By Jeff Williams

A Story of the Mare Inebrium
Mare Inebrium Universe created by Dan Hollifield

(with thanks to Wim Wenders, Peter Handke, and Bono)

If I could stay then the night would give you up
Stay, and the day would keep its trust
Stay, with the demons you drowned
Stay, with the spirit I found
Stay, and the night would be enough.


Korstas Therin sat behind the counter of the Bethdish Space Terminal Newsstand, his left hand on a concealed laser pistol, his right holding a Bethdish pornographic magazine. He idly thumbed through the pages, letting his eyes wander with only minor interest over the various species in various stages of undress.

Get worse by the year, they do, he thought. But not one bad enough for me yet. The laughter in his own mind was screechy, grating, and thoroughly despicable, sounds which troubled the man in black woolen coat in the corner of the store, watching him read.

The door opened with a chime that once was pleasant but which now sounded dull and grating after years of poor maintenance. Slowly, with little cautious steps, a bedraggled woman walked through. Her long blonde hair was fastened loosely and sloppily with a hair pin, echoing her overall thrown together, almost accidental appearance.

Slowly, and with a manic, forced smile upon her smooth though haggard looking face, she approached the counter, her hands in the pockets of the blue jean-jacket she wore.

With only mild interest, Therin looked up from his magazine. Great, he thought, panhandler or street whore come to bum a burger again. His eyes scanned the ceiling, quickly locating the security camera specifically focused on the counter. A red light glowed brightly. Shit, just my luck. The damn thing’s working. Reluctantly, he let his finger slide off of the trigger of the gun, an action watched closely by the eyes of the man in black, now standing directly behind the clerk.

“Can I help you, miss,” Therin said with no small measure of contempt to the woman now standing in front of the main counter.

“Yeah, dude,” she said with a girlish laugh, “listen man, I...I... Well, see, I had this accident a couple blocks down.” She pulled her left hand out of her pocket, showing a torn sleeve and a bloody gash just beneath it. “My hovercar, see, kinda crashed. Anyway, what I need... Don’t look at me like that, dude!” Her blue eyes focused upon Therin’s disbelieving face, her giggling rising as she spoke. “Man, I swear, this is gospel truth.” She put her right hand to her heart. “Small compact model. Bought it used a year ago, and it’s down there TKO’d near Gate 57.”

“I’m sorry to hear that little missy,” Therin said, adopting an accent he’d once heard in an old Earth western. Bitch, get out before I blow your head off! Get out get out get out get out get out...

The man in black held his hands to his ears, momentarily blocking the ever degenerating thoughts of the clerk.

Oh, god, this has gotta work, the woman thought, please let this work. Let Sara pull it off this once. Her mind flashed to the piece of broken glass she’d used to cut her arm just before coming in to the store. Let me have this, and I won’t cut myself again!!! Her inner voice sounded like a child’s on the verge of tears, and its soft sound slowly began drowning out the vicious thoughts of the shop keeper, allowing the unseen figure to lower his hands.

“Anyway, what I need to do is get a message to my dad and have him send some money,” she continued, her speaking punctuated by fits of manic, nervous laughter. Get a grip, damn you! “And...and...see, he lives all the way out at Blackport Station, I mean way out in the deep blue yonder, and those hyperspace calls really eat up the cash. Mister, I’m so far from home...” Her laughter began turning into ever increasing sobs. “And, um, if I can’t get Daddy on the phone...I just...just...” She wiped her nose and face on a dirty sleeve. “I don’t know what I’ll do tonight!”

Fuckin’ show’s over, Therin thought as he prepared to act, though some of the horrifying plans flashing through his mind were immediately thwarted by the sound of another customer entering the building.

“Look, gal, I’m sorry this ain’t your night,” Therin said, editing the language he wished to use because of the presence of the paying customer. “But I’m not a bank. I’m not givin’ you no money for a vidphone call or for that fix your little veins need or for that virtual reality patch your noggin’s cravin’, so just take your sorry self out of my store before I call the constables on you!” The woman looked devastated, and she began crying even harder.

“But man, I’ve gotta call Daddy! You’re gonna make me stay on the street tonight???”

“Ain’t my concern,” Therin said coldly. “Now, take your ass outside, or the cops will haul it out there for you!”

“All right, all right,” she screamed both literally and in her head, and she started for the door. A steady stream of obscenities and sick thoughts paraded through Therin’s mind, and again he cursed the all-watching security camera as the woman walked through the door, crying louder than ever. Hope you get hit by a hovercab, he thought near the end of his internal tirade. Suddenly, though, he swore he felt a breeze of movement behind him, and in a quick flash, he was turned around facing the wall behind him, laser gun in hand, safety off. There was, however, nothing to see, and he cursed his own imagination to the deepest corner of hell.

In the night, Sara Griff walked along the darkened streets, her path paralleling the fence of Bethdish Space Terminal. All the tears had stopped the minute the doors closed behind her at the convenience store. Already, her mind was carefully formulating a new plan. Mission of Lights, she thought. That immortals charity. 50 credit donations to hard luck cases to little old helpless women like me. Inwardly, her voice was crying, but the cold calculations continued. But you gotta help me, my baby...my precious little boy. No...not that. Not enough pity. My baby! My precious little girl! We lost everything in that apartment fire on Reever’s Way. I just need something to get started again...

Sara stopped, her body suddenly reeling in pain, and spun and grabbed hold of the fence, both hands holding on with all their might as she was rocked with tremors. Why did you have to cut your arm, she yelled inside as pain from her hand and wrist shot through her already overloaded nervous system. Did you really think that slimeball would pity you more.... Her thoughts clouded together, and she slowly began slumping to the ground, her black stockings catching on the fence and tearing even more in places, her skirt becoming even more dirty thanks to the grime on the links.

“Somebody help me,” she stammered in a whisper, tears rolling down her shaking face. “Five credits? Please, I’ll do anything for five...” Or two or one...I’ll even do the cheap crap if the shaking will just STOP!!!!

The figure in black had been watching her from across the road, listening to her thoughts, watching her move. Alone among all of the people in the city, he could hear the music from deep within her soul, the poetry that was Sara’s heart. Most importantly, he felt her pain, and guided by his most basic mission, he moved next to her in the passing of second.

Now, Sara was on the ground, rapidly losing control, rapidly sinking into a withdrawal she knew not everyone came out of alive. Crouching, he moved close to Sara’s body and wrapped his arms around her, pressing his forehead to the side of her face, and he reached in and touched the very core of her being.

What is it, Sara suddenly thought, what is it? What is it?

Butterflies...fluttering...wings...touching... High... It’s passing... For a precious moment, a feeling of well-being and contentment flowed through her, a long breath passing through her mouth, and suddenly she found the strength to fight her way out of the tremors, to pull herself from the abyss to her admittedly low but stable position in life. Sighing, she pulled herself link by fence link from the ground to her feet, and the figure stepped back, his eyes watching her with a mixture of terrible pity, utter compassion, and wonder. Sara sniffled a little more and looked around to see if anyone was watching. Is someone watching me...someone near...can’t be...

Sara’s confusion was interrupted by the loud roar of an old freighter leaving the terminal for the orbital space port, it’s landing lights temporarily lighting the relative darkness of where she stood. Tugging on her jacket to close her torso from the cold of the Bethdish night, she began walking along the sidewalk again.

It’s stopped now, she whispered in her mind, but you know it won’t stay that way. It never does. And slowly, with great effort, she continued on her walk along the fence line towards the place she called home.

Deep strike interdiction role for the fighter, the Space Force commander thought as he walked along the perimeter of the space terminal. Range, fifteen lightyears without refueling. Infinite with those deep space tankers. Self-sustaining power system, they say. Waste disposal and food is the rub. He walked along towards one of the main gates, having just landed along with the rest of his squadron after joint training exercises. Flight testing under these conditions in front of the whole friggin’ universe isn’t my idea of prudent. We’ve the range and the speed but that atmospheric fighting... Creamed! A kill to the squad in every encounter. Oh, thank the stars for R & R, thank the stars for R & R, thank the stars...

The figure in black walked beside the commander, listening in on his thoughts. Reaching into his pocket, the man in the woolen outfit pulled out a notebook and pencil and scribbled down the phrase repeating constantly in the commander’s head. Thank the stars for R & R. Thank the stars for R & R.

‘Interesting how over the millennia, giving thanks to the Creator has given way to thanking mere objects,’ the figure wrote as he kept pace with the commander. ‘And he keeps repeating the phrase. Continually, like a Catholic penance. No human sense of joy is expressed. No enthusiasm is indicated.’ Thank the stars for R & R, the commander’s voice intruded. ‘Are these his thoughts, or do they belong to his masters,’ the man in black wrote. The figure peered into the soul of the commander and quickly ascertained what was causing the disconnect, and he felt pity and compassion for him, as well as more pity for the woman he’d been trying to help for so many weeks now.

“Good evening, sir,” the squat man with the hairy face, a native species to Bethdish, said to the commander as he approached gate 57. “Welcome to Bethdish. I need to see your parking clearances and your universal passport.”

“The name is Captain Thurgood Lewis, 32nd detachment, United Space Forces. I believe all the information you need is on record. Here’s my ID.” Lewis handed the guard a small computer cube. The guard removed a scanning device from a holster by his side, and he inserted the cube. Information about the commander appeared on the display screen, and seconds later it was cross-referenced with other files.

“Sorry to detain you, sir,” the guard mumbled apologetically. “Have a pleasant stay in City of Lights, Captain.” Without saying another word, Captain Lewis retrieved his cube and passed through the gate into one of the seedier sections of Bethdish, his destination a small apartment some three blocks away.

The control tower for the Bethdish Space Terminal, even at 2400GST, was abuzz with activity. Approach control was either taking on or handing off over thirty spacecraft every seven minutes.

“THX-1138, you’re cleared for approach to ground area 858-Golf. Follow D’rrish Station beacon until pick up of City of Lights transponder. Contact ground control for permission to land.” Controller Erlos Ulyon listened to the response from the ship still in high orbit above Bethdish. One down, he thought in clear Uglorian, his native language. Now how many handoffs are we at? The pool is forty-five transfers total over this two hour period from the orbital port down here. Jaaz! Close, very close.

“City of Lights, YF22-F15E, requesting transfer path and landing clearance,” a heavily modulated voice said into the controller’s headset. Erlos laughed quietly to himself so as not to disturb the visual spotters and the other ground controllers. Thirty-eight, he laughed in his own mind.

“YF22-F15E. Turn 74 x 360, approach path delta. Pick up and follow D’rrish Station beacon at 0005 GST. Follow until pick up of City of Lights transponder...”

Just outside, on the ledge of the control tower, the man in black--who was named Koriel-- listened to the thoughts of Erlos and every other controller present. His eyes, however, scanned the neighborhood just outside of gate 57. The night, he assumed, was cold. Occasionally, a controller would step from the tower, huddling arms nearby, breath condensing instantly into vapor. Then, in long, luxurious puffs, the controller would inhale a cigarette, anxious thoughts and sheer exhaustion radiating from his/her/its mind.

The controllers back in Berlin thought those very thoughts, the unseen figure had thought as he grasped the hand of one particularly despondent individual, attempting to fill the weary fellow with hope, joy, inspiration... You are our joy, Koriel thought at the time, you receive back what you have given us, our long awaited image.

Berlin, the figure thought, his gray eyes piercing through the dull gray of his black and white world, home for the instantaneous moment of the eons. Potzdamer Platz, the library, the Wall, the reunification...

His home, now, was City of Lights, Bethdish, a place he’d never dreamed of though its existence came as no surprise. And now, inconceivable light years away, but the mere blink of a thought in travel time, he sat on the ledge watching a tragic dance unfolding between a man and a woman. . . and it filled him with a sensation he couldn’t quite explain.

Sara weaved and darted her way through the more darkened areas of the city streets, heading for the district in which she lived. Some blocks away, but on a course destined to intercept with the girl’s, Captain Lewis walked slowly and deliberately, stopping once to light an herbal burner (legal, barely, in the Space Force for those with a high enough ranking). He was in no hurry, Koriel could feel. The officer had plenty of time, plenty of money...

Getting tired. Just fifteen more minutes, one controller, Filip Maxis, thought. Just fifteen more minutes to home...

“Pegasus 818 cleared for transit through Bethdish Restricted Area,” the same controller said into his comset. “Stay on the Reever beacon until given clearance to proceed to the Reever’s Office. Good-day, sir.”

On the ledge, it took several seconds for a clear message to penetrate through the Koriel’s mind. His eyes were riveted upon Sara walking ever more slowly towards the place she called her home. He watched her trip and nearly fall several times, but still she managed to project a certain aura of grace, a certain earthly beauty, a certain...

Koriel jumped with a start--the thought, the command, finally breaking through--and he appeared next to the tired controller who was thinking of home. Slowly, the figure walked around the controller and then lightly touched the sides of the short man’s head.

The controller looked puzzled for a moment but then seemed to pass off the odd sensation washing over him as little more than exhaustion.

“Rocket Man 13-5, you are cleared to transit through Port Authority airspace. Contact...contact...” The controller suddenly felt himself being gnawed at by an unresolved thought, something that seemed horribly important. “Rocket Man 13-5, stand-by.” Scanning his flight data screen for something, anything, unusual, his eyes caught sight of a potential conflict. Pegasus 818 was taking a low level approach along a route not normally traversed by incoming traffic. However, the flight path did intersect the Bethdish Passenger Terminal and the regular Rocket Man flight preparing to take off. If the ship went airborne at the wrong time...

“Rocket Man 13-5, abort your take-off and recycle five minutes for next launch corridor. We have a potential conflict.”

“Rocket Man 13-5, roger,” the pilot’s voice replied. Man, that was too close, the controller thought, too damn close. Hit hearts pumping, the controller quickly made a note in the log about what had transpired. The dark figure, already gone, was notified of his success.

You want it, Sara thought as she walked, arms wrapped tightly around her body. You need it. Are you sure, baby, sure there’s no more? Did you look, look, look, look, look everywhere? Think, bitch, think... Damnit, I’ve told myself a million times not to curse at myself... Shit! The tremor’s are starting again. She turned a corner and shook and walked down an alley towards her door. It wasn’t the safest, most well-lit location, but the price was right, and the owner neither stopped in to check on her tenants nor really cared about the conditions, so long as anything broken was fixed before the person moved out. Sara remembered the condition of the previous tenant and understood why hardly anyone left without repairing the place first.

Who gives a fuck about repairs, she shouted at herself, frantically reminding the rest of her body in schizophrenic fashion that what mattered was not repairs to the apartment but the repairs to her all-consuming need.

“Sara,” Captain Lewis said from the shadows. Startled, Sara’s keys dropped to the ground with a surprised jingle that reverberated through the narrow alley.

Damnit, don’t embarrass me you prick, Sara screamed in her mind as she struggled to pick up the keys while still maintaining her balance. “C-c-captain Thurgood Lewis,” she said by way of terse greeting.

Good grief, that was funny, Captain Lewis laughed to himself. “I’m sorry, old girl. I didn’t mean to give you such a fright.”

“Then why the hell did you hide in the friggin’ shadows,” Sara retorted angrily. Easy, she thought, don’t piss him off too much. This man’s gonna be your salvation tonight. Thank your lucky stars it didn’t have to be some boozer out on the strip. With great difficulty, she slid her old-style house key into the lock and gave it a good twist, the bolt retracting with a quiet thud. “Well, come on if you’re coming on,” Sara said without looking back.

Smiling wryly, thinking thoughts that Koriel, who stood next to the Captain, was finding most disturbing, the space commander followed behind and quickly closed the door once he was inside.

Sara flipped the lightswitch and placed her keys on an octopus-shaped key-hook and pushed her way through dirty clothes and old takeout bags. The walls, bare and lifeless, stared grayly at a virtually empty room, the only furniture a curio cabinet stuffed with crystalline trinkets and tiny dolls strewn over all the shelves, and a small table covered in powders and food stains. Reading the picture in her mind, Koriel instantly knew of the tiny bedroom and bathroom located just behind the kitchen.

Bastard probably wondering where the hell the maid is, Sara thought. Nah. Thinking of a hard lay...thinkingthinkingthinkinghahahahahahahaha. Koriel tried to fight his way through a sudden wall of surface thoughts--ideas and descriptions of sights, sounds, and smells put up seemingly to block out deeper layers of feelings. “Sorry about this being the maid’s week off,” Sara said with a certain amount of sarcasm.

“S’ok,” the captain said. “Sara...not to put too fine a point on it, but...” Captain Lewis’ eyes darted towards the bedroom, and Koriel caught a sense of sadness welling up in Sara’s heart. There was a long pause, a seemingly interminable one to the captain, but finally Sara spoke.

“Not wasting any time are you,” she said with an insincere smile. The shaking was beginning again, and a feeling of desperation began washing through her. “How much you want to spend, Captain Lewis, sir? And what do you wanna do?” Her blue eyes momentarily softened.

The captain smiled a wicked, curved smile. “I’ve got 100 credits to spare, and you know what I want. We’ve been down this alley before.” Her eyes grayed again, and Koriel felt a new wave of sadness within her. Summoning up every ounce of concentration to quell the shaking, Sara maintained a poker-faced grin. Captain Lewis removed his gloves, slowly.

“150,” she said calmly, “cigaretts, but no lighters. No marks above the neck; no marks below the thigh.”

“Trying to keep up appearances, are we?” the captain asked with an air of smugness. His kicked with his toe at a bag from a D’rrish/Bethdishi restaurant.

“You know,” Sara said plainly. “I don’t need you or your fantasies. You can just go find some other girl over in the red light district.” Ohgodno, nonononono, don’t go...don’t leave...I don’t mean it don’t mean it don’t mean it... “But I also know that you know you ain’t gonna get it as cheap as I give it from the likes of them. They charge megacredits for people who want kicks like you do.”

“You’re not the only strung-out addict on the planet you know,” the captain murmured with a certain amount of irritation. “I’ll give you 125, no more, and you’d better consider that a favor. I don’t need you...but you sure need me.” Inside, Sara felt both humiliated and enraged, feelings that had a paradoxical effect in that they calmed the withdrawal pains.

“Okay,” she finally said as she walked towards the bedroom. “You get one hour, though. And remember, no marks in visible places.” The captain held his hands in the air and nodded his head in agreement, a smirk on his face. Then, he quickly followed her towards the room he’d wanted to go to all along.

Koriel stood in the livingroom, a palpable feeling rushing through him, a feeling which made him very uncomfortable. Despite his desire to stay, to protect, he realized the need to gain some distance from the situation, so he took himself far away from the sordid affair going on behind the now closed door.

The Mare Inebrium was relatively quiet with very few customers in the main room though Koriel sensed others throughout the entire building. On the barstools in front of the main bar, Koriel was alone though no one could have even seen to acknowledge his solitude. His reflection, gray and black in his black and white world, peered back at him from a mirror behind one of the liquor cabinets, but in the corporal world--”the world of colors and light” he’d once heard a fellow colleague describe it--he was no more visible than a stray molecule.

Max, the manager and main bartender, sat behind the bar hand-polishing large, frosted mugs with a white cotton towel. When he first came in, Koriel had heard one of the members of the waitstaff, Blanche, ask Max why he was cleaning the mugs the old-fashioned way rather than simply using the AutoCleaner just under the counter.

“These are no ordinary mugs, Blanche,” Max had said. “I just got these last night. They’re imported from Earth from a legendary place there once owned by a man named Toots Shore.” Blanche had cocked her head at the remark. “Hey, I’ve heard of it, and that’s all that matters. The seller had gone bankrupt and was liquidating his assets. Couldn’t have gotten them otherwise.” Max had held one of the mugs up to the light. “I’m saving these beauties for the truly special customers.”

Fifteen aces, a voice from one of the other rooms said as it poked through Koriel’s thoughts. Just three more for a Full Cadenza! Take that you obnoxious high and mighty D’rrish!

The whole planet’s going to amuse itself to death. Repent! Repent!!! thought an evangelist out on the street just before he accosted patrons trying to enter the Mare Inebrium.

Wishes are wishes, and wishes come true, but only if those wishes aren’t wishes for you, a man crying over his beer in the Mortuary room thought as he plotted his suicide. Koriel closed his eyes and placed his hands over his ears, closing out all the myriad thoughts trying to run through his head. His job carried with it tremendous responsibilities and cares, yet these were tasks someone such as he was imminently qualified to handle. Is it possible, he thought, that eternity can weigh upon ourselves as well? The weight of the infinite... He pressed his hands even harder onto his ears, and the universe, for a moment, was quiet, which suddenly confused him greatly.

Max, Koriel thought with a certain sense of alarm, I’ve sensed everyone and everything here, but I haven’t sensed anything from that human. Even since his transfer from Earth, Koriel encountered numerous species, and all of them, down to the nearly comatose y’Kprings, expressed some detectable thought, feeling, or emotion. This Max person should be as loud as any, as thick with the thoughts of the living as any.

Throwing open his eyes, he found Max staring at him expectantly, a slight mischievous twinkle in his eye. In the mirror, the figure could see his skin had turned pale white, a near miracle for someone not alive in a purely technical sense. Koriel was sure that, for virtually the first time, he was being seen, but he could “read” nothing from Max to confirm it. No thoughts, no images, no words could be picked up or sensed from the bartender’s mind, and for the first time Koriel felt close to panic.

“And what can I get for you,” Max said, a wry smile cocked on the corner’s of his mouth. The figure suddenly understood what was meant when someone said he or she was about to faint.

“Scotch, single-malt” Filip Maxis, the flight controller, said as he sat down on the same stool, his body literally passing through Koriel’s.

Amazing, Koriel thought, breaking into a quiet laugh and the angelic version of a cold sweat.

“So,” Max said as he poured liquor from an old, dusty bottle, “what are you doing here now? I thought you pulled the mid-afternoon shift out at the tower.” Filip nodded his head, his bushy black hair waving, his small antennae peeking out momentarily.

“1800-2400 is short-staffed now,” Filip muttered just before downing the glass. “Of course, Max, I could ask you the same question. I thought you’d given late nights to Larrye.” Max laughed and poured Filip another glass.

“Larrye’s a good kid,” Max said. “His heart’s in the right place, he’s pretty bright, and he’s not a half-bad bartender these days, but the boy’s got two left brains or two left feet, I don’t know which.”

“Did he do something stupid?” Filip asked with a laugh. Rocket Man 13-5, cleared for take-off..., he thought.

Max shook his head and sighed. “A Tychoan ordered an EnerPack last night, and Larrye managed to uncork the protective covering too soon. Irradiated himself medium rare. Doc’s say he should be released some time tomorrow night.” Max looked around the bar and smiled. “Besides, I sort of miss the late shift, you know? I try to come in and work it once or twice a week when I can. But duty usually calls more often than not.”

“What duty,” Filip asked. KMG-365, turn heading 30x78 at 2200GST and maintain course...

“If I told you, I’d have to pay you,” Max winked, and the topic was immediately dropped.

Filip finished the glass and licked his lips. “Better pour another, though, ah, this time make it the cheaper stuff. I want to drink a lot tonight.”

“Bad evening?” Max asked, pulling out a plain bottle with the Bethdish Distilleries logo on it.

“Just about greased a diplomatic flight and a passenger shuttle, that’s all,” Filip said all too casually. Pegasus 818!!! Immediate evasive action, collision warning!!! “Caught the mistake in time, but...you know...” Filip sighed as he looked down at his empty glass. The inquest will now come to order. This is a preliminary investigation on behalf of City of Lights Space Port into the actions of Filip the “fuck-up” Maxis can’t believe you’d make such a damn fool mistake...

“I’m no flight controller,” Max said, pouring the cheaper Scotch into Filip’s glass, “but I can tell you this. Don’t let the accidents that almost happened eat you up. Learn from it, but save the guilt for something really important, like two-timing with your boss’s wife.”

“Yeah,” Filip said, “but it’s no good hoarding guilt for that. The guy’s a jerk, so I just can’t feel any remorse over that state of affairs.” IAH-RDU maintain 78x340 until acquisition of Oktishnear beacon...watch out for the water...don’t want you to crash breakers waves...Pegasus 818 intercept Rocket Man 13-5 and report upon fiery crash... Dammit, Fil, get it out of your mind. Get yourself piss drunk... He downed his second glass of Scotch and indicated he wanted a third.

Koriel stood by, grabbing the controller by the hand and trying to infuse some positive feeling into his mind.

Been at this too long, Filip thought, almost in defiance of the sense of well-being trying to wash through him. How many flights responsible for? 100 in one hour that one time one one one. SO much responsibility...so much to keep all those lives afloat. Let composite metallic death rain down on my watch? No on my life. That’s not what you’re afraid of...afraid of slipping on the slippery rocks to the slippery death below...too much to keep up with...too many flights...computers STILL can’t do this job...

“You shaved off that mustache again,” Filip said to Max, his eyes focusing on the bartender’s face. Orleandar-232...transfer from orbit to Three Peaks beacon at 1900GST... “Are you ever going to make up your mind about that? I’ve come in here a couple of times and it was on, and a couple of times it was off. What gives?”

“Fleeting desire to maintain it,” Max laughed. “That, and Trixie says it irritates her...um...well... ‘Nother Scotch there, Filip?”

...assume parking orbit and contact Fort Mountain Control Center for further instructions. “Sure thing. Keep ‘em flowing ‘til there ain’t no going.”

“Hey,” Max said, “let me know when you get ready to leave and I’ll call a cab.. If you’re going that far, I’m not letting you drive out of here.” Koriel, still trying to break through to Filip, was again distracted by his complete inability to sense anything from Max.

“Thanks,” Filip murmured as the glass touched his lips. Spaceport Control to all ships, this is a general broadcast on all bands. Go the hell away! Controller number 8348 has lost his marbles and is leaving the building. Close the facility. Stop all the traffic...too much of it to watch...to much of it to keep up with the fiery fires of the hellishness of the ships crashing into each to each at light speed... Maybe there’s a glimmer of hope...I don’t know...maybe...maybe...

Koriel backed away, his best intentions having finally made inroads into the controller’s soul. Maybe he can make it through the night, Koriel thought just as he moved in a split moment back to Sara’s apartment.

Sara lay in her bed, the sheets a twisted mess, the ends of freshly cut ropes still attached to the bed posts. She was half-asleep, half in dream. Her hand touched and then recoiled from a fresh burn mark on her stomach. The bastard’s a barbarian at the gate of hell, she thought as Koriel kneeled next to her in the darkness. Everything hurts...everything humiliated...but money in the bank...to feel so alive...to be touched like that and to feel so alive...so alive...so alive... Sara drifted further into sleep, and Koriel drifted with her.

In his mind’s eye, he could see Sara, the real Sara--not the sad facade the rest of the world saw, not the person who felt most alive by abusing and by subjecting herself to abuse. She was flailing in motion in a vast turbulent sea like a poor swimmer. She zig-zagged, trying to pull herself free from the force of the waters, but nothing seemed to loosen the bonds which held her tightly to the raging sea.

He found himself swimming with her though his body, even immersed in the fluid, did not appear wet, and his clothes seemed to absorb no moisture. The water, black and murky, roiled and turned, sending spray into the air and stinging at the bare skin of the swimmer. No land was in sight, and the gray skies churned and twisted malevolently above them.

“I gotta swim back home,” she yelled, though her voice was quickly drowned out by violent winds.

Sara swam with hard, choppy strokes which were really little better than an overexaggerated dog-paddle, expending energy without really accomplishing anything. Many times she stopped moving, alarming the figure in black swimming beside her as her bedraggled form slid backwards towards even more turbulent waters. He would watch and pray, sometimes swimming near and holding and caressing her, attempting to give her more strength. Then, with a sudden fit, she would kick and scream, resuming her odd rhythm...

Koriel jumped from the dream as the sleeping Sara began thrashing about wildly in the bed, her voice a terrified scream, her body exploding in perspiration. Stunned by the thrashing, almost like that of a shark in a feeding frenzy, Koriel struggled to reach her, to calm her, to infuse as much of the spirit as possible, but she was too hard to reach. The swimmer was about to drown.

Sara struggled to reach her comm-unit, her convulsions making hitting the button almost impossible. “Geoie,” she screamed out loud. “Geoie!!!! Help me...I need a fuckin’ fix! I got money this time!!!!” Finally, her finger smashed on the activate button, but there was no tone. “Did you pay the bill??? You bitch! You fucking bitch...” Sara began crying violently amid the fierce tremors, and she folded up into the fetal position, her will to survive rapidly slipping away.

Can’t make it falling they’ve got me...oh...oh...oh...letting go the fuck the the whole thing...the...the...the...letting go...

Koriel touched her head, unsure of what to do, when a solution finally came to him. It wasn’t orthodox, and he felt certain it would meet with disapproval. But then, he reasoned, letting go a life before its time to end would be dereliction of his duty and his devotion. Furrowing his brow, he forced his way into the main path of her thoughts, finding himself awash in the dying visions of a woman on her last legs.

Can’t fight anymore...can’t fight no more...no more...letting go...go... Her thoughts changed directions as Koriel broke through, putting an image from her subconscious at the forefront of her brain. Look in the curio cabinet...behind the panel...the one you stashed last week...there’s some left...ohgodohgodohgodohgod...

With a surge of energy, Sara threw herself onto the floor, shaking and flailing, using all her resources to command a few muscles to pull her towards the living room towards the ancient cabinet. Images of her childhood, of a clean bedroom in Charleston on Earth, of a place that was happy and carefree swirled around her thoughts of the cabinet. Koriel boosted those thoughts, trying to give Sara even more will to move.

She moved through the ocean of garbage on the floor, her bare legs and elbows rugburned. With a mighty thrust of her body, she flung herself in front of the cabinet and pulled open the wooden doors with enough force to throw them off their hinges and broken glass flew onto the floor. Haphazardly, she threw items both sturdy and fragile onto the floor as she sought the hidden compartment in the back on the cabinet. Once, it had been her hiding place for her diary, but now...

Her fingers touched the catch, and a door popped open, revealing a small injector filled with a green fluid. Falling onto her back, the injector in hand, she jabbed it into her thigh, pushing with her thumb on the injection switch.

The effects were almost instantaneous as Sara moved from immense pain and near death to supreme ecstasy, the world awash with glorious clouds, with immensely pleasurable sensations, with the milk of paradise. Koriel leaned back and watched her, proud to have kept her alive, but suddenly wondering if this had been worth her staying alive for. The swimmer stayed afloat even as the soul drowned and as her skin grated against broken glass.

The sun rose over City of Lights, bright and burning, cutting through the chill of the late fall morning. And even as the citizens, at least the day-dwellers, emerged from their homes and made their way to work or to school or to play, Sara lay on her bed, blood stains dotting the sheets and streaking the carpet from the living room to the mattress. Although she had not been aware of it, Koriel had pushed her to move from the floor to the bed, and she had managed to comply without coming out of the high the drug gave to her. The injector, Koriel had realized, was filled with two doses--not enough to kill, but enough to keep his charge--except he really couldn’t call her his charge, not anymore--calm and out of the world for many, many hours.

The drug is slow death, Koriel thought as he “sat” on the floor, his back propped up against the wall next to the bathroom door. It is a gullet that is never full. One injection leads to the next one--a devil’s knot. He lifted his hand to cradle his face, but as he did, it crossed momentarily through a band of sunlight. His gray eyes focused upon the light as it played upon his fingers and fingertips. I wonder what the color is, he mused. The star casts yellow light, golden light some call it. What is yellow? Would my hand, if I were one of them, show as yellow? Am I pale or dark skinned?

He leaned his head back and let his eyes crawl across the ceiling. Smoke stains from endless packs of cigarettes and herbal burners criss-crossed along the plaster. Tar-black? Smoke brown? Is that what is up there? Nearby, under a take-out bag, a nearly empty pack of cigarettes lay where it had been pushed by Captain Lewis. Reaching through the bag, Koriel touched the end of a cigarette that was sticking out of the pack. He grabbed it with his thumb and forefinger though, in reality, he did little more than pick up its essence. Anyone in the room looking at the pack would have seen nothing change at all.

Leaning back, Koriel put the tobacco end into his mouth, doing what to others would have looked like a very poor Maurice Chevalier impression. What do these things taste like? Why are they so beguiling to so many? Why do those people at the Mare Inebrium enjoy these so much in combination with the beverages served there? His ruminations were interrupted as Sara whimpered quietly to herself before turning over and curling up, the burn marks and scabbed over glass cuts clearly standing out in the light.

Why, if these are so good, isn’t that enough for her? Hasn’t anyone told her? Hasn’t anyone offered to show her the way, the true way? He looked at her naked body, not with his normal eyes, but with the eyes of a human, and he felt startled and somewhat frightened before he regained control of himself. What was...what was that? Is that...is that what they feel when they see her?

Koriel dropped the cigarette, its image disappearing into the pack, and he crawled to be closer to Sara, to be nearer to the woman he knew her to be. Someone needs to take you from this place. Someone needs to show you the beauty that is you, to touch you and let you know that it is all right.

...once upon a time, when the world was young and flat, Sara dreamed momentarily, there lived a momma unicorn, and a daddy unicorn, and a baby unicorn. And do you know what the baby unicorn was named??? It was Sara... Koriel could see immediately where the dream was coming from--a nursery story told by a father to his daughter. And Sara was the most beautiful unicorn in all the land, more beautiful than the bluest blue sky; more beautiful than the highest mountain waterfall...

Someone needs to bring the poetry that is you to the world, someone who can see...someone who can see... He ruminated, slowly, over the implications of what he was thinking, of what he was contemplating. It scarcely seemed possible, but yet it seemed like a very real option at that moment somehow. There had been rumors, silent inklings whispered or brief flickerings observed in the blinking eyes, but...

Koriel sat for hours against the wall, bars of sunlight slowly arcing their way across the bedroom floor.

Sara had awakened at five that afternoon, just in time for the fall sun to start creeping beneath the cityscape. The first thing she noticed was how quiet the room was. There were no sounds of sexual games being played, no sounds she usually heard during trips, no sounds from the ventilators. It was then that she realized the power had been cut off, and she vaguely remembered the last call she’d received before the comm-unit had been cut off was from the power division wanting its bill paid in full.

Quickly using the little bit of natural light left from outside, she dressed her wounds and put on an oversized white shirt, a pair of faded jeans, and a torn leather jacket, one of the only two outfits she still still owned. She pulled her hair into a pony tail, tying it up in the back with a rubberband, and then she pulled a few strands forward on either side to give her thin bangs. The pain, the shaking, the convulsions, all had been satisfied by the megadose she’d taken, and the effects of withdrawal and of the pain from her wounds would be held at bay longer. Holding her hand in front of her face, she could see that it was steady and strong. Still, as she looked at her fading reflection in the mirror, Sara knew she’d need a fresh supply quickly. Never take a large dose, she thought, that’s what Geoie said. The higher the ride, the worse the slide...

Find a com-unit that accepts large bills, she continued as she tore up the room looking for a purse, meet Geoie for a pick-up, then go to the Mare, have a drink, see if there are any interesting scores or doe-eyed tourists up for a little scam . . . Have you been to the charities yet? Save them for a rainy day, maybe??? Finding a purse, she put some of her hard earned currency into one of the pouches, grabbed her keys, and headed out the door, Koriel drifting out right behind her.

In the dying light, Sara was like a phantom gliding through dark alleys. To be sure there were very real ghosts and goblins prowling the neighborhood, but, as Sara observed, they left the junkies alone. Not enough dough to make it worth it, and who needs some hype freakin’ out at the wrong moment... Pricks! Sara laughed out loud though the sound seemed basically devoid of joy.

She looks too strong, Koriel heard a dark voice think, no money. Wait for another...maybe down by the gates...

He was two paces behind, keeping a watchful eye and a watchful mind out for any dangers or worries. Somewhere, vague notions of tasks being left undone, of orders not being followed, wafted through his thoughts, but nothing would distract him from his single-minded observations.

Overhead, a large freighter slowly slid through the air, making the final descent into the port. The mass of the ship and the power of the engines was enough to cause all the buildings in the area to tremble, and a stack of empty boxes cascaded loudly onto the pavement.

Four, maybe five packs, Sara tallied. Depending on demand? How many trips is that...eight, ten... If you can hustle it meantime, you can keep some of the credits...fix up the place a little...get something to eat. Find anyone nice in the bar...don’t have to even look at the drunks...do what you want to...feel good and earn some money...maybe some card games... Sara felt her wrist as she walked. The cut had looked and felt worse than it actually was, which was comforting. The pain from everything else still simply found itself overwhelmed by the sheer lack of her need.

Sara’s mind began wandering through the catalog of her actions and behaviors--all the beings she’d been with, all the things she’d done since coming to Bethdish, and Koriel followed them in his own mind.

Layers of grime cover you, child, he thought as he moved closer to her. Experiences far beyond the scope of what any should endure have pinned your hopes to the ground. But you are there, still there, waiting for the moment to shed your cocoon and sprout wings.

As they walked along, Koriel let his hand wrap around Sara’s, and as he did, he saw years of pain and suffering melt away from her. The scars and tortures that had been her life on Bethdish lifted, and he found himself walking hand in hand with a bright-eyed little girl. She watched the world go by in wonder and amazement, the rainbows in oil-strewn puddles pointing the way towards the flickering of the stars behind the exhaust plume of the freighter. She gasped in surprise as a Veedle Bug flew by, stopping momentarily to hover in front of the girl, seemingly looking over her face with equal amazement and curiosity. Koriel knew that the insect was simply absorbing ambient heat radiating from her skin, but that did not take away from the sense of amazement she felt.

The two of them kept walking down the alleys, each seemingly brighter than they actually were, and with each step Sara seemed more and more overjoyed by what was around her. However, they soon reached her destination, a pay-comm near the busy Reever’s Way thoroughfare. Hover cars rushed by in barely controlled pandemonium over the city streets.

Damn that Great Devourer, a hovercab driver thought as he barreled by in traffic, always making messes where there shouldn’t be none.

The little girl walked slowly towards the unit, and Koriel, horrified by what the innocent girl was planning, tried using every ounce of force he could muster to stop her, doing something he never usually did in the process--speaking with his own voice, trying to make her hear. “Stop it,” he yelled, though none could hear. “You can make it! You can get help! I can help you get away from it all!!!” But she never stopped, and the wide-eyed, innocent child transformed instantly into the fully-grown, drug addicted Sara Griff.

Carefully opening her purse, she reached into a compartment and pulled out a five credit note, the smallest bit of currency she had. She examined the unit carefully and finally found a slot for paper money right next to the slots for credit cubes and credit wands. Sliding in the money, the monitor screen lit up, revealing the amount of money deposited. Quickly, from memory, she dialed the twelve digit number.

“Yeah,” a pleasant but rough sounding voice said.

“Geoie, it’s Sara.”

“Sara!!! Little girl, I was getting worried about you. You shoulda been out already and I was looking in the papers for your obituary.”

“Awww, Geoie,” Sara said with a certain amount of affection as her face lit up in a big smile, “you know, I think you’re the only friend I have. Yeah, I came close, real close, but I found an injector stashed away.”

“Baby, that’s great, just great,” he said enthusiastically. “I’m really glad to hear that. So, you need a refill do you? How much you got, and I’ll tell you how much you get?”

“125,” she said proudly. “That jerk Lewis was back in town last night.”

“Whew, 125! B-low me down! Wait, no, that was him! Well, uh, I’m running a special today. I can get you five vials for 110. Supplier knocked over a rival dealer on Heprin VII and got his stash!”

“Cool,” Sara squealed. “Okay, meet you outside the Mare Inebrium in half an hour?”

“Sure,” Geoie said, “I’ll be there. See you then.” The connection broke, and the pay-comm returned all but a very small portion of the money to Sara. Smiling, she headed for the pedestrian crossing. This is life, she thought, joyfully revelling in a feeling of freedom. This, Sara, is happiness... A good lay, a good drink, a good scam, and a good hard needle...

As she turned to walk towards the crosswalk, however, she thought for a moment she saw something most peculiar. For a split second, she could’ve sworn that standing before her was a figure dressed in dark clothes, his midsection girded by bright, shining armor, but this wasn’t the most striking aspect. It seemed, for a blink of an eye, that the figure had large, white wings, a soft glow around it’s head, and a face that was the saddest and most dejected she’d ever seen. She shook her head and blinked rapidly, but the figure was no longer there. Geoie was right about not taking too much, Sara thought. Now I’m hallucinating...

It was almost 9PM local time when Sara walked into the Mare Inebrium, her purse, now full of vials, somewhat bulky by her side. She and Geoie had spent a long time in one of the outdoor cafes surrounding the Mare, talking, making plans, vaguely considering the notion of some day getting married. Then, they had bid their farewells, and she walked into the main bar which still featured a fairly large crowd, but there were a few stools left open at bar itself, so she took a seat and waited as it adjusted for her height and weight.

“. . .and then Cade, who was supposed to cover for Sleepy Howell, who was supposed to cover for me,” Max said to another customer, a salesman named Andrew, “managed to get himself caught up in bar fight in the Mortuary, if you can imagine two people scrapping as quietly as the dead sleep, and got two of his ribs well and truly crunched. He’s in the room next to Larrye, at least until the kid checks out tonight. Anyway, Sleepy had to cover for Cade, and now I’m in here pulling a double-shift...oh, back in sec, Andy...” Max walked effortlessly down the bar to Sara. “And what can I get for you this evening,” he said as he laid a napkin with the Mare Inebrium logo in front of her.

You, for half an hour, in the back closet, she thought as, for a second, she felt like a giddy teen with a crush. She hadn’t felt this good in years it seemed. Quickly, however, the desire for a drink took over. “Whisky, straight,” she said pleasantly, deliberately causing a twinkle in her eye.

Max’s pleasant look faded slightly, and after looking at her a second longer, he got out a glass and poured the drink. Sara took it, and flashed a winning smile at Max. Never gotten a free drink out of him before, but maybe I can now, she thought. “So Max, what were you saying to that gentleman over there?” She turned and looked at Andrew, trying to muster all of her powers of seduction as she shot a hot, fiery look at the salesman.

“I was just saying, Sara,” Max said, “that the main bar is short staffed. Larrye’s half-baked, Cade’s half -crushed, Trixie’s visiting her mother, and no one else could adjust their schedules on short notice, so I’m working long hours again today. The question, is though, are you working long hours?” Sara’s smile evaporated momentarily, and she downed the whisky in a single swig.

“Maybe,” she said, putting the glass on the table and pointing at it. Aren’t you just the hot shit, she thought angrily, but she kept her anger contained. Just behind her, at an empty seat at a table occupied by a party of Miltobian businessmen, Koriel watched Sara with eyes that beamed their sadness at the back of her blonde head.

Even if I had the money today, Andrew thought, I don’t think I could ever do anything like... Prostitution???

“Look, Sara,” Max said as he crouched closer to her, “let me be honest here. You know, what you do with your life, is, well, it’s your business, you know. I don’t know what you’re on, but whatever it is I’ll get some help for you so you can get off the stuff if you want. If not, that’s your choice.”

“Thanks for your concern.” She twisted the glass in her hands. “So what’s your point,” she said as she sipped at the whisky. Don’t you even think of preachin’ at me...not here for church...not here for a lecture...

“My point, Sara, is this. Out front there are innumerable species walking by, pedaling their wares and services. And, you know, that’s fine. But, they also have licenses to be there, paperwork saying they are no threat to themselves or to others. The law says they are the only ones who can legally charge for what they do.” His face softened. “Look, if you’re looking for a one-nighter or something, go ahead. I’m not available, and I can tell you already Andrew doesn’t go for women like you, unless you’ve got a business suit underneath that outfit, but you can find just about anyone you’d want here. But, if you’re working, I’d appreciate it if you’d do it somewhere else. I don’t want anyone here being an accomplice to your suicide.”

“I see,” Pig rat vomiting gargoyle prick asshole, “well, I’ll make you this promise. Throw a couple more drinks on the house, and I’ll go on. You’ll never see me here during working hours again. I promise.” She crossed her heart and held up three fingers as she smiled.

“One,” Max said without missing a beat. “It’s not a bribe for you to get out, either. I’m giving you that drink in the hope that you’ll do me a favor. On the ninetieth floor, there’s a clinic. It’s open all night, and there are people there who would...” Sara looked unimpressed. “Think about it,” he said as he poured her a glass not from the local stock but from an old, old bottle he kept under the table.

Sure, whatever, big boy, she thought, laughing inwardly. You people never understand what it’s like for people like me. Fucking do-gooder! She finished her second drink and gladly accepted the third. Excuse myself like I’m going to the elevators, Sara thought, go to one of the other bars upstairs and see what’s going on there... What’s it gonna be tonight, old girl? A hustle or a scam. A victim or a vampire?

Behind her, a dark figure vanished into nothingness.

Koriel walked along the darkened streets and back alleys in the run down area near the spaceport.

He’d already stopped once to help a street urchin through the difficult birth of her child, and he’d helped carry a dying man over the threshold to his new home, tasks which Koriel had been performing for millennia. But no matter what he did, no matter who he helped, no matter which people he’d offered flashes of hope or inspiration to, it just didn’t seem enough.

Collect, preserve, witness, testify. Yea and amen. The bread and the wine. He stopped and cast his eyes towards the stars above him. It all made sense to me. It all was right. The beauty of eternity. The poetry of the single moment of infinity. The images of Sara swimming, of Sara burned and scarred on her bed, of the little innocent girl still alive within her soul, all kept washing through his head.

The poetry of the single moment of infinity, he thought almost desperately. “The beauty of a single shining light in the heavens,” he sang softly as images of Sara’s sleeping face overwhelmed his mind. He stopped, closed his eyes, cocked his head, and listened to the people of City of Lights. After sifting through the myriad sounds, he finally found Sara’s thoughts. Still at the Mare Inebrium, he thought, been driven from two rooms already, and still trying. Someone has to show her the way.

His mind again turned to Sara, to her look of complete bliss in the cafe as she and Geoie completed their transaction and spoke of a future together. Like a slide projector, the image shifted to the look she gave to Andrew and to Max at the Mare, and the image was accompanied by the sheer defiance she had projected at them, the tremendous strength which she possessed but refused to use at the most important moments in her life. Momentarily closing his eyes, the sullen figure tried to listen to the pure whisper of the molecules as the swam by in the air and to take comfort from.

Finally, he found the will to move again, but upon turning a corner in the alley, Koriel was struck by the sight of the space port control tower standing high in the air, the lights from windows shining like beacons and lighting up the surrounding layers of clouds and fog. He remembered the controllers, all harried and all nearly overwhelmed by their tasks, and he suddenly felt a burst of admiration for them.

They’re only mortal, yet they do things unimaginable to so many. So many lives in their hands. So many lives affected by their actions. So many flights routed safely to their destinations. They can do that. His face took on a look of determination. Someone has to show Sara safely to her destination, someone who really cares, someone who knows the good soul within, the one deep inside. Koriel looked long and hard at the tower, thinking about the woman--he could see her as nothing else now--going down the wrong paths over and over again. He knew he was the one who could save her, if only she could see him. If only he could talk to her, could touch her face and her hair. It is a fancy to be wished for, he thought sadly, his eyes riveted on the control room. But it is a crossroads with only two options--stay the course or be dragged along anyway. The figure looked down at his hands, stretching them and trying to find patches of light in the alley. To be human, Koriel sighed inwardly.

A burst of steam passed in front of Koriel’s eyes, and he looked to see where it had come from. but could find no source. No heating ducts were nearby, no low flying vessels passed overhead. Still, it was followed by another burst and another, all in seemingly precisely timed intervals. Puzzled, he walked forward towards the tower, intent on going up to visit and assist the controllers again. As he moved, though, he heard a crunching sound, as if someone’s shoes were moving over rock strewn pavement. Again, though, as he looked around through the continuing bursts of steam, he could see no one, no thing that could properly account for them. With no real idea of the cause, he bundled up his coat against the cold and continued on.

Cold! The thought snapped through Koriel’s mind, stopping the figure in his tracks. The steam bursts suddenly increased as did a strange, airy sound. Looked down with his eyes only, to his great shock, he saw that the bursts of steam were coming from his mouth, flowing forth in time to breathing. Breath...BREATHE...AIR? Inside Koriel’s body, cold air seemed to flush in and out. Wait! Wait! This can’t be...

Koriel slowly raised his eyes to looked upon the tower again. In the dark, it was difficult to tell any change at first, but then he realized the character of the lights coming from its windows had altered in a most peculiar way. Something was different.

Snow-flakes began to fall gently from the sky, dropping onto the pavement, dropping onto his arms and shoulders, dropping to his hands where they momentarily stung his skin before melting. Melting? Heat...can it... Koriel was suddenly startled by a loud clanging next to him. Something had fallen to the ground, something that just barely missed his head. He looked down, and in the streetlight he could see a perfect metallic breastplate, part of a suit of armor. Reaching down to pick it up, Koriel was astonished by the effort he had to use to lift it. Weight? This has weight! He slapped at it gingerly with the tips of his fingers, and each time he heard a dull metallic thud. Substance...I can feel...

“Oh,” Koriel said crackly voice as he tried shaping his mouth and making a sound. It was very soft and quiet. “OH!!!!” he said again with more effort, this time yelling with all his might. The sound reverberated throughout the alleyway, the last vestiges of denial about what had taken place subsided as he grabbed his throat with his left hand, stunned by the odd sensation suddenly coming from there. Rubbing it, he felt the feeling--yes, he thought it must be a feeling--slowly subside, and he began laughing. At first, it was little but a giggle, like someone one would here during pauses in polite conversation. Soon, however, it began to transmogrify until after a few second it was an almost manic cackle. Koriel’s body shook deeply as the laughter grew in intensity.

“Shut your fat face up,” a wino yelled from the doorway where he’d been sleeping.

“Yeah, ya bum, get the hell outta here,” another voice yelled from a window. “Take that laughing gas somewhere else!” The sounds of the voices rang in Koriel’s ears, which only caused him to laugh more as it gave further confirmation. He pointed towards the tower and began controlling the laughter.

“I’ll leave,” he said with an increasingly confident voice, “but can you please tell me, what color are those lights on yonder tower?”

“Fuck the tower,” yet another voice called from nowhere. “Fuck you too!”

“They’re fuckin’ yellow,” the wino said sarcastically. “Fuckin’ beautiful yellow. Now get outta here before I cut your throat!”

“Yellow,” Koriel said with enthusiasm. “I’m much obliged to you!” With that, he turned and moved quickly out of the alley towards one of the main roads.

I’m alive, he thought, scarcely able to comprehend his situation I’m here! I can feel! He touched his hand on his chest and marveled at the beating of his heart. How I became what I am, I don’t know. But now, I can do real good. I can show her the way! It’s a gift, a sign, a vindication! I can show Sara love, and she will love me, and we’ll have a house near Three Forks and beget ten children together. Finally, I can save her! I can be the one to save her!

With that, with an enthusiasm that only grew with each step, he turned onto the main road and walked back towards the Mare Inebrium and towards the woman he knew would be there waiting for him with open arms...
Three o’clock in the morning.
It’s quiet, and there’s no one around.
Just the bang and the clatter
As an angel runs to ground.
Just the bang and the clatter
As an angel hits the ground...





While herding a sturdy diesel across the highways of life Jeff Williams dreamed of becoming a writer. In between haunting railroad yards he scribbles cryptic notes on slightly-used paper napkins. He brainstorms these abstruse anagrams into the tales that you've just been reading. Jeff can be reached at jtwrccc@aol.com.

Read more stories by Jeff Williams.

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