Movement is Memory

She parked her bike in front of the museum near a fence and locked the rear wheel, looking back at it as she walked towards the entrance. The Danish only used a rear wheel lock; she was confident that the bike would be stolen when she returned. She just hoped that she was not liable for it, though she was prepared to blame the concierge. “Does the bike come with a lock?” she’d asked him.

“Oh, yah, yah,” he’d said, his blue eyes and blonde hair not betraying the fact she was in Copenhagen.

“And do I need to lock it at a bike rack or can I park it anywhere?”

“Oh, yah. Anywhere is fine.”

“Even at the museum?”

“Yah, yah. You will like da museum. It is good.”

She felt a crease form between her brows. She wasn’t sure he understood her. Surely there were rules. She thought of her own bike back home and how she was not allowed to park it “anywhere”. Yet she’d nodded, tucked the map into the zipper pocket of her athletic jacket, thanked the concierge and walked towards the little gravel lot on the side of the hotel where the bike rentals were kept.

Now, as she pulled open the door to the museum, all she could think about was how the bike would be stolen because there was no way a flimsy rear wheel lock would suffice. They’d just carry the bike off. And yet, she was determined to spend a day sightseeing, and the art museum was one of the best, according to the concierge and confirmed by her guidebook. “To hell with it,” she muttered as she twisted the oversized knob and shouldered herself into the entryway.

She was greeted with still-water blue walls and stern crown moulding. White marble swirled with gray lines caused the soles of her boots to click as she worked her way to what appeared to be the ticket booth. She held her thumb up to indicate “one” (not her forefinger, as they did in the States), and after fumbling with krona was given a slip of white paper with black type. She handed it to an attendant and pushed through the turn style.

A short hall down a few stairs led her into a covered garden filled with palm trees and Grecian statues. The sunlight, muted by the skylights above, fell in streams of hazy tears that she figured only Danish painters could capture.

She sat down on the bench for a moment as she read the map that had a small British flag in the corner. Antiquities were through the left corridor, which she could see led past a mural with more artfully placed statues of Pan and wood nymphs, faces frozen in wicked smiles and eyes glimmering in eternal mischief.

She stood, slinging her purse over her shoulder. Her hips and knees ached from the hour long bicycle ride. She was not young anymore, though her body was still lean and muscular. She had been ambitious this morning when she thought the route would be easy; she hadn’t accounted for getting lost. But she had a lot of time to kill. He would not be finished with meetings for at least another five hours.

Mostly empty, the museum was quiet, a firefly caught between a child’s cupped hands, the sound of its buzzing deafened by flesh. She walked up a set of stairs into a long corridor which opened in a hallway of more statues with maimed bodies. A woman with exposed breasts, her left arm missing, her once flowing hair chipped off. A man whose nose and penis were gone. A pair of dancing girls with no fingers or feet. There was a somber silence in their beauty. The roundness in their remaining limbs looked soft to the touch and perhaps even warm, though she knew that defied logic. The effigy of their flesh was no doubt cool, long dead. They were but whispers from a place no one remembered, except in the silted reflection of the museum’s exhibition, remains distorted like mirrors in a fun house.

She glanced at them warily, passing by a pair of young Danish art students who sat in folding chairs, sketching the broken people. They boy wore eyeliner, and the girl a red linen scarf. They ignored her, which she supposed was appropriate since she was an outsider.

At the end of the hallway was a collection of items; vases and cups, pieces of marble cut from buildings, part of a mural, a cornice, a plate. It was all rather boring.

Nevertheless she continued through the exhibit. Up ahead was a dead end, yet her pace did not slow. She gave all of the pieces their due, for in spite of her disinterest, it seemed disrespectful to race by them. Her footsteps steady, quivering on floor’s smooth marble lines.

The last room contained a collection of stone heads. The heads were stacked on top of one another in a cone shape, nearly a pyramid. They had all been detached from their marble torsos and bodies. Men, women, children. Some had large skulls, while others were small, not to scale. She looked into their empty eyes. She studied the lines of their faces, the rise of their cheekbones, the curl of their lips and arches of their brows. There were so many heads in this room. How many? She was always bad at that game, but she supposed maybe a hundred.

She circled the heads again, this time certain that she would recognize one of them. For how many faces could there be? How many combinations of eyes, cheekbones, chins and noses were there in time? There must be someone here that she recognized, even one that she’d stood next to in an elevator, or maybe in a deli while she waited in line for her romaine salad. There must be someone in here that she knew. It was impossible that every single face in the world was different.

Yet there were none here that she recognized. These were all strangers.

She grunted and straightened herself. She decided then that she would keep looking. “One day, I will see someone I know.” Her voice echoed.

When she left the museum, she was lost in thought, her hands stuffed in her pockets. As she approached her bike, she realized that no one had stolen it. It was exactly where she had left it. She could not even blame the concierge.

The Kid is On

The kid felt lucky that day. There was nothing stopping him. On fire. On a kick. Time was slowing, faltering even. He could demand money from anyone, and they would give it to him. His powers were ON.

He noticed it right when he left his apartment and hit the sidewalk. It felt like a charge, as if he could shoot up into the sky. The kid had experienced this before. “Five times,” he said to himself. “I’ve been ON five times in my life. This is the sixth.”

He picked his cell phone out of his pocket and texted his boss. “Home sick. Flu. Let u know more l8tr.”

“K. Feel better. Almost done. All nightr.”

All nighter. That’s why his boss was the boss. The guy was a machine; he would code all night when he was IN THE ZONE. He’d probably finish building the weapon selection menu of Superfly Ninja 8 today, especially without the kid there. He had a tendency to talk too much.

The kid shoved the phone back in his pocket.

Truth was, he might need tomorrow off as well. When he was ON the effects sometimes bled into the next day, though his power would diminish. After a day and a half he’d be back to his normal self — the doughy programmer with dark circles under his eyes and a bowl of bacon-cheddar cheese puffs that stained his fingers yellow as he tapped-tapped-tapped on his fucking keyboard.

The kid was high, ready to test his power. He had to make sure it was working before he went BIG TIME. He stopped in front of Olav’s Repair Store. It was a dumpy shop with a ripped awning and a sign hanging on a string inside the door that read “Come On In!”. The kid knew the store; he’d gone in once to get a new battery for his watch and another time to get his shoes shined.

He pushed through the doors. A bell jingled. The radio was ON (the kid liked that), tuned to a Russian talk show. The place smelled like shoe polish and welded metal; it brimmed with junk that hung from peg boards and other crap that was stacked on gray metal shelves — ticking mantle clocks, crumpled men’s dress shoes, practical ladies’ heels, blistered leather bags.

A man, with his back to him, worked the strap of a purse through a cast iron, foot-powered sewing machine.

“Hey, I need some help here.” The kid stood with his hands behind his back, his feet apart, ready to do battle. His ninja power was ON and set to high.

The man, who the kid called Olav in his mind, turned. His hair was gray, and his nose shaped like popcorn. “Da?”

“Give me your most valuable item.”

The man’s eyes, watery and dim with cataracts, were shrouded under heavy lids. The kid could not tell what color they had orginally been. Yet they seemed to become even more shadowed, to fade even, as the kid stared at him. The watches ticked; a cuckoo clock chimed. The kid continued to grind his gaze into Olav. This guy was tough, but the bank he’d hit later would be tougher. “I’m ON,” he thought. “When I’m ON I get what I want.”

“Take what you like,” Olav said finally. He turned back to the sewing machine, and his feet began to work the pedal. The machine clacked in rhythm with the ticking clocks.

The kid looked around, moved behind the cash register, opened it and grabbed the money as Olav continued to sew. He pocketed a gold watch sitting inside a case with a handwritten price tag that read “$800” and walked out of the repair shop. The bells on the door jangled behind him.

Today was going to be a great day.

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The Seven Fifty-Two: Part One

It hadn’t rained since he had moved to Oakland, at least it seemed like it, and the sudden onslaught of moisture in the last 24 hours had first annoyed Caleb, and then alarmed him in its ability to compel him from his apartment. By the early grey streaks of morning he had burst forth through his door. He was set loose on the throngs of commuters mindlessly walking with their smartphones in hand, weaving down the street drunk and unsteady on Facebook or Instagramming the banalities of their crushing lives.

The sidewalk smelled different, like earthworms, and it bothered Caleb. He preferred the stench of his parched city. While other people clamored for rain, measured the water line at the Hetch Hetchy reservoir, took short showers, and brushed their teeth with only enough water to fill a Dixie cup, Caleb flushed twice and took baths. He watered his lawn for hours and did the dishes twice. The drought was his greatest love of California, and he diligently did his part to ensure its continuation.

He turned off 13th and headed to the subway station. Caleb checked his watch: Yes, it was seven forty-two. He had plenty of time to catch the seven fifty-two. He scanned his ticket at the booth and stepped through the turnstyle.

“Morning Caleb. Paper?” Roger waved The Chronicle in the air at Caleb.

“Not today,” Caleb forced a smile. He had been practicing in the bathroom mirror lately—he had a hard time discerning between a friendly, toothy grin, and a more sinister one. Rehearsals were required if he wanted to blend in. “I don’t have any change, actually.”

“No problem, no problem,” Roger reached his ink-stained hand into the pocket of his Carhartts and pulled out two quarters, “I can spot you, man. Pay me back tomorrow.”

Caleb’s moss-green eyes narrowed. Why Roger felt they had rapport was beyond him. He had bought a paper from him one morning when he had decided to practice friendly banter. Every since then, Roger assumed they were acquaintances, friends even. What was worse was that Roger insisted he buy The Chronicle every day, and Caleb actually hated the newspaper more than he hated Roger.

“Sure. Thanks, Roger.”

“Well, no problem, buddy. Just get me back tomorrow. You read it every day.”

Caleb pulled his lips over his teeth in a reptilian grimace, “You’ve sure got my number.” Friendly. Friendly smile. Not too wide. Roger recoiled slightly. Most people had a warning system built into their primate instincts to alert them to people like Caleb, and Roger’s was firing. Lucky for Caleb humans buried this alarm tried to ignore it, assuming that it did not fit into modern concepts of civilization. God forbid someone thought they were rude. Caleb thought that Roger should listen to his instincts more.

He grabbed the paper from Roger’s filthy hand, and raced down the platform before Roger had the chance to prattle on about football or some other inane topic—real estate maybe. Caleb landed on the platform and looked at his watch. Seven fifty-one. One minute until the train.

He wondered what car she might be in this morning. It was a game. He picked one car, a different car, each day. He could have gotten on the first one and then worked his way through all of them. But he felt like everyone stared at people who did that, who moved from car to car. No, normal people picked a subway car and stuck with it. That way was more meaningful anyway. It meant that if he ever saw her again it was because it was meant to be. It was fate. Kismet. One day she would look up and see him reading his paper. She would recognize him from the café, and he would charm her. Mary. Even her name was irresistible. So innocent.

The picture of her had not faded during these months. Liitle lamb. It had grown sharper, more detailed. Little lamb. He had a photo in his mind that captured the fine upward brushstrokes of the pale flesh that stretched over her refined cheekbones, or the slight curvature of her left eye that he noticed was just a few millimeters higher than then right. Its face was white as snow.

Seven fifty-two. The board above the platform blinked in red letters “SFO Millbrae.” A hot wind blew through the tunnel and preceded the arrival of the train itself. During the height of the drought, this wind had been dry, but the moisture in the air and rain outside had turned it into a sticky fog, heavy with the underground’s stench. The train reached the platform in a loud roar, and its doors slid open, releasing a blast of steam. A bike messenger with a beard and wearing a small cycling hat cut off an old Chinese woman in front of him. “There’s a line,” she hissed, shaming him back from the door. She moved slowly into the car, her gait achingly halting and holding up the queue behind her.

Caleb moved to the railing on the right side and leaned against the bar bolted to the side of the car. Inside it was like a sweat lodge, and it stirred a primal competitiveness and anger up from the massive crowd pressed inside.

The rain had also lured out his people. The forgotten ones. The crazy ones ripe and stained by their own stench. Some you could spot right away—the one sitting on the floor of the subway pulling on his ragged beard and mumbling about motherfuckers, for instance. Others were less obvious, perhaps invisible to the sane eye. Of course Caleb could spot them right away. It was their mouths. Most people believed that you could tell by their eyes. That was bullshit. The smile of a seriously disturbed man or woman was subtle enough though that if you did not know what you were looking for, you might miss it. Caleb missed nothing.

He opened Roger’s newspaper and pretended to read the sports section, a normal section for a man in his late twenties to read, and peeked over the top scanning the crowd for her.

Mary. He caught a glimpse of her in profile at the other end of the car. She pushed a strand of black hair behind her ear and glanced at him, quickly averting her eyes. Did she recognize him? Did she know how long he had looked for her?

Caleb felt his mouth twist delightedly behind the newspaper before he remembered to smile normal, like in the mirror. The man with the beard mumbling on the floor pulled on his pant leg. He recognized the smile. It identified Caleb as a kindred spirit.

Caleb folded the paper and swatted the man’s hand to dislodge it from his cuff. He moved through the car toward Mary.FullSizeRender

Aftor Magic

Simi sat cross-legged on the floor of their reclining room and watched as Sanjay unrolled the new carpet over their older rug, which had been worn threadbare in their favorite spots. He smoothed it out with his hands, gently and with care. The purchase had been far too expensive; Sanjay had spent the last of their savings on it.

“You could have gotten a better deal,” she said, remembering the towheaded Aftor in the basement of the tea shop who sold it to them. The way he shifted his eyes to the door had made her distrust him, and the cross tattooed on his forehead was done in green ink instead of the usual brick color. She didn’t understand what point the Aftor was trying to make with green ink. A religious man with a merchant license should not be thinking about fashion statements.

“This was a good bargain, dear wife. This carpet is worth more than any coin.” Sanjay smiled, his mustache, like his lips, curling upwards.

“Coin is all we have, and when you spend every last bit, it makes me think you are a bad negotiator.”

“Nonsense.” Sanjay rolled up the sleeves of his satin day-robe. The light was fading outside, and a warm breeze tangled through the sheer curtains of the windows leading to the patio, where Simi could see the faint outline of two moons. “This carpet will change everything for us,” Sanjay said. “Finding it, or rather it finding us was the best luck we’ve ever had.”

“Husband, your belief in this magic has bankrupted us.”

“Let me prove to you that I am right.” Sanjay took a seat on the carpet and patted the area next to him, gesturing for her to sit. She had to admit that it was beautiful. It had a triangular geometric pattern with golden threads woven throughout. Its fabric was dyed red as a ruby, and its blues were winter deep, making it seem as if it were shimmering. She sat down facing him, her knees touching his. The carpet was strangely warm, as if afternoon sunlight still clung to its fibers.

“Now tell the carpet what you want. Name anything you like.”

“I want our money back.”

“No, dear wife. Think bigger. Think macro.”

“Oh, for the love of all that is holy.”

“I am serious. And use the phrase I taught you. You know it. ‘Oh, Great Inquisitor, maker of all things’ … that one.”

She did know it, so she nodded yes.

“Just remember how the wish cannot be material for self-gain. So no money or things. And wishes cannot be undone. That is important.”

“I don’t see the point. We’re middle-class; we need coin.”

“Please?”

“I think you should go first.” She did not know what to wish for that was not material or in her own self-interest anyway. She shifted uncomfortably. The carpet was beginning to get hotter, now like a heating cloth set to high.

“No, you must make the wish,” Sanjay said. He did not seem to notice that the carpet was becoming unbearable. “I bought it. The rules go that I cannot be the first to make the wish.”

“You made that up.”

“The Aftor told me so.”

“He was not a real Aftor. Did you notice his tattoo?”

“He is from The Place Left Behind.”

Sanjay was referring to the outsiders from the other realm who came into their world some hundred years ago. They had blonde hair and pale skin. Since they were outsiders, they could not be Prior priests, so they started their own order called the Aftors. But this was not what she meant. The Aftor’s tattoo had been the wrong color.

Frustrated that he didn’t understand, Simi inhaled and exhaled. “You should have bought from the Priors. They are more dedicated to religion and sell higher quality products.”

Sanjay snorted. “You are being Colorist. The Aftor was real, and he had a magic carpet that he sold to us for a bargain.”

Another thought occurred to her. “Do you think it was stolen?”

“Hush, wife. Just make a wish.”

Simi’s butt and thighs were sweating from the increasing temperature of the rug. Fine. If this is what he wanted her to do, then she would show him. She straightened herself, closed her eyes, and placed her palms together in prayer. “Oh, Great Inquisitor, maker of all things beautiful, striker of individuality and those who question your existence, tailor of this universe and the neighboring, give us the gift of …” She paused and peeked at Sanjay.

He nodded in encouragement.

“… give us the gift of sight and show us if a towheaded Aftor can be trusted.”

“Wife, what have you done?!” Sanjay jumped up, pulling at his black hair as the carpet burst into flame and licked his knees. Simi leapt off of the carpet and climbed onto the ledge of the window. She could no longer see Sanjay as the smoke tangled in her eyes. But before she could cry his name, the fire subsided and the smoke was gone, as if someone had flicked off a switch.

She saw Sanjay sitting cross-legged on the floor with his head slumped to his chest, his robes singed black. “Husband?”

Sanjay looked up, his face serene. She covered her mouth with her hands. Sanjay, her dear, sweet husband — had transformed. His hair had become blonde, and his eyes were blue. On his forehead was a tattoo of a green cross.

Sanjay studied his hands, which had become pale like the rest of his skin. “Oh, wife! Now we shall really find out if we can trust the Aftors, for I have become one.”

And yet, Simi could not look away from the green tattoo on her husband’s forehead, for she understood now that it was the mark of an Aftor who had been transformed by magic.

Naughty Creatures

“Excuse me, Miss, but I’m wondering if you can assist me?”

Stella, in the midst of slipping Battle of the Beasts, Book 2 onto the library cart, looked up to see a wooden deer wearing a green, wool coat drumming his mal-carved front hooves on the counter. His body and head were stumps, and his legs, antlers and tail were fashioned of branches.

“You see,” he said, his google eyes rattling. “I am not a resident and had to pay for my library card, but I just received this letter saying that my check bounced and my membership is now invalid.”

He nudged the letter across the counter with his nose, a piece of circular plastic with a nail head protruding from its center. “I have plenty of money in my account — from royalties — so I don’t understand why the check bounced. I assure you I’m good for it.”

Stella, who had seen many a strange creature pass through the doors of the library — bears, fauns and even once a griffith — knew this deer was trouble. She could tell by the look on him. “What is your name sir?”

“Petey, Miss. My name is Petey the Christmas Deer.”

Stella narrowed her eyes. She knew that book. It was illustrated for children and published in 1943. The sales hadn’t been great, and there were no reprints.

This deer had to die.

“Could I see the check?” It was the only thing she could think of to distract him.

“Yes, yes. It’s in my breast pocket though.” He gestured to it with his muzzle. “Would you mind? My hooves are not great for gripping.”

The thought of touching him made her want to retch, but she composed her face and reached over the too-narrow counter into Petey’s pocket. His wooden body was warm, like he’d been too close to a fireplace. She wished someone had thrown him in.

Fighting back the urge to choke him, she pulled out a crumpled check and gave it a sharp snap. It was clear to her why Petey’s check bounced. The writing was illegible; it was as if he’d filled it out with a pen between his teeth, which is most likely what happened. “Could you wait here, sir?”

Petey nodded and pushed his hooves off the counter, dropping to all fours.

Stella hurried into the office where Ethan was hunched over a computer. He typed with steady determination, entering stacks of returned books into the system.

“We’ve got another one,” Stella said.

Ethan pushed his glasses onto the bridge of his nose revealing red, sweaty indentations.

“Which story?”

Petey the Christmas Deer.

Ethan grunted and turned to the keyboard. “What’s it about?”

“A deer who goes to a department store to buy a coat, but he ends up giving it to a orphan. Santa sees his act of generosity and rewards him with a new coat that is tailored to fit him better. It’s a bad story.”

Ethan punched a few key words into the computer. “Yes. I found it. Aisle 302.” He wrote down the ISBN on a Post-It. “Better get him quick before he realizes you’re onto him.”

“I will.” She turned to go.

“Let me know if you need help.” His voice was low, probably his idea of sexy. He still had a thing for her. She just wasn’t into him.

“Thanks, but I can take care of it.”

Stella hurried to aisle 302, which was the children’s section near the bathrooms. Quickly, she scanned the shelves. “No. No. Eh. Yes!” She pulled the book from the shelf. Its cover was tattered, green cloth, and it had a worn illustration of a snowy day with a blank spot in the shape of Petey. She flipped through the pages and confirmed her suspicions; Petey had gotten out of the story and was no longer in the book.

Clutching the tome, Stella hurried back to the front desk. Petey was biting the edge of the counter, pulling on it with his teeth and inhaling in strong, steady pulls, like he was sucking on a pipe. “What are you doing?” she asked.

He stopped and gave her a shameful look, his google eyes bouncing in their sockets. “Sorry, I was cribbing.” He glanced back at the counter. “It’s a bad habit. Wood just tastes so darn good.”

Stella saw that he had left bite marks on the counter. She wished he’d eat himself instead. “God damn story book creatures are going to tear this place apart.”

A look of horror crossed Petey’s face, and he began to back away. He pointed a hoof towards the book under her arm. “No! Don’t make me go back! Let me explain!”

But Stella had already opened the book. The pages turned, as if by an invisible hand, and Petey was pulled towards it. He rose into the air, his legs flailing, his body twirling. “No!” he cried. He began to spin faster. “Noooo!” He stopped, still hovering. With a mighty bang, he was sucked in a blur onto the pages of the book. Satisfied, she slapped the book closed.

Minutes later, Stella’s heels clicked across the library’s basement floor. She stopped in front of a cage-like enclosure. Once inside, she set the book onto the nearest shelf and turned to leave.

She heard Petey cry just before she shut the door behind her. She paused in a moment of self-doubt. No, she affirmed. Petey and his kind needed to be locked up. If she did not, he’d come back to pester her and other libraries. Petey, his coat and bounced check needed to stay where they belonged; tucked inside the pages of a the only copy of a children’s book that no one would ever read again.

“Goodbye Petey”, she whispered as she locked the door with a padlock and slipped the key inside her skirt pocket.