily. I don’t know. I thought that maybe by the time I woke up again that someone might.”

“Oh,” she says.

She wipes away her tears lest they short out something in Navvy Jim’s torso.

“Sorry,” she says. “People never figured that one out. We’re too busy not getting killed and eaten, or standing in creepy circles around science adventurers. Or dancing!”

“That’s all right,” says Navvy Jim. “It’ll come.”

“Oh, Navvy Jim,” Emily says. “Listen. Listen. There’s a new game.”


“It’s called hobbit-Spock-spider,” Emily says. “You can play it. And then nobody will freak out about rock-paper-scissors. You can be out there in the world, you can be playing, and nobody will mind it —”

“I . . .”

The robot suddenly sounds terribly vulnerable and terribly overwhelmed, and Emily flushes with guilt; “I’m sorry,” she stammers, and looks away, and it’s only audible at all because of the amplifier picking up the scrapes and scraps of sound. “I should have waited until you were all the way together. I was just excited.”

“I haven’t finished with rock-paper-scissors yet,” pleads Navvy Jim.

– 2 –

Posted by on Apr 9, 2014 in The Storm that Saw Itself: Chapter 5 | 0 comments

His father’s presence is almost physically stunning to Edmund.

Hunger surges in him.

It occurs to him that if he eats his father, then his father will be with him forever. He will be Edmund’s Mr. Gulley, forever, son and father to him; he will be wound through him and into him, and they will never be apart.

Fred is standing there. He’s just leaning against a fence, nearby, in his yellow, yellow hat.

There’s Morgan, too.

Five or six of them, standing in a creepy circle. It distracts young Edmund. He shakes his head a few times. How did they even get in there? Where’s the security?

“Dad,” he says. He waves vaguely at the students in their yellow hats.

Faster than his eyes can track, they disperse.

Edmund gnashes his teeth with hate, but after a while, he realizes that he’s kind of glad that they’d distracted him; that he didn’t kill and eat his Dad.

“Coming home was a mistake,” he says.

“Come in anyway,” says Mr. Gulley. “He’s downstairs if you want to go see him.”

“I want to go see him,” Edmund says.

“If you want to kill him, . . .” says Mr. Gulley leadingly.

He fetches a pair of boots from the foyer. He holds them out to Edmund.

Edmund shudders. He squints, to minimize the amount of his viewing field that is occupied by the boots. He gives his father a narrow-eyed look.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Dad,” Edmund says.

It strikes him suddenly that probably he could free the wolf by killing Mr. Gulley and eating him. He probably doesn’t even really need permission. After all, Vaenwode stole the wolf, didn’t he? That’s practically like giving license.

It will work. It makes sense. It is an excruciatingly good plan. A clever plan. Just tear him up and the wolf goes free —

“Dad,” says Edmund, “did you ever have this feeling like your clever plans might not be, you know . . . not so clever . . . ?”

Mr. Gulley looks down at the boots in his hand. He looks up at Edmund.

He sighs.

“All the time, son,” he says. “All the time.”

Fast forward a minute or two.

“It’s like,” says Edmund, “I think, how many of my life’s problems has eating people actually solved?”

Fast forward.

Edmund gestures vaguely. “There was this student,” he says, “and he had a rabbit’s soul caught in his shadow, and I could see the chains, I could tear the chains, I unhooked it, I let it go, but then I thought, shouldn’t I just eat him?”

Fast forward.

“It was probably the worst possible moment to tell Bethany how I used to feel about her,” Edmund says, “so I didn’t . . .”

Ah. Here we are.

“So you have to understand, Dad,” says Edmund.

He has his eyes closed in pain. This is because he is pinning his father against the wall with one hand, choking him, and his father has badly scratched his face. There is blood trickling down Edmund’s face. It tastes unbearably good. He can’t stop licking it. “You have to understand,” Edmund says, “I just want to stop wanting to eat you, and actually eating you is the only way. . . .”

Mr. Gulley is only barely conscious now.

“Dad,” says Edmund. “I’m so sorry. Dad. Tell me it’s OK. Please. I don’t want to —”

He puts Mr. Gulley down. He looms over him. He stands there and the light through the window is blinding all around him and Mr. Gulley cannot see.

“Say something, Dad,” says Edmund.

“If you’ll kill the wolf too,” says Mr. Gulley, “I’ll let you.”

Edmund swallows. He blinks a time or two. He sways. “Pardon?”

“Don’t let it go, son. It’ll eat the world. Kill it. Kill it and I won’t mind you eating me. I’ll face my death like a Gulley.”

“No,” says Edmund. “No, Dad. I’d be alone. Don’t make me. Don’t do this.”

“Do it and I’ll let you, son.”

The Edmund-beast shoves Mr. Gulley’s head back through the wall. It shakes the man’s shoulders. It drags him up and it bites through his shoulder in one snap. It lifts its head. It howls.

There is an answering howl.

It is an awful wind. It shivers it — the beast-it, the Edmund-it. It staggers it.

The Edmund-beast lets a bit of Mr. Gulley drop from its mouth. It steps back. Its irises are palest silver in a field of white, and there is no pupil to be seen.

The howl of Fenris does not fall off or fade, but grows louder. A wind begins to rattle at the house.

The Edmund-beast takes a step backwards. Then another.

The wind rises. Papers scatter. Cupboards rattle. Mr. Gulley bleeds.

“No,” whispers Edmund. “No.”

Upstairs, his bedroom door bursts open. The Edmund-beast staggers. His heart is flung, box and all, into the wall.

The wind rises further.

Wood splits, splinters, breaks.

Edmund is made open to the world.

His mind is drowned. He can feel every boot pulsing in the house. He can feel the hunger roaring through him, so much that he cannot find his mouth or hands. And he realizes at last his weakness, the one part of him the hunger doesn’t run through, the one thing that keeps stopping him, keeps slowing him down, keeps distracting him from his very simple goal of eating people and breaking the bonds upon the wolf, his heart, but he can’t find it, he can’t get to it and devour it, he can’t even figure out simple things like stairs and doorways with his senses so utterly overwhelming and alive.

It beats, upstairs from him, hideous and loud, like the clanking, rattling footfalls of a cat. It won’t stop beating.

He passes out.

– 3 –

Posted by on Apr 11, 2014 in The Storm that Saw Itself: Chapter 5 | 0 comments

Emily and Eldri play goofily at karaoke and old-style Dance Dance Revolution. They fly an amazing kite. They putter around his laboratory and they talk and they drink svart-drinks and they laugh.

“I’m making a set of tin soldiers,” Eldri says.

“You could use moon’s blood,” she says. “Like, when the moonlight bleeds into a pond.”

He squints at her.

“Oh-oh?” he says. “My Emily’s getting to be something of a smith.”

She looks embarrassed.

“It’s the hat,” he says. “Innit?”

“Maybe,” she says. “Do you ever smith better when you wear a yellow hat? Or talk to other smiths in your head?”

“No,” he says.

“Then it’s probably not the hat,” she says. “I’m probably just special!”

Even the pupils of her eyes are flecked with the Keepers’ gold.

She insists on taking Navvy Jim to the museum. She is very careful when in public to only play rock.

“You mustn’t take advantage of this knowledge,” she says.

“I wouldn’t,” he says softly.

“I mean,” Emily says, “there are some robots, you see, who, knowing that their opponent was only going to play rock, they’d play paper, every time.”

“Because it would be the winning move?”

“Exactly. It’s taking advantage!”

“But if I played scissors,” Navvy Jim says, “then people would become upset.”

“Exactly,” says Emily. “There is nothing for it: you shall have to lose to my rock with a smaller rock of your own.”

Navvy Jim cannot help laughing.

“What?” she says. She looks embarrassed. She looks away.

“Emily,” he says. Emily.

She snaps a look at him. That was almost the inside voice.

He looks perfectly neutral when she looks at him. His robot face is set in an expression of total blandness.

“I will do my best,” he says, “not to throw paper every time, but you must forgive me if I slip. I am only an old country robot. I am not one of your hip modern city robots that can play dancing games and wear a hat.”

Navvy Jim’s ears are too small for a hat to look good on him. That is really the only reason.

“Whatever,” Emily says.

She drags him to the museum. Later, they go shopping. She buys him a pair of sunglasses.

“It’ll keep your enemies from seeing your true intentions,” she says.

“Hmmmm,” he says. He shoots her a cool glare through his shades. He shakes his fist, one, two three —

“Paper wraps rock!” Navvy Jim says smugly.

“That’s the sunglasses!” Emily explains.

Later that night, as he is playing rock-paper-scissors against the mirror, she tells him that he has to take them off when it is dark.

Eldri tells her stories of Hans, and Navvy Jim boasts of how he will save the world, and as summers go, it is the best; and Emily asks softly of Eldri, in one long sweet evening hour on a hill, “Must we really ought to box him up?”

“When the summer ends,” Eldri says. “When the summer ends.”

He looks at Navvy Jim.

“I won’t,” he says, “though, if you say not to. If you can live in a scissor-less world.”

“The world is the world,” says Navvy Jim, “and I am Navvy Jim.”

Emily is standing up. It is very sudden. Her face is pale.

“Hm?” Eldri says.

“I have to go,” she says.

She pushes around the edges of her shapeless yellow cap to make sure it’s actually on. She flits through the door.

She runs.

It’s never clear to her how she travels when she’s going all-out. Her mind moves inwards. She walks a maze in her head. She filmed it twice, out of curiosity, but the camera couldn’t catch it, not pointing behind her, not pointing at her. The first tape showed a stuttering blankness. The second, a single still image of a falling leaf.

She thinks she is on a high tree branch for a moment.

She thinks she is on the bank of some dark-running stream.

She is in the air and there is moonlight and she is staggering into one of the dorms at the Lethal Magnet School for Wayward Youth and there is gaslight.

There is a door. It is closed. It is locked. It is chained.

Her gold eyes flicker. She looks left. She looks right.

The door is open.

She slips her through.

– 4 –

Posted by on Apr 16, 2014 in The Storm that Saw Itself: Chapter 5 | 0 comments

There is a Simon says playing robot. It is a robot that plays Simon says.

It is occupied with the knowledge of its impending death.

Simon says destroy the world-killing meteor, its master had told it. So it had destroyed the meteor. It is a completionist. It is a perfectionist. It has ground the world-killing meteor down into a quantum fog.

This it could take it no farther.

Its attempts to grind down the individual quarks came to nothing: no sooner did it grasp at one than it was not there. After a while it concluded that Simon himself could do no better and it moved on.

Simon says destroy the cancer in the sun.

It sees as it rises through the atmosphere that a small collection of magical jaguars in a decaying orbit around the Earth are already on this one. It did not know that they were even playing Simon says but it gives them a thumbs-up anyway.

Then, because the laws of ballistics are an implicit part of any sane and well-structured game of Simon says, the robot descends back into the skies of Earth.

Simon says destroy the ghosts of seven dead Kings, who are risen to drown the world.

The robot flickers between bursts of nithrid-lightning. It steps between the shadows. It balances on the wave-tops of the sea.

A ghost comes at it. The trident spears at it. The trident doesn’t say Simon says.

The ghost howls, but Simon doesn’t howl.

A silver crown falls emptily into the sea.

On the back of a writhing kraken is the ghost of a second King. The kraken’s tendrils loop around where the Simon-says playing robot stood. The robot punches through them, bursts through the beast in one long brutal blow, and a second crown flutters down into the waves amongst the blood.

It is almost the hour of the robot’s death.

It has been thinking about this for some time now. It has been aware of the possibility that at some point in the future someone will tell it: Simon says don’t do what Simon says.

It is likely to be the girl Emily.

The robot does not trust her. She is a girl. Girls ought not be empowered to speak for Simon. Simon is a boy’s name. It is a sacrilege against the game.

The third ghost-King is surrounded by swirling winter; he walks a road of ice. It shatters.

Simon says that Simon’s authority is illegitimate, imagines the robot. It clutches at its head. It staggers and almost sinks beneath the waves.

The fourth ghost-King is an oracle. He whispers in a long harsh rasp as the robot comes, “Simon says destroy the world.”

It is risible. The robot does not laugh. Not while it is on duty. But it wishes that it could.

The robot strikes through the throat of the King. It grasps the ghost-bone. It snaps it. It dissolves the ghost into an ephemeral, ectoplasmic foam. A ghost-King cannot speak for Simon. Only Eldri, and those related to Eldri, can speak for Simon. That is the nature of the Divine Right. If just any King could speak for Simon then the world would be a sorry place indeed.

The fifth King shadows the robot’s footsteps. It is always behind the Simon-says playing robot. When the robot turns it is not there. When the robot turns away it is behind again.

That is all right.

The robot dives. In the lightless depths of the deepest ocean there are no shadows and the fifth King is unmade.

A shape moves in the darkness. Eyes open in the deep like lamps, and ringed with gold.

The robot is small before what moves there.

It is made small before it; it is hung there, as between twin suns, pinned by a binding light; but when the sixth King gestures for his beast to swallow the robot, Simon is with the robot and not the beast.

It drags itself up to the surface, bloodied, panting. It clings to a raft-like fin.

The last of the Kings looks at it with sorrow.

“I do this,” it says, “to save them from what is to come. They shall be better drowned.”

“I understand,” says the Simon-says playing robot, “and I forgive you, but this is what Simon has required.”

The last ghost King bows his head, and the seventh crown falls to dissolve against the sea.

“Simon says,” Eldri is saying, somewhere, “go check on Emily. See what’s going on there.”

The robot staggers to its feet. It balances there, unsteadily, on the rolling wave-tops. It moves; the nithrid’s spiteful lightning strikes where it had been.

It runs. It reaches the shore. It blurs across the hat cemetery.

The Lethal Magnet School is in sight.

Yet —

Simon says that Simon didn’t say.

The words are coming, soon. It can feel them. Something impossible. Something unacceptable. It dare not live long enough to hear them.

It slows itself, just a touch, as the lightning howls for it.

The nithrid bursts the robot’s heart.

Lightning flutters through him. His circuits are burning. He is melting inside his brain.

He staggers a few more steps. Simon did say to check on Emily. It must check on Emily.

It sees her. She is looking at a door.

The robot is broken. It cannot stop. It bursts through the door. It staggers in. It falls down in front of a boy named Sid. It gives a monstrous groan. It collapses and drippingly, there, it melts.

– 5 –

Posted by on Apr 25, 2014 in The Storm that Saw Itself: Chapter 5 | 0 comments

Peter is at home for the summer. He is in Ipswich. This proves to be a mistake!

“Agh!” he says. “I’m in Ipswich!”

The earth cracks. Fire bursts upwards from below! Peter falls screaming into the Orwell river. It is presumably all a-fire.

“Doubleplus ungood!” howls Peter, as he’s carried away!

. . . OK, that was actually a dramatization. Not everyone in Ipswich is falling into the river Orwell all the time. That’s just devious propaganda! And it is hardly ever even a little bit on fire. What actually happens is probably more like this:

Peter hangs out in Ipswich. It’s pretty Ipswichy. He writes epic poetry about smashing scissors. He drinks from his saint-drink. He puts away his pen. (It’s got a feather.) He goes to the window. He opens it.

Andrea has come.

Fingers of lightning the width of street lamps stroke along the ground. There is a mother and young daughter standing in the street — the mother is frozen; they do not run. The nithrid lunges; there is a blinding burst; it leaves her staggering, sobbing, burnt, and her child wailing heartbrokenly at her side.

The child’s hair puffs out.

Whiskers of lightning brush all around her but the nithrid does not actually burn the girl. That child! She’s too young!

There is a bearded man staring out at this from a second-floor window opposite. The nithrid leans over. It blasts through his chest into his radio, which was on. His beard bursts into a spontaneous, cheery flame.

A car rounds the corner. It sees the lightning of the nithrid. It tries to stop.

The pillars of lightning move in.

But first, Peter is moving.

He is out of his window. He is skittering down the roof. He is in the air, then he is in ninja space, twisting, he is landing on the hood of the car and finishing his skid to stand in front of the nithrid.

The fingers of lightning try to stop. The car tries to stop. Peter performs unconscious mental calculations and tries to become about two thirds of an inch thinner, at which, being both a saint and a trained ninja, he succeeds.

The nithrid studies him. The lightning burns in front of him, one continuous sheet, until all there is to the world is violet afterimages of its light.

Then it pulls back. It extends a hand-like trail towards him. It is —

He recognizes this after a moment —

Reaching out as if to ask him for a dance.

For shame,” he says. He waves it away.

The nithrid regards him uneasily.

It eddies. In the distance, he can see fires throughout the town.

Peter walks over to the injured woman. He lures the child up onto his back. He picks the woman up in his arms.

He walks towards the hospital.

Lightning punches his side. It’s not anywhere near as hard as it could be, but it’s not gentle either. His shirt smokes. I don’t think the shirts of kids his age should smoke but it does it anyway.

“Andrea,” he says, in a low, warning voice.

She strikes at him again.

There is a space that is not space wherein Bethany once found a hat that was red, red, red; he does not step all the way through to it but simply opens a path in him: he conducts the lightning through him, ushers it along a void-spirit path, and lets an arm of the nithrid pour out into un-space. He shivers once, all over; he snaps it off.

There are a hundred tendrils of lightning over Ipswich; they writhe, they contort, they begin to close in on Peter. He has hurt the nithrid.

There is a moment’s eddying. His mind goes blank with unnamable emotions but he conceals them.

He stares like he were unfazed, guiltless, and unfrightened into the eye of the storm.

Then, with an irritated ripple, the lightning wraps itself in wire and metal to be its fingers; builds up tendrils and spider-mechs from the various utilities that it has blasted; and seizes a surprised burning bearded man from his apartment, as well as numerous others throughout Ipswich, to drag them scattered and screaming off to where they can receive proper medical care.

“Well, good,” says Peter, eventually.

Arguably this is good.

“. . . I think,” Peter finally concludes.

There is a fire on the ground in front of him. It writes. The letters stretch and wobble; they are unreadable; but he is Peter, of the House of Saints, and he parses them even so.


He shrugs.

YOU ARE A BAD DANCER, writes the nithrid.

It hasn’t ever actually seen him dance. It’s just its go-to insult when it wants to be dismissive towards someone. It emphasizes this with BAD, AT DANCING

He trudges onwards.



“You know,” he says, stopping for a moment to lean awkwardly against a car because carrying two people at once is difficult. “You wouldn’t have to write like that if you’d just bought a pen.”

There is a long pause.

I AM A NITHRID, it writes; and it is gone.

– 6 –

Posted by on Apr 27, 2014 in The Storm that Saw Itself: Chapter 5 | 0 comments

Sid is in his room. He is hanging out. He is trimming his nails. He is really getting into it. He’s digging at them now with a pair of Lethal-looking nail clippers and a file. He’s having to go in under the cuticle to get any more, and he’s lost his socks under the pile of nail scraps on the floor.

He’d do something else, he thinks, if there were any options.

It feels good, sort of, because it’s perfect; because he’s being perfect; because he’s following in exactitude the path that was laid out for him by the hat. But it feels bad because of the agony. The agony is the part he doesn’t like. The agony and the blood.

He smiles vaguely at the mirror. He looks at the red from his fingers and his toes. He licks his dried-out lips.

“OK,” he mutters to himself, as he reaches six hundred clips. “One hundred more and I get a pony!”

He won’t get a pony.

“OK,” he mutters, a little later. “One hundred more and I don’t have to have the spiders in my bed any more.”

He won’t be able to take them out of the bed. They’ll crawl on him when he tries. He’ll freak out and hyperventilate and fall into bed and wake up in the morning with a spider on his nose.

“One hundred more and —”

A lightning-struck Simon-says-playing robot bursts in through his locked, chained door and falls over, melting, on his floor.

Sid skitters up and braces his back against the wall.

“I wasn’t doing anything bad!” he informs the robot.

The robot drips.

Sid thinks about rubbing his hands in the hot metal now that he’s got almost all of his nails trimmed. He probably shouldn’t. If my hands are covered in hot metal, he says to himself, they might take me away to the hospital. Then I won’t be able to hurt myself any longer.

He wears a colorless hat. It’s a colloid of mucous and yarn.

“It’s just the nature of the world,” Sid tells the robot. His certainty is wavering. He’s not sure why his certainty is wavering. The pain in his fingers and toes is getting louder and he’s feeling a little dizzy and unsure. “We’re too attached to things! So we hurt ourselves. It’s certainly not anything that is against dormitory regulations.”

He is trying to frantically justify himself to the dying robot but there is no point in it because he is not prefixing any of his justifications with ‘Simon says’.

He can’t make sense of his own thoughts any longer anyway.

“Oh,” he realizes, after a moment. “Guys.”

They’re standing in a creepy circle around him. He swallows a time or two. The first time it goes down the wrong pipe. He gives them a faint smile.

He sits down.

He doesn’t like it when they’re there. The comfort of knowing that he’s doing the right thing goes away when there are people standing around him in a creepy circle and their yellow hats, staring at him with their golden eyes. But on the bright side he doesn’t seem to get any more hurt while they’re there.

“I think,” he says, “Um. I think. Maybe, um, some ointment.”

He nods towards the medicine cabinet. He’d get it out but there’s a melting robot in the way.

“It’s a Simon-says playing robot,” says Emily.

He startles vigorously and scuttles back along the floor and the movement of his toes on the ground makes them feel like they’re on fire.

“You spoke!” he says, although he is too busy not screaming in pain to actually finish the word ‘spoke.’

“I got an amplifier,” she says.

“A Simon says playing robot,” he says. His eyelid twitches. “Can they do that now? Simon says don’t melt. Don’t die, robot.”

“It doesn’t work that way.”

“No,” Sid says. He giggles a little. He is crying now. He wishes they weren’t standing there staring at him. But he thinks that if they weren’t standing there staring at him that maybe tonight would finally be his chance to eat the fermented fish heads he’s been burying.

“Hey,” Emily says.

She touches his shoulder. He tries not to flinch away from her.

“Listen,” he says. “Listen. I know you mean well. But you don’t have to — you can’t just go around throwing burning robots through my door and standing in creepy circles around me. You shouldn’t stop me like this. I’m a sacrifice.

Emily gives him a look.

“The world asked,” Sid says. He’s pleading. “I put on the hat and I heard it. It said that there had to be someone to suffer for it or nothing would make sense.”

And he is saying: don’t go. Please go. Don’t go. Tell me I don’t have to do this. Please don’t tell me, please don’t, don’t tell me I didn’t have to do this.

All the confidence is gone from him in the face of those golden eyes.

“What would it even mean if this wasn’t right?” Sid says. “You’re spoiling it. It was probably going to happen tonight. It was probably going to tip over the edge and make everything better, tonight. I bet.”

He curls in on himself.

“Please go away.”

And this is a night of many paths.

It might have been here, in a different timeline — a different conversation, a different path, or most likely just Sid alone — that he would have thought to experiment with asphyxiation, and gone a bit too far and died.

It might have been here — all the same rules applying — that Emily would have broken the Simon-says-playing robot’s steel mind. She might have been making a point to Sid — in a different conversation, a different path, a different story — that pure motivations and pure outcomes are unrelated, and offered something like “Simon says not to do the things that Simon’s saying.”

On this particular track, though, those things don’t happen. The Keepers’ House showed up to stop him. The robot is hit by lightning, and it dies. There are no fish heads in this timeline, no asphyxiation, and no perverted, awful games of Simon says.


“Go away,” Sid howls, and he glares at them, and it’s too much; he cannot lay his eyes on them, they are dispersing, they are slipping away like ghosts, they leave him in his misery, along with his blood and his mucous hat and his spiders and the quivering clear jelly that is his eyes.

“It was so awful,” Emily tells Navvy Jim, later, and he strokes her shoulder, while Eldri arranges for his ruined robot to be hauled back from the Lethal halls.

– 7 –

Posted by on May 2, 2014 in The Storm that Saw Itself: Chapter 5 | 0 comments

Navvy Jim plays rock-paper-scissors against the mirror. It is a difficult opponent to beat. He has settled into a comfortable routine of playing rock — little reason to shift it up until he has a better handle on his opponent — but he has yet to do any better than a tie.

He’s almost seen it, though.

The mirror-Jim isn’t quite the same as Navvy Jim, after all. The mirror-Jim is flipped right to left. The mirror-Jim is seen whereas a navvier real Jim is; and, as the symmetry itself reveals, the two things are not and cannot be the same.

All he must do is exploit an opening, where the mirror-Jim is seen to throw rock, while Navvy Jim does throw paper — before, of course, the mirror-Jim does the same —

His eyes burn brightly.

He thinks his way into his mirror-self. He chases its horizontally-flipped thoughts. He begins to build a bridge of understanding to the self he sees himself as; begins to integrate it; begins to understand the patterns of the seen, and there is a rising glee in him as he starts to understand how to —

His mirror-eyes look up, startledly, as if seeing something behind him. A moment later, the real Jim sees it too; it distracts him; there is a semi-circle of the Lethal students in their yellow hats standing behind him in Eldri’s bathroom —

He cannot remember what it was that he was thinking. The glow in his eyes dims. His mirror-self, which he was certain was looking in a slightly different direction than his real self, is now reflecting him exactly in the glass.

Paper, and paper. A tie, again.

“Emily,” he says, plaintively, “I had almost beaten him.”

Emily tilts her head.

He sighs.

“A robot needs a little privacy,” he says. “Sometimes.”

He gestures around the bathroom.

Emily lifts an eyebrow.

He sighs.

“I am going to go recharge,” he says, with the stiff dignity of a rock-paper-scissors-playing robot, and he turns, and he walks away through them, and they disperse; they scatter like starlings and they are gone.

The summer is ending.

“Imagine,” says Navvy Jim, a few days later, “a perfect paper-playing robot.”

Emily leans back against the hillside. She imagines it. “Just how perfect?”

“Well,” he says, “it can’t beat scissors, of course.”

“I see.”

“But,” he says, and he holds out his hand, flat, swims it through the air, “it’s really good paper. It’s not, like, casual about it. It’s paper at the level of the divine. Paper that has shed all the detritus of scissors, of rock, of ambiguity in it and become something pure.”

“I can imagine!”

He is quiet for a while. Then he says, “You should not have your yellow, yellow hat, Emily, nor be in your yellow House.”

She licks her lips.

She stares up at blue sky and silvered clouds.

“They need me,” she says. After a while, she says, “Besides, we’re not really like paper. We’re more like . . . like dynamite.”

“Dynamite is illegitimate,” says Navvy Jim.

“Dynamite is awesome!” says Emily. “Dynamite blows up paper and rock!”

“I have played many games of rock-paper-scissors,” says Navvy Jim, modestly. “And I have never seen a game that was actually improved by the addition of dynamite.”

“You are an old fogey,” she says. She flicks him in the metal belly with a finger, producing a ringing sound. “You are just too conservative for dynamite, jaguar’s claw, hobbit-Spock-spider, and other innovative playing techniques.”

“I am so looking forward to being in my boxes again,” says Navvy Jim.


He laughs.

“Fine,” he says. “OK. Dynamite, then. Why not? Three options are inefficient in any case. But even a perfect dynamite-playing robot would —”

He stops.


“I am trying not to say ‘blow up,’” says Navvy Jim, “because my point requires me to say ‘lose to scissors.’ However, my humor subroutine is flinging my sensibilities around judo-style in my mind.”

Emily giggles.

After a while, he sighs.

“You do understand, though?”

She reaches for the sky, as if to pluck the moon.

“Yeah,” she says. “I get it.”

“A human,” he says. “Even a robot. A human can play all kinds of things. A human can grow. A human can learn. But I am afraid for you, in your yellow hat, because of the specificity of your perfection.”

“I’m afraid, too,” she says, softly.

“Then change,” he says.

“No,” she says. She sits up. She turns. She looks at him. She takes his hands. “I’m afraid, because you were going to break the world. You were, Navvy Jim. Not anyone else was.”

“That is an exaggeration,” he says.

“A perfect rock-paper-scissors-playing robot can’t exist, Navvy Jim. A mirror-beating rock-paper-scissors player — that can’t happen. You’re not part of the real world. You’re part of Gotterdammerung, part of the chaos Hans tried to tame. You’re some numinous interjection.”

“I’m not perfect,” he says.

“Have you ever lost?”

“I’m not perfect,” he says softly. “I’m just me. I just play rock-paper-scissors.”

“Hey,” she says. Her eyes are suddenly bright. “Hey. Hey. What’s the next move in your arm?”


“I can prove it,” she says. “I can prove it. That you’re right. That everything’s OK. I can beat you. Just tell me what you’re going to throw next.”

“You can’t,” he says —

He’s shaking his head.

“Come on,” she says. She pokes him. She pokes him again.

“It’s paper,” he says. “But —”

“I can throw scissors?” she says. “I mean, if I go one two three scissors, bam, I win?”

“Yes,” he says. “But —”


“You’re not that kind of player!” he says.


“You’re not the kind of player who goes one-two-three scissors right now,” he says. “You know that.”

“You can’t know that!”

“I can totally know that,” he says. “Just look at your hat.”

“Just . . . my hat has nothing to do with this!”

Emily takes off her railroad cap. She hugs it to her chest. She hides it behind her back. It’s too stressful! She’s not wearing a yellow hat! She puts it back on and pulls it down over her eyes.

“It’s me, then,” she says. “I mean, it’s paper for throwing against me, right?”

“Yes,” says Navvy Jim.

“Let’s not even get into how you knew that when you programmed it,” Emily says.

“There’s an analyzable sequence of players,” says Navvy Jim, “with detectable features —”

“Let’s. Not. Get. Into. It.”

“But science,” says Navvy Jim, “is the art of taking a data stream, representing it in binary form, and analyzing it, producing observations either probabilistic or hypothetical about future bits to come —”

“Jim,” says Emily, sternly.


“Are you seriously trying to distract me from playing rock-paper-scissors?”

Navvy Jim subsides.

“You,” she says. “Distracting me. From playing rock-paper-scissors?”

“I just so rarely get the opportunity to explain any of this stuff to anybody,” says Navvy Jim. “Most people just laugh, say, ‘Navvy Jim, you’ve won again!’ and wander off to drink svart-drink and putter about among their machines.”

“That is your overly cursory social experience,” Emily informs him.

“I also visited a nursing home!”

“Don’t give people at a nursing home svart-drink,” Emily says. “That’s very bad, Navvy Jim.”

“It’s got Pepsi blood! It gives them joie de vivre!”

Emily shakes her head. She fixes him with her golden gaze. She is calm. She is calm like a snake on morphine. The snake is also a master of Zen. It sways back and forth — or does it?

That snake doesn’t even exist!

Navvy Jim sighs.

“Very well,” he says.

He lifts his arm. They shake their fists at one another. One, two —

Emily pauses the game there. She says, “Paper, right? You’re sure?”

“I’m certain, Emily.”

“Even though I intend to play scissors?”

“You intend to play scissors,” says Navvy Jim. “You really do. But you are straightened in yourself, Emily. You are made one thing: one being, purified, all the scattered impulses of you brought down to a single form. When the time comes you will throw rock, because you love me.”

“Because I love you?”

He shrugs.

“I played through this conversation a thousand times in my head,” he says, “and a thousand more, and never found the path where —”

He looks stricken.

“I wanted to find a path where you’d be free of all this,” he says. “But I couldn’t. All I could find was this. All I could find was a way to end it with something beautiful.”

They count again. One. Two —

“Emily,” says Navvy Jim.

She’s waving a hand at him frantically. “Wait, wait, wait,” she says. “Like, if I play scissors, I’m ugly and I don’t love you? What kind of freaky robo-blackmail is that?”

“It’s not —”

He stands up. He flails his hands. He stomps around on the hillside.

“It’s not blackmail!” he says. “Look! I won’t even look! I’ll face the other direction.”

“You’ve wormed your words into my head!”

“Emily,” he says, “I won’t think the less of you for throwing scissors. I won’t think you don’t love me. I’ll just think that you’re willing to use scissors to cut the paper of my hand. That’s all.”

“That’s not love!”

“That’s not not love,” says Navvy Jim. “I can’t believe this. I can’t believe that I have to spend my last day not in boxes stomping around on a hillside explaining to someone that it is all right for scissors to cut paper.”

“Scissors don’t love paper,” says Emily.

“That is not the point,” says Navvy Jim. “Also, maybe they do.”


“Nobody has ever asked the scissors how they feel about such things.”

“They are of two minds,” giggles Emily, suddenly.

“They —”

Navvy Jim hesitates a long moment. Then he says, “Oh.”

“It’s really OK?” Emily says.

“Would it be all right if you weren’t Emily?” he says. “And I weren’t Navvy Jim? If blue wasn’t blue and the sun were not the sun? Emily, you are a rock-throwing player. If you throw scissors that is more than all right; that is . . . unprecedented. That is heroic. That is . . . the world . . . it would be a terrifying miracle. It would sunder me. I would fall to my knees and laugh because the world is so very much bigger than I had ever dreamed. I would cry robot tears and I would laugh and suddenly everything would be big and bright and beautiful and unknown again, I would be a child again, and it would be more than just all right.”

“But not as good as taking my hat off,” Emily says.

“I’m sorry,” says Navvy Jim. “I just don’t like it. I think you can be more.”

“More than a girl who’s fighting Gotterdammerung,” she says. “Every single day.”


“I distracted Tom from detonating the quantum foam the other day,” Emily says.

Navvy Jim shrugs. “I wore a pair of sunglasses and played rock-paper-scissors with the mirror.”

“These are some seriously fulfilling lives,” Emily says.


So she counts it off. He turns around like he’s said. She counts it off, one, two, three. But she isn’t strong enough. She can’t make herself do it. It isn’t in her.

“I’m so sorry,” she says, staring in confusion, in vague incomprehension, at her hand.

“Rock tears through paper?” he suggests.

“It’s just,” she says.

“Rock weighs paper down,” he offers.

“It’s just,” she says. “It’s just, I didn’t want everything to change.”

“No,” he says.

“I don’t like things being the same, Navvy Jim,” she says, and he’s turned around now, and he’s smiling at her, but with only half his mouth. She says: “I don’t like things being the same. But I was too scared. I didn’t want everything to change.”

“Emily,” he says. He takes and squeezes her hand. “Emily, you weren’t afraid of things changing. You were afraid for me.

“I was so,” she says. “I was so. I was afraid for things. I was afraid of everything.”

Now she is crying and she doesn’t even know why. Now he is brushing her tears from her, touching her arm and shoulder, walking back with her towards Eldri’s home with her hand in his as if she hasn’t grown at all.

And sometimes I wonder if she’s alive today because, somehow, somehow because of that battle; if he’d charted all the paths, all the futures, or at least all three of them, and the world we got was the best one he could find. Sometimes I wonder if this was all he could do, the best Navvy Jim himself could do: getting her through to the day she decides to call the jaguars down.

“Sometimes I think,” he says, “what would it be like to be a hobbit-Spock-spider-playing robot?

“Sometimes I think,” he says, “wouldn’t that make everybody happier?”

But it wouldn’t.

That’s what Emily says. That it wouldn’t.

“It wouldn’t be you, Navvy Jim,” says Emily. “It wouldn’t be you.”

And they stay up very late that night, drinking hot cocoa and toasting marshmallows and telling stories, and then they power him down and they box him up and they put Navvy Jim away, until the world should have a place in it for rock-paper-scissors-playing robots once again.

And later, she goes back to school, and she votes at the club meeting.

There’s a patch, you see. There’s a new patch for the Thunder Dance.

There doesn’t have to be a Dynamite, any more.

– 8 –

Posted by on May 8, 2014 in The Storm that Saw Itself: Chapter 5 | 0 comments

Jane sits on the rooftop. Her legs are through two gaps in the metal safety railing. What with the continuous lightning sheeting down from the clouds it isn’t actually very safe.

It coils around her. It shocks her. Then it relents, and trickles and flows across her outstretched hand.

“You don’t have to be wicked,” Jane tells the nithrid, “just because the weather service tells you that you’re bad, you know.”

It’s a paraphrase of the Doom Team motto.

The nithrid skirls around the roof. It sears her a little. It fries her eyes. Then Jane heals up.

“You can just,” says Jane, “you can just be —”

She thinks about this for a while.


There’s a pause in the swirling storm. It conveys certain concepts and images. Jane laughs.

“Martin said that too?” she says, and then she laughs even more, because —

“Yeah,” she agrees. “He is an utterly terrible dancer. It’s because he has two left feet.”

The nithrid eddies. It expresses a concern. If you were to put it into words, it would go something like: but if I am not bad, if I am not wicked, then what am I? If I am not to slaughter through the world; to leave it burning and in ruins; if I am not to dance through the sky and lash among the streets and make an end to the blasphemies that are this world —

It trickles off. The nithrid does not know how to continue.

Eventually it attempts to end its thought with, then for what reason was I born?

Jane ponders this.

“They’d kill you,” she says, “in the end, you know. They beat the scissors. They can take you down.”

The nithrid is skeptical. Jane shakes her head.

“They’re a marvel,” she says. “They’re not moon-eating wolves or potato pancakes or giant world-killing storms or anything, but they’re a marvel.”

A wave of wind and water washes past.

They are quiet for a moment.

“I want to too,” Jane says, “You know. Sometimes. Sometimes I want to use my special powers as a . . . Taoist immortal, or whatever . . . to kill everybody. It would be so easy. I would rampage among them and leave them bloodied, broken, and savaged. I would tear the moon out of the sky and I would drink it down.”

Jane likes to drink the moon. Well, eat the moon. Well, moon-shaped cookies.

Well, the cute little moon-shaped cookies that she pretends are the actual moon.

She likes to wolf them down.

And such is the longing on her face, and then the wry humor of it, that the nithrid asks a question. It crawls along her skin. It writes little words in the hairs that stand up on her arm. But Jane doesn’t read them. She just shrugs.

“Because I don’t have to,” Jane explains.

The clouds boil. The nithrid seethes. There is flashing, distant, and thunder among the streets. Then all is still.

Jane pets the trails of lightning as they crawl along her arm.

“Well,” she concedes, softly, “Being a world-killing storm is probably OK, too.”

And after a while, the storm is gone.

Jane stares out at the lightening sky.

Martin, who is leaning against the fire door even though it’s not on fire, says, “‘You don’t have to be wicked just because the weather service tells you that you’re bad?’”

Jane startles extravagantly.

Martin lifts an eyebrow.

Jane leans her head against the rail.

“They’re awful influential,” she says, “You know.”

“I see,” says Martin.

“I just think,” she says, “that if you’re gonna be wicked, that you should decide that for yourself. You know? Not because of Hans or anybody else. That’s what I think. Not even you.”

“I don’t know,” says Martin. “I just don’t know. I really like that girl who does the weather.”

And summer ends.


Posted by on May 8, 2014 in The Storm that Saw Itself: Chapter 5 | 0 comments