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The bartender drew the glass from the faucet and slid the mug across the hardwood top to Kay. “Here y’go, miss. Enjoy it.” She took the glass wearily, took a sip, looked up, turned, spat, looked back, turned again, looked back again, looked down at the drink, looked up again. She cleared her throat nervously and leaned forward. “Um, excuse me.” “Somethin’ the matter with your drink, miss?” “Er, no. No, it’s just that, um, well…” she coughed. “You’re a skeleton now, and you weren’t fifteen seconds ago.” He nodded. “That I am, miss. That I am.” His appropriately-bone-white hand plucked a rag off the back shelf and began to wipe down a spare mug with it, click-clack-click-clack-click-clack. She tried again. “So, if I can ask… why are you a skeleton?” “Don’t much know m’self, miss. Sometimes things just happen.” He tapped a fingerbone on the stark-white china pate that was his forehead. Was that what you would call it now? Maybe it was a forebone. Kay didn’t know. Kay really, really didn’t know. Her eyes flicked down to the mug still in front of her. Oh no. “Oh my god, you- you put some kind of drug in here, didn’t you-“ “Miss, it’s water. You saw me fillin’ it with your own two eyes. Plus, ain’t those your friends or coworkers or what have you over at the pool table? ‘Twouldn’t be much use for me to try anything when they’d jump down my throat the minute anything went funny.” He tilted his head, raising an eyebrow that wasn’t there anymore. “Plus – I may be nothin’ but bones, but that just ain’t right.” “Okay. Water then. Right.” She took a shuddering breath, closed her eyes, and counted to five. One, two, three, four, don’tbeaskeletondon’tbeaskeletondon’tbea- Still a skeleton. A kind of faint whimpering noise escaped her mouth. The bartender shrugged. “I am sorry about this. It ain’t ever easy seein’ someone get turned into a stack a’ bones right in front of ya, I know. But ‘twasn’t a thing I could do about it. These things happen, y’know?” “No, no, no, I don’t know,” she said, her voice turning more than a little desperate. “I don’t know that people turn into skeletons sometimes. Are you dead? Oh god, am I dead?” “Probably and probably not,” he replied. He tilted his head again and clicked his teeth together in thought. “Well, actually, I’m probably not dead either. So probably not on both fronts.” “If I scream, are people going to look over and see a normal bartender?” “Wouldn’t surprise me. ‘S how these things work, don’t they? Trouble comes outta nowhere, lands right in your lap, and minute you try to offload it on someone else it slips out the back porch, and you wind up lookin’ like a crazy person. ‘What,’ they ask, ‘is possibly the matter? I don’t see the trouble.’” She leaned forward. “Mister Skeleton, please don’t start giving me life advice right now, I think I might be about to pass out.” “Drink some water then. No point in gettin’ all worked up about it. You gotta roll with the punches, right?” “Look, my boss reassigned my account this morning. My deadbeat brother took my car and didn’t say when he’d be back. My girlfriend’s not answering her texts, my dog’s vet bill is three times more than I thought it would be, and now my bartender’s turned into a skeleton. I think I’m allowed to stop rolling by now.” He shrugged, his collarbones swinging up and down like a see-saw. “Alright, alright, I follow ya. But this is what I’m sayin’, y’see? Can’t just let it all get ya down. Ya gotta take it head on. Skull on, in my case.” Kay grabbed the glass of water off the bar and began to chug it. Don’t think about the skeleton don’t think about the skeleton don’t think about it just finish the water, get up, go play pool, give Jen another text, go home, call the vet, send Jim an e-mail, get Mom to call Ted just don’t think about the skeleton. She gasped and slammed the mug back onto the bar. The bartender took it. “Y’want another round?” Primly, she stood, grabbed her purse, turned 180 degrees on her heel, and walked off towards the pool table. Behind the bar, the skeleton clacked his teeth together a few times. Sometimes you just got those customers you had to turn into a skeleton to help out.
"The Wishing Rock"
When I saw the girl sitting at Wishing Point, gazing out over the valley, I didn't think much of it right away.
Then the girl made a jerking movement, flinging something from the outcropping. I paused to watch, curious. She picked up another stone and threw it. Soon she was tearing up piles of pebbles and dirt and hurling them over the precipice. Finally she gave up, fell to her knees, and began crying.
I stepped off the path, blending into the dense branches of a pinewood. Half of me wanted to let her be; the other half couldn’t turn away and leave her like that.
I watched, and she did nothing. It was one of the pebbles that did it. It flew suddenly back up over the precipice and landed beside the girl, glowing red.
It glowed brighter, then stopped. A pool of dark, reddish-orange liquid bled from the rock, pooling on the ground beside the girl. She jumped up, backed away, staring in disbelief as a human woman began to rise from the pool. She was clad in coppery robes that cascaded from her shoulders like a waterfall of fabric. A jeweled turban concealed her hair.
"Yes, mistress?" she droned.
The girl's mouth hung open, but no sound escaped it.
"You have wishes, mistress?"
The girl gasped, "You're--a--a genie?"
"A genius," the woman corrected. "There is a difference."
"And you'll give me three wishes?"
"Come, you were wishing yourself silly moments ago. I have not all day."
"I wish for--a dog?"
Her hearts' greatest desires at her fingertips--and she wishes for a dog! By her tone, however, I guessed she was only testing the water.
The genius nodded. "Granted."
The girl looked around. "… Where?"
"Patience! It will come. Your next wish?"
The girl squeaked, "I--I wish my mother were alive."
Now we were getting to it.
"I cannot bring the dead back, my child," said the genius irritably.
"Oh--I--I'm sorry …"
"Your next wish?"
"There are so many things … A friend?"
The simple, childish desperation of this request twisted my heart.
"I cannot grant what you have already."
"Broaden your mind and you will see what you do not realize you have. Your next wish?"
"I wish for a boyfriend!"
"I cannot alter such things as are destined to be."
The girl hesitated. "You--you really grant wishes?"
The girl shuffled her feet. "I wish my big sister didn't have cancer."
The genius eyed the girl. "Are you certain?"
"I am sorry. I cannot grant a wish that is destined to be."
The girl looked up. "You mean--she'll be all right?"
"Your sister's cancer will not last much longer, my child. I--" The genius hesitated, as if her next words were foreign to her. "I am truly sorry."
The girl hugged her shoulders. Voice shaking, she said, "I wish someone would help me!"
"I cannot grant what you have already." The genius put a hand on the girl's shoulder. There was a new compassion in her flat tone. "You want help, my child. Let me give you this: You have all the help you need if you look for it." She straightened and went on monotonically, "Your next wish, mistress."
The girl looked out over the valley. What she was thinking, I couldn't imagine. Probably the same as me, wondering what the genius meant by what she said. It was a long time before the girl spoke again.
"I only have one more."
The genius said indifferently, "If that is your wish."
"Yes it is."
"Will you watch the sunset with me?"
There was a pause. The girl, her face unreadable, gazed up into the eyes of the expressionless genius. Finally, the woman spoke.
"If it is as you wish."
They sat together and watched until the final rays of the sun had faded into the starlit night sky. With the sun's last ray, the genius disappeared. Silently the girl picked up the colorless pebble, put it in her pocket, rose, and left.
I followed at an inconspicuous distance until I had seen her safely home. I lingered on the sidewalk across the street, watching her front door, until a tired-looking, poorly-fed puppy padded up to the door and pawed at it, whimpering. I turned and walked away.
Theme: The Mask
I wear this mask to hide my name,
Cover my face, cover my shame.
This painted grin, burden it's been;
A laughing glance, cover my pain.
I laugh and dance, I joke, I sing,
For peasant low, for queen, for king;
I make you smile, and all the while,
Deep in my heart, my soul crying.
I show the world a merry face,
I spread good cheer all round the place:
Ever after, behind my laughter,
Behind this mask, sulks sad disgrace.
Long years ago, I had nothing,
No paint, no lies to force a grin;
I walked for miles, wore joyous smiles,
Now that's all lost, slain by my sin.
Who knew a chain could be so weak?
One small blunder, my joy could take?
Hard to believe, that I should grieve,
For all this time, for one mistake.
One word let slip invokes a curse.
A desperate try tightens the noose.
For the stars sailing, all else failing,
All demons, worms, and fears let loose.
Buried beneath earth damp and cold,
Those eyes once bright, that heart once bold:
The remnants of my long-lost love;
Now laid to rest like pirate's gold.
Of joy and grief I've been bereft,
A hopeless void, an empty cleft.
I've danced and twirled, made laugh the world,
But in my heart there's nothing left.
I wear this mask to hide my tears.
The sun is gone, shadows are here:
This painted grin, burden it's been;
My sad heart can still offer cheer.
I wear this mask to play a fool:
A puppet and a broken tool . . .
Though I am dead, joy I can spread;
And make this world less dark, less cruel.
"City of Glass"
The skyscrapers pierce the azure sky, rising until up and up even after they reach the clouds, going up and up thousands of stories tall, up--up, always extending.
The City of Glass. The Kingdom of Skyscrapers. Skyscrapers taller than any others in the whole universe. They rise, up, up, up--seemingly never ceasing in their elevation. The architecture is magical--fictitious even in this advanced age. It is only when one visits do they finally believe the stories--stories that have been passed on from father to son, from mother to daughter, from grandparents to grandchildren.
It is a legend, surely--a legend and nothing more, they all say. A legend inside the homes of many--until they actually see for themselves. Until they witness the awe-striking, amaranthine beauty.
Walking through the streets, below the alabaster, crystal, glass, emerald, ruby, amethyst, and sapphire towers, one walks in a fantasy. The feeling is like a dream--a dream of imagination and disbelief, where one expects to wake up and discover that it was all fake. Yet none ever wake--for it’s not a dream.
The towers are real. Very, very real. And when you walk up to one, the wall of the building rises farther than you can see. But when you enter it is a different experience entirely. Some are filled with translucent stairways, circling upward and leading to different floors. Some are filled with clear boards, raised by transparent strings, all moving together and shifting here and there in perfect grace, taking people to various floors and rooms, never colliding with one another.
In the heart of the city lies perhaps the most magnificent of them all. A Cathedral made entirely from pure diamonds, as clear as glass, said to rise far above all the others. Yet once again one can hardly believe it, nor can one even confirm the tale as each building rises higher than the eye can see. The top of the Cathedral holds a bell-tower--bells that ring above every other commotion of the city, a magnificent ringing that reverberates throughout the entire planet.
When the bells toll, the whole population stops to listen to the beauty--the sounds that never get old or become any less amazing then the first time one hears them, ringing morning, noon, and night. They are entirely captivating and bewildering, amazing and awe-inspiring, fantastic and fanciful.
They are the Glass City Bells--perhaps even more captivating than the towers themselves, for the pitches and harmonies, tolls and chimes, all create a beautiful symphony.
But one morning, the bells miss their toll. The cityfolk slowly stop their work, looking at each other’s watches to make sure the time was right. But the bells never ring, and the first tower falls.
Admist a giant uproar of shards of glass and dust, the Cathedral crumbles, shattering, showering the town with the powder and splinters of broken diamonds. People scream in panic and confusion, shrilling voices piercing the air. Some don't even move as the building falls on top of them, still stuck there unbelieving of what their eyes tell them. In a matter of moments the Cathedral has completely collapsed.
The day ended.
A dense fog shrouded the Forest, clinging to my skin and soaking into my clothing. The branches of the gargantuan trees were slippery beneath my feet; even after years of travelling this way, it was still a challenge to find my footing in these conditions. It was difficult too to find my way forward – not only did the weather severely limit my vision, but I hadn’t come this way in… how long? Months, at least.
Why I chose to travel here, I can’t quite say. Maybe I just wanted a change of scenery. Perhaps I was guided by my subconscious or some other force beyond my comprehension. Whatever prompted my journey, though, one thing was certain – I was really starting to regret it. Wandering aimlessly through the Forest in a fog such as that one is rarely a wise idea.
I suppose I should introduce myself: I am the Man. Once, perhaps, I was called something else, but whatever that name may have been, it means nothing now. The inhabitants of this place know me as the Man, and there is no one to call me anything else. They refer to me as such because I am the only human being to live here, on this planet known to us as the Forest. Perhaps, in the distant reaches of space, there are those who refer to it in another way, but none here could fathom what that might be, nor do we care to.
Of course, “we” is a relative term. There are several species in the Forest that whose intelligence equals mine, certainly: the apes, the wolves, the cats. The birds, too – some of them, at least. And, of course, surpassing us all is the Lord of the Forest himself. But none of these associate with me, nor I with them. Occasionally we make contact, interact in some way, sometimes as friends, others as enemies. But rarely is it long before we part ways.
My foot slipped on a knot in the branch that I hadn’t seen; I lost my balance despite a quick attempt to right myself. My fingers caught a groove in the bark and for a moment I hung there, suspended in fog. Then they slipped out.
Time slowed as I fell. It was surreal – all around me there was gray, gray, nothing but cold gray fog. It was impossible to tell which way was up, which was down; I has no reference point of any kind.
And then I felt hard wood beneath me as I collided with another massive tree branch, this one even wider than the first. With some difficulty, I pushed myself to my feet and glanced around.
Surprisingly enough, I could actually see something – off to my right, the colorless fog transitioned seamlessly to a dull reddish glow. Intrigued, I stepped forward, though I did so tentatively. I wasn’t sure how badly I’d been hurt in the fall, and on top of that, well, the Forest holds many dangers. I’d never seen glowing red fog before, but it could easily be one of them.
Within moments the source of the light came into view: in the branches of the tree was nestled a nest, a nest so massive that it looked to be constructed of saplings rather than twigs. And within the nest lay three eggs, nearly identical, their coloration a beautifully marbled red-orange-purple. From each egg radiated a dull light, illuminating the nest and refracting through the fog that surrounded them. I stared at the sight before me in awe. Only one creature in the Forest could have produced such a marvel.
A faint rustle of leaves reached my ears, and I slowly turned. Staring out of the fog was a single massive eye, a vibrant orange ring surrounding a pupil bigger than my head and darker than a starless night. Immediately I dropped to one knee and bowed my head. The eye blinked and moved in closer, bringing with it a beak that looked sharp enough to slice me in half with the barest scratch.
Fortunately, though, the Lord of the Forest didn’t seem to be in a slicing mood. Instead, he clucked softly, offering a greeting and not a threat.
I rose. “It is an honor, my Lord.” Only thrice before had I ever laid eyes on the great bird, and never had I seen him so close.
He clucked again.
I nodded silently and turned back into the fog. Within moments I could see nothing but gray.