Holy Calamity (part nine)

table of contents

(excerpted from Weird Luck, book one in the City of the Watcher trilogy)


…Aleck felt a tugging at his foot; glancing down, he saw his shoelace had wound itself in the gears. He braked hard, skidded, and fell over painfully. He disentangled himself from the bike as he rose, kicked off his shoe, and limped up to the wrecked ship. Broken Herax bodies lay strewn across the cobblestones.

Minister Apraxos floated in the air directly above the wreck, his robes flowing.

“Ah, it’s our Earth-boy!” said Apraxos.

“Cannibal-King!” shouted Aleck. The man and woman glanced back at Aleck, the man keeping his rifle trained on Apraxos.

“I’m busy,” said the Cannibal-King.

“I need to talk to you!” said Aleck.

“Looks like you have the same dog we do,” said the freckled, red-haired white woman with the face of the Nymph, pointing at Akaz with her chin.

“People are murdering each other in there,” said Aleck, pointing at the Circus. “Your revolution is going genocidal!”

“Our dog’s inside him right now,” said the woman, gesturing towards the Cannibal-King. “Want to meet him?”

“Uh, don’t do that,” said Akaz, backing away.

A wolf’s jaws burst forth from the Cannibal-King’s mouth, and snarled, “What the hell are you doing here?”

“Oh, shit,” said Akaz. “What are you doing here?”

“You aren’t supposed to be here yet!” snapped the Cannibal-King’s wolf-jaws. “Get out of here!”

With the Cannibal-King momentarily distracted, Apraxos flew away towards the Herax Zone, robes flapping. The woman fired after him with her pistol. The Cannibal-King’s wolf-jaws retracted. He aimed his rifle, lowered it.

“Oh no,” said Akaz, “goddamn it, go get him!”

“You have to stop those maniacs in the Circus!” Aleck shouted at the Cannibal-King. “They’re eating people!”

“What?” said the Cannibal-King.

“Yeah,” said Aleck, “you’re the Cannibal-King, aren’t you? What do you expect?”

“Fuck!” shouted the Cannibal-King. “I made every goddamn one of them vow not to do that!”

Old Aleck and Beth rode up, both unsteadily perched on her bicycle. “Aleck,” said Beth, “come on. This is much too risky.”

“No no no,” said Akaz, backing further away. “This is bad! Get the hell out of here, you idiots, now!”

“Freeze!” blasted an electronically amplified voice. “Reality Patrol!” A dozen soldiers in black riot armor appeared in a circle around them. Most of the squad pointed silvery rifles; some consulted instruments.

“Two temporal recursions,” said one of the technicians. “One foreign; one local.”

“Two entirely foreign parallel recursions,” said another technician, “with a local-slash-mixed trine parallel — correction, that’s quincunx — hold on, I’m registering an error….”

“I’m registering an error as well,” said a third technician. “It’s off my scale; filtering for ECSS…. Oh my God! They all have Weird Luck!”

“Hold your fire!” blasted the amplified voice. Then, a burst of static, and “—fire!”

A beam of light flashed into Old Aleck’s chest. He fell backwards, knocking down Beth and the bicycle. A wisp of smoke rose from his robe. “Aleck!” screamed Beth.

“Train Wreck!” shouted Akaz, flattening himself to the street with his paws over his head.

Doors and windows up and down the street flew open, each revealing a different scene: rooms and streets, woods and beaches, barren wastelands and cities on fire.

Aleck watched the Cannibal-King draw in a huge breath and spit a blazing gout of fire across several Reality Patrolmen. As light-beams flashed and gunfire erupted, Aleck dove through the nearest doorway, slamming the door behind him.

Naked under his Keeper robe, white-haired, scar-faced, and with one shoe, Aleck found himself on the stoop of a ruined shack, hand on the rusty door-latch, gazing through the trees at the wrecked Camaro.

Beside it, on the shoulder, sat an ambulance, the red light atop it turning lazily. Aleck snuck up closer, keeping his hood up. Two paramedics held a stretcher with Mikey on it. Billy stood beside him, looking unscathed.

Mikey reached up to poke Billy in the chest. “We should call you Doomer,” he said.

“Gonna call you Cripple if we don’t get your legs fixed up,” said Billy.

Aleck stepped out of the woods and dropped his hood back.

“Who’re you, Fuckface?” asked Billy. The paramedics looked over, and Mikey looked up from the stretcher.

“Che fuckin’ Guevara,” said Aleck, “who’d ya think?”

Billy and Mikey’s eyes went wide.

Aleck shrugged.


continued in the Aleck Woad adventure

Time Traveling Blues in the City of the Watcher


table of contents

Holy Calamity (part eight)


(excerpted from Weird Luck, book one in the City of the Watcher trilogy)


…Aleck looked around. Everywhere he saw murder. He heard the motorcycle passing by, at the edge of the arena.

“I’m here,” said Aleck. “It’s happening now. I can’t just do nothing. I won’t. I saw your Cannibal-King, and he looked sane to me. He’s a warrior, but not a mass-murderer.”

“You don’t get it,” said Old Aleck. “If you travel back in time like we did, you’ll be able to make it so that none of this ever happened. There’s no hurry! Write a better Guidebook. Find out what broke the Skull. Summon a peaceful Cannibal-King. Who knows! But jump the gun like this, and he could turn out even worse. He could come here with an H-bomb!”

Aleck crossed his arms and closed his eyes in thought. “But why don’t I just go talk to him now, and if it doesn’t work, try it your way when I grow up?”

“Because what if he shoots you,” said Beth. “If you don’t grow up, you don’t get that second chance.”

“I wouldn’t risk it,” said Old Aleck.

“Well then I guess you’re not me after all,” said Aleck, grabbing the handlebars of the fallen pink bicycle. He swung onto it, jumped down on the far pedal, and sped away. They chased after him, Old Aleck falling behind on foot, Beth on her rickety bicycle.

Akaz kept pace with him. “You’re nuts,” he said to Aleck. “And you’re annoying me. This situation is fucking fine, as far as I’m concerned, and I don’t need those hippies complicating it with their ethical handcuffs. Goromath and Apraxos are doomed. Melkhaios is gonna get burned clean of their lousy influence, and we can turn it into a goddamn eternal party like it was intended to be.”

Aleck ignored him, pedaling as hard as he could, following the sound of the motorcycle. Overhead he saw a richly decorated Herax ship, flying away towards the Herax Zone.

“Damn it, Aleck,” Akaz continued, “You can’t even conceive how much goddamn effort I put into this. I hadn’t crossed the Spiral Mounds in years, till you flew us to the God-Dog from Billycutter’s Tunnel. And I’ve completely restrained myself from attacking Apraxos directly.”

“What about when you jumped into Blood Eagle’s mouth?” asked Aleck. The motorcycle headed into a tunnel out of the Circus, following beneath the fancy Herax ship.

“Possession doesn’t count!” snapped Akaz. “That’s indirect. And I only did it under insane circumstances, in the Well, which created a Haugermath resonance to clean my karma of it. Dammit, I haven’t killed a Herax in a hundred years! I don’t want you wasting all that effort by starting a Train Wreck!”

Aleck rode into a tunnel half-lit by firelight.

“What do you think is gonna happen,” shouted Akaz, “when all you people from parallel realities, all with Weird Luck, are simultaneously trying to alter the course of history?” His voice fell to a whisper. “We’re surrounded by dominoes, Aleck. Everything we do has side effects.”

“And I’m going to prevent some of them,” said Aleck. “Try and stop me, if you want.”

“If I could rip yer fuckin’ throat out right now, I would!” snarled Akaz. “Unfortunately, that would start a Train Wreck for sure at this point!”

They exited the tunnel. Aleck saw the man with the rifle take aim from the back of the moving motorcycle. He fired at the fancy Herax ship; the motorcycle wobbled slightly from the recoil. Lightning flashed up the mainmast. Something resembling mist peeled away from the sail and dispersed into the air. The ship sank quickly and smashed into the ground, breaking open, rolling onto its side, and skidding into a building. The motorcycle rode up close and the man dismounted, hefting his rifle. The woman followed suit, drawing a pistol from her hip. They both wore sleeveless army shirts, ragged blue jeans, and boots.

“Don’t go up there!” snarled Akaz.

Aleck pedaled fast up the street towards the wreck….

table of contents

Holy Calamity (part seven)


(excerpted from Weird Luck, book one in the City of the Watcher trilogy)


“…Look,” Akaz said to Old Aleck, “help me convince the kid to get the fuck out of here and lay low. He’s jeopardizing everything we’ve done.”

“So what!” shouted Old Aleck.

“What?” said Akaz, cringing.

“I did all that work, for this?” Old Aleck flung his hands wide to indicate their entire surroundings. “This is carnage! This is the last thing I wanted to create!”

“You dingdong,” shouted Akaz, “what did you expect, a tea party? This is war!”

Old Aleck dismounted his bicycle and let it fall clattering onto its side. “God damn you, Akaz, you said our Cannibal-King would be a ‘master of moral restraint’! Those were your exact words!”

“Look,” said Akaz, “tomorrow I’ll argue would’ves and could’ves with you all damn day. For now, just get your younger self out of here!”

“To hell with you!” said Old Aleck. Turning to Aleck, he snapped, “Hey kid, do me a favor, go get javelined or something.”

“Aleck!” shouted Beth.

“Sorry,” said Old Aleck, turning to her. “What the fuck are we supposed to do?” He looked around at the crowd and the fire. He turned to Aleck. “Do you know what broke the Skull?” he snapped.

“What?” asked Aleck.

“The Skull of Kaios! What broke the Skull of Kaios!” asked Old Aleck.

“I have no idea,” said Aleck. “Why?”

“Maybe that’s why he’s crazy,” said Old Aleck to Beth. “It made him crazy when we put the busted Skull in his head. Or maybe we just got the wrong Cannibal-King. The broken Skull led us to the wrong one.”

“Or maybe your Guidebook screwed him up,” jeered Akaz. “Or maybe he’s exactly the Cannibal-King we wanted! Look around you! Melkhaios is free!”

You look!” shouted Old Aleck, pointing. Aleck saw a dozen Shallow Ones hung on hooks, a mob of Deep Ones pelting them with rocks. “Look!” Old Aleck pointed at a packed crowd of a hundred unarmed Normals, surrounded by Diggers with carved sticks savagely pounding anyone within reach, Normals clambering over each other, shoving and trampling, to get away from the edge of the crowd. “Look!” said Old Aleck, pointing to the fire, where bound and struggling Normals, Shallow Ones, and Herax were unceremoniously flung one after another into the flames. Givers and wolves wandered through the depths of the Wargus-Fire, feasting on the charred dead. “Nyarlathotep!” shouted Old Aleck. “This is nothing but a gigantic Rite of Augermath!”

“It’s an Autonomous Zone!” snarled Akaz.

“And you’ve tricked me into summoning a genocidal maniac!” continued Old Aleck.

“You don’t know that,” said Beth. “We don’t know what went wrong, Aleck.”

“Yeah, take it easy,” said Akaz.

Old Aleck turned to Aleck. “Look, you need to understand. I’ve spent my whole life trying to get back here to fix this. I remember this from when I was your age. When I was you. I thought I’d be able to change the course of things, that’s why I wrote the Guidebook.” He grabbed Aleck by the shoulders. “You have to figure out what went wrong, so that when you grow up, when you’re me, this won’t happen. There has to be a more peaceful solution!”

“Aleck, now you stop tampering with him!” said Beth. “Is this conversation exactly how you remember it, from when you were a kid?” snarled Beth. “Because if it isn’t, then you have no idea what else you’re changing!”

“Yes,” said Old Aleck. “Sure it’s the same.” He self-consciously lifted his hands from Aleck’s shoulders. “Basically.”

“To hell with waiting,” said Aleck. “We need to do something right now.”

“What?” said Old Aleck.

“This is fucked!” said Aleck. “Those guys are no better than the Herax! They could turn out to be even worse!”

“Look,” said Akaz, “just let the goddamned dust settle, and clean up details later.”

“Shut up,” said Aleck. “Let’s go find that Cannibal-King. Get him to stop those massacres. If he’s an honorable revolutionary—”

“You’re out of your mind, kid,” said Akaz. “In more ways than one.”

“Is that what you said,” Beth asked Old Aleck, “when you were his age? When you were on his end of this conversation?”

“No,” groaned Old Aleck. “I just agreed to fix it when I grew up and went off with Akaz, and he helped me get back to Earth. And I found myself back at the wreck of Damon’s Camaro.”

“Good plan,” said Akaz. “good plan. Come on, kid, I’ll buy you a beer, then we’ll get you back home the way you came.”

“You hypocrite,” said Aleck. “What happened to ‘Fortune favors the bold’? He has guns. He can stop the killing if he wants to, and we can get him to do it.”

“There’s too much going on in one place, honey,” said Beth. “Too many of us overlapping. Too much Weird Luck. The Cannibal-King and his wife are parallel to me and Aleck; add you and Akaz and their Akaz, it’s just too much. You’ll start a Train Wreck.”

“Or summon the Reality Patrol,” said Old Aleck. “She’s right, man. We’ve been tampering with things, yeah, but not spontaneously! You have to plan it out, and you’re walkin’ a tightrope to not make stray waves!”

“Look, kid,” said Akaz. “My methods look haphazard to you, but A) you don’t know the whole plan, and B) I can see Fate the way you see day and night. You have no concrete basis for judging risk. For me, navigating risk is like driving on a curved road.” He looked at Aleck’s scars. “Bad analogy, maybe. All I’m saying is, if you go maverick with all these pandimensional motherfuckers around, I’m betting on a goddamn Train Wreck, and I won’t have it. You think this is a mess, it’s nothing compared to a Train Wreck….”

table of contents

Holy Calamity (part six)


(excerpted from Weird Luck, book one in the City of the Watcher trilogy)


…Herax bodies lay spilled from the wrecks in the plaza, many of them horribly contorted and mangled. Aleck tried not to look as he jogged between them. He entered the front gate of the Circus.

“Aleck, don’t do this!” snarled Akaz, suddenly beside him, his voice echoing in the tunnel. “Get back to the God-Dog and wait until the dust settles!”

Inside the Circus, in the middle of the arena floor, several wrecked Herax ships blazed in a tangled pile. Entire trees lay burning among them. Pandemonium surrounded the conflagration: hundreds or perhaps thousands of Givers, Wilders, Diggers, and Deep Ones danced and reveled around the titanic, leaping flames. From overhead rumbled the incessant chant: We come as one! We come as one!

Aleck saw Herax boats swoop in low, raining barbed javelins and burning pitch, while the crowd fired back arrows and sling-stones. He saw unharmed archers scrape hot tar from their skins with the heads of arrows and relight the stuff in the fire, laughing as they fired flaming arrows back up. Hooded Keepers shuffled back and forth through the crowd, nursing the wounded with whiskey and bandages.

Aleck dodged through the crowd to the fireside. It roared huger and hotter than any he had ever seen, yet he felt no harm to his skin from it. For a moment he stood entranced, hands resting on the rail of a fallen ship, staring into the huge mound of shimmering coals. The tower of flames leapt bright against the cobalt sky. The metal rail felt like the surface of a stove; he turned his hands over and stared at his unharmed fingers and palms. A burly Digger threw his arm around Aleck’s shoulders and guffawed into his face with whiskey-stinking breath: “Akaz Fire-Wolf protecks the faithful, my son, haw haw!”

Aleck saw a pair of Wilders flinging speared corpses onto the fire.

Suddenly Akaz ran past him through the crowd, barking. A laughing Wilder leapt into the air and transformed into a hawk. Aleck watched him soar up towards the circling boats, where many crows, hawks, and owls flew likewise. One by one they would dive to the deck of a Herax ship, shift into wolf form, and wrestle a soldier off the far side, plummeting with him for a span before turning back into a bird. On one ship, Aleck saw two bears rampaging together, swatting Herax overboard. Another warship swarmed with a dozen elk, broad antlers swinging everywhere. Fallen Herax, living and dead, were heaved onto the fire.

Aleck heard rapid gunfire overhead. Looking up, he saw one of the flying rafts he had stolen from here — only hours ago, he realized. It felt like weeks. The raft carried a white Ford cargo van with a ring-mounted machine gun in the roof. The gunner laughed, swinging around to spray a flying boat with bullets. The deck kicked up splinters. Machinegunned Herax sprawled overboard.

The sound of the motorcycle’s engine passed by and halted not far from Aleck, idling. A man with a hunting rifle wandered unscathed through the conflagration of flaming timbers, balancing effortlessly as they shifted under his weight. He flung his rifle towards the crowd, and Aleck saw the motorcyclist lean in to catch it: a white woman with long, red hair. Her heavily-freckled face was shaped exactly like Beth’s and the Nymph’s.

The man in the fire hauled a crackling pine-sapling, thirty feet long, out from the midst of the pile. He scanned the boats overhead. Gripping the base of the trunk with both hands, he swung the sapling around in a roaring arc and hurled it a hundred yards through the air. The burning tree turned end for end and smote the mast of a diving longboat, flipping it over. The crew tumbled directly onto the fire, the boat smashing down on them and sending up a huge gout of sparks. The mob in the Circus raised a deafening cheer.

The man hopped down from the fire and got on the motorcycle behind the redhead. “That should give the motherfuckers some strategic data to analyze,” Aleck heard him say over the roar of crowd and fire. The man looked like Old Aleck, aged maybe thirty or so, but with no scars, brown hair, and a black eyepatch. Aleck pushed his way through the crowd as the motorcycle started to pull away. He dodged between bodies, trying to catch up. “Hey!” he shouted. The crowd thinned as they got further from the fire, parting for the motorcycle and cheering as it passed. Aleck dove into its wake and broke into a full run, but the motorcycle picked up speed and roared away.

“What the hell!” Aleck said aloud, giving up the chase.

“They’re us, more or less, from a parallel Earth,” said a woman’s voice. Aleck turned and found himself face to face with Beth, his future wife, astride a creaky old bicycle. Beside her, Aleck’s older self crouched on a pink girl’s bike.

“What?” said Aleck, looking back and forth between them.

“All of us are intertwined with the cosmology of this world,” Beth continued.

“There you are!” said Akaz, running up to them….

table of contents

Holy Calamity (part five)


(excerpted from Weird Luck, book one in the City of the Watcher trilogy)


…Aleck approached the Circus. A smoky haze thickened in the air. Distant sounds gradually resolved into innumerable drumbeats, cacophonous shouting, and the throbbing chant of hundreds of Herax voices. Big black crows perched at every street corner, cawing out to one another in their enigmatic counting-code. Occasionally Aleck heard screams or weeping echoing out from the buildings around him.

He passed the burning shell of a small mansion, a broken Herax warship leaning out the roof to hang its stern over the street. A dying bonfire of stacked furniture and Herax corpses smoldered in the front courtyard beside a pair of upside-down longboats. Here, finally, corpses. Aleck hurried past, averting his gaze from the burnt bodies.

He neared the end of the street. Crows crowded the rooftops, croaking into the eastern sky as though barking at the ascending moon. Herax boats and ships swarmed over the Circus like carrion flies on a hot day. Aleck walked past the carcass of a dead dog, its ribs splayed open to reveal a charred, empty husk. A sickening smell of burnt flesh and fur hung around it. Aleck gagged at the stench. Further along lay another exploded dog, with the burnt, broken corpses of several Herax warriors sprawled beside it. Aleck frowned and felt his eyes water.

Akaz walked up and nuzzled the dead dog’s head. “Good boy,” he whispered. “May you come back as a dog.”

“Akaz,” said Aleck.

Akaz looked up, cocked his head. He sniffed the air in Aleck’s direction. “Oh, it’s you!” he laughed. “Jesus, you must have really messed yourself up with that Token, kid. I thought you were Old Aleck.” He looked closer. “I guess you only look twenty or thirty. The white hair threw me. Old Aleck is more like forty.”

“I’m pissed off at you for dragging me into one screwy situation after another,” said Aleck, “and never telling me what the hell is going on.”

“Sorry,” said Akaz.

“And frankly,” continued Aleck, “I’m suspicious of your politics.”

“Whatever,” said Akaz. “I’m a vanguardist, whaddaya want from me.”

“I don’t know what that means,” said Aleck, “but you seem kinda fascist to me.”

“I’m not fucking fascist!” roared Akaz. “I’m just heedless!”

“You son of a bitch,” snapped Aleck.

“Dig, son,” said Akaz, “it’s over. As good as over, anyways. Still not safe, though, especially this close to the fighting. You should get back to the God-Dog. Whoa—” He trotted into the alley nearby. “Come on!” he stage-whispered. Aleck followed, ducking with Akaz into the shadows. Moments later, a Herax longboat floated past, hovering low like a huge, wheelless wagon.

“I still don’t understand what’s happening,” said Aleck. “The city’s like a ghost town. Where is everybody?”

“Hiding, I guess,” said Akaz. “Or ran away.”

“I saw blood everywhere,” said Aleck, “but hardly any bodies.”

Akaz did something that must have been a shrug.

“Where’s Blood Eagle?” asked Aleck.

“He took the Circus!” said Akaz, unable to contain the excitement in his voice. “The Cannibal-King has weapons even beyond what I’d hoped. Those telepathic bastards will retreat to the Herax Zone before long.”

Aleck looked towards the Circus. Crashed Herax boats littered the plaza outside the gates, some of them burning brightly. “I want to see what’s happening.”

“No way,” said Akaz, stepping in front of Aleck. “Bad idea. It’s a done deal now, chief, so you need to lay low. If you get messed up, you mess up your future self, and we lose all of this.”

Aleck heard what sounded like a machine gun echoing inside the Circus. “What was that?” he asked, walking briskly past Akaz.

“Nothing,” said Akaz, pacing him. “Come on, turn around. Get back to the God-Dog.

A motorcycle engine revved inside the Circus, followed by more gunfire. “Are you kidding me?” said Aleck, breaking into a run. “What’s going on? Where did the guns come from?”

Akaz loped alongside him. “The Cannibal-King brought them with him from his Earth. Look, kid, I really don’t think you get it. There’s nothing for you to see in there. It’s over!” He began shouting. “The only thing that could go wrong, at this point, is if you do something stupid! Like wander onto a fucking battlefield!”

“I have the Nymph’s robe,” said Aleck. He stopped. “Plus, honestly, I don’t care what you want, O Great Akaz. I’m not your pawn anymore.” He gave Akaz the finger with both hands and ran towards the Circus….

table of contents

Holy Calamity (part four)


(excerpted from Weird Luck, book one in the City of the Watcher trilogy)


…Aleck ran towards the kitchen. The Nymph’s robe lay folded beside the steps. Beneath it, Aleck found his sneakers, jeans, and t-shirt. He grabbed them and ducked inside.

A mob of Corpsewater cooks cheered him. Soaking wet, clutching his clothes to him, without a word Aleck pushed on the right side of the door and stumbled dizzily down the back steps of the Sign of the God-Dog.

The waxing crescent moon hung fat on the horizon, haloed by mist, casting eerie dream-light into the clearing behind the God-Dog. A cacophony froze Aleck’s blood. Scores of wolves howled up at the night. Innumerable crows hopped in the dark trees of the Spiral Mounds, cawing. He saw naked, painted Wilders everywhere: drumming, smoking pipes, play-fighting with the wolves. He watched Wilders change into wolves, crows, bears, deer; animals changed into Wilders or other animals. Everyone roamed freely back and forth across the Spiral Ride. Aleck feel electric excitement filling the depth and breadth of the clearing.

None of Aleck’s Earth-clothes fit his new body except for loosely-tied sneakers worn as slippers. He threw on the Nymph’s robe. Putting the hood up, he walked among the Wilders and wolves. Some sniffed at him as he passed, some eyed him warily, but most seemed not to notice him. He searched for Akaz and the Cook but spotted neither. Anticipation grew in Aleck’s gut and tingled his extremities. Distant howls came on the night-breeze, and around the edges of the crowd more wolves and Wilders arrived, while others departed. The broad crescent moon glowed hazily.

At the far edge of the clearing, Aleck saw Wilders gathering up bows and sheafs of arrows from haphazard piles. Once armed, they disappeared into the trees. Aleck followed, but immediately lost sight of any shapeshifting wild folk. Cutting across the Spiral Mounds, he climbed over wooded ridges dappled in moonlight. Occasionally he glimpsed Wilders moving in the shadows.

Beyond the third ridge he descended to a neighborhood of crumbling stone buildings and twisting dirt streets, partly overgrown with vines and shrubs. He walked past many houses with well-tended vegetable gardens, but he saw no one, neither Wilders nor townsfolk. What the hell happened? How long was I out for? Smashed doors hung askew on their hinges. Shutters lay broken in the street beneath gaping, empty windows. Now and then he heard voices wailing in lamentation. He saw bloodstains everywhere — pooled on the street, splashed on walls — but no bodies. Crossing a small plaza, he passed an ornate fountain, filled in with dirt and planted in concentric rows; beyond, another fountain, intact but plain, featured a statue of Goromath spouting water from both hands. A large wolf lay in red water at the statue’s feet, bristling with Herax javelins. So they don’t change back to normal form when they die, like a werewolf, he thought. Or… what’s normal? Aleck nervously watched the sky.

Behind the Goromath statue stood a wall of fitted rubble ten feet high. It stretched to either side as far as Aleck could see, and atop it ran a catwalk between heavy wooden railings. He smelled smoke. Through a wide arch in the wall he thought he saw firelight dancing on the paving-stones of a courtyard. He passed through and found himself in the New Market. The booths looked abandoned, as did the aisles threading among them. The only sound came from the crackling embers of a crashed Herax ship and a dozen burned booths around it. He thought he saw charred bodies and looked away. Aleck saw numerous columns of smoke elsewhere in the Market rising from other wrecks. Behind the Senate, he noticed the glow of living fire pulsing in the sky.

He made his way through the Market, cowering into his hood and keeping to the shadows. A faraway voice shouted, “Where are you? Where are you?” Aleck stepped in a cold puddle and cursed, then recognized it for a pool of blood. Cringing, he looked around for a body, but found none. He saw many more pools and trails of blood before he reached the Senate building, but no corpses.

Aleck reached the entrance he and Akaz used before. Thick tendrils of smoke curled around the lintel to climb the wall like ivy; through the gaping archway he saw the air inside was chokingly thick with smoke. He backed out and wandered around the side of the building, nervously crossing the river on a stone bridge hugging the Senate wall: the water below churned furiously.

The sky glowed over the Circus of Burnt Skulls. Aleck snuck down the abandoned street. This time, with no crowd pressing around him, he took proper notice of the neighborhood; these buildings were larger and in much better shape than those in the slum he’d just passed through. Many extravagant mansions overlooked the street, heavily weathered, each unique, richly ornamented with a technique that made them seem carved from a single huge stone. Smaller buildings clustered between them in a sort of monotonous imitation, each sprouting the same clutter of inelegant fixtures and finials. More splashes and trails of blood decorated this part of the city, but still no bodies….

table of contents

Holy Calamity (part three)


(excerpted from Weird Luck, book one in the City of the Watcher trilogy)


…Aleck jumped to his feet, bumping his knee. The Cook crouched beside the rock, green braids bright in the sunlight. “She had to grow your body to compensate for the Token,” he said. “Your legs are longer.”

“What?” said Aleck. Was his voice deeper? He looked at his hands. Bigger, older, more weathered. Why more weathered? he thought. Weathered from what, if my body’s freshly-grown? He knelt down on the rock to look into the pool, painfully bumping the same knee. His reflection had white hair, an unshaven scruff of white whiskers. His scars looked much less severe. He turned to face the Cook. “How old do I look?” His voice was definitely deeper.

“I’m not the one to ask,” said the Cook. “I’m no good at guessing mortals’ ages. Can’t count very high, truth be told.”

“What?” asked Aleck. “You don’t know how to count?”

The Cook shrugged. “Why bother? Especially something irrelevant like years.” He gestured at the Sign of Death’s Door. “I picked the habit up from these folk, but I can’t count any higher than thirty-seven.”

“Thirty-seven?” said Aleck, laughing involuntarily. “Why thirty-seven?”

The Cook frowned. “I am thirty-seven years old. I remember each cycle of the seasons, and if I think on them one by one, I can count to thirty-seven. But, really, it’s a senseless ability. At least something like masturbation serves a purpose. But counting? It’s not even fun.”

“Counting is fun,” said Aleck, then wondered if it was true. “Kind of,” he continued.

“Shitting is fun,” said the Cook. “Counting is more like holding in shit when you don’t have to.”

Aleck laughed.

“It may feel good, but it’s not necessarily good for you,” concluded the Cook. He knelt beside the pool and repeatedly slapped the surface of the water. “He’s awake!” he bellowed down at the pool. Ripples spread across the pool and softened. No response came.

The Ostler burst out of the kitchen and stumbled down the stairs. “Oh, you’re awake!” he shouted, giving Aleck a big hug. He cocked an eyebrow. “You look so different. You must be starved, to have grown so much so suddenly.” He turned and ran back into the kitchen, announcing, “Everyone! He’s awake! And he’s hungry!”

Aleck sat down on the rock. He looked around the clearing, then looked at his hands again. “What the hell do I do now?” he said.

“It seems your portion of the prophecy has run its course,” said the Cook. “Your fate now resumes its mystery, at least for a time.”

“Whaddaya mean, ‘for a time’?”

“Until you return here as ‘Old Aleck,’“ said the Cook. “Perhaps for now you are free to choose. Me, I go to Melkhaios, to fight.”

The Nymph of the Shrine burst up out of the pool, splashing them with water. She landed on her feet beside them. “Aleck!” she shouted. “You are awake.” The scar on her forehead seemed to have reopened into a bloodless gash.

“Hi!” said Aleck. “You’re free of the Bay! How’d you get free? What happened to your head?”

“Where is my Token?” snarled the Nymph.

“Uh….” said Aleck.

“Blood Eagle took it to the Cannibal-King,” said the Cook.

“Why didn’t you stop him!” shouted the Nymph.

“My apologies, Queen of Heaven,” said the Cook, bowing his head. “The true Cannibal-King has arrived in our world. The time to strike is now.”

“Imbecile!” snapped the Nymph. “You cannot stop war with war!”

“When we kill Goromath and Apraxos,” said the Cook, “our island will be free. I go now to fight alongside my kin.” He stood and walked to the kitchen.

“You have forgotten the true meaning of cooking!” the Nymph shouted after him. He closed the door. The Nymph stared after him.

“The true meaning of cooking?” asked Aleck.

“Cooking is love,” muttered the Nymph. She frowned down at the pool. Aleck noticed the Corpsewater Nymph floating just below the surface of the water. “How dare you heal that murderer!” shouted the Nymph of the Shrine.

The Corpsewater Nymph stuck her skull-head out of the water. “Which one?” she hissed, nodding at Aleck.

The Nymph of the Shrine looked at Aleck, then back at the Corpsewater Nymph. “I tell you, sister, that Giver will sow only seeds of evil,” she said.

“The fields of Fate are endlessly planted and reaped,” said the Corpsewater Nymph. “You must transcend your fear of death, sister. Death comes even for we who do not age.”

“Even you don’t understand!” sobbed the Nymph of the Shrine. “Even you.” Aleck thought the gash in her forehead had started to bleed, but he realized that clear water was leaking from it at both ends.

“Death means nothing,” smiled the Corpsewater Nymph. “Sister, do not cry.”

The Nymph of the Shrine screamed in frustration, the third eye opening in her forehead. She clenched her fists, and blinding yellow light burst forth from her three eyes. She leapt up into the air and flew out of sight, still screaming, her voice trailing into the distance. Clouds immediately whirled in and blackened the sky; thunder shook from horizon to horizon, and rain poured down in a sudden torrent….

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Holy Calamity (part two)


(excerpted from Weird Luck, book one in the City of the Watcher trilogy)


“…You’re me,” said Aleck.

“Yeah,” said Old Aleck. “So be careful, or you’ll botch my whole life up. I’ll fly you over to the kitchen, man.”

“We have the Skull of Kaios,” said Aleck.

“I know,” said Old Aleck. “I remember. That’s why I’m here. It’s time for me to do the thing.”

“Here,” said Akaz. He spat out the halves of the Skull and the Jawbone of Zebdod. Old Aleck gingerly picked up the pieces of the Skull and stared at them, his face ashen.

“What’s wrong?” rasped Aleck. “We almost died getting those!”

“Those,’“ said Old Aleck. “Plural. It’s still broken.”

“Were we supposed to fix it?” asked Aleck.

“Retroactively,” said Old Aleck. “Not you. Me and him.” He nodded towards Akaz.

“Come on,” said Akaz. “We have shit to do. Did you finish your book?”

“Kind of,” whispered Old Aleck, dropping the parts of the Skull on the ground.

“The book’s fine,” said the woman who looked like the Nymph. “Come on, baby, pick up the Skull.”

“Are you my wife?” Aleck asked her, imagining the ridicule of his racist classmates. His integrationist parents, on the other hand, and his White Panther brothers Billy and Mikey, would thrill at the revolutionary implications of him getting with a Black chick. He wondered if that was maybe kinda fucked up too, though.

“I’m his wife, honey,” she said, pointing her thumb at Old Aleck. “You can call me Beth. And that reminds me: one thing before you go. When you meet a girl you like, just be yourself. You don’t have to try to impress anyone.”

Aleck didn’t follow. “Huh, what?”

“Beth,” said Old Aleck.

“I’m just trying to help you act like less of a dumbass when we meet,” Beth laughed back. “And another thing,” she said to Aleck. “Don’t worry about whether or not you’re going to get in a girl’s pants. You will or you won’t.”

“All right!” snapped Old Aleck. “Stop messing with him!” Gripping the Circomangkus in both hands, he hoisted Aleck and Blood Eagle’s raft into the air. The raft flew across the clearing towards the God-Dog.

“Don’t make me go through that gate again,” moaned Aleck, feeling faint.

“First Herald, is that you?”

Aleck tried to orient towards the voice. Was he floating? No, dreaming—

“You look much the same,” said the voice. Blood Eagle.

Aleck heard birds. He wasn’t dreaming. He had been sleeping dreamlessly, and the voice was real. He opened his eyes to see Blood Eagle’s bald head, engraved with jagged scars, framed in a halo of sunshine and trees. Aleck lay naked on a rock beside the Corpsewater pool. He sat up. His body felt healthy, even euphoric. “I feel like a million bucks.”

“I cannot vouch for the bravery of bucks,” said Blood Eagle, crouching beside him. “Ask the Cook about those and bears and other wood-beasts. Humbly, though,” he spoke softly, “perhaps a million is too many, even for you, slaughterer of multitudes.”

Aleck gulped.

Blood Eagle spoke loudly: “I would sooner name you for our desert-kin, the trapdoor spider.”

Aleck stared at him sleepily. “What?”

“I praise you for your strategy, Trapdoor Spider,” said Blood Eagle, standing back up and thumping himself in the chest with his fist. The Circomangkus and Token of Time Dilation dangled around his neck. “In bringing me here, you have bypassed every Herax between us and the Cannibal-King effortlessly. I go now to deliver the Token and rafts to Him.”

“‘Him’ who?” asked Aleck.

“The Cannibal-King. I invite you to join us at war when you are able. Thank Great Akaz for me if you see him.” He stepped onto a raft. Aleck saw the rest of the rafts standing upended around the clearing, leaning against nothing. Blood Eagle’s raft leapt up into the sky; the rest followed, except the battered one they had taken into the Well of Apraxos. It hovered slightly, fell to earth, and toppled over against a tree. Aleck watched Blood Eagle fly away, his ghost-fleet in formation behind him. Aleck closed his eyes and tried to focus his mind. What the hell is going on. What the hell am I supposed to do now.

“Good morning,” said a voice behind him….

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