Detective Inspector Chen brushed aside the chaos on his desk and carefully lit a single stick of crimson incense. Smoke spiralled up into the air, contributing to the brown smear that marked the ceiling like a bloodstain immediately above Chen’s desk. Chen bent his head in a brief prayer, then picked up the photograph and held it over the stream of smoke. The girl’s face appeared by degrees, manifesting out of a dark background.
The moment Erm Kaslo’s flesh touched the substance of the entity, he understood everything — but only for that moment. Then it turned out that everything was far, far too much for a human brain to take in all at once. He felt as if his skull was straining not to burst its seams, and as if the mind it housed was a thimble into which someone had crammed a barrel’s worth of knowledge. Just sorting all the information into gross categories would be the work of several lifetimes; subdividing it into manageable portions would take millennia.
There’s this legend your father tells you. It’s about a girl who sleeps in the center of a sphere. She floats in the air, tossed above the waves, destined to remain fast asleep until awakened by a kiss. You laugh when your father tells this story. You’ve heard all the stories before. Most of these stories involve handsome princes on white chargers. You’re not a prince, and you don’t have a white charger.
When Ann was only five years old, she took her brother’s mouth. He’d been sleeping, or crying, it’s hard for Ann to remember now, but she remembers the way her hand stung as it came full against his cheek, and the rattle his teeth made as his mouth flew off his face and hit the side of his crib. She thought about putting it back, but he was quiet again (yes, he must have been crying, why else would she have slapped him?) and so she picked up his once-familiar mouth with the sleeve of her nightgown and stuck it in her jewelry box.
I shot the sparrow because I was starving. Though truthfully, I was aiming at a pheasant; the silver snow and the silver birches played tricks with the light, and as if by magic, pheasant turned into sparrow. When I saw what my arrow had done, I cried with empty eyes, too dry to make tears.
Mornings were queues and cigarettes. Queues for the underground turnstiles and queues for the train, queues for stale bagels and queues for lukewarm coffee at the kiosk outside the station. By the time he queued up at the west gate of the pit, Alexander Gerst — tall and grizzled at forty-five, slope-shouldered and running slowly to fat — was lucky if he wasn’t already halfway through his daily ration of tobacco.
February 11, 1907 By the time we arrived in the Manchu settlement of Tanbian, the Russian expedition had already left a day earlier. For the last five days, we have been moving through deep snow and dense primeval forest in the Changbai Mountains, trying to catch up. The superiority of the mechanical horse is becoming […]
Audrey took her dinner quietly, without words beyond the obligatories (please, thank you, no, work was fine), and I obliged her the silence. We just ate, together but not together, in that way that you do when there are too many things to say. The meal in question was on the bad side of decent, days-old stir-fried noodles from the Japanese place down the street from her apartment, reheated and reconstituted into a slimy Pan-Asian gruel with the addition of fish sauce, soy sauce, sriracha, curry powder, chili powder, and neglect.
But I know the one there is, and this is not his story. This is mine: I might have spent the summer in Tuscany, if my mother had visited Iceland in 1968. I could have found a boy in Siena with the face of an Etruscan faun and read him D.H. Lawrence among the vineyards and the oak-groves, olives silver in the sun; in Brittany, paced the stones of Carnac and the pine-dark tumuli .
Kamaria turns into a helicopter gunship at the full metal moon. She stalks the fallow killing fields by night, chop-chop lost in the wind. Helicopter thoughts are slick with oil, but she will not fire her guns. That much she holds in place, like a single sputtering candle underneath the roar of her blades.