This is a story about a witch. Not the kind you’re thinking of either. She didn’t have a long nose with a wart on it. She didn’t have green skin or long black hair. She didn’t wear a pointed hat or a cape, and she didn’t have a cat, a spider, a rat, or any of those animals that are usually hanging around witches. She didn’t live in a ramshackle house, a gingerbread house, a Victorian house, or a cave.
“It’s the best bargain you’ll get in this town,” the faery woman says. She’s standing by a cracked kitchen sink with mold between the tiles, rinsing diced tomatoes and crooked green jalapeño rings. “A heart for a heart. And my heart’s more than what she’s used to, I’ll tell you that. You couldn’t find better if you went door-to-door from every house in the tithe-projects.”
When the Queen learned that she could not have a child, she cried for three days. She cried in the clinic in Switzerland, on the shoulder of the doctor, an expert on women’s complaints, leaving tear stains on his white coat. She cried on the train through Austria, while the Alps slipped past the window of her compartment, their white peaks covered with snow.
Darwin thought he might be more alive than other people. Not a whole lot, but ever increasingly, until finally, in a checkout line at Target, he was the last person left alive but his checker. Gabriella, her nametag said, and she was drifting off. Good for her he was the sort of person who reads nametags. Good for them both.
There is a werewolf girl in the city. She sits by the phone on a Saturday night, waiting for it to ring. She paints her nails purple.
She was not a monster, nor did Perseus cut off her head. The whole Athena and shield bit? Bullshit. Perseus was a self-absorbed fool who barely had the strength to lift a sword over his shoulder, let alone swing it hard enough to sever sinew and bone. As far as the rest of her story, the snakes and stone might be true, but not in the way you think. It’s always easy to paint a villain; harder to scrape below the gilt to find the real.
“I married your mother for her skull. It’s no secret.” Jarak put aside his rasps and gouges for the moment, resting his eyes and mind from the precise, exacting work his trade demanded. He didn’t mind his son’s persistent questions at such times. Akan was at an age when he should be curious and, if curiosity was a duty, Akan was a dedicated boy. It wasn’t as though Purlo the Baker, whose skull rested patiently on Jarak’s workbench, was in a hurry.
Delightful Audoghast! Renowned through the civilized world, from Cordova to Baghdad, the city spread in splendor beneath a twilit Saharan sky. The setting sun threw pink and amber across adobe domes, masonry mansions, tall, mud-brick mosques, and open plazas thick with bristling date-palms. The melodious calls of market vendors mixed with the remote and amiable chuckling of Saharan hyenas.
On a beach by the sea stands a gutted stone tower. A man is climbing up the remains of a staircase that spirals up the tower’s interior. Vivi sits on the roof, oblivious, counting coins that have spilled from her breast pocket: one fiver, three ones, one golden ten. She’s only wearing a worn pair of pajamas, and the damp breeze from the sea is making her shiver. She has no memory of how she arrived, but is vaguely aware of the sound of footsteps.
“Manuel Black is dead. Long live Manuel Black.”
—Headline of the New York Times obituary
“Are you crazy? You may as well ask me to write a eulogy for God.”
—Me, when my editor assigned me this article