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Category Archives: The Union

I got bored.

New York

“It’s like… broccoli, and oats,” says Bert vaguely. “And some kind of gravy.”

“You’ve never actually had Indian food, have you?” Ellis unzips his coat: the sun’s out now, though slips of cloud are flickering over it. “Is this like the time you thought Steely Dan was Danielle Steele?”

“You’re never going to let–”

“Maybe,” says Ellis, grinning, “you actually oh my God!”

He grabs Bert and runs for the nearest building. Bert’s trying to see, wild, stumbling, finally looking up.

The buffalo are diving from the sky. They are tight-winged and mad-eyed. Their hooves are sharp as talons.

North Carolina

The custom of stand right, walk left grew out of airport moving sidewalks, and when they built the first big intercity pedways it became an institution. They didn’t make a lane for runners. Especially those going the wrong way.

The peds who dodge and shout to either side of Helga whip by so fast it must be working. Just like Superman: backwards fast enough is back in time, too. Back to Greensboro. Back before.

Helga tracks her progress by the rings in the pedway tunnel: at least twenty feet so far. She’s sure she can make ten more by yesterday morning.

Rhode Island

“Two bikers will accompany each van,” says Smits, weary and urgent. “We’ll fire several blasts–”

The ground jumps; everyone whips around to the sweeping green radar line. “Scramble, Rebs,” says Smits. The men in orange jackets jog for the door.

“What if we got some tow cables from the vans, and–” Hamill looks eager.

“Not enough,” says Smits gently. “Every building in Providence used to be a church.”

Outside, Sayles Hall jerks up from the earth on long jointed legs. Granite shears. Its steeple bends, necklike; the crucifix swings for their hidden base and begins to crackle with power.

Vermont

“I’m being abducted,” says Nightjar, “by someone named Killington?”

“Mmm,” says Killington.

“That doesn’t bode terribly well,” she says.

“You don’t need to be afraid, little girl,” he says, grinning a knockaround grin. “Think of it this way: you’d be in more danger if I were my parents.”

“Oh?”

“They named me that.”

“Oh.”

Killington plays with cranks and sprockets, and the fire below the balloon turns from blue to white. They rise slowly to pass between two loops of road.

“My parents,” says Nightjar, stumbling a little, “named me Nightmare.”

“I know they did,” says Killington, and his smile disappears.

Kentucky

Noodling, as recently made famous by the governor of Kentucky, is the practice of catching fish–specifically, flathead catfish–with your bare hands. It goes like this:

You stick your hand in a hole in the riverbank.

You let the catfish bite your hand.

You drag it out and hit it in the head.

Noodling is mildly illegal in many states, including (off-season) in Kentucky, because it’s stupid and dangerous. Sometimes it’s not a catfish in the hole–it’s a snapping turtle, or a water moccasin. Sometimes you lose a finger. Sometimes you drown.

Sometimes, one of us gets away.

Tennessee

“Deploy snowboards!” shouts the Justin, and he and Ptah slam sliding into the side of the black glass pyramid. They cut their chutes away; they slalom down with pink neon in their wake. But the charcoalsuits can afford to land harder, and they’re close behind.

There’s a rosewood Martin at the bottom, plugged right into the building.

“The Justin can’t play guitar!” says the Justin, panicked. “He took pop-and-lock lessons instead!”

“Let go of pop, the Justin,” says Ptah. “Play your soul.

The Justin closes his eyes and hits high B. The suits scream. The pyramid sings the blues.

Ohio

There are two Jacks; the one with the tattoos is Jack Frost. The tattoos were not his idea.

The other one is called Apple Jack, or John Chapman, or Chaplain, or sometimes Appleseed. Appleseed is barefoot, but his soles are tough. He wears a sinner’s sackcloth. He is running.

“Why can’t you understand,” pants Appleseed, “that what you kill on Earth you defile in Heaven?”

Frost Jack lazily draws a fractal on the bark of an oak tree. It explodes from the heartwood; Appleseed dodges splinters.

“Leaves fall,” says Frost Jack. “Water freezes. A beginning demands an end.”

Appleseed runs harder.

Louisiana

The boy’s tongue is black and his nails are bitten back to bleeding, but he has no cup, no patter; he’s not far from a restaurant’s midden, but he’s not scrabbling for food. He just crouches in the corner and moves in small circles, again and again.

“What’s your name?” says the lady in blue.

Catahoula bark,

sings the boy in a cracking voice,

Catahoula beg,
Catahoula piss
Down the emperor’s leg.

“You’re no cur,” says the lady. “You’re purebred. You’re a found dog now.”

She tilts the boy’s chin up. His eyes are wide and blank, one blue, one brown.

Indiana

“Hey, it’s Apple Jack!” calls Farmer Ethshire. “Got any more of that cider?” Ethshire’s grinning, winking, but Appleseed’s face is grey and tight.

“Shawnee,” he shouts as he lopes in. “Shawnee and the British, get your family to Fort Stephenson, now!”

Ethshire’s eyes go wide, but he’s looking past Appleseed. Appleseed turns back to see a winter wind in August, tearing stalks of wheat from the ground and carrying them, frozen, sharp as glass. In flight, one becomes arrow. It drives through Ethshire’s heart.

Jack spits two appleseeds at the ground where he falls, and makes for the farmhouse, and hopes.

Mississippi

Girls of a certain complexion, at certain times in particular climates, blush with their knees. It’s not a scraped or bloodied redness, just the same flush that rises to the cheeks of most such girls in exertion or embarrassment.

The girl’s response is typically negative. That which is not smooth and even must be cured or concealed: pants, thigh-highs, even foundation.

That response is misguided. The blushing knee is the orbital laser strike of seduction, and it hits Fenimore foursquare, as Alma steps up out of the little boat. He’s atoms. Alma, perfectly innocent, just ran out of untorn hose.

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