Time Waits for One Man

I have been thinking a great deal about the human concept of time. How warped it is, both to the microcosm of one individual and to the macrocosm of the species.

When a human undertakes a difficult and critical task – like a revolution or exploration, to some degree they are contemplating the entire length of earth’s timeline. They are positioning themselves and their task on an immense continuum of cause-and-effect. They’re seeing a larger picture, as it were.

But then in a few short years, most of the species – which did in fact benefit from that perspective – condenses the timeline back to their own era, their own sphere.

What I mean to suggest this, that one man can consider the world, while ALL men consider only themselves. I suppose to some degree this isn’t universal. Large scale building projects, wars and so forth, could be argued as many men coming together in an image of the future, but also such decisions usually come down to one man. One Pharaoh who wants a tomb. One emperor who fancies and arch. One leader who wants a war.

And yes, we can talk about the tremendous complexity of decisions and survival landscapes and so forth, but I don’t really care about that. The confusion of the universe has a tendency to average out unless a man gets involved.

Back when we were building the Transcontinental, there weren’t that many of us. A few thousand workers total. We would set up advance crews that would go out and speculate, appraise the land to determine the route that the road should take. Usually the path of least resistance. Across the Midwest, the great plains, the land was remarkably flat and even. The advance crews determined that the levelers would have very little to do! It would be easy, this massive construction. That was…until they disappeared. Inspectors and levlers, sometimes even the telegraph line workers would find these advance crews slaughtered, 10 or 20 at a time. The crews shrank in size. The work became a hazard. But not for long. The chief engineer of the UP was a former General, one Grenville M. Dodge.

The man was militaristic and vicious. And very very clever.

At first he posted guards with the advance teams, but that didn’t help when the men were outnumbered. He didn’t bother with discussion. He knew that the road was cutting straight through the Bison migratory path. The natives were just tracking their main food source. They were simply trying to live. And he knew that, but to him, it was a savage lifestyle. To him it was something not worth having. These people had no value, except as pawns.

Dodge got as far as asking who the enemy hated most. The Pawnee? Ah well, lets hire some of them. And so he went to that dwindling people, also trying to eke out an existence in their changing home, and bargained with their young men. Once the road was built, they could have free passage. Once it was built, they’d have a lovely little nest egg, and their people would be spared. Then he gave the railmen a simple command.

Shoot every bison.

I will never forget the sight. The train clicking through the tall grass at speeds I’d never moved before, nothing around us but the sea of nature. Great crowds of seething humps and snorting noses – majestic, enormous creatures that had eyes that were so soft…and the glee, the vengeful, hateful glee and greed on the faces around me as every one of them took aim and fired. Every herd we crossed. Every animal on the tracks. Hundreds. All left to rot on the ground.

It is the only time I have ever witnessed such large scale extinction efforts. And it astounded me. I will venture to say it was thoroughly traumatic. I had been pursuing these amazing tasks, the canal, the rails, and so on…as some kind of achievement! This was meant to be a new world that would perhaps look on me with a kinder eye. This was meant to be a new time, that forgot the old ways. But forgetting is costly.
Every week or so, we would park the train – a kind of rolling work barracks – at the end of the line. We’d make our little camp. Usually the men clumped together and lit fires. Sometimes Towns of canvas tents and lean-to’s would spring up around us with signs offering the customary revels human men enjoy. Sometimes there was a lag, which meant for quieter evenings. I always offered to be on guard. I preferred it, because it gave me the chance to move backward along the track, sometimes for miles, and take what I could from the carcasses. 

So many animals dead, and no way to tell the men who depended upon them to come and fetch what was left, to preserve it, to do it justice or the customary honors. Just a cloud of decomposition and flies.

One man and the few he convinced. One man, with one command, almost annihilated a species, and crushed the Sioux and Cheyenne into a remnant. One man could have done the opposite if he’d cared to. One man could have been flexible.

Impactful things are always done in smaller scale. Significant things (for good or ill) always begin with one man. One man sees a larger time scale, places his own actions in the continuum of humanity’s lifespan. One man seeks greatness. Dodge and the men who hired him, envisioned a land of industry and wealth. He saw a future that…well…largely came to be, because he acted on his vision.

Large groups move in tiny steps. To the tune of three miles of track a day, or five advance scouts, or ten years of marching, or fifty years of law suits, or a hundred years of tyranny.

I find this depressing, even though it can also make for positive results. One slave taking over a Confederate ship, rescuing his fellows, running a blockade in the dead of night, fighting for his freedom…becoming a senator. Even though that happens…it does not happen as often, because it requires that one man to fight the world. Dodge only had to kill. Robert Smalls had to live.

Time dilates for good, and for the good of all; human time opens its mouth and swallows righteousness. The Good Of All takes the longest. The villainy of one man is the easiest thing, the swiftest thing. Takes barely the breath to utter one sentence.

“Shoot them all.”

 

The Century of War and Wandering

Recent events have put me in mind of my early years in the New World. You know I arrived here in 1729, assuming of course that you have read my Simon’s Snacks entry called “The Weaver Estate”. You know that I lived for a time as a woman, that I married myself to obtain my own property (it is a bit confusing and had to do with keeping the wealth in the “family”) You also can guess that I then killed the devil I wed in a small church ceremony and then assumed his identity, in order to effectively manage my estates. But there is a large gap here, sown with all manner of vagaries by this humble creature. And while you may have been paying attention, and heard my brief story about being confused for a Wendigo, my little aside about fighting in the Revolution, you don’t really know anything about me until we come to the railroad.

That is a gap of one hundred years and there is a reason for this.

This was a rather bloody and introspective portion of my existence thus far. Long spans were spent dwelling in caves, wandering the wilds, flirting with destruction, and coming to a decision about the entity I chose to be. They were the days when I began experimenting, when I began to fear less, when I finally tired of war, and decided never to fight again. So that century was a bit of a coming of age. It is filled with many detailed and subtle nuances, tiny stories that are not fit for Snacks, but rather more like an assortment of amuse-bouche.

And so I have resolved to tel them as such. Those who “spend time” with me regularly, of whom you may be one, know that I often go on at length in “chats”. This  makes me uneasy, on the one hand because I dislike dominating the discussion, and on the other because, while I may be felicitous with written speech, I am still unaccustomed to the nuances of conversation. I am learning from talking to you — and rather quickly too — but I am still vexed by uncertainty, and so would prefer to record them here. This will also provide any gentle readers who do not chat with me to peruse the details and check them against their knowledge of history.

I will call this series of entries the “Tales of War and Wandering” and will both sort them that way by tags, and title them as such – Similar to how the Monstrous Myths cycle (I apologize for their hiatus, but my folklorist is off being a responsible adult) and the FAQ cycle. I will also tag them with “history”. I shall endeavor to fill these in with some regularity.

For reference, this cycle will range from the dates 1745 to about 1855, and will include information on the Seven Years War (also called the French-Indian War), the Erie Canal, my time in Ohio, the Revolution, the War of 1812, the beginnings of the railroad, and all that lies in between.

If you have questions, I encourage you to ask them in the comments, as many readers may also have the same inquires – it benefiting everyone to reply to all simultaneously.

I do thank you kindly for participating.

It’s a funny story…

Recently, I was asked to describe the funniest thing I had ever seen. This is a difficult prospect, as I have seen a great deal and it largely depends upon the onlookers sense of humor.

Dark humor, someone has requested.

Therefore I will tell you the very first story I recall — that of my awakening on this earth (obviously it was not the first time, as my books record, but it is the earliest memories I have that provides the beginning of all the contiguous experience of my mind from thence to now. This is the beginning of “Simon” as it were, for I knew nothing else until recently, after some 7 centuries). Please recall, that because this is my first memory, it is jumbled, is pieced together from a great deal of hindsight, and really was quite a conundrum to me until I had experienced another hundred years of that certain mingled human stupidity and cleverness that alternately undermines and composes your condition.

Some of you recollect that I have mentioned awakening on the shore of the Black Sea in a pool of bloody ooze. I haven’t been much more specific than that, because I don’t know how to be. It is simply what happened. I opened my eyes, and there I was, and I was naked, and there was dirt and blood and I was covered in it. I have mentioned stealing clothes from a plague victim, and that is true, but I haven’t exactly said how that came about. So here we are.

How best to tell it? From the vantage of newly awakened me? Or from the all-seeing eye of modernity? I think perhaps, the funniest way to tell it is how it was lived, though at the time, there was nothing humorous about it. In fact, it was utterly confounding.

I stood up. I had a good sniff. After a bit of sussing, I felt I could tell that there were other living things around me. I felt I knew that there was a limit to my movements. I don’t know how else to explain it but as the mental equivalent of standing at the bottom of a steep hill and looking to the summit in that sensation of resignation that yes, you will have to climb the hill (this happens to monsters too. We haven’t any stamina.) As I stood there, looking around with more than just my eyes, I don’t recall thinking in words. I thought in feelings, impressions. I considered the feelings I was encountering- that notion that there were boundaries that had to be obeyed. For example, when I made to follow the coastline- it was obviously impossible in that direction, but what of the other? No? Oh. How nice.

So I did. I picked my way through a very lovely green terrain, until I came closer to the water. From where I was, I had an excellent vantage of what was a harbor. Of course to my eyes at the time, it was simply a busy place bustling with human life. I hid myself away and watched, for a great long while, learning furiously.

There were moving creatures on boats, and moving creatures on the shore. There was a city with high walls, not the highest I have since seen, but at the time quite formidable. A steep rampart made climbing to the foot of the wall a challenge, and several barricades had been constructed to lean against this. Creatures stood on them looking up at the other creatures on the top of the wall, and there was a curious exchange happening. Some shouting, but mostly, a calm conversation. This was my first experience with speech. I don’t rightly know what was being said, but it was clear that the creatures on the barricades wanted something, and the creatures on the wall were telling them to piss off.

On the ground, especially on the water’s edge, there were many creatures simply lying there, unmoved. I decided that I wanted to look at the still ones. So I snuck closer. This was the first time I remember seeing a dead body, and the hunger hit me with such force and sharp need, that I don’t remember much, except that I was on my knees and digging my hands in before I could blink. The body in question was…ripe. It was at least a day or two old, bloated and purplish. Its time in the water had done it no favors, and it had massive blackish splotches on its skin. To me, these seemed odd, but I did not poke at them. I ate what I could. It did not taste all that nice, but it made me less hungry, which was the point. As I ate, I looked back at the city and I watched what was happening. Every so often, a group of creatures would huddle at the wall overlooking the water, and they would toss a dead body over the side.

What an odd thing to do.

I watched the bodies hit the water and slowly sink. Some were wedged between boats. Some rolled in the tide and were knocked about like buoys. It occurred to me then that the creatures on the wall were not eating the meat if they were tossing it over the side. They didn’t eat the dead, and so how odd I was for doing so. Like Adam and Eve having tasted the fruit of the tree of knowledge, I looked up from my meal and knew my nakedness. I stole the clothes. But having no understanding of how to put them on, it all happened in a rather comedic fashion. I removed the clothing with tugs that tore the fabric, and found that when I put my own limbs in, the things hung on me like sacks and stank of death. It didn’t bother me, per say. It was simply a little blinding.

I wandered along the harbor area in my ill-fitted, tangled clothes. I found that the people around the city seemed to avoid me, rather pointedly, but there was no malice in it. They simply glanced my way in expressions of wide eyes and open mouths (what of them had blank faces, as most were wearing cloths over their noses and mouths). I had no idea why they were not hostile to me, in fact they seemed as if they didn’t mind me at all, which was somehow comforting. I was nevertheless keen to stay away from them, but none came any closer than about thirty yards.

Then a curious thing happened. I looked on what I can now describe as an encampment of men. Many bodies were lying on the ground moaning. Some of them were dead, but most were either quite obviously alive and suffering, or were comatose and seemingly presumed dead, as they were unceremoniously dumped in piles. I could hear their hearts, mind you. It seemed obvious to me that most of these things were simply lying there, as if they couldn’t be bothered to move. I did not know about sleep really, but knew I had been on the ground but hours before and so they must also find themselves on the ground occasionally. The ones moaning and groaning were seeping all sorts of liquids, and some of them were splotchy. Their still-ambulating counterparts were paying them no heed. No one even came near them, except me. With one eye to the other men in their shiny bits and padded garments and one eye to the bodies beneath me, I picked my way through. Suddenly, several men stomped up to the edge of my little crop of bodies and plucked one. This one was still alive, as will become quite evident.

Faces averted as best they could, expressions of disgust in place, the men took hold of this comatose body and heaved it up. They carried it down the shore and came abreast of a large wooden…thing. I had looked at the thing before, but it wasn’t moving. I thought it some other construction, like a piece of the city jutting out. It wasn’t. It was a trebuchet – a catapult.

Up went the slumbering sick man, into a little bucket. Men worked at the wheel as the winder went. There were odd clicking sounds and a soft humming to my ear, deep and low. After a long while, someone shouted a word, and instantly, with astounding percussive compression and force, something triggered, the great arm swiveled, I crouched instinctively, and with movement like the wind, the poor- now awake- dying man was hurtling through the air, screaming like a terrified comet.

What the devil? thought I, though not in so many words.

Why should these creatures build such machines? And why would they throw dead or dying counterparts with them? What sort of madness was this? What is the point of hurling a dead animal at someone else?

Then I decided it was best not to come any closer.

I backed out of the bodies and retreated to a small copse of trees. It had been hacked to bits, it seemed, by the groups of creatures stocking along the ramparts and swarming near the ships- pieces of lumber and splinters of wood were everywhere. I sat down and watched in stunned fascination as body after body was hurtled over the city walls, and body after body was retrieved and tossed over the wall into the water. It was all a terribly amusing recycling process and I remember wondering what it could possibly accomplish except to give flightless things a chance at soaring heavenward in their final moments, before being dashed into the water to rinse off their dust. I wondered if the cycle would repeat, or if it was something they only did to fresh bodies.

Eventually, I left the area, but not before eating a few more times.

Much later, I realized the complete meaning behind what I had seen. What I witnessed was a full scale siege – that of the Genoese city of Kaffa. You see at this time, the Tartars of the Golden Horde had allowed this conquered territory to rule itself through commerce and capitalism. Italians had made many monetary investments and purchases in the region, stimulating growth and lining pockets. In a neighboring town, a scuffle broke out between Italians and Tartars, resulting in a Muslim death. The Italians at fault fled to Kaffa, and to the shock of the Tartars, the Genoese refused to let them in. The military showed up and laid the siege…never realizing they had already been infected with the new dread scourge- the Black Plague. When the army began to die off, the commanders made a shocking decision – to hurl the bodies of the plague victims over the walls of the city. The inhabitants tried to hurl the bodies back out, but the plague caught.

Enter me – wearing a dead man’s clothes, looking every inch the modern zombie, wandering the plague victims in vague, goo-covered ambivalence. Those who saw me were probably accustomed to the sight of staggering half-dead mean (that was then the natural course of many diseases), but I dare to guess that some probably thought me some sort of omen. They avoided me because I probably looked like the pale rider. The men of the day, especially the Tartars, were notoriously superstitious.

image1

This artists’ rendering of the siege of Kaffa is inaccurate in most respects, but I thought you might enjoy it, anyway.


Eventually the siege broke and the scant remaining Tartars buggered off. The Italians ran as fast as they could to escape the plague with which they’d been confined. When their ships left port, I snuck aboard. We stopped at a few places. I got off at one. And by a skipping means, traveled my way across the Italian peninsula, and then on to France.

The year of this arrival to France was 1348. The year the Black Death came…in fact, it likely came from the very ship in which I rode. One of the reasons why my memories of Marseilles  are not so fond.

This is a very horrifying thing, yes? But to me at the time it was completely ridiculous. I have laughed at the feelings I had that day more than once since then. I laughed again when I read an article written by a specialist in communicable disease that said there was no feasible way that a corpse could spread plague by being flung through the air. Dead bodies don’t carry the plague, parasites do, and parasites leave within an hour of death. And so it is more likely that the Golden Horde brought death-carrying rats and fleas with them, and that these somehow found a way into the city, breaking the siege much faster than the catapulted corpses ever would.

I can still hear that poor man’s yelp as he shot through the air. What a rude awakening. One is utterly spent, aching, feverish, bleeding from orifices, resigned to death, and then whoosh! One is shooting through the air as a cursed missile and one’s final moment is as blunt as the side of a building.

To me, at least, this is very funny.

Monstrous Myths: The Boogeyman

When I began this series of website entries, it was to demonstrate something of a “unified field theory” of monstrosity, if you will. My reasoning was simple: I am a monster, and if there were other species of hideous man-eaters shuffling over the earth, I would have seen them. For the sake of this experiment, it falls to me to demonstrate that your own mythology, as varied and complex as it is, supports my hypothesis. No monster does better in this capacity than the Boogeyman, and so, in the spirit of this Halloween season, and in celebration of the arrival of my second book, I have decided to pursue that infamous figure shrouded in darkness. My mission takes me from the rooftops to the bowels of the earth.

The Boogeyman is largely undefinable with androgynous leanings and an amorphous appearance, but notable for several key commonalities: he is ubiquitous, terrifying, and born of the shadows. In almost every culture, every country, there is a boogeyman. Spiralling away from Europe into Russia and south to Africa, these divergent stories diverge hardly at all — even their names are closely related linguistically. Variously described as dark, clothed in black, able to blend into the night seamlessly, this monster has one purpose: to torment children.

All the world over, you may goad your little ones with the horrors that could befall them for not eating their vegetables, but you also bless them to protect from such hazards.

There were cases of children vanishing. There were instances of abduction. Long before there were understandings of psychology or criminal analysis, these things were attributed to monsters. And every parent knew that the monster must be invisible to have gotten past their protections.

Every child knows that the monster will find them no matter where they cower and there is no blanket on the planet thick enough to protect them. Sometimes lurking beneath the bed, in the recesses of a closet, or in the corners of rooms by night, this devil invades their dreams. He is just waiting for a moment to gobble them up or spirit them away. The poor dears, heads full of nightmares, go to their beds certain that they have reached the end of their lives.

I think you can see why descriptions of the Boogeyman are never precise. The fear is less tangible now, but in the days of my first memories, death was everywhere, and most children did not live into puberty. The Boogeyman only takes the wicked children, but it is the wicked ones who are most likely to wilfully disregard their parents, or run away into the night to be overcome by the elements or some other horrible calamity. And as you know from reading my short stories, there absolutely were child-predators. The threat was mind-numbingly real, and thus, extremely effective.

But was it all a perfect storm of imagination? Was there ever a real Boogeyman to whom the first instances can be attributed, or is this merely the product of the universality of bad parenting, unseen criminal mischief, and the fear of chaotic reality?

I think not.

In a data set packed with noises beneath beds, knocking on walls, disembodied shadows that shift ominously — all easily explained by heightened awareness and fear — there are a few encounters that speak to me, and some of them come from you, my gentle readers.

Once in a great while, you find a child staring out a window at the man with the sharp smile in their favourite tree. Once in a while, there is the hooded figure on the rooftop next door, looking in as if waiting for something. Once in a great while, a child is saved from drowning by a dark hand. Once in a while, the forest herds a lost little one from its treacherous grasp. Once in a while, the monster with whom they live, turns up dead of a broken neck. Once in a while, the man tracking them vanishes into an orchard and is never seen again.

Once in a great while.

We are dangerous. We are killers, each of us unique. I have never willingly harmed a child outside of war, but I have eaten them. I have my ethics, my feelings, but they are mine alone. I am certain that many of my brethren have spirited your babies away. I am sure that there are many shadowy figures who wait to hear that some little one is nothing but a pain. Perhaps they are salivating in the wings, all too happy to make the baseless threat a reality.

Once in a while, however, a wild child is found.

In the twelfth century, only a few decades after the Norman Conquest of Britain, in the town of Woolpit, two children turned up in a field. They spoke a language no one had ever heard, and were entirely green from head to toe. The young boy was reportedly sickly and died, but the girl acquired English and told her benefactor of a land of eternal twilight. Called St. Martin’s land, its inhabitants were all a fine shade of green. According to this young lady, she and her brother were tending to a flock of animals, when they found a cave and wandered toward the sounds of bells, as if traversing a corridor between worlds.

The accounts that survive are extremely suspect for their vagueness, and modern historians would love to say that whether or not the events actually happened is irrelevant. Some discount it altogether as nothing but folklore, but yet again, they base this assumption only upon the few references to survive the ravages of time. Others believe it must have happened, and that the twilight realm was merely a larger cave, and they wandered out into the sun.

Before you ask, I cannot tell you if these events actually transpired, as this was before my time in England; Indeed it is before the time I remember as my awakening. I can tell you, however, that the story was extremely well-known in my day, and most everyone believed the siblings had been stolen from their beds by a vindictive witch, the fairies, or our friend, the Boogeyman. Compare the tale to Hansel and Gretel, first transcribed by the Brothers Grimm, but predating them. The abandoned little siblings fed a terrible diet of sweets by their cannibalistic captor, kept in the woods until the time was right to make a tasty pie. Everyone knew the Babes in the Wood, and everyone knew that they were lucky to escape.

The girl supposedly lived a normal life above ground, and she never exhibited any magical talents. She married well and was employed. She seemingly never tried to rediscover her colony of green people. And the green people never came looking for their lost children. If it is folklore, I fail to see the point. It could be the delusions of sickly children, but there are entirely too many details for which there is no account. I find it more likely, as odd as it sounds, that it did happen and that there is an explanation for a cloister of people living underground, suffering from chlorosis.

Anyone who has studied feral children knows that they, by definition, lack language. Yet these two spoke a tongue no one, not even their gentleman host, knew— and in those days, England was a cesspit of languages; Anglo-Saxon, Flemish, Briton, Gaelic, Dutch, Norman French. Someone had to have taught them this language. In an era when traveling was fraught with dangers and very expensive, it is doubtful that their ancestors migrated from a prohibitively distant foreign land to start a colony in a subterranean vault.

It is difficult to imagine what sort of person keeps animals in a cave, herds sheep underground. It must needs be someone who never wants to be seen, but eats meat by the pound.

And then again, there is the name of their idyllic sanctuary: St. Martin’s Land. Saint Martin of Tours is the patron saint of alcoholics. If the savage children had no knowledge of faith or English, I wonder how they know to call it that.

There are many explanations for these events, no doubt. It could be a simple story carrying on the ancient trope of the mystical “other” who reveals itself to align with the tainted world of man. It could be that there was a kindly hermit hoarding orphans who had nowhere else to go. It could be that the Boogeyman meant to gobble them up, and had himself quite the collection.

Hell, it could be all three.

Or it could be something else entirely. What that is, I leave to you. Is the Boogeyman real? Who took all the lost children? What peeks out from the treetops as you sleep? Why is it, over all the world, the creature is the same? Is he bad, good, or just terribly complicated?

Reflections

Here it is, or rather, here I am, in all my “glory”. In the late seventies I took one single polaroid photo, and kept it in my box. To avoid the meta data and photo recognition software (as well as other problems associated with displaying my image on the internet), I sent the photograph to an artist somewhere in Europe. He took some liberties, in an effort to make it more “artistic”, but I think the finished product is rather good. I do worry that it has not captured the eyes quite right, but then again, artists seldom do manage the distant stare of a malign intellect.

And before you scoff at me, I am malignant. If you knew how many times a day I peel the skin off of passers-by with my thoughts, you would never wish to come face-to-face with me, I assure you. Unless, of course, you fancy looking like an anatomical model of yourself.

Simonportrait.jpg

If you find me unsettling…good. It is as it should be. If not…see how easily you are fooled? The image will remain up for some time. I may at some point lock it. If I do, I will put the password somewhere or other, and you may hunt around for it. I apologize, but this may become necessary.

Imagery

“Writing is collaborative. You’re not just perfectly rendering a world. You’re making a pact with the reader, and it’s a new agreement, every time the book is read, even with the same person. Also…If you’re still worried about your personal safety, IMHO it’s better that you don’t do it, since the readers’ image of you is always fuzzy and changes all the time.”

I stare at the words for a long while. I wonder if I can agree.

I often wonder this. Every time I confront an opinion on the internet with which I strenuously disagree — modern political discourse comes to mind — I stare at it and project forward several decades. I contemplate the world, still carrying on, after the offending individual is little more than a pile of dust. And I like Kali-ma am treading the bones on the battlefield and smiling that somewhere among all the putrid rubble of humanity, my editor is being crushed underfoot.

Chef glances at my stern face and lowers his ordering paperwork. “What’s she nit-picking now?”

“My face.”

“How can she do that from two states away? She’s never even seen you! You haven’t started putting up photos have you?”

I would never do something so rash. He knows my fears about facial recognition software, databases, and meta-data. He knows I value his privacy as much as my own, and while he will sometimes steal my phone and annoy the readers who converse with me, he prefers to keep his distance. This is my experiment or personal search, and while he respects it, he is only a tertiary part of it.

“I have considered commissioning a portrait.”

“Why the hell would you do that?”

I stare at him narrowly as I swivel my chair. “People continue to ask for pictures of me.”

“Fuck them.”

While succinct, his criticisms are not quite perspicacious. “Kristina’s argument is a trifle less derisive of my fans. But I disagree with it similarly.”

His mouth falls open and he regards me blankly. “You’re still pissed about all those big words she made you change, aren’t you? Whiny Emo kid.”

Stretching as I rise, I surreptitiously roll my eyes upward. “You only say that because you have no idea what those big words mean.”

“Like trying to suck face with a god damn thesaurus,” he mumbles. “Mouth full of paper cuts.”

“Self-inflicted, you overgrown infant.”

I wander into the bathroom and stare into the mirror. I glance over my features, those odd things I cannot seem to capture when I attempt a self-portrait. I stare into my dark eyes and let the white light sculpt my cheeks and chin.

“Would it augment their experience, or detract from it, I wonder?”

He appears behind me, arms crossed. I know the look on his face; he worries any time I change the rules. He treats it as if he will be one of the things excised by the press of time as I squeak through.

“You don’t owe them anything. They paid for the book, that’s all. Next thing I know, you’re going to be making an appointment on some national television show to have your guts exposed.”

He is adorable in his distress, his eyes shimmering and his face like alabaster, but he needn’t be so concerned. I have no intention of being the first to step forward. It would be betrayal to my cousins, who choose to live in anonymity. It would make their masquerade impossible, our disagreements notwithstanding.

“Even if I did, it would be considered a massive hoax, or did you not hear of the Alien Autopsy debauchal?”

“Yeah, but with inconclusive non-human DNA and an X-ray of your weird ass organs?”

“David Blaine can fly, and before him, Dan Brown could read minds, and oh, yes, there was Houdini and his water tank. I doubt anyone would even take my call.”

I open the plastic case for my eyebrows and lashes. They are handcrafted of mink and cost as much as a new laptop. Their application would be daunting if I had not done it a thousand times. The glue becomes tacky as he stares at me with those uncannily penetrative eyes.

“Where are you going?”

“For a drive.” But that is a half-truth. He follows me down to the car. As I extricate myself from the eager mutt, and slip into my seat, he scrutinizes me. After I have driven away, I receive a text. In my car’s female voice, it sounds strange.

“I love it when you lie to me.”

I shake my head. I know what the next message will be. Chef enjoys being lascivious whenever the opportunity presents itself. You might be tempted to think this is because he cannot accept me and is overtly compensating for my dearth of emotion, but I know that this is not true. I think perhaps, foremost on this earth, he is a person who truly understands me.

“When you come back I’ll be waiting for my apology.”

I park in front of the bank and fish the tiny key from among its many fellows. The manager jumps as I knock on his door jamb. Whether or not he realizes it, I have been a customer of this bank since its founding. I have funneled my assets from place to place for centuries, turning them over like one tills a field, rotating stock and bonds, planting wealth in fertile soil. I am here often, and the entire staff knows me by name.

“Mr. Alkenmayer! Do we have an appointment?”

“No, forgive me. Today I’d like to visit.”

He sees the key in my hand and raises his own in salute.

I almost never come to my safety deposit box. Most of my belongings are more secure in a safe in my own home. Only a few get shoved away, put in the hands of mortals. Only a few things would ever mean anything if they were found to be in my possession, but if hunters ever do come to my door, they will miss me. I will be here, collecting these few things, readying myself to move along.

I follow behind him, my mind tracking his peculiar lumbering gait. I knew his grandfather. The man was stocky, built like a lion, but with the most graceful sea legs. He could run across a heaving deck in the slick of a storm and pull a full net better than a pack mule. That his lineage have become skip-stepping bankers is an interesting development.

“Your diet is doing you good.”

“Thirty pounds!” He looks back at me. “I’ve started jogging!”

He removes my box from its sconce and gives it to me with a curious and eager smile.

“Please tell me you’re about to pull out another ancient promissory and make my week.”

He can count the number of times this has happened upon one hand, and finds my constant, dragon-like obsession with my wealth to be amusing. That is because he has no idea I have witnessed the rise of banks and still find them terribly bizarre and untrustworthy. I haunt them lest the numbers dwindle, a kind of fiduciary phantasm.

“I’m afraid not.”

With a shrug, he vanishes, but I know he will be hovering right outside.

I open the lid. The book is on top, tightly wrapped in gauze. The leather binding is nearly a century old, and the paper is yellowed with age. I crack the spine and leaf through the pages, falling through time.

My fascination with technology is as old as the subject. From the tinder box to the electric coil, from the fire iron to the washing machine, from the telegraph to the internet — I have tinkered with them all. Photography has not escaped my notice.

I stare down at the turn of the century hat, the unused side arm, the beaded ballgown I wore to a local charity event in the mid thirties. Me after me, in many forms, all assiduously collected and curated, for no one other than myself.

In the Old Age, certainty was easy. I could control exactly how and when I was seen. Now it is almost impossible, and I have given up the fight, or rather, taken it to a different front. Now I cheat time with makeup and prosthetics, human assumptions and easy gender transformations, such that even should I walk right into the manager’s grandfather, the salty dog would never know me.

The photograph I seek is on the last page. I remove it carefully and tuck it away.