Yossi Faybish - hobbies - prose
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    I looked at my watch. It was 13 hours and 13 minutes to the end of the world, and there was nothing I could do about it except execute it.

    Funny moment I found to check the time, I thought, twice 13, twice humanity’s horrible number, even if the count was in my own system which was a base 4 counting system. After all we were a double digits species, two fingers each appendage, and 4 was the natural counting base for us. Let’s see, if I translate it to the human base 10 numbers system it comes to... hmm... 7 hours and 7 minutes. Yes, double so funny now, with humans considering 7 their lucky number, ha; and in itself a meaningless observation as well since in just a few seconds it will change to 7 human hours and 6 minutes, all symbolism gone. 7 hours and 7 minutes - the time left before they, us, our shared blue Earth... we all go up in atomic flames and there was nothing I could do about it. Or should do about it, I or anyone else above me in the scale. Actually there was no one above me in the scale. I was the executor.

    The prediction was accurate to approximately the millionth digit after the decimal point. Thus, with a probability of 0.99999... and so on a million times, the third World War was about to erupt at the predicted point in time and no one would be left to call it the “last war” afterwards. Earth was about to become an odd ball of incandesence rotating around the sun for a few more billions of cycles. Even the cockroaches would disappear. Even basic organic molecules. Death. Absolute. This was the price to pay for the survival of civilization, the third world in the one hundred and fourteen we were monitoring that had to be executed. The other one hundred and eleven were still monitored and 0.99999... was their probability of survival. Lucky worlds, lucky executors.

    I pondered for a short moment over the imminent “almost” 1 probability in all the predictors’ predictions, positive or negative. They concerned all matters defined in need of prediction, from planting a tree back home to the life or death of a world because of a potential risk. The word “potential” was not a word in our language, I borrowed it from the humans. With the predictors there was only certainty and until now they were never proved wrong. They allowed the “almost” term for its aesthetical and legal value – after all, a decimal point followed by millions of 9s was still not equal to 1, right? I snorted, it was the rebel in me snorting and the rebel in me was also the reason I was chosen to be an executor. My job was to work the “almost” to death, and only after I failed to introduce any doubt in the prediction - to execute the decision. Billions of events were decided in the past by the predictors and all, with no exception, were executed. Probably because they were always right. Probably because there was never a what-if allowed to prove them wrong. This irreverent thought was so irksome that I quashed it fast. Probably because they were Gods.

    I was the executor of several hundreds of predictions already. This was my latest assignment and, as expected, I did not find any flaw here either, though I tried hard. My prediction powers were as high as the predictors’ and as an executor, I could also bend predictions. And if I finally decided that Earth had nevertheless to go, I had to go with it. This was the biggest incentive for me to prove them wrong or to try bending the prediction to prove then wrong. I proved them right. Earth had to die. Actually it was going to die in... I checked my watch again – six hours and twenty three human minutes.

    North Korea was going to nuke South Korea, Seoul. The US was going to respond immediately sending three ballistic missiles North Korea’s way, one missing and hitting Vladivostok. Iran would join the party sending two missiles into Israel, one hitting Amman in Jordan, the other Jerusalem. The Russians would riposte in a frenzy sending a wave of missiles into North America and Western Europe, while an automatism set in march in the dead Jewish state would blanket Iran with tens of missiles. France and England would riposte to the Russian attack, hitting China, the Chinese would riposte sending showers of missiles everywhere together with the Russians and the Americans mixing A-bombs and H-bombs and N-bombs, while the Indians and the Pakistanis would make sure no one survives both sides of the border... no one would be left to explain scientifically the freak reaction that would develop deep down Earth’s core starting at the magnetic South Pole, following which Earth would turn into an incandescent, radioactive globe of death doomed to wait almost an eternity before finding its eternal peace in its sun’s cooling insides.

    A small price to pay for the survival of civilized universe. The prediction was correct, the 0.99999... etc soon to turn into a 1. No “almost” left to overturn majority’s rule. I was still wondering if it ever will, as I killed the connection.


    We were trapped on Earth, I and the rest of the surveying team, all three hundred eighty nine bi-digitals assigned to this mission. A connection reversal was impossible. There will be a small commemoration held back on Kornus, seven million eight hundred twenty two light years away. Give or take a few miles, I laughed loudly. It was part of the job, responsibility, compensation and risk for any such vital mission. Now none of us will get rich, all of us will die. A package deal. The Full Monty... another laughter wave swept through me as I rang Ilonia, one of the seven predictors.

    “You disconnected,” she mentioned matter of factly. Of course there was no complaining tone there, she was as professional as I was, maybe even more so since she volunteered for studying reasons. She was a true scientific. I volunteered for compensation reasons, a true mercenary.

    We agreed to meet in the park across from my apartment. With about six hours to go before we stopped existing we decided we will spend the time left in that noble human occupation which we two learned to adore and which consisted of feeding the ducks populating the artificial pond. The little ducklings melted my heart every time I spotted them, every new summer several new families crisscrossing the water like a movie straight from a fairy tale. There were no ducklings on Kornus. There were no animals on Kornus, as a matter of fact, our version of homo-sapiens being the only “animal” on my home planet. Incredible the similarities with Earth’s Homo sapiens, with the exception of that chromosome Z specific to us. Our door to traveling anywhere in zero time provided a connection was active. Now the connection was dead.

    “Not dead, you killed it,” she thought into my brain and kissed me perfunctorily on the cheek.

    I loved her madly. She loved me insanely. In the five Earth years that we were on this assignment we were not intimate even once. It was one of the strictest rules to be followed, strictly enforced by the policitors. Not that we ever intended to break it, the change factors induced by any such eventuality would have been of such incalculable magnitude that the predictors might have become incapacitated for dangerously long periods. This was not a risk to be permitted. The policitors were there to kill any such intent in the womb, and to kill any of us bodily if needed. There was sufficient redundancy for everybody, except for me. I was an executor, a true mercenary like all executors, therefore no redundancy was allowed and nether was necessary for me.

    “I love you,” I said aloud.

    “If you say it again they will kill me,” said Ilonia, smiling back. She knew I used my vocal chords since the chance for any policitor to “hear” me this way was almost inexistent.

    There were three duckling families sliding on the pond and we started throwing their way bread, bagels, cakes. Ilonia shone, her hair breaking the sunshine into all of its wandering wavelengths, her thin blouse leaving no doubt as to the shape of her virginal breasts, her tinkling voice not unlike crystal drops breaking upon violin strings... where the hell do I take these stupid expressions from, I thought, doing my best to shield my mind from Ilonia’s incessant hovering. Bet leftovers of that human poetry Ilonia insisted thinking to me from time to time. There was romance on Kornus, for sure, there was no such form of art called poetry.

    Pandemonium erupted above and under the water. Any and all types of flying or swimming beasts in the area converged towards the shortly established feeding field, attacking the crumbs like it was the end of the world. Maybe they know it as well, I wondered in my mind and rejected Ilonia’s question.

    “How are you going to do it?” she asked again, aloud this time, taking my hand and dragging me to a bench. We sat down. A duck followed by five ducklings waggled their way towards our bench, hesitated for a short moment, and then all of them lay on the ground like a bunch of tired dogs. It wasn’t unreal, it was irreal.

    The predictions were irrefutable, 0.99999... certainty, as always. Earth was going to face a nuclear holocaust turning it into a pile of radioactive rubble. In several thousands years a belligerent mutation will rise from the ashes carrying a mix of human, animal and vegetal nucleic acids and on top of it all the much feared, all powerful chromosome Z. The key to the stars. In the wrong life forms - the key to the destruction of civilized universe.

    She moved closer to me, taking my hand in hers. Somehow policitors seemed to matter no more.

    “I am sorry you failed,” she thought.

    I failed, all my efforts to create parallel evolution paths ended in the same holocaust. There was no way to change the path of humanity even by a fraction of a second - always the same scenario to the day, hour, millisecond. Now... I looked at my watch... “...three hours and seventeen minutes away.”

    “How are you going to do it?” she repeated. Earth was not allowed to develop into the mutation. Earth had to perish.

    I decided to tell her using my voice. Maybe I wanted to let the ducklings and their mother hear me and forgive me? I touched lightly on the duck’s mind - it was a mess, though a very organized one. There was no way I could decipher it.

    “It is already done. At the cumulative count of exactly seven hundred exploded bombs, the seven hundred and one, an American H bomb will strike Antarctica, at the accurate epicenter of Earth’s magnetic Pole. The reaction will create an irreversible process in Earth’s core, imploding atoms followed by an imploding core followed by an imploding Earth... a tiny, miniature sun. Beyond science. Death. These ducks will die.”

    A few elderly cyclists startled the ducklings into a tighter cluster around the imperturbable duck. A bunch of kids were screaming their best on a near-by playing ground trying to wake up whoever happened to be buried underneath there. A boat floated on the pond, the oars forgotten, a young couple so engrossed in their kiss that they didn’t pay attention to the pillar rushing their way.

    Ilonia removed the three artificial digits from my left hand, then from my right hand. Then she removed her own.

    “Make love to me,” she said.


    We could still transmute freely for limited distances, even with the connection dead. We transmuted to one of my hundreds of dwellings, knowing it was only a matter of time until the policitors find us. They were ruthless, efficient, incorruptible. They were female.

    “They will kill you,” I whispered, my body a shiver, my thoughts closed, locked.

    “We die anyway,” she whispered back, starting to unbutton my shirt.

    I was a virgin. I let her do, let her guide, let her teach me secrets I refused to know until then. There were thirty one minutes left.

    “You are a virgin,” I said, watching the tiny red spot on the bedding as if it incorporated the birth and the death of a world in that one single stain.

    “I was,” she smiled, and it was the first time I saw a tear hanging on a predictor’s eye. A lot a first’s for one’s last day of life. I turned the TV on, and gathered Ilonia close to me, all there was left to do was watch and wait. There was nothing but news on all the channels, even the pure entertainment channels. We chose one at random and left it there, it didn’t matter anyway. The presenter, dressed like for a funeral - dark jacket, dark tie, dark background, was livid. Professional to the end, he could not control the shiver in his voice. North Korea’s ballistic launchers pointed their nose upwards, a lot of saber rattling and martial music reported on their official TV channel, their target already defined, mentioned, known. The American president threatening with immediate retaliation, the Russians threatening with retaliation for the retaliation, the Chinese making huge diplomatic efforts to change their allies’ minds, their finger on the button too. Everybody’s finger was on the button. Hundreds of cameras reporting from the expected target spot, just south of Seoul, and all one could see was a mass of people praying. Where could they go, there was nowhere to go, they wanted to go nowhere. “If I have to die then I want to die here, at home,” said one elderly man hugging a little girl, probably his grand-daughter. It was one minute to zero. Zero. Three policitors materialized in the room, pointing their deatomizers towards Ilonia. The ballistic missile launched.

    Nobody moved. Nobody thought. Nobody said a word. They were going to deatomize Ilonia, there was no doubt about it, but even the cold blooded policitors were human, their eyes locked to the TV, a satellite camera following the white trail of the missile first on its way up, then on its way down, three endless minutes and thousands of TV cameras pointing to the same spot. The impact spot. Impact.

    A huge explosion, flames, smoke, shrapnel flying all over, screams. No mushroom. No mushroom. No mushroom. It registered on my brain as if the explosion took place there, inside. The policitors turned their eyes to Ilonia. They had a job to finish.

    The savagery of my thought attack froze their muscles for a few seconds. I repeated it, I pleaded, I tried to explain, to reason it out. They transmuted away.

    “What happened here?” asked Ilonia, her face the white of blooming white lilac, her mind a mess. I couldn’t answer immediately, neither thought nor voice, I was frozen with fright, with wonder.

    “A dud,” I finally made it into whispering the words, placing my hand on her naked belly, feeling the seed there starting to grow. The inexistent factor interference. The “almost” winning its first ever battle against absolute certainty. “Almost” absolute certainty, I reminded myself. The first predictor ever to succeed in bending a prediction, innocently, unintentionally, she did it. There where I failed. I kissed her as savagely as I allowed myself without disturbing anything in the fragile fabric of time and space just formed.

    I dressed her, dressed myself, and left by foot this time, leaving the apartment door open. There was a lot of agitated reporting about high level contacts, the Chinese finally succeeding to persuade the North Koreans to lower their missiles, the American president offering help and food...

    The ducks were not there anymore. There were a lot of birds playing in the water - ducks, gulls, geese, maybe they knew. She leaned her head on my shoulder, crying softly, happily. She was impregnated. She was not a predictor anymore. “It will be a girl,” she ventured, knowing that I knew and she could not know anymore. I did not want to correct her, so I just kept smiling smugly to myself.

    Thirteen months later the baby was born. We named her Ilonia, the second.




    The hall exploded with laughter. It was not a mean kind of laughter, it was the kind of wild laughter people once laughed during Laurel and Hardy movies, under the cover and anonymity of darkness and popcorn. Now it was under the brilliance of thousands of bulbs reflecting from thousands of crystal droplets hanging from the hall’s candelabra, then exploding to countless rainbows inside many big diamonds adorning many delicate fingers. The Johnston University trustees, alumni, friends and donors ball. And I was invited as well, being knighted for the occasion with an Honorary Member title. My speech was scheduled to be the last before the main events – the donations dinner followed by the dance. I guess they wanted some good, clean fun and who better for it than old, crazy, eccentric professor Slavic. Once they were in awe of me, now it was their turn to drive the show. Secret truth being, and none knew it, I never minded a good joke.

    I didn’t expect the laughter at this point, though, my carefully prepared joke about a professor and his camel not told yet. And it was probably never going to be told as the time-keeper started making signs to the master of ceremonies, jackass Dr. Malcolm Heath. He was laughing the hardest of all, and for once he was honest. There were tears streaming from his eyes.

    “So, Jack...” I wasn’t Professor Slavic anymore, just Jack... “you let this program run for almost thirty years on your Commodore 64, with its 8-bit 2-Megaherz MOS 6510 microprocessor and 64 Kilobyte memory?... And no hard disk...” He had clearly prepared his homework, emphasizing the 8, the 2 and the 64. He choked again, and hysterical howls of laughter joined him from the audience.

    “Well, it was a moment’s inspiration. I wrote it in machine language and it was powerful enough, it just needed a lot of iterations. And finally I got the results, three months ago. Waited for this occasion to present them. I hope that I following this, I will enjoy full protection to the end of my life and a nice retirement bonus.” I thought I was being clear and eloquent enough, but I probably was not. The schematic projected on the wall and its few associated formulas were clear to a blind man, I was certain that among all these dignitaries there were some that understood my presentation.

    Malcolm wiped his eyes and waved away the time-keeper’s frantic signs. He was clearly enjoying the moment and so was the audience.

    “So this specific space-filling plesiohedron shape is the basic building block of any basic component of the atom. And not only basic components of the atom – but any other basic component in our universe – be it a photon, be it a speculative graviton, be it a not yet even theorized upon... what was it?... a vacuumon?” He slapped me on the shoulder in condescending fashion, though I was supposed to interpret it as friendly. “And this box,” he pointed to my small contraption on the desk, “is the result of the same Commodore 64 research...” guffaws in the audience, “...able to induce a self-destructive chain reaction oscillation in a specific arrangement of plesiohedrons, the oxygen atom in this case, causing electrons to implode and thus eliminate all oxygen from the world.” I nodded, obstinately, getting angry. Gaga, my inseparable pet duck, attacked Malcolm’s trouser calling for another round of riotous laughter from the gathering.

    “Yes,” I said, my once upon combative mood getting hold of me as I gathered the small contraption from the lectern in my fist.

    “I wish these thirty years would have resulted in a meaningful research, Jack, I really wish...” bastard, you wished my chair and got me pre-pensioned through your relations... “but, unfortunately, there is a basic, obvious mistake in one of your basic formulas here, on the board.” He went to the big projection screen, picked from his pocket a thick marker clearly prepared for the occasion, and marked a big red X over a plus sign; replacing it by a minus sign just above the X. My eyes popped. I re-ran it all through my mind, then again, then again... the bastard was right, damn him, damn you Malcolm... so you made good use of the time I sent you my material for consideration and did not tell me, you inferior species of... of... duck. I was seething, it was clearly showing on my reddened face, he was savoring his success and my renewed humiliation. Idiot me, I should have had foreseen it. “Sorry, Jack, your Commodore did a great job, but this was our university’s Cray correction.”

    Well, at least he was honest. I descended from the stage at resounding applause for the entertainment provided and the orchestra musicians starting placing their instruments hastily. The donations ceremony was about to begin. I stepped meekly between the rows of chairs, Gaga following. Damn you all, damn the world I screamed in my head, pushing in frustration the button in my pocket. Nothing happened, of course nothing happened, as expected. That Cray monster was right, was always right.

    In an élan of solidarity Gaga rushed back and pooped on the red carpet then turned around and ran after me. There was a scream, more screams. My God, all this for a bit of duck poop, I reflected, taking Gaga under my arm and getting into a taxi waiting at the entrance. They did not even have had the decency to get me a limousine.


    I woke up next morning, fed Gaga and turned on the TV.

    “...the world stock exchanges are in turmoil... for now there is no criminal nor scientific explanations to diamonds turning graphite... reports reach us from De Beers that the same effect is experienced also in the depths of the mines... the President...”

    I sat down, gaping. Gaga kept slobbering. Laurel and Hardy images hit me and suddenly I started laughing so hard that even Gaga stopped slobbering, which she never did before. I went to my rental tuxedo and pulled with deep reverence the small box from the pocket, turning the button off and placing it on the table. “Well, I guess we have a bit more work to do,” I said aloud, going to my Commodore 64 and placing a wet kiss on top of its shiny cover. But first to my favorite cup of green tea... Diamond Green Leaves... he-he.



The Booker

    I was given winner by all - critics, bookmakers, even fellow writers. I kept my British citizenship even though I lived most of my life in the states, thus I was entitled to participate. Booker Man award, anyone’s dream, my dream. And most probably this year’s winner unless the devil sticks his tail in between.

    I looked again at the contract in front of me. He sat across from me in my cold apartment, the chill did not seem to bother him. Silk shirt, silk tie, silk jacket, I wondered if his shoes were silk as well. “Snake,” he smiled. How appropriate.

    I huddled under the blanket, shivering. My wife turned on the bed coughing her lungs out. The baby screamed in a corner, my wife’s milk dried out and the gas was cut, there was no way to warm the baby’s food. Most of it deteriorated probably, the electricity was cut as well, one month from now the house will be repossessed and one month later we’ll all be dead, anyway. Except for my eleven year old, now in juvenile prison. One hundred dollars per hour lawyer fees. She was better off there, for sure. Yes, the Booker could help, even if only temporarily.

    He waited, lighted a cigarette blowing the smoke to the ceiling. I guess there where he came from, smoke didn’t matter.

    “How do I know you are real?” I asked. “The devil is always a woman.”

    “For an educated man, Jeremiah, you are incredibly ignorant,” he smiled. “I could come as a woman, a winged angel, a chicken, an ashtray... would you have preferred to speak to a chicken?” A flame burst shortly from his eyes, then the blue returned. Yes, there was no doubt.

    The contract. I was giving away my right to the Booker, to my dream, for the first prize in the Euro Millions Lottery, two hundred million Euros after taxes. I was getting the shortlist. I wasn’t even asked for my soul, just for my dream. My wife coughed again, no hospital for her, the baby kept screaming, no food for her, in one month we are all dead. I signed.


    I was seated with the long listed, my oversized tuxedo loaned from a charity. They started reading the shortlisted, I was not there, damn you devil to your own hell. The winner... Jeremiah... I started shivering, I could not control my hands, my body, I fainted before I could get up, slaps on the shoulder and applause invading my mind.

    He waited for me at the exit, a smug smile on his face, his hair dyed red. He held up the contract so I could see it, then, with an elegant move tore it in two.

    “You see, I know your soul, he said,” disappearing in a cloud of cigarette smoke and exhaust poison.


    I got home, got in bed next to my wife, and started crying. The phone rang. I picked it... the Euro Millions committee is pleased to inform you... I fainted. A second time.

    When I woke up I crawled to my desk, picked the only copy of my book I allowed myself to buy and started reading it, after a long look at the title: The Heart of the Devil.




    She had to bail me out, it was the fifth time in three months and she was furious. Five hundred bucks but it was not the money, she was as rich as Bill Gates and she did not mind supporting the local police department. It was the shame of having to arrive to the police station again and going through all the chicanery again before they let me out. The barman refused to serve me a beer and showed me the finger. I showed him reality and was booked for indecent exposure.

    She drove us home, the quiet foreboding unpleasant continuation. I closed my eyes, recollecting, what was the first time? It was when I lost my job as skyscrapers windows-cleaner, three months ago. I had no profession and losing my income was a heavy hit for me. I refused to live on “her money”. I went to the unemployment office and when I gave them my name - Bald Eagle - the lady at the counter penciled Bald in the first name box and was about to move to the second name box. I pulled the eyeglasses off her nose and broke them in two symmetrical parts. I was charged with destruction of government property and jailed until the five hundred bucks bail was paid. Then the second time, an irritating student tried to appease me calling me Native American. Indian! I barked his way, pulling out my hunting knife and starting to clean my fingernails. It was carrying a concealed weapon this time. I bought another knife since.

    She started pulling in the garage, braked and did not wait for me to open the car door for her. It was bad, bad. And later that old, fat, handicapped, half blind matron who drove over my foot on the zebra crossing. I took the air out of all her four tires and the reserve tire too, getting in return slapped with a charge of invasion of privacy and cruelty to handicapped persons. And when the lady made a show in the court preliminary hearing arriving in a wheelchair, with blind man’s eyeglasses and a bunch of flowers in her lap trying and succeeding to influence the judge, I changed the picture on my medical papers with the picture of my flat toe. I was charged with court contempt, bail five hundred. My eternal number.

    The door clacked close behind me, and she stood there, watching me. I envied the wood worms at that moment, wishing I was one to hide in a hole and wait until she forced me out with a healthy portion of worm killer. She just watched. Her eyes could not kill, they were the blue of the sea west of Sorrento where we married. Where we spent our honeymoon, five years ago, where we bought our rings, Cupid engraved inside. Where I did not tell her that I loved her, not then and never since - she knew. It was never considered necessary. Now the same eyes were expressionlessly boring holes through me.

    “This is the last time, Joe. Next time you stay outside and outside you stay.” No smile, the anger tremolo in her voice beautiful, dangerously so.

    “I have a key.”

    “Then I will set Boy on you.” Boy was the gigantic mastiff at her side, her dog, all of him woolly and soft and tender like a plastic Barbie.

    “If he comes I’ll have his dangling pride first,” I tried a half joke.

    “Or he’ll have yours.” She was stiff, serious, unsmiling. “Show him your teeth, Boy.” He showed. Man, oh, man, didn’t know the mutt had teeth at all, with such fangs it changed the proportion of things. “Why?” she finally asked, sitting down and keeping the dog next to her. I was not offered to sit down yet.

    “He refused to serve me a beer, he said he does not serve red skins,” I said.

    “So what’s the big deal?” I was wearing a Redskins cap, a Redskins windbreaker, I was a Redskins fan through and through.

    “He did not mean the club,” I said, momentary anger cutting through my voice and settling back right away.

    She waited. Then she stood up, picked her coat and left the apartment, the dog following. I was not asked to follow so I didn’t. I went to bed.

    A ring woke me up through a deep snore.

    “Bring my check book with you.”

    I drove to the police station, where she filled in a self bail check for five thousand dollars. The charge was usage of a deadly weapon with intention to kill. They knew her, five thousands was sufficient. From there we drove to the pond where she paid another five thousand dollars for getting the deadly weapon out into her custody, the mutt still carrying proudly in his mouth a piece of cloth. Then we went home, leaving the door open for the dog to get into our bedroom, his first visit there.

    It was a horrible sex experience. The sex was fantastic, but with the mutt sitting there next to the bed and watching us motionlessly beginning to end, it was horrible.

    “I love you,” I said. It was the first time ever, and I certainly didn’t mean the dog.

    The sequel that followed was as horrible as the previous chapter. I did not mind.




    C’est un acte unique.” It’s a unique act. His French was perfect, or so he thought. Admittedly, the written one probably was.

    I didn’t think that Jean understood him, and he looked at me with as many questions in his eyes as there were words in the sentence he heard. Sure, this was the reason he called for me, in case an interpreter might be needed. I was the attaché culturel of the Romanian embassy in Paris and Jean Valjean’s personal friend. My daughter was engaged to be married with his young son, and we both hated golf with a passion. Yes, some passions were there to be shared between friends.

    “Jonah?” Jean added sound to his questioning look, seeing that I was floating away for a moment. Jean Valjean, born Valéry and Valjean by choice, rearranged carefully the little brass plate on the table carrying his name and the entirety of his title: Préfet de la Zone de Défense de Paris, thus clearly re-establishing the hierarchy in the room.

    C’est un acte unique,” I repeated, my accent perfect and this time he got it. I eyed carefully his guest once more, wondering if by any chance he was the descendant of one of those gypsies that tried to kidnap me as a child. He was a real one, a kingly looking Bulibasha - big and well groomed moustache, manicured fingernails, heavy gold earrings in his ears, the left one longer, heavy gold chains above a red velvet shirt, blue velvet trousers hanging above shiny, black leather boots. There was no mistaking here, no theatre - this was the real thing. He smiled big, hearing me repeat his words, his white teeth interspersed with several gold ones, most probably for decorative reasons rather than any health issues. I’ve not seen the real thing since my childhood, up in northern Romania, Botosani the place. And he was from Botosani too, or close by - Ipotesti, as he claimed.

    Jean didn’t look too happy, working with interpreters was not his style and he looked irritated.

    Demande-lui s'il sait parler anglais.” One trait of character Jean did not possess, surprisingly so for a man in his position, was the much overrated and over-advertised French chauvinism. He was educated, efficient, and if need be - ruthless. He had kicked already a full tribe of gypsies out of Paris when they started begging at busy junctions, carrying babies in their arms. He offered them honest support and jobs or out you go. They refused the jobs and out they went. Unjustified compassion was not one of his strengths.

    “Yes, I speak English,” volunteered Ion Calu, our interlocutor, shoving a hand in his pocket and pulling out a long box, gold as well I guessed, and offering Jean a thick cigar. It was the real thing, no doubt, probably a fifty dollars per piece kind. Jean didn’t hesitate. In simulated Bulibasha-like fashion he picked two from the box, put one in his drawer and bit the end of the other waiting for the lighter to follow the cigar. Seemed that some regulations did not apply in his office. I did not refuse the one offered to me, after all I had a career to follow and getting on the Romanian ambassador’s better side was not something to be shoved easily aside. Ion Calu lighted his own cigar as well and for a few moments the aromatic smoke twirls were the only visible movement in the room.

    “Great.” Jean broke the silence, his eyes closed, “So, you ask for permission to park your horse-drawn caravans around the Champs de Mars, just underneath the Eiffel tower, build your stage in the middle of the lawn with ten thousand chairs around it, and run your show for ten consecutive days. All this against a contribution to the mayor’s office of five million euros.”

    “Paid up-front.” Ion Calu started blowing perfectly round smoke ringlets towards the ceiling’s neon light. Jean did not follow suite, knowing he would fail. “And one hundred thousand to you, personally.”


    “No, contribution to improvements much necessary in this office. Of course, we do not clean and repair after us, this will be done by the city.”

    I was reduced to a state of spectator to the exchange, perfectly fascinated by the gypsy’s self assurance and by Jean’s unusual patience. It was not the money offered to him, it was the whole set-up, with this entrepreneurial visitor’s solid confidence and the mind boggling sums offered with not a shadow of hesitation. This must have been one hell of a unique act to ensure this kind of moneys could be paid and considerable profit be made. Jean was clearly thinking along the same lines.

    “I am not a curious person by nature... aaa... Ion.” He made it sound like Joan, which was accepted with a smile. His Romanian accent was much worse than the Bulibasha’s French accent. “But, exceptionally, you picked my curiosity here. What is this unique act that you are so sure will bring the crowds running to your show? I heard a variety of rumors from the previous east-block countries but never paid much attention to them. You never performed yet in the west, not even in Germany. I guess they let you in, in order to kick you out. It is some kind of magician disappearance act, correct? David Copperfield kind.”

    This time the smile turned to roaring laughter, cigar ash flowing all over the room.

    “David Copperfield would have become the richest man on Earth with this act. All I want is an easy life for my tribe. Once we were thieves and cut-throats. Now we are honorable citizens of the world, entertainers. May I?” He picked a modern cell phone from his pocket and spoke a few words into it. It was not Romanian, it was gypsy language and this one I had no clue of. A few moments later there was a knock on the door and a gendarme opened it from the outside.

    A couple entered the room, a man and a woman. The woman was once beautiful, in her forties, dark black hair, her dress rich in colorful layers of reds and blues, her hands and neck tingling with bracelets and necklaces of silver and gold and probably some other expensive metal kinds and stones, her lips painted a deep, vulgar red. A textbook female gypsy paradigm. It strangely reminded me of a flamenco dancer about to perform on stage. The man she held by hand was probably ten years her junior. Dressed in simple clothes, a cherubic face, pale brown hair, pale white face - if this was a gypsy paradigm as well then I was a Martian descendant.

    Monsieur le préfet,” Jean winced, reacting again to the heavy and barely understandable Romanian accent, “please meet Jacob. Stage name The Great Houdini, Junior. Our, or rather his, unique act. Maria is his wife, lover, protector and handler. She talks the only language he understands - Yiddish. Please don’t ask, it’s a long story and one day I will write a book about it. Maria...”

    The woman opened a box and put a screw on Jean's desk. He picked it up, looked at it curiously, tried even to bite it.

    D'acier inoxydable,” and seeing a cloud building swiftly on Jean’s face, Ion Calu hastened to add “stainless steel. Metal. Can you please cover it with something?” Jean placed his hat on top of the screw and waited. Maria spoke softly to the man next to her, saying a few words in the strangest sounding language I ever heard. Reminded me slightly of German. He nodded, never letting go of her hand and uttered a single syllable, something that sounded like “yo”. “Okay, you can lift your hat.” Jean lifted his hat - the screw was gone. He looked inside the hat, shook it several times, then smiled.

    “My granddaughter can do the same,” he said. “Do you have something better to show me, or is everything related to disappearing screws. I’ve seen disappearing tigers, it was more impressive, trust me.” His smile carried some mockery but not yet impatience. “Can I have another screw, please?” The woman gave him another screw, which he held in his palm, then closed his fist around it. “Okay, I am waiting.” It did not seem to bother the gypsy trio at all. Again the whisper and a sudden moment of disbelief in Jean’s eyes.

    “Okay, please open your hand.” It was empty. Jean looked at his palm, smelled it, a spark of interest glittering in his eye of a kind I saw only when his son told him he was engaged to be married to my daughter.

    “I felt it there one moment, the next it was gone,” he smiled. “I know magicians are not supposed to tell their secrets, but how the hell did he do it?”

    “Jacob here can make any kind of metal disappear. Any size. Choose. Just a word of warning, he cannot bring it back.” Ion Calu smiled back, certain that the game was over and that the show permit was in his pocket. Jean opened his drawer and dropped his heavy SIG Pro pistol on the table.

    “Any metal?”

    “No way back.”

    “OK. I wait.” Jean watched the pale guy with renewed interest, even with certain apprehension.

    “Sorry, you have to cover it,” Ion Calu was staring at Jean with confidence and affront, and for a moment I thought that Jean would pick the arm and simply shoot him. He gave in, a first, and did it even with a smile. He picked the hat again and dropped it on the pistol, a bit of the hat’s rim resting on the hammer. Again the strange dialog, again that “yo”, a few second passed... there was not really a thud, as the hat was not resting high above the table, but it fell suddenly, lying flat on the table top. Jean waited until he got the nod and lifted it. There was some black dust there, the wooden sides of the grip, a few liquid drops. “Only the metal, told you.”

    Jean watched the leftovers on his desk with a fixed gaze, I guess hypnotized was the word.

    “Okay, everybody wait outside, I have to make a few calls.”


    They got the permit, of course. I was shivering when I left the police headquarters, how they did it I didn’t know but such a show was certainly worth millions, maybe even billions. How the hell did they pull it? Because it was clearly prestidigitation of top, world class level, and these gypsies and their show were clearly able to deliver beyond anyone’s expectations. Jean was beyond impressed, he was delighted.

    It did not take him long to persuade the mayor to grant permission for the setting of the show, taking all responsibility for the safety and organizational aspects - before and after. The up-front money certainly helped a lot, and the foreseen indirect benefits from tourism and advertising for the city were probably as tempting, if not more. It took a whole week to set up the stage and the tent, and then another week for the rehearsal of their other acts. These gypsies took themselves seriously, the show was a complex mix of circus, dance, music, and, of course - The Great Houdini, Junior. He was the main attraction, that’s why they left his performance to the end of the show. It drove the consumption of snacks and soft drinks skywise, not to mention the selling of one screw per person at 10 euros. Not included in the ticket price, adults at 99.90 euros, children at “only” 99.50. Gypsy humor. The tent was full.

    I came to the first show, bringing along my wife, daughter, Jean’s son and the ambassador and his wife. I paid for them in true Romanian bribing fashion. I was an ambitious man, after all. I even paid for everybody’s screw, not telling them what to expect, just to guard it carefully. The ambassador’s wife let her husband keep hers. The show started.

    Truth is, it was a great show, almost Cirque du Soleil but with the extra of gypsy color, music and devil may care. The slight smell of horse manure didn’t seem to bother anybody, to the contrary. Even the ambassador’s wife did not complain, probably because she was sunken in her own expensive layers of Chanel. The public was appreciative, though slightly restless, as they paid that good money to see the main act, but - surprisingly for Parisians, they did not act nasty. Maybe because of the high concentration of flics, cops, in the passages.

    It was Jacob’s turn, his Maria inevitably at his side. A rope descended from one of the tent’s support bars, a clown dangling from a thick metal ring tied to it and performing a variety of acrobatic acts. A second rope, a second metal ring - the “clown” was probably a past Olympic rings medalist from the variety of exercises he performed. A deep aquarium was pushed underneath him, and a thin veil was dropped over the rings, sliding along the ropes. Music, drums, Jacob made some dramatic moves with his hands - the clown dropped in the aquarium to squeals of delight from the children present. His hands empty, the aquarium emptied on stage, the thin veil torn away - there were no metal rings to be seen. Déshabille toi, déshabille toi!... undress! chanted the public, and the clown obeyed slowly, funnily, skillfully. I found it hard to believe that anything could have stayed hidden in the thin tights he rested in. He was clearly of male gender, but this was the only visible protuberance in his entire attire. The public’s mood changed to gayety.

    Next act was a Herculean guy lifting some gigantic weights with two children from the public hanging on to both ends. The covering veil... the weights disappeared and the children tumbled on the mattresses laid down for them. A pile of chains - gone. A hanging ship’s anchor - gone, the public was warming up. A metal cage with thick bars, placed on concrete blocks and filled with ten randomly chosen spectators, their heads covered with black sacks - gone. The show was incredible, the public loved it but started getting slightly impatient - they had enough of foreplay, now they wanted the main act. A bunch of youngsters in a corner started a chant that was immediately picked up by others and finally the whole tent was screaming in unison, the ambassador’s wife part of the chorus: Vis! Vis! Vis!... Screw! Screw! Screw!... everybody holding the screw they bought high in the air, feet thumping joining the chanting. Until now everybody knew it was not magic but an overly clever act of prestidigitation, but they wanted to believe in magic and the only way to believe in it was by placing it in their hands. “OK,” blared the loudspeaker “time for real magic,” and I don’t remember ever seen a French public behave in such... American way. Whistles, shouts, screams of appreciation.

    Maria picked a mike and started giving instructions in clear, slightly accented French: ...take the screw in your hand, close your fist around it... ok, monsieur, in your mouth if you prefer, or even in your... she was drowned by applause and wolf-calls... please cover it fully otherwise it will not happen... ready... monsieur Houdini please... drums...

    The screams of disbelief turned to thunderous applause and Jacob made a grand sortie with Maria at his site and confetti’s dropping all over the public. The show was clearly a success story. The following days people were already fighting for tickets, some of them recidivists.

    I think that Ion Calu was as sharp as he was shrewd. He built more and more tension with each passing show, making it clear that the last one would be an event to remember. In a magnanimous (I wondered if he studied marketing) and overly intelligent way he decided that the last show will be free for all, with chairs reserved for those with paid tickets but the covering tent removed. A show under clear skies, luckily unclouded - I guessed that at least fifty thousand people gathered around the stage, every roof, tree, statue - black with crowds. The Eiffel was locked for the event and under heavy guard, to prevent falling accidents as much as possible. The rumors turned the show into THE show. Jean and I were show’s guests of honor, being seated in the front row, under the stage, together with several other dignitaries recommended by Jean. There were no preliminaries this time, Jacob was the only show and the show started. There was a slight difference though - the stage was hanging from two cranes placed in front of the lighted Eiffel tower, strong projectors lighting it from a variety of angles, the French flag fluttering in the background and several big screens reproducing a clear image of Jacob and Maria even for the most remote spectators. It was the first time the public was allowed and encouraged to bring their own screws. Actually it was clearly specified that these could be screws, nails, knives, ball bearings... anything that could fit a closed fist was welcome. Don’t bring your expensive gold jewels was written on huge ads with big smiley’s attached to the message, was being screamed by the loudspeakers, the atmosphere was carnivalesque. I didn’t bring anything, neither did Jean. We had seen this show already in private quarters and we had a queasy feeling about it. Jean, mainly, looked preoccupied.

    Metal contraptions kept disappearing, small, big, bigger, the biggest and heaviest being a trio of Howitzers from world war two. The climax was nearing fast and when the moment finally arrived, the quiet settling over the audience was almost absolute - everyone in the audience holding up the fist holding his or her personal metallic object, eyes sparking, breaths held back. Hocus-Pocus, the items disappeared. There was just an astonished gasp following the disappearance of the items and absolute silence settled on the public again, thus making the sudden, thin feminine voice, even more audible: Eiffel! Additional voices joined it, Eiffel! It was a wave, a tsunami, suddenly the entire crowd started chanting rhythmically Eiffel! Eiffel!... Jean next to me turned white. Jacob looked lost, almost frightened, Maria whispered something in his ear, he turned towards the imposing tower looking up, a slight blue glow started appearing at the peak... Jean jumped on the stage, an act of agility well beyond his age...

    Arrêtez! Arrêtez!...” Stop! he shouted, speaking swiftly into his walkie-talkie. The rhythmic chanting turned to booing, a variety of objects started flying towards the stage and certain mass movements started forming in the public. One thing I had to give Jean readily and with no hesitation - his foresight. He had a huge police presence in the public, in and out of uniform and within moments the violent pockets were subdued; but it was a temporary reprieve as the shouting and object throwing did not stop and pockets of discontent kept forming everywhere. I saw Ion Calu obeying an urgent summons from Jean and joining him on stage for a short conference filled with angry gesticulations. Jean made a sign my way and I joined them as well.

    Jean picked up the mike from Maria’s trembling hand, and asked for a moment of silence from the public, for an important announcement. The booing subsided but did not disappear altogether. He was not a showman but he had to prevent a loss of control at any price, not at the Eiffel tower price, though. At this moment Jean became a believer. Jacob could make metal objects disappear, and as far as he was concerned he could make the Eiffel tower disappear for real. I was not yet there, but I started having serious doubts on the subject. The blue light might have been an engineered act, the whole set-up an overly shrewd move by Ion Calu. I think I started admiring the character in a negative kind of way. Jean’s proposition to the public was to “save the national monument and in exchange to make the two huge cranes holding the stage disappear...” It was a gamble to save the situation, and several approving voices in the public proved that he was in the right direction. Not a few of these voices were those of his own plants in the public... oh, Jean, I admire you for real. Finally the “oui” won over the “non” and the public started singing La Marseillaise with lighters lighted and waving in unison in the air. “I hold you responsible for whatever happens next” said Jean in clear commanding French to a Ion Calu visibly shake by the events - hey, Bulibasha, are you playing here a game? I asked myself, descending from the stage together with everybody else.

    Jacob and Maria stepped into the cage of a gigantic cherry-picker lift, and this one extended slowly to its maximal height, visible to everybody. Several projectors were turned their way, most of the projectors were turned to cover the two huge crane monsters. An ideal moment for pick-pockets, I thought irrelevantly, though I doubted that even they, at that moment, would have done anything different to watching, hypnotized, the metallic Godzillas. A sack-like draping dropped from the top of the cranes, covering then in their entirety. Yes, quite some ingenious preparation for an unprepared event, monsieur Ion Calu, I thought, my doubts in the reality of the Jacob character’s so-called powers getting the upper hand again. So, after all, it was an ingenious act of prestidigitation, wasn’t it?

    The earlier absolute silence was a baby compared to the present one. You could hear a single mosquito buzzing in the air, if you cared to pay attention to it. Jacob turned to face the covered structures. Maria whispered in his ear and he nodded. A bluish kind of glow penetrated outside from underneath the draping material, starting at the top and spreading swiftly towards the bottom and all of a sudden the draping collapsed. A few gypsies rushed over to pull them aside and all that was left to be seen on the ground were thick tires, fallen concrete blocks, and a couple of leather chairs. The rest of the cranes’ structure simply disappeared.


    If Ion Calu was the archetype gypsy, the guy facing him in his caravan was the archetype American tycoon. He sat across from the Bulibasha, all of him Armani except for the tie that was Hermès and for the cigar that was a La Aroma de Cuba Mi Amor. Ion Calu was pulling heftily against him on his Punch Double Corona, and to me it looked like a life and death battle - who was going to outsmoke the other to death? The other character in the room was clearly an Al Capone clone, in looks and dress, keeping quietly to the side. Maybe the American’s lover, I chuckled jokingly to myself, as I entered the caravan with Jean and took one of the two chairs offered. The introductions over, it was the gypsy who addressed us, a big grin on his face.

    “Mr. Peacock is an arts impresario from the states. He offers us entry visas to for a series of shows all across the Americas. My entire tribe - carriages, horses and everything else traveling on a luxury ship, all expenses paid both ways. He mentioned that Jean will be his guest as special advisor on security matters, and I said that I will consider it a special favor if he will invite you also...” he addressed me, “... at least for the opening show in New York.” Ion Calu was clearly paying his debt of honor to me, and my appreciation to the guy moved up one notch.

    I was though surprised to hear about Jean. In the few days that passed since the last New Houdini show in Paris he never mentioned it, though we had a few phone discussions regarding the approaching marriage date of our kids. I didn’t mind, of course. My wife would be delighted, the ambassador would see it as yet one more way for himself to get something in his own pocket, I didn’t see reason to refuse. I accepted. Ten million dollars in the Bulibasha’s pocket for the first show in New York... wow! My mind was reeling with the number as Jean drove me back home, answering all my questions monosyllabically. He seemed preoccupied and I did not insist. After all Le Préfet de la Zone de Défense de Paris was deemed to have a lot on his mind and the curiosity of one Romanian attaché culturel did not probably weigh much in the scale of things. Even if he was soon to become his in-law.

    I did not take the ship trip with all of them, though Jean did. I had a few official events to attend, and anyway - I was not going to make it public knowledge that just looking at the sea filled me with nausea. Come to think of it - even looking at a glass of water triggered unpleasant reactions in my stomach. I flew over just a few days before the show was supposed to begin. My wife wanted to go shopping and I did not mind a few days rest. Jet-lag was a non-issue with her, as I guess it would be with most women in this world who had sufficient drive and money for a visit to Tiffany’s. Which was her first station in town - hotel, shower, taxi to Tiffany’s. I did not share her passion for sparkling glass. My taxi deposited me at the harbor, and from there I took the ferry to Bedloe’s Island to visit an old acquaintance of mine - proud lady Liberty itself. It was my second visit there, twenty-five years after having visited New York as a young student and having left my scratched initials on one of her toga’s folds. I did not even remember exactly how I got to reach the folds, drunk and reckless as I was at the time, trying to impress a local young chick; I did, however, remember waking up following morning in a dank police cell smelling strongly of urine and vomit. Now, looking down from one of the statue’s crown portholes through a pair of strong binoculars, I could clearly identify my old scratches: IM. Iona Meraru, later changed to Jonah due to some obscure protocolary reasons.

    I had a look around, several floating platforms already being dragged in place by a few tuggers, and a few big yachts getting into position as well. The big show of tonight: The Great Houdini, Junior will make disappear a few screws, a few boats, a couple of decrepit, old destroyers and the show peaking with the disappearance of Lady Liberty itself. How the hell are they going to pull this trick off? I wondered, looking up from the bottom of the statue and feeling like an ant looking up a human. A screw, a ship... well, these tricks were pulled off in the past. But the Statue of Liberty, surrounded by a flotilla of floating platforms and ships with tens of thousands of spectators and TV channels transmitting the show live... my God, this Ion Calu and his magician must be some kind of mad geniuses to pull a trick like that. I did not even see any preparations done on the statue itself. What will they do - sink the island? Paint the statue with invisible ink? I started laughing, a mix of wonder and appreciation to the gypsy circus’ coming act and dare, and could not erase the smile all to way back to the hotel. My wife’s smile was bigger, almost as big as the diamond on her finger, and I claimed I was happy for her. Truth was - I didn’t give a damn for her diamond, except for the piss-off I was going to get from the ambassador because of his wife’s foreseen attack of envy. The hell with you, Mr. Ambassador, I am going to see the show of the century and THIS is a real reason for envy.

    I went for a nap, immunity to jet-lag was my wife’s specialty, not mine, and I wanted to be on full alert once the show started. No one was going to pull my leg and I was going to know the trick even if I had to... buy it from them. After all, Ion Calu owed much of his success to me, no?

    I was pleasantly surprised to find a limousine waiting for us, and pleasantly surprised once more to be driven to the helicopter that picked us up and flew us all the way to Peacock’s yacht. It was much less of a pleasant surprise to there the Capone I saw in Paris playing part of the welcoming committee. Peacock was there of course, all of him Armani and Hermès and Cuba Mi Amor all over again. I did not take his big smile at face value, he was American after all and I had my own, deeply set prejudices against the race. Jean’s presence, though, instilled in me a feeling of homeliness and safety. They guided me and Mariana, my wife, to a large hall inside the yacht, and if I hadn’t known better I could have mistaken it for a hall inside the Titanic. It was not big, it was huge, and the mixture of Mink and Tiffany and Chanel weighed heavily in the air. For once I was glad of my wife’s expensive tastes, providing me with a certain sense of “belonging”. Not that I really felt at any moment part of “them”. Jack apologized to us and left together with Capone. It bothered me slightly but after discovering the treasures hidden in the yacht’s bar it bothered me less. After some time it stopped bothering me altogether. After all, Jean was there in some kind of official assignment and I was there to enjoy myself. By the time we were politely informed that the show was about to begin I was slightly dizzy, very happy, and quite lucid. I joined the others on the deck and sat on the chair offered to me. Jean sat at the same table, while Peacock slalomed continuously between his guests. I wondered if he was readying himself for the coming elections to the Governor of New York job.

    The sky was lighted suddenly by a huge shower of fireworks. The show began.


    The huge screens positioned strategically upon the floating platforms and on the variety of vessels surrounding the spectacle platform, provided a crystal clear view of the actors, acrobats, presenters. The setting was not very different to the one in Paris, except certainly for the uniqueness of being performed on the water and the locally adapted ornamentation - thousands of American flags, tens of colorful zeppelins floating around Liberty, American music adapted to the show. It was difficult to assess the level of appreciation on the other ships and platforms, but from the reactions on Peacock’s yacht I could easily consider the show until that moment a success. And this even before the main Houdini act was put on. The Houdini time arrived.

    It started, as usual, with the screws. It went on, as usual, with caged women, with tractors, I’ve never seen tanks disappear before but I did now. I knew I was going to visit the platforms later one to se if there were any skillfully masked trapdoors there were the tanks disappeared. I felt slightly disconcerted once one of the destroyers, the small one, seemed to melt away under its plastic covers, and slightly more disconcerted once the big destroyer disappeared in similar fashion. Peacock was beaming, you could almost hear him counting the millions pouring into his pockets the following days and counting the minutes to governorship. This was the greatest show on earth, there was no doubting that.

    “Ladies and gentlemen,” boomed the thousands of speakers spread all over the platforms, “now the impossible, the magnificent, the greatest act of magic of all times... The Great, The Only, Houdini Junior will make the Statue of Liberty disappear before your own eyes. You are allowed to take pictures, to take videos... you are allowed to pinch yourselves awake...” A distant hum grew in intensity as four tiny dots materialized into a formation of four helicopters, advancing with accurate military precision with a huge drape hanging between them, one of the four corners of the material attached by cable to each of the helicopters. They positioned themselves about thirty feet above the statue, waiting for a magnified salvo of drums and an eye-blinding salvo of fireworks to end. Then, as one, they dropped their hooks.

    The material must have been hemmed with weights all around, since it sank almost like a falling stone, covering Liberty in its entirety, the tip of the iron flame clearly outlined underneath the material. The screens were split in two - one quarter showing Jacob with Maria next to him, three quarters showing the draped Statue of Liberty lighted by tens of powerful projectors. Maria leaned against Jacob and whispered in his ear. The camera focused on Jacob’s face, then on his eyes and then the draped statue covered the entire screen. The blue glow I knew already penetrated gently through the material, the peak of the iron flame started sinking and suddenly the whole draping collapsed on the pedestal. The Statue of Liberty vanished.

    It was understandable, justifiable to hear the riot of screams, shouts, applause, fanfare and cannon salvos, picked up by the thousands of microphones scientifically positioned between the spectators and emanating from the powerful loudspeakers and horns covering the entire area. I believed I heard appreciating noise from as far as the remote harbor of New York.

    Jacob smiled on the big screen like a delighted kid, Maria glittered alongside him, the full moon shone down upon them.

    “The moon,” blared a loud-horn.

    “The moon,” blared another loud-horn.

    “The moon, the moon, the moon...” started blaring in unison all loud-horns and loudspeakers surrounding the empty pedestal, and through my binoculars I could see a paling Ion Calu trying to shout something upwards towards Maria. I don’t know if she heard him, as she seemed to squeeze Jacob’s hand and leaned against him. Jacob turned his face upwards toward the moon. The blaring stopped. I hardly counted one-two when a few soft blue stains appeared on the moon’s surface. I sensed movement next to me, Jack. I saw Capone whispering into a walkie-talkie. Maria screamed, the microphone dangling from her neck, her hands trying in vain to keep upright a Jacob slowly sliding to the floor, two red splotches rapidly spreading through the white of his shirt and a stupid smile frozen on his face. Maria screamed, and screamed, and screamed...


    I did not knock on his door, I burst through it.

    “You killed him! You killed him, you bastard!” I screamed towards a tired looking Jean, his fingers clicking closed his suitcase. “You killed a poor actor, a high street magician, a boy.” I could not contain my tears, my anger.

    Jean was visibly shaken, and it was not by my outburst.

    “Imagine, Jonah, imagine that this poor actor would have fallen in the wrong hands. And imagine these wrong hands asked him to melt away or whatever you want to call it, all the prison bars in the world. Or all the cars in the world.”

    “Or all the tanks,” I blurted, knowing I was talking nonsense.

    “Fine, all the tanks,” he echoed me, seemingly no fighting power left in his body. “Do you know that Earth’s core is mostly melted metal, Jonah?”

    I watched him the way I would have watched a Martian.

    “Are you insane, Jean? Are you really insane? An actor, Jean, an actor. A prestidigitator. A highly skilled prestidigitator. No magic, Jean, just a wonderfully designed act of stage magic. Hocus Pocus. Abracadabra. These ships are probably now at the bottom of the bay. Liberty will re-appear on its pedestal any day now, brought back by whichever conjurers were past of the act. The moon? Oh, you insane bastard - did you try to locate the lasers painting these blue spots on the moon’s surface? You’re stupid, Jean, you’re a stupid murderer. Never talk to me again. Never.”

    I followed the newspapers’ headlines from Paris. There were no big details to be had, I didn’t expect any, I was not interested in any. There was an investigation in the murder, there were speculations on the rifles’ calibers, there were some contractual claims, there were... I did not intend to break the marriage, my child’s happiness came above any of my personal feelings, but my decision to break any kind of relation to Jean was unshakable. In my anger I almost hit my wife when she tried to persuade me the one too many times to the contrary, and for the first time in her life she was frightened of me. I was the shell of my previous self. I had to know.

    I bought a ticket to New York the day after the Statue of Liberty was returned and fixed back on its pedestal. I had no idea how they moved it, where they hid it, I did not care. All I wanted, all I needed was knowledge. There was only one way for me to gain this knowledge.

    I took a cab from the airport straight to the harbor. Then a ferry from the harbor to the island, paid the entrance ticket to the crown, took the elevator upstairs and went to one of the portholes. I took out my binoculars and looked carefully downwards, toward that well known spot on the fold of the lady’s robe. The surface was smooth, almost as smooth as if it was never touched. There was no sign of my IM scratches. As if one Iona Meraru, the one so called Jonah, never ever visited that spot in the past.




    Then I saw her. Floating lace. Disintegrating silk. Her feet hardly touching the floor, her disjointed arms gesturing fluid explanations to a dude whose presence desecrated the fragility of a body undulating absolute femininity under clothes unable to hold back whispering desires. Sacrilege! I wanted to scream. Did a mischievous god breathe life into a blossoming lilac bough fluttering its colorful song my way?...

    I slapped myself twice on each cheek, physically, not mentally. I wasn’t really in the mood for imposed poetry, not after the last five weeks of grueling efforts and hardly slept nights at the exhibition. She heard it, I mean the claps were real and her puzzled smile bit my fatigue to a deserving, premature death. I squared my shoulders and smiled back as they moved past me, and if the hue of my cheeks was anything less than poppy red then gravitation was a mathematical impossibility. I turned my head, she did not. I was in love.

    How the hell did she appear next to me at lunch time? “Hi.” Thus angels have not only whispering desires, they have voices as well. “Did it hurt?” As I did my best to resemble a dumb bovine, she touched my cheek and smiled again. At this kind of distance her smile was deadlier than a Howitzer. “Yes,” I found myself answering, and she leaned over and kissed the cheek closer to her. “Better?”

    My cell buzzed, machine down, urgent! It was that unique, singular moment in anybody’s life when one could turn murderer with no second thought or first regret. Then the smoothly operating machinery inside me called perfect troubleshooter took over from my rebelling instincts, I apologized shortly and hurried over to the crisis. At least it was not a false alarm and in a couple of hours it was sorted out, with no visitor sensing anything wrong. My job, after all. Then I rushed back to the dining room. Empty, just a lady cleaning the tables... what angel, sir?...

    I ran back to the stand, pushing some clients unceremoniously out of the way, rushed up and down a few carpeted alleys, then ventured further away to other booths, maybe the boys at the security cameras had some footage?... She was gone.

    “Great job,” a sales rep slapped me happily on the shoulder, “thanks for the action. What would we have done without you?” Why should I have murdered him, of all people? Angels were not his responsibility. And troubleshooting was mine.

    I kept wandering aimlessly through the halls, times walking times running until security kicked me out. No one was allowed to stay behind at such a late hour.

    I returned to my hotel chamber. The door clicked close. I opened the shower and curled underneath it, just above the sewage grill, letting my clothes, my socks, my shoes soak indiscriminately all drops, origin irrelevant. I guess somebody was crying inside my clothes.




    “My cow...”

    “My bull...”

    Of course, to an eventual listener it would have sounded like “Moo...” and ,“Moo...”, but to them the sound carried meaning, affection, if humans understood they would probably have called it love. The prize bull and his mate, Clyde and Magda, a monogamous relationship that started as the industry’s joke and turned into Pedro’s golden mine. A lineage running several centuries back calving the fiercest and bravest fighting bulls, each calf auctioned at fifty thousand dollars starting price. Now runaways from Pedro & Sons, carrying a finder prize of ten thousand dollars. The TV newscaster couldn’t resist a smirk relating the strange story and starting the greatest cow-hunt in the region’s history.

    “What do you think ‘Magda’ means?” Clyde asked, doing his best to imitate the human calling.

    “You know they will catch us.” Magda tasted a bush, then moved out of the clearing. Her belly was hanging low, she was just a week away from delivery. “They have fast machines, they are powerful. How is your foot?”

    Clyde limped at her side, the encounter with the pair of wolves having left a deep gash in his rear foot, now heavily swollen and painful.

    “I will not let anyone near you, I will kill them all.” They touched muzzles, then rubbed horns, grabbing tufts of grass and ruminating slowly. Then Clyde pushed his muzzle against her belly, feeling the movement inside. “He will be a great fighter, like me,” he mooed proudly, chasing a squirrel up a tree.

    “Your foot looks terrible, you will need human attention.” He knew she was right. He also knew he would never return to the electric fence prison. The break-out was painful, there was no going back. “Listen!”

    The noise, the horrible noise they feared, getting stronger, louder, until one of the human’s fast machines appeared on the ridge above, the driver young, his hair fluttering underneath a ridiculously big hat. “Gotcha!” they heard a squeal they could not understand but could well guess its meaning.

    The youngster stopped the rumbling machine and got out of it in a hurry, talking into a small box. He started running towards them. Clyde tried to turn, hobbling on his bad foot. Magda did not have a bad foot. Tail flailing, belly hanging, she lowered one horn to the ground and started galloping towards the stumbling youngster. There was no way she could have missed him. “Oh, shit,” he shouted in human, bringing forth a tube and letting go of fire. Magda fell, her forehead splintered and oozing red.

    Clyde bellowed, howled, forgetting all of pain and torn muscles, a ton of thundering flesh carrying death towards the scared human. “Oh, shit,” the youngster screamed again, his tube firing again. “Pedro will kill me...” he sniffed in dismay, dragging himself to the car.

    He did not know of Romeo and Juliet, otherwise he might have appreciated the poetical sadness of Clyde dragging his bulk towards Magda, to die there, horns twined.




    She was nearing the end of the text scribbled on that bit of crumpled paper.

    ...and tomorrow we fly back into Kabul, I am dying for a shower. All we have here are buckets of muddy water, breeding grounds for albatross size mosquitoes, lol. Jakob gets his home leave in a week and

    There was nothing after the “and”. She raised shining eyes to the immaculately dressed marine in front of her. He was sitting upright on the edge of the offered chair, looking more like an overgrown neighborhood boy than like a soldier back from combat.

    “This is when the sniper got him.” He spoke stiffly, a thick vein throbbing on the side of his neck.

    “Thank you,” she said softly. She folded the piece of paper and handed it back to him. “I guess you were not supposed to bring this to me.”

    “No ma’m, it is strictly forbidden. I have to pass it through the military censor first.” He placed the paper inside his breast pocket. “Jackson was my friend.”

    She watched him attentively, his presence at once raking the fresh pain and at the same time assuaging it. She pointed to the yarmulke on the top of his head.

    “Jackson was Moslem, Jakob.”

    “Jackson was American, ma’m.”

    His voice was on the verge of breaking.

    “Jakob, is there anything special you were supposed to do during this home leave? He started writing something...” Her voice was tense, her body was tense, there was more to this visit than the letter. He stood up, rigid, almost at attention.

    “Jackson was supposed to come on home leave as well, one week after me. We were going to get you and my girl together and propose to you both at the same time.” He took a small box from his pocket and handed it to her. “We even bought the same rings. I am sorry, Melanie.”

    He placed the beret on top of his yarmulke, smoothed it at a perfect angle, picked his bag and turned to go.

    “Please...” She got up, went over to him and hugged him, softly. “Thank you.” After an embarrassingly long moment he dropped his bag and hugged her back. Fiercely.

    She waited for the door to close behind him. Only then she collapsed.




    “You are sixty, you old goat,” he admonished himself, rounding it down as much as he mathematically dared. He did not use “dirty old goat” since he insisted on political correctness even in the relationship between himself and his reflection. The “old goat” on its own did not bother him either as politically incorrect or as stereotyping. On the contrary, the pure fact of it being such a corny cliché allowed him to think himself out of its frame, an innocent victim of circumstances, age and inappropriately diminishing self-esteem.

    He pulled his belly in then let it flex back its natural way. “She’s forty, maybe it’s not so bad, huh?” Actually she was thirty one, but the same branch of mathematics that allowed the rounding down, allowed for shifts also the other way around. Not that he was lying to himself. He was simply creatively inaccurate.

    The toilet opened letting in several half drunk members of the team and forcing him to part with his reflection. The mirror was stained, anyway, and it was impossible to see anything reflecting clearly from it. He stepped back into the party and the enveloping noise. She smiled his way, then sat on someone’s knees. Jokingly, of course, since next thing she was mid of the dancing floor, swimming between dancers like a hot needle in a sea of butter. Another cliché. What next, what about “they were all swarming like flies around her”? Maybe cliché but fact.

    It was only 9:30 pm, still some time to go until 11 pm when they planned to leave together for the jazz club. He identified one of the best in the city and proposed that they go there. Just because they were both jazz crazy. OK, also because during every one of the previous eight exhibitions that they supported together, they shared an “event” that they were both passionate about, it became kind of a tradition. The first one was... what was it?... oh, an Eric Clapton concert, then followed a visit to a Russian dolls museum, then... They became the greatest of friends for quantums of time defined by the business needs, nothing more, nothing less but greatest was, well, great.

    When she suddenly disappeared, three years back, having changed jobs and moving away, there was a certain hollow in his life that he could not explain. But he locked the hollow in another compartment and kept doing his best at the rest. After all, hollows have rules. Until he discovered she was joining this exhibition event and, to his surprise, he found that hollows also break rules, they also break away from locked compartments and take over your life. He was not in love, he was in need, were they different words for the same sentiment? And when, purely by chance, they met in the lunch room, and she got up to greet him all smiles and squashing soft curves and whispers, he stopped knowing and started wondering.

    The DJ changed repertoire, the dancing floor got even more packed with flailing hands and jumping bodies. He sat at the bar, another beer in his hand, and followed with his eyes the nice, dark haired, Mediterranean looking man who just entered the big hall and started looking interestedly around. After a few minutes of circling the bar and then the squirming mass on the dancing floor, the newcomer picked a glass of wine and pushed in between the dancers with sufficient confidence to show that he owned the place. Which of course he didn’t, well, some people are like that.

    “Hey, Mark, leave some beer for us...” A few colleagues, one already completely drunk, the others on the way to get there, sat next to him at the bar and joined for a few rounds of drinks, the good mood as addictive as the glasses of beer. Jokes, laughs, shoulder claps, he hardly heard the beeping of his cell phone. Tired, will go back to the hotel. Tomorrow? It was ten past eleven. He left before midnight, taking a taxi. The streets would not be safe with him behind the wheel.

    He did not go for breakfast, next morning. He left early for a café in the city and ordered a cappuccino and a croissant, waiting for the other guy to show up. The other did, getting there just in time to place his own order. The Mediterranean looks even more impressive under the early sun, his tan that of brown olives, his hair curly and shiny. Definitely a handsome specimen. The money changed hands with no word spoken.

    “Did you fuck her?” The question raw, brutal.

    “No, you didn’t pay me for that. But the jazz club was really great, she enjoyed it. Even I enjoyed it. We stayed there for three hours. Recommended.”


    Today? The cell phone beeped the question at him, and he stared at it stupidly, unblinkingly. For a moment the word did not even translate in his mind. It was 2pm, the stand was full with clients, visitors, salesmen with soft eyes herding potential customers with hard cash. He stopped for a moment, his fingers just tools to an answer writing itself. I have an evening out with the boys, today. I’ll call you tomorrow. He never did.



Beauty Pageant

    Her body was perfect. In her full repose posture she was square to the millimeter, never before had the jury such an easy task. Her oxygen intake perfectly in the middle, her solids intake and her liquids intake perfectly symmetrical around it, ten paired tentacles beautifully ranging from the shortest to the longest with fine, naturally cobalt blue fingernails, her eyes... oh, her big, deep eyes the red of the middle sun, the shine of morning dew inside the cup of a leaf... Yes, I was in love so my opinion was certainly subjective, but from the way the judges gasped the moment she ported her bulk on the stage, I was sure she was going to win.

    I eyed the judges again, the males were certainly won over. The females looked slightly more reticent, but with three billion viewers watching the life transmission they would surely not dare defy obvious reality. It was the neuters that worried me. The sightless, shapeless blobs of protein matter that crawled out of their caves just three times a year, twice a year for our mating season and this once for the beauty pageant. They somehow seemed disgusting once the aura of the mating drive was over and they pulled away from our heaving bulks, letting us fertilize each other in the intimacy of our rock dugs. It was my tenth mating season, I, King Lula, and I hoped that this time the choice would meet with my personal taste as well.

    Pangs of bitterness and pain passed through me remembering the previous nine failed choices, poor mates, losing their virginity to me and then dying because of failure to get impregnated inside one blue sun cycle. It was so much easier to be a commoner and allowed to choose a mate by compatibility rather than by this ages old rite. But tradition is what kept us united through so many cycles and invaders... my eyes swelled with humidity at the endless race memory that I was cursed to carry, and which I was bound to pass on to my first progeny. And if no progeny resulted, irrelevant the number of pairings I went through, then in less than a hundred full rotations I would expire and the civilization on our planet will disappear with me. After all I was the knowledge enabler.

    The other candidates posed on the stage, one after the other, none as perfect - all of them slightly rectangular, the presently parading female even slightly triangular, the previous had two liquid intakes, sure, better chances of fertilization yet slightly disgusting, the one just arriving... Aulu caught my eye, coyly, shyly closing three eyes yet bravely holding my gaze with the forth and knowing that my hearts were burning with the forbidden desire of a king for the future mother of his children, knowing that I was almost willing to commit treason just to mate with her, to fertilize her even at the risk of killing her. Oh, Aulu, Aulu, be you the one they choose, be you the one that is my compatible mate and your dying virginity births the next king of our planet. I did not believe in gods, yet I found myself praying to them, asking for the first time in my life for a favor, promising in return to provide for their temples. Was the king becoming insane with love of a female?

    The judges started their voting, one after the other they pointed at Aulu with all their tentacles, only one used two tentacles for another candidate, the candidate with the two liquid intakes, yet all his other eighteen pointed to Aulu. It was the turn of the neuters, the wonderful yet horrible neuters, the first... Aulu. I started shivering with anticipation. The second...

    Oh, the frightening, ululating sound suddenly piercing the air from thousands of metallic horns taking over from the festive music - demanding, imperious, authoritarian: invasion!!! humans!!!


    Five years ago.

    There suddenly was a new moon around the... moon. One moment there was nothing, the next there was a gigantic, round piece of rock around the moon, about a quarter of the moon’s diameter, rotating around it as if it did nothing else for the last million millions of years. And not only rotating, but also emitting a signal which was definitely intelligent and targeted towards Earth. Otherwise how would one explain the additional TV station that imposed its presence over several TV satellites showing a gesticulating toast emitting highly pitched sounds which, with some imagination, could be interpreted as English?

    A mix of panic and excitement erupted on Earth - military, politicians, scientists, doomsdayers, worshippers and, mind you, normal people as well. Humanity’s dream - nightmare? - was about to come true: HUMAN was about to meet... ahmm... TOAST? Name which soon changed to “toastopus”, taken the similarity in appearance to both a toast slice and an octopus, and name which stuck.

    “Humans, we come in friendship...” The message was longer, but that was the essential of it. They wanted to meet, cooperate on shared needs, provide mutual access to technologies and prime materials. Of course, there was some unclearness regarding protocol and table arrangements for the first meeting - should the toastopuses sit on the round table or next to the table on some raised dais, as they were not bigger than a toast, actually. Another aspect was their need for an oxygen rich atmosphere to breathe in, which demanded a technological solution. But after these small matters were settled, the first meeting was a resounding success with ninety percent of humanity watching it on live TV. The other ten percent being those deprived of either TV or of sight.

    The original shock passed, things settled down inside a few months to almost routine and transitioned from bold titles on first pages to small lettered titles on inner pages for all newspapers. If they were mentioned at all. Which was in stark contrast to a growing activity in the background, shared by all the highly industrialized countries in the world; the public did not have to know about it, it was after all in the public interest no?

    On the face of it, it was a balanced arrangement. Among the most meaningful gains for humanity was a branch of microbiology, modeling chemical attacks on any defined virus DNA. Thus for the first time ever humanity had a medical solution for its microscopic arch-enemies, ranging from common cold to AIDS.

    Another key gain, at least on the theoretical level, was a theory adopted as a main branch by nuclear astrophysicists and named, after debates, nodular hexagonality. A contorted name that said nothing but carried within it the significance of space-time continuum and of space travel capability. One could laugh as much as one wished to the theory of space being composed of theoretically impossible tri-dimensional structures with each face a perfect hexagon. But when one side dimension in each plane of six was a time dimension - that made the greatest scientists and mathematicians on Earth scratch their heads in true puzzlement. And given that using this theory toastopuses succeeded to travel at zero time from one space-node to another, changed the theory into fact. The only problem being the energy needed to create such nodal short-circuits.

    There was not much the toastopuses asked in return. Actually, come to think of it, they didn’t ask anything material at all, as if this was the least, if at all, on their mind. All they requested in return to the variety of contributions they made to human well-being and human knowledge was... ahmm... the right to be invited and to follow closely any and all of the... beauty contests on Earth. Huh?

    “Our race’s survival depends on it,” they explained, which was no explanation at all and which humanity embraced with a superior, forgiving smile. Speaking of keeping an ethical, honest commercial balance...

    “Gentlemen,” summarized the project X chairman in another place and under different circumstances, “the only Uranium 321 is to be found on their planet. And the limited quantity on their transporting planet orbited around the moon. If we want this isotope in order to travel to the stars and develop our Earth beyond anyone’s dreams, our only option is to take over the toastopuses’ satellite, transit a military force to their planet and take it over.” He distributed among those present several thick files. “In these files you will find all the aspects of the operation as analyzed, summarized and proposed by the best teams of scientists, military and ethics committees an Earth. We will reconvene here in six months after we will compile your relevant resulting recommendations. The planned action date is March 11th, exactly eleven months from now. This is exactly one day before the toastopuses claim they will leave the solar system for the next jump. Thank you.”

    Of course, none of the “normal” humans knew anything about this plan. Neither did the toastopuses which kept touring Earth’s beauty pageants and transferring their valuable impressions and comments back home. And neither did anyone expect the toastopuses to get up one day, a full month ahead of schedule, and say goodbye. You see, while visiting hundreds of pageants looking for a solution to their undefined problem, they discovered penicillin in one of the medical bags. And one of their scientists had a sudden flash of genius (running whatever tests he or she or it found necessary) and decided this was the solution to their problem.

    “We always looked in the wrong place,” bubbled the excited toast, “we looked for what you call pheromones but then we discovered it is bacterial. Isn’t it funny that we knew all about viruses but nothing about bacteria, hi-hi-hi...” (his laughter did sound like hi-hi-hi), “no need to search and wait anymore, it is time to go back home. We want to surprise everybody. Hi-ha-hi.” Seemed they had several versions of laughter.

    His outburst of happiness was far from being contagious for a certain bunch of humans.

    “What do you mean they are leaving tomorrow?” asked the project X chairman, not angry anymore at being woken up in the middle of the night.

    “Sir, they have just informed us of their intention. They asked for several containers of liquid penicillin to take with them, and then they will leave.”

    The chairman was not chosen to this position for his indecision powers.

    “Okay, stall. Bring them all the penicillin they wish but in small bottles. Find an excuse. Call for a team emergency meeting, now! We have to act immediately. Inform the president. Go!”

    The toastopuses waited, patiently pouring the small bottles and phials into the big container and patiently waiting for more of the same to arrive. These humans are so nice, thought the one who was their lead scientist, testing each sample brought over and clucking in satisfaction at their incredible luck. After thirteen failed jumps, some of which resulted in dangerous situations and after losing about half of the crew, finally there was... what was the expression humans were using?... light at the end of the tunnel. His shape distorted in the equivalent of a human smile and he added another phial to the container.

    The assault on the miniature planet revolving around Earth’s moon was fast and deadly. Toastopuses did not carry any kind of weapon with them therefore no casualties were reported human side. Using a large spaceship and the toastopuses’ “open door” policy (the suckers), a commando force introduced itself into the small planet and killed the entire crew. A team of Earth’s technicians, scientists and additional military swiftly followed in another vessel and started preparations for the big jump. Their previous visits and additional training proved very efficient, they were very familiar with the entire set-up.

    The TV and radio stations on Earth were all blaring by now:

    “...was discovered that the aliens were planning to distribute a deadly virus on Earth. In a pre-emptive strike, armed forces took over the alien space-ship, facing stiff resistance, and eliminated the enemy force. We deplore two hundred fifteen casualties on our side. Further information to follow. The president and the prime ministers and presidents of...”

    The TV announcers had no idea they were lying. The guards placed around the small bunch of toastopuses in the hospital on Earth, waited for their orders, the few toastopuses having been hoarded unceremoniously inside the microplanet that was their vessel of communication with the small planet revolving around the moon. The chairman waited for final news about the preparations for the jump, before taking a final decision regarding this last bunch; one never knows, maybe some hiccup in the operation might create a need to extract some additional information from them. An unpleasant idea, but humanity took priority, of course. He was partly relieved to hear there was no such hiccup and when the jump took place he nodded his consent to his aide.

    The microplanet was loaded on an army truck brought to the hospital parking area, ready to be transferred to a location in the desert where it would be disposed of with the absolutely minimal number of witnesses necessary. It was when the truck was on the way to its destination that the microplanet disappeared.

    Damn, thought the chairman, though he did not worry. The attack on the toastopuses’ home planet should have been in an advanced phase by now.


    The gates to the underground caves opened all over the planet and the lifts downwards filled immediately with anyone happening to be overground. The discipline was perfect, the fright was there but there was no panic. Several hundreds were killed at the landing site of the traveling planet, when the human military starting pouring out and firing their metal-fragment weapons. We should abandon our tradition and create some weapons of our own, I thought, as the doors of my elevator were closing. We cannot keep hiding and adapt a new strategy for each invader that comes our way. Space is not a friendly place, and I cannot continue devising new stratagems each time the need arises. It was the third invasion cycle I was facing, and each of my ancestors had to face one or more invasions as well. Luckily, until then the invaders were relatively primitively minded and did not persist once the natives disappeared underground, inside their impenetrable fortresses. There was no need to use any kind of force to drive them away, they just left.

    But this race was different. The many cycles of follow-up and the accumulated evidence and knowledge proved that humans were a highly intelligent highly bestial species. Contact with them was approved mainly based on their intelligence factor, the risk of their bestiality having taken only second place in the decision process. Even the highly intuitive neuters approved of it. “This is a place where the chance to find a solution to our royal problem is extremely high. Let’s hope that their friendliness is bigger than their bestiality.” Unfortunately, there was no solution found and an invasion started. I was suddenly very concerned, extremely concerned.

    A touch against my left flank made me move three eyes in that direction. Aula was next to me, watching straight forward with one eye, the other three humid and watching me with endless adoration. Protocol allowed this proximity in case of extreme danger. She touched me with one tentacle, assuring me of her willingness to mate with me and to die if so will result; even if just as concubine and not as queen. She was certainly in love with me. And I felt a sudden rage, a rage my mind knew on none of the earlier invasions, a rage I did not find anywhere in my racial memory to have occurred previously with any of my forbearers. Humans were worse than enemies, humans were betrayers of trust. Humans must be destroyed before they infest the universe. My tentacle closed around Aulu’s tentacle, transferring my thought, feeling her cringe in fear and I suddenly cringed in shame. No, I will not be the first ever king to eliminate another species. Trust me, Aula.

    The mile thick depleted-uranium doors above us closed with a deep thud. We were safe, for now. But we had to find a way to repel the invasion, otherwise these resourceful humans would certainly find a way to reach us. And then, it would be my proud species that will be eliminated, a fact I could not allow either. I had to decide. The council had to find a solution but it was up to me to decide. And I knew already what the decision was going to be.

    An egg was sent to the surface.


    The communication between Earth and the invading force was clear, flawless, the alien relevant technology was outstanding. The project chairman was in the operational commanding room, listening to the last report pouring from the room’s public system. It was the third Earth day since the jump and the news were great. Several countries’ chiefs of state and their relevant chiefs of staff and military were listening on-line to the same report.

    “...we set base close to one of the entrances to their underground bunkers. The doors are extremely thick, our sounding equipment estimates them 1 to 2 miles in thickness, solid depleted uranium. We will have to utilize nuclear devices if we are to penetrate them and eliminate any chance of resistance. We may need also heavy drilling equipment. For the time being there is no sign of resistance, but we cannot be sure something is not brewing down below. Therefore I urge the immediate deployment of such nuclear devices as we will soon advice. We will send to Earth the space travel planet to pick the relevant material. The... just a moment, I get a message from the field commanding officer.” A click and a short moment of quiet followed by another click and the same voice continued with a puzzled accent to it. “I am just being informed that an egg shaped object appeared above our landing site, one mile away towards what we call here west, as represented by the planet’s blue sun. Our technical teams are busy evaluating its size and position. It is difficult to estimate if this is some kind of observation platform or may have a military relevance. I will info...”

    The voice disappeared. Just like that, cut. A bit of static was all that could still be heard from the loudspeakers.

    “Commander, commander...” The chairman looked interrogatingly toward his technical director and the technical director called his technical team for advice. No one spoke for several minutes, waiting for the phone to ring back. The next phone ringing was not the one on the technical director’s desk, and the chairman snatched it off the cradle. This phone was not supposed to ring, ever. He listened for several seconds, then asked the speaker to wait a second and repeat the message. He switched the phone so it could be heard over the public system and by whoever was listening in other locations.

    “Ahmm... two large, egg shaped objects materialized above Earth, one above the North Pole and one above the South Pole. We are busy evaluating their size as they are beyond aircraft reach, just inside the Kármán line. They are certainly not natural objects, their shape is too accurate and too smooth, at least as much as we can identify at this moment. I will keep you updated.” The connection closed.

    The chairman looked up at the team surrounding him, and it was for the first time in his professional career that anyone could observe the telltale signs of blobs of sweat appearing on his forehead.

    “Ladies and gentlemen, I believe we have a problem. A terrible problem.”


    The ceremony continued at exactly the point it was disturbed. The only difference being that the ground was scorched and dead around us, where the egg laid its deadly charge.

    A new stage was set-up in urgency together with transmission equipment to the rest of the planet. A ceremony vital to the survival of the race was not something to be disturbed for long even by such a dangerous situation as we just faced. And which might not yet be over - after all we entrusted too much knowledge in those trustless human hands.

    The second neuter pointed to Aulu. The third... Aulu. She was the chosen one. I hardly could contain my shiver, my anticipation, I locked my tentacles in pairs to try to limit the visibility of it. Aulu’s eyes were closed. I was certain she was praying her thanks. I was certain she was praying her wish that we are compatible, not that she feared death but that she wished to be the mother of my first progeny, the next king. And that she wished to live with me for the rest of our shared being and procreate more of my children, give me happiness.

    The last neuter approached Aulu and guided her over to me. It was the moment to enter our retreat, to mate, to know if Aulu is the one or not, if this was the end of the search or we have to wait for another cycle. I did not care for any other cycle, any other mate, I felt like screaming my excitement and my despair, I wanted Aulu, I did not want Aulu to die... yet I was the king, I was responsible for my race, neither I nor Aulu were important - it was the race continuation that counted above all. My surface was smooth, none of my internal battles showed outwards, except for the persistent shiver of my tentacles’ ends. But this could be easily attributed to natural excitement. The neuter enveloped us and we started moving.

    It was unheard of, never ever before, bordering on blasphemy... an interrupt.

    “King Lula.”

    I had to respond. Whenever a direct call to my name and title was voiced I had no choice but to respond and the caller took his chances with his own life. We stopped, we disentangled ourselves and turned around facing the trio approaching us and dragging a kind of strange looking container behind them.

    “King Lula,” spoke the almost triangular looking member of the approaching party. “I am chief Luau, part of the delegation sent to Earth. We are part of the team who escaped the massacre there and had to use several jumps to arrive back with our micro planet. Greetings to you, King Lula.”

    I waited. There was nothing special in the arrival itself, certainly nothing to warrant an interrupt to the most important ceremony on the planet. The crisis was over for the moment and information about their escape could have waited. There must have been something more to it, much more and I felt the ends of my tentacles stiffening in expectation. Yes, there must be something more to this interruption, much more...

    “King Lula, we believe to have identified a reason and a solution to the mating problem we have been facing, and the solution is a compound found on Earth and which we are carrying in this container.” I think that suddenly the entire planet gasped, was holding its breath, the event being still transmitted live to the twelve continents. “You can decide, King Lula, if you want to wait for us to perform additional tests or try it now, on your present chosen mate. Your decision, my king.” He bowed his top half in the highest sign of respect, a gesture abolished generations ago. I did not have to, I bowed back, my tentacles now shivering visibly, my intake gasping loudly for oxygen. I did not mind, nobody minded. If this was the solution to...

    I did not need time to think.

    “Chief Luau, proceed. Now.” I was not voicing acceptance, it was a command, immediate, undisputable.

    He joined us to the mating cave. There he asked for my permission again and scratched the three of us close to one of the third heart’s veins, until a tiny stream of vital liquid poured out of our surface. Then he opened his container, dabbed a piece of soaking material in the yellowish liquid there and smeared it on our tiny wounds. It had a strange, unfamiliar smell.

    “I believe you should wait for one red cycle, before you mate, sire.”

    “And what are your estimated chances of success, chief Luau?” I asked.

    “I am sorry, sire, my best estimate without additional tests, is eighty percent. The risk to you and to the neuter is negligible.”

    “And the risk to my mate?” I was breaking many traditional taboos here, caring for my mate when the only thing I should have been caring about was myself as King and the neuter as the vital intermediary to the mating process. The female mating population was gigantic in proportion. But in these closed quarters I did not care doing it.

    “If the twenty percent are the winning ratio, Queen Aulu will die inside one blue cycle, same as before.”

    “Thank you, chief Luau. You may leave.”

    We retreated to our mating cave, closed the door. One red cycle later we joined all ten tentacles, I asked Aulu for forgiveness receiving in return her blessing and her smile, and I penetrated her.

    Half a blue cycle later she informed me that she was impregnated. If I was not king I would have rushed out to the streets and started dancing.

    We lay on our couch, side by side, several tentacles holding, several stroking gently the surface, touching the oxygen intakes, the liquid intakes, the eyes.

    “King Lula.”

    I expected the question to come, I knew it would come only I did not know when. It was probably time. I let one tentacle stroke at length her rounding surface, touched her eyes one after the other, before replaying.

    “Yes, love.”

    “Earth, what happened to planet Earth?” Oh, bless your sacred hearts, my beloved Aulu, you and your pity and care for all things living and breathing. “You sent two eggs there, King Lula, did you eliminate the human race?”

    I kept stroking her divine body and touching her roundness, stroking and touching, stroking and touching. And then decided it was time to tell her.


    One of the thousands of “talking balls” that fell on Earth ended on project X chairman’s desk. The piping English was filtered and amplified, until it sounded almost human.

    “We brought humans knowledge and life, humanity decided to eliminate our race. Humans always considered themselves superior to every other race, with no reason. We are not here to understand human logic, we are here for retribution and protection to ourselves. The two eggs floating in the thermosphere above Earth’s poles are locked to earth’s magnetic poles and are our guarantee that you will never try to reach us again, by any means and for any reason. Any attempt to temper with them or any attempt to reach our solar system will result in the release of sufficient energy to melt your polar capes and eliminate all, but marine life, on Earth. It is time for humanity to move from childhood to maturity. We will not be there to help you.”

    The chairman posed the talking ball on the president’s desk, alongside with his notice. I wonder what else we could have learned from these extra terrestrials and now will miss it, he thought bitterly and with sudden, unexpected, remorse in his mind. It was the first time he did not think about them as toastopuses but rather as another species.



Sexually Obsessed

    I’m sexually obsessed,
    I confessed,
    with trees.

    “Huh?” She descended from the bed, slowly, so as not to startle me, walked backwards all the way to the kitchen keeping a frozen smile on her face... I heard her rummaging around, ha ha, I had removed all sharp items earlier on.

    She emerged from the kitchen with one hand in front of her holding threateningly the biggest soup spoon I had, one hand behind her back. Maybe holding a chair, though I couldn’t see... aha, it came to front as well holding another spoon. Boring.


    I’m also sexually obsessed,
    I confessed,
    with Napoleon.

    “Napoleon?” Seemed she was obsessed too, with echoes. “You mean small, fat, French, with a funny hat and a perennial belly ache?” She returned to the kitchen, still walking backwards, returned with the toaster. One of the spoons was missing. Well, original at least.

    “What about Bus 18?” she shrieked hysterically, “are you obsessed with Bus 18 too?”

    Oops, that was a low hit. I squinted threateningly, eyed her inquiringly, was she spying on me? It was not the bus, but the bus’s wheels... I ran to the kitchen, backwards, returned with the frozen milkshake held high, ready to strike.

    “How did you know about Bus 18?”

    She collapsed, breadcrumbs rolling off the fallen toaster, her head making a hollow sound as it hit the tiles. Suddenly, I pitied her, why the hell did I follow the instructions and confessed about my obsessions? Next one was supposed to be the one about elephants, and then a few more and only there she was expected to faint. Maybe I should have skipped them all, straight to the main one.

    Hey, I’m sexually obsessed,
    I confessed,
    with you.

    She didn’t hear, of course. I didn’t say it, of course.

    I left her lying there, fit the toaster under her head to make it more comfortable and went back to the kitchen. I pushed the microwave buttons in the secret sequence that opened its door without frying the hand going inside, and took out the book I bought a few days ago. Obsessions for Dummies. Funny, it was almost perfect until now, down to the detail of removing the sharp items before the day began. But missing on several obsessions... such a piece of garbage. I shove it back into the microwave and turned the microwave on, full power. Nothing happened, of course, the book was as dry as the nuts I ate the day before. “I’ll burn you” I screamed and I took it out, forgetting in my anger the code and frying my hand in a checkered pattern. I screamed again, waking up the poor girl. She stood up, not paying attention to the toaster that was dangling from her hair. I stopped screaming, she was so beautiful and naked...

    Hey, I’m sexually obsessed,
    I confessed,
    with you.

    I skipped the elephants, the atomic silos, South America, ehhh... what was the next one?... boiled eggs... She watched me, mutely. Pieces of skin started falling off in symmetrical squares from the back of my hand and she still watched me, starting to smile, smiling.

    She disentangled the toaster, picked up the fallen pieces of skin and stuck them back to my hand, hesitating just once for the positioning, then took hold of my obsession and started dragging me to bed.

    “You?” She was really echologically obsessed.

    “No, you!” I said.

    “Yes, you,” she smiled, delighted.

    “No, not yes you, you, you you!” I tried to make myself understood and failing miserably. Except for her IQ, she was the more intelligent of us two. She just shut up and showed me how one spells obsessed without letters. I found it worth knowing.



The Bane

    It never sounded like a bad joke. Children dying can never sound like any kind of joke – good or bad. It sounded like horrible. The small heading in the newspaper, page three, was telling about seven children in an obscure village in Nevada that developed high fever about the same time and one week later they died. “The medical authorities are looking into the matter,” it reported, providing also a color image of one of the burial services.

    “Horrible,” commented Maria, my wife, bending over the buggy and kissing the twins. I carried the groceries to the van, secured the children to their cushioned seats and started the drive home. Usually I let her do the driving when the kids are with us, she insisted on it from the first time we took them with us in the van. “I trust your driving blindly, darling,” she smiled my way, taking the keys and seating herself in the driver’s seat. It was this way until today. She gave me the keys, sat in the passenger’s seat and kept reading the short article as if she was trying to learn it by heart. Or as if her life, or rather the kids’ life, depended on it. “I pity the parents,” she finally whispered, lifting her head from the paper and letting a tear go. She was never too shy to show her feelings. And when it came to her own children’s well-being she went beyond hysterical. She was plain ferocious.

    “I love you, I am in love with you,” I said, allowing my right hand touch the wet spot on her cheek. It was a sign of her deep disquietude, the fact that she did not admonish me for getting the hand off the wheel with the children riding in the back. Damn the newspapers’ sensation mongering and big titles, I mumbled to myself, knowing that the remark in this case was, the least, inappropriate and certainly inaccurate.

    We got home and she went straight upstairs to the bedroom, leaving the twins in my care. I knew she was going to cry. She was frighteningly sensitive to children pain, sometimes even more so to others’ than to her own. I fed them, bathed them and put them to bed. Then I skipped undressing and went to lie next to her, hugging her with both hands. She wasn’t undressed either. “Those poor, poor children...” she buried her head in my chest and started shaking violently with restrained sobs. It was long after midnight that she finally fell asleep. I fell asleep not long after.


    “Do you think it is the nuclear tests?”

    I found her sitting cross legged, facing me, her face serious in a manner I rarely witnessed before.

    “Where are the twins?” I asked.

    “Maggie takes care of them.” Maggie was our Sunday sitter, starting at 7 AM and just making sure we got some more sleep than the other days of the week.

    “No,” I answered. “The reported case occurred too far from any testing ground. And anyway, most of urban Nevada is clean today.”

    “Yes. This is what frightens me.”

    I looked up, sharply. All trace of somnolence evaporated swiftly from my body as I crawled to a sitting position and watched her carefully, intently. She may have been hysterical at times, ferocious at other times, but panic was never a sentiment to be allowed into her mind. Even when Mikey, our youngest twin (by twenty minutes) was diagnosed with a mild case of meningitis - she never lost her nerve. She was my Iron Maria, and she never failed my pseudo-insulting name; actually she carried it with pride. And now... what the hell was going on here? She pointed to the computer screen, it was on. I descended from the bed and read the title she left blinking there, Yahoo news. “The French health ministry...” ... there was a short article about a similar case in France, Bordeaux. Two children showed symptoms...

    “Hey, hey, love...” I went back to the bed and gripped her shoulders, “it is a big world, people get born and people die every day, don’t freak about it. It is a coincidence.” It was the statistician in me talking, not the husband. Her eyes had a strange shine to them.

    “I called my parents, in Athens. There are two cases reported in Greece. Always children.” I gaped.

    “Hey, ho, wait! If you look for it you will find it, my wife. We are six billion people on this Earth. Something, anything, happens at a certain time somewhere on Earth. It still does not make it something to be feared. Did you also ask how many babies were born yesterday in Greece?”

    Suddenly she laughed.

    I am being silly, ain’t I?” She jumped down from bed and gave me a beyond-intimate hug, then rushed off to the bathroom. She didn’t fool me, she was still worried to death. I knew, before leaving she sneaked a glance above the bed.

    We married two years ago - met on a cruise ship, of all places, and we clicked right away. The first of many clicks to follow – first one was I for her hair, she for my absolute ignorance in all matters Greek mythology (“Zeus? You mean your father?...” I asked, genuinely). Seven days later the captain married us and the same night an ovum changed into a zygote. And full bliss became a daily event during all of these two following years. We never married religiously. She was Greek Orthodox, quite devout, insisting on an icon hanging above our bed. After a lot of haggling I agreed to have it hanging above her side of the bed. As compensation she allowed me to nail a mezzuzah on each of the house’s door frames; for her it was a nice piece of decoration. For me, the pure atheist with Jewish roots, it was the illogical and unexplainable impurity marring the purity of my atheism, yet nevertheless proud of it. “You are a human oxymoron,” she laughed at me once, “a circumcised atheist.”

    She returned from the shower, dripping, and sat on the bed waiting for me to comb her hair.

    “You are probably right. It is sad. I don’t know why I got so exceedingly strung up about it. Sorry, I promise to stop reading newspapers for a whole week.” The following smile could have cut a steel sheet to slices.

    Three days later she handed me a newspaper, her hand shaking. This time it was on the front page.

    “The WHO decided to raise the level of alert to phase 6.” Sorry!? Blood started draining from my face, I tried and couldn’t remember any preceding phase 4, 5... suddenly 6? “In an unprecedented step the WHO... Several clusters of child mortality randomly distributed around the globe... Specialized medical resources are being allocated by governments around the world... Cause is still undefined though suspicions are this might be a new strain of virus... Avoid crowded places, filters should be placed...”

    I hugged her, hard. I blamed the joined shaking on her.


    As usual, humanity showed itself in all its beauty slash ugliness slash weakness slash strength in times of major crisis. Suicides, murders, bankruptcies, riots, tribalism, religious freaks, sects, interminable TV experts, huge resources allocation, scientific centers popping overnight, international cooperation, international recrimination, meaningless medications and promises at exorbitant prices, doom prophets... for once one was tempted to call them soothsayers: humanity was facing extinction through its children. Several industries grinded to a halt, starting with the entertainment industry. Two weeks after that first newspaper article that I read, the number of relevant reported deaths was ten thousand two hundred fifteen, and the real number estimated at three times the reported one. More than two hundred fifteen sickness focal points were officially identified worldwide, and the death rate was growing. No geographical area seemed to be spared. Panic, the beginning of the end, was setting in stronger and stronger.

    Maria quit her job and barricaded herself in the house together with the twins, installing various types of water and air filters, boiling all food in a pressure cooker and vacuuming everything vacuumable twice a day. I was allowed to take indefinite paid vacation from my job and volunteered to help the local WHO office with its statistics, this being my profession. “If this is the end of the world then it wouldn’t matter anyway,” said my boss with a stony face. Every time I entered my house I had to undergo a ritual of disinfection, which I didn’t mind as much as I despised. We weren’t the only ones, most of the families with children were acting the same. It reminded me of the horror stories my grandpa kept telling me about the children polio pandemic of previous century’s 50’s. Only this one seemed incomparably worse. Especially once reports reached my local WHO office about deaths in families that took similar protective measures to those we did in my house. Maria was devastated, once I told her. She was silent as she started ripping off the tape glued around the windows and opened them wide to the outside air. The day was sunny, the air chilly, fresh, nice.

    “Let them enjoy life, as long as they can.” She took the buggy, placed both kids in and headed for the park. Before leaving she only asked “How far?” I knew what she meant.

    “About seven hundred fifty miles.” The distance between the latest reported case and our town. A matter of weeks. I didn’t stay home, I prepared a sandwich richly layered with butter and headed back to the WHO office. I had the keys, I knew there would be other people working there, as much around the clock as their bodies would allow before fainting, exhausted. I was nearing exhaustion myself, therefore I suspected that my mind was floating by now somewhere in the undefined limbo between reality and hallucination. I needed someone to discuss my statistics with.


    I had to repeat my observations three times. It was a whole week later. First time it was only to Dr. Abu Saleh, the temporary chief of the temporary local WHO office, a renowned epidemiologist with a PhD in physics. Then he called in a couple more professionals who worked in our office, and finally he connected by video to a few regional offices and made me repeat it all again. I was falling asleep, I hardly could answer the questions asked, but he had a feeling that this was another reasonable tail of another reasonable theory worth pursuing further. Nobody had yet tackled the problem mathematically, or rather statistically, and maybe the novelty of the approach made my presentation, in his opinion, worth listening. The many questions shot my way may have pointed to real interest or, to a sense of growing frustration and despair. I couldn’t qualify them any more than I could answer them, but they helped me focus my own thoughts and create some questions of my own. What was there to lose?

    The death count had passed the psychological cap of one hundred thousand and the rate was clearly exponential, though the exponent was continuously changing. It did not matter much. All the labs involved did not succeed to isolate a reason – chemical, biological, physical, there was no real theory behind the advancing plague or its origins, much of the activity consisted of collecting data and storing it in a manner that made it available to any team working on the subject. At a certain stage even irrelevant data started getting collected, the feeling of impotence in front this unexplainable and deadly “something” making damaging inroads into much of the research effort. Labs started closing. Scientists started giving up. It was the first crisis of the modern world where it looked like the whole of humanity was soon about to disappear with no plausible explanation, let alone solution, in sight. The mechanism of death was simple: cerebral activity diminishing at a fast rate with death following soon after. But why? Why? Why? And more important was the how? How? How to stop it and the hell with the why?

    “You’re flying to Geneva.” Following day, after a restless sleep at home and a late return to the WHO offices, Dr. Abu Saleh was waiting for me with the message at the door. There was no “good morning”, many people skipping the greeting for days already. “We’ll pass by your house so you can pick some things and say good bye. I’m joining you. Let’s go.” It was not an order, a request, a question. Just a statement.

    The military vehicle took us to my place. I told Maria in short of my destination and she did not object even with one word. Any straw was better than no straw. She helped me pack some underwear, a few shirts, a tooth brush, and finally gave me a hug that could have broken every bone in my body. The twins crawled in between us gurgling with life and laughter, one of the reasons no bone was broken. Then she kissed me with wild passion, whispered a hasty “Good Luck” straight into my mouth, and immediately started chasing the kids around the living room table. The door clacked shut behind, cutting me from life. I did not believe in God. God, please let me see them again, and the next thing that penetrated my consciousness was the plane’s door clacking shut behind as well. I was on my way to Geneva to meet some of the brightest minds on Earth. “Probably another vain attempt,” I murmured, as the pill that Ibrahim Abu Saleh forced upon me took its effect and I fell into a dreamless sleep.


    Fifty three people in that one, medium sized room. A heterogeneous mix of sexes, ages, races, origins. Not all of them scientists but if their cumulative IQ would have been measured in tons, then half the weight of all humanity was in that one room. And I, number fifty four, the flea IQ from America. Repeating for the third time (three again) in a row my observations and showing the graphs on the screen, trying to reason out my interpretations and hunches and answering the best I could the surprisingly few questions, mostly asked by those with mathematical orientation in the room. I was not sure if it was a good sign or a bad sign, if it meant they believed I was on the tail of something or they decided it was all a waste of time. I finished the third presentation, sweating profusely at the armpits, my throat dry and aching.

    “Impressive.” It was the first remark that was not a question, voiced by a man in his thirties, identified by the name on his desk as Dr. Yoshi, Japan. He got up, he was surprisingly tall, and came to join me on the stage next to the flip-chart, picked a thick marker and faced the audience. “OK, who wishes to start?”

    There was no lack of takers to the prompt, and he started jotting words on the flip paper, barely having a moment to drop his hand and restore its blood circulation.

    “Time rings - random nodes - siblings - expensive hospitals - cheap hospitals - old TVs - one week - brain activity - isolation - three hundred million - electronic microscope - animals immune - adults immune...” by the time he finished there were about one hundred key topics on the chart’s papers and somehow, it made me feel better. They really got my points and they considered them worthy of, at least, their immediate attention. If the final conclusion was that this entire effort was after all, a terrible waste of time - well, at least the beginning pointed the other way around. Of course, the even bigger question was - would it actually lead to a solution of some kind? Was there time left to build a tool to save humanity? To save my babies?... and tears invaded my eyes.

    I was ushered out of the room, there was nothing more I could contribute and the matter was now lying in the hands of the most competent minds on Earth. I was offered a tray with sandwiches, I was starving and I wolfed them thankfully down. Humans are after all animals and hunger is one of the most basic of instincts. Second only to love, I thought, hugging in my mind my wife and boys with all the desperation born out of a rebirthing hope. I started chewing on my third sandwich, thanking the young woman who brought them to me with my broken French. I wondered how many errors one could make in the one word of “thanks”, chewing slowly and turning in my mind the main points of the presentation that I had just finished.

    First there were the initial striking points, the first reported occurrence or cluster of occurrences, and these were spread randomly across the globe; all started roughly at the same date but not at the same hour. Then, the locus of the next wave of occurrences for any specific strike was placed around the first one in a perfect, statistically speaking, circle. Of course, there was normal Gaussian distribution of deaths around this perfect circle, still... amazing. And not least amazing the fact that the distance from the initial striking point to the first circle was fairly similar all over Earth, about two hundred meters. Then another similar circle around the first circle, two hundred meter further. And so on, with some of the death circles, as I called them, reaching by now about twenty-five hundred concentric layers. Intersecting circles did not change their behavior, with death mindlessly and steadily marching on in concentric circles.

    I picked a fourth sandwich from the tray, just to keep myself busy. Why were some children spared? Very few, and yet there were some clusters of similarities that I could define statistically. Different similarities, and mostly not seeming to help the 99% that died. But for the 1% that survived, there were several patterns there. Coincidence? Wishful thinking? A riddle to be deciphered? One cluster included children who, strangely enough, lived in the same house or very near those who died. Another cluster included children in houses owning old TV sets, mostly poor houses. With a mystery inside a mystery that in some of these houses, the children were either spared entirely or developed the symptoms much later than the rest of them along the same death circle.

    Children hospitals. Death rate much higher in the rich hospitals with the best of isolation facilities while reasonably sparing the poorer establishments. And a key weapon in humanity’s medical arsenal, electronic microscopes, which seemed to be malfunctioning wherever children were dying.

    And against this statistically random collection, no hard facts of infection, inflammation, protein, toxin, radiation; young and healthy bodies in perfect biological balance losing their functionality and finally giving in to the unknown. Oh, such a horrible bane has befallen you, humanity... I was at my mindless tenth sandwich, probably half delirious and with a stomach that suddenly demanded its rights and I retched right where I was sitting. When I straightened up I found Dr. Abu Saleh watching me, his eyes telling nothing but pity and worry and a third something that I could not identify. It was not fear, thank the God I did not believe in.

    “Go to the bathroom and wash yourself, I will wait for you. We reached a range of conclusions and almost full consensus on the mechanism of death and its dissemination. We did not reach consensus on an action plan. We feel it necessary to make you part of the decision.” I heard the unidentified ‘third something’ in his voice: admiration.

    I struggled to my feet, went to the bathroom and washed my mouth, face, splashed some water over my soiled shirt to wash away the retching stains and tugged it in my trousers. Then followed Dr. Abu Saleh to the meeting room, a chair was added to first row and I sat on it. An unidentified lady of obvious Indian descent and suitable accent summarized the many hours of discussion in a few sentences, certainly for my personal benefit. I was suddenly as important as any of them... maybe even more?... I wondered.

    I didn’t really listen, I followed the hum of the voice. I knew. Things suddenly started falling in place, filling every niche of my mind like a water stream pouring and slowly filling a smooth goblet that aimed to, yet never really reached an overflow phase.

    The unidentified, unidentifiable bane that befell humanity was something that would remain unidentified for now, yet could be defined in a single, pertaining way: an electrons gobbler. Living? Statistical? Quantic? Isotope? No one ventured any kind of sci-fi or super-natural explanation, this was certainly NOT something of the kind. We were for the moment slaves to our tools’ and perceptions’ limitations. With sufficient time - probably humanity could have nailed the something’s shape and/or composition and/or formula; be it chemical-physical-mathematical. There was no sufficient time. In two months the number of deaths would reach three hundred million children. Time was not on our side. Time did not make allowances for experiments, ethical discussions, legislation - there was time for just one thing: a human guinea pig.

    “Can you repeat, please, the conclusion?” I found myself asking, and for whatever reason I knew that she would repeat it for my personal sake. They needed my go ahead or do nothing about it. Humanity’s wisest at their stupidest. For lack of a better word, they used the word virus.

    “We have no explanation to the virus’s affinity with children’s brains; why not with animals, adults, ionized elements? It gobbles mainly free electrons from children’s brains or , to a certain extent, from highly concentrated electron streams like cathode-ray TVs or Electronic Microscopes. It cannot be isolated for long, its penetrability seems absolute. The virus’s behavior, resulting from our interpretation of your data and from further analysis, is the following: at its highly active form it attacks the brain and at this stage the body has no tools to fight it with. However once the attack is in place the virus’s potency seems to diminish to an almost inactive form. It enjoys its spoils, so to say. Any healthy child in contact with an infected child will be exposed to this less active form and its blood will develop sufficient antibodies to fight the virus and destroy it. Natural immunization. Siblings and neighbors may be saved. Highly isolated hospitals keep the virus in rein until it is too potent and then it attacks and kills, less performing hospitals allow a certain degree of contact with an inactive virus, thus some of the not yet infected children may be saved. MAY be saved,” she emphasized the word, for my sake and that of everybody else. “We decided there is a 90% probability that this is the keeping alive mechanism. We don’t want to think at all about the other 10%.”

    She stopped, drank a glass of water and continued, fixing me intensely.

    “The concentric death circles are the result of the inactive viruses spreading by unknown means and gathering strength again, probably by losing electrons, until they are strong enough to strike again. And ditto. And ditto. And ditto.” She looked around, triumphantly, as if the conclusion was hers and hers alone. “Gobbling electrons and losing power, losing electrons and gaining power - I call it inverse entropy. This virus is not part of this universe.” This last remark was certainly hers alone, if to judge from the loud hubbub that followed. Tiny humans, I thought savagely, my kids are about to die and you still have time to quibble about your importance and your definitions. I pulled my body away from the chair with a mighty effort and climbed the stairs to join the Indian lady. I was terribly tired. There was sudden hush in the room.

    “And you propose?” I asked her, the audience, no one in particular. There was clearly no response expected from any of them, they had made their statements, reached their conclusion, my conclusion. Everybody was thinking the unthinkable, someone had to express the inexpressible. There were not many someone’s left, actually only one. “Therefore, since there is no time left for lengthy experiments, and for laws to be passed, and for processes to be defined, we have to force a child into death’s claws and wait the time needed for death to make its decision. Take a healthy child, send him into a contaminated home and see if he develops immunity to the virus. If he does - this assembly’s conclusion will save the rest of humanity. If he does not - he dies. But then - he would die anyway, no? Along with most of the rest of world’s children. Nevertheless, the question now is of an even higher ethical level than the highest ever posed in the bible, the one to Abraham: whose other child will Abraham be asked to sacrifice?” I turned to descend from the stage, it was time they took their responsibilities, I played the mouth, they should play the hand holding the knife. Then I returned to the dais and picked the microphone, so that there would be no misunderstanding my saying. “Will it be a black child? An orphan child? A retarded child? This assembly is no God. Would any of you want any unnamed child on their conscience?” I tried to watch each facial expression, it wasn’t easy with the limelight pointed towards the stage and partially blinding me. Probably the light was not the only reason for my blurred vision. “It will be my child. You have your guinea pig.”


    “Over my dead body!” screamed Maria, clawing wildly at my face.

    She cleaned the wound and bandaged it. Then she dressed the kids in their nicest clothes and we descended towards the waiting car. It wasn’t our car, it was long limousine surrounded by a heavy police escort who screamed their sirens incessantly until we reached our destination, exactly ninety five airborne miles away from us. The twins were delighted - police, sirens, flashing lights, they kept pressing their noses against the car’s side window and screaming meaningless happiness. Maria and I sat just across from them, frozen into an immobility neighboring inexistence. When the car’s door finally opened she let out a short scream, then was in full control again. We took each a child in his arms and entered for the first time a house of death.

    The sick child was a girl, about three years old. She was clearly not aware of her condition as she sat on the floor, surrounded by countless dolls of various shapes and sizes that she kept admonishing then hugging then kissing. There was an unnatural stiffness to her hands’ motions. The mother sat on a sofa, watching the daughter with a wounded animal’s wild look, her eyes red, her hands incessantly moving in aimless directions. The father sat on another sofa, quiet, dark, a piece of flesh sculpted in stone in that strange way that many fathers accept death - with a rage all of it internal, tearing him to pieces.

    We dropped the boys to the floor and with that natural, childish dare they approached the girl and within minutes they were all over each other laughing and kicking and screaming with joy. The family’s dog, an undefined mongrel, joined in the melee with its high-pitched delighted barks and harmless bites. I could swear I saw death’s hood playing with them as well, the scythe flashing, rising.

    Maria hesitated for a moment then went over to the mother and sat next to her, hugged her, both crying soundlessly. I sat next to the father and just watched the children playing. I did not pray to any god. I just felt blank. Wasted. One hour later we parted. The horrible wait started.


    They built contamination centers by the thousands, all over the world. Parents of dying children volunteering to save the others. Something so admirable that I found no words to describe such an act of courage and respect while living inside that personal frame of incredible pain. Life started its slow return to its previous bed. Humanity was going to lick its wounds for a long time, yet schools re-opened, children were screaming again on the streets and in the gardens, mine screaming louder than the others. I was no hero, refused to be one.

    “You are my hero,” said Maria, placing a hand on a mezzuzah and kissing her fingertips. It carried no real meaning except that she was saying in a different way - I love you. “Is it over?”

    I did not want to lie to her.

    “I don’t know. This one is, I believe, all my graphs show a statistical decay of the epidemic, all aiming towards zero events. Some areas seem fully clean already.” I guess that my thoughtful look emboldened her to ask that question which bothered everyone in the world and no one had an answer to.

    “And the source? Any idea of what the source might have been?”

    “No,” I answered, maybe a bit too fast, since she shot a querying regard my way but did not insist. She never asked again, not willing to force my hand into a probable lie, I guess. And anyway, it was probably not important as long as whatever it was, it stayed away. Hmm. Yes. Hmm. Would it?

    I looked upwards through the window, the city lights prevented me from seeing many of the constellations; some stars were visible, nevertheless. No falling stars tonight. Come to think of it, I never saw a falling star from this window. When was the first time I read about those children dying, was it middle of November or a bit after? The word Leonids flashed through my mind, then I erased it as fast as it appeared and made sure it stayed erased. One of the twins started crawling up my leg - I picked him up and started running around the living room table accompanied by loud sounds of childish gurgling laughter and by wife’s make belief protests.



Mary. And probably more.

    “Giulietta,” she said, extending a slender hand. I took it and she practically broke every bone in at least three of my fingers. I’ve never had such a handshake since that time the car door closed on my hand, and I carried five titanium phalanxes in my right palm ever since. I prayed these did not break, it cost both me and the insurance a fortune.

    “Italian?” I asked, to keep the scream away from my lips.

    “Norwegian. A long time ago.” Seeing the wondering look on my face, she hasted to add, “My parents were great admirers of Giulietta Masina, so...” Her body may have been slightly on the plump side and her breasts slightly on the D cup size but her smile was mostly on the blinding side. Blinding the sun, I mean.

    “And this is little Mary, I guess,” I smiled back. Little Mary drew blood from my index finger, and I drew my hand back, sucking the little wound. What did I get myself into, this time? Vampires?

    “Is she inoculated?” I asked, my worry not wholly fake. Giulietta laughed for a full five minutes. She didn’t really roll on the floor, though she was almost at the stage, about one minute into the laughter. Well, maybe I didn’t get myself into anything too bad after all, I further thought, suckling and sulking. This last part was the jobless, bad poet in me.

    “No, but big Mary is,” she finally answered, pulling out a hanky the size of inhabited Australia and wiping her eyes. Big Mary barked in assent, wagging and banging a happy tail on my wooden floor. The house was not fully paid yet, I hoped there won’t be any permanent damage to the wood. Well, at least the canine half of the duo was friendly. “Don’t worry, little Mary does it to any new man in my life. Then she’s as cuddly as any two year old is expected to be. Aren’t you, sweetie?” she picked up the smiling bundle from the expensive looking buggy, gave her a motherly hug (I hoped for the kid that her hug was gentler than her handshake) and handed her over to me. I almost took a step backwards, then remembered that this was actually my rent pay for the coming month and picked the kid in my arms. She immediately hugged my neck and started kissing me. “See, she already loves you.”

    “Love oo, love oo,” gurgled the two years old then squirmed to the floor and started chasing big Mary in the apartment. OK, so maybe the first impression was wrong, I decided.

    I took the note with the variety of instructions, mainly alimentary and color coded: blue for the kid and red for the dog, and placed it in the kitchen. Then I said good bye, refusing a parting handshake but accepting a peck on the cheek.

    “Oh,” she turned around just as I was closing the door. If big Mary gets restless show her a movie, preferably a dog movie.”

    “Huh?” No wonder I looked idiotic with my mouth open, all I needed was my tongue hanging out.


    “Huh?” Yes, that tongue hanging was about to redefine my personality.

    “Canine.” Then seeing my unchanging look of idiotic wonder, she spelled it for me. “K. Nine. You know – James Belushi, Jerry Lee...” I finally got it, yes, nice, funny movie.

    “No, I don’t have it. I have some old Rin-Tin-Tin’s, will this do?” I felt stupid there, discussing a dog’s taste in movies.

    “You may try, I never did. But if one day you find most of your stamps collection... or whatever...” I made as if to protest my stamp collectionability... “chewed to tiny slivers, it may be because you did not leave her with K-9 plugged in. She can watch it in a loop, for hours.” She smiled big again, so I felt emboldened enough to add...

    “And little Mary, what will prevent her from chewing my stamps collection? The Addams Family?” Oh, God, seeing her laugh again was more beautiful than seeing a flower open in fast motion (again, my stupid poetry getting in the way of coherence).

    “No, she likes Rocky. One.”

    “And you? Rambo? One?”

    There was a glitter in her eyes. Just a moment, then gone. I wondered when she was going to answer as she just kept standing there, the sun playing ravaging games with my mind as it trespassed impunitively everything textile that clothed her body, while her laughter changed slow-motion-wise to something soft like... like... Mona Lisa’s?

    “I? I am into Cinderella. Disney...” she added, just in case I was as illiterate as I was trying not show I was. Or something like that.

    The door closed. The instructions she left would make it bearable, I thought, making an effort to gear my mind off obscenities and related stuff and moving into puericulture and related stuff. It would not be my normal income, as the kindergarten would stay closed for two months now, but sufficient. And with a single kid in my care, I would survive; even without the two helping-hand ladies who shared most of the load and not so much of the money in normal times. “A man running a kindergarten?” was the incredulous remark of the matron who provided the final license. Yes, a man running a kindergarten, and one of the three best in town. Because, you see, I was crazy about kids. I preferred their hell to bosses’ hell, and I had experienced both. That’s why and how I finally ended with “John’s Kids and Klory”. It wasn’t a typo, told you, I was a bad poet. Somehow it proved to be as catchy a name as any of the big “and”s (think Tarzan and Jane, huh?) and I was flooded with registrations from day one. Truth was – I was great and my two lady helpers were wonderful. And after the kids relayed their own messages home, I had problems to stem the flood. Gave me good feeling. And reasonable income. And time to write my bad poetry. No, I did not have time for a meaningful relationship yet and I wasn’t looking for one, yet. I was too young to settle, forty two.

    “Mum, mum,” chirped little Mary, hanging on to big Mary’s collar and dragging all the way from the bathroom to my feet. She meant food. I picked her in my arms and by the time I had her jar opened and warmed, she was deeply asleep. I put her on the huge dog-cot next to big Mary (Giulietta had insisted), and after a moment’s hesitation I joined them, on the dog’s other side. Just to keep an eye on things. The cot was soft and giving. I woke up two hours later, finding both Mary’s pulling at my trousers’ cuffs, babbling and barking. Each in their relevant way, of course. They were wolf hungry.


    Big Mary was a real mongrel. I wasn’t big in identifying dogs, just big in having lived with five at various stages in my life. She had a bit of Schnauzer, a bit of Labrador, probably some more bits of Doberman, Saint Bernard and German Shepherd. I could have sworn, if I dared, that she had also some Chihuahua in her considering those big, expressive eyes, but I didn’t dare imagine how a Saint Bernard and a Chihuahua... no, just my imagination, impossible. Little Mary on the other hand was a... mongrel too (here I was about to get ostracized by the various X-rights groups). She was the elegant bronze color which is the telltale sign of a balanced deep blonde and deep charcoal mix, tiny curls the color of melting asphalt and... slanted eyes? Where did the orient come in into this mixture, I wondered, dragging her around the apartment as she hung on there, hooked to my right leg and calling me “Dada, dada”. I believe big Mary was delighted that she lost the millstone previously hanging constantly to her collar, and she kept avoiding us; probably to ensure that it stayed this way.

    Giulietta called one week later. I appreciated the trust she had in me, but one week looked to me, nevertheless, a bit extreme. I gave her a bit of my mind when she finally called and was surprised to hear her subdued tone of voice. She sounded tired, very, very tired.

    “I was training eight hours per day, then had an audition every evening until this one. This is my first day off.” She passed ten minutes of meaningless grunt exchanges with little Mary, some words coming through to me like mommy, dada, mum, toy, dog, of course – love oo, even garden I think was there which sounded more like ganen. Then Giulietta had a short bark exchanges with big Mary (it was only big Mary barking, I think), and then it was my turn. I tried neither to grunt nor to bark, even if this last week I kind of got into the foreign languages mood myself.

    “How are your chances?” It was after I calmly shouted at her for disappearing so long from her daughter’s life.

    “I believe they are good. I have some new contacts, I may need to stay a couple weeks longer, maybe a month. Would you mind if I asked you to take care of my little ones...” (well, little Mary may have been little, big Mary was kinda pony size) “...these few extra weeks? Then I promise to take them off your hands.” It was not her pleading tone but rather my crying pocket need that answered positively. This would nicely cover the period until the kindergarten opens officially again and I wouldn’t have to start looking for another “sitting” job. “Thanks, John.” She was really happy, even some of the fatigue seemed to have disappeared from her voice. “I will return for a weekend, in about three weeks time, will give you a bit of recuperation time.”

    Who the hell (I did not curse in the presence of little Mary) needed recuperation time? After that first nip to my finger, the little one was practically an angel.

    Giulietta started calling almost daily. I was glad she did it, since I guessed she was better off than me, financially speaking. Her grunting and barking sessions got shorter, and on the other hand her talking sessions got longer. The Mary’s didn’t mind, busy as they were tearing each other apart, and I found myself enjoying the calls. She flooded me with information, names, audition anecdotes, friends, actually she did most of the talking and I did most of the listening. My stories were mostly around little Mary and the new words she was learning every day. And finally, one evening I picked the handset to a scream that should have pierced my eardrum if I would have been faster to place the receiver against my ear.

    “I got it, I got it,” she shouted after the scream, “where are my Mary’s?” The Mary’s were already trotting my way, knowing it was mommy, and I put the phone on speaker so they could grunt and bark all they wanted. I used the opportunity that big Mary was not paying attention to take the final measurements for a harness and saddle arrangement I was creating for little Mary to be able to ride her – with those almost horse dimensions this was something that asked to be created. When I closed the connection, I placed the saddle on the dog’s massive back, fixed it securely under her belly so it wouldn’t roll around and placed on it a little Mary squealing with delight. I wasn’t sure who of them enjoyed it more – the little or the big, but it surely was an improvement to my own mobility. Finally I could walk in the house instead of limping with that constant Mary-weight attached to my foot.

    Giulietta got one of the top roles in the Lion King, I didn’t quite understand which one, and she decided to jump over for a weekend before serious rehearsals started. I waited for her at the train station, little Mary riding big Mary with a bright pink safety helmet swallowing almost half of her head and her pink sneakers blinking like the 4th of July. “Mommy, Mommy.” The dog chased Giulietta’s way, forgetting anything I “told” her about walking carefully when the kid was on her back; luckily it was a short distance and Giulietta had time to pick up her daughter before she tumbled down, hugging her hungrily. Big Mary kept jumping and barking like a wild animal, drawing smiles of apprehension and increased distance from the onlookers. I rushed forward and tried to restrain her from making a mess of Giulietta’s clothes... “Hey, you turncoat...” I snapped her way, uselessly. Then, straining against the tight leash, I let my eyes wander over to where Giulietta and little Mary were having their reunion, deciding on the fly that the scene needed a repeated and more careful look. Mainly the grown up part of the scene. I remembered getting blinded the first time, this time I was double blinded, if such a thing was possible. She lost some weight though not around the D cups, was slightly tanned, and she was wearing a half-transparent summery dress that reached to her knees but the shape it nevertheless let through could have inspired poets much better than me. And her smile... I looked for a sentence that could have described it – burned my eyes out of their sockets? (I used it three years ago in a poem that failed every contest I sent it to). She advanced my way, holding little Mary with one hand, the other dragging a small suitcase. Big Mary was acting berserk at her ankles, probably biting off chunks of flesh, and all Giulietta did was laugh good humoredly, letting the dog do as it wished. She pecked my cheek, remembering my reluctance to shake her hand.

    “Seen a ghost?” she asked. I woke up from my frozen state and offered to take her suitcase. I unleashed big Mary so she could run back and forth in endless frenzy, the saddle on her back looking ridiculous. “Did you make it?” she asked, meaning the saddle and harness. When I nodded, she smiled happily, and leaned my way, giving me another peck on the cheek. I could sense it notched higher, more toward kiss. “Thank you. I see that you and my Mary’s are getting perfectly together. Any sequels?” And seeing my dumbfounded regards, she laughed. “Did it leave any scar?”

    Instinctively I looked at my index finger, then smiled back.

    “Cost me a fortune in plastic surgery, you’ll get the bill and my lawyer’s letter.”

    She pulled my hand and kissed the finger, then let little Mary down and the three of them started chasing each other like it was the last day of school or something. I allowed myself to blush to the roots of my hairs, no one was watching. I guided them to the parking place and made sure the human women were safely seated and safety-belted in the back, while big Mary took the front seat, seating and facing backwards towards her pets. I felt almost envious.

    “Where are you taking us?” asked Giulietta.

    “I prepared a picnic basket, we are going to have a family picnic.” The word family slipped through, innocently. She did not seem to mind, or even pay attention. Her eyes and attention were all over and around her little Mary.

    We got at her place much later that day, about 8pm. The euphemistic “little ones” were exhausted, sleeping on the back seats, after having spent most of the time either chasing each other or other dogs and children. Big Mary even accepted to have some aliens ride her in the saddle, to squeals of delight from the children and worried looks from their parents. We made sure the present parents agreed, each time a kid asked for it, and I kept running alongside the tireless dog keeping the occasional “riders” safe. I was exhausted as well. “You are great with children,” remarked Giulietta, gobbling my sandwiches like she was famished. “I am famished,” she laughed, crossing her legs shamelessly on the blanket and facing me, talking with her mouth full and letting crumbs fall around her. A few daring sparrows picked the crumbs and flew hastily away. I couldn’t take my eyes off those munching teeth, laughing eyes, powerful legs ending in... I jumped upright and rushed to save a kid from falling off the saddle. Then I returned and sat in exactly the same place, watching exactly the same wonders; as if I didn’t see a woman before. “A sandwich for your thoughts,” laughed Giulietta, picking the last sandwich and taking a huge bite off it. Not that I would have dared share my thoughts with her, right then.



    “Please drive to your place. I don’t want to take Mary out of her present environment just for a couple of days.”

    I started the car and drove on. I was too exhausted to either think or care.


    I lay the “little girls” to bed, on big Mary’s cot, of course. I just changed little Mary’s diapers, and both were soon snoring their heads off. Giulietta looked on, smiling, actually I saw what I interpreted as thank tears in her eyes. I proposed that I sleep on the living room sofa and Giulietta could take the bedroom. This way she could keep an eye on her “girls” all night long.

    “I think that in the short time that I have learned to know you, I have learned as well that I can trust you with my girl, John. Where is the bathroom?” She picked a nightie from the suitcase then went into the bathroom, a couple minutes later I could hear the shower. She emerged shortly after, an air of freshness emanating from her, her hair gleaming with humidity, all make up removed. “Another ghost?” she laughed again, arranging the clothes neatly on the back of a chair. I felt slightly embarrassed, seeing her arrange her underwear as well. “One might think I am the first woman to pass the night here,” she added, winking joyfully.

    “You are,” I said dryly, then followed into the bathroom. I expected to find the living room deserted by the time I got back. She was still there, the sofa opened into a bed and laid with bed sheets and one pillow... I wondered how she found her way around so easily. Now she was seated against the sofa’s rigid back, legs retracted underneath her, nightie pulled over the knees, eyes closed. She opened them once she heard me emerging and made a move inviting me to sit next to her. I did, keeping a symbolically decent distance between us.

    “I guess you wonder,” she said.

    “I do.” I did.

    “I volunteered to help with one of the refugee camps in Sudan. Four years ago. I fell in love with one of the guards, a local soldier, black, strong, handsome. We kept our relationship secret, for both our sakes. Then I fell pregnant, gave birth to Mary. One month later I decided to return to the states. For both our sakes, rather for all our sakes?... again.”

    She went on talking for a long while. Describing me life in a refugee camp, the daily horrors, the daily little victories, the permanent fear, the humans and the animals behind the visages. Death, a daily visitor speaking either from the mouth of starvation or from the mouth of disease or from the mouth of a Kalashnikov. I did not interrupt her. She went on to her earlier period, the dance school, dreams of limelight, dreams of applause. “You are a good listener, you know?”

    I asked probably the right questions at the right time. I did not ask about the oriental eyes, there was sufficient time for curiosity later on.

    “And she?” I pointed with my chin towards the bedroom and Giulietta understood my secondary “she” question.

    “She was born in the same insalubrious room Mary was born in, same time, different mother...” she laughed shortly, “though at times makes one wonder. I smuggled her in the states inside my purse, she was not bigger than Mary’s fist at birth; tranquilized. She became a monster. A perfect nanny, though severely handicapped – she cannot warm Mary’s food, neither replace her diapers. Perfect in all other ways.”

    “Good night,” I said, getting ready to stand up, and kissing her cheek.

    “Good night.” She kissed me lightly on the lips, then slid under the thin cover. Thankfully it was dark, hiding my embarrassment and light blush.

    “It’s nice,” she whispered, dreamily.


    “A man blushing.”

    I tiptoed out of the room as fast as I could manage without banging into furniture corners.

    I don’t know how long I slept, waking up under the double attack of a double Mary, both asking for their share of breakfast and one also for her right to pee outside. The other one didn’t have to ask for any right yet to pee in her diapers. I opened the door for big Mary, she rushed out for two minutes and then was back, waiting next to her bowl for her portion of fried eggs. Little Mary was dragging a disheveled Giulietta to the kitchen, proposing her “uncle John’s flied eggs”.

    “I look probably awful,” smiled the sleepy mom, yawning heartily. “Do I have the right to pee first?”

    “No,” little Mary was firm, climbing already on her chair and following me with her eyes like a hungry predator.

    “You seem to have turned her into a normal child,” smiled Giulietta, waiting for little Mary to focus on the food, so she could sneak to the bathroom. It wasn’t a quiet breakfast, with little Mary asking for choco pudding and big Mary whining under the table for extra portions and both adults exchanging shards of information flanked by a stream of pleasantries. “I wonder if hell is so loud,” laughed Giulietta, smearing a bread loaf with a thick layer of strawberry marmalade.

    “Heaven certainly is,” I countered, then to allay my embarrassment I continued, “are dancers not supposed to be on a strict diet?”

    “They are, except when they visit heaven.” It was her turn to feel embarrassed, and she hid it differently. “OK, little lady, now it is momma’s turn to change your diapers.” She picked the little girl in her arms and took her to the bedroom. She passed in front of the treacherously sunny window, my second treat of the same, was it on purpose?... the silhouetted body under that thin nightie a nightmare to follow me for a long time, I knew. This time without the mitigating effect of a second layer of textiles under the top, visible layer. Life. A life, I suddenly ached to possess.

    I started clearing the table, last night’s light blush turning into pulsating red.

    “When do you travel back?” I asked. She emerged dressed in light colored shorts, sandals, a thin blouse which clearly showed she didn’t care much for wearing a brassiere.

    “This evening. May I ask you something?”

    “Sure, shoot.”

    “Would you mind having another picnic today? I enjoyed my time yesterday, big time.”

    “Well, why don’t we ask the Mary’s?” The Mary’s were delighted, of course, at least the one who understood and started yelling through the house “pic, pic, pic...” the other just followed the mood and rushed over to bring her muzzle. Speaking of mongrel intelligence...

    We went to the same spot, assuming part of the children would be the same so we could skip the presentations, mainly of big Mary’s inoffensive nature. We kept an eye on the playing children, as we sat leaning against a tree, enjoying the incomparable laziness of a sunny summer day.

    “Look there,” pointed Giulietta, “a picture worth a Pulitzer,” and she started laughing uncontrollably. It was a picture for a Pulitzer: little Mary, a little boy and big Mary all peeing while standing up on the same spot of ground. Giulietta started hiccupping.

    “You have turned a mongrel into a flower,” she said, between hiccups, wiping her eyes.

    “Do you have a friend?” I blurted, before taking the time to think, before taking the time to hesitate, before taking the time to not blurt.

    I don’t think that what followed has a heavy silence. It was a smiley silence.

    “You mean, friend like a boyfriend?”


    She did not answer immediately. I don’t know if she was debating what to say or was just taking the time and enjoying it. She turned to face me.

    “I don’t have time for boyfriends, John. I am busy trying to make a living. Soon even busier once rehearsals start. Wanted to ask you, actually, would you mind extending this arrangement for a longer period, until I can make other arrangements?”

    It was an answer, yet somehow not the answer I expected, or maybe wished. It was practical, controlled, limited in scope. I found myself yearning for more.

    “Little Mary, whose eyes are these?” Giulietta returned to lean against the tree, picking my hand as if in detachment. I tried to pull it away, then stopped trying, it was like trying to force it away from the jaws of a pitbull.

    “One of my great-great-grandfathers, on my mother’s side, was Navajo. Beautiful, isn’t she?”

    “Yes,” I answered, watching Giulietta’s closed eyelashes and wondering about the meaning of my answer.

    I drove her that evening to the train station. Little Mary was delighted to rest in my arms, as we all hugged Giulietta before her departure and I benefitted from a second touch on my lips.

    “You certainly made a conquest there,” said the radiant mom, more radiant in her parting than she was in her arriving. Or maybe my way of seeing her changed in the last twenty-four hours.

    “Only there?” I was suddenly daring in my remarks, comments.

    “Promise to visit? You did. Before you have to open the kindergarten for the new year.”

    “Promise.” I had promised to take little Mary on a trip to the city, so she could watch mommy dancing. I hated travelling, especially during the crowded train hours, and truth being said – the city scared me. But she made me promise and a promise was something to be kept. It would also be an occasion to see Giulietta again, though this was of secondary importance, of course.


    I dressed little Mary in full-pink. Pink shoes, pink chaussettes trimmed with pink lace, pink skirt, even pink panties and for once I decided not to use diapers, making her promise me to tell immediately when she felt like pipi. Of course, most of my backpack was filled with diapers. I even bought her a pink purse which she carried proudly across her chest, filling it with – what else – pink beads. I decided I wanted to make a positive, a very positive impression on the mom, therefore even big Mary got a pink... muzzle. Funny, she never complained about wearing a muzzle, waiting docilely for me to click shut the snap fasteners and for the saddle to be harnessed around her body. She seemed to know it was precursory to fun.

    We were an attraction in the train. I was allowed to take the dog with us, seeing that it was muzzled legally (I did check their site previously), and both Mary’s kept parading up and down the aisle like royalty showing off their higher class. I guess that at least a hundred photos were taken that day of the “royal couple”, most with other kids, some with grown-ups, even one of them with the conductor. I was so taken off with all the well being and well intentioning and well meaning around that I descended at the wrong station, one station too late.

    “Are you sure?” asked me a guy standing next to the door. Of course I was sure. It was only when I turned out all by myself with my two Mary’s on the deserted platform, that I stopped being sure. Giulietta was probably frantic by now, waiting for us at the previous station... oops, my cell phone was off, train regulations. I turned it on and found five messages waiting. I called her right away, to tell her we are OK and to ask her if there was any public transportation to take us back to where she was waiting for us.

    “Where did you descend?” she asked, her voice slightly tense. I told her and I knew that if it would have been a visi-phone I would have seen a Giulietta the color of white chalk. “Don’t move, I come to pick you up from there. Don’t move! It will take me half an hour. Don’t move!” With three “Don’t move”s it sounded like important, and I guessed that the station where we descended might have been the wrong part of the city. Anyway, it was deserted, offensive graffiti did not yet kill anyone, so I allowed my Mary’s to trot up and down the platform, to the little one’s joyful laughter. The big one could only growl, confined as she was in her muzzle. I assumed these were happiness growls. It was a wrong assumption.

    There were five of them, approaching from the far end of the platform. I saw a car parked there, I guessed it may have been parked there all the time, I just didn’t see it. If they were that big from a distance, I could only imagine what they would be like once they got nearer. Of course, they might have been just local kids waiting for the next train. Sure, fat chance. Huge, black chance, not really kids anymore and one of them picking his nails with a navaja de muelles the size of a saber. I was familiar with navajas, having at home a small collection of my own. Unfortunately, right then all I had on me was a nail clipper, which nevertheless I pulled out.

    “Got lost, white boy?” He stopped a couple paces in front of me, an albino black man, dark sunglasses hiding all expression, his fingers covered with huge gold rings. I didn’t respond that he was whiter than me, it did not seem appropriate and in any case I was shaking like a leaf facing a tornado and couldn’t really talk. “What’s that, do you intend to clip my nails?” The voice was roughened with smoke, there was no expression in it to judge by, he was clearly the leader of the small gang and the others were waiting for him to tell them what to do.

    “Mary. Mary. Get here!” I managed, and big Mary trotted obediently next to me, the little one watching the scene with big, curious eyes. The guy pushed my chest with a dirty nailed forefinger.

    “How much money do you carry?... ouch!...” He lifted his left hand to eye level, a palm the size of a double spread Encyclopedia Britannica, paper edition, and the thickness of two volumes of the same, one on top of the other. Little Mary was hanging there literally by her teeth, a small trickle of blood crawling away from her mouth. “What the hell?...” He shook his hand wildly and she fell on the wooden platform, starting to cry.

    “You bastard, she was trying to befriend you.” I hit him. With my left. Right on the side of his jaw and if I would have been hitting a concrete pillar it would have been probably the same jarring sensation in my shoulder. Then I hit him again, with my right, seeing his head persistently occupying the same volume at the same coordinates in space, yet a split lip telling me that my titanium phalanxes did some damage. His little gang made a move as if to step in but he stopped them with a nod of his head. Then he took off his glasses and watched me with a pair of eyes the blue of a sunny summer sky. I waited, tense, knowing of imminent disaster looming yet knowing that events from that moment on were out of my hands. I was obviously as lousy a fighter as I was a poet. “Who’s the nigger? What name is this, Marymary?” he rasped, pointing to little Mary’s sobbing figure. I could hear fragments of “dada, dada...” in between sobs, tearing my heart. Big Mary lay down next to her human pet and placed that big head of hers in the girl’s lap, growling incessantly.

    “My daughter,” I said, not blinking, not thinking, my mind scared blank.

    He kept eyeing me with those pseudo transparent eyes, folded his eyeglasses and placed them in his shirt’s pocket, then bent down to the girl. Whatever his intent, he should not have done it. After all, he had been constantly warned. It looked like a slow motion scene from a pulp movie, still, an incredible scene. Big Mary curved her spine, catlike, every hair-end on her body spiking out like dog turned hedgehog, the right front paw pulling open the muzzle’s snap fasteners while in the same one move she straightened up and her jaws closed around the big man’s neck. They held just enough to hold, not yet snapping shut. Panther, I gasped, adding to big Mary’s long list of assumed genes and genealogy which contributed to the present sample’s mongrelity, or rather mongrosity. I watched on in fascinated horror. The holder of the navaja let it drop and pulled out a snub nosed revolver.

    I heard car doors clacking shut and the sound of rushing feet.

    “I wouldn’t move if I was you.” Her voice was cold, impassionate. Giulietta jumped on the platform, followed by two guys, I guess dance colleagues or something. They were young, lean, muscular. They were no match to the small gang waiting for its chief’s orders, surely no match to the revolver but nevertheless evening a bit the odds. “John, take Mary to the car.” I wanted to protest. “John, take Mary to the car!” It was not a request, it was an order. I picked up the little sniveling kid and went over to the car, put her on the back seat but I remained outside. “Everybody, to the car,” she repeated, and her two friends followed me reluctantly, waiting outside their truck. I saw one of them picking a baseball bat and holding it out of sight. It was a stand-off with some undefined ending. I never stopped shivering, not from that first moment I started to.

    “You’re dead meat, whore,” wheezed the guy from between big Mary’s teeth. “You are all dead.”

    “Looks like you’re going to hell a bit before me.” She stood there, defiant, I wondered how much of it show and how much of it real. The revolver was aimed her way, finger on the trigger. “You don’t mess with me, big man. You don’t mess with my family and you don’t mess with my pet.”

    “I don’t mess with you, whore. I first fuck you, then they fuck you, then I kill you.”

    “If you live this long.” Big Mary was drooling, her hold steady, her growl incessant. The prostrated man was clearly in pain, his position awkward, his muscles clearly starting to give in to the strain.

    “What do you propose, bitch?” Whore changed to bitch, maybe a positive sign?

    “A bone crusher.”

    “A bone crusher? With that wimp hubby of yours?” He almost laughed, then thought better of it.

    “My wimp...” She looked at me, for a short moment her expressionless face turning smile.

    “With me. I win I walk. You win I walk with you. But first your buddy there throws far away his pea-shooter.”

    “Yeah, and then you run away.”

    “I cannot, you’ll have my grip.”

    I wanted to shout, protest, something... I could not, I was paralyzed with fear. She made a move with her head towards us and we got into our cars.

    “OK.” His voice was hoarse, almost gone. He also made a sign toward the goons and after a slight hesitation the one holding the revolver threw it away from them and from us. They even smiled. “Now give me your hand and call the damn dog away from my neck.”

    Giulietta extended her right hand and the guy’s huge paw closed around it like it was made of fresh putty. He started squeezing. “Mary, car!” She did not have to repeat the command. Big Mary released her grip and trotted speedily towards the car in which I waited, jumping into the front seat.

    The great albino straightened upwards slowly, his joints still partially locked, his countenance fierce, a smile spreading over his face to encouraging calls from the rest of his gang, his fingers continuously closing around Giulietta’s palm, I saw her straining. Something unholy was happening there. Regards unwavering, smiles frozen... ten seconds, fifteen... they started sweating, I started sweating as well seeing Giulietta’s knees start to buckle with the man’s knees following trait seconds later. She leaned slightly forward, her mouth forming an inaudible prayer yet her knees kept giving while the man’s started straightening, a smile spreading on his face as she groaned, bending, down to her knees... she fell, her head making a hollow sound on the wooden platform. The hands unlocked. He towered above her for a full minute, unmoving, gloating. I was afraid that he was going to lift his foot and crush her skull then and there, even with all the witnesses around. Then as the rest of his gang started closing in he made an imperative stopping gesture, and turned towards them.

    “We go,” he said. One opened his mouth to argue only to find an albino left fist blocking his protest with a blow calculated to draw blood, not to knock down. This ended all arguments.

    We waited until they climbed into their car and whooshed away, before rushing to Giulietta’s side. She stood up, visibly weakened, visibly tense. “We go,” she echoed the same words, allowing me to support her towards the back seat. She hugged both Mary’s at the same time, and made a movement with her head, telling me that I should follow her friends’ car. I was still shivering, nevertheless I could trust myself driving her car. Slowly. After a few moments’ silence, I blurted.

    “So what happened there? Tell me. I thought I lost you.” The agitation in my voice was obvious, real.

    “John,” she opened her eyes, caressing the two heads resting her lap in a mix of thick fur and curly hair. “I hope you kept big Mary clean of lice, otherwise they are by now building a new colony in little Mary’s hair.”

    I stopped by the wayside and started laughing hysterically. Everything that happened to me inside the last couple of hours exploded in one uncontrollable stream of hysterical laughter that I simply could not stem. Not even when big Mary clambered back to the front seat and started licking me like I was her puppy or something. Giulietta joined in the laughter, not as heartily as I did but still, sufficiently loud. At that moment I knew that I fell in love with this woman. “So what happened there?” I repeated, once I could reproduce anew those meaningful vowels and consonants that were once upon a time part of phonetic me.

    “I told him that if he didn’t want to lose his masturbating hand along with the respect of his goons, he’d better play winner while I played loser, and let us go. He let us go.”

    I got out of my seat moved carefully little Mary’s sleeping figure out of the way and once I found myself next to Giulietta I kissed her, hard. She did not really respond, not fully though she did not resist. “And why that?” she asked.

    I got out again and sat my rigid body behind the steering wheel, then signaled the car in front of us that we were ready to continue. The silence would have been bliss, if not for big Mary’s snoring. Come to think of it, it was bliss, nevertheless.


    She shared a two rooms apartment with another dancer, the other girl having moved out to friends for the benefit of our three days stay there.

    “I’m going to take a shower. Mary, come with mommy?”

    I didn’t have much to unpack. I lay on the bed in the second room, and in a few minutes I was asleep. I woke up finding four watchful eyes staring at me from the safety of the bed’s other side.

    “Dada, dada, mum, mum...” and she jumped off the bed followed by the barking dog. I found them in the kitchen, little Mary sitting on a chair with one hand holding a fork and the other a knife, and big Mary sitting next to the big bowl that I did unpack previously. She actually refused to eat from any other bowl.

    “I believe we have a problem with this family,” smiled Giulietta, leaning against the door frame, hands crossed over her chest. “This is what I would call severe dysfunctionality. They refuse to eat unless if it is prepared by dada. Even the big mongrel, there.” The big mongrel there was watching attentively, her tail steadily hitting the floor.

    I surely did not mind, after all I was paid for it. I enjoyed it as well but that was something not to be told to my employer... ahm... employer? Was there in baby-sitting deontology anything to prevent an employee from falling in love with his employer? I didn’t remember taking any kind of oath for my kindergarten license.

    “What are you grinning there about,” asked my D-cup employer, all signs of stress seemingly eliminated from her voice and body.

    “I was thinking about D and its potential ramifications,” I answered enigmatically. “Join the table, I will prepare something for you as well.”

    “Nothing big, I have to work today.”

    It was nothing big for all of them, us, I enjoyed the feeling, the atmosphere, the conviviality if such a word could be construed to include a pre-girl in forming and a four legged already much beyond forming. Giulietta helped me clear the table, doing the dish-washing while I was doing the drying. The “kids” were in the small living room, both watching Rocky One. Big Mary was acting magnanimous that evening.

    “Thank you,” said Giulietta, leaning for a second her head on my shoulder.

    “For what?” I felt suddenly quite embarrassed. “For almost getting all of us killed?”

    “For kissing me.” She left the kitchen and put on a light coat. “I left the address on the table, and money for the cab.” As I was starting a protest pantomime she crossed the floor to me hurriedly and kissed me. If I kissed part of her hard earlier on, this time she kissed me hard with all of her being joining the effort; I had to support myself on the kitchen table to make sure I remained standing. “I do not want to get in the habit of having to save my Mary’s. Or losing them. Or you.”

    She turned and left. I was floating.

    We were allowed in – dog and child and all, Giulietta having left word at the theater’s entrance about us. Then after a few embarrassing barks and dada cries I went into the theater’s lobby and watched over my Mary’s playing with some old costumes left around: an enthusiastic small one dressing a reluctant yet obedient big one with a dada crawling on all fours to save them again and again from complicated textile tangles. On one of these crawling trips I raised my head to find a waiting, smiling, thoughtful Giulietta.

    “Tell me, John, am I falling in love with you?”

    We had a late gourmet dinner at a fast food, corner street resto, sneaking big Mary in and under a corner table when the owner did not pay attention, then feeding her the only jumbo menu that we ordered. Of course, Mary the big, as I started calling her in my mind after her show at the station, accepted the food only from my hand. I saw the owner counting heads and counting orders but not minding the extra money. It was only after I paid (I insisted) and there was a tail between our legs as we got out that he shouted after us... “Hey!...” too late. We rushed away, laughing our heads off and cramming into a small cab that happened to wait outside.

    “You don’t take your car to work?” I asked.

    “Parking will cost me thrice the price of a cab, both ways.”

    It felt like déjà-vu. I rolled out the dog’s cot, lay both “girls” to sleep and waited until the human half of the two finally closed her eyes. The canine half was already long gone to lala land, obviously chasing countless bad guys in her dream.

    Giulietta was already in her pj’s, under the covers. I went to the bathroom, showered, brushed my teeth, put on a pair of light boxer shorts I used as pajamas and returned to the living room to arrange my clothes on the back of a chair. Déjà-vu but kind of diametrically opposite. I went over to the cot watching the two Mary’s sleep, then left the room to go to mine.

    “Good night,” I said.

    “Good night, John, you can leave the door open.”

    I left the door to my room open as well. The air was a bit stuffy, the slight breeze from the partially opened window and the door was helping. I blanked my mind to all: thoughts, events, wishes... all I wanted was to fall asleep. I couldn’t. I turned, and turned...

    “Restless?” The voice came from the doorway. The silhouette moved silently from the door to the bed side and then slid under the covers, next to me. She was warm, soft, her hand took my palm and guided it to her breast. I guessed I had a reasonable fifty-fifty percent of survival; and if I died... what better death could I have had wished me? “John...” I didn’t answer. “Make love to me.”

    We were hungry. I did not kiss her. She did not kiss me. We kissed each other, we gobbled each other, we ate chunks of flesh from each other like famished... what?... panthers? I choked the laughter, first cursing big Mary and then blessing her and soon enough I forgot about big Mary completely. Giulietta stayed in my bed. We had nothing to hide.

    When the two monsters started pulling at my ankles early next morning, she just turned on the other side, revealing the kind of length of leg that nightmares are made of. The nightmares of not owning it. I decided I was going to chase that nightmare out of my life.

    Meanwhile, two monsters were screaming for my morning’s scrambled eggs. They did not seem to mind that their dada was completely naked.



Lesson in Humility

    She was one of the freaks. They called her gypsy, even though she was blonde, had green eyes and a skin as white as Himalayan snow. I know Himalayan snow better than many, I thought bitterly, it was where I lost my leg and gained a lesson in humility.

    The stage backdrop curtain was of a faded red, and the only decoration around was a huge bouquet of wax-paper flowers that had seen better and cleaner days. A few spiders were waiting patiently between the tattered leaves, hoping for an occasional moth to wander into their web. Hoping... does a spider know hope?

    The midget running the show tied a black cloth over the girl’s eyes and asked the public (public, ha, fourteen people) to choose one out of the ten poetry books he showed around. He took the chosen Woodsworth collection, a cheap run-of-the-mill edition, and threw it in the pizza oven making some kind of incantation over it. No one seemed to mind the burning of a book, and I felt a tightening in my stomach. He waited until the flames subsided and all that was left was glowing ashes, swept these carefully into a glass jar, closed the lid and then let a faucet pour water over it while rolling it in his hands.

    “To cool it,” he shouted towards the indifferent public, his nicotine stained teeth gleaming yellow sparks under the one working limelight. The front lens of the other limelight was cracked. “And now, anyone, tell us which poem, which stanza?”

    “Eleventh, third stanza,” came a shout back.

    “Eleventh, third stanza,” the midget repeated with pompous gravity, opened the jar and handed it to the girl. She held it in her lap, hesitated a moment, then placed a slender hand inside the jar, mixing the ashes slowly with her fingers. My guess was that she was thinking about spaghetti bolognaise. Thus, I was mildly surprised when I heard her soft, barely audible voice, starting to declaim with an almost perfect accent:

    “Sunshine and shower be with you, bud and bell!
    For two months now in vain we shall be sought...”

    “Cheaters! Booh!” a few whistles and raucous laughter erupted from at least two corners of the room. “Where’s her earpiece? How do we know? You burned the book!” Some other spectators joined in the laughter and jeer.

    “We leave you here in solitude to dwell
    With these our latest gifts of tender thought...”

    “Another book, here, choose another book,” challenged the midget, dodging an ice cream projectile aimed at his head and lifting another bunch of ten books in his right hand.

    “Here, another book,” I found myself suddenly calling, limping towards the stage. I was holding in my right hand my own, new, freshly self-published collection of poetry, a package of five copies I had just received from Amazon, and it was on my way home from the post office that I chanced upon the freak show. I was intrigued by the “poetry in the ashes” claim outside. The package I carried was still sealed.

    The midget seemed not to have heard me. I was sure he did.

    “Another book, here, choose another book,” he kept calling, jumping up and down the stage with the books’ hand raised high above his head and pointing to the girl that meanwhile had the black cloth removed from her eyes. The big earrings dangling from her ears made her as much a gypsy as my wooden foot made me a Sarah Bernhardt.

    “Here, let me handle this.” I turned around to the guy tapping me on the left shoulder. He looked kind of drunk, kind of big, kind of unsteady. I handed him the package, he tore the wrappings carelessly and dropped them on the floor, squinting at the book cover with myopic eyes. “And who the hell is?... never mind... I will keep one copy for reference.” He shoved one book in a bulging pocket then jumped on the stage with agility unfit for his size earlier behavior and approached the screaming midget. “Now! You! Shut up!” The midget stopped jumping and screaming. “You take this book and you do your trick with the gypsy and the pizza oven and the ashes with this book. Or you end in the pizza oven yeself, git it?”

    A number of popcorn filled mouths yahooed encouragement from the back rows, probably not sure if this was part of the show but enjoying themselves nevertheless. The midget looked seriously frightened. He took the book handed over to him and asked politely, maybe too politely, for the stage to be cleared. The big guy obliged, bowing to the public and jumping down with a big wink my way. He came to sit next to me, whispering so that he could be heard in Australia. His breath stank could certainly be smelled down there in Australia as well.

    “Now, he’s fried...”

    The book landed in the oven. Seeing that piece of paper, my piece of paper, go up in flames and then rest on the oven’s plate glowing like a never born piece of junk, brought a choking feeling to my throat. Yet, I was as tense as a violin string. Probably more. I refused to choke.

    The rigmarole with the jar and eye tying over, the midget turned to my neighbor. This one was holding the book in his hand, leafing slowly through the pages. I had a feeling he was defiling it.

    “Poem number? Stanza number?”

    “Fourth. First stanza.” He kept the book close to his face, probably a mix of myopia and making sure no one could read it over his shoulder with some hidden camera. “No, thirtieth poem, second stanza.” He winked my way again. “Now he’s fucked, I did not open this one at all, he he...”

    The girl let her hand slide inside the jar, mixing, mixing, tiny clouds rising and falling around her fingers... “Booh!...” I heard a voice to my left. She rotated slightly on her chair, probably guessing where my place was, facing me. My neighbor burped.

    “Your feet drag dreams across the floor,
    You tango between sink and door,
    I follow you through worlds of light
    One tile to left, one tile to right
    of raw delight
    and craves galore.”

    I stood up and left. There was nothing more for me to say. There was no need to check either. I waited outside, letting the rain soak me, minding nothing. The big guy followed almost immediately, handed me back the book and left without a word.

    This is one trick I would kill to know, I thought. Except that, I kind of knew that this might not have been a trick at all. My stump was sore, it hurt horribly. I arrived home one hour later, sloshed my way through the living room into the bed room, got into bed wet clothes and shoes and wooden leg and all and fell asleep immediately. It was probably time for my second lesson in humility.




    “Give me fifteen!”

    My cheeky ten year old grandson lifted a pudgy fifteen-fingered palm to clap against my ten-fingered one in a kind of childish defiance, then returned to his sand castle building. Yeah, easier with thirty fingers. Yeah, gramps is a ten-fingered freak! Yeah...

    I leaned back nonchalantly in my comfortable long-chair, the sun still hot but the chilly breeze making it all bearable. My grandson’s back was of a milk-white color, the thick layers of protective cream I layered him with making him look like a child sandwich. I snorted with pleasure and picked up the binoculars, scanning the beach for bare breasted beauties. Lots of them on this loosely controlled portion of the Miami shoreline. This is why I chose it. Yeah, life was beautiful.

    It started seventeen years ago, first case in Colombia and big front page titles (...freak baby, drugs...), then some additional reports from US, Romania, India, and then, inside four months, the entire world was giving birth to fifteen-fingered fifteen-toed babies. Now the absolute norm.

    Scientists rapidly identified a specific change in the DNA coding responsible for this development, and linked it speculatively to a gigantic sun flare and increased cosmic radiation that happened about seven months before the first occurrence. It seems the event altered male sperm in some irreversible way and all children born today have fifteen fingered hands. In a few generations, people depicted in all past art representations and images will be deemed monsters, lol. Funny that humans were the only species mutated by that solar event, not even monkeys, not even plants. Ah, yes, there were speculations about an additional belly fin that sardines seemed to have developed, however as sardines did not take to the habit of recording their history in written form, ha, there was no certainty that the two mutations were related.

    It was a messy transition from the “then world” to this “new world”, quite beneficial in many economic aspects: new toys, new education systems, new tools, sports, electronic devices, the jewelry and clothing industries were booming. Even religions had to be adapted. And the few thousands of second generation children already born proved that the change was here to stay.

    I fell asleep for a short while, waking up with my grandson’s small hand shaking my shoulder. His sand castle was quite impressive, and I told him so. I suggested a few improvements to the towers at the left... well, as long as he kept himself busy and me comfortable...

    There were lots of people in the water. Some even ventured far away from the shore, dangerously far, lots of heads bobbing up and down so far that I had problems identifying them clearly. Hey, could it have been miles away? This was utterly irresponsible. I picked up the binocular and rested a couple of minutes on a pair of nicely shaped breasts that just happened to pass through my field of view, yeah, sure, then directed them seawards to have a better look at those irresponsible swimmers. It was a bit puzzling, was I supposed to see them so far away, so many of them, horizon to horizon? Some shapes started rising above the water... now, with the water that far from the shore having a depth of... I froze. I regarded a few minutes more, before I suddenly jumped off my chair, picked my bewildered grandson under my right arm, and started running towards my car.

    “Turtles!” I screamed, smashing under my feet my grandson’s sand-castle and its beautiful towers, imagining the soon to arrive feet doing the same to Miami and all of its sky-scrappers.




    She needed the whole of three months until she succeeded to pronounce her first word: “sausage”. It was supposed to be “solar” but it was a success, nevertheless. Until that moment she was stuck in the ultra-high frequencies, and could not understand why we could not hear her. Just the swarms of roving bats kept bothering her, probably everything she said was for them a love declaration. Thus “sausage” was a planetary success and TV stations worldwide made it top news, repeating the word several times a day. What could I tell you – I envied Radu with a passion, he got the one from Venus. Even if she was of a greenish-blue hue, but such a magnificent body, such breasts... I believed this was the reason she learned faster, probably part of their brains was in the breasts. Maybe in the tail as well, I was not so sure of this. But such linguistic talent... and what an adventure for Radu, she refusing to wear any kind of clothing for a full month. Until she accepted a bathing suit. But that was all.

    Mine was from Mars, a bit of a different species. Small breasts, skin the white of lime, green lips – hey, at least her eyes were green as well (Radu’s had yellow eyes, goat-like). And she was able to pull in her tail until one could have mistaken her for almost human. At least humanoid. But she dressed from day one exclusively Cartier, luckily the entire project was subsidized by the UN. I did not have Radu’s piece of luck. And I suffered horrible headaches from day one, until the institute’s specialists identified the source as ultra-sounds. She was talking with ultra sounds and we had no idea, we thought she was mute until wine glasses started exploding in the room. Then we guessed.

    The third one, the one from Io, had both a mustache and wings – poor Cornel, it was his assignment. And what a challenge, since in every other aspect she could have passed as perfectly human. And she could start speaking any language the moment she heard it. There was something slightly abnormal about her, at least for us.

    They were the first ambassadors to Earth from the Square Union, the way we understood this union was called in their language, quite confusing why wasn’t it Triangular – after all there were just three planets involved, again – as per our understanding. It was a long story – how did they contact us, why necessarily the Romanian Academy of Languages was selected to teach them “earthish”. Maybe in a future essay I will go into additional details related to the starting phase of this adventure, to the scientific and sociologic explanations of how come that the “neighbors” got to know us, and so on. For now I was responsible for Livisa (the way she composed her name with our letters) and I suffered terribly – morally and professionally. My boss kept demanding reports related to their political hierarchy, their weapons, their technology, and I was hardly able to talk to her about what she would like to eat. And on top of it, my heart took a white turn and I fell in love with my ambassadress – tail and all. We were now at the one year mark from the day the three ambassadresses landed on Earth, in a vehicle resembling a hedgehog rather than a saucer, and a certain impatience started penetrating in the weekly discussions with our boss, I together with Radu and Cornel. And in the monthly discussions with the international committee. All three of us were puzzled at their growing insistence and level of demand, and it seemed that the pressure was getting more out of Radu and Cornel who were bringing more information than I was. Just to make things clear, because I think that I did not mention it earlier – they fell in love as well, each with his respective assignment. Listen, these creatures were simply charming.


    I knocked on the door, so that she would know it was me. Anyone could have ringed, I was the only one tapping her name in Morse. Even though there was no known danger for the ambassadresses, they were all separately lodged in guarded houses, and they moved around with armies of security officers swarming around them. From time to time we were sneaking into town without their knowledge, and it seemed that no one paid any attention to us. We were strolling the streets hand in hand, like lovers, I certainly was in love, even if I never said it directly, yet she never declared anything that could be interpreted as such (would they know there love of the kind we call by this name?); but if she would have been human, I could have sworn she was in love with me. At the cinema, in darkness, she would replace her hand with her tail and this was the way we would watch the movie – hand in tail. Sometimes, at sad scenes, she would cry and her tears tasted same as ours, though I was sneezing when I was tasting them. Curiously enough, she was sneezing as well when tasting mine. Probably some mutual allergy. And she loved cartoons, madly so.

    She opened the door, naked – the Cartier was for others, for me she was always naked. She picked the flowers with the tail, a tail as agile as an elephant’s trunk, and she used the hands to embrace me until I lost my breath. Another fact I got used to, especially after I started following muscle-building training. At first I was wearing a steel corset, since it seemed that she was unable to control the force in her arms – it was all or nothing. But I realized that I was losing the pleasure of feeling her skin so I adapted as much as I could. You understand that, in my own way, I was a happy man.

    “Anything to drink?”

    “Yes, grape jus, please.” I followed her, watching her pick the bottle and fill her mouth, then approaching me and offering me to drink directly from her mouth. I liked the habit and she knew I liked it.

    “What color to dress today?” Same question every day, same answer.

    “White.” I liked her in white.

    “Both above and uderneath?” Again the same question and I could not bring her to say “underneath”. So it stayed “uderneath”. And again the same answer.

    “Yes. I like you in white.”

    “You find me yummy in white?” I did explain to her the difference between “pretty” and “yummy” and she preferred “yummy”.

    “I find you ‘sexy’ in white,” I tried to surprise her with a new word. But my intention misfired when she approached and the tail started penetrating underneath my shirt.

    “Do we go children?” she asked, a mischievous smile turning her into a goddess of beauty.

    “We have to go visit children?” I asked, uncertain.

    “Go visit children? What do you mean go visit children? Go children!” she repeated firmly, and a splitting headache suddenly invaded me. She must have emitted something in ultra-sound. And as suddenly I understood what the demoiselle had in mind. I forgot probably and momentarily the fact that her sentence composition was as flat as my neighbor Victoria Balan’s chest, and I had to be attentive to interpretations. I turned as red as devil’s blood, not just as blood.

    “You mean ‘go make children’?” I repeated, emphasizing the make and sinking even deeper into the red spectrum.

    “Yes, what did I say? Go children,” she repeated, emphasizing the go. And after a long pause with descended eyelids (she learned this one from Mae West), she murmured “You laugh me, no?” which was meant to say – you love me, no? I pulled carefully the tail from underneath my shirt and opened the hugging arms. If she would not have let me I could not have done it. She had by then only her bra and panties on, she looked so fragile, lost... A tear rolled from her eye and I was not fast enough to catch it. One fact I knew for certain – Livisa did not know to play this kind of theater. A second tear trolled on her cheek and this time I caught it with my mouth. I sneezed. She had no choice but to start laughing so hard that her tail was lashing me like a whip. Until I stuck my mouth to hers and bit into her lip – I never yet had kissed her with such passion. Her arms coiled again at my back and the sound of tearing cloth escaped me until the moment we found ourselves between bed sheets.

    “Are you perfectly sure?” I breathed for a moment.

    “Yes, I am pure,” she answered whatever she wanted, and afterwards I stopped asking. I may not have been a virgin, mind you, but never did I encounter such fury in my previously passing encounters of the kind. Could love have been the matter? I was certain of my own side, I was not so certain of her side of the matter.

    “You never missed me this way before,” she whispered lately, and I believe I understood what she was trying to say this time around.


    We were just leaving the cinema, having seen Cinderella. Magic. Livisa decided mid of the movie, for whatever reason, to hold my hand with her hand. I was not even sure she watched the movie, she was watching me most of the time. When the shoe slid onto Cinderella’s foot, she placed her hand at the nape of my neck and kissed me as if she knew the end of the world was coming. We left the cinema hand in hand. At the exit, a bunch of about ten blokes dressed in black got in between us in absolute silence, handcuffed Livisa and guided her to a black-paned limousine that disappeared behind the first street corner. All it took was five seconds. I stayed behind, bewildered, I did not even react when two other guys caught me by an elbow each and ushered me inside another limousine that drove in the opposite direction. What is happening here, maybe it really is the end of the world?

    The siren was emptying the streets as the car rushed through traffic lights of whatever color, as if they were certain that everyone would liberate the way. Luck or plan – we arrived in one piece, the car entered a park surrounded by an iron fence, automatic gates closed behind us and about a mile later we stopped in front of an imposing mansion. A few armed guards stepped aside to let us pass.

    They kept holding me by the elbows, ha, where could I have run to? I tried a “doggy, doggy” to one of the dogs we passed by, and if it was not for the iron chain he would have eaten both me and my accompanying guards. Poor doggy, was probably hungry.

    We entered an elevator, instead of having my soles stuck to the floor I almost had my hair sticking to the ceiling, a few minutes later we stopped somewhere, probably a cellar of some kind. Even though it looked more like a library. My boss was there as well, sitting next to someone with a chair bigger than his, probably some bigger chief, and I was surprised to see Radu and Cornel on a bench nearby. I shook my hands free and approached them.

    “Hey, guys, what are you doing here?”

    They were as ignorant as I was, and probably even more confused than me. I looked towards our boss, waiting for some logical explanation, but he seemed too busy talking with the other chief; from the distance it seemed that they were talking English. English in Romania’s security offices? Even though I knew that the ambassadresses project was an international one, I still would not have expected a CIAtchik (of this I was sure) involved in what was basically a civil project. The CIAtchik made a sign calling us to approach him and sit down. I expected a biscuit, a coffee, or at least a glass of juice with a straw – after all we didn’t feel guilty of any crime – but all he did was wrinkle his forehead and suddenly barked (was he hungry as well?) in... Romanian.

    “Did you know?”

    “Did we know what?” I volunteered to answer, the calmness in my voice not betraying the tram in my chest.

    “That the ambassadresses were spies?”

    If it would have been a joke, we would have died all three of a laughter attack. But it was no joke and our boss was competing with the other chief on who was drilling us more insistently with his stare. Okay, he must have had a very lively imagination, mister Cosmaru (i.e. nightmare his name, and this is not a joke either).

    “And what exactly did they spy, Romanian culinary recipes? Salty pickles? Because all day long they were either eating, or buying clothes, or visiting artistic events, circus included. Only at the Japanese Opera they left mid of the show. When, where, what to spy, sirs?” Their declaration was so stupid that I forgot where I was and I felt my chest swelling like a doughnut. Or like a stork. Or like whatever swells inside its feathers. I felt completely lucid but slightly overtaken by the events, thus I kind of mixed my metaphors.

    The big chief made a sign, and one of the characters surrounding us placed a small table in front of me and on it an open laptop. Hey...

    “Do you recognize it?” How not to, it was my laptop, damaged at the right corner, there where my previous dog happily chewed it. The character clicked slowly a few keys, allowing me time to see, first replacing the user name to... Livisa?... then introducing the password, Livisa as well, and then moved out of the way. “Now look at the navigation history.” I looked. Then I looked some more. Then I could not stop looking, with Radu and Cornel watching over my shoulders, and our lower maxillae dropping for all of us until – if flesh wouldn’t have been limited in flexibility, it would have reached our knees. We looked like the Three Stooges from those old American comedies. All the visited sites were dealing with atomic bombs. From theory all the way into practical applications. A senile kind of laughter got suddenly hold of me, there was no way that I could control it – Livisa an interplanetary terrorist... oh, my God.... The bloke who brought me the laptop came in front of me and slapped me. He should not have done it – a second later he met the floor with a crushed nose bone, finally my karate lessons served for something. But the slap calmed me. Something unorthodox was happening here.

    “And what is your theory, Mr. Cosmaru?” I asked my boss, since it was the only name I knew.

    The chief nodded and the room got dark. An image appeared on a gigantic screen, a frozen image looking like a surface photo taken on the moon. “Cyllene, one of the moons of Jupiter,” droned the chief. “Image taken by a Chinese satellite, one month before we were contacted, two months before we received the ambassadresses on Earth.” I saw him pushing a few buttons, and I imagined that the image was changing faster even though hardly anything visible changed on the screen. At a certain moment, something strange happened – a green line appeared on the screen, resting on the surface we were watching. For about one minute nothing else happened then suddenly the surface, the moon called Cyllene... disappeared. As if it never existed. The green line disappeared as well one second later, at least it looked like one second on the screen without knowing the image speed. The lights came on again and a curtain covered the screen.

    “Gentlemen,” continued the big chief with a slow yet hard voice, “It is for the first time in modern history, that the military and scientific authorities of Earth’s most developed countries agree that Earth faces the danger of annihilation, a danger posed by an extraterrestrial society of which we know practically nothing. We tried until now to establish a useful and usable communication language, using your services, and in parallel to obtain whatever information was possible. But after discovering the ambassadresses’ interest...” from which comment I understood that all three were doing similar researches on the internet...” it is time to change the plans drastically. And immediately. We do not know which information, or how such information could have been transmitted by them to their planets, but the possibility exists that at whatever moment we will have to face a nuclear attack that will eradicate life on the planet Earth.”

    “And this why?” I dared to ask, even though it seemed inappropriate to do so. “If they own a cabbage that emanates a green ray that eats everything – why would they need any kind of knowledge in atomic warfare matters?” Two good questions to which I did not expect to get a logical answer to. I did not. “And what happens now?”

    The answer came in the form of a ten hours marathonian interrogation, at the end of which I hardly remembered my name when I fell on my nose, exhausted, hungry, dead thirsty. Not that I was hiding anything, but they could neither believe nor understand how, after one year of such a close relationship with my ambassadress, I knew nothing more than what she liked to eat, what kind of shows she enjoyed, and here and there some information about her home and family “there”. Yes, I knew also some things about their technology, which – according to my non-technical mind – was very similar to earthly technology; only I knew nothing about their spaceships except for the fact that one... arrived here. And that no one succeeded yet to penetrate inside it, not even to get close to it.

    All their idiotic questions about their weapons I could answer with the only fact I was aware of – a frying pan in Livisa’s hand was more dangerous than a Turkish scimitar, and she once demonstrated it to me, in a friendly manner. I clearly understood then that I did not want any kind of non-amicable demonstration of her knowledge in said matter. And I answered all the personally oriented questions insisting that I respected all the diplomatic criteria that they gave me at the start. I knew we were spied all the time when outside, but never in her private quarters. This I knew from her. How she knew – I don’t know.

    It was absolutely clear to me that sooner or later my interrogators were going to move into less orthodox methods of interrogation, and then probably the entire truth would be revealed. So what? They will find that I fell madly in love with Earth’s public enemy number 1? And that I slept with her? Damn them and their psychosis, probably this entire matter will have a logical explanation that will be revealed in their discussions with the ambassadresses. Though I was worried as hell about what was happening with Livisa and the other two, and I was afraid that the word “discussion” was not really suitable to whatever was happening there. So ugly humanity’s face in its first interplanetary contact, probably we stayed monkeys except for the tail that, unfortunately, we had lost.

    An aggressive hand kept shaking me, and I fell confused from the wooden bed where I was left at the end of the interrogation. I was in the same room with Radu and Cornel, and they didn’t look any better. I believe the original idea was that we would talk in among ourselves – haha, who had power even to spit, to talk they expected? Idiots.

    “Follow us, we need you immediately.”

    I drank a glass of water and followed the guy who woke us up, ready to face whatever other maneuvers they had in mind to make us spit our secrets. At least now I had some water in me so that we could really spit, if necessary. But I did not expect a chopper. A big one, of the kind that was used in Vietnam to carry troops, and all the faces inside were known to me from the previous night. The chief and Cosmaru were there as well, I did not expect it differently.

    I guess they were waiting for us to ask them what happened, but we let them wait. We were still sleepy, hungry, let them break their heads with their spying games.

    “The ambassadresses escaped.”

    “What?” we riposted in such perfect choir that we could have made Verdi a happy man. I opened big eyes, just to make sure it was not some kind of new strategy, but the vein that kept throbbing on big chief’s forehead was telling me that this was no game playing. The ambassadresses most probably did escape.

    “And we, in this business?” I continued my meaningless line of questioning. “You think we can find them or what?”

    He didn’t answer and I did not continue asking. I was confident the situation would clarify itself once we got wherever the chopper was taking us to. I closed my eyes and let torpor take hold of me. I don’t know why, but suddenly I felt good, light... hey, what the hell, did they inject me with something? If so, welcome, and I let somnolence kick in as well until a hand shook me awake again. I am no damn rag, I wanted to protest, jumping out from the chopper after Radu and Cornel. The chopper lifted and left the place, and I saw that we were next to a tall building, middle of a nicely maintained lawn, and at about a hundred and fifty feet height... I’ll be damned... the hedgehog in which they arrived was floating as if it was built there, a bluish light illuminating its belly and except for this no movement or sign of life.

    I looked a bit more attentively around, and at a respectable distance I identified a few shapes that seemed to hold their sharp noses upwards – probably surface-to-air missiles I told myself, not worrying even for a moment. I knew that all attempts, more or less violent, to penetrate the spaceship (while the ambassadresses were “taken care of” by us) failed, therefore I couldn’t believe that a simple battery of anti-aircraft missiles could have destroyed the ship. Unless if they were fitted with nuclear warheads, a fact that I couldn’t believe either. Seemed that big chief guessed my thought, since he said to no one in particular...

    “Nuclear warheads. If they try to depart we descend them.”

    “Yeah, sure, and alongside with them all towns and cities inside a radius of God knows how many tens or hundreds of miles around. And an unheard of ecological catastrophe. You are insane,” I finished my reflection. He clearly heard me but preferred to shut up. “And how did they escape from you? And what do you think is what we can do?” I was getting nervous, exasperated, a few more moments and I was ready to break his nose as well with a shuto-uchi-uchi if his regard would not have turned towards the house, my regard following his. I just stood there, mouth agape. A perfectly round hole decorated the external wall of the building, and an army of people was swarming around the opening with kinds of tools and instruments. I turned my gaze towards him again, but he preferred to keep watching the hole.

    “They called in some unclear way the spaceship here, it landed next to the building and made the hole with that green beam. All the personnel near by fell to ground with an attack of uncontrollable dizziness – either the ladies, or the ship most probably used ultra sound waves sufficiently strong for this – and when everybody recovered they were gone and the ship was hanging where you see it.”

    “And are they that stupid as to wait around for you to bring around ground-to-air missiles and probably military aircraft filling the air too?” As if answering a question, a Mig appeared above us and disappeared beyond the trees in a noise that curled even the hair on my forearms. When I looked down again, big chief was holding in his hand a piece of paper, clearly intended for me.

    “We are maybe insane. They even more so. They are in love.” A strange expression of sarcasm landed on his face, his paper-holding hand stretched towards me. I took it. It was Livisa’s handwriting. I started reading it, with Radu and Cornel trying to read it above my shoulder. This was becoming a habit for them.

    “ladies...” I could not refrain from a huge smile... “bring to us our laughed friends...” seemed it was clear by now what they meant with ‘laughed’... “if they not come to us in six hours we will fryz half of earth if not come to us in twelveteen hours we will fryz the rest if they come we will leaf you a gum of us and we will dispair” meaning disappear. I raised my eyes looking at big chief. “And you wait for this gun, or rather weapon to research and copy its technology. And why do you think they possess such weapon, and what certainty do you have that once we are in their spaceship, they will not disappear, all of us?”

    His eyes returned to the hole in the wall.

    “A weapon they have, for sure. And you will go inside the ship one after the other. If one of you does not return – the other two die. The last brings with him the weapon or all of you die and we destroy the ship with the missiles. And someone else will have to care for the consequences.” Simple, efficient, soulless. The way I expected it to be with a security bureaucrat.

    “And how should they know that once you have the weapon, their ship will not be annihilated with the missiles?”

    “And lose the technology in a nuclear explosion?”

    Yes, he was right. Radu was the first. He went to the middle of the lawn and the ship started descending the moment he was uderneath... oops... underneath. A transparent cylinder descended slowly from the hedgehog’s center until it touched ground, then it started ascending back into the ship carrying Radu with it. If I knew no better I would have thought myself at the circus. One hour later the cylinder descended back and a befuddled Radu got out of it, walking towards us and continuously shaking his head, an idiotic smile on his face.

    “No one will believe me... no one will believe me... no one will believe me...” No one was interested to believe anything since no one was interested in whatever he would have had to say. Cornel was already on the way towards the cylinder, and I was too tense to think of anything else except my beautiful Livisa. Only the ciachik (i.e. the CIAtchik, as I started calling him) looked completely disinterested in the proceedings. He waited patiently for his own prey and this was his only interest in the action. Cosmaru was trying as well to pretend indifference but the pouring sweat rivers were betraying him – after all it was not every day that one was offered the unique opportunity to die in a friendly atomic explosion.

    Maybe we had entered some kind of temporal curve where everything was repeating to infinity? Cornel emerged, befuddled as well, an idiotic smile on his face and mumbling “...no one will believe me... no one will believe me... no one will believe me...” It was my turn to be believed by no one. The ciachik took me by the arm and whispered in my ear, with a chill in his voice that would have forced me to wear a pullover if I had one.

    “You, boy, you return with the technology in your hand. Otherwise... pufff...” Had nothing to do with puff, most probably a hole in his linguistic proficiency and what he meant to say was boommm.

    “You mean boommm,” I tried for a moment to assume my profession and instruct him, polite as I was by nature.

    “I mean pufff,” he insisted stubbornly, whispering so softly that I hardly heard him, and let go of my arm.

    I assumed the position under the ship, there where a kind of circle was still indented in the ground, and looked upwards. The cylinder started descending, a round coffin of some transparent material, it touched ground with a mute sound and started its ascent immediately. There was no floor underneath me, I felt like some kind of liquid was embracing me and holding me, pulling me up with the cylinder around me. I was not afraid of what I was going to find, I was afraid of what was going to happen later.

    A round hole opened underneath the hedgehog and the cylinder slid inside, continuing further while I remained on what was some kind of metal floor. All three of them were there. Beautiful like three beautiful fairies. Naked like three naked beautiful fairies. Even if I had never seen a fairy. Certainly not a naked one.

    “Undress, please,” asked Livisa, and it was clear that she had no romantic intentions, she just wanted to ensure that I did not bring along some damaging element. I undressed and gave her all my clothing. She gave them to the other two ambassadresses who left the reception cabin, leaving us alone. Did I say she had no romantic intentions? She jumped with her arms around my neck and her legs around my hips and glued her mouth to mine in such manner that if she was a leach she would have drunk all my blood in a few seconds. And she didn’t let go until she cracked one of my ribs and forced me to find again what it was that I was losing.

    We remained lying on the metallic floor, breathing heavily, hugging. It was the end of the world. For me it was, looked like for her it was as well. I closed my eyes and let her tell me all that I needed, all that I wanted to know. All that Radu and Cornel knew already. She made it short, clear.

    Started with their technology. It was developed not for any kind of military purposes, but for eliminating the risk of an asteroid hitting one of their planets. And they were aware of the presence of several earthly satellites in orbit when they proceeded with the first experiments, but didn’t care if the earthlings would be curious about what was happening; they had already plans to contact Earth but preferred to do it after the finishing touches to their green “ray”. Because – and here she watched me askew – “...I believe you didn’t know that several countries had sent satellites loaded with nuclear devices around Io, with the intention of using it for experimenting a variety of nuclear bombs...” I was about to jump up, but she nailed me to the floor with her chest and mouth. The criminals. I was suffocating with indignation and hungry lips.

    Thus the ray could be used also for destroying the Earth satellites, if needed. The technology was based simply (I didn’t quite get the technical explanation, if it was really that simple) on a system of energy frequencies that brought the atoms into oscillation until the oscillation would became self-sustaining and spread in the targeted object with ever increasing intensity, and this until the object disintegrated, a matter of several seconds depending on its mass.

    She paused and looked at me with a regard that I knew was going to haunt me for the rest of my life. She had something more to say, and the kiss that started the following speech was as damaging to me as their green ray.

    “We are all of the same race, but we had different revolutions, since each of us revolved on another planet and faced different basic conditions.” Sure, she wanted to say “evolution” but this did not prevent me to understand her meaning. She did not tell me how they separated, millenniums earlier on, this did not really interest me either. But due to their respectively reduced population, they entered during the last years into a phase of genetic degeneration that threatened their very existence. And knowing that their race was compatible procreatively with the earthlings, they decided to inform us of their existence. And assume the inherent risk of contacting a materialistic and belligerent race for the sake of obtaining a genetic boost.

    She stopped talking and rised to her knees, eyes lowered.

    “Now you hat me.”

    I sneezed, her tears were killing me.

    “No, I don’t hat you, child. I laugh you madly.” God, I was contaminated for real. The clothing returned. We stood up and I started dressing. I let all three of them help me, busy as I was with sneezing. “If you don’t stop crying I will keep sneezing so long that I will not be able to kiss you.

    “In eleventeen months I will go children.”

    I was just tying my laces. Again the thing with go children.

    “And where will you go?...” I straightened up as suddenly as a bow with a snapped cord. I drilled her with my eyes just as if I had become Cosmaru, my hands shaking like the cord that just snapped off the bow. “Go children or get children?” I asked, stressing first the o then the e. She made a face at me, dissatisfied.

    “When will you learn your language, mister?” She was teasing me. “Got!” she said, emphasizing the o.

    “Meaning, you want to say that you... got pregnant by me?” Despairing that I was not understanding her she moved her head left to right. If it would have been right to left it would have been “no”. I believe I screamed, I tried to run to her but stepped on my laces and flew to her. I did not crack my head on the cabin floor since she got hold of me by the armpits, pulled me in her arms and we started kissing until the entire ship was shaking. “How, when, how do you know?”

    She pulled a bit away, just enough for her tail to wipe away our shared tears, and showed me a dense line of freckles that started at the bottom of the neck and continued all the way down to her navel.

    “This is tites, will grow bigger,” she smiled, a tone of pride that I’ve never heard her using before penetrating her voice.

    “Tits, you want to say,” I laughed as if I was at home in my living room and there was no other world to talk about. I kissed her left nipple, the one that did not have to grow bigger. “And what are these?” I asked, winking childishly.

    “Here we store a secondary brain,” she winked back, leaving me into a state of absolute perplexity.

    “So, then why do you have so many... tits?” I found it a bit difficult to pronounce a word that, basically, was more beautiful and pure than any other word in any language. It was their turn to laugh, and I saw that the other two ambassadresses had similar freckles.

    “We are compatible...” she said with no mistake this time, hey, what do you know?... “with Earth humans, but we are not earthlings. We are different. And we will all give birth to one hundred three children in eleventeen months.” Such a charming smile on her face, on all their faces. I almost tore her lips away with my mighty kiss.

    “Like a bitchie...”

    “Like a Marchie...”

    “Like a lovie. My lovie. Dad one hundred and three times.” I let out a yowl that broke a glass. Or maybe she wanted me to think that I broke it?... I smiled. I clouded.

    “The weapon, Livisa.” It was time to leave. To abandon that which I loved most in this world in order to protect that which I loved most in this world. She gave it to me. A short tube with a button. She showed me where to push and how. I went to stand under the cylinder, looking at her while the cylinder was descending over me.

    “Jonathan,” it was the first time she called me by my real name, everybody, herself included called me until then Ionel, “don’t let them kill us.” The cylinder started descending through the cabin floor, and I kept my eye on her lips until the last moment, hoping for an extraterrestrial miracle. I suddenly remembered that I never told her in any kind of straight way that I loved her. It was too late.


    The ciachik was waiting for me, there where I left him last time I saw him, on the same chair. Radu and Cornel sitting in the same place. It all had a feel of a soulless, surrealist painting, and it would have stayed that way if the ciachik would not have taken the cell phone out of his pocket, while asking me:

    “You have it?”

    I lifted my eyes towards the hedgehog. Those parts that looked like spikes started getting reddish at their tips, the hue spreading toward the thick roots. The ship started lifting. I lowered my eyes to look at the ciachik again. He looked un-hurrying, disinterested, but the phone in his hand left no place to imagination. Cosmaru was on the verge of fainting.

    “I have it,” I answered, advancing toward him until I was just a step away. I took the tube out of my pocket. I believe his eyes sparked when the thick finger pushed the first phone button... “Halt!” I told him, my voice colder than a ten years old corpse, the tube directed toward him, my finger on the button. He raised his eyes, some confusion showing there for the first time. He pushed the second button and almost simultaneously my finger pushed the weapon’s button. A thin, green ray touched his blazer’s middle button and with a choked sound, like a soft handclap, the button disappeared. No fire, no smoke... “Pufff...” I said, holding his regard without blinking. I was dead scared, rigid like a stone in my decision. His thumb did not move any further, I think that Cosmaru wailed with a kind of fright bigger than mine.

    “You play with fire. You play with the future of humanity,” said the ciachik, but did not move even his lips. It was clear that I surprised him with an action he neither expected nor had an answer to.

    “You play with the future of my children’s race,” I retorted, offering no explanation to the bafflement in his eyes. “The ship leaves, you will not destroy it neither in the atmosphere nor in the stratosphere. In a quarter of an hour you get the weapon.”

    “If we let them leave, their race will come to Earth and will disintegrate us.”

    “If we let them leave, all those earthly satellites turning around Io with their atomic load will be disintegrated, as well as any other future satellite sent that way. Diplomatic relations are interrupted, definitively, until humanity understands the meaning of peace.”

    “And the technology?” his regard was directed with unsated thirst toward the weapon in my hand.

    “In ten minutes it is yours. Then you can have all of Earth’s scientists working on it to decipher its working mode. Bonne chance,” I smiled, using almost the entirety of my French vocabulary (I knew “merde” as well).

    I gave it to him, exactly ten minutes later. He pulled it from my hand with a savagery out of character with the previously displayed pseudo-indifference, and left at an almost run. He did not even send any kind of police for me, my job was done and a few seconds later I heard a chopper coughing to life followed by absolute silence. Bonne chance, I repeated in my head with a mix of sarcasm and satisfaction, knowing that as long as Earth did not have access to a certain isotope specific to the 133 element, unknown on earth and to be found solely at the bottom of Venus’s oceans, Earth would not be able to manufacture such a weapon. Which was great news.

    I sat down next to Radu and Cornel.

    “I think they will believe us,” I said. The sky was empty, no ship, no chopper, no airplanes. I licked my lips and sneezed. “I love you,” I said to no one in particular. Luckily, I wasn’t sneezing at my own tears.



Trial by Jury

    I reached the point of no return. I have the habit of defining myself as the inoffensive, nice neighborhood dude, the one with the thickest yet also the... shortest fuse possible. It takes a huge effort to unsettle me, however, once this happens then people beware. Kind of like a hydrogen bomb, practically a dud until an atom bomb triggers it; and once it is triggered...

    Unfortunately for him, the poor guy this story is partly about, he was the one to taste this (mostly fortunate, actually) aspect of my temper. It was the eleventh time I found an empty beer can stuck into my hedge, one day after trimming it professionally, beautifully, lovingly. The son-of-a-bitch seemed to take pleasure in virtually spitting on my hard work when passing nearby somewhere late in one of the following evenings, and he did it by stuffing his beer can in between the branches of the freshly cut hedge. After the "innocent" first time it started looking like a fixed pattern – someone was having a great time giving me the finger and probably laughing his head off each time anew at my obvious dismay, when each following morning I found his beer can mocking me. Maybe he was even watching from a distance enjoying my scowl. Eleven. I knew I was nearing explosion but by now it was basically out of my hand.

    Following weekend I cut the hedge as lovingly as ever, parked my car further up the street and started my stake-out. I waited patiently. It happened on Tuesday, at a quarter after 10pm.

    He was big, he was black and he was mean looking. He carried a backpack, a pair of tennis shoes dangling from it and a beer can in his hand. Probably a basketball player. He took a last swig from the can, lowered his hand and stuffed it into my hedge. Then continued his way whistling a meaningless tune. I got out of the car, advanced until I faced him, and without stopping hit him under the chin with everything I carried in bone and muscle. I did not know if the crushing sound I heard was his chin or his teeth or my knuckles. He landed on his back, his hands moving about aimlessly.

    I called an ambulance and then called the cops. I was back to normal me.


    I did not deny any of the facts. The only divergence from "their" reality to mine was that I insisted that my version would not include anything about a beer can, but rather the fact that the guy "spit on my work"; this was the way I saw it and it was the only version I was willing to sign. I did not care about anything else. Once they grudgingly made the small text amendment – I signed immediately and left with my wife. She had to bail me out for 5000 dollars. I refused to talk about it.

    I went on with my happy-and-retired-man life as if nothing happened. I did not discuss the event with wife, kids, friends – no one, it was a taboo subject to anyone close to me or far from me. Or rather I did discuss it with just one person – the lawyer assigned to me by the court since I did not possess the means to hire someone better. As a matter of fact and idiotically so, I did not really care about the outcome, serene as I was in the justness of my act and trustful in our judicial system. Did I mention earlier on how naïve I was? If I did not, then I do it now – I was, am and will be extremely naïve about certain life aspects. Well, that was me.

    My wife, of course, didn't sleep nights. "You're going to jail, we'll have to pay the guy a fortune in medical expenses, we need a better lawyer..." I didn't hear her, I was sound asleep.

    My nominated lawyer thought that I was nuts. "You insist on a fast-track trial with the guy still showing bruises and moving around with two nurses supporting him..." I knew the nurses thing was a show that would keep on for as long as any delay there might be, so I didn't see the reason to wait any longer. "And you want a jury trial with all or most of the jury composed of black people? Are you out of your mind?" "Yes, and as much as possible blue collar – stevedores, garbage collectors, brick layers..."

    He shook his head in desperation and left. I knew he tried to get replaced but no one was willing to take on a nut case. They called me suicidal... well, if it pleased them? I wasn't, to the best of my unprofessional knowledge. And at least until the trial date I did not have to worry anymore about any beer cans. My wife even defined me as unusually and insanely cheerful. I took to the habit of cutting the hedge and singing something that I thought was hip-hop.


    I expected it to be a short trial. With me admitting to all evidence and charges, it could not have been anything else. My lawyer was doing his best, yet clearly expecting a crushing verdict of at least five years imprisonment for assault with premeditation, plus not less than one hundred grand in punitive damages. My wife was already making plans to move in with her mom, my sons were debating with their wives if visiting me in prison with the grandkids would be educational or quite the contrary. Everything looked set for converging on the third and final day of the trial, which was today.

    The prosecution didn't have to make any big or impressive speech. With my signed confession presented to the jury, with the long list of medical specialists describing in detail which bones were cracked and how long they estimated the incapacity to work will last, with Leroy Brown (that was the name of the guy, would you believe it?) rending a heartbreaking show when examined by both the prosecution lawyer and my lawyer... the grim, black faces watching the proceedings from the jury's benches did not bode anything good for the wild-white-animal, i.e. me.

    And the youngish, little of stature, jovially mannered Afro-American judge lady presiding the trial did not leave any doubt in anyone's mind that the severity of punishment will be in direct contrast to her joviality.

    The only small conflict in the courtroom occurred when the police clerk who took my testimony made an attempt to read it, and mentioned the beer can. I forced my lawyer to stand up and protest immediately, asking for the testimony to be read literally. The clerk acted for a moment embarrassed, corrected the position of his eyeglasses on his nose and read the passage slowly and carefully... "...Mr. Leroy Brown spit on the work of..." This was the only conflict for the duration of the entire trial. I was not interested in the proceedings beyond that as long as this terminology was respected, which it was. My lack of interest lasted until the last day of the trial.

    It was the turn for the defense to make its last and concluding speech. My lawyer took a few papers in his hand and tried to get on his feet, yet did not make it there – I hung on to his sleeve and forced him to keep to his chair while getting up myself.

    "Your honor," I addressed the judge, "may address to the jury by myself, instead of by the esteemed lawyer for the defense assigned to me?"

    She looked taken aback for a moment, then bemused, then relaxed.

    "It's your own funeral, Mr. Jones, you may." I was not so sure if it was with sarcasm or with pity that she let the remark slip out of her mouth, I was thankful and it did not really matter.

    "Thank you, your honor."

    I approached the jury and watched them all carefully, from as close by as I could. Twelve men, one woman, ten black two white, all grizzled, brooding, deep dark eyes in wizened faces, callused heavy hands resting in laps and taking a short respite from stevedoring, garbage collecting, brick laying. Simple people, like me.

    "Gentlemen, this is your job today. You are here to judge me. This is your work." I went to stand at the center, in front of the first row, and suddenly I spit on the floor.

    I believe the courtroom around me froze. I did not stay where I was, I went in front of the judge's desk, looked her fixatedly in the eyes and spit on the floor again. Then returned to my place and sat down. All it took was less than ten seconds.

    My lawyer was livid. The judge's cheeks were getting rosy under black, her eyes sparkling. I looked towards the jury booth trusting primitive instinct, trusting primal intelligence. Several of the jury members looked at me intensely, comprehension starting to dawn on their faces. Bailiffs removed me from the courtroom in handcuffs, the roar behind me gigantic. OK, now it was up to "them", whoever "them" may have been, I've done my stuff.

    I was taken back into the courtroom half an hour later, the jury already seated on their places. God, this might have set some new Guinness record in terms of speed of decision, I thought. I was asked to stand up.

    "Has the jury reached a decision?"

    "Yes your honor." A piece of paper was handed to the judge. She looked at it, then looked at me with the impenetrable regard of a statue, and asked the jury to tell the verdict.

    "The jury finds for the defendant."

    The roar. The prosecution lawyer looked petrified. My lawyer looked petrified. My wife was sobbing hysterically somewhere in one of the last rows, with my sons trying to calm her. My handcuffs were removed and the judge curled her finger calling me to approach her bench.

    "Mr. Jones, this could, and can still cost you ten years in jail on charges of contempt of court."

    "Your honor, I put my trust in the intelligence and honesty of our judicial system."

    "Indeed, so you did, Mr. Jones, so you did." She turned around to face me again when she was half way towards the door in the back. "And rightly you did so, Mr. Jones, and rightly you did so." She winked and disappeared behind the door.

    I am still waiting to be charged with something. I guess this will be a long wait.




    I was a museum freak. At the end of each life phase I invested all my saved revenues into visiting and wildly touring a museum. Three life phases until now, three museums toured and the incredible sensations that developed within me during each visit were so extreme that I could not find any way to describe them.

    And yet, somehow, towards a forecasted fourth visit, I felt that the entire pattern was becoming kind of repetitive and to a certain extent even... boring.

    Once the scientific team of which I was part devised a way to create a portal into a parallel universe, the penetrated universe became almost immediately a museum and several companies offered organized visits to whoever could afford the cost. In return, the visits were astoundingly well organized and professionally managed. Each visitor could visit any sun system and any planet of the billions on offer in each museum, as long as the visit ended as scheduled and as paid for, and as long as no one insisted on wandering beyond the edge of that universe. I was the proud member, now leader of the team that devised the first portal to excitement such as never sensed before. Following that first break-through, new portals started getting devised almost daily by other teams, using our proprietary yet public model; fifteen thousand (and growing) such portals up to the present.

    Unfortunately, the pioneering days' excitement started to subside as it became increasingly obvious that all those parallel universes were barren – no life of any kind found in any of them and no mineral that might not have been known to us or that we might have desperately needed; and with a technology allowing investigation of all the stars and planets in any universe within one single life phase, the chances of a mistake were practically non-existent. Seemed that we were the only civilization that ever formed in our or any other quad-dimensional universe accessed until now, in any of its time quadrants. The chances of discovering another life form were getting slimmer within any foreseeable area on our time plane, whichever combination of the two time axes we decided to follow and in whichever direction.

    True, science fiction stories evolved around the idea of a quad-dimensional universe with a triple axed time (cube time in literate slang), and I'd admit anytime to being an avid fan of such stories, even though it was considered a childish attitude; especially as my personal time plane advanced now into my fourth life phase.

    My fifth tentacle started hurting. It was a curse I was carrying unflinchingly; it resulted from handling the instruments that went with my job as chief mathematician, yet this was a job I was not willing to change for anything in the world, not even for an offer to mate into a chemist family.

    I was kind of daydreaming about exactly such an opportunity, one that I had forfeited in my previous life cycle, when a sensor started vibrating. Clearly an eventual new portal was getting devised and a new universe was just being penetrated. It was my team's four hundred twentieth, and though the original excitement was not there anymore, a bit of palpitation did interfere with my rumination – after all, statistics was not considered an absolute science and a very slim probability defined as many zeroes followed by a nine still allowed for the eventual discovery of life. Yeah, sure, said the mathematician in me laughing at the romanticist in me.


    "That's impossible! This is rationally unimaginable! It cannot be!"

    I snapped my tentacles in fornt of me in all possible variations of amazement, even though it was more an expression of surprise rather than one of disbelief. After all, I was the one who developed the theory of tri-dimensional universes, and it was a mathematically sound theory (though still under investigation by a team of independent mathematicians); still, a theory meant playing games with numbers and formulas, not reality.

    What was even more intriguing and tougher to accept was the fact that this newly discovered tri-dimensional universe existed alongside a single time base, not only single but also directional, a time vector rather than a time axis. With all of my good will aligned to my vivid imagination, I still could not understand such a space-time arrangement. My theory did not predict such a combination. And beating all other amazement sensations - to get on top of it proof that such a universe could have once contained life, not just any life but intelligent! life, this was stretching everyone's belief into the realms of science fiction. How could life exist, develop, evolve in the impossibility of a tri-dimensional space confinement? The limitations would be so severe, even distregarding the incredible time-vector constraint, that such life not only could not evolve – it actually could not have been conceived to start with.

    Yet, there, right in front of me was irrefutable proof that such life did once exist, and this illogical universe did once engender an intelligent species. A gigantic discovery, unfortunately accompanied by so little information that the sorrow I felt was comparable only to the loss of my engendering parental clan, so many subcycles ago.

    We were not immediately aware of the peculiarity of the new universe I had just discovered. Once the portal link was firmly established, we sent a probe through it for preliminary investigation. When it failed to report we assumed some sort of technical failure and sent another probe in. It was only after the fifth probe that we started suspecting something else was afoul in this universe and decided to perform a number of remote analyses before sending additional machinery in. And this was when we discovered to our utter amazement that this was the first encounter with a tri-dimensional universe and its funny vectorial time line. This clarified the reason of the first probes failing – they were simply crushed when moving from our quad-dimensional space into the tri-dimensional one. After a few simple engineering changes we created a probe that would be able to survive in such a universe and sent it in. Curiosity peaked all over the stellar system, this was becoming not just news but THE news of this life cycle.

    Shocking discovery followed shocking discovery when the probe reported back that the new universe was completely empty. Completely! Empty! With sensors set at highest sensitivity (and with new sensors, even more sensitive, developed and sent in) the mass of this universe proved to be one big, absolute zero, as far beyond the decimal point as we could measure. Not even dust, no residual radiation, nothing. Purest vacuum, beating any present, theoretically calculated values. It was only with the third wave of sensors, the one planned to be last before concluding that this universe was nothing but a curious anomaly, that the echo was discovered. As mentioned – our technology could investigate an entire universe in very short time; in our dual time universe speed was not limited (the way newly developed theories predicted it to be in a single time universe), yet even with the speed limitation the latest technology sensors located a unique, singular spot of matter in the new universe. It was most certainly not a natural object, judging remotely by shape and material, and once we anchored it to a tractor beam and dragged it via the portal into our universe, it really blew our minds off. It was an artifact, an object beyond anyone's wildest expectations and it got me to utter the exclamation mentioned above, the first time of two such occasions.

    As anyone knows, there is no problem for a three dimensional object to exist in a four dimensional universe. After all we use such objects daily in our lives, and even if these are not "absolutely" tri-dimensional they all carry some vestiges of the fourth dimension. Nevertheless – having a "pure breed" inside a laboratory was any researcher's dream. A dream now come true with this object shaped in perfect cubic form, with its eight corners sharp beyond measurement and its one round, slightly depressed spot in the exact middle of each of its six faces.

    We left if hanging in a force field, not yet daring to approach or touch it; thankfully it possessed a minimal yet sufficient mass, allowing for easy handling within a lab environment. We tried first to learn what was the material it was made of, and once we failed with all non-invasive procedures we tried a bit of invasive ones – all of which attempts failed either to inform us or to make the slightest dent in the material. To all practical purposes – the cube was made out of an inexistent material.

    "Shall we?" I asked at the end of one lengthy and tiring session in which the team debated if we should or should not touch the center spot on one of the cube's surfaces. It looked hugely inviting, yet the responsibility carried by such an action was huge as well. The overwhelming majority answered yes, thus we let the cube slide down to the floor and I was given the honor (and responsibility) to touch that center spot. With my third tentacle stretched to its maximum, and after a moment's hesitation, I touched it.

    No vibration, no change of spectrum registered on either our own sensorial organs or on any of the many test tools pointed towards the cube as a slit opened in its top surface and some kind of tray lifted up, carrying underneath it a shelf and on the shelf a pair of rectangular... things, one very thick, one very thin. On top of the thin object there was a roughly round, solid object. At this stage there was no place for any further hesitation. We evaluated earlier on the probability of any kind of bacterial infection equal to an absolute zero, therefore I just advanced my bulk towards the cube and picked the three objects, each in a tentacle. The moment I did it, the tray lowered itself back into the cube's top surface and the entire cube started shrinking rapidly until it... disappeared? Well, if it didn't, we certainly lost any trace of it – sightwise at least. And if its mass was still present – there was no way we could have identified it in that imperfectly controlled environment.

    The two rectangular objects were similar, differing only in size and in the markings covering the many thin, flexible, bi-dimensional components of each. It was easy to guess that the thin one contained information originating from some living being, by the sheer irregularity of the markings. The thicker object contained very nicely structured marks, therefore it was clearly originated by some artificial device. It wasn't at all clear what the third object was for. On this we all agreed, agreeing as well to reconvene in one centicycle after I would have fed all objects to our analyzers that, hopefully, would have made sense of it all. If the markings were an information code of some kind, we were pretty confident that the analyzers would be able to extract the information, or even translate it literarily if it was textual rather than mathematical.

    I tried, but could not go into rhythmic arrest for all the intervening period, my excitement was that extreme. I guessed this was the mindset of everybody else in the team – finally an encounter with an alien intelligence, and what a mystifying encounter it was. When we reconvened a centicycle later, it was clear that the analyzers had finished their interpretation job, all the indicators vibrating at 50 per split-cycle period. The code of success.

    We squatted in a semi-circle around the main transmitter and went into absorption mode. What a strange story rolled into us....


    25 May, Tuesday [note: probably a point on the local time vector]

    The strangest thing happened to me today [note: probably a point on the local time vector]. I returned home from my math lab, just after completing the finishing touches to my latest thesis: "Life in a Bi-dimensional Space and Zero Time." For whoever may read this diary [note: sequential recount of events along a single time line vector] and is not a mathematician – I prove in my thesis that such life is possible, the difference between the number of dimensions of space and its attached time being always two. By extrapolation, life in a ten dimensional space will be associated with a time unit having eight dimensions.

    Anyway, as I was saying, I returned home and found at my door a cardboard package with a letter
    [note: information transfer by means of coded markings] attached to it. I took it all inside the house and opened the letter. It was the weirdest, crankiest [note: simulated transposition of symbols, meaning unknown, probably synonym to weird] text I had ever received in my life. It said in very sketchy sentences that now that the existence of a Bi-dimensional Zero Time universe was proven (how the hell [note: superstitious belief] would anyone know of my thesis, this really pissed [note: unclear usage, has to do with ejection of refuse from living beings] me off), three dimensional universes had no reason of existence anymore and will cease to exist in three days [note: time measurement unit]. The letter went on to instruct me to keep a personal diary during these three days, as detailed as I wished to, and to ensure at the end of each day that the diary would be locked in the box attached.

    I opened the package and found inside a nice, very accurately manufactured cube of about thirty inches
    [note: local unit of space measure, strangely applicable to all the three dimensions] each side, and when I pushed the middle of one of the surfaces a small drawer popped upwards. Another push – the drawer moved back down. I played with it for a time, admiring the perfect craftsmanship (when the drawer closed there was no way to recognize the closure line). Could have been a great jewelry box for my divorced [note: separation between mating beings] wife [note: type of mating partner]. The letter went on to promise me a deposit of one million [note: measurement unit compatible with our zega] dollars [note: individual purchasing power unit] in my account, each day of the three days. So that if I thought this was a joke of some kind, I had nothing to lose and at the end of the three days I would be a rich man [note: type of mating partner]. I checked my account – one million dollars were deposited there earlier today. Youppee [note: simulated transposition of symbols, meaning unknown].

    The last remark of the letter was that I should buy an English
    [note: communication code] dictionary [note: code explanations] and place it in the box together with this diary. Well, I have nothing to lose, do I? Tomorrow I will get the dictionary and place it in the box... what wouldn't a block [note: type of mating partner] do for an easily gained million dollars per day?

    I believe this is enough diarying
    [note: irregular usage of diary] for today. I will now close the box with the diary inside, then I will have a shower [note: purification rite], have something to eat [note: ingestion of energy in some basic form before transformation] and then go to bed [note: similar to rhythmic arrest]. Wait till I tell Laura [note: live being denomination] about it, she'll die [note: unclear usage of termination of existence].

    26 May, Wednesday

    I committed to writing and the second million dollars just came in, so I will try to fill in a few lines. No one specified how much I should write for the dollars paid, so no one can blame me for making it short.

    This morning I walked Rexy, my dog
    [note: mating partner? or another type of being?] and let him sniff all the trees in the park.

    I bought the dictionary.

    I tried to call Laura but her phone
    [note: vibrations transmitter for communications] was busy all the time. I will tell her later on, hopefully she will come over and we will have the wildest sex [note: mating ritual] ever before going to the most expensive restaurant ever before proposing [note: turning mating into a legal concept] to her in front of Tiffany's [note: gifts shop] and asking her to choose the most expensive engagement ring [note: unclear concept] in the window. Her horrible mother will die [note: unclear usage of termination of existence] , God [note: superstitious concept of an all-powerful master, context unclear] willing.

    Later... back here with Laura, she is in the seventh heaven
    [note: expression for happiness] . Told her that I must close the diary and the dictionary in the strange box, she thinks it is all insane but she doesn't care and she loves [note: powerful positive sensation] me madly [note: probably a psychotic status that has to do with the sensation called love] .

    27 May, Thursday

    The third million got in. They, whoever they are, are keeping their promise. Therefore I will keep my side of the agreement as well, not providing them with any reason to sue
    [note: punish in an organized manner] me later on.

    I called the university
    [note: teaching place] to tell them I take the day off and will return next day, if (I emphasized the "if") the world does not end sometime today. We had a good laugh [note: expression of merriment] about it and then I spent the rest of the day in the park with Rexy feeding the ducks and the pigeons [note: probably other forms of life, not related to mating]. I wait eagerly for Laura to return from work, she promised me a special treatment today. Can hardly wait.

    It is now 4PM
    [note: time position inside the time unit called today] and the world did not end yet. The sky is blue with a few fluffy clouds, a soft breeze is blowing through the trees [note: an immobile form of life]. I am officially closing now this diary forever, much richer and much happier than three days ago. And for whoever initiated this event, probably a very rich Candid Camera [note: unclear] entity, thank you my friends. It was a pleasure.

    I hereby declare the experiment closed and will immediately lock this diary alongside the dictionary in the magic
    [note: concept of unnatural events] box. Thank you.

    [note: ???] I hope you do not mind me adding my old mechanical, cheap, out of fashion wristwatch in the box together with the diary. The instructions did not mention anything against it. And anyway, I bought me a very expensive wristwatch yesterday at Tiffany's, mind you. It is now... hmmm [note: ???] 4:22PM.


    "That's impossible! This is rationally unimaginable! It cannot be!"

    I repeated the same expressions, bearing the same meaning yet carrying much less power and conviction than the first time I snapped them. The translation was great, the notes were perfect. Nevertheless we were all left perplex. The third object was identified as a time measurement unit of some kind, called wristwatch, and the position it marked was 4:22. Exactly the time reported in the diary as the time the cube was closed for the last time.

    We had learned almost nothing. It all looked like a joke on a gigantic, cosmic scale, and yet we knew very well that the empty universe we had just encountered did exist, that the so called diary was real, that zegallion-zegallion-zegallion-zegallions cubes of mass in that tri-dimensional universe (and how many other?) disappeared into nothing and there was no way we could explain any of this in any kind of scientific terms either to ourselves or to the rest of the stellar system. We couldn't even agree to speculate about anything.

    After a bit of first-quadrant time spent unenthusiastically on a few futile interpretations and hesitating explanations, we decided to separate and return each to our personal dwelling; then reconvene in three centicycles, after we had sufficient time to think about the inexplicable, even ridiculous event and maybe start constructing a couple of theories towards explaining it. I felt discouraged, and I am certain that so did the rest.

    I coded my name into the vehicle and let it take me to my place of rhythmic arrest, deciding to keep a presence in the first time quadrant. Somehow it felt more natural there, especially after the events of today. There was a package in front of the entrance to my dwelling.

    Looked like a regular package of roughly cubic shape - 16 corners, 32 edges... somehow I was sure that once I would open it, it would turn out to be a perfect cube with small round indentations in the middle of each of its 24 faces. Was the cosmic joke getting ready to move on into a five dimensional universe?

    I opened the attached message, and it started with practically no introduction, only a simple statement saying that "...now that the existence of a Tri-dimensional Mono Time universe was proven..."

    Actually, I wasn't frightened at all. I did not have to make an effort to understand anything that I wouldn't have understood anyway. There were three centicycles to go before annihilation as specified in the message and I decided not to postpone any more my mating into chemistry. I proposed it for execution right away. Once I knew this was taken care of, I started registering my version of the so called "daily diary", making clear and intelligible statements relating to the events of this first centicycle and the events leading to it. I wanted to sound much more sane and clear minded than that poor creature whose "diary" we received and interpreted, and at least clarify for the future five-dimensionalists who will discover "my" cube, what was going to happen to them and their related universes.

    For a few moments I delved into time wasteful speculations such as would this kind of event stop at any stage or dimension, or was this an engineered sequence or a natural development of a sequence triggered long ago, or were we the second step in such a sequence or it all started at some illogical/impossible (not that I believed in illogicality/impossibility at this stage) universe preceding mine by many stages in some negatively counted space/time realms?...

    I closed my registering for the first centicycle. Two more to go. I locked the "diary" in the cube together with a "dictionary" interpreting our codes (funny that I was using in my mind the other being's terms) and contacted my newly executed mating clan. There was no time to engender any new progenies, but why not enjoy just living for as long, or rather as short as I knew it was going to last?




    I dragged a chair middle of the couloir and sat down on it, forcing myself to face the imposing white stolidity of the closed door. No one made any kind of remark, not even the nurses shuttling swiftly and softly around my chair. Not even other family members of other patients, each locked inside their own private auras of hope, despair, acceptance.

    I read, then re-read the text on the small aluminum plate stuck at eye level on the door: Prof. Hans S. Leibnitz, Oncology. Then re-read, then re-read and re-read until I stopped counting the re-reads but never stopped re-reading. German, Swiss, Jewish? Rather, probably, seven generations American yet still carrying his genes through a name chosen for him by his progenitors and rather, probably, proudly so. And when the name plate finally disappeared in a rotatory motion with the opening of the door and she flowed out of it, I simply stood up and waited for the whirlwind of her arm to engage my elbow and pull me away from that horrible whiteness into the delightful green of the garden outside. I was still re-reading that name plate in my mind when she pulled away the scarf from her bald skull, dropped it to the ground and with a huge grin started to scream, and scream...

    "It's gone!... It's gone!... It's gone!..."

    She jumped into my arms, weighing hardly as much as a Christmas turkey, all the months of chemo, and radiation, and despair, and "at most three months to live" melting into that one kiss that was now stealing my soul the way it did that other, first time, seventeen years and five months back.

    Shining, radiant, alive, the deathly pallor of those hollow cheeks suddenly taken over by endless gardens of blossoming lilac.

    "Make love to me! Now! Now! Now!" She was incoherent with love, lust, joy, the gaping crevasse at her feet now again eons and eons away. I kissed her back, drunken with her life, we made love. Three times, that night. Insisting with that stubbornness so typical of her that we do not change the bedding and that I leave her shivering in the delightfulness of the sweat-soaked linen. "The reality of life," she said.

    I watched morning's light starting its daily conquest of the bedroom's darkest corners. Re-conquest, I told myself. Same as re-read. I kissed her shoulder, the bones underneath the transparent skin sticking out hungry extremities towards me and pleading silently for more, much more.

    "I'm making breakfast," I whispered, and she mumbled an untranslatable appreciation pulling the covers away from her wasted breasts in a show of pride and defiance. I took my time, frying the eggs the way she always loved them, cutting a few slices of tomatoes the way she always loved next to the eggs, brewing the coffee the way she always loved it, pouring into it a few drops of eternal life... "Here..."

    She ate ravenously, from time to time wincing at some memory of horrendous pain, then smiling sunnily my way and wipe-cleaning the platter, drinking the coffee to the last drop... "More, please..."

    I went to the kitchen, to brew some more. By the time I returned, she was already sleeping peacefully. Five hours later she stopped breathing.

    I howled, as much as a human being is supposed to howl. Probably more. Then changed the bedding, dressed her in the silk, flowery pajamas she bought specifically for my eye's delight three years ago, in Hawaii, covered her with a clean, new comforter, kissed her cold lips one last time. Then sat at the computer and completed the financial transaction, thankful for the depths of human compassion, be it even mercenary. The rest of my accounts were donated randomly, mainly to hospitals.

    I dressed, closed the door behind me leaving the car keys on the table. I hailed a taxi.

    "Police station, please," I said, and paid the fare in advance. I wasn't sure what my state of mind would be once I got there, knowing the tsunami was about to hit. And I didn't want the poor taxi driver to have lost his time for nothing.




    "But you're a midget," I protested, drinking nevertheless his generously offered wine.

    "So what? Never heard of a midget vampire yet? Are you one of them racist nuts or something?..." He sounded really flustered by my comment, more than I would have naturally expected given the unusual circumstances of our meeting. His voluminous house in the Transylvanian mountains, the meeting at his behest and expense, and following a so-called gentleman's servant who dragged me not against my will by dangling a sobering number of oversized banknotes in front of my sniffing nose. My midget-vampire master asks for your immediate presence, he said, and started walking. I followed him unquestioningly, or rather the banknotes.

    "And a Jewish one at that?" I tried to placate him, making things just worse.

    "...and an anti-Semitic one at that," he added, mimicking my feeble attempt at conciliation. "Thank you anyway."

    "Thank me for what?" I poured another glass, it was really great this specific Romanian cru.

    "For not calling me height-impaired or little-person or some other equally demeaning paraphrases invented by well-meaning do-gooders and aimed at masking their own discomfort rather than at helping us, the different ones. I wonder, what politically correct term would apply to vampires if such a term would happen to be begotten? Blood-handicapped? Hai, sanatate!" This last expression certainly meaning something like 'cheers' in the local language, if to judge by the way he raised his glass of wine before guiding it to his lips and swallowing its content in one long gulp. I wasn't so sure it was wine by the sudden gleam in his eyes and the hastily mopped reddish trickle starting a run down the corner of his mouth.

    "Wine?" I asked, haltingly.

    "Wine," he confirmed, a long canine showing for a moment then disappearing behind those nicely formed, thick lips. "OK, Joseph..." ...I shot the leg off the last one who called me Joseph. I decided to forego the impulse this time, this specific vampire strain being an unknown factor to me... "...you are the Matchmaker and I wish to be matchmaked. To Metrina."

    Luckily both my mouth and my glass were empty, else every drop of wine in either of these containers would have ended all over my host. He waited patiently for me to stop coughing, then continued unperturbed, a strange glimmer in his eye.

    "Yes, Metrina, the daughter of Metron, ruler of a third of the third moon of Zana, twenty-five light years away from here. Metrina, the one as sinister as Goldfinger and Dr. No and Woody Allen put together, the one as beautiful as Liz Taylor and Wonder Woman..."

    "Linda Carter..." I interjected feebly...

    "...and Valentino, put together," he was losing me rapidly with his cross references, "the one..."

    "...who buried sixty husbands in three years, and swore that the next one to be buried would be the next intergalactic Matchmaker to offer her a husband. By the way, is she Jewish?"

    "Are you mocking me?" The thunder clouding his eye chased away the earlier glimmer, and the funny thing was that I wasn't trying to be funny at all.

    "No, Maximilian," the Maximilian being in retribution to the earlier Joseph, his calling of preference being Max, "it is just that I know that you guys like marrying intra religion, rather than inter religion."

    His thunder eased into a smile and my fingers eased away from the butt of my revolver, not that a normal bullet would have done any good with a vampire.

    "Joe," my fingers left the butt of the revolver altogether and curled anew on the shapely glass of wine, the smile on my face showing expectancy; there was a current that started passing between us about to change into currency, "I offer you one million old Lei for a successful conclusion of this matchmaking..." at which words I stood up, finished the drink in my hand and picked the walking stick resting next to me. I was about to leave with no sorrow and no goodbyes; one million old Lei was about, let me see, less than 25 euros... "...paid in golden coins of 1 Ban," he finished the sentence, watching me sit down and ogle him in disbelief. I was no math genius, but with 100 Bani to the 1 Leu, this made it one hundred million golden coins, and if each weighed, say, 1 gram, this totaled 100 tons... my head started spinning, probably from the wine I found the excuse. I could buy me a big island, I could buy me a small star, I could... "Wake up," he snapped his fingers under my nose and trust me – I did not mind. Just to put things in context for those of you, readers, who might wonder about the year and circumstances and etc, let me just comfort you in your thoughts. Events chronicled here took place sometime in 2014, in the country Romania. I wasn't a regular "earthling" as you may have already concluded on your own, but rather a humanoid confined by some trouble at home, which is not the subject of this chronicle, to Earth, my profession was matchmaking highly improbable matches for highly comfortable rewards of various kinds and my language of preference was English. Actually my services were well known and highly appreciated in this galaxy and out of it, yet this was the first time that a son of Earth asked for them. If a highly improbable (as per local scientific belief) vampire entity could indeed be considered a son of Earth. And a last point of clarification, before returning to the more interesting aspects of the story – don't worry about the eventual light years or parsecs or other so called astronomic distances you may hear mentioned from time to time. My quantic travel unit (which I nicknamed for the sake of brevity – Quantra), could take me anywhere in the universe in a matter of a few moments, without suffering any of time's relativity effects; how could time relativitate you when you traveled outside of it, I ask you? All I needed was the relevant four dimensional coordinates of a destination. I didn't understand the relevant physics, but I had the money to buy a cheap unit, an obsolete model having a target accuracy of around one million miles; this almost ended me once inside a sun, but it was just that – almost.

    I woke up, or rather sat down again.

    "OK, Max," conceding the ultimate concession, "tell me."


    Most of the inhabited worlds listed in my Traveler Almanac were vampirical, one way or another; and little did it matter if the life forms were humanoid (most were) or oxygen breathing (most were). Seemed that nature decided that vampiroid was the most efficient form of living and it lay at the top of the evolutionary scale, with Earth only one of a handful of inhabited worlds where the balance happened to be completely inversed. Of course, vampiroid did not mean vampiric in the way earthlings fabled about it, but was certainly to do with teeth or tusks or fangs or spikes or horns and their uncompromising usage in the art of greeting, love making and war. I was a disgrace myself, cursed with a mutation that all but blocked the capillaries in my teeth and thus an abomination to my race, fact which forced me to seek this intergalactic profession. The advantage of Earth for me, being that I could easily pass for an earthling and keep there undisturbed my so called office.

    I was a successful Matchmaker, a few of my biggest successes including matchmaking even quite alienated races, as long as a few basic compatibilities were ticked off in my "list": environmental needs, nourishment, coupling habits, reproduction compatibility, and some more. Funny, thinking of it, Earth with its single race of humanoids presented a much more difficult case of native matchmaking than the entire universe, due to such irrelevant obstacles as religion, social status, skin color, family constraints, music preferences and so on, splitting its population into millions of "incompatible" units.

    "You smile, why?" asked Max, watching me carefully. He signaled his bodyguards out of the room, which was a positive sign. He did, though, keep the two Rottweilers that were flanking my chair signaling obvious boredom. Good for me, I optimistically guessed.

    "Earth and earthlings make me laugh," I answered. "Must be hell to be a Matchmaker for just this one planet. No wonder the profession is in disgrace and people do their best to find their own solutions, with dire results. Did you ever stop to think that it is also the one planet in the universe with billions of life forms? Which makes you think it was probably the worst life-form that made it here to the top of the intelligence chain, oh, what an incredible statistical failure." I stopped my one-cent philosophic ramblings to take another sip of his wine and to fix my stare on his face. "So, Max, you were saying..."

    "We met in the oval room."

    "The oval room?" That made me start. The few vampires living on Earth did not possess the relevant technology, mainly because the rest of the inhabited worlds were reluctant to have on Earth any physical trace or clue as to the existence of life outside of it; Earth being this "monster" that all feared and therefore preferred to keep in the dark. There are no aliens, Mr. Earthman, There are no other inhabited worlds, Mr. Earthman, Keep your deathly tools and machines to yourself, Mr. Earthman. Thus Mr. Earthman was forcefully ignorant of anything except for the habitual Hollywoodian vampire stories... yes, shivers and hallelujah... terribly frightening, Mr. Earthman.

    The so called "oval room" was a sort of intergalactic chat-room, where messages were exchanged physically, rather than the virtual way that chat-rooms operated on Earth. Quantic transfer of matter being a technology that allowed matter to travel at zero time between any two defined points in the universe, it was the only way that immediate communication was made possible. My Quantra was using the same technology, however the application was considered safe since it was linked to a person's unique biological parameters; therefore there was no way to steal the technology from an eventually misplaced unit.

    "How did you get an active terminal?" I continued in the irrelevant direction, curious rather than worried. He, clearly, did not intend to answer me.

    "There was a package waiting there to be picked up by a suitable communicator – humanoid type C, tooth size twelve, fabulous hobby."

    "That was it? Fabulous hobby? A criterion?" It seemed I was destined in my present endeavor to answer by asking stupid questions, and probably in order to cut this part of the dialogue short and waste no more time on it he got off his chair (he was shorter off the chair than on it) and walked to one of the many closed doors surrounding us. I did not know if I was supposed to follow until I felt my palms picked gently yet firmly between two pairs of slobbering fangs and willy-nilly I got on my feet and followed the two wiggling butts flanking me. The Rottweilers probably got some unseen signal from my host - telepathic?... hmmm... - and obeyed unquestioningly. I hoped that whatever lay behind that specific door did not demand the urgent usage of my revolver.

    Max opened the door. The Rottweilers let go and lay down next to me. I couldn't say that whatever was revealed in front of me was supposed to take my breath away and yet – it took my breath away. Tens, hundreds, thousands of spacious cages made of thin, almost transparent silk threads were hanging around and each hosted its own small universe of very specific and very disparate flora, around which flew every imaginable species of butterflies, to my very limited lepidopterological knowledge.

    "Butterflies?" Told you, I was decaying into this monosyllabic inhuman idiot who punctuated every expression uttered with an inevitable question mark followed by a befitting bovine expression.

    "Butterflies. Earth is the only inhabited planet with an indigenous population of butterflies. There are no butterflies on any other planet. I sent her one of my cages containing a collection of peacock butterflies and suitable flora to sustain their existence and continuity. One month later she sent me a ten kilogram bar of gold. One year later she sent me a marriage proposition. A planet with such exquisite beauty must have exquisitely beautiful people, she claimed, wondering at the psychotic rejection and fear of Earth all across the universe."


    "Innocence, to a large degree self-imposed." We exited the room, and he closed the door gently behind him. This time the two accompanying mutts granted me the dignity to walk back to the chair on my own. "Does she know your looks?" Political correctness was invented in America, it had no standing intergalactically and would have made dealings much too slow. And anyway – I had the record to prove my worth. Of course, sometimes I schmoosed my way in as well, but I knew already there was no need in this case.

    "Yes." A statement. "She loves me. I love her. I want to be the sixty first to risk her bite and I know I will survive. She said so."

    "And I guess that I am supposed to believe in fairytales."


    "And I guess that she is not Jewish but it does not, exceptionally, matter."

    Unexpectedly, he laughed this time, which meant that my occasional caustics finally got through to him, positively.


    "And I guess that all is just fine except that there is one unovercomable obstacle on the way to eternal bites and happiness, otherwise you would not have contacted me and offered me all that nice compensation you did earlier on."

    "Correct. Except that this is not my compensation, but hers." I glared at him with the afore mentioned bovine expression one shade deeper. "So there are some things you are ignorant of, Mister Matchmaker. Gold is not a measure of richness on the Zana planet, fertile land is the measure there, and in these terms Metron is a poor lord, and so is his daughter's dowry valued locally. Yet she's highly sought after by any candidate whose world does value gold, which most of them do. In return for shiploads of fertile land from their relevant planets."

    "What we would call a marriage of convenience..." I contributed my slice of dialogue.

    "...which is what the first sixty marriages were..."

    "... and all of which failed on the first nuptial bite, even before sexual consummation. Which of course can occasionally happen," I emphasized occasionally, "but not at the rate of sixty out of sixty. How convenient these convenience marriages. The eternal virgin bride. Didn't she say so also to the previous grooms while pulling them into her web and getting their dowry?" I was referring to her so called promise of survival. I was intentionally rude, uncouth, aggressive – after all I did not lose a customer in a couple hundred years now and I was not about to start looking for a new career or accept a dent in my present record.

    Something hard surfaced in his eyes and the Rottweiler to my left growled shortly; so there was a telepathic link there after all. Then the expression on his face changed to one of patronizing affection, which just upset me more than I wished or intended to be. At least the Rottweiler relaxed again. Max laid a small box on the table separating us and slid it towards me. I opened it and gasped.

    "Her bridal tooth. I tested it..." he pointed to a slash on the side of his throat,"...I am still alive. Therefore she said so and I know so."

    It was inconceivable, impossible, forbidden. The nuptial night was the only time when it was allowed to share a bridal or groom tooth, any exception to this rule being punishable with either eternal exile from all vampire societies or, in some cases, with death. This was considered the natural selection tool, with the element of chance part of the act. And Max was taking a big risk in showing his gift to me and I didn't enjoy at all being made privy to this absolute proof of faith between these surprising, uncongenial lovers. I looked up from the bridal tooth and probably my regard said it all. I closed the small box and slid it back to him.

    "I did not see anything. Thus, I guess that I do not risk any intention to bury Matchmaker me, from her side, correct?" There was no need to wait for an answer. "OK, what is this problem that I have to solve for all the money in the world?"


    I was back home, a small village in Moldova, not far from the Siret river, and my underground hangar was bustling with activity. My neighbors knew that I was a horse trader, and I maintained the perception by having at least one hundred horses running wild around my grounds at any time. The reality for me was what happened underground, in that huge hangar that stored my Quantra, and the adjoining storage rooms and living quarters. I did not employ any Earthlings – too capricious, avaricious, traitorous and malicious. Probably some more "ous" adjectives could have applied in line with my opinion of this planet's inhabitants, but also kind of unfair to those who hosted me unknowingly and against their better judgment if such knowledge would indeed have existed.

    Every one of those working for me, thirteen in all, was smuggled in on my Quantra, against phenomenal payment agreements. After all, working on Earth was considered a blemish in any respectable vampire's employment reference, but gold was gold and lots of gold could turn anyone's rock-solid inhibitions to liquid-melting wax. All of them were pure humanoids, easily mingling with the natives, except for Morg - my Quantra maintenance engineer who carried a frontal horn and possessed six fingers to each limb - and his mate. It was a race that preserved their purity and refused any inter-mating with any other planet. They were as friendly as they were brilliantly intelligent, but obstinate in this one aspect. Perfectly justified in keeping it this way, I chuckled.

    We were seated in my conference room, myself with Morg and MorgA – Morg's mate – discussing the last details of my proposed trip. Morg and MorgA had their horns connected by that disgusting, worm-like symbiot which allowed them to join their intellect into one powerful thinking machine, and we were all three toasting my soon to come departure with a small glass of freshly distilled AB- plasma. We were under no risk, with my tooth capillaries blocked and with the Morg's compatible to anything. After all, blood synthesis was one of the key professions on any inhabited planet, and if Earthlings would have had dedicated as much effort to a sanguiculture science as they did to the viticulture one, they would have had forgone long ago the need for their primitive, disgusting blood donation habit.

    "Hail viticulture and Earthlings folly!" I raised my glass anew, this time with Max's brew filling it to the rim and the Morg's joining in my cheer. Wine, the only good thing that ever came out of Earth and so unique to this obscenely squashed planet.

    Max's problem was simple, yet one of portentous size: there was no way for him to provide the dowry requested by Metron, who got greedier with each new candidate to his daughter's hand and who seemed to be enjoying the surprising sequential incompatibilities, getting each time another chunk of fertile land donated to his treasury. The offer was supposed to be at least the size of Earth's moon, and there were very few contenders able to pay-off such an extreme demand. Two of them asked already for Metrina's hand and the time was running short for Max. Metrina seemed to be running short of any delaying tactics and if Max was not be able to come up with a suitable solution then either he would lose her, or there would be war or... Metrina would die since she refused to take back the matrimonial tooth. Max pleaded with her, in vain – she feared a compatible mating and the end of her dreams for a butterflies-filled world. Her threat to kill any new Matchmaker visiting her father seemed to be the only thing still holding events at bay, but for how long?

    Max was desperate, Metrina was adamant, Metron was pushing, and I was supposed to undo the Gordian knot for everybody.

    The meeting with Max took place about two months earlier, and I used the time to consult mainly with my paid spies on Metron's world and with the Morg's about which strategy to use. There were not many options: kidnap Metrina and bring her to Earth, which would excommunicate everybody involved – Max, Metrina, myself – from all civilized vampire societies and put a prize on our heads; find a way to get sufficient fertile land in the hands of Max, which was the same as dreaming of cold ice-cream in the sun; murder Metron, which Metrina would agree to but, funnily, Max wouldn't (something to do with the ten commandments); find another dowry as valuable or even more and persuade Metron to agree to it. Blackmail. Declare war. Beg for mercy. Threaten. Shave his head. Hmmm... there was also the small detail of deciding which of the qualifying contenders would get her in marriage, but we were not yet there. And, of course, there was always the option that I would say no to the deal and the hell with Max and his million old Lei. No, in reality this was never an option, sorry, I got somehow carried away in the second of my secondary layer's thoughts.

    It was MorgA who came with the most sensible answer. What is worth more than riches, what cannot be bought by riches, what has zero treasury value and yet immeasurable value nevertheless? Why, prestige of course. Find a way to offer Metron prestige one never dreamt of and then you even your chances and actually win the race. I hated how they, the Morg's, communicated via that communication worm of theirs (wormpathy I called it). The Morg pair were beyond workers for me, they actually were close friends since that day, exactly one hundred and twelve years ago when I succeeded to matchmake them against odds of one to a trillion, calculated, and then found this hellhole called Earth where we could all live under the relative protection of the civilized world's acceptance of Earth as, well, as said – a hellhole and a worthy punishment.

    MorgA... : "What was the most terrible time in all of the civilized worlds history?"

    I... : "The Garlic Wars of three hundred years ago that decimated ninety percent of all vampire civilizations. And that, strangely, left the minority on Earth untouched."

    MorgA... : "And what is the biggest present threat, floating above all civilized planets? Our cold war nemesis, if to use a Terran analogy?"

    I... : "The next Garlic War, to end all wars and all life as well."

    You see, Hollywood in particular and earthlings in general were absolutely right in one minor detail: garlic, when administered raw, does kill vampires. By inhalation or touch on the skin or ingestion – little did it matter.

    I looked at the Morg's, a certain notion, call it misgiving, starting to grow in my mind. They removed the worm from their horns, thus vaunting the fact that they were in complete agreement and there was no need for any kind of additional wormconferencing between them.

    "Most of the vampiroids on Earth were left unscathed. We all suspect why but no one ever dared go the extra step and prove it. Partly because the subject was taboo, partly because the fright was absolute – what if the experimentation got out of hand?" Morg was talking with the dispassion of a scientist, yet the sweat trickling down his neck showed how uncomfortable he felt with the subject. But he owed me his coupling with MorgA and he was preparing now the ground to pay his debt in its entirety, be it at the price of his sanity or worse – his life. Or worse still – MorgA's life. I knew where this was leading but to interrupt him would have been an irrecoverable offence to our friendship, thus I let him continue. "We..." he took MorgA's hand, "... are going to prove it together. If we fail..." they looked into each other's eyes, "we have died the honorable death of friendship." And friendship being for their race's culture the ultimate gesture of honor and respect, it could not be refused.

    It could be refuted though, which I did, the same night. I waited for everyone to fall asleep and by 2am entered the fully isolated plastic tent, closed the flap hermetically and after a minute hesitation opened the hermetically sealed top of the dish I ordered earlier that day. The sharp garlic smell of the local Romanian delicacy, mititei, filled the tent. I inhaled deeply, took a bite and enjoyed a moment of heavenly taste while waiting for ensuing fulgurant death. I did not die. The Morg's were right.

    One week later I took the jump to Zana.


    My Quantra had three pressure chambers and a small jump-protected chamber for merchandise transportation. I took minimum luggage with me, sun protection cream and dark eyeglasses (Zana's sun was slightly stronger in UV radiation than Earth's sun), locked the external doors and locked myself in the captain's pressure chamber. I keyed in the destination coordinates and pushed the fully-automatic button. Let the computer take its responsibilities. I rarely did it, paranoid as I was to the eventual software bug or glitch or whatever else could go wrong with the software or the hardware of the traveling system. But for whatever reason I felt slightly light-headed and unfocussed, probably the tension associated with this specific matchmaking, so I preferred for once to let the machine do the thinking. Hopefully I will not end up in Zana's sun was my last coherent thought, just before I lost consciousness to gain it exactly one second later, Earth time lapse. I carried with me a Terranean watch, being too habituated to it to change to the Galaxies-wide decimal time-measuring system. I did not end inside any sun or planet, actually the jump brought me within half a light-second of Zana itself, which was the best my Quantra achieved ever. I activated the rockets that would carry me the last distance, reaching Zana itself within two days at a leisurely speed. The last message from Metron's staff was that I was welcome to stay with them for the duration of my stay, an invitation could have been good and could have been bad. I knew at least that Metrina had no intention to kill me on sight, warned as she was of my arrival by Max. Lord Metron was not aware of any of our machinations in the background, he knew just that I was a "courageous Matchmaker" keen to make an impression on himself and on his daughter and with an offer such as "never made before". I was taking here a gigantic risk, if my life was to be considered of gigantic proportions. Vampires generally, and Metron in particular were known to be polite to desperation, yet fast to anger to... desperation as well. I was one such as well, I knew.

    I was guided to my room, my luggage taken care of, I was fed, bathed and provided with robes that would not hurt any of the local sensitivities when presented to Metron, his key house staff and – most important, Metrina. Metron's wife was killed during a raid by one of his local rivals, attack which failed but left a huge emptiness, as rumor goes, in his life. Fact which turned him into that irascible, easily angered, dangerous old vampire. If this could be turned to my advantage, as MorgA surmised, was left to be seen. It was time for me to be presented to the master of the house. I holstered around my waist the two ceremonial revolvers, covered my hair with the triangular red-felt hat, picked in my hand the package I brought along and followed the servant who came to summon me to the ceremonies hall.

    The hall was huge. It was supported by tall hexagonal pillars, each pillar surrounded by an array of archaic torches complemented by electric lights, the floor from the entrance to the hall and up to the tall chair (no throne, mind you) on which Metron was seated covered by a deep, inch-thick red carpet. To eliminate the need to wash the blood stains?... I wondered only half-jokingly as I started the long journey from the door to the end of the carpet, about three steps away from Metron himself. I was seated atop one of those ceremonial, local carrying beasts, a pachyderm kind of soft, undulating box of flesh that seemed to have no mouth, no eyes and no legs and advanced on a continually rippling belly like some kind of gigantic worm. Once my beast reached the end of the carpet it stopped almost on cue and I knew that I had to descend and present my homage to Metron and his household. Which I did, bending my head in respect to the master of the house and then looking at the empty chair to his right, in which direction I bowed my head as well in respect to the departed mistress of the house. The murmur of appreciation that ran through the house signaled to me that I had just scored one point, which was a good omen, and I had only ninety nine more points to score. Then I turned my head to Metron's left and practically and poetically froze in my tracks. Dressed in a long, red velvet robe sprinkled with hundreds of gold butterflies, oh, such beauty, oh, such grace, oh, such radiance in any being – human, vampire or beast was just impossible, inexistent, illegal. Beyond Elizabeth Taylor, beyond Linda Carter, none of Valentino, oh, you dumb Maximillian, I vocalized internally as I bent my head before my stare would turn to insult, then returned it to Metron. Max had adamantly refused to show me a picture of Metrina, which he himself was supposed not to possess either but did. He claimed it would cloud my judgment while in reality I believe he gave in to one of those superstitious fears that earthbound vampires suffer from under primitive, local cultural influence.

    Vampire ceremonies are not supposed to be time wasters, they are supposed to be accurate, logical, fast and to the point. I waited for my cue and it came in the form of a nod from Metron's head towards Metrina who stood up, facing me with a regard to cut Terran steel armor. Rumors about her sinister side surfaced in my mind, and for a moment I feared that Max may have fallen prey to some sinister intergalactic prank and I would become the innocent bait to be eaten at leisure by the two beasts at Metron's sides. What have all those richer vampires to do with monsters flanking them, I asked myself, watching the two gigantic feline heads, the deceivingly somnolent eyes and those retractable saber teeth curving all the way to their ears?

    "Joseph the Matchmaker..." she started, her regard one of challenging defiance and I gathered my entire wits system to prevent me from pulling up the damn ceremonial revolver and shoot off her leg then and there. Did Max the bastard put her up to it? "...you came to Zana to bid for my hand on the behalf of Maximillian the Earthbound..." well, at least she was treating Max in the same off-hand manner, and I suddenly relaxed, taking it as an unspoken offer of conspiratorial friendship "...speak up, Matchmaker! Make your bid of prestige beyond riches, as told, or face the consequences."

    Well, pretty standard wording until then, using basically the text that I dictated to Max and that he secretly transferred to Metrina as the safest one to use. Metron knew that I was not coming to offer any fertile land but something bigger, more meaningful and more powerful than any conceivable kind of material offer, and Metrina's words were softly just setting the stage for my act.

    I advanced one step. The beasts did not seem to notice, neither Metron even though there was a short gasp of apprehension around me.

    "My Lord, Metron. I offer you hereby the secret and the right to demand and obtain the universal Knobel Price for Peace, as the one master to put an end to all and any present or future Garlic Wars between all and any of our civilized societies."

    Now, to those of you earthlings that may be reading this recount, I owe here a short explanation. The earthly Nobel price was proposed about 65 years after the galactic Knobel price was created and used for the first time, at the end of one of the most murderous of our Garlic Wars. Coincidence? It might have been just a coincidence also the similarity of the name of the prize. It may be just a coincidence the fact that there is pending suspicion that Albert Nobel's roots are of vampire origin and it may be just a coincidence the fact that Garlic translates to Yiddish as Knobl. Hmmm... a lot of strange coincidences, don't you think?

    I made one additional step forward, to no objection, and placed my package on the floor, in front of me. I carefully opened the curling ribbons, carefully opened the colorful packaging paper, carefully opened the cardboard box and picked in my hand the half liter bottle that was inside it. I uncorked it and took a long sip.

    "One minute," I proclaimed mysteriously, watching the seconds hand on my wristwatch, with everyone else watching the Earth-synchronized digital clock on the wall. "My Lord. My left revolver contains metal pellets, the death carrier as the habit of the primitive Earth society. My right revolver contains garlic pellets, the death carrier as the habit of any civilized society." I pulled out the right revolver and offered it to Metron, butt first. There was a flicker of uneasiness in his eyes and the two monsters at his sides batted their eyes almost in unison, for the first time. "My Lord Metron, please shoot me."

    My theatrics, oh, my overdramatized theatrics, I was so proud of myself.

    Metron did not move. This I did not expect. If he was not going to move and bite the bait, so to say, then my trip and the entire show was going to have been wasted and I would become the laughing stock of the matchmaker's guild while Max and Metrina were never going to make it. Take the gun, you bastard, take the gun, you bâtard (trying also in French) I kept thinking, trying to force some inexistent telepathic link to pop into existence yet achieving nothing more than a vacant stare gazing fixedly ahead of me. Was he afraid to ridicule himself? was the sudden chilling thought that sneaked into my mind and a trickle of cold sweat started making its way from the base of my neck down along my spine. I was dying for a scratch but rested immobile, hoping for deliverance yet fearing catastrophe, this was a turn of events my scenario did not foresee. The decimal seconds on the wall-clock in front of me kept counting their way into the second decimal minute of oppressive inaction, when something unexpected happened. I did not pay attention to the person seated to Metrina's left, until I caught an almost imperceptible movement of Metrina's knee against this person's, followed by an almost immediate rustle of fabric and a younger version of Elizabeth Taylor slash Linda Carter slash none of Valentino stopped in front of me, an angel, an adorable creature with an adorable air of adoration, picked the revolver butt in her small hand, pointed it at my forehead and pulled the trigger.

    I felt the pellet penetrating, the allicin and cohorts concentrate spreading slowly under the skin and starting to absorb into the blood stream, a tiny trickle of blood running down between my eyes and along my nose. I did not die. I did not faint. I was in perfect control and condition. The angel blocking my field of view handed me back the revolver, butt first, then floated back to her chair. I holstered the revolver elegantly down into its place of origin, picked the bottle from the floor and offered it to Metron holding it in my outstretched hands.

    "The end of all Garlic Wars, your Lordship."

    He seemed to be hesitating slightly before opening his mouth in question.

    "What is it?" he asked, watching the bottle in my hand the way a caveman humanoid would regard a sparkling bottle of Coca Cola.

    "We call it wine, your Lordship."


    "Wine, a product of Earth, unknown of on any other planet, uncultivated and uncultivable on any other planet. Yours to use, Peace Maker." I bowed my head.

    Part of the reason that I bowed my head was that I didn't want him really to read the expression in my eyes. I wasn't totally honest, I was slightly exaggerating, I was stretching my luck a bit irresponsibly. Neither of this too much, still... I was a regular wine drinker and immunized against garlic death for quite some time now. I also doctored slightly the wine in the bottle with some enhancing enzymes to allow immediate effect in case someone else decided to test it. But all in all – the message was true. Wine was immunizing anyone of true vampire origin against the lethal effects of garlic's components on their nervous system, thus practically rending meaningless the usage of any weapons of mass destruction stored on most of the planets, our vampirical version of the Terrans' cold war deterrents. Metron would have been a fool to decline the offer. Metron was no fool.


    I was guest of honor for that evening's impromptu gala dinner. Just so you know – Hollywood in particular and earthlings in general were, this time, terribly wrong in another heavily exploited aspect of vampirical life. Vampires are basically vegetarian creatures. Huh! Sure, blood infusion and blood absorption plays a critical role in social encounters and – excuse the expression – copulation acts, but it has nothing to do with a vampire's feeding habits. Feeding on flesh and meat is an act suitable for what is popularly called on Earth "Zombies" and which, as every child knows, do not fortunately exist. Oh, suitable for Terrans as well, and these, as we all know, do unfortunately exist.

    Metrina was resplendently beautiful, dressed in the negative of the earlier version of the robe with hundreds of velvet butterflies sewn on thin gold material falling down the miraculous curves of her body and with baby bats constantly fluttering in and out of the hair hives combed atop of her head... nothing short of divinely queenly was the only description to suit her appearance. Yet, my eyes were not even momentarily peeking her way, engrossed as I was in the angel called Metritis which I found out was Metrina's kid sister and whom Metrina graciously placed on the chair next to mine at the dinner table. Quite by chance, one hour later, our fingers met under the gold threaded drapery covering the table. Quite by chance her teeth bit my ear's lobe one hour afterwards, as we both bent underneath the table to pick a fork dropped there as if by chance. Quite by chance, one hour later she whispered into my bleeding ear that she loved me. She called me Joseph and all I heard was Joe, never for a moment thinking of shooting her leg off. And quite by chance, following morning I asked Metron for his second daughter's hand.

    "You are by far the worst Matchmaker to ever lay foot in my house," he growled, and the two monsters at his side echoed the growl in unison. "Granted," he said, one month later, once his candidacy to the Galactic Knobel Peace prize was accepted and made official. The marriage took place on Earth. Meaning to say – the marriages.

    Max insisted on a Jewish ceremony, allegiant to his obscure origins, with rabbi and choupa and ketouba and the rest of the trimmings. I insisted on a Catholic marriage, allegiant to my Hollywood inspired dreams, with priest and vows and maids of honor and the rest of the trimmings. Metron insisted on a Vampiric marriage, with master of ceremonies and marriage teeth and ceremonial bites and the rest of the trimmings. Finally we agreed – we had them all and after all the guests quantransported back to their relevant stars and star systems a new, pitiless race started, mainly between the two sisters – who would be the first to create a new life. It was a race that Max and I, now friends for life, passionately enjoyed. Yeah, spiritually and physically, as you can imagine.

    I never took the payment due from Max. We agreed between us to invest part of it in the flourishing wine commerce that was developing with Zana and through Zana with the entire civilized universe. The other part we poured into worthy charities, again, all over the universe. I did though refuse to use any of this money to deal with my infirmity – the blocked capillaries in my teeth. "This infirmity is what brought Metritis into my life," I kept maintaining, "I cherish it." Metritis certainly did not mind, my bites over her entire body left nothing to be desired, she happily maintained her side of the story, biting back as fiercely as only she could.

    Our little Metritina is now one year old. At eight months her canines finally showed. At ten the capillaries opened. A day ago she bit a chunk of flesh off my nose, making me the happiest vampire in the universe, probably except for Max. He had twins, a boy and a girl, and the same day they bit both a chunk off his nose and a chunk off his ear. We were still competing but it was pure fun. Maybe one day there will be enough of us to civilize Earth as well. Amen!




    "Go. It's your big day, I can only wish you no hiccups." She meant technical snags, of course. She smiled, guiding my hand to her swollen belly. I felt the soft kick from within. "He knows it's you."

    "Which week are you now in?" It was a game we played, I asking and she answering, even though I knew the time that passed since, let's call it inception, almost to the minute.

    "Twenty ninth, soon, very soon, love. We have to start thinking of a name."

    I pulled up the stretched t-shirt and placed a kiss on the protruding belly-button. "I love you, baby," I said, meaning both of them.

    "Go!" This time she got up and waddled all the way to the door, holding my hand and making sure I got on the other side of it. Once there she sent me off with a loving smack on my posterior. It was my big day and I was not supposed to be even a minute late. That's why I started early, ensuring I would be there a full hour ahead of time.

    The experiment was scheduled to start at 8 pm sharp, prime time TV coverage being not a minor consideration. With Uncle Sam covering the biggest part of the one hundred twenty three billion budget that the entire set-up cost MIT, coverage and prestige and advertising royalties were part of the planning. Not that I cared any, not at this final stage of the activity. The wheels were turning, there was no way to stop the experiment, not even by a so-called "act of God" – contingency plans covered everything from possible failures to impossible ones, there was no doubt in my mind that the one hour countdown will start and end accurate to the millisecond. And internally I felt the world was mine, certain that next year's Nobel Prize for physics would fall in my lap. Not bad for a theoretician.

    Einstein was right, of course he was right and I contested none of his assumptions, statements and proofs. Sure, there was an accepted way one could travel into the future, yet there was no way to travel back in time and this was the reason I loved so much the sci-fi that did allow for it. Knowing it was an impossible story to start with and being able to admire the artistry and imagination of the various authors and script writers. Some of which was garbage, some of which was simply brilliant. This was also the reason I started my research.

    My theory was simple, even though it took three years to develop its mathematical presentation and simplify it, long before research grants started pouring in when some well-informed private investors and governmental bodies decided to join the ride, feeling there was a way they might benefit from supporting me. Even by just having their names attached to proving a theory which was considered to be equivalent in its importance to the relativity theory. What my theory postulated was that once the speed of light is attained and time moves to a positive infinity value, the extra "push" that will send the speed above the speed of light will make time take a minus infinity value, without actually leaving the positive infinity point. Lost you? Let's put it in a slightly different way: the end of time and begin of time are one and the same point. Of course my theory was dealing with traveling photons only, nothing to do with the tangible world, and proving it had to happen at photon-measuring level.

    I was head of the team that defined and designed the test environment, that "tool" that cost one hundred twenty three billion dollars, yet I felt like it was all mine. Originally the test was supposed to take place on Earth, however the constant, though minimal fluctuations of Earth's gravity direction due to Earth's liquid core, ocean tides, air masses and even mass population movements precluded it from being implemented on Earth. What we needed was a gigantic gravitation field with a well-defined and stable center of gravitation and that's when the idea to do the experiment on the moon came to the table. The idea was simple, the implementation was of gigantic proportions.

    A laser pointed at the gravitational center of the moon was mounted at the end of a ten miles high and three feet across opaque tube (shielded against any kind of external radiation and kept under absolute vacuum) and it was designed to emit a burst of a countable number of photons. It was impossible to define accurately this number, but as long as it was countable it did not matter much. The expected burst was supposed to be between 220 and 350 photons, which was a technological achievement, to say the least. The accurate number was to be counted at the laser side and at the moon surface side, and my theory predicted that the accurate directionality of the light emission will allow moon's gravitation to exercise a continuous pull on the photons burst, thus causing an acceleration that should cause at least one of them get infinitesimally faster than the speed of light. Those photons that would follow this prediction would disappear from the count at the moon's surface and that would mean the experiment was a success.

    We encountered one major hiccup, to use my wife's words, while starting to build the "photons cannon" as we called it, on the moon and this was the fact that the moon's measured gravitation vector was not as stable as we expected it to be; it seemed to vary slightly and slowly, however significantly enough to cause an experiment failure. Adjusting the firing direction was not a solution since it took a couple of moon days to get the gigantic laser head correctly aligned inside the cannon tube, much too long for the gravitational vector which could change in as short a period as two hours. Luckily there were a few geniuses at NASA, and the few additional billions of dollars were put in to implement their solution. It consisted basically of a huge toroid composed of depleted uranium, placed around the cannon base and controlled by gigantic servo motors which shifted it as little and as fast as was necessary to compensate for the varying gravitational direction. The slowness of the gravitational changes allowed for an effective correction to be performed just a few minutes before the firing of the laser.

    Now, seven years and three months later, everything was finally ready.

    The technical control room on Earth had gone quiet. All the lamps were on green, there was no delay incurred and the count on all the screens reached fifty. At this stage a voice started reading the numbers aloud, and involuntarily I started to shiver. There was no reason to fear, yet... I feared. All those years, all those theoretical tests, all those in-depth checks by a variety of genius minds around the world, all those billions of dollars, yet for me it all boiled down to either my moment of triumph or my moment of academic death. I vividly imagined my wife's eyes glued to the TV screen and echoing loudly the controller's impersonal voice, while keeping a hand on her belly to feel the kicking life inside.

    Eleven. Ten. Nine. Eight... Three. Two. One. Fire.

    The main displays showed the two numbers, the emitted photons and the received photons. 248 vs 248. Same number. The count was set again at minus twenty, as planned. ...Two. One. Fire. 301 vs 301. ...Two. One. Fire. 289 vs 288. I screamed. Everybody in the room was screaming, shouting, clapping me on the back, I was on the verge of hysteria, crying with satisfaction and relief and basking in the sea of applause and camera flashes. My theory was consecrated, who gives a damn if no one ever finds any practical use for it?

    A few speeches followed, mine was a mix of stuttering and hiccupping, and all I remember was saying again and again... "I sent a photon to the beginning of time, I sent a photon to the beginning of time..." I was unable to drive my own car home, administration arranged for a taxi to get me there. When I arrived it was around half past twelve.

    I opened the door cautiously, trying to make as little noise as possible in case my wife had fallen asleep. I misjudged her, I certainly did, as I saw her waiting for me, her smile huge, her eyes bright.

    "You did it, my love, you did it." I approached her and kissed her passionately feeling myself young and old and in love all over again... "Hey, careful, you may crush it," she smiled delicately and tracing the contour of my lips. "Come, your turn, and I will prepare you the best sandwich you ate for this entire evening, if you ate anything at all."

    She rose from the sofa, the uncovered soft egg shell clearly showing the points of pressure of two tiny feet against it. I kissed one of the protruding heels, then sat myself comfortably over the warm egg, the warmth underneath me homely, comforting.

    "With or without onions?" she asked.

    I didn't answer, it did not matter, I was exhausted. I watched her lithe figure undulating invitingly inside the narrow robe sheath as she departed toward the kitchen. The TV was droning about the successful experiment, the gorgeous blonde telling the story having clearly no idea what she was talking about. I forgave her, I was in a forgiving mood. I started daydreaming of my soon to come son, of the Noble prize, of the sandwich... My theory was proven, who cares about time travel to the past anyway? Yippee!

    I fell asleep.




    This was my third attempt. The first two didn't work too well, even if the dating agency computer predicted differently, and I kept wondering why. Anyway, I was absolutely certain that this time it was to be my lucky day. The encounter started well, up to the point where we started replacing banalities with concrete questions and observations.

    It was when I asked her if she suffers from any eventual prostrate problems that she kind of fixed me with her gaze and moved about one meter away.

    Strange, very strange.

    She added another two meters when I reached the point that I shared with her, in all honesty (I am a very honest person) the finality of my resolution to wear only black shoes for the rest of my life. I felt it was my duty to let the person who might one day share my life be informed about any such crucial point. I added that it was her turn to tell me about her shaving habits.

    With three meters between us we had to shout to make ourselves heard, and other couples in the room busy with a similar ritual looked at us inquisitively. I assumed that it was enviously as well. It is a known fact that the nearer people are the more they shout at each other.

    "My preferred body part is the interspaces between the toes, what is yours?" I shouted.

    I guessed she did not hear me and anyway she was in a hurry. She stood up making a variety of cross signs with her cell-phone, which I interpreted easily that she was going to call me from church following day, and then she left. I like a person with deep religious convictions.

    Strange, very strange.

    Then it hit me. Damn, the new after-shave that my friends advised me to use was to blame for all my rejects, including this one. I had to change it, and urgently so.

    I waited impatiently for her to call me the next day, and she didn't. Probably forgot to load her cell-phone, she looked like the type who would forget such a thing. I left her a long, explanatory message about a new cell-loading device that you install on your roof, leave your phone connected to it (ensuring it is well protected from rain, especially in Belgium) for three days, and then it is fully loaded. And it costs you nothing in electricity.

    She did not answer. I heard a few days later that she moved to Zimbabwe.

    Strange, very very strange.

    My first two dates had moved one to Argentina and the other to Canada.


    I changed after-shave and went to meet the dating agency's owner. Oh, my God, she was so beautiful, so graceful, I was so happy that I had changed after-shave that I told her all about my misadventures with it. Suddenly I was in love and so was she. After half of a beautiful day filled with romance and warm diet Coke which went so well with her blue eyes (she cried her happiness when I told her) she decided on a moment's impulse to show her greater affection for me and signed a paper leaving the agency to me as a present, then rushed out of the room bawling her despair.

    Love can be so cruel. I found out that she moved to a big apple to drown her sorrow for losing me so early in our relationship. I was not aware she was a veggie.

    Strange, so very very strange.


    "Dear Myra, some bad mouths rumored that you moved to an apple. I was so sad to have lost you to vegetation and now I am so glad to have found you in New York. I found your address through a private investigator and decided that I cannot let you suffer anymore. I arrive, oh, my dear, and I will wear my new after-shave. Internally yours..." I was trying hard to be original, "...Jojo."

    When I rang the door it opened almost instantly. Myra was there, dragging a heavy suitcase, her face ravaged with the despair of finding me and then losing me again. She had reserved a place on the next commercial flight to the moon, having decided to settle there.

    I was so impressed, delighted, overwhelmed with appreciation at this praiseworthy pioneering attitude, so rare to find these modern times, that I broke down at her feet and cried while she dragged her heavy suitcase over my leg, dropped the key on the floor and disappeared in the elevator cage. Yes, goodbyes are such sweet sorrow. By the time I reached the launching site the rocket had blasted already away. Her suitcase was still on the tarmac..." she was in such a hurry," wondered an employee.


    I was adamant about it. If she couldn't live without me so couldn't I... without her, I mean. I sold her agency, sold her apartment, sold my extra three pairs of almost new black shoes and bought myself a ticket on the next nearest available flight to the moon.

    "Myra, I brought your suitcase," I shouted happily once I arrived to the lunar communal eating hall, and she was so delighted that she jumped over three tables away from me. That's not a big deal given the moon's lower gravitation, you know. We danced, she jumped, I jumped after her, she jumped, I jumped after her... we finally caught up with each other when she crushed into the dome's curved wall and I crushed into her, cuddling her in my left arm (the right was dragging the suitcase).

    They took her to the infirmary, seemed she suffered a small concussion and lost conscience in my arms. I knew better, she fainted because of her love. I sat next to her, carrying one black shoes in my pocket so that it will not get infested by any eventual germ, gently patting the back of her palm with the other. She opened those big, blue, eyes, enveloped me with all the love there was in the universe, and whispered.

    "Is this your new after-shave?" Oh, she felt it, she was so attentive, so filled with the desire to smell me, so...

    "Yes, I said. Do you want some?"

    She shuddered delightfully, the short hairs at the back of her neck a symphony of movement.

    "Jojo, I am going to volunteer tomorrow for the sun-garbage-rocket." I made a face, not knowing what she meant. She added, her voice weak with unfulfilled desire. "Once a month someone has to volunteer to drop the garbage into the sun. Usually it is a lottery. This time I will volunteer for it."

    Oh, my wonderful, volunteering angel, my fairy, my goddess, and with no hesitation I reached a decision that no one could have had persuaded me out of it.

    "You are so weak, I will do it, oh, my wonderful Myra, I will do it."

    "Oh, will you?... " and suddenly she got hysterical and started laughing so hard that they had to use two straitjackets on her. It was gratifying to see so much happiness in a jacket.


    I sat myself comfortably in the so-called driving seat, the smell around me insupportable but my Myra's eyes gleaming with all that suppressed desire to love me eternally.

    "I will soon be back," I shouted my happiness, and everybody laughed good humoredly and wished me a nice way and a lot of good luck and gave me a bible and so on.

    About half of the way to the sun it started getting a bit warm and I decided to write down my complaint about the insufficiency of the air-conditioning system. I put it into the empty beer bottle that I had just finished and jettisoned it into space. Another omission on their part, there was no communication system. And it was getting damn too warm, actually.

    I located the operator's manual but could find nowhere information about how to turn the rocket around after getting rid of the garbage. On the drive console was just one button that said "forward", which is what I pushed when I started the trip. Another omission, such sloppy design, they forgot the "return" button. I pulled open the panel above me and looked at the various wires and circuits and flickering lamps. I may have had a PhD in Electronics and Mechanics and Aeronautics and Hydraulics and several more, but the design was so misconceived, it could have hardly served its purpose even one single time.

    And it was getting so hot that I was glad I had decided not to wear any underwear.


    Myra was dancing on the tabletops, her beautiful hair undulating in slow motion, her beautiful legs showing off under her wide skirts, her beautiful eyes shining with excitement...

    "Myra!" I shouted my happiness from the door, my steaming clothes hardly covering my steaming flesh and the stank slowly conquering the entire hall. "I fixed it! They forgot the return button but I fixed it!" After all, I couldn't have dropped my charge into the sun and return as well.

    She dropped dead. They told me later that the reunion excitement might have been too much for her fragile heart to endure. They buried her on the moon. I took her shoes with me back to Earth. I knew exactly what I was going to do next.

    I booked my flight to Argentina. I used my new after-shave. I landed. I rang from the airport and picked a cab. Next thing I knew I was leaning on the doorbell. The door opened. She stood there, dragging a heavy suitcase behind her.

    What the hell had everybody to do with the lunar colony these days?

    Strange, very, very, very strange.

    Now I'm on my way to Canada. I just hope that Canada is going to be better. And if not, I still have a last ace up my sleeve, unknown even to me – Zimbabwe, oh, my religious dove.




    Sex, was one of those married-life shared duties. Like laundry, like vacuuming the carpets, like walking the dog. Not that the dog was still alive, but while it was... Now they share the mound in the back of the garden where Vivian was planting flowers the first year after Coco's death. She stopped, following year, too busy with her TV and books and weekend visits of the grandchildren. Roger did not stop weeding it though, seven years past now. There was no symmetry in the sharing, he thought, there could not be symmetry in the sharing he rationalized loudly, pouring white gravel over the mound. It is sinking, I will have to add some earth next year.

    Like washing dishes. Not like taking the garbage out, which by some unclear world-wide accepted tradition was a man's duty. Maybe because it was heavy? Or rather because it was working with dirt? I wonder if it was the same while the world was still split into wild tribes and women were the child bearers and men the hunters. Like going to church every Sunday, which he did his best to miss. Let Vivian talk to the wooden man, part of the asymmetry.

    He parked the car in the driveway, too lazy to go through the entire rite of parking it inside the locked garage. Company car, let the bastards break in, whoever the bastards might be. Forty-nine and already tired. Vivian was forty-seven and never seemed tired. Well, maybe tired of me, he smiled, caring less about this last thought than about the petty altercation at the office, that morning.

    Hi, he said, dropping briefcase, tie, blazer and shoes and doing the slippers.

    He guessed there was a Hi from the room where she was viewing one of her most favorite TV programs, something to do with medical miracles. No miracle for my calvity. How many 'most favorites' were there? Two dozens, or more? He started preparing a light meal for himself and sneaked a look to the notebook. THE notebook.

    The one thing Vivian was more than any other she was it was she was organized. Sounds tongue twisting even to me. He picked a beer from the fridge. Her daily schedule crisp clear, the wardrobes army squared, their money accounts managed up to the hour and accurate down to the cent. And her notebook was at the heart of it all. Like today it was... oh, yes, or was it rather oh, no – sex day. It wasn't every month the same day, long live variety, yet it was every month planned one month in advance – this was Vivian. And he accepted it, part of their sharing, part of the cement holding this family together. He knew he was exaggerating the symbolism a bit, but he grew to live with it and be content with it in its present form. To some extent, he contributed to this "organization" and couldn't actually complain. Family life and duties.

    Could have been worse, like sex twice a month, haha. There was no smile neither in the first nor in the second ha. At nine forty five she would take her shower. At ten he would take his. Then he would find his way blindly through a room thrown into pitch darkness by Vivian for some outdated morality minded reason of her own, find her already naked and already "ready" under the blankets so all he had to do was a fast penetration followed by a fast retreat to his own side of bed followed by her disappearing again into the bathroom for the better part of an hour. He was rarely awake when she was emerging again, imagining before slumbering off that she does her best to wash him off from inside her yet knowing, with leftovers of poetic imagination, that she was most probably finishing the job that he was neither allowed to create nor to witness.

    The one thing they certainly did not share was lovers. They did share the unexpressed knowledge that each had their own lover, yet the details remained hidden, as if by naming the "evil" by its name it would somehow shatter their marriage. Or rather shatter the appearance of their marriage because marriage, basically, there was none. Vivian's lover was some rich boy, who from time to time granted her an expensive present, though it was not the present she was after but rather the carnal lust and explosion of senses that, for some undefined reason, was never there with Roger. Roger was less constant or demanding in his love affairs, none of which lasted more than three months and all of which helped alleviate the animal need in him. Thus contributing to his marriage stability. His excuse.

    They did share the grandchildren, in full. Even if the girls showed a greater affinity towards grandpa and the boy towards grandma, there was no preferential treatment there, whichever way. Sometimes the girls helped grandpa with the gardening and planted flowers on Coco's mound. The boy was most of the time playing TV games with grandma. And at dinner time they were all sitting at the table together, chatting all the nonsense in the world, like a real family. Until Roger junior would pick them up and take them home. Then silence would crawl back in through the closing door with a loud thud, and Roger and Vivian would encounter again the one thing they shared the most. Loneliness.



Romantic Tale

    She sat at a table on the other side of the street, the only chair at the only round table, gracious leg over gracious leg, gracious fingers curling around the long foot of a tall glass containing something violet slightly splashing around. I looked straight at her. She looked straight through me. I glanced behind me, there was a shoes store there, no wonder. There was a jewelry store next to it but this was not the direction her eyes were looking at.

    I decided.

    I crossed the street, disregarding the angry honks of the rushing cars and approached her, halting exactly on step away from her table.

    “You were looking through me,” I said.

    “I was looking at you.”

    “Can I have your telephone number?”

    Everything about her was long. Her eyelashes, her fingers, her thighs were long, even her mouth was long, sideways. Yes, I know, I should have thought wide, I preferred long. At that moment my mind heard Mario Lanza singing Ave Maria and even if I was Jewish I knew that idolatry was going to be my next religion.

    “Why?” she asked.

    The blood invading my face was probably most of whatever liters I had originally stored in my body, just a trickle of it left for the rest of irrelevant vital functions.

    “You are the most beautiful thing I have even seen. I will call you.”

    She did not hesitate. She picked a paper napkin and with a (long, what else) violet pen wrote a number on it. Then she handed it to me.

    I called her. Three years later.

    Someone will write one day his doctorate thesis on why not next day and why yes three years later. I certainly did not own any logical explanation to the fact except maybe something which included a terrible fright of rejection commensurate only with the terrible desire which invaded me the moment I saw her first and did not let go of me one single moment during those three years. She is probably married by now, five kids, maybe even grandmother... Told you, doctorate thesis, maybe even Pulitzer.

    The voice that answered was certainly not hers. It was too young, yet too old for a granddaughter. Maybe she adopted a girl because she and her husband... Another voice picked the phone and I did not need to know it to know who its owner was.

    “I promised to call,” I said stupidly, ready to drop the receiver and run all the way to the North Pole and bury myself under the thickest iceberg available for rent.

    I could hear the grass growing. I could hear a snowflake dropping in Australia. I could hear the inter-galactic hum. I heard nothing. I guess it took a long time since little by little I started shivering.

    “I waited for your call.” She gave me the address.

    The one who opened the door was not adopted, and it could not have been her mother. So it was probably her daughter, ten-eleven years old, same long eyelashes, same long fingers, same long mouth... If not for her mother she would have been the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. She closed the door behind me and left for upstairs. Then the most beautiful thing I have ever seen appeared, took (she had to pry my fingers open) the flowers bouquet out of my hand and placed in on the table then approached me and hung herself around my neck like a noose, like a snake, like a woman. That long mouth of hers was probably a leech.

    “My daughter. My ten years old treasure. My miracle from a previous disappointment. Who are you.” Statements. Even the last question was a statement.

    “I am the one who waited three years with his hand on the phone.”

    “Afraid of my no?”

    “Afraid of your yes.”


    I guess that there will be another thesis written on her subject this time, probably by a neighbor of the first researcher, the one writing about me. At that moment in time it mattered zilch. We married next day. The following year we added the third most beautiful thing I have ever seen to my collection. I never stopped to wonder what would have happened if I did not finally make that call. If I ever stop to wonder I’ll most probably die.



Chance Encounter

    The packing of the machines was finished and the shuttle bus was due in a few minutes. I craved the shower waiting for me in the four-stars hotel we were hosted in, I was reeking of sweat and oil and ink and even the nylon wrapping seemed to have left most of its plastic odor on my skin. Thank God it’s over, I thought, not with little nostalgia. You come to an empty hall, you start building the machines while the stand builds itself around you, you ache, worry, solve problems with the deadline of the exhibition’s first day looming like an immovable Mount Sinai in front of everybody’s eyes, then finally it all falls in place (as usual) the last night before, all is clean, all the little lamps blink, the printed media flows beautifully, the baby is ready to getting showed off... show time, salesmen, assholes, managers, everyone acting as if they own you and own it and own the world and you know better... then show is over, kill the baby, tear it apart, wrap, pack, ship... another event successfully accomplished. Hooray! True, some of those assholes earlier mentioned remember to clap you on the back, most don’t, so what? Don’t lie, you enjoyed the pain.

    And where the hell is David, he’ll miss the shuttle.

    I tried his usual hang abouts – most of them the food counters that were still active, no David and no sign of David anywhere. OK, my friend and my dear mother company, so it will cost us all some roaming... I slid the hand in my pocket to get the cell phone out and started touch-clicking the screen even before it was completely out.


    Hello? What hello, I hadn’t finished my dialing yet, probably touched the wrong spots.

    “Sorry, mistake,” I apologized into the cell, about to close the connection.

    “Hey,” said the voice, feminine, pleasant, slightly giggling, “don’t disconnect.”

    I didn’t disconnect, God knows why. I kept the phone against my ear and continued walking the messy halls of the exhibition grounds, trying to get David and certain now that we’d both miss the shuttle to the hotel.

    “Yes?” I question-answered, my polite self taking over from my hurrying self, curiously and courageously determined to bridge the short moment of embarrassed silence that followed with a few humming notes.

    “I like Elvis too.”

    It jarred me. I am not an easy jarable person yet it jarred me into a moment of immobility with a new-born smile breaking the dirt around my mouth.

    “Is this what I was humming?” I asked, the smile penetrating my voice.

    “Yes, and I like also the Beatles, the Scorpions, Nirvana...” the voice started enumerating a long list of singers and groups, most of which I never heard of. Clearly the new generation of rock groups. “...where are you calling from?”

    “Huh?” I guess that for a few moments I was lost in unrelated thoughts.

    “You called me, where are you calling from?”

    Took me a few more moments to re-synchronize to the encompassing reality, the exhibition, David, the present bizarre phone conversation.

    “I did not call you, lady, it was a mistake.”

    “Yes, a fateful mistake, you called,” she insisted in my ear. “I hear a lot of noise there, are you in an airport?”

    “I am at Drupa, on the exhibition grounds. I just finished running the show and now I’m packing to go home.”

    I heard a squeal on the other end of the line, then a delighted laughter.

    “Hey, I am here too. I hate it, I’m glad it is over.”

    “I love it too and I’m sad it is over.”

    Another short part-squeal-part-laughter pierced my eardrum, followed by a challenging:

    “You love it? First time I hear it and it is not my first show, ha-ha. Now you tell me why because I will have to write an article in the national newspaper about it. And get as well a spot on the radio, on TV, create a new discussion on my blog site and inform the prime minister about it. You’re probably a weirdo.”

    That got me laughing.

    “You sound cute,” I said, deciding to sit down on an abandoned chair and leave David and the shuttle to their own fate. “Shall I, seriously, tell you why?”

    There was a break in the flow, as if suddenly she was seriously deliberating the point or rather the futility of the point and of the discussion.

    “Tell me why.” Seemed she had made her decision. Maybe even found her own abandoned chair to sit on and start listening to me.

    One hour later we were still talking. The phone bill had probably moved by now beyond the hundred euros mark and I didn’t give a damn. I started by telling her my philosophy about supporting events, supporting machines, supporting customers, the enthusiasm in my voice unmistakable – I could never hide it when it came to this kind of discussions or rather...

    “...sounds like an oratory,” she giggled...

    ...oratories. Then she picked up the flow of the conversation telling me of trying to get into modelling, doing show presentations as an additional income while still looking for a break into a world where talent an beauty were secondary to scandal and sex. Then I steered the conversation into music and she steered it into films... Time passed, evening started turning into night.

    I spotted her. Somewhere during the conversation I spotted a mouth synchronized to the sounds emanating from my cell and I turned swiftly around lest she identified me as well, yet continuing to follow her blurred outline in a window panel across from me. From that distance she looked gorgeous – about thirtyish, two braids of light brown hair tied around her head old-German style, a white shirt under a blue blazer and tucked inside a short blue skirt, long shapely legs ending into short, shapely, brown boots... I wonder what color the eyes are, I found myself thinking while her voice started sharing with me her political views, her food preferences, her preferred books, colors, her romantic disappointments, her dreams, my dreams... when, how did we move into intimate exchanges? We were into our fourth hour and it seemed that if we wished we could have moved into a four years stretch, and probably beyond.

    “Are you really here?” Not asking, not begging, wishing.

    “I am,” my mouth answered fighting off my brain.

    “Can we meet?”

    It was coming. From moment one, less than four hours ago, I knew it was coming. I did not know for sure what the answer would be, yet the expected question found me nevertheless unprepared.

    “What’s your name?” I asked.

    “Call me Jess. Yours?”

    “Call me Joe.”

    “Can we meet, Joe?”

    It wasn’t fair, I wasn’t fair, I hesitated yet I was not going to lie to her.

    “We cannot.” I turned around and looked in her direction, directly. “I am married, I am retired, I am bald, you are gorgeous.” I should not have turned. She spotted me.

    “Wait!” I heard her voice on the phone at the same time that her lips moved. I clicked the phone shut. “Wait!” I heard her voice above the noise and I saw her turn toward the stairs and start descending rapidly to ground level. The last shuttle was about to leave. I leaped toward it, almost getting squashed by the pneumatic doors and I heard the driver cursing under his breath just as he started pulling away. She kept running after the bus leaping between the haphazardly lying palettes, and I saw her mouth forming “Wait! Wait!...” and as she passed a garbage heap she pulled a wilted flower from it and threw it after the bus.

    The bus turned. I could not see her anymore, my head turning automatically and locking on the last position she should have been in, the bobbing heads between me and the rear window blocking my line of view. The cell rang, I did not recognize the number. I added it to the blocked list. It did not ring again.


    I paid the four hundred thirty two euros of the phone bill without complaining.

    For years later, people kept asking me jokingly - you keep turning to look backwards, did you lose something? And I kept smiling woodenly back and moving on.

    I couldn’t have told them I lost a flower. I couldn’t have told them I groomed a garden in my heart with that lost flower. I couldn’t have told them I will keep looking backwards until the day I stop looking, backwards or forwards or any which other way at all.



Sensation 68

    “So this is Sensation 68?” said Rodolfo, after he finished viewing the tenth and last video that I brought him on the subject.

    “At the time of the videos, last year, they were Sensation 67,” I felt compelled to specify.

    “And next year, I guess they are going to be Sensation 69?” There was no sarcasm in his voice, Rodolfo never delivered sarcasm, he delivered factual statements or questions that would guide him later on to the decisions he was supposed to take. “Their age, I assume. And for this you want me to lay out a mere one hundred thousand dollars.”

    Again, statement, not sarcasm. For Rodolfo one hundred grand was mere, one hundred million was huge and ten million was reasonable.

    Rodolfo van Bergdaal was valued, at age 46, close to one billion dollars. He was of Dutch origins, though, if to judge by his coal-black skin with its bluish undertones, one would certainly have guessed him to be more likely of Saudi origins. And yet, his eyes were a disconcerting light blue that could easily throw you off the first time you met him. My father’s side, he used to say to whoever asked, not shying away from his appearance. Actually what an appearance. Massively and muscularly framed, with a slight belly pouch showing (I sometimes wondered if it was not some padding intentionally added underneath his shirt to emphasize the opulence of his person rather than his muscularity), always impeccably dressed in a double-breasted white-striped suit, three thick golden rings on his left hand’s fingers of which one with a diamond that could easily have bought an entire floor of the Empire State Building, and completing the image a thick Havana between the fingers of his right hand which he never lit. Rodolfo was a self-made man. I did not know much about the origins of his wealth, however it certainly came in its greatest part from knowing how to take risks when there was actually no risk involved. One of which mentioned risks was his joining in partnership with Jack Black Hawk Rosenfeld in a casino located on the Indian Reservation. The Jack Black Hawk Rosenfeld that was valued at ten billion dollars and was seated now in an armchair at the side of Rodolfo’s desk.

    Jack Black Hawk, ha, he was as Indian as I was Chinese. I would rather have called him Jack Red Tomato Rosenfeld from the way he looked, and it certainly was my suppressed envy that guided my thoughts this way. Yeah, sure, suppressed envy... I wonder how much cost him the perfect forgery that created his undeniable Indian ancestry and got him to obtain the casino option on that much envied location in the Reservation. A hundred thousand wasn’t even mere for him, though he shared Rodolfo’s scaling habits at the upper limit.

    “Grimberg (this was my name and, surprisingly enough, it was Jack speaking), I don’t give a shit a hundred grand here or there, but I do give a lot of shit if we are going to make asses of ourselves.”

    I knew where he was coming from, same thinking grounds I came from, only it took him just a few minutes to build an opinion that took me an entire week to build.

    “Jack, I am going to play it very close to my chest and activate it as an option only in case disaster seems imminent. They will be registered for the game yet we will keep them out of sight from public, referees and commentators until the moment they might be needed. And if they are at best not needed or at worst cannot make a difference, they will never show their faces on the court. But if there is a chance they can make this difference, I want to get your go ahead both with the money and with the decision to use them, a decision which at the time of the game will be mine, and mine alone.”

    They watched me, not intently and not indifferently, rather calculatingly. Calculating and pitting against each other odds and probabilities, risk and opportunity, consequences of ridicule versus consequences of amazement, all bound in nice sheaves of one thousand dollars each and gathering, as their minds advanced in their analyses, either on the yay or on the nay side of the balance. The demanded sum itself bore no relevance to the decision. I smiled inside for a moment, I knew Rodolfo to cross a street to buy a hot dog if the vendor there was ten cents cheaper than on his side of the street; yet when it came to real business decisions, well... a hundred grand were just mere.

    At the start of our shared venture, about a year ago, they laughed at my wild idea (I started with Rodolfo with whom I had dealings on another occasion) to buy a number of top basketball players, name the team after an obscure place like Paris-Texas (I got the idea from the movie) and then throw them like a pack of wild wolves upon the non expecting “innocent” and well established teams of the professional basket world. Money (heavy) and donations (heavier) helped smear the league’s fossilized and established wheels into smooth accepting action, and suddenly unknown Paris-Texas was winning much more than losing until they reached the playoffs, playing now in the finals none other than the Boston Celtics. The basketball world was aflame and advertising income skyrocketed for all our games. I never asked anything for myself, I was glad with my team managing position and with the free hand I was enjoying from my two owners, and actually this was the first time I involved them in making a decision. Because I needed both their money and their commitment and because, suddenly, it became important for me to win the championship. For them – it was the final money worth of the players, anyway the team will be disbanded next year. For me it was finally to win a season, and an additional – slightly more obscure, reason. I never won before, I had a chance now and all I wanted from them was to bite a bit deeper into this potential chance.

    The first six games ended so closely scored, that no one could predict anything about the coming seventh and decisive game. First it was 101-100 in our favor; then followed 88-91, 95-96, 111-109, 100-102, 96-93. The tickets to the seventh and last game were gone in three minutes tops after the internet selling opened. TV and radio channels paid premium money for the right to transmit the game and the referees names chosen to run the final contest were kept secret, to be disclosed only one day before the game. The hype around the event was considered bigger than any previous sports event in the US ever created and it was announced that the game will be followed live by the president and his White House personnel. Even a number of European channels joined into paying the astronomical fees demanded for their presence. And I decided that I wanted my team to win, invoking whatever was (legally) necessary and possible. Something like Sensation 68, if necessary and possible.

    Rodolfo played all ten videos again.

    “They are twins, you say, 5 feet 8, aged 68 and they were invited to a few Globetrotters shows in their past?” He thought a few moments. “You know that they should have been registered to at least one official game this season to make them eligible?”

    “I know. They were.”

    It was the first time ever I saw him laughing full heartedly.

    “Grimberg, you bastard,” he said, “I always wondered what my sister found in you.”

    They agreed.


    The first three quarters were as nerve wracking and fingernail exterminating as expected. The lead passed from one side to the other almost as frequently as the ball changed sides, with one single time when we were four points ahead, quickly downed to one and then to a two points behind in the following seconds. I kept hoping for some miracle that would make my Sensation 68 risk unnecessary, yet it did not seem to go that way.

    The supporters on both sides were coarse from shouting, the air was humid and stinking from sweat and shouts, the atmosphere was somehow reminiscent of real battles and real wars. And after all it was just a game. No one seemed to think this way now, not even I.

    Five more minutes. We were leading 111-110. I looked at the trainer, we both knew what we planned and we both knew it looked like the plan and its inherent risk may soon become, after all, necessary to implement.

    Last two minutes. 121-119 to us. Last minute. 121-121. Last half minute. 121-123 to them. There was no choice.

    With 11 seconds left on the game clock my trainer needed no cue from me to call for a time-out. 7 seconds left. All the players gathered around him for last moment instructions. None was aware of what we had in mind, it was the best ever kept secret in the basketball world, I snickered internally, knowing that soon it may well become the best ever disclosed joke in the basketball world. None of the players objected to the surprising last moment instructions barked at them, though questioning looks of surprise were shot towards me as well as towards the balcony, where Rodolfo and Jack enjoyed the king’s view over the arena. No doubt feeling each like a Roman emperor for the stretch of this one game, the first they ever joined in person. Rodolfo took it a step further stretching out his hand and holding his thumb stretched horizontally, and he was not smiling.

    Two of the players left for the bench and two new ones got up from it, dropping in the process the training apparel that kept them hidden completely from view earlier on. Gasps of disbelief shot through the public once the hoods dropped as well to show the two aged midgets (in basketball terms) that jumped quite agilely onto the playing floor, and took their planned positions on it. Numbers 68 and 69. One, the number 68, placed himself behind the basket line, clearly he was the one to pass the ball back into the game. The other, 69, placed himself on the foul line of our own basket, both of them looking away from the other basket. The referees held a small conference, before spreading to their relevant positions. Two of my other players placed themselves at the corners of the court on our basket side, facing towards the one holding the ball while the fifth positioned himself on Boston’s foul line, facing him as well.

    The noise in the stadium was deafening: angry shouts, whistles, curses, clapping, hysterical laughter, three young girls jumped on their seats just when the big screen neared their position and suddenly pulled up the t-shirts showing defiant breasts to screams and hoots of either dismay or delight before disappearing into the surrounding crowd... mayhem. I expected some, not so much. No one really knew how to interpret this development, and this included Boston’s manager which looked at me with a baffled expression then made a gesture which doubtlessly meant – it’s your hanging, you’re welcome to it. I cared less about him than about his trainer who seemed amused, surprised and finally pulled his shoulders meaning nothing else than... hey, whatever, I’ll let my players do what they know best, I have no special instructions for this.

    I sneaked a look towards the press, radio and TV booths, it looked for a moment that everybody lost control of whatever they were supposed to do and were checking with fervency through a variety of paper stacks on their tables, no doubt trying to identify the surprise intruders and have something to tell the audiences. Let them search. By the time someone knows what’s happening it will be either too late or it won’t matter anymore. Then I turned my attention to the arena. This is what it was now, nothing else than an arena and the following moments would mean life or death.

    The crew chief brought the whistle to his mouth. A silence of death set upon the stadium, suddenly the sports arena turned into a concert hall with everyone holding their breath. The whistle went off.

    68 lifted the ball high up, holding it above his head and looked left then right to the giant opponents flanking him. Another one was smack behind him, effectively closing the angle for any efficient pass. This is what I would have instructed them as well, I told myself silently and thankfully, when 68suddenly bent sharply forward and shot the ball between his legs and the legs of the player behind him. The ball bounced off the floor straight into the hands of 69. The clock started. 69 bounced the ball one time on the floor, still looking towards our own basket, then bent sharply until the ball almost touched his shoes and straightened up as sharply throwing the ball backwards above his head and out of reach for the giants rushing to tackle him.

    I saw it as if it was all happening in slow motion, I swear. At about three quarters of the ball’s trajectory the buzzer sounded, as the ball followed imperturbably its flight and dropped through Boston’s basket without even touching the hoop. The referee made the internationally unmistakable hand gesture saying simply: counts.

    Explosion. There was no other way to define what happened the following minutes on the court and around it. Fans wailing on both sides, who in the throes of horrible pain and disappointment and who in the ecstasy of relief and delight, the press booths applauding, all of them, and as I looked Rodolfo’s way, his thumb slowly raised upwards alongside with an unexpected look of amusement developing on his face.

    I felt two arms hanging on to my neck and chocking me from behind. I turned around with an effort and there she was - the blackest, blue-eyedest, most beautiful woman in the world sucking the life out of me with that divine mouth and that divine body of hers. I fought hard to free myself from that killing embrace and held her at arm’s length away from me, just watching. And waiting.

    “They’d better make it worth the ten grand it cost me,” I said.

    “Who they? What ten grand? What are you talking about? Where did you get ten grand from?” She was confused, I did not want her any other way.

    “Sensation 68 gave it to me. In sign of appreciation to my appreciation.” She was still lost, no wonder, I still wanted her lost.

    An overhead flying camera started approaching us and taking in the crowd surrounding us, slowly approaching and placing us more and more in the center of the picture on the giant stadium screen until finally all one could see on it was us two inside a sea of shoulders and half faces. I took her hands in mine and kneeled in front of her.

    “Jocelyn van Bergdaal, will you marry me?”

    I reached to my back pocket, pulled out a small box and opened it. It wouldn’t have bought an entire floor of the Empire State Building, but it was supposed to buy me a heart. I didn’t hear her answer with those decibels that thousands of throats suddenly started screaming around me, I did not have to hear it to know it. I did though seem to hear one bellow a bit higher than all the others.

    “Grimberg, you bastard.”

    Well, it felt good to know that after all there was also some heart inside that double-breasted, white-striped suit.



Of Age, a Quadrilogy

    Chapter 1 - Of Age


    “Yes dear.”

    “How old are you?”

    “In three moons it will be one hundred seventy one. And you, do you remember how old you are?”

    “Women never remember their age. Well, when we were young it mattered, not anymore. One hundred thirty two.”

    “Yeap, you were young, I was beginning to fade already.”

    “Still, we had eleven kids, twenty seven dogs, three mules, stopped counting the great great great grandkids. Soon they will have kids too. Jared, how long do we plan on living?”

    “At least as long as that asshole Maynard which you almost chose over me, and then some. I have to prove to you I was the better choice.”

    “Your potatoes are better, you were the better choice, that’s sure.”

    “Only my potatoes?” I revolted, and pinched her behind. “Careful grand grand grand mother or you’ll have to face child bearing again.”

    “Don’t think I would mind,” she answered, throwing a potato straight at my head. Luckily it was rotten, so it splashed instead of bumping off. “OK, you were also better in bed.”

    That pissed me really off.

    “Hey, how do you know it? Did you play around my back with the Maynard bum?”

    “No, you old fool. You were simply the best, so there is no comparison needed.”

    That sounded as fake as her wig, but what old fool would not accept such a compliment? I closed my eyes satisfied, swinging on the creaking chair, the peeling paint seeding broken green crumbs on the porch, ignoring the fact that nothing would grow out of it. The leaves were shedding off the trees like huge yellow-brown drops fighting off gravitation and following spiraling patterns till they splashed to the ground. They never really splashed, but I liked imagining they did, imagining the sound, the image... I got up, unbending my body slowly over the five meters till the drawer, opened it, and brought back the album with me to the porch, bending as slowly back into sitting position. She pulled her chair close to mine, disturbing in the process the old dog sleeping underneath it. The dog got up, stretched, yawned, and moved over underneath my chair.

    “What is that, our marriage album?” she asked.

    “No, your acting album... you were one hell of a good actress...” I added hastily, kissing away the tear that suddenly appeared on her wrinkled face. For the next two hours we leafed through it, she – remembering, I – imagining. She took a sip of orange juice, her only concession in this marriage, and I took a sip of coffee, my only concession in this marriage. I hated the damn stuff but she insisted, one hundred years ago... ...it’s coffee or Maynard... did she leave me a choice? And with that damn Maynard still alive...


    “Yes dear.”

    “This is a fantasy, isn’t it? And when I stop reading, the fantasy dies and you go back to your world and I to mine. And even the dog disappears with the closing of the page.”

    “Of course it is. We know it. We decided to paint pictures of life, and this is one of many. This one is on Earth, on a porch, growing potatoes and looking at leaves falling...”

    “And at common memories...”

    “Which you will have one day with Jared. Life is beautiful with the Jared of your life, I told you, I just pulled one scene out of this life. You are an artist, you can create the full story, before, during, after.”

    “Jared, you know I wish.”

    “I know, my dear. Take another sip of orange juice?...”

    She took the jar and spilled it on my head. Then ran to the bedroom, as fast as a one hundred thirty two year old woman could run. I chased her as fast as a one hundred seventy one year old man could chase. The dog got there much before me, no wonder, he was fifty nine years younger. He growled dissatisfied as we fought over the place on the bed, until I threatened him with feeding him chicken. He hated chicken. I went to the window and before pulling down the shades I made an indecent sign in the general direction of Maynard’s barn. I knew he was waiting there, watching us through his WWI binoculars. No chance, old man, no chance, I snickered to myself, deciding to leave the shades defiantly open. I put my teeth in the glass next to hers and jumped into the bed... Well, as much as a one hundred seventy one year old man could jump.


    Chapter 2 - Of Age, One of the Prequels

    “I remember visiting you, inside,” I said and started coughing.

    “I remember visiting you, outside,” she said, after finishing her cough.

    It was nothing to do with being sick, just with breathing paths getting constricted with emotion and... age. Well, at almost 113, age was a factor, for me at least. Actually I was younger than 113, one day younger yet impatient to get there for the “event”. We planned it the previous year, like every precedent year, year after year...

    “...and you were almost 112 then, but many more days to your ‘almost’ than to mine,” I laughed, managing not to cough. “And as young and beautiful today as then.”

    “Yeah, sure, be careful not to be charged with underage seduction,” she laughed. “You’re an incorrigibly lecherous, ass-licking, flattering dirty old man.”

    “Hey, what was that second adjective, I didn’t hear it well. Sounded quite important.” Of course I did hear it, but my hard-of-hearing was a pretext I used any time it suited me. I blamed it on the hair growing out of my ears and refused adamantly that it be cut. So I could continue to pretend as I wished.

    “You mean ass-licking? Do you think that at our age we should use these words?”

    “Not to mention act on them,” I snickered. “Tell me, do you really think we should wait one more day? I think I am already ready,” I said and tried to get off the chair slowly, liberating one cartilaginous hinge after the other, until I reached one that refused to slide and sat slowly back down. “What about you coming over to me, actually?”

    “And do what?”

    “Sit on my lap, of course. There are... extended possibilities, you know.” I didn’t remember how to blush, my body did.

    “You mean extensive.”

    “I mean extended. Revolting, disgusting possibilities, beautifully disgusting.” Always a poet. “And please, unhook the phone, one of those hundreds of kids might remember to phone us at the wrong moment, to remind us to take the other pills.”

    “Some of them remember just the other pills, they forgot everything else...” and we both exploded in hysterical laughter, frightening the cat away. She took the thicker pair of eyeglasses from the table and fit them to her nose.

    “Why did you do that?” I asked.

    “To see you better.”

    “Aha, you get into the Little Red Hood pattern again. You actually want to remind yourself of the folds, no?”

    “Folds? Yours? Ha, I am the one who looks like a human shar pei.”

    “Oh, the advantages of age, the more skin to caress, right?”

    “And to wrap ourselves with when we are cold,” she cackled. Well, she did was beautiful and it got my carefully brushed English all mixed up for a moment. “Okay, so you prefer it today?”

    “Yeap, by tomorrow I may be dead.”

    “True. And it’s so unfair - men can act necrophile any time they want, women are constrained to broom handles, horrible. Are you really sure you are up to it?”

    I looked down, then up.

    “Yes, I am sure.”

    “Then let’s try to make it to the bed, otherwise we may break a hip and it’s too damn expensive. Not to mention uncomfortable doing it on a hospital bed.”

    “Well, if they have supervision cameras we could teach them a thing or two, no?” I panted, shuffling my legs and huffing her perfume like a man possessed. “Maybe even charge them for the lesson.”

    “And then send it to YouTube...” We laughed until we stopped laughing. There were better things to do. Like feeding the cat. But this was much, much later. Poor cat, I am sure it would have preferred a monastery. “Jared, you can turn off the camera,” she said, before the feeding-the-cat thing.

    I made the effort to untangle everything that was tangled, slid into my slippers, side-stepped the cat’s tail and creaked all the way to the recorder. Click.

    “Say, you were not serious, were you?” I asked.

    God, grinning devils could be so beautiful...


    Chapter 3 - Of Age, the Much Awaited Sequel

    “Jared, are we ever going to die?”

    We totaled almost half a century between us, part of it naughty, the other part even naughtier, he he. She did her best to remember to push the button on the mega-horn when talking, while I had the easier job of just carrying the brick-sized hearing aid on my head.

    “Still waiting for Maynard to precede us, dear. As long as he still has dreams of laying his dirty minded hands on you I do not intend to die. Why don’t you die, dear? It will make it easier.”

    “Hey, old bastard, I am much younger than you. Forty years, don’t you forget it!”

    “How can I? You remind me of it every day, not that forty or fifty makes any difference now, when we’re both past the two hundred line.” I tried to get up from the chair and succeeded at the seventh attempt. Then I dragged my feet toward her, with the dog (he refused to die too) dragging his after mine. I reached her fifteen minutes later, lifted her wig and placed a wet smooch on top of her head. “I always loved bald women.”

    “Hey, careful, is this what you are days long visiting on the internet? Bald not only there.”

    I did not deem the insult worth answering. She kept needling me about other women for more than one hundred years already, knowing damn well that she was the only woman in my life since we married... ahm... pre-previous century. I reached the porch chair another fifteen minutes later, the dog doing it in slightly less than half an hour. We were both exhausted. I carried with me the double barreled shotgun in case that female leech from the Guinness Book decides to bother us again with her ridiculous demands that we allow them to include us in their pervert publishing. How the hell could I remember how many grand prefixes should be used before the latest child born in the family? Ten, twelve? Truth being, I carried the gun also for security, in case Maynard decided to have a go at my better half, thinking himself better and younger – ha, a mere twenty-five years – than me.

    “Dear!” This time I used the mega-sound, and hoped she had the brick over her head.

    “Yes.” She did.

    “You are beautiful.”

    The resulting mix of cackling and hiccupping was her version of laughter and joy expression, adapted to the limitations of age. My version included cackling only.

    “Liar!” She was evidently delighted. “Jared!”

    “Yes, dear.”

    “You know, it is already two weeks, since...”

    Oh, my dearest, bless her soul, in her second century already and still shy as if she was in her second decennium. I hoped that Maynard had his brick on his head too and heard it as well. I picked the gun and shot a warning shot above the car that started slowing in front of the gate. One day I am going to point it at that Guinness head, I thought, damning all those human leeches who make their livelihood from the misery of others. She’ll probably summon the sheriff again, and he’ll have to come, apologetic as always again, to try and remove the shotgun from my possession. And then I will threaten him with my dog’s dentures and we’ll all end rolling on the floor (he, on the floor, I, in my wheel chair) laughing our heads off. With my dearest feeding him sour cherry cakes and freshly squeezed lemonade, with a bit of brandy deftly complementing the drink in his glass.

    “Coming?” I asked the dog, hoping he’d say no. He made a glorious effort to waggle his tail then gave up. I started shuffling toward the bedroom, knowing I had at best half an hour advantage over him, before I had to face those accusing eyes blaming me for all that un-shared merriment. He couldn’t jump anymore on the bed so he had to rely on me.

    My sweet one was already there, wig and dentures nicely parked on the night table, alongside with her nightie.

    “Another half minute and I would have called on Maynard to come and help me out,” she cackled, knowing this both infuriated and excited me.

    “I’m sure the bum doesn’t even remember what Viagra is for,” I cackled back, pulling savagely at the blanket she pseudo held against her chin. There she was, in all her splendor, the one more beautiful in my eyes than anything else in the universe. “Oh, God, still so beautiful,” I choked, starting to pull as savagely at my reluctant clothing.

    “Liar!” she repeated, still delighted, not trying to hide anything.

    I picked the mega-sound from the floor and spoke into it, making sure Maynard could hear me since he certainly was listening.

    “And still blushing like the virgin you were when we did it first time.” It wasn’t a lie, she really blushed. I let the mega-sound fall to the floor, the effort of laying it down gently being too much, and anyway I wasn’t certain that I could straighten up again. Then slid next to her, watching in excitement all the right places hardening up.

    For the next uncounted minutes I did not care anymore about the Guinness woman. If she could pass the dog (even a cat could) then let her show up. We could teach her a thing or two that no previous Guinness edition dared print. Unless if they developed an X edition.

    “Stop grinning,” she (my half) smacked me where it counted, “and start making yourself felt.”

    I did, oh my, oh my, did I make myself felt...


    Chapter 4 - Of Age. And Death.

    Maynard died one month passed. It came to me as a shock, irrelevant that I hated his guts. After all, he was the one that kept me alive for all these centuries, the live longer and get her (her, referring to my sweet wife) competition between us as fierce the last day of his life as the first day of the competition. I remembered his threat vividly, how could I ever forget it – “I will not only outlive you, I will also get her!”, and my suitable double-barreled middle-finger as best answer to his threat.

    Hey, Maynard, look, I won! would have been the appropriate reaction. Yet now, suddenly... was there reason to keep living any longer?

    “Love, is there reason that we drag it into a fourth century, or ya basta! with it?”

    I broke into Maynard’s house and stole his binoculars. There was too much information about us stored in those thick lenses and I did not want it to fall in the wrong hands.

    “You are crazy,” she said.

    “I am,” I admitted, “and horny too.” I took a hammer to the binoculars and didn’t stop hitting until they were a pile of scrap plastic and broken glass. Then I threw them into the bin, and after a short hesitation threw in also the hammer. Just in case some images might have been left imprinted on its smooth metal face.

    My pooch died as well, two weeks later, after having adopted me in my first century and having refused to part until... he couldn’t any longer. All my other dogs lived their natural life stretch, not so he, he saw them all coming and going. I buried him in the back garden, crying like over my own child. I put a big X on the mound for his name, having forgotten what it was to start with and anyway, I never had to call him; he always followed me like a shadow wherever I went. We found him on our doorstep, one day after my second and last marriage ceremony with my love of now, many many decenniums ago, and I never stopped wondering how he kept alive alongside us for all this time. After all he had no quarrel with Maynard and did not have to prove anything, did he? Maybe, in his dog mind, he did not want to leave us alone? I guess he did not believe in meeting again in the afterlife.

    “Mabel,” I did not call her Mabel for so long now, that I almost forgot her name too. It had always been love, beautiful, precious... which I found more expressive than using some letters composing the meaningless jumble printed on her ID. She shot up a sharp look at me. “Do you remember our wedding? I was sixtyish and you were twentyish and everyone hated us, my side of the family and your side of the family and still they all came for the free dinner.” We rocked a crazy rock, we tangoed a languorous tango, that first night we made love like animals possessed. Other people had honey moons. We were going to have a honey lifetime.

    Nine months later our first of five daughters was born, her first child. Somewhere along the way we had also six boys. I already had two boys from my previous marriage, that first daughter made me swoon.

    “You were so handsome... You still are,” she lied.

    “And you were so beautiful... You still are.” I did not lie, in my mind’s eye I could not lie. She knew it. “You know, if every one of our living relatives will come to our funeral, they will have to rent a stadium,” I cackle-laughed.

    “And whoever is going to pay for the catering will go bankrupt,” she cackle-laughed back and we kept at it for several minutes. “What is the longest number of ‘grand’ prefixes any of our descendants carries, any idea?”

    “No, but it surely goes into high double digits. Same when they refer to us, poor devils.” I closed my eyes, trying to imagine a church filled with all those who would come to pay us their respects. They would most probably need several churches to accommodate them all in. And there wasn’t a cemetery big enough to contain them all, this was for sure. Who needed a funeral service anyway, certainly not the dead. “Mabel, shall we do it this one, last time?”

    She waited for me in bed, having kept on her wig, her dentures, long false eyelashes pasted to her eyelids, her lips painted fire, her fingernails painted hell, ready to claw, bite, rip me apart... Age? What age? Ageless!

    I took the precaution of downing two Viagra’s on an empty stomach, making sure I would be able to keep up with her and who gave a shit about heart attacks or dying or having a stroke – my love was calling, I wanted to be ready. I was.

    We did not fall asleep afterwards. She just lay there in my arms, crying without sobs and I did my best to show off with some misplaced male bravado, failing miserably. For a strange reason I missed the dog’s disapproving regard, the way he looked at us each time we did it for all those past years, and yet all this time staying so loaded with love. I didn’t think any of our descendants loved us as much as he did. Now he was gone up the one-way street, taking his love with him. Maynard was gone, taking the finally ended endless challenge with him. I saw no more reason to keep making a sizeable financial contribution to Pfizer’s enormous officially declared bottom-line net profit. And probably even more of it undeclared.

    “Mabel?” This time there was a question mark following the name.

    We cleaned the house thoroughly, trimmed the garden, painted a few wall spots that needed painting. We even paid all as yet unpaid bills.

    She put on her old wedding dress, still intact after all these years, perfectly white, still almost perfectly fitting. My tuxedo fit me magically as well; sure I had shrunken and withered with the passing years, still, I was nicely surprised, I expected it to be a squeeze at best. “We are going to smell like two embalmed bodies,” I grinned, opening the windows to give the moth-balls smell a chance to dissipate as much as possible.

    “They will surely perform an autopsy, not for the smell but for trying to discover the secret of our longevity. They will be surprised to find just brittle bones and plastic dentures, nothing more. No one will suspect it was your stupid betting Maynard.”

    “No one will suspect it was my infinite loving you.”

    I found the discarded wedding ring in the third drawer down, having removed it a long time ago after almost losing the finger in a home work accident. There were not going to be any more accidents from this day on, and the festivity of the occasion justified the symbolism. I slid it on the right finger, the wrong hand. My shoes were shiny black, polished to mirror-like reflection and I forced them to fit over my swollen ankles. I could bear it. Her shoes were silvery, the leather soft, they still fitted her feet perfectly. Sprinkled with little fake diamonds, stiletto heeled. I fell in love with her again.

    We lay on the bed, side by side, making it all in slow motion - no need to break a hip now of all times, making sure there were no unnecessary creases created on the bed covers. My hand took hers in an iron grip, rings clinking.

    “Ready, love?”

    “Ready,” she answered.

    I did not expect it to be a she. Maybe I was still locked in my old fashioned concepts dividing humanity into males and females and assigning certain chores to these or these... it was my guess that they, up there were more emancipated than me, down here. She wore a long, white gown, and for a daring moment I was tempted to get off the bed and peek underneath, to ascertain if it was really a she or just an asexual manifestation that only looked like a woman to us. But considering the effort involved, I gave up the idea. It would not have changed the outcome, anyway.

    She floated nearer to the bed, used her thumb to assess the size and distance of our necks and then, satisfied, chose a brand new blade to fit to her scythe. It clicked nicely in place – click!

    “Great, at least we will not get HIV infected,” I cackled and heard my love join in as we both watched the blade rise and fall. I did not even hear the swoosh...




    “Why do you put pieces of glass over your seers?” he asked. Again. Every time I was wearing my reading glasses he would ask the same question, as if I did not answer at all these other tens of times the event occurred. Strange creatures these Mologlites. Overly intelligent in some aspects and utterly stupid or non-understanding in other.

    It was the moon’s colony tenth year and my fifth year there, an assignment I accepted reluctantly at first but now thoroughly enjoyed. The Mologlites appeared, literally, out of nowhere, about three years ago. I was busy tending to my personal parcel of radish (an export product selling its weight in gold on Earth) when these “creatures” just walked in through the dome’s structure as if it wasn’t there, stopped a few feet away from me and started talking in English as if it was the most natural of things to do. I was the first human they ever encountered and they were the first alien any human had ever encountered. Yeah, I felt special.

    “We offer to help.”

    Huh? I did not faint, even if I would have given the legendary kingdom for a good faint, and I watched them, petrified in my tracks, for a good five minutes. Then the one (there were eleven individuals) who spoke first repeated the sentence.

    “We offer to help.”

    I looked outside of the transparent dome wall. There was no sign of any transportation vehicle at all there – rocket, ship, train, skateboard, horse... whatever. The dome structure was undamaged at all from all I could see and feel, and they, the Mologlites as we later started to call them, looked like creatures taken straight from the horror movies of the fifties. I mean – so simple and yet so undefinable. Quadrupeds, with two additional arms ending in five boneless fingers and an additional appendage coming from the left, bottom side of their so called chests which acted as an additional, much more flexible arm. There was no head to speak of, just an extension of the chest upwards with a tuft of hair smack middle the top of it. No identifiable eyes or ears, no identifiable sexual organs if to exclude the two udder-like protuberances hanging down from their chests and each splitting into five “mammary” glands, bigger on some of the individuals which I later learned were the female Mologlites.

    I started explaining again, patiently, why I put “pieces of glass” over my “seers”. Being the first human ever to encounter an alien race, I felt that it was my duty to keep the good impression we made on them. Sure they were pulling it thin at times with their repetitive questions. How do you explain color to someone born blind? The Mologlites do not see, hear, feel or smell the way humans do. I learned later that their one sensory organ is the tuft of hair on their head and they “see” through it any kind of physical manifestation we would call electromagnetic waves or pressure waves or thermal emissions or chemical compositions and probably some more manifestations of which we are not even aware. They could live in vacuum, they could pass through any kind of matter, they did not mind extreme temperatures, explosions, radiation did not harm them... indestructible? Maybe. Luckily for us they were, well, is pacifists an applicable word?

    Three years down the line now and Earth’s scientists were as baffled now as at the beginning at the Mologlite’s body molecular and chemical structure and its adaptability to anything (someone suggested, I hope jokingly, to check if they would withstand an atomic blast), and yet the Mologlites seemed content with human companionship, stayed on the moon and kept asking their stupid questions.

    “Where is ugly Berta?” I asked. They called me ugly George and didn’t mind me calling them in return ugly something. Berta was of course not the real name of, well... Berta, but her real name was unpronounceable.

    “Home, feeding the cfhnmdeyru...” and this was the closest I could come at spelling whatever Bella was saying; the cfhnmdeyru being some sort of cattle, if I understood Bella’s repeated explanations (he was not the only one repeatedly posing questions) which was their main and only source of nourishment; some kind of plant with legs which grew ”between realities”. Maybe he meant to say parallel universes? I doubt it but I really did not understand his explanations, irrelevant the number of times he tried to explain. I guess I was as stupid in his eyes (eyes, haha...) as he was in mine. And as ugly, of course.


    Bella was some kind of chief. He was the main interpreter and spoke the best English and all the officialdom that shuttled to the moon establishment wishing to learn and communicate with “my” aliens (my family name is Molo, therefore Mologlites) had to go through him. Not that anything much was learnt. The Mologlites did not mind being studied, x-rayed, stuck with needles... seemed that they were aware of humans’ inbreed curiosity and were playing indifferently along. And not that we learnt anything meaningful. Let’s see, what did we learn in three years about them?

    They were “travelers”. Their body was one single, gigantic, carbon based molecule which looked in any test like some diffused fog and shaped itself as needed to their various “organs”.

    They fed (rarely) on that mysterious “cfhnmdeyru milk” which was one of the reasons for their sudden disappearing periods. They communicated between themselves with “like waves”. And their only aim in existence (“how long do you live?” “much!”) was “allow life to live”. Now you know as much as any scientific researcher on the subject knows on the subject of Mologlites.

    We stopped fearing them quite from the start, probably days after the first encounter, and they settled in the small community’s life almost as if they were humans. Almost. When we were sleeping they kept tending to the crops and small machinery, when we were eating they kept tending to the crops and small machinery, when we were occasionally feasting they kept tending to the crops and small machinery. Like perfect slaves and I hated thinking about them this way. They seemed to have taken it as their calling. By now there were one hundred and nine adult individuals living with us, some of them – females by our definition – working with ten “babies” (how else to call them?) dangling from the mammary glands while the “mothers” were working. We never saw a birth – the Mologlites were just disappearing and then reappearing with those dangling babies; then after some time disappearing again and appearing without the babies. “Where are the babies?” “Back between realities”. Yeah, so very crystal clear.

    I was just having dinner on my so called porch, with the plastic dome above my head tuned to maximum transparency and beautiful-blue Earth filling the skies above me. I had no personal attachment, actually it was the dying of such an attachment which brought me to the lunar colony and I was not yet ready for another relationship. Bella approached to the table and sat on his hunches, dog-like and I hoped he could not read my thoughts even if there was nothing negative to them. Berta joined him and sat next to him, ten babies dangling from her breasts and squirming. It was much unexpected. Bella did come from time to time to my small personal dome-inside-dome but never before did he sit down next to me. And for ugly Bertha it was a first.

    I don’t claim to have ever understood them, so I accepted their presence and we all sat silently, watching (were they too?) glorious Earth above.

    “You are good, ugly George. Humans are not good. Are humans worth saving?”

    For an unclear reason, I suddenly shuddered. It was Bella’s “voice” in my ears and it was the first time I heard him volunteering an abstract thought. Usually it had to do with crops, with machinery, with daily events, I grew to think of the Mologlites as of a very gentle, very helpful and yet very simplistic race. Time, weight, distance, temperature, odors... okay; but good and bad? It never popped as a subject in any exchange I or others, inclusive the visiting scientists, had with the Mologlites. I looked at him. Then I looked at Berta. They did not change their position and I wasn’t sure if they were looking at me or not. I looked again at the little Mologlite babies then at Berta.

    “Can I hold one?”

    To me it was clear what I meant, I wasn’t so sure it registered with them. She shifted her bulk toward me, rolled her extra appendage around one of the squirming figures and plucked it gently from her mammary. Then she stretched the appendage toward me with the squirming figure clearly feeling at a loss.

    “Doesn’t it disgust you?” she asked. Again, a slap in the face. A word I was not aware they knew and expressed in such a way as to sound like the slap I felt.

    “It’s life. The word ‘disgust’ when related to life is unacceptable. Yes, I wish to hold one,” I answered. I picked away the small bundle from her appendage and placed it in my lap. Then closed my eyes and let the little creature envelope part of its body around my thumb and something akin to suckling invaded my senses. It stopped squirming. Once, upon a time, upon more than twenty years ago of time, my human baby suckled on my thumb while his mother was changing his bedding. So... not different. I wonder what he might be doing now. Maybe married? Maybe having babies of his own?

    “Ugly George!”

    “Yes, Bella.” For an unclear reason I decided to forgo the “ugly” diminutive, maybe because the moment sounded suddenly of such momentous importance that any such frivol endearment would be considered out of place?

    “George,” I assumed probably right, “are humans worth saving?”

    I enjoyed the suckling sensation around my thumb. I looked again at Bella and Berta, misapprehending the question yet with growing fear that it was more than a mere philosophical question asked under that needle-punctured blackness surrounding the home planet above my head. Bella and Berta turned their bodies toward me, in unison, and I could swear they were watching me, waiting for my answer. Just a moment, what goes on here, was I now about to declare a sentence upon my fellow humanity with those two aliens about to carry out whatever sentence I pronounced?

    “Bella, explain.”

    Something strange was happening in the sky above me. The blue globe was pouring upon us its bluish tinge, with the hazy halo surrounding it and the thousands of points of light flickering around the halo completing the familiar, awesome view. Yet the far corners of the visible sky seemed to lose their sparkle and an opaque blackness formed itself around the sparkling interior, slowly shaping itself into a perfect circle. I watched upwards for a long time, the circle of darkness seeming to advance slowly further towards the blue globe. From some private domes not far from mine people were coming out and pointing upwards, gesticulating excitedly.

    “Bella, what happens?” I shivered, instinctively gathering the suckling bundle toward my chest. Something eerie was in the air, and with some instinctual understanding, it dawned on me that I together with my two unexpected guests may find ourselves at the crossroads of... what?... don’t tell me, the fate of humanity? Maybe not so much instinctual as forced?

    “George. Humans are not good. Are humans worth saving?” This time the question did not sound philosophical. It sounded damn practical, commanding, final. Ugly George, the aliens ask you a direct question and you better answer or... and if you answer, whatever you answer, will it help at all?

    Berta collected gently her baby from my arms and hung it on to her udder. There was much beauty in the ugliness of that picture, and power and expectation and the fate of billions hanging on the lips of one irrelevant George Molo.

    “George. Are humans worth saving?” Like a broken record. “Give me one reason, the one reason that humans are worth saving.” The voice was monotonous. The question was imperial.

    “How many of you are there? How much time do I have?”

    “Trillions. Seven hours and thirty six minutes.” The opaque blackness above me was spreading further inside, swallowing sparkle after sparkle. Something, whatever, was happening and George was at the crossroads of humanity and was about to decide its fate.

    “Art,” I said. “Follow me.”

    I did not look to make sure that they followed, I entered my small dome. There was nothing more to say.

    I turned on the sound and let a few of my favorites play: rock, classic, jazz, opera. Pushed a few buttons and a few great voices started reciting poetry, playing stage roles, telling jokes. Some more buttons – the sound died and the big wall started showing paintings, photographs, sculptures, cave drawings. Other buttons... sound and image - ballet, rap, tap, movie scenes, choirs. And then, in one suicidal attempt at absolute truth and transparency and shame, I added...

    “...and conscience.” With associated horrible images. Hiroshima. Auschwitz. Biafra. Khmer Rouge... “We create. We sin. We learn.”

    I felt good. Drained but good. The Devil and Daniel Webster, kind of. And whatever will be will be, maybe they should have chosen someone else for the defense. If they cared at all. Why the hell did they have to choose me from all those unaware, condemned billions, maybe on purpose?

    The silence stretched. No sound, no image. Somehow not even smell. All sensations died.

    The first who disappeared was Berta. Strangely growing, then thinning to transparency, then disappearing. Bella followed, with no other word exchanged between us. I poked all buttons to their OFF position then picked the one I decided I wished to be with me the moment it was my turn to expire and poked it ON. Matters not which one. Art. If I could not prevent it, I might as well enjoy it. Death.

    A kind of reddish tinge started forming around the hazy halo above me and, like an inflating balloon, started spreading outwards, the space behind it filling with the same red tinge. It was much faster than the advancing blackness and I watched, fascinated, awaiting the moment of contact, the clash, the explosion, the end.

    There was no clash. No explosion. At a certain moment the advancing blackness seemed to slow down, then actually pull back and finally the entire visible sky was tinted red. And all of a sudden it turned black, studded with sparkling points. The “old” sky was back. There was no end.


    I took my first Earth leave in five years. I decided it was time to mend the torn ligaments of my past life. I left the space-port in a taxi, giving the address of my son’s house. He would not expect me, I found his address but did not inform anyone of my coming. Hopefully the Mologlites did the right thing in saving humanity. I would know it from the way he accepted me. And from the way he would allow me to hold his three months old baby in my arms. The Mologlites allowed it. I wondered if he would allow it as well.

    I pushed the door bell and waited for the door to open.




    “It is lower than the highest of the topmost of top bottoms,” I answered her, which was of course a study in meaninglessness as far as she was concerned. Especially as an answer to ‘What is your name?’ which was the question preceding the answer. It did mean a lot in my own four dimensions. There was no way for her to understand me or see me, not any more than someone leaving in a flat two-dimensions universe could ever be able to grasp a three dimensional view of another world. And, continuing the analogy in my mind, someone looking upon a two dimensional being could see so much more of it – patterns, colors, shapes impressing themselves on the flatness of the surface that the being itself would never be able to view.

    And now I, with my four-dimensional view, saw so much additional beauty in this three-dimensional female creature which I was destined to meet, more than she herself or anyone of her world would ever be able to view... oh, such a pity, such an irreconcilable difference and limitation.

    All she could see of me was some kind of shadow, a three-dimensional slice of my four dimensional being changing all the time depending on our relative position to each other, it was a miracle already that my pressure waves recorded on her auditive system as voice and vice versa. Sure, our scientists took long to prepare the tools for this quasi impossible encounter, I still defined it as miracle rather than science. And she was frightened, so frightened that she suddenly rushed to a drawer, pulled out a three-dimensional weapon called pistol and shot me with it.

    There was no chance that I would be hurt – no three dimensional pellets could harm in any way four dimensional matter, there was no energy in them as far as we were concerned. And yet, the symbolism was overwhelming. If the pistol would have been a fission weapon the results could have been disastrous for us, such a weapon transcending partially into the fourth dimension. There was no way, probably no way ever, that understanding would cross the bridge separating our species. Irreconcilable. My universe could not accept the risk.

    I had my instructions. I set the trigger and limited it to three dimensional. A simple matter of survival... exterminate them before they find the way to exterminate you. I pulled back, crying inside me for all that lost beauty and waited for the detonation.

    It came. Bang! The entire fabric of that alien universe penetrated through that single piercing point in the sphere called Earth... no more three dimensional. Bang!

    To my last living moment I will keep wondering – was it a just decision? And I know what my answer to me will be – no! I broke down in uncontrollable sobs, caring not for the clapping and joyful calls of the other members of my team. They will never see the unique beauty I have seen, I have destroyed, I have lost forever.



Mama Russia

    You may think, and justly so, at the end of this “one-day-essay” that I am prejudiced. You will probably be right, yet... you will never be as wrong in your presumption as you will actually be at that time. Sounds strange, huh? Well prejudiced I probably am, since I find the “simple” people of this country (i.e. Russia) to be, in their strange/uncommunicative/impertinent/rough ways to be some of the warmest and most welcoming people of this planet. Like the people of my own people, another place, same time. Of course, this does not prevent one from seeing them also with their specific ingrained, indoctrinated, infuriating and many times limited and limiting... limitations.

    We step in the hotel reception area. My local friends, pure Rus’s, accompany me. They know their compatriots better than me and are doing their protective best towards me. They also speak the language, of course. The reception desk top is almost as high as my shoulders, and I am not a small guy, mind you. There is no one behind it as far as we can see without climbing on top of it.

    Hello... Allo... Pronto...” I exercise my multi-linguistic skills in the hope of exhorting a response from one of the invisible corners of the receptionist’s empire. I even try, at risk of luxating my shoulder with the relevant angle, to hit the bell on the top. Church quiet. Maybe they’re all gone to church?

    “Allo...” tries the wife of my friend, putting the best of her local accent and three university degrees (common in Russia, and no – they don’t buy them!) to use.

    There is some commotion behind the desk and some unclear yet terrifying sounds penetrate to our side of the obstacle. “Allo...” tries my friend again and I start whispering “let’s get out of here, let’s get out of here...”, but she seems encouraged rather than frightened by the rising noises. We see a crop of hair reaching the range of visibility of our eyesight but no forehead attached to it. My Russian friend seems delighted, she penetrated the layer of consciousness of the hidden monster. “Allo...” she makes a third attempt and a forehead followed by a pair of eyes rises to meet us, my friend squeals in delight... “Talk to her, talk to her...” she pulls at my sleeve and her husband kisses her passionately. We did not see, to the end of the encounter, beneath those eyes watching us hostilely from behind the counter. Maybe something wrong with her nose?

    “I have a reservation,” I speak slowly, almost spelling the words.

    “Mutn4tglkm4g9054o km5kl jtit.”

    “Sorry,” I go into my sorry routine, not wishing to frighten her again into full hiding (ha... who is frightened here?...)

    “Hwqr;ioj747jf9 etgjgo rr#$jdwjjK ejej,” she repeats.

    I look at my friends in desperate desolation. “I don’t think she speaks English.”

    “It is English,” they say, “she wants your passport.”

    Well, three university degrees do help some. I give my passport to the crop of hair and a couple of fingers snatch it from my hand. Thank God, no claws. The eyes and forehead disappear and only the hair is still visible. I hear some mechanical noises, some clicks and clacks, the paleness of my face speaks stories about my mental stress, my friend squeezes my hand encouragingly: “She’s only copying it, don’t worry.” Well, I’ll stop worrying when I’ll see it back in one piece, that inspector lady at the passport control when I got in, checked it with three different sizes of magnifying glasses, passed it through several scanning and photocopying and x-raying devices, and finally went through it page by page (there are a lot of pages in a passport) a counted seventeen times; I wouldn’t want ANYTHING to happen to this passport when she checks it again on my way out (with my luck – it will be the same inspector lady). Finally, I skip a beat, I get it back.

    “Tet7fjj!!!” This is the receptionist.

    “Huh?” This is me.

    “Your credit card.” This is my friend.

    I will skip the effort to get the free Wi-Fi code, with my friends still around. I will skip the effort to get again a free Wi-Fi code, with the first one useless, with my friends not around. I will skip the effort to get the TV working; only in my last harrowing adventure in UK it was more complicated to dreg anything from the rectangular box.

    I will skip straight to the morning when I went to check out and get my bill and this time the hair was visible already when I got to the counter and stood up on my stretched toes. Another hair color, aha, probably a friendlier employee I hopped (and prayed; in new Russia it helps).

    “The bill, please? My note... invoice... receipt... ricevuta... quittance... rechnung...” Multilinguist as well, as you can see. I believe something penetrated. I start hearing, bang! then bang! then bang!... after the fifth I was about to give up when an A4 paper slid upwards my way with some ink still dripping from a group of six nice, big, small-letters various-shapes and multitude-of-colors official looking stamps – you see, the one place in the world where rubber stamps are still in high vogue is Russia.

    I could also tell you about my taxi trip to the airport, but every time I just think of it I get another clump of white hair infesting my cranium. Imagine if I start telling it...



Almost About Zombies

    The zombie ate me. Ate was the first word that came to mind, maybe absorbed would have been a better one? Most probably neither but there is no word yet invented for whatever happened to me, thus I will stick with ate. Or absorbed. No, of course I don’t believe in zombies, I don’t believe also in werewolves, vampires, fairies, aliens, friendly bankers and the beneficial effects of Cola’s to their seven hundred eighty-two kinds (I counted, as part of my application to counter-master for Guinness; then they told me that I forgot a few – Pensacola, Cost Of Living Adjustment, accolade, and many more, damn them). Still – the zombie absorbed me, its opening arms creating a hole the size of a garbage-truck rear door, and in one single chomp I was inside. In the same single chomp it dissolved around me for unclear reasons and I was the free and horribly stinking me again, the me again, not the stinking; I guess the stench was the result of its disintegration or dead rats or both. Then I moved to the next one. Then I moved to the next one. Okay, please, stop asking me why I use it, you wouldn’t want me to use he and have the entire world’s feminists on my back for reasons of sexism, or use she and have the same feminists on my back for reasons of, well, sexism. Though he would have been probably quite suitable for the event mentioned.

    Also please, please disregard and excuse my seemingly elevated euphoria level which might be misconceived from reading the previous lines. I had no reason for euphoria quite to the contrary if you follow my recite further on, and if you sense the varying levels of mood changes you will encounter. I guess a shrink would call it a masked hysteria attack.

    My friend, Stela, one single l in her name mind you, one of those above mentioned feminists and the love of my life, didn’t give a damn either way.

    “Jacko...” originally she called me Gecko, until she fell in love with me... “my poor love, what happened to you, what did you get into? Did you sleep with a rotting corpse?” And she started laughing hysterically, both because she was relieved to see me alive, nine days after I disappeared to research a cave just found south of Suceava, and also because the stench may have carried with it a few molecules of nitrous oxide. I didn’t laugh at all, I was immune to nitrous oxide as I learned during my last wisdom tooth extraction, the first time I almost made it to Guinness; seemed another Belgian beat me to it. “Quick, to the shower with you!”

    I didn’t feel so embarrassed in my life. First she tried to hose me down in the garden. When this wasn’t sufficient, as proven by her continuing hysterics and by the neighbor’s cats (he had six) meowing pitifully their catlife away, she cut the clothes away from my body with the garden shears and then drove me manu militari into the shower where she joined me, not even undressing first, and gave me a rub-down that was the closest I ever came to involuntary desquamation. When she was done with me, she peeled her own garments away and allowed me to make love to her before rubbing her skin with almost the same vigor she rubbed mine with.

    We lighted a small wooden fire in the garden and burned the contaminated clothes, mine and hers, together with the car’s seat covers. Luckily these were plasticized so the seats themselves stayed clean of whatever it was that filled me with the horrible stench.

    We sat down on the garden bench, hugging and watching the flames and smoke eating the textiles away.

    “Tell me! I could have lost you.” She shivered, and for all her bravado earlier in the day and all through our relationship, I felt that for the first time in her life she was scared to death. “I could have lost you,” she echoed herself and kissed me like I had returned from the dead. Which, basically, I did.

    “Worse, I could have lost you,” I answered, and that night we did to each other things we never would have thought we would ever do. Death is one hell of an experience.


    “And now you will tell me everything,” she said, looming above me like an avenging goddess and, God, was she beautiful.

    “I will,” I said and did, of course. Not immediately, of course. Not everything, of course. Or rather and better said not immediately everything. Yes, this sounds better. Took me some time to open my mouth, sorting in my brain the events which brought us there in terms of time and place and relationship. Maybe not so much to sort but the need was there, now with this past shock that threatened both my physical being and my psyche. And worse – threatened Stela, and this was not something I took easily in my stride; in fact this was something I was willing to change my stride, my path and, if possible, the world so that it disappeared from our lives completely. Stela, I looked upwards at her stubborn expression and knew that it was one of those moments that define one’s life.

    “Marry me!” I said.

    “Tell me!” she repeated, deaf to anything I might have said except for the story that I was supposed to tell her and was delaying, cowardly and unnecessarily.

    I turned my eyes to watch the pendant hanging from her neck, a jewelry artist’s combination of a horseshoe, a hamsa and the eye of Horus. ‘You will need it there where we’re going’ I laughed when I offered it to her, many moths ago. ‘I believe there is one item missing’ she answered with a strange sparkle in her eye, ‘a garlic clove’ and the sparkle in the eye was not a hint of fun but a glint of love. It was the first personal present I ever gave her and, as she later confessed, it was the defining moment of her falling in love with me. ‘Not desperately,’ she hurried to add, her powerful feminist self somehow taking over, ‘but definitely’.

    Previous to that we had dated on and off for four years before we moved to this God forsaken place called Gura Dracului in the Romanian mountains, not far from Deva. She finished dentistry and was determined to ‘help the world’ and I finished electrical engineering and was determined ‘to find my roots’ and this was the reason we ended in this place, almost off the maps and certainly off the minds of anyone we told about it. We shared Romanian origins, I having been born there and emigrated with my parents aged five, and she having been born of Romanian parents that emigrated some time earlier to Belgium. Belgium, where we met and started dating. There was no romance involved, not at the start. This was about to change quite unexpectedly once we finished our studies and I told her of my plans to find a job with the power plant at Mintia-Deva. ‘Strange, my intention is to open a dental cabinet in some remote village in Romania, do my little best to help people in the rural area there.’ Two years later, having secured a job for me and a permit for her, I bought her the pendant. And we fell in love like stupid teenagers. Well, we were not so far from our stupid teenaging years.

    The pendant was still oscillating under her neck, my eyes trying to lock both to its regular movement and to the regular heaving of her breasts’ line. If I would have been a sheikh I would have divorced my entire harem for just one single her. She knew, though she did not believe my statement, and yet she was so terribly mistaken...

    “I went to the mine,” I finally blurted. I thought she was going to hit me.

    Her small fist closed into a bony hammer and she half raised it. Then she got off me, pulled a robe around her shoulders and sat on a chair across from the bed. The message was clear – she was furious, she loved me madly, she waited to hear the rest of the tale and nothing was going to happen in between that moment and the end of the tale I owed her.

    “How many?” she asked, then went silent and only her eyes were boring into me like glass daggers sharpened just for the occasion.


    Speleology was my main hobby. I had a few others, like collecting matchboxes, counting stars left to right then right to left and comparing the results, running away from dogs after stealing their bones (I carry quite some scars on my calves and ass if from the dogs and if from the rabies shots), I was always a strange kid and developed into a strange youngster. Not without brains, mind you, but strange. My mother claimed it came from my father’s side, with a few so-called ‘witches’ in his family; nothing more than the occasional quack-doctor, with the notable difference from the rest of the litter that their medicine and drugs usually worked and their soothsaying usually proved correct, given time. My father did not disclaim it, and even added some examples which, in my opinion, were exaggerated, but never actually contested.

    All my erratic behavior came to a screeching halt once Stela took serious control of me and my feelings. Speleology was still a strong strain of behavior and she actually encouraged it, seeing it as a way to keep ‘the rest of strange me’ nicely subdued. And it worked. I followed some professional courses in speleology, a lengthy survival training, visited most of the caves in Belgium, France and Germany and slid into holes where no one before me had ever slid into; not even snakes, though at these kinds of depths and temperatures, snakes were not really present.

    Moving to Romania was, among other reasons, a wish to be closer to caves I’ve never visited before. And with my wonderful partner supporting my innocent insanity, it was as close as possible to a dream come true.

    Deva was close to the deserted mining area of the Jiu Valley, and once you learned your way around the condemned access paths to these mines, it opened doors to countless virgin caves with their little wonders in the form of stalactites and stalagmites and small lakes and strange creatures that either scurried inoffensively around your head or swam lazily close to the shallow bottoms of the pools and puddles and freezing lakes. My guide was a local once-miner by the name of Gheorghe Tudorescu who taught me how to find my way around in the tri-dimensional intricacies of the abandoned mines and showed me a rough map where all tunnels carried numbered names of the type – Uliţa23, Uliţa 154... the word Uliţa being the Romanian equivalent of Small Street. There was no order in the numbering, with a few exceptions, it all looked quite haphazard and mysterious. Mysterious my foot – it was the result of major disorganization and disinterest that started from day one of mining there and carried on through the communist times. Some of the mines were still active and we kept away from these, our interests focused on the forgotten closed branches where the real ‘treasures’ were to be found.

    From time to time Stela joined us, mostly after we had found an interesting ‘hole’ to show-off to her, and usually I was taking her there on my own, flashlights and ropes and blankets carried or dragged by us and most of these times ended with a picnic some three hundred meters deep and with lovemaking some three days in a row. I had my insanities, told you, she shared in some, I’m telling you now.

    And all the time, ceaselessly, looking for my ‘roots’ following addresses given to me by my parents and names I seemed to know or remember in Blaj, Dorohoi, Bucecea and finally Botoşani, the town of my birth, the turn in my life. Looking for a name I did not previously know and given to me by a distant relative on my father’s side that I met in Blaj on one of my discovery visits: Sure-Leie Bercovici, the little daughter of my grand-grandfather’s sister, now 103 years old and living her last days in an old people’s home in Botoşani. One of the last fifteen or so Jews still living in the city, all of them old, or sick, or dying.

    I was brought to the dilapidated home by a member of the congregation that was still able bodied enough to walk me there, yet refused to enter with me and left me alone with the nurse in charge and the name I was seeking to see. The nurse – a sour looking woman whose clothes were in need of a wash and whose face was in need of a shave, brought me over to my relative’s bed and left me alone with her. Alone is the correct description even if there were other beds occupied by other old people in the room. The air in the room was stale and the smell was horrible, the bedsheets stained and damp, the rusted desk next to the bed containing just a couple unwashed dishes and a few medication boxes. I guessed that things did not change much in some places, stories my parents had told me surfacing now with brutal reality attached to them.

    I approached the bed watching the wrinkled, old face that carried some familiar traces, the breathing slow and laborious, the eyes closed, the gnarled and bony hand closed to a tight fist above the blanket. I was told she suffered from multi sclerosis and only God knew why and how she was still breathing, certainly not for long. That fist in its locked state had not open now for probably more than ten years, it was not going to open again. Neither were her eyes. I neared the head of the bed. Her eyes opened.

    I jumped back, a sudden primitive fear taking control of my logical self, yet I shuffled up to the head of the bed again, I was not going to give in to some subconscious irrationality without a fight. The eyes were milky white, clearly not seeing me yet seeming to follow my movements as if somehow they did. Her lips moved, some hissing sound escaping. They moved again and I neared my ear in case she was saying something...

    “For the ritual...” she seemed to be hissing. Tears invaded my eyes.

    “Tante Sure-Leie,” I said, whispering close to her ear.

    Reten’ze...” she repeated the same word, at least what seemed to me to be what she was saying, and her fist slowly opened letting a piece of cardboard slide down. I caught it before it hit the floor.

    It was not cardboard, it was some other flexible material, looked like parchment and I could see some black marks looking inside from the ends. The eyes, slid shut, the hand stayed open, she was still breathing and, somehow, it seemed to me that her breathing got smoother, easier.

    I left the room and entered the nurse’s room, or call it office. It did neither look nor smell better than the room I had just left.

    “Here you have one hundred euros. By tomorrow I want the room aired, the bedsheets replaced, the clothing changed, her body washed. Another hundred euros await you for this.”

    One would probably be surprised how much one hundred euros can buy you in ‘remote’ Romania, even today. I left the old people’s home and went to the apartment of the old congregation member who brought me there. We went to the table in the living room, sat down and I showed him the piece of parchment.

    “Do you know what is this?” I asked him, the shiver in my voice betraying my state of emotion. He took a transparent plastic ruler and slowly and carefully spread the parchment on the table, the black marks visible underneath. I recognized these immediately as Hebrew characters. A piece of paper that was rolled inside the parchment slid out to the table. I flattened it with my fingers and I was surprised to find there an inscription in Latin lettering, the inscription being ul.768. “And what is this?”

    Tears welled in his eyes and he started sobbing pitifully, his head on his arms, the black yarmulke on his head sliding down to the floor. He didn’t seem to care. Minutes later he wiped his eyes and took the yarmulke from the floor, placing it back on his head. Yes, he knew ‘what is this’, to both questions.

    “This is a mezuzah,” he said, pointing to the parchment. I knew of course what a mezuzah was, it was the copy of a text from the bible that Jews, believers an atheists alike, place at the doors, an identification symbol with either the nation or with its God. Yes, even communists place it, though they may keep it hidden.

    “And this?” I asked, pointing to the short inscription. I knew the answer would not be one I would have liked to hear, yet it was one I had to hear and nothing was going to prevent me from hearing it.

    Seemed that I had had once a large family, a bit indirect yet still blood related and unknown to me in the town of Iaşi. Orthodox Jews having settled there beginning of the 19th century and leading a secluded and eventless life until the middle of the 20th century. Until that fatidic year of 1941 when infamous Marshal Antonescu’s hordes of henchmen started their bloody pogrom, targeting and slaughtering all the Jews they could lay their hands on.

    “Thirty seven of your family escaped to the Jiu mines, helped by a local priest and hiding there in the tunnel identified as Uliţa 768. Their hideout was discovered quite fast and Antonescu ordered the tunnel blown up. They all perished inside. Sure-Leie is one of the few survivors of the pogrom, having run away to Botoşani where she lay in hiding until the Russians arrived.”

    Following day I passed through the old people’s home and found that my money did its magic. But tante Sure-Leie died overnight. I stayed for the burial ceremony, thus ensuring the completeness of the minyan needed for the ritual, at least ten men present. Two of those present were rolled into the cemetery on wheel-chairs and one arrived from Dorohoi.

    “And what does Reten’ze mean?” I asked, doing my best to emulate the accent and the sound of the words heard.

    “I don’t know. It may be in Yiddish and then it may mean save them but I don’t know, I really don’t know.”

    Later that evening I arrived back to my home in Gura Dracului. Part on train, part on a horse drawn carriage, the last part on foot. Stela was waiting for me at the door. I kissed her perfunctorily, entered the house and then I went to lie in the bed. She cuddled against me and did not ask anything until I woke up next morning. Then I told her everything.

    “Promise me one thing,” she said, looking me straight in the eyes. “Promise me that you will never go to the mines again.”

    I promised her. Three months and nine days later I broke my promise.


    “Twenty one,” I answered, uncertain at why she asked such a pertinent question but unwilling to leave it unanswered for the time it took me to tell her the story.

    It was not my intention to break the promise, neither was it her intention that I kept it. It was one of those cruel games lovers play when each cares about the other much beyond the limits of a simple relationship and under the spur of a moment’s drive take those magnanimous decisions that are bound to explode in their faces. She knew it, I knew it, we had to live with it and intended to live with it.

    The Suceava caves story was a cover up, of course. I filled the car with the habitual gear I took with me when I was going on a cave exploration on my own, kissed her before leaving like it was the end of the world, nothing unusual to that, and then drove less than thirty kilometers away, there where I knew I had to start my search. I didn’t take the cell phone with me, there was no signal once you entered the caves so it was considered just an unnecessary nuisance.

    The mine entrance, one of many however the one where I intended to start my search after discussing it with Gheorghe (‘the Jews street?... uliţa evreilor?... rumor has it around this area...’) was located behind some wild grown bushes, completely hiding it from view unless you knew what you were looking for. ‘Are you sure?’ asked Gheorghe more than once, ‘I know of several small expeditions that ventured in search for this specific street, none returned to my best of knowledge. It is cursed,’ and he made the cross sign three times and spit on the ground the same number of times. I wasn’t sure, yet a bunch of popular superstitions weren’t going to stop me. They did not stop me even when I went in search for Dracula’s traces in the Bran castle area, knowing that I would find nothing and finding nothing except for some bat infested caves and a few subterranean lakes with transparent fish-like creatures moving slowly on the bottom. This time I was not in search for a so called vampire, this time I was in search for a branch of my own blood and flesh, be they even rotten and gone so many years ago, may it take as long as it may take. I had supplies for four weeks, and if need be I could go and get another four weeks of supplies for as many periods as necessary. Stela would understand. Yes, Stela would understand.

    All it took was seven days. I knew it was there once I got there and I had no explanation how I knew it. I just knew. Maybe because of the electric torches dying. Maybe because of the phosphorous flicker lain upon the caved-in walls of that mine chamber. Maybe because of a few intact explosives fuses popping above the coal dust. Countless, irrelevant maybe’s. I picked the pliable spade from my gear, locked it open and started digging my way through the collapsed rubble. One meter deep into the mound I hit free space. I widened the crawl-through hole as much as it was necessary for me to crawl over to the other side, pushing in front of me a kerosene lamp, and finally I rolled over on the other side of the mound. I lifted the lamp to shoulder level. They were there. What were there?

    I had no problem in reconciling reason, rationality, logic with unreason, irrationality and illogicality in my mind; after all this was the root cause of my wanting to get there and getting there. Was the word zombie the right word to use? There was no other, more suitable word yet invented so zombie it was.

    There were two clearly identifiable clusters of shadows, one in the middle of the blackness and one more to the left and behind it. Frozen, unmoving, several paired reflections of the light coming from my lamp seeming to watch me with an unblinking stare, like the polished hearts of broken coal pieces, the fire in them dead, the residual sheen remaining uncovered by either dust or time.

    Ingeleh...” I heard. I gasped. My ears surely did not pick any sound yet I was certain that I heard it, in my brain. Ingeleh... boy, in that unique language my grandparents were speaking and I forgot all, or thought I forgot all about, until that moment.

    The dark shadow, the zombie in front of me opened arms - was it wings?... - the darkness between them darker than the walls around me, darker than an endless abyss if I could imagine an endless abyss, waiting for me, to eat me, to absorb me, to...

    I lay the lamp on the floor, picked the rolled parchment from my pocket into my fist, raised it and advanced into that all-encompassing darkness. The zombie collapsed, dissolved around me and a horrible stench marked the end of flesh, the end of... whatever. I remained standing and after a short hesitation walked forwards, the second shadow, zombie opening welcome arms and collapsing around me as I passed through it, then the third, then the fourth... then the twenty first, the last.

    The cluster of shadows at the rear seemed to retreat one step. I did not try to approach them any further. I picked the lamp, crawled back out through the hole I had dug, loaded all my stuff on my back and followed the steel cable I laid behind me all the way to the entrance.

    “Then I drove back home, to you.”


    No further explanations were either necessary or expected. I was forgiven, there was nothing to forgive and yet I was forgiven. I was believed. No word about a probable hallucination, about a probable dream, about a probable depressive response to an exhausting sense of impotence and frustration. She returned to the bed, lay next to me and put her lips to my ear.

    “And the other? Sixteen?”

    The torment was tearing me apart, I couldn’t tell her, I did not want to tell her, I could not lie to her again, I did not want to lie to her again.

    “The twenty one were all men. The sixteen were all women. I could not touch them, they would not allow me.” It was true, I did not hide anything, I did not lie to her...

    “...and yet, you do not tell me everything.” She turned around to face me, placed my hand on her heart and stared at me as fixedly as those unseeing eyes there, below. “You, Jacko, my love, my one and only and forever love, you tell me all there is to tell or I get out of this bed and you never see me again.”

    She left me no choice, I wished myself dead that very moment but not many wishes come true this side of the world, I knew it.

    “It could have been done, by a woman.”

    “By me?” A strange sheen appeared in her eyes, I wasn’t sure if it was a tear or something much deeper than a tear.

    “You are not of my blood, you are not of their blood,” I wailed, wishing the interrogation to end and the sky to fall.

    “But!” That imperative, imperial But! She did not know there was a but, and yet how did she know what she could not have known?

    “You carry my blood.” It was a whisper, a wail, a scream... I buried my face in her hair shaking violently. She pulled away gently yet determinedly and pulled me up to a standing position.

    “How do you know, even I do not know?”

    “I know, I do not know how I know but I simply know.”

    A strange, beautiful, incredibly sunny smile colored her lips and for the first time since the start of my telling I felt her heart beating with a rage of happiness that I had never felt before. She lay back on the bed, on her back, pulled up the pajama top baring her belly and guided my head to lie down on the warmth of her skin. We rested this way the entire night – she sleeping on her back and I listening to the roots of my blood growing inside the sacred confines of her flesh.


    We took Gheorghe with us, there was a lot of stuff to carry and I needed his help. We shared between us the load and followed the steel wire until close to our destination.

    “What is this terrible smell?” asked Gheorghe, making a face and at the same time letting out bursts of laughter. The nitrous oxide mixed with the hydrogen sulfide were doing their job. It wasn’t the place to tell him anything more than I told him already – I found the corpses of my fellow slaughtered Jews, and I saw it my duty to see them buried and hidden from any sensations seeking reporter. Which was almost the entire truth. I lighted the kerosene lamps... “Hey...” he panicked a second, then calmed down when no explosion occurred “...you are one crazy jid, but I like you,” he concluded and started on his way back, placing and connecting the small packages we brought on our backs at regular intervals. Explosives, of course, which he negotiated for me with a nice profit to himself and to whoever his source was.

    I took Stela by the hand and we approached the hole that I had dug in the mound.

    “Are you sure?” I asked. She pulled her hand away from mine, pushed the lamp ahead of her and slid through the hole to the other side. I found her there looking fixedly ahead, the clustered shadows still in the same position I left them, the twin reflections of the lamp shining our way from the shadows’ depths the same way they did on our first encounter. She was calm, my Stela. Bursts of laughter exploding involuntarily, her nose tweaking involuntarily, but except for that she was as calm as someone visiting with old friends.

    “What does meideleh mean?” she asked me, and I did not quite get it immediately. I did get it though before she had to ask it a second time.

    “It means girl.”

    Stela, my Stela smiled. She took the rolled parchment from my hand, clasped it in her small fist and started advancing. I watched, fascinated. I don’t know if I did not see it before or if it did not happen before but each shadow, each female zombie she was traversing was opening wide her arms and I could see sparks... stars?... blinking in the gaping darkness right before Stela was passing through and then they were collapsing to that horribly smelling jelly, leaving for parts of a second a bluish tinge of dying phosphor behind. She reached the last one, smaller than the rest, clearly once a young girl, a moment’s hesitation and it was done.

    She returned my way, laughing with excitement, with the happiness of achieving something beyond reach for any other, laughing with the happiness of showing me her immeasurable love. Some of it probably also the nitrous oxide.

    “How do I smell to you?” she asked.

    “Like a queen, like a goddess,” I answered.

    “You do not believe in goddess, careful there,” she smiled.

    “I do not believe in God either,” I said. “And yet...” I looked behind her, bones glittering out above the horror of jelly, a few reflections on the black walls slightly illuminating the horrific scene. I felt, for an unclear reason, elated. I brought eternity and closure to a part of my family I never knew, and yet I owed it to them, and I did it.

    Stela crawled back through the hole, the kerosene lamp in front of here and for a few moments I was left in complete and absolute darkness behind. I looked back one last time. The reflections on the walls were not reflections, they were flickering sparks.


    I connected the rest of the explosive packages, from the hole all the way to where Gheorghe started connecting his. Then we followed the thin steel cable to the exit of the mine, carefully rolling so that no path guidance was left behind us. Once outside Gheorghe handed me the detonator handle and let me drag the wires all the way to the car. There I pushed the handle all the way down and the subdued detonations called back to me with their knowledge of end.

    I placed a hanky on my head, pulled out a small booklet from my pocket and read the short Hebrew text under each letter, the entire alphabet from aleph to tav. After all, I did not know any of the names buried under the mountain, and I did not want to miss any. Then I read the Kaddish prayer, slid the booklet back into my pocket and drove us back home.

    “So you do not believe in God, you say.” She placed her head on my shoulder and closed her eyes.

    “I do not,” I answered, the noon sun glinting underneath my eyes.


    I stopped the car. I did not attempt to exit, Stela’s head still on my shoulder.

    “Marry me,” I said.

    “Marry me,” she answered.

    We married in a synagogue, Stela insisting on it out of respect for my parents, for my tradition, for my slaughtered kin. Then we married again in a church, I insisting on it out of respect for her parents, for her tradition, for the priest who sacrificed his life trying to save my slaughtered kin.

    Sarah-Leah was born eight months later, a beautiful baby girl, almost as beautiful as my wife. Sorry, daughter, only almost, no one could ever be as beautiful as my beautiful Stela, maybe one day you will understand; at least I hope so.

    I fixed the mezuzah scroll at the top of the door sill going to her room, I took in a stray dog with a limp, I planted a few lilac bushes next to the garden fence.

    “You love this life,” said Stela, the insufficiently oiled swing screeching underneath her as she kept swinging east, west, east, west, east, west...

    “I love you,” I answered, considering it answer enough.



Presto Digitus

or Alexander the Great

    I am a professional bastard. With six giant bodyguards and one million blog followers, I can.

    I was watching carefully the new act on the stage, this new guy calling himself Mago performing feats worthy of kindergarten and long ago exposed to the wide public on my blog. But his new act was a novelty that I was burning to “kill”.

    There were five volunteers on the stage, lined one after the other with about a foot distance between them, and he hung a length of rope around the neck of the last in the row and tied a double knot in front of his neck. Then he passed the rope’s two hanging ends above the shoulders of the guy in front of this one and tied a double knot again. He went on with the sequence until he reached the first one in the row, an aged, giggling woman who allowed him to pocket her necklace in the process.

    And then, to thunderous laughter, he put his palms around the knot in front of the lady, hocus-pocus, and the knot was still there. His lame accompanying joke raised wolf calls from the audience. He repeated the sequence four more times moving backwards alongside the volunteers, looking more and more crestfallen, until the last knot... oops... there was no knot.

    Thunderous applause, curtsies, I could not contain myself anymore and jumped on the stage gesticulating toward the audience about the absurdity of the trick. He moved politely aside (the bastard... and for a moment I forgot that I owned the profession of bastardness) letting me pick two lengths of rope, tie them with two trick knots, then with a deft move the knots disappeared. I was booed away from the stage and took refuge between my bodyguards when some projectiles, luckily soft ones, started flying my way. I was fuming, expecting more gratitude from the brainless spectators.

    “Thank you Marcus Magnus...” he curtsied, Marcus Magnus being my blog name, “...would you please be so kind and return the necklace to the nice lady?”

    I got beet-red when I shoved my right hand in the jacket’s pocket and found the cheap necklace there. I let the spectators in front of me pass it on to the stage, where Mago-the-bastard (“wait until I burn you on the stake in my blog...” I fumed inside) tied it around the aged woman’s neck and was recompensed with a wet kiss on the cheek to additional wolf calls from around the delighted crowd.

    “And now, specially designed for our venerable Marcus Magnus who honors us with his presence tonight...” scarce applause and boos “...who is kindly invited to break the spell again...” only boos this time “...a first time performance of a new spell for this most gracious of publics here.” (“Public spell, huh, wait until I hang you dry in public,” I kept fuming, forcing myself nevertheless to focus my entire attention to what was to follow.)

    The volunteers remained on the stage. He took the same length of rope, untied all the knots and asked two volunteers to pull it end to end, just to show that it was just a regular piece of rope.

    “Use this one,” I shouted from my chair, throwing on the stage a length of rope which I prepared in advance for the occasion. Actually I wanted to use it for his previous trick, which I knew was part of his act, but decided that it was too simple to unmask with no props needed.

    Mago seemed unperturbed. He coiled his rope to a small ball and threw it back to me... “...so you can test it in your lab...” to loud snickers and jeers from the audience, and uncoiled my rope to its full length. He folded it in two and laid it tie-wise around the neck of the last guy in line. The he passed the hanging ends on the shoulders of the guy in front of the last one and so on until he got to the woman in front, asking her to hold an end of the rope in each closed fist. She certainly enjoyed the exposure, I was going to rip her apart together with the rest of the lame act.

    “Now, all of you except the beautiful young woman at the front...” (the aged woman seemed to be getting ageless under the compliment) “...please cup both your hands around both stretches of rope in front of you.”

    I started getting edgy. Something was not going according to the scenario I was expecting it to go by, and my smugness started changing into an uneasy feeling.

    “Now, everybody in this great hall please, at my cue... hocus-pocus!” The hall reverberated with an almost uniform hocus-pocus. “Now, my dear volunteers, with the exception of the beautiful lady in front of the line...” she lost probably another ten age years in the process “...please open your palms.” They opened their palms and the paired ropes hung limp from shoulder to shoulder. “Hmm, I believe that not everybody in the hall joined in our hocus-pocus,” he smiled sheepishly, looking directly and penetratingly towards me. “Shall we try again? My volunteers, please cup the ropes again in your joined palms, and let’s try it once more: hocus-pocus!

    Did I have a choice? With three hundred pairs of eyes all watching me and not necessarily at the stage, did I have a choice? I mumbled my low hocus-pocus dutifully together with all the others and kept my regard fixed to the stage. If all suckers were watching me, I certainly was watching no one but the stage “actors”. Unfortunately there was nothing unusual I could identify, and if there was anything of the kind then certainly my secret camera would help me catch it later on. Hocus-pocus!

    “The last volunteer in the row, please open your palms.” Well, I’ll be damned, and if it was not my own rope that was used there... the removed hands uncovered a nicely formed double knot, loose, round, impossible. “Next volunteer, please open your palms.” needless to say the same double knot was grinning savagely at me. “Next. Next.” Looked like the entire hall was holding its breath, and once the fourth knot was revealed and the lady in front released the rope ends the audience exploded in a thunderous applause like rarely, if ever, have I heard previously at a prestidigitation act.

    Mago bent deeply down yet I was sure his bow direction and his eyes were directed challengingly only, exclusively to me. He unbent slowly, balled the knotted roped tightly in his fist and threw it my way. I caught it deftly and stormed out of the theater, no one paying attention to me anymore. If not for my bodyguards I would have felt very, very lonely in the world.

    Like Alexander the Great with a wooden sword in his hand. And for a strange reason the analogy seemed to me more than appropriate.




    The first doctorate, I received for a mathematical theory and model covering an imaginary universe where pi (Π) was equal to 1. No one could understand it or comment on it, so it was an easy achievement. I baptized the universe PiOne. My second doctorate was for another universe theory and model, this one where the base of the natural logarithm (e) was equal to 1, and which I baptized EOne. No one understood this theory either and my doctorate was approved to sounds of thunderous applause from my students. I had to give it to them – they were wonderfully appreciative of their screwball eccentric professor of mathematics.

    It was when I started working on my third doctorate, this one developing a theory about an universe where the square root of minus one (i) equals to 1, that I started getting calls from several professors from several small colleges and universities (one from Utah, one from Siberia, one from Corsica, one from Madagascar which proved to be a fake, one from Kyoto and several more) all of which sent a list of pertinent questions that got me thinking.

    I did not care so much about their source of information regarding my work, but I did care about the fact that all those sending the questions had titles of doctors in physics, not in mathematics. And I learned quite fast that they were all members of a strange, closed academic group called Universes and got quite obsessed (also quite fast) with my said theory; actually waiting impatiently for me to present my dissertation to the approval committee and promising to arrive there in person to witness its consecration. In their opinion, this theory had valid physical implications, but they refused to expand any further.

    I was certainly flattered, though I did not quite understand their vivid interest, maybe even infatuation with this specific theory, however it made me lock my papers in a safe every time I did not work on them and I also made sure that my computer was not connected in any way to the internet. After all, interest may mean practical ramifications and royalties which would not be such an unwelcome addition to my otherwise modest university income. The most bizarre of all, in my eyes, was that my theory was pointing to a bi-dimensional universe, thickness zero and flexibility infinite, think of a silk scarf floating in the wind. I am not great at analogies, but if I had to use one this is what I would have used.

    My paranoia reached such proportions, that on the day of the presentation I removed the last page of calculations and simply burned it (and erased it from the computer file as well). I knew it by heart and could easily reconstruct it if anyone would pay attention to the fact, but I trusted the fact that no one would. The theory was anyway complete and the last page covered mathematically just the formulas that might be applied in order to allow movement from one surface of the MinusOne universe (the way I baptized it) to its other surface. Because, like all universes, it was infinite in size of course.

    The presentation was a success. The university, being made aware of the international visitors arriving to hear it, raked a few extra dollars for sandwiches and soft drinks and publicity – hey, when was the last time that a collection of 23 professors and doctors in physics, three of them Nobel prize laureates and five Nobel candidates, deemed our small and old and crumbling collegial walls worthy of a visit? What about never before?

    The sandwiches over, the soda burps over, the small talk over – I finally found myself locked with all 23 of them in one of the classrooms rented for the occasion from the university (by them, for $515 + taxes) and a Dr. Fuchs, Austrian, plugged a memory key into the presentation laptop and started going through a number of postulate screens, then a number of formulae screens, and then one final screen with a big GATE written on it followed by three question marks. “One question mark,” said Dr. Fuchs, “for the interface to our universe, one question mark for the separating universe, one question mark for the interface to the other universe.” He watched me carefully, then went to the screen with a thick marker in his hand and drew a bigger question mark on top of the image of the other three. “And one for the gateway connecting them all.”

    I am no idiot. Even if I was not a doctor in physics, their summarized presentation was well prepared and, sorry if I may sound slightly arrogant, their desired result from meeting with me became crystal clear in my mind. And they, they were no idiots either. “Dr. Weiss,” he continued, “your theory is complete, yet incompletely so.” He smiled shortly and so did I. “The GATE formulae are missing.”

    What he called “gate” I called “penetration” in my mind and it was the information on the page I burned; but we meant the same thing. I got to my feet and went over to the small dais, turning off the laptop. “OK, Dr. Fuchs, dear colleagues, let me see if I understand your theory and mine and their converging points correctly.” The ‘if’ was just a polite way of expressing myself, I understood their theory and the relevant implied implications, ha, perfectly. “The theory you presented earlier on is that the sum total of all the universes in existence is zero – in matters of energy, matter, etc., better said: the sum total is nothing. And this explains much better the very first moment of creation of what we call our universe, much better than the big bang theory. Because it is easier to conceive that there was ‘nothing’ to start with rather than ‘something’ to start with.” I watched them carefully, making sure I did not miss any facial expression while exposing my summary of, ahm, their summary. I continued. “And therefore, supported at least partially by your formulae, there are presently two universes in existence, two... and two only: our universe and an exactly twin universe, however negative and perfectly symmetrical in every physical aspect to our universe so that the sum total of these two in matters of energy, matter, time, space – is nothing. Thus the original nothing metamorphosed by whichever event – call it big bang or whatever – into another nothing; with this nothing being the sum total of the two universes presently in existence. No paradox whatsoever.”

    According to their theory, the only “communication” between the two universes was carried by photons, therefore photons did not reflect from what we called reflecting surfaces but rather passed through them to the twin universe in both directions with PERFECT (I use capital on purpose) symmetry. And this applied to any kind of surface less reflective, deforming, fluctuating, multiple, etc. The key being perfect symmetry between the two universes in every parameter conceivable, material or immaterial – physical processes, biological processes, behavioral processes, any processes. A pure 1 to 1 with tolerance zero. Otherwise the “nothing” would not be absolute and their theory would fail. In other words when one looked in the mirror one did not see his/her reflection but rather a real person on the other side in the other universe and the information was relayed by photons, the only messengers capable to pass the impassable barrier between the two universes. Irrelevant if mirror facing mirror, if box of mirrors, if glass, if water, if concave/convex/deformed/mobile surfaces, if whatever. Perfect symmetry.

    “And my theory solves for you the last question mark, left unanswered until now: the MinusOne universe by its basic definition is the barrier separating these symmetrical universes, allowing them to co-exist. A zero-thickness zero-energy perfectly-flexible eternally-adapting impenetrable barrier. I have to admit it to you – I am deeply disturbed and intrigued and almost convinced. Do you allow me a few days of deep ponder before we convene again?”


    It took me 24 hours to make up my mind, 4 of them slept and the rest worked. This was a group of the finest minds on Earth, no practical jokers or sensation chasers or money hunters, they were genuine puzzle breakers. And this was one of the biggest puzzles ever faced by man and they were set on breaking it. With me the unexpected ace in the hole. Though...

    “...and please tell me, mes chers amis...” sounded good in French “...how do you plan on proving your theory, even if I disclose to you the so-called GATE formulae, whose existence you correctly guessed?” We reconvened in the same room, same participants, somehow the atmosphere was slightly tenser this time. They wished to reach a conclusion and a decision and I was key to the decision to be taken. It did not make me feel more important, on the contrary, kind of more frustrated. “Say, theoretically, that a person, I for example, could transpose physically from this universe to the other, while my counterpart does it in perfect symmetry the other way around, and I allow myself to disregard for a moment the extremely complex problem of the transitory effect of my body here and my head there with my twin going through the same motions. The perfect symmetry demands that all the processes, inclusive the mental ones, are completely inversed, whatever it may mean, on the ‘other side’. I may remember that I started traversing but I will not know for sure that I did since even the simplest of tests – like inversions of left-right the way we perceive these in a mirror, will look to me perfectly OK once on the other side. I will not know if I traversed or I stayed here. I imagine this is a crucial aspect you discussed, theoretically at least, before my mathematical theory was even conceived. Did you define a way to prove this inversion?”

    I actually skipped and hid a crucial aspect of the GATE (I liked their naming convention) transition part of the theory, in order to jump straight to the test conclusion phase. I was not going to hide it for long, just for the philosophical phase of the discussion.

    Most of them smiled. I got to become quite immediately and quite clearly one of “them” and I certainly asked a key, if not THE key question to the entire set-up in its present status. Say the theory was perfect, there was no experiment to prove it right; at least I did not see any immediate way to prove it. Did they think it out in advance?

    “Dr. Weiss, can a physical entity actually swap universes?” Fuchs, smiled, asking right away that one question the answer to which I previously and conscientiously hid, as mentioned already. Yes, they were no idiots. I felt slightly embarrassed, I even blushed.

    “Mr... aahhh... Dr. Fuchs, sorry for not being completely honest with you all, my apologies. The answer of course is negative. A gate can, theoretically be created at quite some energetic expense, nothing monstrously so. However the only ‘entity’ that could eventually swap location between the two surfaces of the MinusOne universe is... energy. In whichever manifestation as long as it has no mass.”

    This seemed to have satisfied the majority of them, several even applauded my “confession”. A middle-aged, nicely yet modestly dressed lady got up from the second row and mounted the few steps to the podium.

    “Dr. Weiss, I am Dr. Fatma Azimah, from Kazakhstan.” She had a limp handshake but a pair of burning eyes that seemed to try to penetrate inside my skull. “The answer to your question is...” she looked in turn at every face in the room, as if asking permission to whatever she was going to say, and then turned back to face me “... yes, we did define a test that we believe will provide an answer to the question. You will share with us the gate formulae and we will share with you the planned test and we will all share together the knowledge. With a very negligible, though not zero, risk that we are all going to be proved wrong. Shall we proceed?”


    One week later I flew to Geneva in Switzerland, the defined location for the experiment. Their idea was ingenious, simple, risky and prone to error of misinterpretation. But it was ready for execution for five years now, all the relevant technologies well tested numerous times, and the only cog missing in the machinery was the definition of my MinusOne universe and the gate through it. Therefore, once they got my formulae, all they had to do was implement them in the mainframe managing the three powerful, ultra-narrow band lasers that were to open the GATE. I did not understand everything of the physics involved, just enough, and I did not ask much about it either. One of the technicians involved told me that the lasers intersection point, once modulated correctly, would create a micro-singularity node which would allow a clump of energy to transfer from this universe to the other; this, if my theory was correct (I almost lost my temper and hit him) and if the physical interpretation of this theory into the practicality of the three lasers was done correctly as well (I did not mind admitting to a possible weakness regarding this aspect).

    “And what about a possible cataclysm as a result of this experiment’s success?” I asked him, and he pulled up his shoulders and went on playing God with his variety of tools. So did some of the physicists present so I stopped asking. Especially since, as part of the agreement to divulge my formulae, we also agreed that I will act as guinea pig for the experiment. Also, truth being said – there were no other volunteers, the cowards.

    Much of the idea and chance of success rested on a serum they had injected into my blood and which was supposed to slow down the normal brain processing power, sufficiently so that for an estimated thirty minutes I would be able to describe any new “forced” impressions without having them overwritten by the real reality. The forced impressions being those coming from the other universe, from my “twin”.

    My skull was connected to a variety of electrodes which were in turn connected to a range of amplifiers, and the combined information delivered by my brain waves, or rather by my optical nerves and my brain waves, was supposed to be delivered through the GATE to the other “me” in the other universe; and vice versa. Luckily, it seemed that the transmission areas of the brain and the reception areas were different, therefore the signals could be acted on separately. The reception electrodes carried amplified signals which were supposed to drown and even eliminate completely the natural brain captors. A few experiments, not all of them successful, carried on volunteers showed that the subject would see an elephant while actually looking at a flower, due to his pseudo twin looking at an elephant. Of course, the experiments were carried with wired electrodes and not with brain waves and, anyway, only part of them succeeded.

    A big, rather the biggest postulate of the experiment was the one claiming that since I was sending signals to myself, then even if the other universe was “inverse” – whatever it meant – to this one, I should be able to synchronize and interpret the wave signals received and the information correctly. Which information?... oh, you will laugh but you should not since it was the simplest and yet most meaningful of all: an array of capital letters. A big board was placed in front of me and a variety of asymmetrical capital letters in groups of three was supposed to be played on it sequentially, a sequence unknown to me, and the entire purpose of the experiment was to determine if for the estimated half-minute mentioned, I would see the letters mirrored left-right (or any other way). Of course, my twin “me” was going through an exactly twin process... oh, God, the dare of this thought!...

    Any risk of an eventual brain misinterpretation, kind of “wishful seeing”, was discarded at the onset by a range of preliminary psychological experiments ran on a couple thousand volunteering students, none of which misinterpreted the letters, even when tricked into such misinterpretations. One hundred percent indisputability of testing, with my own body and psyche introducing an additional and personal uncertainty factor, of course. At my suggestion they introduced also a few mirrored letters, so that I would not know actually what I was supposed to see. Thus, how was I supposed to cheat, even unintentionally? I was sunk in my thoughts and kind of started when I heard “minus one hundred and counting”.

    The lasers were already at full power however mechanically shuttered. They were supposed to converge at count minus13, thirteen seconds being the time needed for the GATE to mature into existence. Not that it was tested, it was the result of the theoretical calculations. No one wanted to do a preliminary beta test, afraid of... of what... the end of everything, Armageddon? I chuckled, hearing in the background “forty seven and counting”. Then minus twenty. Then minus fourteen... minus thirteen and the mechanical shutters pulled back with a clank and a bluish spot at the convergence spot of the lasers materialized in the air growing swiftly and visibly into a half sphere. It was as predicted, the other half sphere materializing probably in the other universe. The instruments indicated the half sphere to have reached a radius of seven millimeters when the count reached minus three... two... one... zero... the big letters popped on the screen in front of me as planned, one set of three each second, and I started watching them intensely, almost as if my life depended on their meaningless forms, maybe it did... plus one... plus two... plus three... It happened at plus seven. The half sphere disappeared into total blackness and the three lasers exploded in their confined quarters. Thank goodness for human paranoia and related preventive measures. But I did acquire my “vision”... or did I? With three characters sticking in my mind like three Eiffel towers middle of the Sahara desert... stupid analogy, so what?

    They converged upon me like bees to the honey, or maybe like flies to the manure, or maybe like what? I felt slightly dizzy, then heavily dizzy, then fainted.

    Almost one billion dollars down the drain. Nobody blamed me, there was nothing to blame. But no one was going to put an additional similar sum into a project that, at best, would have satisfied the intellectual curiosity of the initiated few but brought no real financial return. The physics community was slightly intrigued, the universities did not have this kind of moneys, the project was dead.

    “So what did you see?” they swooped down on me again, once I opened my eyes and finished my glass of water. I sat up tiredly, asked for a sheet of paper and a pen, and drew upon it the first group of three letters, the “vision” clearly imprinted upon my brain.

    “From left to right... ar, bi, ci...” I sighed, then drew them on the paper the normal way, the way they all hoped I would not see them:    RBCinverted    “No mirror image, sorry.”


    Thirteen year ago, to the day.

    Now, with the famous crab eating voraciously my life away, I can come out clean. I lied of course, more than once. I did not see how they could, but I was certain that the military would have found a “suitable” use for the theory once it was proven, and I did not want my name associated with any kind of Armageddon. Look what happened to the benign nuclear theory. Therefore I lied, subtly so, thrice so.

    The GATE formulae I submitted were correct but I omitted one derivative. No one will be able to find it, I know, they wouldn’t know what to look for, even. This is what caused the lasers to overload and explode.

    The image impressed on my brain was not the normal way around, it was mirrored and it said from left to right R B C , the way of the twin universe, the “other” universe.

    In these last thirteen years I developed an access to the gate myself, not with billions, just with a few thousands of dollars and three laser diodes. Five years after the “failed” (inverted commas intentional, lol) experiment I had access to my own private GATE, all of it fitted inside a large shoe box and connected to the car lighter plug. No one knew, I did not want anyone to know. I dedicated the rest of my years, until roughly one month ago to improving the communication quality with the “other” universe, the electrodes headgear of “then” a pale imitation of my present one. Another couple of thousands; told you already – I was not an idiot, only I did not specify that my non-idiocy rested also in the domain of physics. This was my third lie, a little white lie this one.

    The recount you are now reading was printed on white paper, in mirror text my side, in order to have it transmitted through my GATE to the twin universe. It exists, oh, of course it exists the twin universe, it is your universe. First, I drove and parked myself for several days all over the city close to a variety of Internet Cafés and used a highly-directional antenna to transmit a test mental image (a random page from War and Peace printed mirror-wise) ONLY to my GATE so it will reach only the “other” side. Since my twin I (haha) was located the same place (sounds strange speaking this way, doesn’t it?) the emission through his side reached the printers in the nearby café. And “his” transmission reached “my” café. I know it did, I read the page printed my side correctly. Now, my next step is to send this recount itself, printed here mirror-wise, to your universe, to you - whoever occasional reader might be at the time in the café. If you are able to read normally, then it means I succeeded to communicate with you from the twin side.

    Hello there, fellow universe man or woman or child! Don’t be afraid to go with it to the newspapers or to the internet or TV or any other means of mass communication. A few ignorant millions will laugh at you. A few inner circle thousands will start looking feverishly for that missing derivative in my formulae. And a couple hundred highly paid merchants of death will foam at the mouth and issue orders to locate me immediately.

    I will be found, eventually. The pain has reached insupportable levels and after I ensure that my transmission is sent to the other side, I will drive this big needle attached to this big syringe filled with blessed morphine into my vein. No one will find me in time. Oh, sure, before this, I will hammer my shoe-box and headgear set-up to tiny dust; I may be old and senile but not that old and senile.

    Thank you, whoever will receive my transmission, for believing me. Let me, please, just play one last joke and print my name correctly, my side of the MinusOne universe, lololol...




You are alive, do you know why?

    You don’t. Pity, oh such a pity...

    I went with my story to all the journals, those main ones first, local ones first. I even threatened one editor with a Smith & Wesson, okay, it was her own lipstick pressed against her spine but she thought it was a Smith & Wesson and it ended my day in jail. Then when they all, with the exception of the afore mentioned editor, finished dying laughing I tried the small ones, the national ones, the international. TV stations, radio stations, short-wave hobby stations, what stations had I left out? I spent around twenty million dollars of efforts around the globe and all I remember is the laughter in front of me, behind my back, at the end of a line or of an email. Oh, yes, I found a listening ear at a ‘we are not alone’ weirdos gathering, and another at a ‘the end is at our door’ different weirdos, different gathering. Both of which I had to get off my back later on with five K dollars, you’d be amazed how easy it is to buy or to sell beliefs for five thousand dollars. No one believed the truth. What a pity.

    My wife divorced me at the end of two years of misery seen my incessant travel, after first kicking me out of the house, scared. Took the three kids with her. She loved me, she was desperate, she had no choice. I gave her the rest of the money, two hundred and five million dollars so she would take good care of herself and of the kids and I ended here. Forty two years past now, forty two years of my own misery, yes – she pays all my costs. No, I did not and do not lack anything, I was well taken care of at all times; even when I needed a kidney transplant – one of my kids donated it and my wife absorbed all the hospital costs. Yes, good people, worth saving. Many good people in this world, all worth saving, Knowledge that does not assuage my pain even a tiny bit, it is not assuageable if I be allowed to place this tongue knotting word here.

    And then, recently, it downed on me – I will write it as a story. Maybe send it to some sci-fi publisher or contest and if I get accepted or if I win, many will read it, the truth will come out. They will all think it to be a great story, I will know it to be the truth. At least I will have some kind of partners to the knowledge. Probably I’ll have to add some embellishments, to make it ‘sellable’. Nevertheless, the truth will come out. Yes, good decision, Joe.

    So I sat down, I wrote. It took me exactly three months, twenty three days and four hours, just in time for my first contest and now... send it, Joe!

    I sent it. Oh, by the way, my name is not Joe.


    I was following the main road from lower Manhattan to Brooklyn, it was close to midnight and I was in no particular hurry. I managed to survive an interminable dinner which in itself followed a long meeting at the university and my mind was geared to “easy”. An uneventful drive until, on the Brooklyn bridge, I was about to overtake the car in front of me and it suddenly swerved into my overtaking lane. OK, happens, I tried again to overtake it on the right and it swerved on cue to the right as well. What the hell, the driver was either falling asleep or talking on the cell phone. It upset me slightly so I honked in anger twice and tried again on the left, the car moved left, tried right, it moved right. And it was then, at that precise moment that rage suddenly hit me, illogical, blinding, red rage.

    I turned on the ship-horn that was reserved for the car’s alarm system and squeezed the accelerator through the floor, yes, through, probably pedal-through-the-metal would have been the correct description of my feet muscles’ intent as I raced towards the back of the obstinate car ready to ram it over the bridge, with me following. This time the car swerved further right, trying to get out of my way... no way mister, I win this duel and we both die today rushed through my mind as the impact followed and the other car hit the bridge railing with my front bumper welded to its back bumper. No air-bag is going to save us today, mister... hey, what is this? The railing exploded like a lump of butter meeting a bullet and the car in front fell off the side with me following and falling after it... no, the railing is not supposed to collapse under a car’s impact was the last coherent thought that flashed through my mind as I slid through a mixture of incredulity and outrage at being cheated out of my right to die my way, and I faded into pure, dreamless blackness.

    It was when I woke up from the nightmare that I found out it was not a nightmare. What was it then (I asked myself, not you)?

    I got up from a comfortable bed – I was still dressed, mind you – there was a carpet underneath me, a stereo system... hey, expensive, against the wall, something that looked like a kitchenette, a terminal looking at me with a blank screen... I did not have to pinch myself to make sure it was not a dream. I was a stark hard realist and what I was seeing around me was stark hard reality and yet not the reality one finds in a house or an apartment but rather the reality one finds in no such place. Since the entire “room” was ball-perfect round, the exception being the floor but I had the impression it was due to a flat platform on top of a round cavity. And the – plastic? glass? – wall around me was continuously flickering in hues of red, yellow, orange, with dark stains puncturing the image from time to time before getting swallowed by a lashing tongue of kinds. The way I’ve seen behind the glass door of my wood-burning fireplace when I glanced its way. Which happened rarely.

    “Hello, Professor Moskowitz.” The voice had male intonations.

    I did not throw a tantrum. I did not react with ‘you will not get away with it’. I love science fiction yet I don’t believe in science fiction and since this was clearly a science fiction setting, I swapped my ‘don’t’ to ‘do’ at a fingers snap. Science fiction turned reality for me and the question was not necessarily how, but rather why. My normally repressed humanity, i.e. curiosity, took this once the higher ground and “cold fish” (the way my students called me openly) flicked his tail this once.

    “And who are you?” I was not actually sure that the ‘you’ I addressed was the one addressing me. It was the single incongruous item in the room, not even the gigantic mainframes blinking idiotically to my left impressed me as incongruous (horrible word) as that supposed to be ‘you’ in front of me.

    It was a perfectly round ball of... what, glass? plastic? crystal?... the flickering colors outside the wall reflecting from its smooth surface but except for that there was no sign of activity in or around it. No crack, no protuberance, and after I took a step forward and passed my hand around it, nothing supporting it from any side. It was floating. I tried even to push it. I could as well have tried to push the Empire State Building.

    “I presently weigh, in terms of mass, one trillion tons. But as far as you are concerned, I could weigh one gram. I control my mass and my gravity.” The voice had a strange reverberation but its English was fluent and it seemed to be talking straight into my head, not through my ears, I did not sense any kind of vibration in the air.

    “Do you read my thoughts? Do you speak straight into my nervous system?”

    “No. Yes. A few million units of my being are presently attached to your auditory system and they vibrate, thus creating the sensation of hearing, a voice synthesizer of sorts. Professor Moskowitz, you still did not ask me how and why. Maybe even before I answer your ‘who’ question?”

    I did not answer. I did not feel frightened. I was even partly amused by the situation and I took a tour of the ‘room’ before I made up my mind what to answer. I made a toilette stop, how considerate, before stopping next to my car, its hood still warm and not one scratch on it. Then there were the few metallic monsters bunched together, most of whom I recognized from my visits to several universities around the globe as supercomputers, all in the range of petaflops, several tens of quadrillion floating point operations per second each. I will not provide here free advertising to their manufacturers, but there were fourteen of them in the room, strange cabling exiting and entering the entrails of each and connecting them to each other, with the smell and vapors of liquid nitrogen clearly invading the air and yet... the surrounding temperature was that of a nice summer night.

    “I imagine you stole all these from their relevant owners,” I murmured to myself, touching each one in academic appreciation.

    “Yes. And we re-engineered them and this is presently a ten thousand and four exaflops supercomputer, a level humanity will most probably never reach, ready to be used.” No infliction in the voice, no shame, no pride, pure factual rendition.

    “And we are?...” I drawled further, not voicing one key w-word that kept bothering me but was not yet aired in this room yet clearly and specifically meaning it. Where?

    “We are close to the center of the Earth. And no,” he continued, as if expecting me to flinch in incredulity, which I did not, “you face no risk of getting either crushed or incinerated. We are in perfect control of this environment. We need you, professor Ferdinand Moskowitz, to save our species.”

    Ferdinand Moskowitz, oh, how I hated my parents at such moments.


    “Nando, to friends,” I said with a tinge of rebelliousness in my voice, even though I did not feel rebellious at all. But let them, it, she, he... whatever, think so. “And you are George, I presume,” thus temporarily removing the ‘who’ from our closed environment.

    “I am George,” he assumed his baptism without an eye blink. Eye blink, ha.

    “Tell me, George.” I sat down on the nicely upholstered sofa they either manufactured or stole for me, and closed my eyes, listening. Strange how I accepted the situation as if it was my daily routine. Was I on some kind of drug or similar?

    ‘They’ were with us since eternity. A few billions of years is eternity in human terms, isn’t it, and the ‘us’ part of the equation started crawling on the surface of the Earth barely recently in terms of said eternity.

    George was a nation of exactly 68,719,476,736 units which in our terms is 2 to the power of 36. They used a binary counting system for reasons of their own and anyway they were not bound by the human ten fingers; however they had no problem counting in any system. The limitation on their population size was of an energetic nature. You see, the George units (they had no name for themselves) were of an energetic nature, something between a photon and a graviton – aha! – and an energon, which he called it this way for my sake but it was something humanity didn’t even start speculating about. They had no history or never cared to memorize it, they simply existed, had a collective conscience and ‘fed’ on Earth’s liquid fire. Originally their numbers were much higher, but as Earth’s surface started cooling they started moving towards its center where the temperatures we still bearable for their need. They had to start reducing their numbers as well... “...we do not die, we coalesce four units into two,” he said and I did not pretend to understand, just accepted it as fact.

    “Once we reach 4,294,967,296 units, 2 to the power of 32 in your terms, we die. At earth’s core present cooling rate, it is probably a matter of 20 to 30 years. No more billions of years. We get absorbed in whatever energy source is nearby and we disappear.”

    “And what happens to this energy source that absorbs you?”

    “It turns into a small sun, or nova, or whatever you wish to call it.”

    “So Earth dies, humanity dies along with you.” I followed my human logic. They did not possess human logic.

    There was silence, heavy silence. I felt kind of a stir in my ear, the George nation seemed to be conferring and I somehow felt it through the units present inside my ear.

    “Sorry, Nando, you are correct. We did not think about it, I apologize for our selfish interpretation. I use the word ‘apologize’ which I believe correctly represents what we have to say and what we truly feel. Again, ‘feel’ is a term I believe I use correctly.”

    Oh, correctly you use George, ‘apologize’ and ‘feel’ and why the hell did you wake up so late, George? It was for the first time since the ‘event’ as I started calling my disappearance there and my appearance here, that something like emotion started stirring my insides, something like worry, like fear. Maybe like panic – Soraya, my wife, Antonio my eldest, sweet Susan, two years old baby Jack – my children, my neighbor the cop and his wife and their two boys, the permanent beggar at the corner of my street and his dog... hey, entire humanity, Ferdinand, humanity! I never called myself Nando in my thoughts.

    “And why the hell did you wake up so late, George?” I asked.

    He did not answer, he continued telling his story, somehow it seemed to matter to him, them. Maybe it was important?

    “We know it for more than one hundred million years already, but there was nothing we could do about it. We accepted it. You see, Nando, we possess good mathematical skills, different to the human skills but insufficient. We can shift time for a few seconds. We can predict thermal events with the accuracy of years. We can change our structure to any known element and many yet unknown elements and we can control gravity in our close environment. Yet we do not have any artistry or creativity in us; what we can do is copy and improve, take an architectural design and build it into a final product. But we cannot think this final product up front. For that we need something or someone to copy from, to learn from, to emulate.”

    And then the dinosaurs passed away from the world and humans started descending from the trees. They saw a flicker of hope, to use our human expression.

    “We followed human evolution. We learned from humans languages, arts and sciences watching these evolve as well, and we followed some great minds around. Brahmagupta, Pythagoras, Fibonacci, Laplace, Fourier, Fermat, Euler, Gauss, Hardy...


    “This was our need. And still is. And you are one.”

    “And how did you get me here? And why did you get me here?”

    I finally decided to ask my two questions starting, illogically, with the curiosity oriented one and ending with the purpose oriented one. ‘Cold fish’ was after all, unknown to many, human. And I felt there was nothing of major interest outside these two questions.

    The how was easy, if to accept their explanation and I had no problem accepting it. Since they could practically emulate any kind of material and controlled their internal gravitational fields, they used these ‘skills’ and sent several billion units to cocoon, reduce and transport anything that was inorganic matter to the present room. Once here, they allowed the gravitational forces resume their respective strength.

    “What about the electric force, the weak force?...” I wasn’t much of a physician but there were some basics that even I was aware about. “Nando, you don’t know much about the atomic structure yet. Shall we skip your question?” By ‘you’ he did not mean specifically me, Ferdinand, he meant the whole of our human knowledge on the matter. I let him skip. They had a bigger problem with organic matter, i.e. the one organic unit registered with humans and human authorities as Ferdinand Moskowitz. This is why they needed me in a protective box that they could ‘smuggle’ to our present location, with me nicely handled by the units in my head: first triggering my ‘insanity moment’ and then reducing me to a state of suspended-life and fully cocooned in a protective internal and external layer for as long as it took them to create a passage for my box - my car - to reach this protected environment. “Not longer than 3 minutes, thus no damage to your brain.” He did not sound apologetic. I don’t think he was boasting either. “The other car was us, a real-life emulation. The entire setting was for the eyes of the surveillance cameras. We don’t fear humans, of course, but we prefer humans not to know certain things. Oh...” the ‘Oh’ sounded human indeed, “we don’t think anyone will believe you once you return. If you return.”

    I left the last comment pass unchallenged. So now I was inside a room about center Earth, the room walls were some other billion units that created for me a livable environment complete with units constantly evolving into oxygen for my sake, with a monster supercomputer re-engineered by George with units from his ranks, and importantly and considerately with a john that someone up on the surface certainly was missing at the moment and wondering at that smooth, round hole on the floor where it once was. I hoped that this whoever was not sitting on the john the moment it was subtilized.

    As this thought hit my mind I exploded in the kind of hysterical laughter that you got to see only in a Laurel and Hardy movie, both on the screen and in the cinema itself. Maybe it kept accumulating and maybe it reached its critical level. The hysteria I mean.

    I finished, blew my nose, wiped my eyes and was ready.

    “OK. Nando.” The expressed punctuation was that of a full stop but the implied meaning was that of a question mark.

    “Professor Moskowitz,” if it started that respectful way then something serious was about to be mentioned, “your theory of the finality of numbers. We know it is correct.” Huh? What? Are you kidding me? The question marks designed themselves on my facial features in sequential manner, and I could only hope that George had something akin to a sense of sight because none of above words had left my larynx. It was too constricted. “There is one number we are interested in, only one, and this number is Pi. There were better mathematicians before you – Leibnitz, Gauss, Euler...” and even though I felt pissed-off I felt also honored to be mentioned as trailing those illustrious names... “...however, first – they did not possess the tools to help us, second – they did not even think of the existence of such theory. The tools you now have, the super computer waits for you. The theory it’s you who developed it, so you know how to look for what we need. Professor Moskowitz, save us!”

    It was the second time he said it, and this time the trailing sentence in my mind was ... ‘yeah, and save this damn Earth too, in the process.’

    “And what you need exactly is?...”

    “In human decimal terms, we need the last 1024 digits of Pi. I don’t want to go in too many details both because I am not sure I am able to explain but also because I am not sure I understand it myself completely. However I know, a fact which does not necessitate understanding.

    Pi ends and the last digit repeats to infinity, I know neither after how many digits it ends, nor what this last digit is. I certainly do not know what the last 1024 digits are. Knowing this number will allow us to contract and create a... no, THE perfect ball of George-matter,” George was developing a sense of humor “and this is the only shape capable to travel all the way to the sun and sink into it without exploding into nothingness.”

    “You mean into a nova.”

    “I mean into a nova. By the way, what you see now is only half of me. The other half is sunk into the core, absorbing energy for us all. The final resulting ball size will be the same as you see now and its mass will not change. Please, don’t ask because I don’t know the answer.

    And I think that you are now itching to ask a question, Nando.” So we were back to Nando terms, and to itching, and I preferred it this way.

    “Yes, George. Assuming all goes well and we get this number and you survive and Earth survives... you still have a long travel to the sun, our sun – right? Even at the speed of light, which I believe is not what you are talking about. How are you going to survive the travel, disconnected from the energy here and not yet connected to the energy there?”

    “Nando, if there was such a thing I would have recommended you for the George medal of intelligence. This is where the last 64 digits of Pi play a crucial role for our survival. Nando, you heard about E equals m times c to the power of 2. Did you hear about E equals m times c to the power of 4? No, don’t correct me, c to the power of 4. And what about c to the power of 8? And what about?...”


    “...c to the power of 16... 32... 64... we could not extrapolate beyond 64 and even this is probably not achievable. But 4 is achievable and we need it for our travel.” He paused, maybe for emphasis. How easily and wrongly we apply our human conceptions and misconceptions to other species, be it dogs or fishes or trees. Or George.

    “You speak here of energies that could create or destroy a universe.” It was phrased as a statement, not a question. “And after we succeed, assuming we do, I take this knowledge with me ‘upstairs’ and humanity suddenly owns this immeasurable power.” It was phrased as a question, not a statement.

    “And humanity destroys itself and the solar system, us included. God forbid.”

    “Do you believe in a God?” It rattled me for a moment.

    “No, we do not possess any such notion as belief or faith. And you will not be able to take this knowledge ‘upstairs’ with you.”

    “Because I will be dead?”

    “Because we will make sure your brain doesn’t have it.”

    It made me feel inexplicably good. My theory would be vindicated, after all the ridicule it faced in those much respected academic circles where it was presented (‘the end of all numbers?... you must be an idiot, mon cher Ferdinand’), I will not be dead at the end of whatever even though he did not say it positively but rather did not say positively the opposite... sorry for the blabber, and I will not remember what I wished not to remember. Hey, not a bad guy, George. And now it was time for the other how.

    “And now it is time for the other how,” said George. Hey, George, are you sure you do not read my mind?


    The other how, namely how to find the end of Pi sequence, was up to me and my mathematical model, adapted to the specific situation I was in: 1. the knowledge that my theory was correct; 2. the almost unlimited computer power at my service. Truth was my model and my Pi calculating process was never tested on any of my university’s computers, let alone a supercomputer. The reason was exactly the ridicule the model was received with and this, irrelevant of my standing or rather outstanding stature as the mad scientist in the wild fields of math hunting there for crazy numbers. The only computer time I got were some stolen sessions which proved only that it runs correctly for a couple thousands iterations. But millions, trillions?

    I sat at the terminal and wrote the entire program from memory. My memory was infallible, it was one of those wonders that go unexplained. Maybe my brain found a door to its unused and dormant grey brother, maybe I was some kind of autist showing no major signs of his affliction, maybe I was some kind of genius which was my preferred explanation Irrelevant. It took me about three days to finish inputting the program with eating, sleeping, washing sessions part of the count.

    “Ready,” I told George.

    “We are ready as well,” he said, referring to that Georgehood faction which was linking the supercomputers in their mysterious supersupercomputer monsterhood. I pushed the ‘return’ key on the keyboard and we all went into wait mode.

    My programming allowed the screen to present every millionth Pi digit found and the screen flashed at the beginning extremely fast. Since the program used an internally ever evolving search pattern, I couldn’t start my search from the presently known Pi value, but this meant losing just a few hours. Around the billionth digit it was still flashing fast and we reached the trillionth area inside 8 hours. It was here that the supersupercomputer power started getting fully engaged in the effort, since my algorithm was starting around this position in the calculating cycle to find clusters of digits. Starting with 2 digits in one go, then doubling every trillion digits until it reached a maximum of 64 digits per iteration at the six trillions mark and continuing at this rate until the quadrillion was reached. Then doubling again the rate up to 4096 digits per iteration and continuing at this rate until the quintillion was reached. The supersupercomputer performed brilliantly, the monster power generator (where did George steal this one?) was never overloaded. It was when we reached the sextillion area that things started showing a bit of fatigue. The cluster numbers, now 262144 per iteration were still showing quite fast but they were not a blur on the screen anymore. Slowly I started being able to read the numbers, and at the rate it presently slowed down I started worrying that we would not make it to the septillion inside my life time. My algorithm had a built in capability, based on need, to reduce the number of digits found with each iteration if the software judged this to be more efficient. And it started going this way. It was a bad omen. Somehow I did not expect the speed to pick up again, though I may have been wrong.

    We were at the thirty-fourth day time-mark after I pushed the ‘return’ key. I looked at George, at least I looked at the ball I called George and I supposed he looked back at me. He did not know what was happening, he did not write the program. I knew.

    “George, we have a problem,” I said. I wanted to sound dramatic and yet I did not call him Houston, though for a moment I felt like it. ‘Then’ and ‘There’ with the Houston original case they found a solution. ‘Now’ and ‘Here’ I was not so sure at this stage that we were going to. And it was not three but three billion humans, give or take a few, we were talking about here.

    “Thank you, Nando.”

    “Thank me for what?”

    “For not making a joke out of it.”

    I looked at the ball, hard. Damn you, George, are you sure you are not reading my thoughts? Not that it mattered, because I was at a dead end and all the supercomputers in the world could not help me, us, now. The numbers on the screen kept crawling at the rate of two every second. At least the rate did not go as low as one per second, per minute. It will, I told myself, anytime soon it will.

    “George, I am terribly tired. Do you mind if I go to sleep now?”

    I wasn’t just tired, I was disappointed, angry, upset, and suddenly worried... even more, not so, Ferdinand? The euphoria and relative indifference of the first days suddenly change polarity and I became terribly depressed and, ok, I’ll say it, frightened.

    “OK, Nando, I hope you dream a solution.”

    “Yes, I hope so too. Please wake me up in 4 hours, sharp. I always remember my dreams best when I wake up in the middle of one.”

    “You are joking, Nando?”

    “No, I am not joking, George.”

    I did not bid him good night, it was meaningless. I lay down on the bed, covered myself up to the chin for the heck of it... maybe for the womb-like feeling? maybe... and fell asleep within seconds. When I woke up or rather was woken up I was in the middle of winning a bowling tournament. I never bowled in my life. My mind was clear as a crystal ball, as the George ball before me.


    “George, how did you connect the fourteen supercomputers into one single supersupercomputer?”

    “Nando, I cannot explain it to you in any kind of terms that you will understand. We just knew to do it. Told you – we cannot invent but we can well damn improve on things we learned from humans.”

    Wow, George using the D word and he wasn’t even human. Was George starting to show signs of piss-off the way I was showing signs of impotence? The “HAL-syndrome”, ha, and I laughed shortly, not hysterically, mentally lifting my hat and bowing in reverence to that master of creativity which was Kubrick.

    “George, you, and I, and us – we were all wrong from the beginning. There is enough computer power out there,” and I pointed to the bunch of interconnected machines, “to invent Pi, not just find it. George, do you know what a musher needs more than anything else?”

    “Musher, Nando?”

    I forgot for a moment that I was talking to a ball of ‘something’ and that there might have been some words that escaped his attention. I elaborated.

    “Musher, George is the block owning the sled and the dogs that pull it. You, the musher, George. And you own there the best dog pack ever to pull a sled – the best swing dogs to guide and direct the rest of the pack, the best team dogs to power-pull up any slope or across any rough surface, the best wheel dogs to pull the sled around and in any tight corner, the best team George and it is worth nothing because you, musher George, miss the most important element to make a great pack into a winning team. George, what you are missing here is the lead dog..” And I made a short pause, as if talking to a human, to make my point as sharp as a needle sharpened to the level of an atomic sized nip. “George, what you are missing is me. George, is it possible?”

    He understood me, oh, God, he understood me. George was quiet for almost twenty four hours. When he spoke again in my ear I could swear I heard a tinge of excitement in his voice. Probably just my overworked imagination.

    “Yes, it would be possible, but within certain strict corollaries.” Now here was a word that I certainly understood and even gave me hope. “One of which is that your body must be placed in a state of suspended animation, better said death. Therefore not more than 3 minutes. Maybe slightly more but we do not want to take chances with your life, Nando.”

    “My life, George?”

    “Yes, your life professor Ferdinand Moskowitz.” Again the title, underlining the solemnity of the moment. “Because if you die we all die, George, humanity, your family. We. All. Die.” George was becoming a poet. I always claimed that the best poets were those who found themselves under extreme distress.

    “Then connect me, George, the correct way. And please, don’t let me die.” There was no mockery. There was sincere, heartfelt emotion in my words. And I almost fainted, unheard of for professor Moskowitz, when a protuberance started breaking the ball’s smooth surface and grew outwards, extending towards me while growing at it extremity five smaller protuberances... my God, damn and damnation, for goodness sake, holly crap.... what other expressions out there do exist that I could use and didn’t when George’s protuberance became a hand extended my way, waiting for me to grip it and shake it in this oldest, most eternal, most symbolic, most basic sign of unbreakable comradeship. Brotherhood. Solidarity. Companionship. God, I was getting poetic myself.

    I gripped his hand in mine and squeezed it the way I would have squeezed the hand of a best friend I might have had. I never had one, it was time I did. He squeezed back, the contact a mix of softness, roughness, warmth. Five seconds later I let go and the protuberance retracted into the ball.

    I sat on the chair, close to the machines, my back turned to them. I was the lead dog, wasn’t I?

    Something started growing around the top of the head. It was almost weightless, hardly touching, as if thousands, millions of fibers were attaching themselves to my skull and holding, maybe penetrating, I wasn’t sure. Some of it descended to my eyes, penetrated my nostrils, there was a tingling down my trachea, were they penetrating my chest, my lungs, my heart. ‘I hope I am not going to sneeze,” I thought, and suddenly I smiled. The first alien-human handshake. Ferdinand Moskowitz. The first alien-human symbiosis. Ferdinand Moskowitz. The first and last alien-human save-humanity cooperation. Ferdinand Moskowitz. And, hey, no one will ever know, even if I tell them. I know my humans, I told myself, my smile dying. They will think me crazy and lock me up.

    “Nando, we are ready,” I heard the voice.

    “I am ready,” someone answered with my voice, probably me. I died.

    My brain, freed from the gruesome travails of keeping the body alive and maybe using additional channels to hidden resources unknown of until then started pulling the calculating monsters through paths never thought of by any of their designers. The human brain, the most efficient ever computer and a pack of wild dogs chasing the prey, Pi its name, with all the flair and the determination of a pack of hungry animals leaving it all to pure, basic instincts. I knew with incredible clarity what was happening, which way it was happening, which way I had to go, the prey within reach... how many quintillion quintillions ahead?.... just a few.... And then I woke up from my death.

    “I can get there, George, I know I can get there, it was within reach. I need a couple more minutes, George, just a couple more minutes,” I was almost whining.

    “A couple more seconds and you die, Nando.”

    “OK, let’s try it again. Let’s try again.”

    It wasn’t better the second time. I tried intuition, inspiration, imagination and a few other, similar i’s. I kept ending more or less at the same distance from my target, and I knew the target was there but my hand was just one inch too short to reach it.

    “George. I need a couple more minutes. Then I have it.”

    “Nando, a couple more minutes and no one has it. Think of another approach. Think of a shortcut, cutting through a ravine, swimming across a river... you are human, you know your metaphors better than I.” He should have said ‘better than me’, George was slipping. It was frightening to hear George slipping.

    “I am human, I know my limits better than you as well. George, didn’t you mention earlier on that you could, to a certain extent and under certain circumstances, manhandle time?”

    Quiet. Was it a good sign or a bad sign? I was not going to move from that chair, whatever waiting time it took.

    “We can give you an extra sixty five seconds, Nando. Your body will decay at a reduced rate, compared to the rest of the universe. Your brain will function normally. I hope this will be sufficient.”

    “This will be sufficient,” I said, with confidence that I did not feel.

    It took them more than an hour to prepare me for my time travel. My entire body was covered with several additional layers of George-units, this time I felt them penetrating inside my chest, my mouth, around the finger tips, toe tips, George seemed to be familiar with the proceeds and he was taking it all very seriously. ‘George, if there was such a thing I would have recommended you for the Ferdinand medal of thoroughness,’ I plagiarized his earlier remark in my mind.

    “Are you ready, Nando?”

    I got there. Just 2 trillion digits away. Nothing, in terms of distance to the goal. And yet I did not get it. I got there, in the courtyard, and I saw our pack’s prey sitting on the roof and laughing at us and at the stupid, human time-limit-steel-chain forcing us to stop short of it and bark our heads off at the sky.

    “George. I am ready.”

    “Ready for what, Nando?”

    “Ready for the last trip. No need for time travel, it played its role, I know where I have to get to. I will probably not need now more than ten, twenty seconds of death. Then I will have it.” He did not scream in excitement, the way I would expect a musher to have done. He did not ask the human-way, how? He just waited the George-way, shutting up, and letting me do the excitement and the how things. “Now that I know the leading path, I am going to take a completely different approach. I will tackle the problem from the back forwards. I will use all tools at my disposition to find the only combination of digits that will fit and lead from the correct end of Pi to the leading path I found already. A child’s game.”

    “Nando, are you certain?”

    “As certain as a statistician can be. Hey, bad joke. I am certain George. And soon enough I will have the honor to define the math sciences as the one additional member in the family of inaccurate sciences. Though nobody will ever believe me, correct? You will make sure I will forget the sequence.”


    I got the sequence. They got the sequence, all 1024 digits of it. I did not remember it.

    “Nando, it is time to send you back to your life.”

    “After this? I am not sure I have much life left up there, certainly no scientific life. I hope I still have a wife and kids. But, the way humans say it, I would not have changed one bit of what happened during this period. Well, one little bit, maybe – I would have removed you calling me Ferdinand, he he. Just a little bit, told you. Are you going to return all these machines to their owners?”

    “Yes, we will.”

    “Hey, there will be riot speculations after this, but humans have a very short memory, I tell you. Luckily there are computers around. Or unluckily, maybe. George, is it time for me to get into my car?”

    It was the first time I saw the ball moving from its place, as it floated behind me on the way to the car.

    “Say, George. Are you a perfect ball now?”

    “Yes, as perfect as the last sequence of Pi allows, and amply sufficient. Some units will have to stay here, they cannot fit in the perfect volume created. They will be split into single units and dispersed around the surface of Earth where they will, in your terms, die. Some will continue a reduced existence in clusters of 2, 4, 8... just to keep an eye on humanity. One never knows.”

    “Say,” I was burning to ask it and now that he seemed to be in a positive, talkative mood it seemed as good an occasion as any. “What is this obsession of yours with powers of 2? Or is it a non-disclosable, racial secret?”

    I heard laughter in my ear, looked like George had finally discovered laughter. Or maybe he knew it all the time but hesitated on the propriety of using it.

    “We live in pairs, Nando. We multiply by two units merging and splitting into four. The binary numbers quantities are for us a way of life. When we multiply we multiply as a nation – half merges with the other half, doubling at the end of a short gestation period the previous total number. Elementary, my dear Watson.” I was about to rush ahead of him verbally and tell him that Doyle actually never created the phrase, but maybe he knew already, maybe he even knew who was the first to ever have said it. I shut up. George carried on. “When we remove units from existence we make sure that the next binary level is reached. It may happen in isolated clusters, it will soon happen for our entire nation. Once we are in the sun we will reach again billions of units. Very fast so, as you certainly have calculated.”

    “Yes, times two. The ‘wheat and chessboard problem’,” I smiled.

    “Yes. And I could tell you who really invented the game of chess....” and as I was about to answer, a floating small glass ball appeared in front of me... “...but I would rather leave something materialistic with you.” I watched the piece of glass and decided to pick it in my hand, it did not show any resistance. “These are some of the living units that we have decided to leave behind. They are expected to remain basically inert, forever probably.”

    “I guess this cluster numbers a power of 2, units” I smiled. “OK, I will put it on display on my books shelf,” I said, placing the glass ball in my pocket.

    “Just a small gift from us to you, for giving us life. By the way, I don’t know if you are aware of it, but this is a 200 grams diamond ball in your pocket, about one thousand carats, perfect composition and the smoothest that humanity ever saw. Probably worth a few billions of your money. Thank you Nando, you were a good friend.”

    I was probably too stunned to answer in kind, and by the time I remembered my tongue and my manners, complete dizziness overtook me. I hoped this was going to be the last time I was going to die ‘make-believe’ mode. Next time I expected it to be the real one.


    I reached my house, dumped the car on the sidewalk and rushed to the door. It was late evening, everybody should have been there. Everybody was there, even and certainly the first – the dog. He started barking madly and jumping madly around me, then my wife fell into my arms and I hugged so wildly that she had to force her way out of my embrace.

    “Nando, you are crushing me.”

    “Are the children home?” The answer came in the form of a thousand hands, well, figuratively speaking, literally only six which clambered all over me, pulling, screaming, kissing and the dog kept yapping and yapping and yapping and drooling all over everybody inclusive the dinner table... a cacophony that was more melodious to me than all my Elvis concerts, my Stones concerts, my Philharmonic concerts... all of which I’ve been to and loved to pieces.

    “Nando, where have you been?” she asked, Sorushka, my sweet, beautiful, lovable and loving Sorushka. I didn’t think of her as Sorushka since those far away courting days, we kept to Soraya for many years now, with the Sorushka emanating from some deeply penetrating racial roots pulling back to my long forgotten Yiddishistic origins.

    “Sorushka...” it had the opposite effect to the one I expected. She stiffened, then went to the fridge...”You are probably hungry.” I was actually starved.

    I sat down and between bites I told her everything. Not in detail, just the bare amazing facts, my eyes glowing with fervor, my mouth spitting crumbs which the dog gulped immediately. I was sweating, trembling with inner fire... I was finally, academically, vindicated and I expected her to understand perfectly, clearly. She understood. Perfectly, clearly.

    “Children, to the bedroom, now!”

    It was the tone of voice that did not allow disobedience, the one she kept for those occasions that demanded immediate compliance and execution. They executed, to loud sounds of protest. Even the dog stopped yapping and hid under the table.

    She waited for the children to get behind the bedroom’s closed door before she got up, the chair falling noisily behind her, she did not bend to pull it up. She just made a few stumbling steps backwards until she was close to the wall, inching her way to the bedroom door as well.

    “Nando, you need help.” Which was a euphemism for ‘Nando, you are insane’. I shove my hand inside my trousers’ pocket, pulled the round bead out and placed it on the table. “What is this?” she asked, watching the glassy object with suspicious eyes.

    “This is a diamond. Proof. Worth probably one billion dollars or more. I am not insane, Sorush.” I probably did not sound as un-insane as I tried to. The emotional shiver permanent, the chocking sensation permanent, my voice partnered by a tremolo that made it sound more like the dog’s whine that like Nando’s plea.

    The apprehension in her eyes turned real fright. I’ve never seen such fright since that event three months back when we rushed baby Jack to the hospital, burning with terminal 42 Celsius fever. Some bacteria eating his little life away. He was declared clinically dead and a couple minutes later he woke up as good as new. It was declared a medical miracle. I suddenly had a completely new theory about the origin of this miracle.

    “Nando, please leave. Please find help. I will prepare a suitcase with sufficient stuff for you to move to a hotel for a few days. Please find help, Nando. I love you, tremendously.” She disappeared behind the door and I heard the key turning in the lock.

    I did not wait for my suitcase. I left for a hotel and next day I started my Odyssey. Starting with the police, in case they were looking for me. In fact my wife did report me as a missing person but they assumed it was a romantic escapade... “Not so?” and the female officer winked at me and placed a CLOSED stamp on the paper file. Yes, they heard about the unexplainable hole in the rail of the bridge, impossible but fact, repaired since... hey, do you know something about it? No, the police was not the right place for me to say I knew something about it.

    I drove to the university, entered unceremoniously the dean’s office and slammed the bead on his desk.

    “Professor Moskowitz, where?...” he did not continue ‘in hell...’ etc, but did the unusual gesture and invited my esteemed colleagues to an urgent meeting in his offices, since “Professor Moskowitz has something extremely important to say and it may place our university on the map...’. They came, all of them - my detractors, my supporters, professors, doctors in mathematics, physics, materials... some of them close to geniuses.

    They all listened politely, they all laughed politely, none of them believed me. Not even my supporters. They all looked at me and my disheveled appearance with strange eyes, their regards reminding me very much of my Soraya’s regard. ‘You are crazy, dear professor, clinically so, certifiably so if you ask me.’ It did not help that a couple of gemologists inspected superficially the round blob and voiced an opinion that it might indeed be a very unusual object, a very unusual diamond yet more probably a very accurate zirconia. Such round and pure and big diamonds were impossible, they did not exist.

    I thanked them and left. The diamond clasped in my fist and from that moment on this was where I kept it at all times. Even when I went to several gemologists to confirm its composition and assumed value, they had to do it with it resting on my palm. When I went to the auction house I refused to leave it there – take my offer to auction it or go to hell. They did not go to hell. For the short period until the singularly dedicated auction was supposed to take place (they were proposing it to a selected list of potential customers and needed time to approach them) I kept it in my fist. Even when I showered.

    There were four attempts at robbery, two with knives, one with a pistol and one with a car trying to run me down. They ended unexplainably with either hands smashed or the car completely disappearing. I was not afraid and I did not look for explanation. There was no attempt after the car event.

    It auctioned at one point five billion dollars. I don’t know who the buyer was. After taxes, agents, commissions, security, insurance, sandwiches and other parasites got their share I was left with two hundred and twenty five million dollars. You know the rest. Oh, yes, I even offered the story to a number of Hollywood producers over a couple of very expensive dinners, concluded with nameless cigars and nameless champagne filled glasses. Nameless, told you, no advertising comes for free and I won’t apologize for it. They were all interested. However they wanted a few changes to the scenarios, since it was too bland, they did not see how they could use the marvel of visual effects with the story the way it was. They wanted me to throw a couple Godzillas in, or turn my image into a super hero carrying a sword or at least an arc and arrows, and where was the female character?.... I said good bye to the cigars, the champagne, the Godzillas and sent them all to hell exiting then restaurant through the glass window. Somehow it broke in front of me.

    I toured the media, I toured the world. I got tired.

    I finally retired to this padded cell with its unlocked door and its three warm meals a day, the doctors are nice, the nurses are gentle, they better be for the money they get. My wife visits me from time to time, she re-married and is happy. She says she still loves me, I believe her. My kids visit rarely. I miss the dog, he died many years ago. I miss my life but, hey, I saved the world. It should count for something in my memoirs, no?

    I am about to close this last chapter. You have here all of it - the query, the synopsis, the story, ha... the ‘story’. The world is still alive. I am close to that last and final death I was looking forward to. I am ranging now on the table the few treasures I am left with – newspaper cuts, clippings. A solar flare about forty four years ago. An unexpected volcanic eruption in the ocean around the same time. A small paragraph about a senile (senile?) professor who claims he had met with aliens.. The Brooklyn Bridge maintenance crew cannot explain the railing damage. My wife’s re-marriage in a framed announcement. A singularly strange diamond’s auction. A singularly strange diamond’s disappearance from a vault which still baffles inspectors, probably a Romanian sophisticated gang. A supercomputer stolen and returned. Jack’s graduation with high distinction from the faculty of mathematics, not even one A grade, all of them A+, all the years.

    OK, I keep babbling, age, you know.. The piece of granite on my shelf winks at me to end this story... just joking, huh? I do not remember putting it on the shelf, I wonder how it got there. No one dares touch it, the nurses fear it, he he, one tried to clean it...

    Thank you for the opportunity and if I win this contest it means you did not believe me either, which is what I would expect. Of course, it also would mean that you enjoyed it as a story. Pity, oh, such a pity...

    Respectfully yours,

    Joe. Oh, by the way, my name is not Joe. Oh, I said it already?


    Local News (http://localnewsatoclock.000webhostapp.com)

    . . .


    Scientists are baffled at the high rate of solar flares observed around noon in the Northern hemisphere, 87 high energy occurrences counted inside one hour. The flares represent no real danger to life on Earth, however as a matter of precaution small children and people with sensitive skin are advised to avoid any outdoors activities. Flights over the poles are being temporarily suspended, pending ongoing scientific reports.

    . . .


    Ferdinand Moskowitz, Ph.D Mathematics, 87. In a strange coincidence, professor Ferdinand (Nando) Moskowitz, age 87, passed away peacefully this morning, at his residence in the North Mental Hospital. Professor Moskowitz became momentarily famous 25 years ago for his strange mathematical theories and mainly for his even stranger ‘theories’ related to alien life on Earth. Professor Moskowitz retired from academic life soon afterwards and spent the rest of his life in the Mental Hospital.

    . . .


    The famous ‘round diamond’ which was stolen mysteriously from its vault about forty years ago, reappeared as mysteriously inside the vault. The owner thanks the thief’s sudden repent. The police and the insurance company investigate a possible fraud attempt.

    . . .


    Due to unfortunate financial reasons, our local news site is closing. Sorry! We apologize to...



...an ox’s backbone, it could.

    Joe was a very empathetic man. If he heard that you had an appendicitis attack he would burst his own appendix out of sheer empathy. Once we walked together next to an old building and the proverbial brick fell on my head. Guess what? He insisted that I find a ladder, climb on that building’s roof and made sure I find a brick to drop on his head too. Not the same brick, mind you, another one, he did not like sharing property even out of empathy. It took three tries, finally it hit. Yes, strange guy he was, my Joe. My brother. And when one day he disappeared, we searched all journals and listened to all news reports on radio, TV, trying to guess which of the reported disappearings he emulated out of sheer commiseration. But there were so many that we finally gave up on searching. And on Joe. Mom tried even longer than me, of course. “Hey, Jimmy,” (we were all named with a J as the first letter in our names, she was Jane, my father Joshua, and my other siblings James, Jeremy, Julieta, Jackson and Jeorge, my father being a George Washington admirer and finding a way to bring him into the family; our dog was Jojo), “Hey Jimmy,” she said, “Joe would surely not do it for a stranger, his empathy attacks were mainly for us or his close friends,” she said. “Yes, mom, mainly,” I said emphasizing the ‘mainly’ and then reminded her of the neighbor’s old horse who broke a leg and, poor thing, had to be put down; and Joe made sure to break a leg too and we had huge problems keeping him away from a shotgun for almost one year after. “Yes,” said mom, sadness eating her life away, “but it was our neighbor’s horse, not a stranger’s horse.” “Yes,” I replied, refraining from reminding her of the little girl reported on TV who lost her little finger in a freak home accident.

    Five years and thirty seven days ago. And today, Tuesday, at four fifteen pm, the key turned in the lock and Joe was on the threshold. Thin, dirty, unshaved, one shoe missing, smiling. Mom fainted, Jojo went berserk and the rest of the family were all over him like hungry animals. They all missed him, I, the most. And I kept back until everyone else had their full and then just went over and slapped him so hard that his head turned ninety degrees to my right. I was a lefty. Then hugged him so hard that I hoped I would crack one of his ribs, he had it coming. I was a giant of a guy. And I loved my brother to death.

    Mom was already in the kitchen, making what all mothers do when back from a good news induced faint, food. Everyone else, with the exception of Jojo, were back to whatever they were doing before the key turned in the lock, and only I sat down on the sofa next to him, waiting. Joe was not one to talk to anyone asking him questions, Joe was not one to talk to anyone except me. Period. Or rather exclamation mark, if you wish. For a moment he tried to chew the nail of his small finger, then remembered and showed me the stub, proudly (how many times now?), smiled and started chewing on the other one. I had inspected him visually while everyone was slobbering or barking over him, nothing else was missing, thank you God for even this smallest of favors. You weren’t too gentle with my Joe when he was born, a small favor from time to time counts enormously toward my faith in you, you know.

    “So who disappeared, Joe?” I asked him, and instead of an answer he hugged me with all his strength, trying to emulate my earlier vise-like clamp. Of course, he failed and he was happy to let me play the bigger brother. He was older than me by five years. And he first started talking fluently only when I was born and only to me. Mom told me that this was the first time she fainted on account of Joe, but not the last time, alas. The second time was one year later when that little girl lost her little finger and then it started occurring, randomly but persistently. Joe wasn’t autistic. Joe wasn’t handicapped. Joe was Joe.

    He shoved my hand inside his pocket and waited for me to pull it out, clamping the torn piece of newspaper between my fingers. “He,” he said, leaving the piece of paper in my hand while getting up to get a beer from the fridge. Jojo followed him like a shadow. Actually I wasn’t the only one Joe was talking to, he talked to Jojo as well, though more rarely. He kissed mom on her hair, and she turned back from the sink hugging him viciously. Then she let go and returned to her peeling doings while Joe popped open his beer and returned to sit next to me.

    It was probably one of the dead-end trails we followed while trying to find him, I couldn’t remember exactly, but at least I held proof now in my hand that our hunch was correct. Joe disappeared because someone else disappeared and the newspaper cut relayed the story of a tear eyed young woman hugging a baby at her bosom and telling about a husband that one day just upped and disappeared from their lives. He was flown back from his third Afghanistan tour straight into hospital with a blown away arm, and one week after his discharge from hospital he disappeared. He liked painting, she concluded her story. “I did not disappear,” said Joe, a shade of pride invading his voice, “I disappeared looking for him.” Which in Joe-lingo made perfect sense. “For her,” he added, pointing to a half head of a teenager girl peeking from behind the young woman, only a pair of eyes and one ear visible.

    “And you found him, I bet.” It was the safest of bets that I could ever have made. I did not ask about the two eyes and one ear, there was no need, I knew what Joe meant.

    “Yes,” he answered. Then he got up, kissed everybody on the mouth, Jojo last, and went up to his room. I listened to the water running in the shower, then the creaks of the old bed, and then there was quiet. I had to be patient, with Joe one had to be patient. Patience with Joe always paid its dues, it never disappointed.


    “When Jojo gets old and dies, I am sure Joe will find a way to get old and die too,” said mom, only partly joking. Pop said nothing, he knew she was right in her peculiar way of phrasing everybody’s worry. I did not agree at all. As Joe was getting more mature in his ways of thinking, his scale of values placed grief to parents as high as the first of commandments. “And what about his disappearance?” insisted mom, her knitting needles waging furious war on each other. “He probably found a new value, even higher than this,” I countered, “like grieved teens losing a parent,” and I did not bother to explain myself. In reality, I was as mixed up as the rest of the family, I just had to act the tower of strength I grew up to be for all of them. Jimmy the breadwinner, Jimmy the wrestling champion, Jimmy the writer (one book, sold fifty three copies).

    “Hi, Jimmy,” called Joe, descending the stairs and kissing again everybody on the mouth, Jojo first. He continued to the aquarium which held his collection of fifteen wild, grey, female-guppies, by now all but one dead and replaced by pop ‘just in case Joe comes back’. “I see they are all new, except for Jemma. Incredible, she probably waited for my return. Hullo, Jemma.” The fishes were also J-named, tradition obliging, and only Joe seemed to be able to identify them individually. Mom called it bullshit, pop called it bullshit as well, afraid of mom’s wrath but with an apologetic eye my way. I called it reality, without voicing it loud. “I can read fish facial expressions,” said Joe once, while sharing a wood-cutting-sandwich-eating break with me. I believed him. “I can read people’s pain in people’s eyes,” he said, during another wood-cutting-sandwich-eating break. I believed him. If anyone knew Joe better than Joe knew himself, it was I. If anyone knew the reason for Joe’s disappearance after seeing that scrap of newspaper, it was I. “It was not the young woman with the baby. It was the two eyes and one ear hiding behind her.” It was a statement. It did not need any confirmation from Joe and he contented himself with naming the new fish with the names of their deceased predecessors, then sat down to wolf his first breakfast after his return.

    “When do we go to the factory? I need the money.”

    “Finish eating, then we go.” I refused looking my parents in the eye, knowing their worry mixed with curiosity mixed with the expectation of an explanation which only I could drag out of Joe. But I knew the best way to get it would be to goad Joe slowly and gently into a confessionary mood, and what better setting for it than over a wood-cutting-sandwich-eating break with me.

    Jean Claude, the French named (seven generations American) factory owner did not mind that specific extra pair of hands. Joe knew the job, never asked to be paid much and on top of it I guaranteed the quality of his work. “Comes out of your pay,” joked Jean Claude and it really was just that, a joke. I was his foreman for longer than I cared remember and he was also engaged to Julieta. I liked him, he offered me several times to partner in the business and every time I refused, gently but firmly. I needed to feel the grain of the wood between my fingers, not the plastic of the pen.

    “Tell me,” I asked Joe, the sandwich finished, a woodpecker’s knock-knock clearly heard in the temporarily cleansed air – no saws buzzing, no cranes creaking, no trucks speeding. As close to absolute quiet as absolute deafness probably is. More so, no vibrations in the air either, if not for the random knock-knock of that hungry woodpecker. “Tell me,” I repeated, flexing the axe’s handle with my hands, the only one in our city, maybe in the country capable of doing it. It always impressed Joe, it always gave him a feeling of security, of trust.

    “It was not the young woman with the baby. It was the two eyes and one ear hiding behind her.” He quoted me word for word, as I expected he would. “The pain in those eyes, oh, the pain in those eyes, it did not break my heart, it shattered it. And not only pain.” There was a glint there, in Joe’s own eyes, a glint that never failed to frighten me – fanatic, passionate, something so tender that it would valiantly compare with a mother’s love for her baby. Probably even win hands down the competition if there was one, but I refused to push it so far even in my mind. “Jimmy, this teenager girl was going to jump off a cliff. You wouldn’t have wanted me to jump off a cliff, Jimmy,” he added with one of those rare moments of lucidity which only a Joe could phrase and only a Joe’s brother Jimmy would understand. “Please tell mom, pop, and the rest. Also Jojo.”

    Yes, Joe had his moments of lucidity and his moments of jocundity, I realized without actually having forgotten and I tried again to crush every bone in his body in that bear hug which said everything about the love I harbored for that son of a bitch (sorry, mom) who was my elderly brother.


    The details were unimportant, yet he insisted on telling me. His way of telling.

    “Jimmy, you never asked me why you are the only one in this world I talk to.” It was coming, the greatest secret in the universe, at least as far as my close family were concerned, was about to be revealed. I hoped I would be able to understand. “When you were born, I looked into your eyes, Jimmy. I saw it there, soul.”

    It was not anything I expected. I did expect not to understand, which I did. I mean I did not understand.

    “I was zero point one days old when you started to talk to me, Joe. Pop told me. My eyes probably still blind, puckered, unfocused, there was nothing to see, Joe.”

    “I saw it there, Jimmy, soul,” he repeated stubbornly yet gently.

    “Everybody has soul, Joe, mom, pop, even Jojo, they all have soul.”

    “True, they all have soul but you have soul, Jimmy.” There wasn’t even emphasis on the before last word. One of those Joe ways to say things and leave it to the interpretation of whoever cared to listen. I cared to listen. There was no way I could understand him, yet if there ever was an eye whisperer or rather eye listener in this world, then Joe was it. I accepted, kissed the top of his head and waited for continuation. It came three days later. It was Sunday, we were seated on the porch swing, side by side, each an opened beer bottle in his hand and a gorgeous sunset right in front of us. Jojo at our feet, inseparable mutt Jojo.

    “I had thirty one thousand dollars in my box, plus change. Working in the factory and not spending, it got there.” My own stash was about ten grand, but I was a spender, so his number had nothing surprising to it. “I took it with me, and started hitch-hiking south, to Arizona, trucks only. Truckers are great humans, I love them, most of them.”

    “Arizona, one thousand miles? How did you know where to? And you were not afraid of getting robbed, murdered for your money?”

    “I chose them, my truckers.” Sure, okay, Joe and his eye whispering. “And I got the address from the newspaper. I called them?”

    It was at this precise moment that I had the bottle at my mouth taking a long, noisy slurp, and it all came out in a whizz, through my nose mostly. I got up and walked to the kitchen to clean my face and shirt with a towel, then returned to the swing and pulled a chair near it, so that I could face my brother. He sat there unperturbed, his eyes angelic, his smile angelic, waiting for me to talk.

    “So you don’t talk a lifetime to mom, pop, your siblings, at school, your mates at the wood factory... to no one, absolutely to no one except for me and Jojo...” the mutt lifted its head, then laid it back on its front paws... “and then you suddenly talk to a stranger about a stranger and then leave for a stranger?” I was not upset, I was simply incredulous.

    “Jimmy, do you remember that Jewish orthodox guy who came to work with us and insisted to be a lumberjack, not because he wanted to test his faith but because he wanted to link the absoluteness of intangible Faith to the absoluteness of tangible Earth. We, you actually, even nicknamed him JJJ for Jew Jigger Johnson. Made him part of our J family...” here I almost started laughing... “remember him?”

    Ha, if I remembered that strange, gigantic Yeshiva boy?... only I could arm-wrestle him down, and even that with difficulty. I invited him to our place several times and he always brought his own food, never touched ours but we were welcome to eat his. Strange in his ways, sharp in his mind, anchored in his faith. He kept sending us Christmas wishes with Hanukah cards, his way of accepting our difference while knowing of us accepting his difference. I even asked him once why he was a Jew. He answered with ‘why does the sun shine?’.

    “Of course I remember him. He still sends us greetings each Christmas, I have a collection of his cards.”

    “He gave us a few lessons in his faith, tradition, history, we were quite impressed, as I remember. A few stuck into my mind and one took over when I saw the picture in the newspaper. The one about the third commandment. The first two are immovable, rigid, they deal with God. The third – keeping the Sabbath – is immovable as well to an orthodox Jew, they would die rather than break the Sabbath. And yet, one of their great orthodox, venerated, historical minds made a ruling that allows exactly the breaking of the Sabbath, that allows breaking God’s word. I even remember the words in his language: pikuach nefesh dohe shabbat. Saving a life voids the Shabbat. Saving a life voided my reticence to speak to others, a much lesser sacrifice.”

    I certainly understood him, and yet it did not sit with me.

    “Joe, that guy from the newspaper had only disappeared, there was nothing said about a life threatening situation.”

    He looked at me with that childishly deep sadness with which he was cursed and which I was doomed to carry for him, with love, mind you.

    “Not his life, hers. Told you.”

    “The two eyes and one ear hers?”


    “Will you speak to mom too?”

    “Yes, when the time is right.”

    It did not feel like asking the obvious, thus I didn’t.

    “Joe, you said that you saw in those eyes pain, pain that shattered your heart. And not only pain. What else did you see in those eyes, Joe?”

    Here he smiled, that angelic smile that always lighted my life whenever it was used, so rarely, unfortunately.

    “Love. So much love that it shattered my heart.”

    I left the chair and went to sit next to him again, my left arm hugging his shoulder. I patted my thigh and Jojo jumped up and settled across our knees. We fell asleep like that, the strangest family trio one would ever have imagined. Hey, JJJ, I may owe you the return of my brother to the living, mate, and you wouldn’t even know of it.


    It did not take Joe too long to locate the missing father. It probably took him longer to hitch-hike down there and meet wife and daughters. He told them he was going to find dad.

    “No maybe?” I interrupted.

    “No maybe.” Well, it was Joe I was talking to.

    He hired a local sleuth - for ten grand, three in advance, you can get one hell of a sleuth working for you. In three days the missing dad was found, using nothing more sophisticated than his credit card trail. Lodging in a cheap motel about one hundred miles from home, spending his days in either drunken stupor or in medicated stupor following numerous bar fights that he mostly lost. It wasn’t easy winning a bar fight one-handed.

    “Strangely enough, he mostly took offence when those listening to his broken-record story dared insult his Uncle Sam. He wasn’t beyond recuperation. He probably waited for someone to recuperate him. Then I called him infant murderer.. He hit me, I hit him back and we ended drinking together this which was to be his last bottle of beer. I told him that which I knew to be true. He listened, cried, accepted, hugged me and the sleuth drove us back to his home. They offered me to lodge with them before returning to my own home.”

    “And it took you five years to find your way to your own home, brother? We started thinking your body lies rotting in some forgotten ditch on the side of an untraveled road, brother. We almost lost hope, all of us, except for mom, brother. You could have called.”

    “Sorry, I had to wait.” He was sorry, he wasn’t just using a figure of speech, Joe was deeply, desperately sorry and he started fidgeting around. I didn’t feel like helping him out of his quandary, but finally I caved in; after all this was Joe and Joe’s heart was not like any other heart I had ever known. And Joe’s way of thinking and seeing was not like any other way of thinking and seeing either. And he was the brother I loved with a passion so I did not ask ‘wait for what?’. Joe would tell me, as usual, when Joe was ready to tell me. And Joe was ready to tell me, us, fifteen days later, Joe fashion, when he disappeared a Thursday morning and was gone now two days running with everyone worrying that he might have gone astray anew.

    “Nothing to worry, mom.” I was addressing her but making sure everyone else hears me. “Joe still owes me a couple answers and he will not disappear again before giving me these answers, okay? So relax, please, and let’s finish dinner.” She believed me, of course she believed me. The link between me and my brother was even stronger than his link to her, so she believed me, she knew I was right. Then, when a few minutes past 9 pm Jojo started growling and the doorbell rang everyone was kind of perplex. It couldn’t have been Joe, Joe had a key. It was Joe. And he wasn’t alone.

    “Mom...” he addressed her directly, at which sound mom showed her first telltaling signs of going to faint, “...meet my wife, Tina. And this is Jane Junior, my baby daughter.” Mom fainted, of course, on her chair and we didn’t worry too much about her, she would be back with us in no time. Everyone else inclusive me and with the exception of Jojo was stricken silent with surprise. The young girl at his side watching us all with a timorous smile and holding the sniffing bundle in her hands... there was nothing familiar about her and I started rearranging some features in my mind when Joe addressed me directly. “Jimmy, now the time is right, brother. Jimmy, I had to wait for her to grow up, brother. Jimmy, she is willing to change her name, brother. Jimmy, forgive me, brother?”

    My eyes flooded. I did not have to be a Joe to see the amount of love that saddled those timorous eyes and that shattered my brother’s heart. It could have shattered an ox’s backbone, it could.


    Strange. Mom was up from her faint, in the kitchen of course, baking cakes. I couldn’t remember her baking cakes before. Pop took the key from mom’s hiding place, opened the drawer and lighted his pipe at the table. For once, mom did not object. We found the baby asleep on Jojo’s rag, with a Jojo tail thumping the floor in watchful Morse and telling anyone who cared to listen ‘as long as I’m around no one touches my cub’. Tina and Joe were swinging on the porch, hugging. There was no glorious sunshine to watch but an even more glorious sparkling dome with silent Leonids crowning the touching heads with glorious blazes of death. My other siblings were out dating others or inside killing each other. Strange. I felt, rather than heard the world shift slowly its mighty bulk and suddenly, silently, thud back into a long deserted grove. It was maybe the right time for me to unbury my pen and write another book, who knows, maybe shatter my record and sell fifty four. I did.



Goat Herder

    His skin was coal-black, his build medium, his fierceness handling the gladius incomparable to anything human. I was his centurion and yet, I was scared of him. Khnum. An Egyptian.

    Caesar collected him somewhere along the Nilus and assigned him to the tenth legion, to me specifically as part of his personal guards. I never asked Caesar how he identified his personal recruit’s arms-handling capability, maybe on Cleopatra’s advice? But once I’ve seen him in action I was dumbfounded. He could easily vanquish ten opponents, he could easily vanquish twenty opponents. Thank Jupiter he is on our side, I once told Caesar, and he laughed appreciatively.

    He gained the respect of his fellow legionaries very easily. A few skirmishes, a few fights and his place within us was uncontested.

    We started calling him “goat herder”. Whenever everyone else was busy robbing, raping, drinking, Khnum was wandering the killing fields looking for goats. Herding them together and making sure they were well cared for wherever we were going. “Not food,” he kept repeating and no one in his eighty strong centuria dared even joke about it.

    Even I hesitated, before finally asking him: “Khnum, do you know to count? How many goats you have?” I believe it was the first time since I met him that a white crescent separated the top of his cranium from the bottom of it, and he raised both palms twice and then one once. “It’s called twenty-five. I need five more,” he raised one open palm again.

    It took him about one year to get that far, never interested in gold or salt or silks, these he left to the others. His only interest was goats. “What for goats, Khnum?” I asked further, offering him a flask of wine. He refused. “It dulls the senses. To pay for the woman I love.”

    I was probably really dull of senses at the moment and it took me quite a while to separate and assimilate what he was saying. Kind of like in stories that old, blind men were telling for a dinar. Warring, I understand. But love?

    Four months later he left with his thirty goats. Not even Caesar dared object. I could not help thinking, years later, that had Khnum accompanied Caesar to the senate on that fateful day, there would certainly have been sixty dead senators and one living Caesar left on that floor.