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Title: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town
Author: Doctorow, Cory
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.

LEAVES TOWN***


Copyright (C) 2005 by Cory Doctorow.  Some Rights Reserved.



Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town

Cory Doctorow

doctorow@craphound.com

Published by Tor Books

July 2005

ISBN: 0765312786

http://craphound.com/someone

Some Rights Reserved

--

=============== About this book ===============

This is my third novel, and as with my first, Down and Out in the Magic
Kingdom (http://craphound.com/down) and my second, Eastern Standard
Tribe (http://craphound.com/est), I am releasing it for free on the
Internet the very same day that it ships to the stores. The books are
governed by Creative Commons licenses that permit their unlimited
noncommercial redistribution, which means that you're welcome to share
them with anyone you think will want to see them. In the words of Woody
Guthrie:

"This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright #154085, for
a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin it without our
permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don't give a
dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it,
that's all we wanted to do."

Why do I do this? There are three reasons:

* Short Term

In the short term, I'm generating more sales of my printed books. Sure,
giving away ebooks displaces the occasional sale, when a downloader
reads the book and decides not to buy it. But it's far more common for a
reader to download the book, read some or all of it, and decide to buy
the print edition. Like I said in my essay, Ebooks Neither E Nor Books,
(http://craphound.com/ebooksneitherenorbooks.txt), digital and print
editions are intensely complimentary, so acquiring one increases your
need for the other. I've given away more than half a million digital
copies of my award-winning first novel, Down and Out in the Magic
Kingdom, and that sucker has blown through *five* print editions
(yee-HAW!), so I'm not worried that giving away books is hurting my
sales.

* Long Term

Some day, though, paper books will all but go away. We're already
reading more words off of more screens every day and fewer words off of
fewer pages every day. You don't need to be a science fiction writer to
see the writing on the wall (or screen, as the case may be).

Now, if you've got a poor imagination, you might think that we'll enter
that era with special purpose "ebook readers" that simulate the
experience of carrying around "real" books, only digital. That's like
believing that your mobile phone will be the same thing as the phone
attached to your wall, except in your pocket. If you believe this sort
of thing, you have no business writing sf, and you probably shouldn't be
reading it either.

No, the business and social practice of ebooks will be way, way weirder
than that. In fact, I believe that it's probably too weird for us to
even imagine today, as the idea of today's radio marketplace was
incomprehensible to the Vaudeville artists who accused the radio station
owners of mass piracy for playing music on the air. Those people just
could *not* imagine a future in which audiences and playlists were
statistically sampled by a special "collection society" created by a
Congressional anti-trust "consent decree," said society to hand out
money collected from radio stations (who collected from soap
manufacturers and other advertisers), to compensate artists. It was
inconceivably weird, and yet it made the artists who embraced it rich as
hell. The artists who demanded that radio just *stop* went broke, ended
up driving taxis, and were forgotten by history.

I know which example I intend to follow. Giving away books costs me
*nothing*, and actually makes me money. But most importantly, it
delivers the very best market-intelligence that I can get.

When you download my book, please: do weird and cool stuff with
it. Imagine new things that books are for, and do them. Use it in
unlikely and surprising ways. Then *tell me about it*. Email me
(doctorow@craphound.com) with that precious market-intelligence about
what electronic text is for, so that I can be the first writer to figure
out what the next writerly business model is. I'm an entrepreneur and I
live and die by market intel.

Some other writers have decided that their readers are thieves and
pirates, and they devote countless hours to systematically alienating
their customers. These writers will go broke. Not me -- I love you
people. Copy the hell out of this thing.

* Medium Term

There may well be a time between the sunset of printed text and the
appearance of robust models for unfettered distribution of electronic
text, an interregnum during which the fortunes of novelists follow those
of poets and playwrights and other ink-stained scribblers whose
industries have cratered beneath them.

When that happens, writerly income will come from incidental sources
such as paid speaking engagements and commissioned articles. No, it's
not "fair" that novelists who are good speakers will have a better deal
than novelists who aren't, but neither was it fair that the era of radio
gave a boost to the career of artists who played well in the studios,
nor that the age of downloading is giving a boost to the careers of
artists who play well live. Technology giveth and technology taketh
away. I'm an sf writer: it's my job to love the future.

My chances of landing speaking gigs, columns, paid assignments, and the
rest of it are all contingent on my public profile. The more people
there are that have read and enjoyed my work, the more of these gigs
I'll get. And giving away books increases your notoriety a whole lot
more than clutching them to your breast and damning the pirates.

So there you have it: I'm giving these books away to sell more books, to
find out more about the market and to increase my profile so that I can
land speaking and columnist gigs. Not because I'm some
patchouli-scented, fuzzy-headed, "information wants to be free"
info-hippie. I'm at it because I want to fill my bathtub with money and
rub my hands and laugh and laugh and laugh.

#

Developing nations

A large chunk of "ebook piracy" (downloading unauthorized ebooks from
the net) is undertaken by people in the developing world, where the
per-capita GDP can be less than a dollar a day. These people don't
represent any kind of commercial market for my books. No one in Burundi
is going to pay a month's wages for a copy of this book. A Ukrainian
film of this book isn't going to compete with box-office receipts in the
Ukraine for a Hollywood version, if one emerges. No one imports
commercial editions of my books into most developing nations, and if
they did. they'd be priced out of the local market.

So I've applied a new, and very cool kind of Creative Commons license to
this book: the Creative Commons Developing Nations License
(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/devnations/2.0/). What that means
is that if you live in a country that's not on the World Bank's list of
High-Income Countries
(http://rru.worldbank.org/DoingBusiness/ExploreEconomies/EconomyCharacteristics.aspx)
, you get to do practically anything you want with this book.

While residents of the rich world are limited to making noncommercial
copies of this book, residents of the developing world can do much
more. Want to make a commercial edition of this book? Be my guest. A
film? Sure thing. A translation into the local language? But of course.

The sole restriction is that you *may not export your work with my book
beyond the developing world*. Your Ukrainian film, Guyanese print
edition, or Ghanian translation can be freely exported within the
developing world, but can't be sent back to the rich world, where my
paying customers are.

It's an honor to have the opportunity to help people who are living
under circumstances that make mine seem like the lap of luxury. I'm
especially hopeful that this will, in some small way, help developing
nations bootstrap themselves into a better economic situation.

#

DRM

The worst technology idea since the electrified nipple-clamp is "Digital
Rights Management," a suite of voodoo products that are supposed to
control what you do with information after you lawfully acquire it. When
you buy a DVD abroad and can't watch it at home because it's from the
wrong "region," that's DRM. When you buy a CD and it won't rip on your
computer, that's DRM. When you buy an iTune and you can't loan it to a
friend, that's DRM.

DRM doesn't work. Every file ever released with DRM locks on it is
currently available for free download on the Internet. You don't need
any special skills to break DRM these days: you just have to know how to
search Google for the name of the work you're seeking.

No customer wants DRM. No one woke up this morning and said, "Damn, I
wish there was a way to do less with my books, movies and music."

DRM can't control copying, but it can control competition. Apple can
threaten to sue Real for making Realmedia players for the iPod on the
grounds that Real had to break Apple DRM to accomplish this. The cartel
that runs licensing for DVDs can block every new feature in DVDs in
order to preserve its cushy business model (why is it that all you can
do with a DVD you bought ten years ago is watch it, exactly what you
could do with it then -- when you can take a CD you bought a decade ago
and turn it into a ringtone, an MP3, karaoke, a mashup, or a file that
you send to a friend?).

DRM is used to silence and even jail researchers who expose its flaws,
thanks to laws like the US DMCA and Europe's EUCD.

In case there's any doubt: I hate DRM. There is no DRM on this
book. None of the books you get from this site have DRM on them. If you
get a DRMed ebook, I urge you to break the locks off it and convert it
to something sensible like a text file.

If you want to read more about DRM, here's a talk I gave to Microsoft on
the subject:

http://craphound.com/msftdrm.txt

and here's a paper I wrote for the International Telecommunications
Union about DRM and the developing world:

http://www.eff.org/IP/DRM/itu_drm.php

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===== Blurb =====

SOMEONE COMES TO TOWN, SOMEONE LEAVES TOWN is a glorious book, but there
are hundreds of those.  It is more.  It is a glorious book unlike any
book you've ever read.

- Gene Wolfe

========== Dedication ==========

For the family I was born into and the family I chose. I got lucky both
times.

========= The novel =========

Alan sanded the house on Wales Avenue. It took six months, and the whole
time it was the smell of the sawdust, ancient and sweet, and the reek of
chemical stripper and the damp smell of rusting steel wool.

Alan took possession of the house on January 1, and paid for it in full
by means of an e-gold transfer. He had to do a fair bit of hand-holding
with the realtor to get her set up and running on e-gold, but he loved
to do that sort of thing, loved to sit at the elbow of a novitiate and
guide her through the clicks and taps and forms. He loved to break off
for impromptu lectures on the underlying principles of the transaction,
and so he treated the poor realtor lady to a dozen addresses on the
nature of international currency markets, the value of precious metal as
a kind of financial lingua franca to which any currency could be
converted, the poetry of vault shelves in a hundred banks around the
world piled with the heaviest of metals, glinting dully in the
fluorescent tube lighting, tended by gnomish bankers who spoke a hundred
languages but communicated with one another by means of this universal
tongue of weights and measures and purity.

The clerks who'd tended Alan's many stores -- the used clothing store in
the Beaches, the used book-store in the Annex, the collectible tin-toy
store in Yorkville, the antique shop on Queen Street -- had both
benefited from and had their patience tried by Alan's discursive
nature. Alan had pretended never to notice the surreptitious rolling of
eyes and twirling fingers aimed templewise among his employees when he
got himself warmed up to a good oration, but in truth very little ever
escaped his attention. His customers loved his little talks, loved the
way he could wax rhapsodic about the tortured prose in a Victorian
potboiler, the nearly erotic curve of a beat-up old table leg, the
voluminous cuffs of an embroidered silk smoking jacket. The clerks who
listened to Alan's lectures went on to open their own stores all about
town, and by and large, they did very well.

He'd put the word out when he bought the house on Wales Avenue to all
his protégés: Wooden bookcases! His cell-phone rang every day, bringing
news of another wooden bookcase found at this flea market, that thrift
store, this rummage sale or estate auction.

He had a man he used part-time, Tony, who ran a small man-with-van
service, and when the phone rang, he'd send Tony over to his protégé's
shop with his big panel van to pick up the case and deliver it to the
cellar of the house on Wales Avenue, which was ramified by cold
storages, root cellars, disused coal chutes and storm cellars. By the
time Alan had finished with his sanding, every nook and cranny of the
cellar was packed with wooden bookcases of every size and description
and repair.

Alan worked through the long Toronto winter at his sanding. The house
had been gutted by the previous owners, who'd had big plans for the
building but had been tempted away by a job in Boston. They'd had to
sell fast, and no amount of realtor magic -- flowers on the dining-room
table, soup simmering on the stove -- could charm away the essential
dagginess of the gutted house, the exposed timbers with sagging wires
and conduit, the runnels gouged in the floor by careless draggers of
furniture. Alan got it for a song, and was delighted by his fortune.

He was drunk on the wood, of course, and would have paid much more had
the realtor noticed this, but Alan had spent his whole life drunk on
trivial things from others' lives that no one else noticed and he'd
developed the alcoholic's knack of disguising his intoxication. Alan
went to work as soon as the realtor staggered off, reeling with a New
Year's Day hangover. He pulled his pickup truck onto the frozen lawn,
unlocked the Kryptonite bike lock he used to secure the camper bed, and
dragged out his big belt sander and his many boxes of sandpaper of all
grains and sizes, his heat strippers and his jugs of caustic chemical
peeler. He still had his jumbled, messy place across town in a
nondescript two-bedroom on the Danforth, would keep on paying the rent
there until his big sanding project was done and the house on Wales
Avenue was fit for habitation.

Alan's sanding project: First, finish gutting the house. Get rid of the
substandard wiring, the ancient, lead-leaching plumbing, the cracked
tile and water-warped crumbling plaster. He filled a half-dozen
dumpsters, working with Tony and Tony's homie Nat, who was happy to help
out in exchange for cash on the barrelhead, provided that he wasn't
required to report for work on two consecutive days, since he'd need one
day to recover from the heroic drinking he'd do immediately after Alan
laid the cash across his palm.

Once the house was gutted to brick and timber and delirious wood, the
plumbers and the electricians came in and laid down their straight
shining ducts and pipes and conduit.

Alan tarped the floors and brought in the heavy sandblaster and stripped
the age and soot and gunge off of the brickwork throughout, until it
glowed red as a golem's ass.

Alan's father, the mountain, had many golems that called him home. They
lived round the other side of his father and left Alan and his brothers
alone, because even a golem has the sense not to piss off a mountain,
especially one it lives in.

Then Alan tackled the timbers, reaching over his head with palm-sanders
and sandpaper of ever finer grains until the timbers were as smooth as
Adirondack chairs, his chest and arms and shoulders athrob with the
agony of two weeks' work. Then it was the floorwork, but *not the floors
themselves*, which he was saving for last on the grounds that they were
low-hanging fruit.

This materialized a new lecture in his mind, one about the proper role
of low-hanging fruit, a favorite topic of MBAs who'd patronize his
stores and his person, giving him unsolicited advice on the care and
feeding of his shops based on the kind of useless book-learning and
jargon-slinging that Fortune 100 companies apparently paid big bucks
for. When an MBA said "low-hanging fruit," he meant "easy pickings,"
something that could and should be snatched with minimal effort. But
*real* low-hanging fruit ripens last, and should be therefore picked as
late as possible. Further, picking the low-hanging fruit first meant
that you'd have to carry your bushel basket higher and higher as the day
wore on, which was plainly stupid. Low-hanging fruit was meant to be
picked last. It was one of the ways that he understood people, and one
of the kinds of people that he'd come to understand. That was the game,
after all -- understanding people.

So the floors would come last, after the molding, after the stairs,
after the railings and the paneling. The railings, in particular, were
horrible bastards to get clean, covered in ten or thirty coats of enamel
of varying colors and toxicity. Alan spent days working with a wire
brush and pointed twists of steel wool and oozing stinging paint
stripper, until the grain was as spotless and unmarked as the day it
came off the lathe.

*Then* he did the floors, using the big rotary sander first. It had been
 years since he'd last swung a sander around -- it had been when he
 opened the tin-toy shop in Yorkville and he'd rented one while he was
 prepping the place. The technique came back to him quickly enough, and
 he fell into a steady rhythm that soon had all the floors cool and dry
 and soft with naked, exposed woody heartmeat. He swept the place out
 and locked up and returned home.

The next day, he stopped at the Portuguese contractor-supply on
Ossington that he liked. They opened at five a.m., and the men behind
the counter were always happy to sketch out alternative solutions to his
amateur construction problems, they never mocked him for his
incompetence, and always threw in a ten percent "contractor's discount"
for him that made him swell up with irrational pride that confused
him. Why should the son of a mountain need affirmation from runty
Portugees with pencil stubs behind their ears and scarred fingers? He
picked up a pair of foam-rubber knee pads and a ten-kilo box of
lint-free shop rags and another carton of disposable paper masks.

He drove to the house on Wales Avenue, parked on the lawn, which was now
starting to thaw and show deep muddy ruts from his tires. He spent the
next twelve hours crawling around on his knees, lugging a tool bucket
filled with sandpaper and steel wool and putty and wood-crayons and shop
rags. He ran his fingertips over every inch of floor and molding and
paneling, feeling the talc softness of the sifted sawdust, feeling for
rough spots and gouges, smoothing them out with his tools. He tried
puttying over the gouges in the flooring that he'd seen the day he took
possession, but the putty seemed like a lie to him, less honest than the
gouged-out boards were, and so he scooped the putty out and sanded the
grooves until they were as smooth as the wood around them.

Next came the beeswax, sweet and shiny. It almost broke his heart to
apply it, because the soft, newly exposed wood was so deliciously tender
and sensuous. But he knew that wood left to its own would eventually
chip and splinter and yellow. So he rubbed wax until his elbows ached,
*massaged* the wax into the wood, buffed it with shop rags so that the
house shone.

Twenty coats of urethane took forty days -- a day to coat and a day to
dry. More buffing and the house took on a high shine, a slippery
slickness. He nearly broke his neck on the slippery staircase treads,
and the Portuguese helped him out with a bag of clear grit made from
ground walnut shells. He used a foam brush to put one more coat of
urethane on each tread of the stairs, then sprinkled granulated walnut
shells on while it was still sticky. He committed a rare error in
judgment and did the stairs from the bottom up and trapped himself on
the third floor, with its attic ceilings and dormer windows, and felt
like a goddamned idiot as he curled up to sleep on the cold, hard,
slippery, smooth floor while he waited for his stairs to dry. The
urethane must be getting to his head.

The bookcases came out of the cellar one by one. Alan wrestled them onto
the front porch with Tony's help and sanded them clean, then turned them
over to Tony for urethane and dooring.

The doors were UV-filtering glass, hinged at the top and surrounded by
felt on their inside lips so that they closed softly. Each one had a
small brass prop-rod on the left side that could brace it open. Tony had
been responsible for measuring each bookcase after he retrieved it from
Alan's protégés' shops and for sending the measurements off to a glazier
in Mississauga.

The glazier was technically retired, but he'd built every display case
that had ever sat inside any of Alan's shops and was happy to make use
of the small workshop that his daughter and son-in-law had installed in
his garage when they retired him to the burbs.

The bookcases went into the house, along each wall, according to a
system of numbers marked on their backs. Alan had used Tony's
measurements and some CAD software to come up with a permutation of
stacking and shouldering cases that had them completely covering every
wall -- except for the wall by the mantelpiece in the front parlor, the
wall over the countertop in the kitchen, and the wall beside the
staircases -- to the ceiling.

He and Tony didn't speak much. Tony was thinking about whatever people
who drive moving vans think about, and Alan was thinking about the story
he was building the house to write in.

May smelled great in Kensington Market. The fossilized dog shit had
melted and washed away in the April rains, and the smells were all
springy ones, loam and blossoms and spilled tetrapak fruit punch left
behind by the pan-ethnic street-hockey league that formed up
spontaneously in front of his house. When the winds blew from the east,
he smelled the fish stalls on Spadina, salty and redolent of Chinese
barbecue spices. When it blew from the north, he smelled baking bread in
the kosher bakeries and sometimes a rare whiff of roasting garlic from
the pizzas in the steaming ovens at Massimo's all the way up on
College. The western winds smelled of hospital incinerator, acrid and
smoky.

His father, the mountain, had attuned Art to smells, since they were the
leading indicators of his moods, sulfurous belches from deep in the
caverns when he was displeased, the cold non-smell of spring water when
he was thoughtful, the new-mown hay smell from his slopes when he was
happy. Understanding smells was something that you did, when the
mountain was your father.

Once the bookcases were seated and screwed into the walls, out came the
books, thousands of them, tens of thousands of them.

Little kids' books with loose signatures, ancient first-edition
hardcovers, outsized novelty art books, mass-market paperbacks,
reference books as thick as cinderblocks. They were mostly used when
he'd gotten them, and that was what he loved most about them: They
smelled like other people and their pages contained hints of their
lives: marginalia and pawn tickets, bus transfers gone yellow with age
and smears of long-ago meals. When he read them, he was in three places:
his living room, the authors' heads, and the world of their previous
owners.

They came off his shelves at home, from the ten-by-ten storage down on
the lakeshore, they came from friends and enemies who'd borrowed his
books years before and who'd "forgotten" to return them, but Alan
*never* forgot, he kept every book in a great and deep relational
database that had begun as a humble flatfile but which had been imported
into successive generations of industrial-grade database software.

This, in turn, was but a pocket in the Ur-database, The Inventory in
which Alan had input the value, the cost, the salient features, the
unique identifiers, and the photographic record of every single thing he
owned, from the socks in his sock drawer to the pots in his
cupboard. Maintaining The Inventory was serious business, no less
important now than it had been when he had begun it in the course of
securing insurance for the bookshop.

Alan was an insurance man's worst nightmare, a customer from hell who'd
messenger over five bankers' boxes of detailed, cross-referenced
Inventory at the slightest provocation.

The books filled the shelves, row on row, behind the dust-proof,
light-proof glass doors. The books began in the foyer and wrapped around
the living room, covered the wall behind the dining room in the kitchen,
filled the den and the master bedroom and the master bath, climbed the
short walls to the dormer ceilings on the third floor. They were
organized by idiosyncratic subject categories, and alphabetical by
author within those categories.

Alan's father was a mountain, and his mother was a washing machine -- he
kept a roof over their heads and she kept their clothes clean. His
brothers were: a dead man, a trio of nesting dolls, a fortune teller,
and an island. He only had two or three family portraits, but he
treasured them, even if outsiders who saw them often mistook them for
landscapes. There was one where his family stood on his father's slopes,
Mom out in the open for a rare exception, a long tail of extension cords
snaking away from her to the cave and the diesel generator's three-prong
outlet. He hung it over the mantel, using two hooks and a level to make
sure that it came out perfectly even.

Tony helped Alan install the shallow collectibles cases along the
house's two-story stairwell, holding the level while Alan worked the
cordless powerdriver. Alan's glazier had built the cases to Alan's
specs, and they stretched from the treads to the ceiling. Alan filled
them with Made-in-Occupied-Japan tin toys, felt tourist pennants from
central Florida gator farms, a stone from Marie Laveau's tomb in the
St. Louis I Cemetery in New Orleans, tarnished brass Zippos, small
framed comic-book bodybuilding ads, carved Polynesian coconut monkeys,
melamine transistor radios, Bakelite snow globes, all the tchotchkes
he'd accumulated over a lifetime of picking and hunting and digging.

They were gloriously scuffed and non-mint: he'd always sold off the
sterile mint-in-package goods as quickly as he could, squirreling away
the items that were marked with "Property of Freddy Terazzo" in shaky
ballpoint, the ones with tooth marks and frayed boxes taped shut with
brands of stickytape not offered for sale in fifty years.

The last thing to go in was the cellar. They knocked out any wall that
wasn't load-bearing, smeared concrete on every surface, and worked in a
loose mosaic of beach glass and beach china, smooth and white with
spidery blue illustrations pale as a dream. Three coats of urethane made
the surfaces gleam.

Then it was just a matter of stringing out the cables for the clip-on
halogens whose beams he took care to scatter off the ceilings to keep
the glare to a minimum. He moved in his horsehair sofa and armchairs,
his big old bed, his pots and pans and sideboard with its novelty
decanters, and his entertainment totem.

A man from Bell Canada came out and terminated the data line in his
basement, in a room that he'd outfitted with an uninterruptible power
supply, a false floor, dry fire extinguishers and a pipe-break
sensor. He installed and configured the router, set up his modest rack
and home servers, fished three four-pair wires through to the living
room, the den, and the attic, where he attached them to unobtrusive
wireless access points and thence to weatherproofed omnidirectional
antennae made from copper tubing and PVC that he'd affixed to the
building's exterior on short masts, aimed out over Kensington Market,
blanketing a whole block with free Internet access.

He had an idea that the story he was going to write would require some
perambulatory cogitation, and he wanted to be able to take his laptop
anywhere in the market and sit down and write and hop online and check
out little factoids with a search engine so he wouldn't get hung up on
stupid details.

The house on Wales Avenue was done. He'd repainted the exterior a lovely
robin's-egg blue, fixed the front step, and planted a low-maintenance
combination of outsized rocks from the Canadian Shield and wild grasses
on the front lawn. On July first, Alan celebrated Canada Day by crawling
out of the attic window onto the roof and watching the fireworks and
listening to the collective sighs of the people densely packed around
him in the Market, then he went back into the house and walked from room
to room, looking for something out of place, some spot still rough and
unsanded, and found none. The books and the collections lined the walls,
the fans whirred softly in the ceilings, the filters beneath the open
windows hummed as they sucked the pollen and particulate out of the
rooms -- Alan's retail experience had convinced him long ago of the
selling power of fresh air and street sounds, so he refused to keep the
windows closed, despite the fantastic volume of city dust that blew in.

The house was perfect. The ergonomic marvel of a chair that UPS had
dropped off the previous day was tucked under the wooden sideboard he'd
set up as a desk in the second-floor den. His brand-new computer sat
centered on the desk, a top-of-the-line laptop with a wireless card and
a screen big enough to qualify as a home theater in some circles.

Tomorrow, he'd start the story.

#

Alan rang the next-door house's doorbell at eight a.m. He had a bag of
coffees from the Greek diner. Five coffees, one for each bicycle locked
to the wooden railing on the sagging porch plus one for him.

He waited five minutes, then rang the bell again, holding it down,
listening for the sound of footsteps over the muffled jangling of the
buzzer. It took two minutes more, he estimated, but he didn't mind. It
was a beautiful summer day, soft and moist and green, and he could
already smell the fish market over the mellow brown vapors of the strong
coffee.

A young woman in long johns and a baggy tartan T-shirt opened the
door. She was excitingly plump, round and a little jiggly, the kind of
woman Alan had always gone for. Of course, she was all of twenty-two,
and so was certainly not an appropriate romantic interest for him, but
she was fun to look at as she ungummed her eyes and worked the sleep out
of her voice.

"Yes?" she said through the locked screen door. Her voice brooked no
nonsense, which Alan also liked. He'd hire her in a second, if he were
still running a shop. He liked to hire sharp kids like her, get to know
them, try to winkle out their motives and emotions through observation.

"Good morning!" Alan said. "I'm Alan, and I just moved in next
door. I've brought coffee!" He hefted his sack in her direction.

"Good morning, Alan," she said. "Thanks and all, but --"

"Oh, no need to thank me! Just being neighborly. I brought five -- one
for each of you and one for me."

"Well, that's awfully nice of you --"

"Nothing at all. Nice morning, huh? I saw a robin just there, on that
tree in the park, not an hour ago. Fantastic."

"Great." She unlatched the screen door and opened it, reaching for the
sack.

Alan stepped into the foyer and handed it to her. "There's cream and
sugar in there," he said. "Lots -- don't know how you folks take it, so
I just figured better sure than miserable, better to err on the side of
caution. Wow, look at this, your place has a completely different layout
from mine. I think they were built at the same time, I mean, they look a
lot alike. I don't really know much about architecture, but they really
do seem the same, don't they, from the outside? But look at this! In my
place, I've got a long corridor before you get to the living room, but
your place is all open. I wonder if it was built that way, or if someone
did that later. Do you know?"

"No," she said, hefting the sack.

"Well, I'll just have a seat while you get your roommates up, all right?
Then we can all have a nice cup of coffee and a chat and get to know
each other."

She dithered for a moment, then stepped back toward the kitchen and the
stairwell. Alan nodded and took a little tour of the living room. There
was a very nice media totem, endless shelves of DVDs and videos,
including a good selection of Chinese kung-fu VCDs and black and white
comedies. There was a stack of guitar magazines on the battered coffee
table, and a cozy sofa with an afghan folded neatly on one arm. Good
kids, he could tell that just by looking at their possessions.

Not very security-conscious, though. She should have either kicked him
out or dragged him around the house while she got her roomies out of
bed. He thought about slipping some VCDs into his pocket and returning
them later, just to make the point, but decided it would be getting off
on the wrong foot.

She returned a moment later, wearing a fuzzy yellow robe whose belt and
seams were gray with grime and wear. "They're coming down," she said.

"Terrific!" Alan said, and planted himself on the sofa. "How about that
coffee, hey?"

She shook her head, smiled a little, and retrieved a coffee for
him. "Cream? Sugar?"

"Nope," Alan said. "The Greek makes it just the way I like it. Black and
strong and aromatic. Try some before you add anything -- it's really
fantastic. One of the best things about the neighborhood, if you ask
me."

Another young woman, rail-thin with a shaved head, baggy jeans, and a
tight t-shirt that he could count her ribs through, shuffled into the
living room. Alan got to his feet and extended his hand. "Hi there! I'm
Adam, your new neighbor! I brought coffees!"

She shook his hand, her long fingernails sharp on his palm. "Natalie,"
she said.

The other young woman passed a coffee to her. "He brought coffees," she
said. "Try it before you add anything to it." She turned to Alan. "I
thought you said your name was Alan?"

"Alan, Adam, Andy. Doesn't matter, I answer to any of them. My mom had a
hard time keeping our names straight."

"Funny," Natalie said, sipping at her coffee. "Two sugars, three
creams," she said, holding her hand out. The other woman silently passed
them to her.

"I haven't gotten your name yet," Alan said.

"Right," the other one said. "You sure haven't."

A young man, all of seventeen, with straggly sideburns and a shock of
pink hair sticking straight up in the air, shuffled into the room,
wearing cutoffs and an unbuttoned guayabera.

"Adam," Natalie said, "this is Link, my kid brother. Link, this is
Arthur -- he brought coffees."

"Hey, thanks, Arthur," Link said. He accepted his coffee and stood by
his sister, sipping reverently.

"So that leaves one more," Alan said. "And then we can get started."

Link snorted. "Not likely. Krishna doesn't get out of bed before noon."

"Krishna?" Alan said.

"My boyfriend," the nameless woman said. "He was up late."

"More coffee for the rest of us, I suppose," Alan said. "Let's all sit
and get to know one another, then, shall we?"

They sat. Alan slurped down the rest of his coffee, then gestured at the
sack. The nameless woman passed it to him and he got the last one, and
set to drinking.

"I'm Andreas, your new next-door neighbor. I've just finished
renovating, and I moved in last night. I'm really looking forward to
spending time in the neighborhood -- I work from home, so I'll be around
a bunch. Feel free to drop by if you need to borrow a cup of sugar or
anything."

"That's so nice of you," Natalie said. "I'm sure we'll get along fine!"

"Thanks, Natalie. Are you a student?"

"Yup," she said. She fished in the voluminous pockets of her jeans,
tugging them lower on her knobby hips, and came up with a pack of
cigarettes. She offered one to her brother -- who took it -- and one to
Alan, who declined, then lit up. "Studying fashion design at OCAD. I'm
in my last year, so it's all practicum from now on."

"Fashion! How interesting," Alan said. "I used to run a little vintage
clothes shop in the Beaches, called Tropicál."

"Oh, I *loved* that shop," she said. "You had the *best* stuff! I used
to sneak out there on the streetcar after school." Yup. He didn't
remember *her*, exactly, but her *type*, sure. Solo girls with hardcover
sketch books and vintage clothes home-tailored to a nice fit.

"Well, I'd be happy to introduce you to some of the people I know --
there's a vintage shop that a friend of mine runs in Parkdale. He's
always looking for designers to help with rehab and repros."

"That would be so cool!"

"Now, Link, what do you study?"

Link pulled at his smoke, ashed in the fireplace grate. "Not much. I
didn't get into Ryerson for electrical engineering, so I'm spending a
year as a bike courier, taking night classes, and reapplying for next
year."

"Well, that'll keep you out of trouble at least," Alan said. He turned
to the nameless woman.

"So, what do you do, *Apu*?" she said to him, before he could say
anything.

"Oh, I'm retired, Mimi," he said.

"Mimi?" she said.

"Why not? It's as good a name as any."

"Her name is --" Link started to say, but she cut him off.

"Mimi is as good a name as any. I'm unemployed. Krishna's a bartender."

"Are you looking for work?"

She smirked. "Sure. Whatcha got?"

"What can you do?"

"I've got three-quarters of a degree in environmental studies, one year
of kinesiology, and a half-written one-act play. Oh, and student debt
until the year 3000."

"A play!" he said, slapping his thighs. "You should finish it. I'm a
writer, too, you know."

"I thought you had a clothing shop."

"I did. And a bookshop, and a collectibles shop, and an antique
shop. Not all at the same time, you understand. But now I'm
writing. Going to write a story, then I imagine I'll open another
shop. But I'm more interested in *you*, Mimi, and your play. Why
half-finished?"

She shrugged and combed her hair back with her fingers. Her hair was
brown and thick and curly, down to her shoulders. Alan adored curly
hair. He'd had a clerk at the comics shop with curly hair just like
hers, an earnest and bright young thing who drew her own comics in the
back room on her breaks, using the receiving table as a drawing
board. She'd never made much of a go of it as an artist, but she did end
up publishing a popular annual anthology of underground comics that had
captured the interest of the *New Yorker* the year before. "I just ran
out of inspiration," Mimi said, tugging at her hair.

"Well, there you are. Time to get inspired again. Stop by any time and
we'll talk about it, all right?"

"If I get back to it, you'll be the first to know."

"Tremendous!" he said. "I just know it'll be fantastic. Now, who plays
the guitar?"

"Krishna," Link said. "I noodle a bit, but he's really good."

"He sure is," Alan said. "He was in fine form last night, about three
a.m.!" He chuckled pointedly.

There was an awkward silence. Alan slurped down his second
coffee. "Whoops!" he said. "I believe I need to impose on you for the
use of your facilities?"

"What?" Natalie and Link said simultaneously.

"He wants the toilet," Mimi said. "Up the stairs, second door on the
right. Jiggle the handle after you flush."

The bathroom was crowded with too many towels and too many
toothbrushes. The sink was powdered with blusher and marked with
lipstick and mascara residue. It made Alan feel at home. He liked young
people. Liked their energy, their resentment, and their
enthusiasm. Didn't like their guitar-playing at three a.m.; but he'd
sort that out soon enough.

He washed his hands and carefully rinsed the long curly hairs from the
bar before replacing it in its dish, then returned to the living room.

"Abel," Mimi said, "sorry if the guitar kept you up last night."

"No sweat," Alan said. "It must be hard to find time to practice when
you work nights."

"Exactly," Natalie said. "Exactly right! Krishna always practices when
he comes back from work. He blows off some steam so he can get to
bed. We just all learned to sleep through it."

"Well," Alan said, "to be honest, I'm hoping I won't have to learn to do
that. But I think that maybe I have a solution we can both live with."

"What's that?" Mimi said, jutting her chin forward.

"It's easy, really. I can put up a resilient channel and a baffle along
that wall there, soundproofing. I'll paint it over white and you won't
even notice the difference. Shouldn't take me more than a week. Happy to
do it. Thick walls make good neighbors."

"We don't really have any money to pay for renovations," Mimi said.

Alan waved his hand. "Who said anything about money? I just want to
solve the problem. I'd do it on my side of the wall, but I've just
finished renovating."

Mimi shook her head. "I don't think the landlord would go for it."

"You worry too much," he said. "Give me your landlord's number and I'll
sort it out with him, all right?"

"All right!" Link said. "That's terrific, Albert, really!"

"All right, Mimi? Natalie?"

Natalie nodded enthusiastically, her shaved head whipping up and down on
her thin neck precariously. Mimi glared at Natalie and Link. "I'll ask
Krishna," she said.

"All right, then!" Alan said. "Let me measure up the wall and I'll start
shopping for supplies." He produced a matte black, egg-shaped digital
tape measure and started shining pinpoints of laser light on the wall,
clicking the egg's buttons when he had the corners tight. The Portuguese
clerks at his favorite store had dissolved into hysterics when he'd
proudly shown them the $300 gadget, but they were consistently impressed
by the exacting CAD drawings of his projects that he generated with its
output. Natalie and Link stared in fascination as he did his thing with
more showmanship than was technically necessary, though Mimi made a
point of rolling her eyes.

"Don't go spending any money yet, cowboy," she said. "I've still got to
talk to Krishna, and *you've* still got to talk with the landlord."

He fished in the breast pocket of his jean jacket and found a stub of
pencil and a little steno pad, scribbled his cell phone number, and tore
off the sheet. He passed the sheet, pad, and pencil to Mimi, who wrote
out the landlord's number and passed it back to him.

"Okay!" Alan said. "There you go. It's been a real pleasure meeting you
folks. I know we're going to get along great. I'll call your landlord
right away and you call me once Krishna's up, and I'll see you tomorrow
at ten a.m. to start construction, God willin' and the crick don't
rise."

Link stood and extended his hand. "Nice to meet you, Albert," he
said. "Really. Thanks for the muds, too." Natalie gave him a bony hug,
and Mimi gave him a limp handshake, and then he was out in the sunshine,
head full of designs and logistics and plans.

#

The sun set at nine p.m. in a long summertime blaze. Alan sat down on
the twig-chair on his front porch, pulled up the matching twig table,
and set down a wine glass and the bottle of Niagara Chardonnay he'd
brought up from the cellar. He poured out a glass and held it up to the
light, admiring the new blister he'd gotten on his pinky finger while
hauling two-by-fours and gyprock from his truck to his neighbors' front
room. Kids rode by on bikes and punks rode by on skateboards. Couples
wandered through the park across the street, their murmurous
conversations clear on the whispering breeze that rattled the leaves.

He hadn't gotten any writing done, but that was all right. He had plenty
of time, and once the soundwall was in, he'd be able to get a good
night's sleep and really focus down on the story.

A Chinese girl and a white boy walked down the sidewalk, talking
intensely. They were all of six, and the boy had a Russian accent. The
Market's diversity always excited Alan. The boy looked a little like
Alan's brother Doug (Dan, David, Dearborne) had looked when he was that
age.

Doug was the one he'd helped murder. All the brothers had helped with
the murder, even Charlie (Clem, Carlos, Cory), the island, who'd opened
a great fissure down his main fault line and closed it up over Doug's
corpse, ensuring that their parents would be none the wiser. Doug was a
stubborn son-of-a-bitch, though, and his corpse had tunneled up over the
next six years, built a raft from the bamboo and vines that grew in
proliferation on Carlos's west coast. He sailed the raft through
treacherous seas for a year and a day, beached it on their father's
gentle slope, and presented himself to their mother. By that time, the
corpse had decayed and frayed and worn away, so that he was little more
than a torso and stumps, his tongue withered and stiff, but he pled his
case to their mother, and she was so upset that her load overbalanced
and they had to restart her. Their father was so angry that he quaked
and caved in Billy (Bob, Brad, Benny)'s room, crushing all his tools and
all his trophies.

But a lot of time had gone by and the brothers weren't kids
anymore. Alan was nineteen, ready to move to Toronto and start scouting
for real estate. Only Doug still looked like a little boy, albeit a
stumpy and desiccated one. He hollered and stamped until his fingerbones
rattled on the floor and his tongue flew across the room and cracked on
the wall. When his anger was spent, he crawled atop their mother and let
her rock him into a long, long slumber.

Alan had left his father and his family the next morning, carrying a
rucksack heavy with gold from under the mountain and walked down to the
town, taking the same trail he'd walked every school day since he was
five. He waved to the people that drove past him on the highway as he
waited at the bus stop. He was the first son to leave home under his own
power, and he'd been full of butterflies, but he had a half-dozen good
books that he'd checked out of the Kapuskasing branch library to keep
him occupied on the 14-hour journey, and before he knew it, the bus was
pulling off the Gardiner Expressway by the SkyDome and into the midnight
streets of Toronto, where the buildings stretched to the sky, where the
blinking lights of the Yonge Street sleaze-strip receded into the
distance like a landing strip for a horny UFO.

His liquid cash was tight, so he spent that night in the Rex Hotel, in
the worst room in the house, right over the cymbal tree that the
jazz-drummer below hammered on until nearly two a.m.. The bed was small
and hard and smelled of bleach and must, the washbasin gurgled
mysteriously and spat out moist sewage odors, and he'd read all his
books, so he sat in the window and watched the drunks and the hipsters
stagger down Queen Street and inhaled the smoky air and before he knew
it, he'd nodded off in the chair with his heavy coat around him like a
blanket.

The Chinese girl abruptly thumped her fist into the Russian boy's
ear. He clutched his head and howled, tears streaming down his face,
while the Chinese girl ran off. Alan shook his head, got up off his
chair, went inside for a cold washcloth and an ice pack, and came back
out.

The Russian boy's face was screwed up and blotchy and streaked with
tears, and it made him look even more like Doug, who'd always been a
crybaby. Alan couldn't understand him, but he took a guess and knelt at
his side and wiped the boy's face, then put the ice pack in his little
hand and pressed it to the side of his little head.

"Come on," he said, taking the boy's other hand. "Where do your parents
live? I'll take you home."

#

Alan met Krishna the next morning at ten a.m., as Alan was running a
table saw on the neighbors' front lawn, sawing studs up to fit the
second wall. Krishna came out of the house in a dirty dressing gown, his
short hair matted with gel from the night before. He was tall and fit
and muscular, his brown calves flashing through the vent of his
housecoat. He was smoking a hand-rolled cigarette and clutching a can of
Coke.

Alan shut down the saw and shifted his goggles up to his forehead. "Good
morning," he said. "I'd stay on the porch if I were you, or maybe put on
some shoes. There're lots of nails and splinters around."

Krishna, about to step off the porch, stepped back. "You must be Alvin,"
he said.

"Yup," Alan said, going up the stairs, sticking out his hand. "And you
must be Krishna. You're pretty good with a guitar, you know that?"

Krishna shook briefly, then snatched his hand back and rubbed at his
stubble. "I know. You're pretty fucking loud with a table saw."

Alan looked sheepish. "Sorry about that. I wanted to get the heavy work
done before it got too hot. Hope I'm not disturbing you too much --
today's the only sawing day. I'll be hammering for the next day or two,
then it's all wet work -- the loudest tool I'll be using is
sandpaper. Won't take more than four days, tops, anyway, and we'll be in
good shape."

Krishna gave him a long, considering look. "What are you, anyway?"

"I'm a writer -- for now. Used to have a few shops."

Krishna blew a plume of smoke off into the distance. "That's not what I
mean. What *are* you, Adam? Alan? Andrew? I've met people like you
before. There's something not right about you."

Alan didn't know what to say to that. This was bound to come up someday.

"Where are you from?"

"Up north. Near Kapuskasing," he said. "A little town."

"I don't believe you," Krishna said. "Are you an alien? A fairy? What?"

Alan shook his head. "Just about what I seem, I'm afraid. Just a guy."

"Just about, huh?" he said.

"Just about."

"There's a lot of wiggle room in *just about*, Arthur. It's a free
country, but just the same, I don't think I like you very much. Far as
I'm concerned, you could get lost and never come back."

"Sorry you feel that way, Krishna. I hope I'll grow on you as time goes
by."

"I hope that you won't have the chance to," Krishna said, flicking the
dog end of his cigarette toward the sidewalk.

#

Alan didn't like or understand Krishna, but that was okay. He understood
the others just fine, more or less. Natalie had taken to helping him out
after her classes, mudding and taping the drywall, then sanding it down,
priming, and painting it. Her brother Link came home from work sweaty
and grimy with road dust, but he always grabbed a beer for Natalie and
Alan after his shower, and they'd sit on the porch and kibbitz.

Mimi was less hospitable. She sulked in her room while Alan worked on
the soundwall, coming downstairs only to fetch her breakfast and coldly
ignoring him then, despite his cheerful greetings. Alan had to force
himself not to stare after her as she walked into the kitchen, carrying
yesterday's dishes down from her room; then out again, with a sandwich
on a fresh plate. Her curly hair bounced as she stomped back and forth,
her soft, round buttocks flexing under her long-johns.

On the night that Alan and Natalie put the first coat of paint on the
wall, Mimi came down in a little baby-doll dress, thigh-high striped
tights, and chunky shoes, her face painted with swaths of glitter.

"You look wonderful, baby," Natalie told her as she emerged onto the
porch. "Going out?"

"Going to the club," she said. "DJ None Of Your Fucking Business is
spinning and Krishna's going to get me in for free."

"Dance music," Link said disgustedly. Then, to Alan, "You know this
stuff? It's not playing music, it's playing *records*. Snore."

"Sounds interesting," Alan said. "Do you have any of it I could listen
to? A CD or some MP3s?"

"Oh, *that's* not how you listen to this stuff," Natalie said. "You have
to go to a club and *dance*."

"Really?" Alan said. "Do I have to take ecstasy, or is that optional?"

"It's mandatory," Mimi said, the first words she'd spoken to him all
week. "Great fistfuls of E, and then you have to consume two pounds of
candy necklaces at an after-hours orgy."

"Not really," Natalie said, *sotto voce*. "But you *do* have to
dance. You should go with, uh, Mimi, to the club. DJ None Of Your
Fucking Business is *amazing*."

"I don't think Mimi wants company," Alan said.

"What makes you say that?" Mimi said, making a dare of it with hipshot
body language. "Get changed and we'll go together. You'll have to pay to
get in, though."

Link and Natalie exchanged a raised eyebrow, but Alan was already headed
for his place, fumbling for his keys. He bounded up the stairs, swiped a
washcloth over his face, threw on a pair of old cargo pants and a faded
Steel Pole Bathtub T-shirt he'd bought from a head-shop one day because
he liked the words' incongruity, though he'd never heard the band, added
a faded jean jacket and a pair of high-tech sneakers, grabbed his phone,
and bounded back down the stairs. He was convinced that Mimi would be
long gone by the time he got back out front, but she was still there,
the stripes in her stockings glowing in the slanting light.

"Retro chic," she said, and laughed nastily. Natalie gave him a thumbs
up and a smile that Alan uncharitably took for a simper, and felt guilty
about it immediately afterward. He returned the thumbs up and then took
off after Mimi, who'd already started down Augusta, headed for Queen
Street.

"What's the cover charge?" he said, once he'd caught up.

"Twenty bucks," she said. "It's an all-ages show, so they won't be
selling a lot of booze, so there's a high cover."

"How's the play coming?"

"Fuck off about the play, okay?" she said, and spat on the sidewalk.

"All right, then," he said. "I'm going to start writing my story
tomorrow," he said.

"Your story, huh?"

"Yup."

"What's that for?"

"What do you mean?" he asked playfully.

"Why are you writing a story?"

"Well, I have to! I've completely redone the house, built that soundwall
-- it'd be a shame not to write the story now."

"You're writing a story about your house?"

"No, *in* my house. I haven't decided what the story's about
yet. That'll be job one tomorrow."

"You did all that work to have a place to write? Man, I thought *I* was
into procrastination."

He chuckled self-deprecatingly. "I guess you could look at it that
way. I just wanted to have a nice, creative environment to work in. The
story's important to me, is all."

"What are you going to do with it once you're done? There aren't a whole
lot of places that publish short stories these days, you know."

"Oh, I know it! I'd write a novel if I had the patience. But this isn't
for publication -- yet. It's going into a drawer to be published after I
die."

"*What*?"

"Like Emily Dickinson. Wrote thousands of poems, stuck 'em in a drawer,
dropped dead. Someone else published 'em and she made it into the
canon. I'm going to do the same."

"That's nuts -- are you dying?"

"Nope. But I don't want to put this off until I am. Could get hit by a
bus, you know."

"You're a goddamned psycho. Krishna was right."

"What does Krishna have against me?"

"I think we both know what that's about," she said.

"No, really, what did I ever do to him?"

Now they were on Queen Street, walking east in the early evening crowd,
surrounded by summertime hipsters and wafting, appetizing smells from
the bistros and Jamaican roti shops. She stopped abruptly and grabbed
his shoulders and gave him a hard shake.

"You're full of shit, Ad-man. I know it and you know it."

"I really don't know what you're talking about, honestly!"

"Fine, let's do this." She clamped her hand on his forearm and dragged
him down a side street and turned down an alley. She stepped into a
doorway and started unbuttoning her Alice-blue babydoll dress. Alan
looked away, embarrassed, glad of the dark hiding his blush.

Once the dress was unbuttoned to her waist, she reached around behind
her and unhooked her white underwire bra, which sagged forward under the
weight of her heavy breasts. She turned around, treating him to a
glimpse of the full curve of her breast under her arm, and shrugged the
dress down around her waist.

She had two stubby, leathery wings growing out of the middle of her
back, just above the shoulder blades. They sat flush against her back,
and as Alan watched, they unfolded and flexed, flapped a few times, and
settled back into their position, nested among the soft roll of flesh
that descended from her neck.

Involuntarily, he peered forward, examining the wings, which were
covered in fine downy brown hairs, and their bases, roped with muscle
and surrounded by a mess of ugly scars.

"You...*sewed*...these on?" Alan said, aghast.

She turned around, her eyes bright with tears. Her breasts swung free of
her unhooked bra. "No, you fucking idiot. I sawed them off. Four times a
year. They just grow back. If I don't cut them, they grow down to my
ankles."

#

Mimi was curiously and incomprehensibly affectionate after she had
buttoned up her dress and resumed walking toward the strip of clubs
along Richmond Street. She put her hand on his forearm and murmured
funny commentary about the outlandishly attired club kids in their
plastic cowboy hats, Sailor Moon outfits, and plastic tuxedoes. She
plucked a cigarette from his lips, dragged on it, and put it back into
his mouth, still damp with her saliva, an act that sent a shiver down
Alan's neck and made the hair on the backs of his hands stand up.

She seemed to think that the wings were self-explanatory and needed no
further discussion, and Alan was content to let them stay in his mind's
eye, bat-shaped, powerful, restless, surrounded by their gridwork of
angry scars.

Once they got to the club, Shasta Disaster, a renovated brick bank with
robotic halogen spots that swept the sidewalk out front with a throbbing
penis logomark, she let go of his arm and her body stiffened. She said
something in the doorman's ear, and he let her pass. When Alan tried to
follow her, the bouncer stopped him with a meaty hand on his chest.

"Can I help you sir," he said flatly. He was basically a block of fat
and muscle with a head on top, arms as thick as Alan's thighs barely
contained in a silver button-down short-sleeve shirt that bound at his
armpits.

"Do I pay the cover to you?" Alan asked, reaching for his wallet.

"No, you don't get to pay a cover. You're not coming in."

"But I'm with her," Alan said, gesturing in the direction Mimi had
gone. "I'm Krishna's and her neighbor."

"She didn't mention it," the bouncer said. He was smirking now.

"Look," Alan said. "I haven't been to a club in twenty years. Do you
guys still take bribes?"

The bouncer rolled his eyes. "Some might. I don't. Why don't you head
home, sir."

"That's it, huh?" Alan said. "Nothing I can say or do?"

"Don't be a smart guy," the bouncer said.

"Good night, then," Alan said, and turned on his heel. He walked back up
to Queen Street, which was ablaze with TV lights from the open studio
out front of the CHUM-City building. Hordes of teenagers in tiny,
outrageous outfits milled back and forth from the coffee shops to the
studio window, where some band he'd never heard of was performing,
generally ambling southward to the clubs. Alan bought himself a coffee
with a sixteen-syllable latinate trade name
("Moch-a-latt-a-meraican-a-spress-a-chino," he liked to call them) at
the Second Cup and hailed a taxi.

He felt only the shortest moment of anger at Mimi, but it quickly cooled
and then warmed again, replaced by bemusement. Decrypting the mystical
deeds of young people had been his hobby and avocation since he hired
his first cranky-but-bright sixteen-year-old. Mimi had played him, he
knew that, deliberately set him up to be humiliated. But she'd also
wanted a moment alone with him, an opportunity to confront him with her
wings -- wings that were taking on an air of the erotic now in his
imagination, much to his chagrin. He imagined that they were soft and
pliable as lips but with spongy cartilage beneath that gave way like
livid nipple flesh. The hair must be silky, soft, and slippery as a
pubic thatch oiled with sweat and juices. Dear oh dear, he was really
getting himself worked into a lather, imagining the wings drooping to
the ground, unfolding powerfully in his living room, encircling him,
enveloping him as his lips enveloped the tendons on her neck, as her
vagina enveloped him... Whew!

The taxi drove right past his place and that gave Alan a much-needed
distraction, directing the cabbie through the maze of Kensington
Market's one-way streets back around to his front door. He tipped the
cabbie a couple of bucks over his customary ten percent and bummed a
cigarette off him, realizing that Mimi had asked him for a butt but
never returned the pack.

He puffed and shook his head and stared up the street at the distant
lights of College Street, then turned back to his porch.

"Hello, Albert," two voices said in unison, speaking from the shadows on
his porch.

"Jesus," he said, and hit the remote on his keyring that switched on the
porch light. It was his brother Edward, the eldest of the nesting dolls,
the bark of their trinity, coarse and tough and hollow. He was even
fatter than he'd been as a little boy, fat enough that his arms and legs
appeared vestigial and unjointed. He struggled, panting, to his tiny
feet -- feet like undersized exclamation points beneath the tapered Oh
of his body. His face, though doughy, had not gone to undefined
softness. Rather, every feature had acquired its own rolls of fat, rolls
that warred with one another to define his appearance -- nose and
cheekbones and brow and lips all grotesque and inflated and blubbery.

"Eugene," Alan said. "It's been a very long time."

Edward cocked his head. "It has, indeed, big brother. I've got bad
news."

"What?"

Edward leaned to the left, the top half of his body tipping over
completely, splitting at his narrow leather belt, so that his trunk,
neck, and head hung upside down beside his short, cylindrical legs and
tiny feet.

Inside of him was Frederick, the perennial middle child. Frederick
planted his palms on the dry, smooth edges of his older brother's waist
and levered himself up, stepping out of Ed's legs with the unconscious
ease of a lifetime's practice. "It's good to see you, Andy," he said. He
was pale and wore his habitual owlish expression of surprise at seeing
the world without looking through his older brother's eyes.

"It's nice to see you, too, Frederick," Alan said. He'd always gotten
along with Frederick, always liked his ability to play peacemaker and to
lend a listening ear.

Frederick helped Edward upright, methodically circumnavigating his huge
belly, retucking his grimy white shirt. Then he hitched up his
sweatshirt over the hairy pale expanse of his own belly and tipped to
one side.

Alan had been expecting to see Gregory, the core, but instead, there was
nothing inside Frederick. The Gregory-shaped void was empty. Frederick
righted himself and hitched up his belt.

"We think he's dead," Edward said, his rubbery features distorted into a
Greek tragedy mask. "We think that Doug killed him." He pinwheeled his
round arms and then clapped his hands to his face, sobbing. Frederick
put a hand on his arm. He, too, was crying.

#

Once upon a time, Alan's mother gave birth to three sons in three
months. Birthing sons was hardly extraordinary -- before these three
came along, she'd already had four others. But the interval, well, that
was unusual.

As the eldest, Alan was the first to recognize the early signs of her
pregnancy. The laundry loads of diapers and play clothes he fed into her
belly unbalanced more often, and her spin cycle became almost
lackadaisical, so the garments had to hang on the line for days before
they stiffened and dried completely. Alan liked to sit with his back
against his mother's hard enamel side while she rocked and gurgled and
churned. It comforted him.

The details of her conception were always mysterious to Alan. He'd been
walking down into town to attend day school for five years, and he'd
learned all about the birds and the bees, and he thought that maybe his
father -- the mountain -- impregnated his mother by means of some
strange pollen carried on the gusts of winds from his deep and gloomy
caves. There was a gnome, too, who made sure that the long hose that led
from Alan's mother's back to the spring pool in his father's belly
remained clear and unfouled, and sometimes Alan wondered if the gnome
dove for his father's seed and fed it up his mother's intake. Alan's
life was full of mysteries, and he'd long since learned to keep his
mouth shut about his home life when he was at school.

He attended all three births, along with the smaller kids -- Bill and
Donald (Charlie, the island, was still small enough to float in the
middle of their father's heart-pool) -- waiting on tenterhooks for his
mother's painful off-balance spin cycle to spend itself before
reverently opening the round glass door and removing the infant within.

Edward was fat, even for a baby. He looked like an elongated soccer ball
with a smaller ball on top. He cried healthily, though, and gave hearty
suck to their mother's exhaust valve once Alan had cleaned the soap suds
and fabric softener residue from his little body. His father gusted
proud, warm, blustery winds over them and their little domestic scene.

Alan noticed that little Edward, for all his girth, was very light, and
wondered if the baby was full of helium or some other airy
substance. Certainly he hardly appeared to be full of *baby*, since
everything he ate and drank passed through him in a matter of seconds,
hardly digested at all. Alan had to go into town twice to buy new
twelve-pound boxes of clean white shop rags to clean up the slime trail
the baby left behind him. Drew, at three, seemed to take a perverse
delight in the scummy water, spreading it around the cave as much as
possible. The grove in front of the cave mouth was booby trapped with
clothesline upon clothesline, all hung with diapers and rags drying out
in the early spring sunlight.

Thirty days later, Alan came home from school to find the younger kids
surrounding his mother as she rocked from side to side, actually popping
free of the grooves her small metal feet had worn in the cave floor over
the years.

Two babies in thirty days! Such a thing was unheard of in their father's
cave. Edward, normally a sweet-tempered baby, howled long screams that
resonated through Alan's milk teeth and made his testicles shrivel up
into hard stones. Alan knew his mother liked to be left alone when she
was in labor, but he couldn't just stand there and watch her shake and
shiver.

He went to her and pressed his palms to her top, tried to soothe and
restrain her. Bill, the second eldest and still only four years old,
followed suit. Edward's screams grew even louder, loud and hoarse and
utterly terrified, echoing off their father's walls and back to
them. Soon Alan was sobbing, too, biting his lip to keep the sounds
inside, and so were the other children. Dillon wrinkled his brow and
screamed a high-pitched wail that could have cut glass.

Alan's mother rocked harder, and her exhaust hose dislodged itself. A
high-pressure jet of cold, soapy water spurted from her back parts,
painting the cave wall with suds. Edward crawled into the puddle it
formed and scooped small handsful of the liquid into his mouth between
howls.

And then, it stopped. His mother stopped rocking, stopped shaking. The
stream trailed off into a trickle. Alan stopped crying, and soon the
smaller kids followed suit, even Edward. The echoes continued for a
moment, and then they, too, stopped. The silence was as startling -- and
nearly as unbearable -- as the cacophony had been.

With a trembling hand, Alan opened his mother's door and extracted
little Frederick. The baby was small and cyanotic blue. Alan tipped the
baby over and shook him gently, and the baby vomited up a fantastic
quantity of wash water, a prodigious stream that soaked the front of
Alan's school trousers and his worn brown loafers. Finally it ended, and
the baby let out a healthy yowl. Alan shifted the infant to one arm and
gingerly reconnected the exhaust hose and set the baby down alongside of
its end. The baby wouldn't suck, though.

Across the cave, from his soggy seat in the puddle of waste water,
Edward watched the new baby with curious eyes. He crawled across the
floor and nuzzled his brother with his high forehead. Frederick squirmed
and fussed, and Edward shoved him to one side and sucked. His little
diaper dripped as the liquid passed directly through him.

Alan patiently picked dripping Edward up and put him over one shoulder,
and gave Frederick the tube to suck. Frederick gummed at the hose's end,
then fussed some more, whimpering. Edward squirmed in his arms, nearly
plummeting to the hard stone floor.

"Billy," Alan said to the solemn little boy, who nodded. "Can you take
care of Edward for a little while? I need to clean up." Billy nodded
again and held out his pudgy arms. Alan grabbed some clean shop rags and
briskly wiped Frederick down, then laid another across Billy's shoulder
and set Edward down. The baby promptly set to snoring. Danny started
screaming again, with no provocation, and Alan took two swift steps to
bridge the distance between them and smacked the child hard enough to
stun him silent.

Alan grabbed a mop and bucket and sloshed the puddles into the drainage
groove where his mother's waste water usually ran, out the cave mouth
and into a stand of choking mountain-grass that fed greedily and thrived
riotous in the phosphates from the detergent.

Frederick did not eat for thirty days, and during that time he grew so
thin that he appeared to shrivel like a raisin, going hard and folded in
upon himself. Alan spent hours patiently spooning sudsy water into his
little pink mouth, but the baby wouldn't swallow, just spat it out and
whimpered and fussed. Edward liked to twine around Alan's feet like a
cat as he joggled and spooned and fretted over Frederick. It was all
Alan could do not to go completely mad, but he held it together, though
his grades slipped.

His mother vibrated nervously, and his father's winds grew so unruly
that two of the golems came around to the cave to make their slow,
peevish complaints. Alan shoved a baby into each of their arms and
seriously lost his shit upon them, screaming himself hoarse at them
while hanging more diapers, more rags, more clothes on the line, tossing
his unfinished homework in their faces.

But on the thirtieth day, his mother went into labor again -- a labor so
frenzied that it dislodged a stalactite and sent it crashing and
chundering to the cave floor in a fractious shivering of flinders. Alan
took a chip in the neck and it opened up a small cut that nevertheless
bled copiously and ruined, *ruined* his favorite T-shirt, with Snoopy
sitting atop his doghouse in an aviator's helmet, firing an imaginary
machine gun at the cursed Red Baron.

That was nearly the final straw for Alan, but he held fast and waited
for the labor to pass and finally unlatched the door and extracted
little George, a peanut of a child, a lima-bean infant, curled and fetal
and eerily quiet. He set the little half-baby down by the exhaust hose,
where he'd put shriveled Frederick in a hopeless hope that the baby
would suck, would ingest, finally.

And ingest Frederick did. His dry and desiccated jaw swung open like a
snake's, unhinged and spread wide, and he *swallowed* little George, ate
him up in three convulsive swallows, the new baby making Frederick's
belly swell like a balloon. Alan swallowed panic, seized Frederick by
the heels, and shook him upside down. "Spit him out," Alan cried, "Spat
him free!"

But Frederick kept his lips stubbornly together, and Alan tired of the
terrible business and set the boy with the newest brother within down on
a pile of hay he'd brought in to soak up some of Edward's continuous
excretions. Alan put his hands over his face and sobbed, because he'd
failed his responsibilities as eldest of their family and there was no
one he could tell his woes to.

The sound of baby giggles stopped his crying. Edward had belly-crawled
to Frederick's side and he was eating *him*, jaw unhinged and gorge
working. He was up to Frederick's little bottom, dehydrated to a
leathery baby-jerky, and then he was past, swallowing the arms and the
chin and the *head*, the giggling, smiling head, the laughing head that
had done nothing but whine and fuss since Alan had cleared it of its
volume of detergenty water, fresh from their mother's belly.

And then Frederick was gone. Horrified, Alan rushed over and picked up
Edward -- now as heavy as a cannonball -- and pried his mouth open,
staring down his gullet, staring down into *another mouth*, Frederick's
mouth, which gaped open, revealing a *third* mouth, George's. The
smallest mouth twisted and opened, then shut. Edward squirmed furiously
and Alan nearly fumbled him. He set the baby down in the straw and
watched him crawl across to their mother, where he sucked
hungrily. Automatically, Alan gathered up an armload of rags and made
ready to wipe up the stream that Edward would soon be ejecting.

But no stream came. The baby fed and fed, and let out a deep burp in
three-part harmony, spat up a little, and drank some more. Somehow,
Frederick and George were in there feeding, too. Alan waited patiently
for Edward to finish feeding, then put him over his shoulder and joggled
him until he burped up, then bedded him down in his little rough-hewn
crib -- the crib that the golems had carved for Alan when he was born --
cleaned the cave, and cried again, leaned up against their mother.

#

Frederick huddled in on himself, half behind Edward on the porch,
habitually phobic of open spaces. Alan took his hand and then embraced
him. He smelled of Edward's clammy guts and of sweat.

"Are you two hungry?" Alan asked.

Edward grimaced. "Of course we're hungry, but without George there's
nothing we can do about it, is there?"

Alan shook his head. "How long has he been gone?"

"Three weeks," Edward whispered. "I'm so hungry, Alan."

"How did it happen?"

Frederick wobbled on his feet, then leaned heavily on Edward. "I need to
sit down," he said.

Alan fumbled for his keys and let them into the house, where they
settled into the corners of his old overstuffed horsehide sofa. He
dialed up the wall sconces to a dim, homey lighting, solicitous of
Frederick's sensitive eyes. He took an Apollo 8 Jim Beam decanter full
of stunning Irish whiskey off the sideboard and poured himself a finger
of it, not offering any to his brothers.

"Now, how did it happen?"

"He wanted to speak to Dad," Frederick said. "He climbed out of me and
wandered down through the tunnels into the spring pool. The goblin told
us that he took off his clothes and waded in and started whispering."
Like most of the boys, George had believed that their father was most
aware in his very middle, where he could direct the echoes of the
water's rippling, shape them into words and phrases in the hollow of the
great cavern.

"So the goblin saw it happen?"

"No," Frederick said, and Edward began to cry again. "No. George asked
him for some privacy, and so he went a little way up the tunnel. He
waited and waited, but George didn't come back. He called out, but
George didn't answer. When he went to look for him, he was gone. His
clothes were gone. All that he could find was this." He scrabbled to fit
his chubby hand into his jacket's pocket, then fished out a little black
pebble. Alan took it and saw that it wasn't a pebble, it was a
rotted-out and dried-up fingertip, pierced with unbent paperclip wire.

"It's Dave's, isn't it?" Edward said.

"I think so," Alan said. Dave used to spend hours wiring his dropped-off
parts back onto his body, gluing his teeth back into his head. "Jesus."

"We're going to die, aren't we?" Frederick said. "We're going to starve
to death."

Edward held his pudgy hands one on top of the other in his lap and began
to rock back and forth. "We'll be okay," he lied.

"Did anyone see Dave?" Alan asked.

"No," Frederick said. "We asked the golems, we asked Dad, we asked the
goblin, but no one saw him. No one's seen him for years."

Alan thought for a moment about how to ask his next question. "Did you
look in the pool? On the bottom?"

"*He's not there!*" Edward said. "We looked there. We looked all around
Dad. We looked in town. Alan, they're both gone."

Alan felt a sear of acid jet up esophagus. "I don't know what to do," he
said. "I don't know where to look. Frederick, can't you, I don't know,
*stuff* yourself with something? So you can eat?"

"We tried," Edward said. "We tried rags and sawdust and clay and bread
and they didn't work. I thought that maybe we could get a *child* and
put him inside, maybe, but God, Albert, I don't want to do that, it's
the kind of thing Dan would do."

Alan stared at the softly glowing wood floors, reflecting highlights
from the soft lighting. He rubbed his stocking toes over the waxy finish
and felt its shine. "Don't do that, okay?" he said. "I'll think of
something. Let me sleep on it. Do you want to sleep here? I can make up
the sofa."

"Thanks, big brother," Edward said. "Thanks."

#

Alan walked past his study, past the tableau of laptop and desk and
chair, felt the pull of the story, and kept going, pulling his housecoat
tighter around himself. The summer morning was already hotting up, and
the air in the house had a sticky, dewy feel.

He found Edward sitting on the sofa, with the sheets and pillowcases
folded neatly next to him.

"I set out a couple of towels for you in the second-floor bathroom and
found an extra toothbrush," Alan said. "If you want them."

"Thanks," Edward said, echoing in his empty chest. The thick rolls of
his face were contorted into a caricature of sorrow.

"Where's Frederick?" Alan asked.

"Gone!" Edward said, and broke into spasms of sobbing. "He's gone he's
gone he's gone, I woke up and he was gone."

Alan shifted the folded linens to the floor and sat next to
Edward. "What happened?"

"You *know* what happened, Alan," Edward said. "You know as well as I
do! Dave took him in the night. He followed us here and he came in the
night and stole him away."

"You don't know that," Alan said, softly stroking Edward's greasy fringe
of hair. "He could have wandered out for a walk or something."

"Of course I know it!" Edward yelled, his voice booming in the hollow of
his great chest. "Look!" He handed Alan a small, desiccated lump, like a
black bean pierced with a paperclip wire.

"You showed me this yesterday --" Alan said.

"It's from a *different finger*!" Edward said, and he buried his face in
Alan's shoulder, sobbing uncontrollably.

"Have you looked for him?" Alan asked.

"I've been waiting for you to get up. I don't want to go out alone."

"We'll look together," Alan said. He got a pair of shorts and a T-shirt,
shoved his feet into Birkenstocks, and led Edward out the door.

The previous night's humidity had thickened to a gray cloudy soup, swift
thunderheads coming in from all sides. The foot traffic was reduced to
sparse, fast-moving umbrellas, people rushing for shelter before the
deluge. Ozone crackled in the air and thunder roiled seemingly up from
the ground, deep and sickening.

They started with a circuit of the house, looking for footprints, body
parts. He found a shred of torn gray thrift-store shirt, caught on a
rose bramble near the front of his walk. It smelled of the homey warmth
of Edward's innards, and had a few of Frederick's short, curly hairs
stuck to it. Alan showed it to Edward, then folded it into the change
pocket of his wallet.

They walked the length of the sidewalk, crossed Wales, and began to
slowly cross the little park. Edward circumnavigated the little cement
wading pool, tracing the political runes left behind by the Market's
cheerful anarchist taggers, painfully bent almost double at his enormous
waist.

"What are we looking for, Alan?"

"Footprints. Finger bones. Clues."

Edward puffed back to the bench and sat down, tears streaming down his
face. "I'm so *hungry*," he said.

Alan, crawling around the torn sod left when someone had dragged one of
the picnic tables, contained his frustration. "If we can find Daniel, we
can get Frederick and George back, okay?"

"All right," Edward snuffled.

The next time Alan looked up, Edward had taken off his scuffed shoes and
grimy-gray socks, rolled up the cuffs of his tent-sized pants, and was
wading through the little pool, piggy eyes cast downward.

"Good idea," Alan called, and turned to the sandbox.

A moment later, there was a booming yelp, almost lost in the roll of
thunder, and when Alan turned about, Edward was gone.

Alan kicked off his Birks and splashed up to the hems of his shorts in
the wading pool. In the pool's center, the round fountainhead was a
twisted wreck, the concrete crumbled and the dry steel and brass
fixtures contorted and ruptured. They had long streaks of abraded skin,
torn shirt, and blood on them, leading down into the guts of the
fountain.

Cautiously, Alan leaned over, looking well down the dark tunnel that had
been scraped out of the concrete centerpiece. The thin gray light showed
him the rough walls, chipped out with some kind of sharp tool. "Edward?"
he called. His voice did not echo or bounce back to him.

Tentatively, he reached down the tunnel, bending at the waist over the
rough lip of the former fountain. Deep he reached and reached and
reached, and as his fingertips hit loose dirt, he leaned farther in and
groped blindly, digging his hands into the plug of soil that had been
shoveled into the tunnel's bend a few feet below the surface. He
straightened up and climbed in, sinking to the waist, and tried to kick
the dirt out of the way, but it wouldn't give -- the tunnel had caved in
behind the plug of earth.

He clambered out, feeling the first fat drops of rain on his bare
forearms and the crown of his head. *A shovel*. There was one in the
little coach house in the back of his place, behind the collapsed boxes
and the bicycle pump. As he ran across the street, he saw Krishna,
sitting on his porch, watching him with a hint of a smile.

"Lost another one, huh?" he said. He looked as if he'd been awake all
night, now hovering on the brink of sleepiness and wiredness. A roll of
thunder crashed and a sheet of rain hurtled out of the sky.

Alan never thought of himself as a violent person. Even when he'd had to
throw the occasional troublemaker out of his shops, he'd done so with an
almost cordial force. Now, though, he trembled and yearned to take
Krishna by the throat and ram his head, face first, into the column that
held up his front porch, again and again, until his fingers were slick
with the blood from Krishna's shattered nose.

Alan hurried past him, his shoulders and fists clenched. Krishna
chuckled nastily and Alan thought he knew who got the job of sawing off
Mimi's wings when they grew too long, and thought, too, that Krishna
must relish the task.

"Where you going?" Krishna called.

Alan fumbled with his keyring, desperate to get in and get the keys to
the coach house and to fetch the shovel before the new tunnels under the
park collapsed.

"You're too late, you know," Krishna continued. "You might as well give
up. Too late, too late!"

Alan whirled and shrieked, a wordless, contorted war cry, a sound from
his bestial guts. As his eyes swam back into focus, he saw Mimi standing
beside Krishna, barefoot in a faded housecoat. Her eyes were very wide,
and as she turned away from him, he saw that her stubby wings were
splayed as wide as they'd go, forming a tent in her robe that pulled it
up above her knees. Alan bit down and clamped his lips together and
found his keys. He tracked mud over the polished floors and the ancient,
threadbare Persian rugs as he ran to the kitchen, snatching the
coach-house keys from their hook over the sink.

He ran back across the street to the little park, clutching his
shovel. He jammed his head into the centerpiece and tried to see which
way the tunnel had curved off when it turned, but it was too dark, the
dirt too loose. He pulled himself out and took the shovel in his hands
like a spear and stabbed it into the concrete bed of the wading pool,
listening for a hollowness in the returning sound like a man thudding
for a stud under drywall.

The white noise of the rain was too high, the rolling thunder too
steady. His chest heaved and his tears mingled with the rain streaking
down his face as he stabbed, again and again, at the pool's bottom. His
mind was scrambled and saturated, his vision clouded with the humid mist
rising off his exertion-heated chest and the raindrops caught in his
eyelashes.

He splashed out of the wading pool and took the shovel to the sod of the
park's lawn, picking an arbitrary spot and digging inefficiently and
hysterically, the bent shovel tip twisting with each stroke.

Suddenly strong hands were on his shoulders, another set prizing the
shovel from his hands. He looked up and blinked his eyes clear, looking
into the face of two young Asian police officers. They were bulky from
the Kevlar vests they wore under their rain slickers, with kind and
exasperated expressions on their faces.

"Sir," the one holding the shovel said, "what are you doing?"

Alan breathed himself into a semblance of composure. "I..." he started,
then trailed off. Krishna was watching from his porch, grinning
ferociously, holding a cordless phone.

The creature that had howled at Krishna before scrambled for purchase in
Alan's chest. Alan averted his eyes from Krishna's shit-eating,
911-calling grin. He focused on the cap of the officer in front of him,
shrouded in a clear plastic shower cap to keep its crown dry. "I'm
sorry," he said. "It was a -- a dog. A stray, or maybe a runaway. A
little Scottie dog, it jumped down the center of the fountain there and
disappeared. I looked down and thought it had found a tunnel that caved
in on it."

The officer peered at him from under the brim of his hat, dubiousness
writ plain on his young, good-looking face. "A tunnel?"

Alan wiped the rain from his eyes, tried to regain his composure, tried
to find his charm. It wasn't to be found. Instead, every time he reached
for something witty and calming, he saw the streaks of blood and torn
clothing, dark on the loose soil of the fountain's center, and no sooner
had he dispelled those images than they were replaced with Krishna,
sneering, saying, "Lost another one, huh?" He trembled and swallowed a
sob.

"I think I need to sit down," he said, as calmly as he could, and he
sank slowly to his knees. The hands on his biceps let him descend.

"Sir, do you live nearby?" one of the cops asked, close in to his
ear. He nodded into his hands, which he'd brought up to cover his face.

"Across the street," he said. They helped him to his feet and supported
him as he tottered, weak and heaving, to his porch. Krishna was gone
once they got there.

The cops helped him shuck his drenched shoes and socks and put him down
on the overstuffed horsehide sofa. Alan recovered himself with an effort
of will and gave them his ID.

"I'm sorry, you must think I'm an absolute lunatic," he said, shivering
in his wet clothes.

"Sir," the cop who'd taken the shovel from him said, "we see absolute
lunatics every day. I think you're just a little upset. We all go a
little nuts from time to time."

"Yeah," Alan said. "Yeah. A little nuts. I had a long night last
night. Family problems."

The cops shifted their weight, showering the floor with raindrops that
beaded on the finish.

"Are you going to be all right on your own? We can call someone if you'd
like."

"No," Alan said, pasting on a weak smile. "No, that's all right. I'll be
fine. I'm going to change into some dry clothes and clean up and, oh, I
don't know, get some sleep. I think I could use some sleep."

"That sounds like an excellent idea," the cop who'd taken the shovel
said. He looked around at the bookcases. "You've read all of these?" he
asked.

"Naw," Alan said, falling into the rote response from his proprietorship
of the bookstore. "What's the point of a bunch of books you've already
read?" The joke reminded him of better times and he smiled a genuine
smile.

#

Though the stinging hot shower revived him somewhat, he kept quickening
into panic at the thought of David creeping into his house in the night,
stumping in on desiccated black child-legs, snaggled rictus under
mummified lips.

He spooked at imagined noises and thudding rain and the dry creaking of
the old house as he toweled off and dressed.

There was no phone in the mountain, no way to speak to his remaining
brothers, the golems, his parents. He balled his fists and stood in the
center of his bedroom, shaking with impotent worry.

David. None of them had liked David very much. Billy, the
fortune-teller, had been born with a quiet wisdom, an eerie solemnity
that had made him easy for the young Alan to care for. Carlos, the
island, had crawled out of their mother's womb and pulled himself to the
cave mouth and up the face of their father, lying there for ten years,
accreting until he was ready to push off on his own.

But Daniel, Daniel had been a hateful child from the day he was born. He
was colicky, and his screams echoed through their father's caverns. He
screamed from the moment he emerged and Alan tipped him over and toweled
him gently dry and he didn't stop for an entire year. Alan stopped being
able to tell day from night, lost track of the weeks and months. He'd
developed a taste for food, real people food, that he'd buy in town at
the Loblaws Superstore, but he couldn't leave Davey alone in the cave,
and he certainly couldn't carry the howling, shitting, puking, pissing,
filthy baby into town with him.

So they ate what the golems brought them: sweet grasses, soft berries,
frozen winter fruit dug from the base of the orchards in town, blind
winter fish from the streams. They drank snowmelt and ate pine cones and
the baby Davey cried and cried until Alan couldn't remember what it was
to live in a world of words and conversations and thought and
reflection.

No one knew what to do about Davey. Their father blew warm winds scented
with coal dust and loam to calm him, but still Davey cried. Their mother
rocked him on her gentlest spin cycle, but still Davey cried. Alan
walked down the slope to Carl's landmass, growing with the dust and
rains and snow, and set him down on the soft grass and earth there, but
still Davey cried, and Carlos inched farther and farther toward the
St. Lawrence seaway, sluggishly making his way out to the ocean and as
far away from the baby as possible.

After his first birthday, David started taking breaks from his
screaming, learning to crawl and then totter, becoming a holy terror. If
Alan left his schoolbooks within reach of the boy, they'd be reduced to
shreds of damp mulch in minutes. By the time he was two, his head was
exactly at Alan's crotch height and he'd greet his brother on his return
from school by charging at full speed into Alan's nuts, propelled at
unlikely speed on his thin legs.

At three, he took to butchering animals -- the rabbits that little Bill
kept in stacked hutches outside of the cave mouth went first. Billy
rushed home from his grade-two class, eyes crazed with precognition, and
found David methodically wringing the animals' necks and then slicing
them open with a bit of sharpened chert. Billy had showed David how to
knap flint and chert the week before, after seeing a filmstrip about it
in class. He kicked the makeshift knife out of Davey's hand, breaking
his thumb with the toe of the hard leather shoes the golems had made for
him, and left Davey to bawl in the cave while Billy dignified his pets'
corpses, putting their entrails back inside their bodies and wrapping
them in shrouds made from old diapers. Alan helped him bury them, and
then found Davey and taped his thumb to his hand and spanked him until
his arm was too tired to deal out one more wallop.

Alan made his way down to the living room, the floor streaked with mud
and water. He went into the kitchen and filled a bucket with soapy water
and gathered up an armload of rags from the rag bag. Methodically, he
cleaned away the mud. He turned his sopping shoes on end over the grate
and dialed the thermostat higher. He made himself a bowl of granola and
a cup of coffee and sat down at his old wooden kitchen table and ate
mindlessly, then washed the dishes and put them in the drying rack.

He'd have to go speak to Krishna.

#

Natalie answered the door in a pretty sun dress, combat boots, and a
baseball hat. She eyed him warily.

"I'd like to speak to Krishna," Alan said from under the hood of his
poncho.

There was an awkward silence. Finally, Natalie said, "He's not home."

"I don't believe you," Alan said. "And it's urgent, and I'm not in the
mood to play around. Can you get Krishna for me, Natalie?"

"I told you," she said, not meeting his eyes, "he's not here."

"That's enough," Alan said in his boss voice, his
more-in-anger-than-in-sorrow voice. "Get him, Natalie. You don't need to
be in the middle of this -- it's not right for him to ask you to. Get
him."

Natalie closed the door and he heard the deadbolt turn. *Is she going to
fetch him, or is she locking me out?*

He was on the verge of hammering the buzzer again, but he got his
answer. Krishna opened the door and stepped onto the dripping porch,
bulling Alan out with his chest.

He smiled grimly at Alan and made a well-go-on gesture.

"What did you see?" Alan said, his voice tight but under control.

"Saw you and that fat guy," Krishna said. "Saw you rooting around in the
park. Saw him disappear down the fountain."

"He's my brother," Alan said.

"So what, he ain't heavy? He's fat, but I expect there's a reason for
that. I've seen your kind before, Adam. I don't like you, and I don't
owe you any favors." He turned and reached for the screen door.

"No," Alan said, taking him by the wrist, squeezing harder than was
necessary. "Not yet. You said, 'Lost another one.' What other one,
Krishna? What else did you see?"

Krishna gnawed on his neatly trimmed soul patch. "Let go of me, Andrew,"
he said, almost too softly to be heard over the rain.

"Tell me what you saw," Alan said. "Tell me, and I'll let you go." His
other hand balled into a fist. "Goddammit, *tell me*!" Alan yelled, and
twisted Krishna's arm behind his back.

"I called the cops," Krishna said. "I called them again and they're on
their way. Let me go, freak show."

"I don't like you, either, Krishna," Alan said, twisting the arm
higher. He let go suddenly, then stumbled back as Krishna scraped the
heel of his motorcycle boot down his shin and hammered it into the top
of his foot.

He dropped to one knee and grabbed his foot while Krishna slipped into
the house and shot the lock. Then he hobbled home as quickly as he
could. He tried to pace off the ache in his foot, but the throbbing got
worse, so he made himself a drippy ice pack and sat on the sofa in the
immaculate living room and rocked back and forth, holding the ice to his
bare foot.

#

At five, Davey graduated from torturing animals to beating up on smaller
children. Alan took him down to the school on the day after Labor Day,
to sign him up for kindergarten. He was wearing his stiff new blue jeans
and sneakers, his knapsack stuffed with fresh binders and
pencils. Finding out about these things had been Alan's first experience
with the wide world, a kindergartner sizing up his surroundings at speed
so that he could try to fit in. David was a cute kid and had the benefit
of Alan's experience. He had a foxy little face and shaggy blond hair,
all clever smiles and awkward winks, and for all that he was still a
monster.

They came and got Alan twenty minutes after classes started, when his
new home-room teacher was still briefing them on the rules and
regulations for junior high students. He was painfully aware of all the
eyes on his back as he followed the office lady out of the portable and
into the old school building where the kindergarten and the
administration was housed.

"We need to reach your parents," the office lady said, once they were
alone in the empty hallways of the old building.

"You can't," Alan said. "They don't have a phone."

"Then we can drive out to see them," the office lady said. She smelled
of artificial floral scent and Ivory soap, like the female hygiene aisle
at the drugstore.

"Mom's still real sick," Alan said, sticking to his traditional story.

"Your father, then," the office lady said. He'd had variations on this
conversation with every office lady at the school, and he knew he'd win
it in the end. Meantime, what did they want?

"My dad's, you know, gone," he said. "Since I was a little kid." That
line always got the office ladies, "since I was a little kid," made them
want to write it down for their family Christmas newsletters.

The office lady smiled a powdery smile and put her hand on his
shoulder. "All right, Alan, come with me."

Davey was sitting on the dusty sofa in the vice principal's office. He
punched the sofa cushion rhythmically. "Alan," he said when the office
lady led him in.

"Hi, Dave," Alan said. "What's going on?"

"They're stupid here. I hate them." He gave the sofa a particularly
vicious punch.

"I'll get Mr Davenport," the office lady said, and closed the door
behind her.

"What did you do?" Alan asked.

"She wouldn't let me play!" David said, glaring at him.

"Who wouldn't?"

"A girl! She had the blocks and I wanted to play with them and she
wouldn't let me!"

"What did you hit her with?" Alan asked, dreading the answer.

"A block," David said, suddenly and murderously cheerful. "I hit her in
the eye!"

Alan groaned. The door opened and the vice principal, Mr. Davenport,
came in and sat behind his desk. He was the punishment man, the one that
no one wanted to be sent in to see.

"Hello, Alan," he said gravely. Alan hadn't ever been personally called
before Mr. Davenport, but Billy got into some spot of precognitive
trouble from time to time, rushing out of class to stop some disaster at
home or somewhere else in the school. Mr. Davenport knew that Alan was a
straight arrow, not someone he'd ever need to personally take an
interest in.

He crouched down next to Darren, hitching up his slacks. "You must be
David," he said, ducking down low to meet Davey's downcast gaze.

Davey punched the sofa.

"I'm Mr. Davenport," he said, and extended a hand with a big class ring
on it and a smaller wedding band.

Davey kicked him in the nose, and the vice principal toppled over
backward, whacking his head on the sharp corner of his desk. He tumbled
over onto his side and clutched his head. "Mother*fucker*!" he gasped,
and Davey giggled maniacally.

Alan grabbed Davey's wrist and bent his arm behind his back, shoving him
across his knee. He swatted the little boy on the ass as hard as he
could, three times. "Don't you ever --" Alan began.

The vice principal sat up, still clutching his head. "That's enough!" he
said, catching Alan's arm.

"Sorry," Alan said. "And David's sorry, too, right?" He glared at David.

"You're a stupid mother*fucker*!" David said, and squirmed off of Alan's
lap.

The vice principal's lips tightened. "Alan," he said quietly, "take your
brother into the hallway. I am going to write a note that your mother
will have to sign before David comes back to school, after his two-week
suspension."

David glared at them each in turn. "I'm not coming back to this
mother*fucker* place!" he said.

He didn't.

#

The rain let up by afternoon, leaving a crystalline, fresh-mown air
hanging over the Market.

Andrew sat in his office by his laptop and watched the sun come out. He
needed to find Ed, needed to find Frank, needed to find Grant, but he
was out of practice when it came to the ways of the mountain and its
sons. Whenever he tried to imagine a thing to do next, his mind spun and
the worldless howling thing inside him stirred. The more he tried to
remember what it was like to be a son of the mountain, the more he felt
something he'd worked very hard for, his delicate normalcy, slipping
away.

So he put his soaked clothes in the dryer, clamped his laptop under his
arm, and went out. He moped around the park and the fountain, but the
stroller moms whose tots were splashing in the wading pool gave him
sufficient dirty looks that he walked up to the Greek's, took a table on
the patio, and ordered a murderously strong cup of coffee.

He opened up the screen and rotated around the little café table until
the screen was in the shade and his wireless card was aligned for best
reception from the yagi antenna poking out of his back window. He opened
up a browser and hit MapQuest, then brought up a street-detailed map of
the Market. He pasted it into his CAD app and started to mark it up,
noting all the different approaches to his house that Davey might take
the next time he came. The maps soothed him, made him feel like a part
of the known world.

Augusta Avenue and Oxford were both out; even after midnight, when the
stores were all shuttered, there was far too much foot traffic for Davey
to pass by unnoticed. But the alleys that mazed the back ways were
ideal. Some were fenced off, some were too narrow to pass, but most of
them -- he'd tried to navigate them by bicycle once and found himself
utterly lost. He'd had to turn around slowly until he spotted the CN
Tower and use it to get his bearings.

He poked at the map, sipping the coffee, then ordering another from the
Greek's son, who hadn't yet figured out that he was a regular and so
sneered at his laptop with undisguised contempt. "Computers, huh?" he
said. "Doesn't anyone just read a book anymore?"

"I used to own a bookstore," Alan said, then held up a finger and moused
over to his photo album and brought up the thumbnails of his old
bookstore. "See?"

The Greek's son, thirty with a paunch and sweat-rings under the pits of
his white "The Greek's" T-shirt, sat down and looked at the photos. "I
remember that place, on Harbord Street, right?"

Alan smiled. "Yup. We lost the store when they blew up the abortion
clinic next door," he said. "Insurance paid out, but I wasn't ready to
start over with another bookstore."

The Greek's son shook his head. "Another coffee, right?"

"Right," Alan said.

Alan went back to the map, realigning the laptop for optimal reception
again.

"You got a wireless card in that?" a young guy at the next table
asked. He was dressed in Kensington Market crusty-punk chic, tatts and
facial piercings, filth-gray bunchoffuckinggoofs tee, cutoffs, and
sweaty high boots draped with chains.

"Yeah," Alan said. He sighed and closed the map window. He wasn't
getting anywhere, anyway.

"And you get service here? Where's your access point?" Crusty-punk or
no, he sounded as nerdy as any of the Web-heads you'd find shopping for
bargains on CD blanks on College Street.

"Three blocks that way," Alan said, pointing. "Hanging off my house. The
network name is 'walesave.'"

"Shit, that's you?" the kid said. "Goddammit, you're clobbering our
access points!"

"What access point?"

"Access *points*. ParasiteNet." He indicated a peeling sticker on the
lapel of his cut-down leather jacket showing a skull with crossed radio
towers underneath it. "I'm trying to get a mesh-net running though all
of the Market, and you're hammering me. Jesus, I was ready to rat you
out to the radio cops at the Canadian Radio and Television
Commission. Dude, you've got to turn down the freaking *gain* on those
things."

"What's a mesh-net?"

The kid moved his beer over to Alan's table and sat down. "Okay, so
pretend that your laptop is the access point. It radiates more or less
equally in all directions, depending on your antenna characteristics and
leaving out the RF shadows that microwaves and stucco and cordless
phones generate." He arranged the coffee cup and the beer at equal
distances from the laptop, then moved them around to demonstrate the
coverage area. "Right, so what happens if I'm out of range, over *here*
--" he put his beer back on his own table -- "and you want to reach me?
Well, you could just turn up the gain on your access point, either by
increasing the power so that it radiates farther in all directions, or
by focusing the transmissions so they travel farther in a line of
sight."

"Right," Alan said, sipping his coffee.

"Right. So both of those approaches suck. If you turn up the power, you
radiate over everyone else's signal, so if I've got an access point
*here*" -- he held his fist between their tables -- "no one can hear it
because you're drowning it out. It's like you're shouting so loud that
no one else can carry on a conversation."

"So why don't you just use my network? I want to be able to get online
anywhere in the Market, but that means that anyone can, right?"

The crusty-punk waved his hand dismissively. "Sure, whatever. But what
happens if your network gets shut down? Or if you decide to start
eavesdropping on other people? Or if someone wants to get to the printer
in her living room? It's no good."

"So, what, you want me to switch to focused antennae?"

"That's no good. If you used a focused signal, you're going to have to
be perfectly aligned if you're going to talk back to your base, so
unless you want to provide a connection to one tiny pinpoint somewhere a
couple kilometers away, it won't do you any good."

"There's no solution, then? I should just give up?"

The crusty-punk held up his hands. "Hell, no! There's just no
*centralized* solution. You can't be Superman, blanketing the whole
world with wireless using your almighty antennaprick, but so what?
That's what mesh networks are for. Check it out." He arranged the beer
and the laptop and the coffee cup so that they were strung out along a
straight line. "Okay, you're the laptop and I'm the coffee cup. We both
have a radio and we want to talk to each other.

"We *could* turn up the gain on our radios so that they can shout loud
enough to be heard at this distance, but that would drown out this guy
here." He gestured at the now-empty beer. "We *could* use a focused
antenna, but if I move a little bit off the beam" -- he nudged the
coffee cup to one side -- "we're dead. But there's a third solution."

"We ask the beer to pass messages around?"

"Fucking right we do! That's the mesh part. Every station on the network
gets *two* radios -- one for talking in one direction, the other for
relaying in the other direction. The more stations you add, the lower
the power on each radio -- and the more pathways you get to carry your
data."

Alan shook his head.

"It's a fuckin' mind-blower, isn't it?"

"Sure," Alan said. "Sure. But does it work? Don't all those hops between
point *a* and point *b* slow down the connection?"

"A little, sure. Not so's you'd notice. They don't have to go that far
-- the farthest any of these signals has to travel is 151 Front Street."

"What's at 151 Front?"

"TorIx -- the main network interchange for the whole city! We stick an
antenna out a window there and downlink it into the cage where UUNet and
PSINet meet -- voila, instant 11-megabit city-wide freenet!"

"Where do you get the money for that?"

"Who said anything about money? How much do you think UUNet and PSI
charge each other to exchange traffic with one another? Who benefits
when UUNet and PSI cross-connect? Is UUNet the beneficiary of PSI's
traffic, or vice versa? Internet access only costs money at the *edge*
-- and with a mesh-net, there is no edge anymore. It's penetration at
the center, just like the Devo song."

"I'm Adrian," Alan said.

"I'm Kurt," the crusty-punk said. "Buy me a beer, Adrian?"

"It'd be my pleasure," Alan said.

#

Kurt lived in the back of a papered-over storefront on Oxford. The front
two-thirds were a maze of peeling, stickered-over stamped-metal shelving
units piled high with junk tech: ancient shrink-wrapped software,
stacked up low-capacity hard drives, cables and tapes and removable
media. Alan tried to imagine making sense of it all, flowing it into The
Inventory, and felt something like vertigo.

In a small hollow carved out of the back, Kurt had arranged a cluttered
desk, a scuffed twin bed and a rack of milk crates filled with t-shirts
and underwear.

Alan picked his way delicately through the store and found himself a
seat on an upturned milk crate. Kurt sat on the bed and grinned
expectantly.

"So?" he said.

"So what?" Alan said.

"So what is *this*! Isn't it great?"

"Well, you sure have a lot of *stuff,* I'll give you that," Alan said.

"It's all dumpstered," Kurt said casually.

"Oh, you dive?" Alan said. "I used to dive." It was mostly true. Alan
had always been a picker, always on the lookout for bargoons, even if
they were sticking out of someone's trash bin. Sometimes *especially* if
they were sticking out of someone's trash bin -- seeing what normal
people threw away gave him a rare glimpse into their lives.

Kurt walked over to the nearest shelving unit and grabbed a PC
mini-tower with the lid off. "But did you ever do this?" He stuck the
machine under Alan's nose and swung the gooseneck desk lamp over it. It
was a white-box PC, generic commodity hardware, with a couple of network
cards.

"What's that?"

"It's a junk access point! I made it out of trash! The only thing I
bought were the network cards -- two wireless, one Ethernet. It's
running a FreeBSD distribution off a CD, so the OS can never get
corrupted. It's got lots of sweet stuff in the distro, and all you need
to do is plug it in, point the antennae in opposite directions, and
you're up. It does its own power management, it automagically peers with
other access points if it can find 'em, and it does its own dynamic
channel selection to avoid stepping on other access points."

Alan turned his head this way and that, making admiring noises. "You
made this, huh?"

"For about eighty bucks. It's my fifteenth box. Eventually, I wanna have
a couple hundred of these."

"Ambitious," Alan said, handing the box back. "How do you pay for the
parts you have to buy? Do you have a grant?"

"A grant? Shit, no! I've got a bunch of street kids who come in and take
digital pix of the stuff I have no use for, research them online, and
post them to eBay. I split the take with them. Brings in a couple grand
a week, and I'm keeping about fifty street kids fed besides. I go diving
three times a week out in Concord and Oakville and Richmond Hill,
anywhere I can find an industrial park. If I had room, I'd recruit fifty
more kids -- I'm bringing it in faster than they can sell it."

"Why don't you just do less diving?"

"Are you kidding me? It's all I can do not to go out every night! You
wouldn't believe the stuff I find -- all I can think about is all the
stuff I'm missing out on. Some days I wish that my kids were less
honest; if they ripped off some stuff, I'd have room for a lot more."

Alan laughed. Worry for Edward and Frederick and George nagged at him,
impotent anxiety, but this was just so fascinating. Fascinating and
distracting, and, if not normal, at least not nearly so strange as he
could be. He imagined the city gridded up with junk equipment, radiating
Internet access from the lakeshore to the outer suburbs. The grandiosity
took his breath away.

"Look," Kurt said, spreading out a map of Kensington Market on the
unmade bed. "I've got access points here, here, here, and here. Another
eight or ten and I'll have the whole Market covered. Then I'm going to
head north, cover the U of T campus, and push east towards Yonge
Street. Bay Street and University Avenue are going to be tough -- how
can I convince bankers to let me plug this by their windows?"

"Kurt," Alan said, "I suspect that the journey to University Avenue is
going to be a lot slower than you expect it to be."

Kurt jutted his jaw out. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"There's a lot of real estate between here and there. A lot of trees and
high-rises, office towers and empty lots. You're going to have to knock
on doors every couple hundred meters -- at best -- and convince them to
let you install one of these boxes, made from garbage, and plug it in,
to participate in what?"

"Democratic communication!" Kurt said.

"Ah, well, my guess is that most of the people who you'll need to
convince won't really care much about that. Won't be able to make that
abstract notion concrete."

Kurt mumbled into his chest. Alan could see that he was fuming.

"Just because you don't have the vision to appreciate this --"

Alan held up his hand. "Stop right there. I never said anything of the
sort. I think that this is big and exciting and looks like a lot of
fun. I think that ringing doorbells and talking people into letting me
nail an access point to their walls sounds like a *lot* of fun. Really,
I'm not kidding.

"But this is a journey, not a destination. The value you'll get out of
this will be more in the doing than the having done. The having done's
going to take decades, I'd guess. But the doing's going to be
something." Alan's smile was so broad it ached. The idea had seized
him. He was drunk on it.

The buzzer sounded and Kurt got up to answer it. Alan craned his neck to
see a pair of bearded neohippies in rasta hats.

"Are you Kurt?" one asked.

"Yeah, dude, I'm Kurt."

"Marcel told us that we could make some money here? We're trying to
raise bus fare to Burning Man? We could really use the work?"

"Not today, but maybe tomorrow," Kurt said. "Come by around lunchtime."

"You sure you can't use us today?"

"Not today," Kurt said. "I'm busy today."

"All right," the other said, and they slouched away.

"Word of mouth," Kurt said, with a jingling shrug. "Kids just turn up,
looking for work with the trash."

"You think they'll come back tomorrow?" Alan was pretty good at
evaluating kids and they hadn't looked very reliable.

"Those two? Fifty-fifty chance. Tell you what, though: there's always
enough kids and enough junk to go around."

"But you need to make arrangements to get your access points mounted and
powered. You've got to sort it out with people who own stores and
houses."

"You want to knock on doors?" Kurt said.

"I think I would," Alan said. "I suspect it's a possibility. We can
start with the shopkeepers, though."

"I haven't had much luck with merchants," Kurt said, shrugging his
shoulders. His chains jingled and a whiff of armpit wafted across the
claustrophobic hollow. "Capitalist pigs."

"I can't imagine why," Alan said.

#

"Wales Avenue, huh?" Kurt said.

They were walking down Oxford Street, and Alan was seeing it with fresh
eyes, casting his gaze upward, looking at the lines of sight from one
building to another, mentally painting in radio-frequency shadows cast
by the transformers on the light poles.

"Just moved in on July first," Alan said. "Still getting settled in."

"Which house?"

"The blue one, with the big porch, on the corner."

"Sure, I know it. I scored some great plumbing fixtures out of the
dumpster there last winter."

"You're welcome," Alan said.

They turned at Spadina and picked their way around the tourist crowds
shopping the Chinese importers' sidewalk displays of bamboo parasols and
Hello Kitty slippers, past the fogged-up windows of the dim-sum
restaurants and the smell of fresh pork buns. Alan bought a condensed
milk and kiwi snow-cone from a sidewalk vendor and offered to treat
Kurt, but he declined.

"You never know about those places," Kurt said. "How clean is their ice,
anyway? Where do they wash their utensils?"

"You dig around in dumpsters for a living," Alan said. "Aren't you
immune to germs?"

Kurt turned at Baldwin, and Alan followed. "I don't eat garbage, I pick
it," he said. He sounded angry.

"Hey, sorry," Alan said. "Sorry. I didn't mean to imply --"

"I know you didn't," Kurt said, stopping in front of a dry-goods store
and spooning candied ginger into a baggie. He handed it to the
age-hunched matron of the shop, who dropped it on her scale and dusted
her hands on her black dress. Kurt handed her a two-dollar coin and took
the bag back. "I'm just touchy, okay? My last girlfriend split because
she couldn't get past it. No matter how much I showered, I was never
clean enough for her."

"Sorry," Alan said again.

"I heard something weird about that blue house on the corner," Kurt
said. "One of my kids told me this morning, he saw something last night
when he was in the park."

Alan pulled up short, nearly colliding with a trio of cute university
girls in wife-beaters pushing bundle-buggies full of newspaper-wrapped
fish and bags of soft, steaming bagels. They stepped around him, lugging
their groceries over the curb and back onto the sidewalk, not breaking
from their discussion.

"What was it?"

Kurt gave him a sideways look. "It's weird, okay? The kid who saw it is
never all that reliable, and he likes to embellish."

"Okay," Alan said. The crowd was pushing around them now, trying to get
past. The dry-goods lady sucked her teeth in annoyance.

"So this kid, he was smoking a joint in the park last night, really
late, after the clubs shut down. He was alone, and he saw what he
thought was a dog dragging a garbage bag down the steps of your house."

"Yes?"

"So he went over to take a look, and he saw that it was too big to be a
garbage bag, and the dog, it looked sick, it moved wrong. He took
another step closer and he must have triggered a motion sensor because
the porch light switched on. He says..."

"What?"

"He's not very reliable. He says it wasn't a dog, he said it was like a
dried-out mummy or something, and it had its teeth sunk into the neck of
this big, fat, naked guy, and it was dragging the fat guy out into the
street. When the light came on, though, it gave the fat guy's neck a
hard shake, then let go and turned on this kid, walking toward him on
stumpy little feet. He says it made a kind of growling noise and lifted
up its hand like it was going to slap the kid, and the kid screamed and
ran off. When he got to Dundas, he turned around and saw the fat guy get
dragged into an alley between two of the stores on Augusta."

"I see," Alan said.

"It's stupid, I know," Kurt said.

Natalie and Link rounded the corner, carrying slices of pizza from
Pizzabilities, mounded high with eggplant and cauliflower and other
toppings that were never intended for use in connection with pizza. They
startled on seeing Alan and Kurt, then started to walk away.

"Wait," Alan called. "Natalie, Link, wait." He smiled apologetically at
Kurt. "My neighbors," he said.

Natalie and Link had stopped and turned around. Alan and Kurt walked to
them.

"Natalie, Link, this is Kurt," he said. They shook hands all around.

"I wanted to apologize," Alan said. "I didn't mean to put you between
Krishna and me. It was very unfair."

Natalie smiled warily. Link lit a cigarette with a great show of
indifference. "It's all right," Natalie said.

"No, it's not," Alan said. "I was distraught, but that's no
excuse. We're going to be neighbors for a long time, and there's no
sense in our not getting along."

"Really, it's okay," Natalie said.

"Yeah, fine," Link said.

"Three of my brothers have gone missing," Alan said. "That's why I was
so upset. One disappeared a couple of weeks ago, another last night, and
one this morning. Krishna..." He thought for a moment. "He taunted me
about it. I really wanted to find out what he saw."

Kurt shook his head. "Your brother went missing last night?"

"From my house."

"So what the kid saw..."

Alan turned to Natalie. "A friend of Kurt's was in the park last
night. He says he saw my brother being carried off."

Kurt shook his head. "Your brother?"

"What do you mean, 'carried off'?" Natalie said. She folded her slice in
half to keep the toppings from spilling.

"Someone is stalking my brothers," Alan said. "Someone very strong and
very cunning. Three are gone that I know about. There are others, but I
could be next."

"Stalking?" Natalie said.

"My family is a little strange," Alan said. "I grew up in the north
country, and things are different there. You've heard of blood feuds?"

Natalie and Link exchanged a significant look.

"I know it sounds ridiculous. You don't need to be involved. I just
wanted to let you know why I acted so strangely last night."

"We have to get back," Natalie said. "Nice to meet you, Kurt. I hope you
find your brother, Andy."

"Brothers," Alan said.

"Brothers," Natalie said, and walked away briskly.

#

Alan was the oldest of the brothers, and that meant that he was the one
who blazed all the new trails in the family.

He met a girl in the seventh grade. Her name was Marci, and she had just
transferred in from Scotland. Her father was a mining engineer, and
she'd led a gypsy life that put her in stark contrast to the
third-generation homebodies that made up most of the rest of their
class.

She had red hair and blue eyes and a way of holding her face in repose
that made her look cunning at all times. No one understood her accent,
but there was a wiry ferocity in her movement that warned off any kid
who thought about teasing her about it.

Alan liked to play in a marshy corner of the woods that bordered the
playground after school, crawling around in the weeds, catching toads
and letting them go again, spying on the crickets and the secret lives
of the larvae that grubbed in the milkweed. He was hunkered down on his
haunches one afternoon when Marci came crunching through the tall
grass. He ducked down lower, then peered out from his hiding spot as she
crouched down and he heard the unmistakable patter of urine as she peed
in the rushes.

His jaw dropped. He'd never seen a girl pee before, had no idea what the
squatting business was all about. The wet ground sucked at his sneaker
and he tipped back on his ass with a yelp. Marci straightened abruptly
and crashed over to him, kicking him hard in the ribs when she reached
him, leaving a muddy toeprint on his fall windbreaker.

She wound up for another kick and he hollered something wordless and
scurried back, smearing marsh mud across his jeans and jacket.

"You pervert!" she said, pronouncing it Yuh peervurrt!

"I am not!" he said, still scooting back.

"Watching from the bushes!" she said.

"I wasn't -- I was already here, and you -- I mean, what were *you*
doing? I was just minding my own business and you came by, I just didn't
want to be bothered, this is *my* place!"

"You don't own it," she said, but she sounded slightly chastened. "Don't
tell anyone I had a piss here, all right?"

"I won't," he said.

She sat down beside him, unmindful of the mud on her denim
skirt. "Promise," she said. "It's so embarrassing."

"I promise," he said.

"Swear," she said, and poked him in the ribs with a bony finger.

He clutched his hands to his ribs. "Look," he said, "I swear. I'm good
at secrets."

Her eyes narrowed slightly. "Oh, aye? And I suppose you've lots of
secrets, then?"

He said nothing, and worked at keeping the smile off the corners of his
mouth.

She poked him in the ribs, then got him in the stomach as he moved to
protect his chest. "Secrets, huh?"

He shook his head and clamped his lips shut. She jabbed a flurry of
pokes and prods at him while he scooted back on his butt, then dug her
clawed hands into his tummy and tickled him viciously. He giggled, then
laughed, then started to hiccup uncontrollably. He shoved her away
roughly and got up on his knees, gagging.

"Oh, I like you," she said, "just look at that. A wee tickle and you're
ready to toss your lunch." She tenderly stroked his hair until the
hiccups subsided, then clawed at his belly again, sending him rolling
through the mud.

Once he'd struggled to his feet, he looked at her, panting. "Why are you
doing this?"

"You're not serious! It's the most fun I've had since we moved to this
terrible place."

"You're a sadist!" He'd learned the word from a book he'd bought from
the ten-cent pile out front of the used bookstore. It had a clipped-out
recipe for liver cutlets between the pages and lots of squishy grown-up
sex things that seemed improbable if not laughable. He'd looked "sadist"
up in the class dictionary.

"Aye," she said. "I'm that." She made claws of her hands and advanced on
him slowly. He giggled uncontrollably as he backed away from
her. "C'mere, you, you've more torture comin' to ye before I'm satisfied
that you can keep a secret."

He held his arms before him like a movie zombie and walked toward
her. "Yes, mathter," he said in a monotone. Just as he was about to
reach her, he dodged to one side, then took off.

She chased him, laughing, halfway back to the mountain, then cried
off. He stopped a hundred yards up the road from her, she doubled over
with her hands planted on her thighs, face red, chest heaving. "You go
on, then," she called. "But it's more torture for you at school
tomorrow, and don't you forget it!"

"Only if you catch me!" he called back.

"Oh, I'll catch you, have no fear."

#

She caught him at lunch. He was sitting in a corner of the schoolyard,
eating from a paper sack of mushrooms and dried rabbit and keeping an
eye on Edward-Frederick-George as he played tag with the other
kindergartners. She snuck up behind him and dropped a handful of gravel
down the gap of his pants and into his underpants. He sprang to his
feet, sending gravel rattling out the cuffs of his jeans.

"Hey!" he said, and she popped something into his mouth. It was wet and
warm from her hand and it squirmed. He spat it out and it landed on the
schoolyard with a soft splat.

It was an earthworm, thick with loamy soil.

"You!" he said, casting about for a curse of sufficient
vehemence. "You!"

She hopped from foot to foot in front of him, clearly delighted with
this reaction. He reached out for her and she danced back. He took off
after her and they were chasing around the yard, around hopscotches and
tag games and sand castles and out to the marshy woods. She skidded
through the puddles and he leapt over them. She ducked under a branch
and he caught her by the hood of her windbreaker.

Without hesitating, she flung her arms in the air and slithered out of
the windbreaker, down to a yellow T-shirt that rode up her back,
exposing her pale freckles and the knobs of her spine, the fingers of
her ribs. She took off again and he balled the windbreaker up in his
fist and took off after her.

She stepped behind a bushy pine, and when he rounded the corner she was
waiting for him, her hands clawed, digging at his tummy, leaving him
giggling. He pitched back into the pine needles and she followed,
straddling his waist and tickling him until he coughed and choked and
gasped for air.

"Tell me!" she said. "Tell me your secrets!"

"Stop!" Alan said. "Please! I'm going to piss myself!"

"What's that to me?" she said, tickling more vigorously.

He tried to buck her off, but she was too fast. He caught one wrist, but
she pinned his other arm with her knee. He heaved and she collapsed on
top of him.

Her face was inches from his, her breath moist on his face. They both
panted, and he smelled her hair, which was over his face and neck. She
leaned forward and closed her eyes expectantly.

He tentatively brushed his lips across hers, and she moved closer, and
they kissed. It was wet and a little gross, but not altogether
unpleasant.

She leaned back and opened her eyes, then grinned at him. "That's enough
torture for one day," she said. "You're free to go."

#

She "tortured" him at morning and afternoon recess for the next two
weeks, and when he left school on Friday afternoon after the last bell,
she was waiting for him in the schoolyard.

"Hello," she said, socking him in the arm.

"Hi," he said.

"Why don't you invite me over for supper this weekend?" she said.

"Supper?"

"Yes. I'm your girlfriend, yeah? So you should have me around to your
place to meet your parents. Next weekend you can come around my place
and meet my dad."

"I can't," he said.

"You can't."

"No."

"Why not?"

"It's a secret," he said.

"Oooh, a secret," she said. "What kind of secret?"

"A family secret. We don't have people over for dinner. That's the way
it is."

"A secret! They're all child molesters?"

He shook his head.

"Horribly deformed?"

He shook his head.

"What, then? Give us a hint?"

"It's a secret."

She grabbed his ear and twisted it. Gently at first, then harder. "A
secret?" she said.

"Yes," he gasped. "It's a secret, and I can't tell you. You're hurting
me."

"I should hope so," she said. "And it will go very hard for you indeed
if you don't tell me what I want to know."

He grabbed her wrist and dug his strong fingers into the thin tendons on
their insides, twisting his fingertips for maximal effect. Abruptly, she
released his ear and clenched her wrist hard, sticking it between her
thighs.

"Owwww! That bloody hurt, you bastard. What did you do that for?"

"My secrets," Alan said, "are secret."

She held her wrist up and examined it. "Heaven help you if you've left a
bruise, Alvin," she said. "I'll kill you." She turned her wrist from
side to side. "All right," she said. "All right. Kiss it better, and you
can come to my place for supper on Saturday at six p.m.." She shoved her
arm into his face and he kissed the soft skin on the inside of her
wrist, putting a little tongue in it.

She giggled and punched him in the arm. "Saturday, then!" she called as
she ran off.

#

Edward-Felix-Gerald were too young to give him shit about his schoolyard
romance, and Brian was too sensitive, but Dave had taken to lurking
about the schoolyard, spying on the children, and he'd seen Marci break
off from a clench with Alan, take his hand, and plant it firmly on her
tiny breast, an act that had shocked Danny to the core.

"Hi, pervert," David said, as he stepped into the cool of the
cave. "Pervert" was Davey's new nickname for him, and he had a finely
honed way of delivering it so that it dripped with contempt. "Did you
have sex with your *girlfriend* today, *pervert*?"

Allan turned away from him and helped E-F-G take off his shoes and roll
up the cuffs of his pants so that he could go down to the lake in the
middle of their father and wade in the shallows, listening to Father's
winds soughing through the great cavern.

"Did you touch her boobies? Did she suck your pee-pee? Did you put your
finger in her?" The litany would continue until Davey went to bed, and
even then he wasn't safe. One night, Allen had woken up to see Darren
standing over him, hands planted on his hips, face twisted into an
elaborate sneer. "Did you put your penis inside of her?" he'd hissed,
then gone back to bed.

Alby went out again, climbing the rockface faster than Doug could keep
up with him, so that by the time he'd found his perch high over the
woodlands, where he could see the pines dance in the wind and the
ant-sized cars zooming along the highways, Doug was far behind, likely
sat atop their mother, sucking his thumb and sulking and thinking up new
perversions to accuse Alan of.

#

Saturday night arrived faster than Alan could have imagined. He spent
Saturday morning in the woods, picking mushrooms and checking his
snares, then headed down to town on Saturday afternoon to get a haircut
and to haunt the library.

Converting his father's gold to cash was easier than getting a library
card without an address. There was an old assayer whom the golems had
described to him before his first trip to town. The man was cheap but he
knew enough about the strangeness on the mountain not to cheat him too
badly. The stern librarian who glared at him while he walked the
shelves, sometimes looking at the titles, sometimes the authors, and
sometimes the Dewey Decimal numbers had no such fear.

The Deweys were fascinating. They traced the fashions in human knowledge
and wisdom. It was easy enough to understand why the arbiters of the
system subdivided Motorized Land Vehicles (629.2) into several
categories, but here in the 629.22s, where the books on automobiles
were, you could see the planners' deficiencies. Automobiles divided into
dozens of major subcategories (taxis and limousines, buses, light
trucks, cans, lorries, tractor trailers, campers, motorcycles, racing
cars, and so on), then ramified into a combinatorial explosion of
sub-sub-sub categories. There were Dewey numbers on some of the
automotive book spines that had twenty digits or more after the decimal,
an entire Dewey Decimal system hidden between 629.2 and 629.3.

To the librarian, this shelf-reading looked like your garden-variety
screwing around, but what really made her nervous were Alan's excursions
through the card catalogue, which required constant tending to replace
the cards that errant patrons made unauthorized reorderings of.

The subject headings in the third bank of card drawers were the most
interesting of all. They, too, branched and forked and rejoined
themselves like the meanderings of an ant colony on the march. He'd go
in sequence for a while, then start following cross-references when he
found an interesting branch, keeping notes on scraps of paper on top of
the file drawer. He had spent quite some time in the mythology
categories, looking up golems and goblins, looking up changelings and
monsters, looking up seers and demigods, but none of the books that he'd
taken down off the shelves had contained anything that helped him
understand his family better.

His family was uncatalogued and unclassified in human knowledge.

#

He rang the bell on Marci's smart little brick house at bang-on six,
carrying some daisies he'd bought from the grocery store, following the
etiquette laid down in several rather yucky romance novels he'd perused
that afternoon.

She answered in jeans and a T-shirt, and punched him in the arm before
he could give her the flowers. "Don't you look smart?" she said. "Well,
you're not fooling anyone, you know." She gave him a peck on the cheek
and snatched away the daisies. "Come along, then, we're eating soon."

Marci sat him down in the living room, which was furnished with neutral
sofas and a neutral carpet and a neutral coffee table. The bookcases
were bare. "It's horrible," she said, making a face. She was twittering
a little, dancing from foot to foot. Alan was glad to know he wasn't the
only one who was uncomfortable. "Isn't it? The company put us up
here. We had a grand flat in Scotland."

"It's nice," Alan said, "but you look like you could use some books."

She crossed her eyes. "Books? Sure -- I've got *ten boxes* of them in
the basement. You can come by and help me unpack them."

"Ten *boxes?*" Alan said. "You're making that up." *Ten boxes of books!*
Things like books didn't last long under the mountain, in the damp and
with the ever-inquisitive, ever-destructive Davey exploring every inch
of floor and cave and corridor in search of opportunities for pillage.

"I ain't neither," she said. "At least ten. It was a grand flat and they
were all in alphabetical order, too."

"Can we go see?" Alan asked, getting up from the sofa.

"See boxes?"

"Yes," Alan said. "And look inside. We could unbox them after dinner,
okay?"

"That's more of an afternoon project," said a voice from the top of the
stairs.

"That's my Da," she said. "Come down and introduce yourself to Alan,
Da," she said. "You're not the voice of God, so you can bloody well turn
up and show your face."

"No more sass, gel, or it will go very hard for you," said the
voice. The accent was like Marci's squared, thick as oatmeal,
liqueur-thick. Nearly incomprehensible, but the voice was kind and smart
and patient, too.

"You'll have a hard time giving me any licks from the top of the stairs,
Da, and Alan looks like he's going to die if you don't at least come
down and say hello."

Alan blushed furiously. "You can come down whenever you like, sir," he
said. "That's all right."

"That's mighty generous of you, young sir," said the voice. "Aye. But
before I come down, tell me, are your intentions toward my daughter
honorable?"

His cheeks grew even hotter, and his ears felt like they were melting
with embarrassment. "Yes, sir," he said in a small voice.

"He's a dreadful pervert, Da," Marci said. "You should see the things he
tries, you'd kill him, you would." She grinned foxish and punched him in
the shoulder. He sank into the cushions, face suddenly drained of blood.

"*What*?" roared the voice, and there was a clatter of slippers on the
neutral carpet of the stairs. Alan didn't want to look but found that he
couldn't help himself, his head inexorably turned toward the sound,
until a pair of thick legs hove into sight, whereupon Marci leapt into
his lap and threw her arms around his neck.

"Ge'orff me, pervert!" she said, as she began to cover his face in
darting, pecking kisses.

He went rigid and tried to sink all the way into the sofa.

"All right, all right, that's enough of that," her father said. Marci
stood and dusted herself off. Alan stared at his knees.

"She's horrible, isn't she?" said the voice, and a great, thick hand
appeared in his field of vision. He shook it tentatively, noting the
heavy class ring and the thin, plain wedding band. He looked up slowly.

Marci's father was short but powerfully built, like the wrestlers on the
other kids' lunchboxes at school. He had a shock of curly black hair
that was flecked with dandruff, and a thick bristling mustache that made
him look very fierce, though his eyes were gentle and bookish behind
thick glasses. He was wearing wool trousers and a cable-knit sweater
that was unraveling at the elbows.

"Pleased to meet you, Albert," he said. They shook hands gravely. "I've
been after her to unpack those books since we moved here. You could come
by tomorrow afternoon and help, if you'd like -- I think it's the only
way I'll get herself to stir her lazy bottom to do some chores around
here."

"Oh, *Da*!" Marci said. "Who cooks around here? Who does the laundry?"

"The take-away pizza man does the majority of the cooking, daughter. And
as for laundry, the last time I checked, there were two weeks' worth of
laundry to do."

"Da," she said in a sweet voice, "I love you Da," she said, wrapping her
arms around his trim waist.

"You see what I have to put up with?" her father said, snatching her up
and dangling her by her ankles.

She flailed her arms about and made outraged choking noises while he
swung her back and forth like a pendulum, releasing her at the top of
one arc so that she flopped onto the sofa in a tangle of thin limbs.

"It's a madhouse around here," her father continued as Marci righted
herself, knocking Alan in the temple with a tennis shoe, "but what can
you do? Once she's a little bigger, I can put her to work in the mines,
and then I'll have a little peace around here." He sat down on an
overstuffed armchair with a fussy antimacassar.

"He's got a huge life-insurance policy," Marci said
conspiratorially. "I'm just waiting for him to kick the bucket and then
I'm going to retire."

"Oh, aye," her father said. "Retire. Your life is an awful one, it
is. Junior high is a terrible hardship, I know."

Alan found himself grinning.

"What's so funny?" Marci said, punching him in the shoulder.

"You two are," he said, grabbing her arm and then digging his fingers
into her tummy, doubling her over with tickles.

#

There were *twelve* boxes of books. The damp in the basement had
softened the cartons to cottage-cheese mush, and the back covers of the
bottom layer of paperbacks were soft as felt. To Alan, these seemed
unremarkable -- all paper under the mountain looked like this after a
week or two, even if Doug didn't get to it -- but Marci was heartbroken.

"My books, my lovely books, they're roont!" she said, as they piled them
on the living room carpet.

"They're fine," Alan said. "They'll dry out a little wobbly, but they'll
be fine. We'll just spread the damp ones out on the rug and shelve the
rest."

And that's what they did, book after book -- old books, hardcover books,
board-back kids' books, new paperbacks, dozens of green- and
orange-spined Penguin paperbacks. He fondled them, smelled them. Some
smelled of fish and chips, and some smelled of road dust, and some
smelled of Marci, and they had dog ears where she'd stopped and cracks
in their spines where she'd bent them around. They fell open to pages
that had her favorite passages. He felt wobbly and drunk as he touched
each one in turn.

"Have you read all of these?" Alan asked as he shifted the John
Mortimers down one shelf to make room for the Ed McBains.

"Naw," she said, punching him in the shoulder. "What's the point of a
bunch of books you've already read?"

#

She caught him in the schoolyard on Monday and dragged him by one ear
out to the marshy part. She pinned him down and straddled his chest and
tickled him with one hand so that he cried out and used the other hand
to drum a finger across his lips, so that his cries came out "bibble."

Once he'd bucked her off, they kissed for a little while, then she
grabbed hold of one of his nipples and twisted.

"All right," she said. "Enough torture. When do I get to meet your
family?"

"You can't," he said, writhing on the pine needles, which worked their
way up the back of his shirt and pricked him across his lower back,
feeling like the bristles of a hairbrush.

"Oh, I can, and I will," she said. She twisted harder.

He slapped her hand away. "My family is really weird," he said. "My
parents don't really ever go out. They're not like other people. They
don't talk." All of it true.

"They're mute?"

"No, but they don't talk."

"They don't talk much, or they don't talk at all?" She pronounced it
a-tall.

"Not at all."

"How did you and your brothers learn to talk, then?"

"Neighbors." Still true. The golems lived in the neighboring caves. "And
my father, a little." True.

"So you have neighbors who visit you?" she asked, a triumphant gleam in
her eye.

*Damn*. "No, we visit them." Lying now. Sweat on the shag of hair over
 his ears, which felt like they had coals pressed to them.

"When you were a baby?"

"No, my grandparents took care of me when I was a baby." Deeper. "But
they died." Bottoming out now.

"I don't believe you," she said, and he saw tears glisten in her
eyes. "You're too embarrassed to introduce me to your family."

"That's not it." He thought fast. "My brother. David. He's not well. He
has a brain tumor. We think he'll probably die. That's why he doesn't
come to school. And it makes him act funny. He hits people, says
terrible things." Mixing truth with lies was a *lot* easier. "He shouts
and hurts people and he's the reason I can't ever have friends over. Not
until he dies."

Her eyes narrowed. "If that's a lie," she said, "it's a terrible one. My
Ma died of cancer, and it's not something anyone should make fun of. So,
it better not be a lie."

"It's not a lie," he said, mustering a tear. "My brother David, we don't
know how long he'll live, but it won't be long. He acts like a monster,
so it's hard to love him, but we all try."

She rocked back onto her haunches. "It's true, then?" she asked softly.

He nodded miserably.

"Let's say no more about it, then," she said. She took his hand and
traced hieroglyphs on his palm with the ragged edges of her chewed-up
fingernails.

The recess bell rang and they headed back to school. They were about to
leave the marshland when something hard hit Alan in the back of the
head. He spun around and saw a small, sharp rock skitter into the grass,
saw Davey's face contorted with rage, lips pulled all the way back off
his teeth, half-hidden in the boughs of a tree, winding up to throw
another rock.

He flinched away and the rock hit the paving hard enough to
bounce. Marci whirled around, but David was gone, high up in the leaves,
invisible, malicious, biding.

"What was that?"

"I dunno," Alan lied, and groaned.

#

Kurt and Alan examined every gap between every storefront on Augusta, no
matter how narrow. Kurt kept silent as Alan fished his arm up to the
shoulder along miniature alleys that were just wide enough to
accommodate the rain gutters depending from the roof.

They found the alley that Frederick had been dragged down near the end
of the block, between a mattress store and an egg wholesaler. It was
narrow enough that they had to traverse it sideways, but there, at the
entrance, were two smears of skin and blood, just above the ground,
stretching off into the sulfurous, rotty-egg depths of the alleyway.

They slid along the alley's length, headed for the gloom of the
back. Something skittered away from Alan's shoe and he bent down, but
couldn't see it. He ran his hands along the ground and the walls and
they came back with a rime of dried blood and a single strand of long,
oily hair stuck to them. He wiped his palms off on the bricks.

"I can't see," he said.

"Here," Kurt said, handing him a miniature maglight whose handle was
corrugated by hundreds of toothmarks. Alan saw that he was intense,
watching.

Alan twisted the light on. "Thanks," he said, and Kurt smiled at him,
seemed a little taller. Alan looked again. There, on the ground, was a
sharpened black tooth, pierced by a piece of pipe-cleaner wire.

He pocketed the tooth before Kurt saw it and delved farther, approaching
the alley's end, which was carpeted with a humus of moldering cardboard,
leaves, and road turds blown or washed there. He kicked it aside as best
he could, then crouched down to examine the sewer grating beneath. The
greenish brass screws that anchored it to the ground had sharp cuts in
their old grooves where they had been recently removed. He rattled the
grating, which was about half a meter square, then slipped his multitool
out of his belt holster. He flipped out the Phillips driver and went to
work on the screws, unconsciously putting Kurt's flashlight in his
mouth, his front teeth finding purchase in the dents that Kurt's own had
left there.

He realized with a brief shudder that Kurt probably used this flashlight
while nipple-deep in dumpsters, had an image of Kurt transferring it
from his gloved hands to his mouth and back again as he dug through bags
of kitchen and toilet waste, looking for discarded technology. But the
metal was cool and clean against his teeth and so he bit down and worked
the four screws loose, worked his fingers into the mossy slots in the
grate, lifted it out, and set it to one side.

He shone the light down the hole and found another fingerbone, the tip
of a thumb, desiccated to the size of a large raisin, and he pocketed
that, too. There was a lot of blood here, a little puddle that was still
wet in the crusted middle. Frederick's blood.

He stepped over the grating and shone the light back down the hole,
inviting Kurt to have a look.

"That's where they went," he said as Kurt bent down.

"That hole?"

"That hole," he said.

"Is that blood?"

"That's blood. It's not easy to fit someone my brother's size down a
hole like that." He set the grate back, screwed it into place, and
passed the torch back to Kurt. "Let's get out of here," he said.

On the street, Alan looked at his blood and moss-grimed palms. Kurt
pushed back his floppy, frizzed-out, bleach-white mohawk and scratched
vigorously at the downy brown fuzz growing in on the sides of his skull.

"You think I'm a nut," Alan said. "It's okay, that's natural."

Kurt smiled sheepishly. "If it's any consolation, I think you're a
*harmless* nut, okay? I like you."

"You don't have to believe me, so long as you don't get in my way," Alan
said. "But it's easier if you believe me."

"Easier to do what?"

"Oh, to get along," Alan said.

#

Davey leapt down from a rock outcropping as Alan made his way home that
night, landing on his back. Alan stumbled and dropped his school bag. He
grabbed at the choking arm around his neck, then dropped to his knees as
Davey bounced a fist-sized stone off his head, right over his ear.

He slammed himself back, pinning Davey between himself and the sharp
stones on the walkway up to the cave entrance, then mashed backward with
his elbows, his head ringing like a gong from the stone's blow. His left
elbow connected with Davey's solar plexus and the arm around his throat
went slack.

He climbed to his knees and looked Davey in the face. He was blue and
gasping, but Alan couldn't work up a lot of sympathy for him as he
reached up to the side of his head and felt the goose egg welling
there. His fingertips came back with a few strands of hair blood-glued
to them.

He'd been in a few schoolyard scraps and this was always the moment when
a teacher intervened -- one combatant pinned, the other atop him. What
could you do after this? Was he going to take the rock from Davey's hand
and smash him in the face with it, knocking out his teeth, breaking his
nose, blacking his eyes? Could he get off of Davey without getting back
into the fight?

He pinned Davey's shoulders under his knees and took him by the chin
with one hand. "You can't do this, Danny," he said, looking into his
hazel eyes, which had gone green as they did when he was angry.

"Do *what*?"

"Spy on me. Try to hurt me. Try to hurt my friends. Tease me all the
time. You can't do it, okay?"

"I'll stab you in your sleep, Andy. I'll break your fingers with a
brick. I'll poke your eyes out with a fork." He was fizzling like a
baking-soda volcano, saliva slicking his cheeks and nostrils and chin,
his eyes rolling.

Alan felt helplessness settle on him, weighing down his limbs. How could
he let him go? What else could he do? Was he going to have to sit on
Davey's shoulders until they were both old men?

"Please, Davey. I'm sorry about what I said. I just can't bring her
home, you understand," he said.

"Pervert. She's a slut and you're a pervert. I'll tear her titties off."

"Don't, Danny, please. Stop, okay?"

Darren bared his teeth and growled, jerking his head forward and
snapping at Alan's crotch, heedless of the painful thuds his head made
when it hit the ground after each lunge.

Alan waited to see if he would tire himself out, but when it was clear
that he would not tire, Alan waited for his head to thud to the ground
and then, abruptly, he popped him in the chin, leapt off of him turned
him on his belly, and wrenched him to his knees, twisting one arm behind
his back and pulling his head back by the hair. He brought Davey to his
feet, under his control, before he'd recovered from the punch.

"I'm telling Dad," he said in Davey's ear, and began to frog-march him
through to the cave mouth and down into the lake in the middle of the
mountain. He didn't even slow down when they reached the smooth shore of
the lake, just pushed on, sloshing in up to his chest, Davey's head
barely above the water.

"He won't stop," Alan said, to the winds, to the water, to the vaulted
ceiling, to the scurrying retreat of the goblin. "I think he'll kill me
if he goes on. He's torturing me. You've seen it. Look at him!"

Davey was thrashing in the water, his face swollen and bloody, his eyes
rattling like dried peas in a maraca. Alan's fingers, still buried in
Davey's shiny blond hair, kept brushing up against the swollen bruises
there, getting bigger by the moment. "I'll *fucking* kill you!" Davey
howled, screaming inchoate into the echo that came back from his call.

"Shhh," Alan said into his ear. "Shhh. Listen, Davey, please, shhh."

Davey's roar did not abate. Alan thought he could hear the whispers and
groans of their father in the wind, but he couldn't make it
out. "Please, shhh," he said, gathering Davey in a hug that pinned his
arms to his sides, putting his lips up against Davey's ear, holding him
still.

"Shhh," he said, and Davey stopped twitching against him, stopped his
terrible roar, and they listened.

At first the sound was barely audible, a soughing through the tunnels,
but gradually the echoes chased each other round the great cavern and
across the still, dark surface of the lake, and then a voice, illusive
as a face in the clouds.

"My boys," the voice said, their father said. "My sons. David, Alan. You
must not fight like this."

"He --!" Davey began, the echoes of his outburst scattering their
father's voice.

"Shhh," Alan said again.

"Daniel, you must love your brother. He loves you. I love you. Trust
him. He won't hurt you. I won't let you come to any harm. I love you,
son."

Alan felt Danny tremble in his arms, and he was trembling, too, from the
icy cold of the lake and from the voice and the words and the love that
echoed from every surface.

"Adam, my son. Keep your brother safe. You need each other. Don't be
impatient or angry with him. Give him love."

"I will," Alan said, and he relaxed his arms so that he was holding
Danny in a hug and not a pinion. Danny relaxed back into him. "I love
you, Dad," he said, and they trudged out of the water, out into the last
warmth of the day's sun, to dry out on the slope of the mountainside,
green grass under their bodies and wispy clouds in the sky that they
watched until the sun went out.

#

Marci followed him home a week before Christmas break. He didn't notice
her at first. She was cunning, and followed his boot prints in the
snow. A blizzard had blown up halfway through the school day, and by the
time class let out, there was fresh knee-deep powder and he had to lift
each foot high to hike through it, the shush of his snow pants and the
huff of his breath the only sounds in the icy winter evening.

She followed the deep prints of his boots on the fresh snow, stalking
him like he stalked rabbits in the woods. When he happened to turn
around at the cave mouth, he spotted her in her yellow snow-suit,
struggling up the mountainside, barely visible in the twilight.

He'd never seen an intruder on the mountain. The dirt trail that led up
to the cave branched off a side road on the edge of town, and it was too
rocky even for the dirt-bike kids. He stood at the cave-mouth, torn by
indecision. He wanted to keep walking, head away farther uphill, away
from the family's den, but now she'd seen him, had waved to him. His
cold-numb face drained of blood and his bladder hammered insistently at
him. He hiked down the mountain and met her.

"Why are you here?" he said, once he was close enough to see her pale,
freckled face.

"Why do you think?" she said. "I followed you home. Where do you live,
Alan? Why can't I even see where you live?"

He felt tears prick at his eyes. "You just *can't*! I can't bring you
home!"

"You hate me, don't you?" she said, hands balling up into mittened
fists. "That's it."

"I don't hate you, Marci. I -- I love you," he said, surprising himself.

She punched him hard in the arm. "Shut up." She kissed his cheek with
her cold, dry lips and the huff of her breath thawed his skin, making it
tingle.

"Where do you live, Alan?"

He sucked air so cold it burned his lungs. "Come with me." He took her
mittened hand in his and trudged up to the cave mouth.

They entered the summer cave, where the family spent its time in the
warm months, now mostly empty, save for some straw and a few scattered
bits of clothing and toys. He led her through the cave, his eyes
adjusting to the gloom, back to the right-angle bend behind a stalactite
baffle, toward the sulfur reek of the hot spring on whose shores the
family spent its winters.

"It gets dark," he said. "I'll get you a light once we're inside."

Her hand squeezed his tighter and she said nothing.

It grew darker and darker as he pushed into the cave, helping her up the
gentle incline of the cave floor. He saw well in the dark -- the whole
family did -- but he understood that for her this was a blind voyage.

They stepped out into the sulfur-spring cavern, the acoustics of their
breathing changed by the long, flat hollow. In the dark, he saw
Edward-Frederick-George playing with his matchbox cars in one corner;
Davey leaned up against their mother, sucking his thumb. Billy was
nowhere in sight, probably hiding out in his room -- he would, of
course, have foreseen this visit.

He put her hand against the cave wall, then said, "Wait here." He let go
of her and walked quickly to the heap of winter coats and boots in the
corner and dug through them for the flashlight he used to do his
homework by. It was a hand-crank number, and as he squeezed it to life,
he pointed it at Marci, her face wan and scared in its light. He gave
the flashlight a few more pumps to get its flywheel spinning, then
passed it to her.

"Just keep squeezing it," he said. "It doesn't need batteries." He took
her hand again. It was limp.

"You can put your things on the pile," he said, pointing to the coats
and boots. He was already shucking his hat and mittens and boots and
snow pants and coat. His skin flushed with the warm vapors coming off of
the sulfur spring.

"You *live* here?" she said. The light from the flashlight was dimming
and he reached over and gave it a couple of squeezes, then handed it
back to her.

"I live here. It's complicated."

Davey's eyes were open and he was staring at them with squinted eyes and
a frown.

"Where are your parents?" she said.

"It's complicated," he said again, as though that explained
everything. "This is my secret. No one else knows it."

Edward-Frederick-George tottered over to them with an armload of toy
cars, which he mutely offered to Marci, smiling a drooly smile. Alan
patted him on the head and knelt down. "I don't think Marci wants to
play cars, okay?" Ed nodded solemnly and went back to the edge of the
pool and began running his cars through the nearly scalding water.

Marci reached out a hand ahead of her into the weak light, looked at the
crazy shadows it cast on the distant walls. "How can you live here? It's
a cave, Alan. How can you live in a cave?"

"You get used to it," Alan said. "I can't explain it all, and the parts
that I can explain, you wouldn't believe. But you've been to my home
now, Marci. I've shown you where I live."

Davey approached them, a beatific smile on his angelic face.

"This is my brother, Daniel," Alan said. "The one I told you about."

"You're his slut," Davey said. He was still smiling. "Do you touch his
peter?"

Alan flinched, suppressing a desire to smack Davey, but Marci just knelt
down and looked him in the eye. "Nope," she said. "Are you always this
horrible to strangers?"

"Yes!" Davey said, cheerfully. "I hate you, and I hate *him*," he cocked
his head Alanward. "And you're all *motherfuckers.*"

"But we're not wee horrible shits, Danny," she said. "We're not
filthy-mouthed brats who can't keep a civil tongue."

Davey snapped his head back and then forward, trying to get her in the
bridge of the nose, a favorite tactic of his, but she was too fast for
him and ducked it, so that he stumbled and fell to his knees.

"Your mother's going to be very cross when she finds out how you've been
acting. You'll be lucky if you get any Christmas pressies," she said as
he struggled to his feet.

He swung a punch at her groin, and she caught his wrist and then hoisted
him to his tiptoes by his arm, then lifted him off the floor, bringing
his face up level with hers. "Stop it," she said. "*Now*."

He fell silent and narrowed his eyes as he dangled there, thinking about
this. Then he spat in her face. Marci shook her head slowly as the gob
of spit slid down her eyebrow and over her cheek, then she spat back,
nailing him square on the tip of his nose. She set him down and wiped
her face with a glove.

Davey started toward her, and she lifted a hand and he flinched back and
then ran behind their mother, hiding in her tangle of wires and
hoses. Marci gave the flashlight a series of hard cranks that splashed
light across the washing machine and then turned to Alan.

"That's your brother?"

Alan nodded.

"Well, I see why you didn't want me to come home with you, then."

#

Kurt was properly appreciative of Alan's bookcases and trophies, ran his
fingertips over the wood, willingly accepted some iced mint tea
sweetened with honey, and used a coaster without having to be asked.

"A washing machine and a mountain," he said.

"Yes," Alan said. "He kept a roof over our heads and she kept our
clothes clean."

"You've told that joke before, right?" Kurt's foot was bouncing, which
made the chains on his pants and jacket jangle.

"And now Davey's after us," Alan said. "I don't know why it's now. I
don't know why Davey does *anything*. But he always hated me most of
all."

"So why did he snatch your brothers first?"

"I think he wants me to sweat. He wants me scared, all the time. I'm the
eldest. I'm the one who left the mountain. I'm the one who came first,
and made all the connections with the outside world. They all looked to
me to explain the world, but I never had any explanations that would
suit Davey."

"This is pretty weird," he said.

Alan cocked his head at Kurt. He was about thirty, old for a punk, and
had a kind of greasy sheen about him, like he didn't remember to wash
often enough, despite his protestations about his cleanliness. But at
thirty, he should have seen enough to let him know that the world was
both weirder than he suspected and not so weird as certain mystically
inclined people would like to believe.

Arnold didn't like this moment of disclosure, didn't like dropping his
carefully cultivated habit of hiding this, but he also couldn't help but
feel relieved. A part of his mind nagged him, though, and told him that
too much of this would waken the worry for his brothers from its
narcotized slumber.

"I've told other people, just a few. They didn't believe me. You don't
have to. Why don't you think about it for a while?"

"What are you going to do?"

"I'm going to try to figure out how to find my brothers. I can't go
underground like Davey can. I don't think I can, anyway. I never
have. But Davey's so... *broken*... so small and twisted. He's not
smart, but he's cunning and he's determined. I'm smarter than he is. So
I'll try to find the smart way. I'll think about it, too."

"Well, I've got to get ready to go diving," Kurt said. He stood up with
a jangle. "Thanks for the iced tea, Adam."

"It was nice to meet you, Kurt," Alan said, and shook his hand.

#

Alan woke with something soft over his face. It was pitch dark, and he
couldn't breathe. He tried to reach up, but his arms wouldn't move. He
couldn't sit up. Something heavy was sitting on his chest. The soft
thing -- a pillow? -- ground against his face, cruelly pressing down on
the cartilage in his nose, filling his mouth as he gasped for air.

He shuddered hard, and felt something give near his right wrist and then
his arm was loose from the elbow down. He kept working the arm, his
chest afire, and then he'd freed it to the shoulder, and something bit
him, hard little teeth like knives, in the fleshy underside of his
bicep. Flailing dug the teeth in harder, and he knew he was bleeding,
could feel it seeping down his arm. Finally, he got his hand onto
something, a desiccated, mummified piece of flesh. Davey. Davey's ribs,
like dry stones, cold and thin. He felt up higher, felt for the place
where Davey's arm met his shoulder, and then twisted as hard as he
could, until the arm popped free in its socket. He shook his head
violently and the pillow slid away.

The room was still dark, and the hot, moist air rushed into his nostrils
and mouth as he gasped it in. He heard Davey moving in the dark, and as
his eyes adjusted, he saw him unfolding a knife. It was a clasp knife
with a broken hasp and it swung open with the sound of a cockroach's
shell crunching underfoot. The blade was rusty.

Alan flung his freed arm across his body and tried to tug himself
loose. He was being held down by his own sheets, which had been tacked
or stapled to the bed frame. Using all his strength, he rolled over,
heaving and bucking, and felt/heard the staples popping free down one
side of the bed, just as Davey slashed at where his face had been a
moment before. The knife whistled past his ear, then scored deeply along
his shoulder. His arm flopped uselessly at his side and now they were
both fighting one-armed, though Davey had a knife and Adam was wrapped
in a sheet.

His bedroom was singularly lacking in anything that could be improvised
into a weapon -- he considered trying getting a heavy encyclopedia out
to use as a shield, but it was too far a distance and too long a shot.

He scooted back on the bed, trying to untangle the sheet, which was
still secured at the foot of the bed and all along one side. He freed
his good arm just as Davey slashed at him again, aiming for the meat of
his thigh, the big arteries there that could bleed you out in a minute
or two. He grabbed for Davey's shoulder and caught it for an instant,
squeezed and twisted, but then the skin he had hold of sloughed away and
Davey was free, dancing back.

Then he heard, from downstairs, the sound of rhythmic pounding at the
door. He'd been hearing it for some time, but hadn't registered it until
now. A muffled yell from below. Police? Mimi? He screamed out, "Help!"
hoping his voice would carry through the door.

Apparently, it did. He heard the sound of the small glass pane over the
doorknob shatter, and Davey turned his head to look in the direction of
the sound. Alan snatched up the pillow that he'd been smothering under
and swung it as hard as he could at Davey's head, knocking him around,
and the door was open now, the summer night air sweeping up the stairs
to the second-floor bedroom.

"Alan?" It was Kurt.

"Kurt, up here, he's got a knife!"

Boots on the stairs, and Davey standing again, cornered, with the knife,
slashing at the air toward him and toward the bedroom door, toward the
light coming up the stairs, bobbing, Kurt's maglight, clenched in his
teeth, and Davey bolted for the door with the knife held high. The light
stopped moving and there was an instant's tableau, Davey caught in the
light, cracked black lips peeled back from sharp teeth, chest heaving,
knife bobbing, and then Alan was free, diving for his knees, bringing
him down.

Kurt was on them before Davey could struggle up to his good elbow,
kicking the knife away, scattering fingerbones like dice.

Davey screeched like a rusty hinge as Kurt twisted his arms up behind
his back and Alan took hold of his ankles. He thrashed like a raccoon in
a trap, and Alan forced the back of his head down so that his face was
mashed against the cool floor, muffling his cries.

Kurt shifted so that his knee and one hand were pinning Davey's wrists,
fished in his pockets, and came out with a bundle of hairy twine. He set
it on the floor next to Alan and then shifted his grip back to Davey's
arms.

As soon as Alan released the back of Davey's head, he jerked it up and
snapped his teeth into the top of Kurt's calf, just above the top of his
high, chain-draped boot. Kurt hollered and Adam reached out and took the
knife, moving quickly before he could think, and smashed the butt into
Davey's jaw, which cracked audibly. Davey let go of Kurt's calf and Alan
worked quickly to lash his feet together, using half the bundle of
twine, heedless of how he cut into the thin, cracking skin. He used the
knife to snip the string and then handed the roll to Kurt, who went to
work on Danny's wrists.

Alan got the lights and rolled his brother over, looked into his mad
eyes. Dale was trying to scream, but with his jaw hanging limp and his
teeth scattered, it came out in a rasp. Alan stood and found that he was
naked, his shoulder and bicep dripping blood down his side into a pool
on the polished floor.

"We'll take him to the basement," he told Kurt, and dug through the
laundry hamper at the foot of the bed for jeans. He found a couple of
pairs of boxer shorts and tied one around his bicep and the other around
his shoulder, using his teeth and chin as a second hand. It took two
tries before he had them bound tight enough to still the throb.

The bedroom looked like someone had butchered an animal in it, and the
floor was gritty with Darrel's leavings, teeth and nails and
fingerbones. Picking his way carefully through the mess, he hauled the
sheet off the bed, popping out the remaining staples, which pinged off
the bookcases and danced on the polished wood of the floor. He folded it
double and laid it on the floor next to Davey.

"Help me roll him onto it," he said, and then saw that Kurt was staring
down at his shriveled, squirming, hateful brother in horror, wiping his
hands over and over again on the thighs of his jeans.

He looked up and his eyes were glazed and wide. "I was passing by and I
saw the shadows in the window. I thought you were being attacked --" He
hugged himself.

"I was," Alan said. He dug another T-shirt out of his hamper. "Here,
wrap this around your hands."

They rolled Davey into the sheet and then wrapped him in it. He was
surprisingly heavy, dense. Hefting his end of the sheet one-handed,
hefting that mysterious weight, he remembered picking up Ed-Fred-Geoff
in the cave that first day, remembered the weight of the
brother-in-the-brother-in-the-brother, and he had a sudden sickening
sense that perhaps Davey was so heavy because he'd eaten them.

Once they had him bound snugly in the sheet, Danny stopped thrashing and
became very still. They carried him carefully down the dark stairs, the
walnut-shell grit echoing the feel of teeth and flakes of skin on the
bare soles of Alan's feet.

They dumped him unceremoniously on the cool mosaic of tile on the
floor. They stared at the unmoving bundle for a moment. "Wait here, I'm
going to get a chair," Alan said.

"Jesus, don't leave me alone here," Kurt said. "That kid, the one who
saw him -- take -- your brother? No one's seen him since." He looked
down at Davey with wide, crazed eyes.

Alan's shoulder throbbed. "All right," he said. "You get a chair from
the kitchen, the captain's chair in the corner with the newspaper
recycling stacked on it."

While Kurt was upstairs, Alan unwrapped his brother. Danny's eyes were
closed, his jaw hanging askew, his wrists bound behind him. Alan leaned
carefully over him and took his jaw and rotated it gently until it
popped back into place.

"Davey?" he said. The eyes were closed, but now there was an
attentiveness, an alertness to him. Alan stepped back quickly, feeling
foolish at his fear of this pathetic, disjointed bound thing on his
floor. No two ways about it, though: Davey gave him the absolutely
willies, making his testicles draw up and the hair on the back of his
arms prickle.

"Set the chair down there," Alan said, pointing. He hoisted Davey up by
his dry, papery armpits and sat him in the seat. He took some duct tape
out of a utility drawer under the basement staircase and used it to gum
Danny down in the chair.

"Davey," he said again. "I know you can hear me. Stop pretending."

"That's your brother?" Kurt said. "The one who --"

"That's him," Alan said. "I guess you believe me now, huh?"

Davey grinned suddenly, mirthless. "Still making friends and influencing
people, brother?" he said. His voice was wet and hiccuping, like he was
drowning in snot.

"We're not going to play any games here, Davey. You're going to tell me
where Edward, Felix, and Griffin are, or I'm going to tear your fingers
off and smash them into powder. When I run out of fingers, I'll switch
to teeth."

Kurt looked at him in alarm. He moaned. "Jesus, Adam --"

Adam whirled on him, something snapping inside. "Don't, Kurt, just
don't, okay? He tried to kill me tonight. He may already have killed my
brothers. This is life or death, and there's no room for sentiment or
humanity. Get a hammer out of the toolbox, on that shelf." Kurt
hesitated. "Do it!" Alan said, pointing at the toolbox.

Kurt shrank back, looking as though he'd been slapped. He moved as if in
a dream, opening the toolbox and pawing through it until he came up with
a scarred hammer, one claw snapped off.

Davey shook his head. "You don't scare me, Albert. Not for an instant. I
have a large supply of fingers and teeth -- all I need. And you --
you're like him. You're a sentimentalist. Scared of yourself. Scared of
me. Scared of everything. That's why you ran away. That's why you got
rid of me. Scared."

Alan dug in his pocket for the fingerbones and teeth he'd collected. He
found the tip of a pinky with a curled-over nail as thick as an oyster's
shell, crusted with dirt and blood. "Give me the hammer, Kurt," he said.

Davey's eyes followed him as he set the fingertip down on the tiles and
raised the hammer. He brought it down just to one side of the finger,
hard enough to break the tile. Kurt jumped a little, and Alan held the
hammer up again.

"Tell me or this time I won't miss," he said, looking Davey in the eye.

Davey shrugged in his bonds.

Alan swung the hammer again. It hit the fingertip with a jarring impact
that vibrated up his arm and resonated through his hurt shoulder. He
raised the hammer again. He'd expected the finger to crush into powder,
but instead it fissured into three jagged pieces, like a piece of chert
fracturing under a hammer-stone.

Davey's eyes were squeezed down to slits now. "You're the scared
one. You can't scare me," he said, his voice choked with phlegm.

Alan sat on the irregular tile and propped his chin in his palm. "Okay,
Davey, you're right. I'm scared. You've kidnapped our brothers, maybe
even killed them. You're terrorizing me. I can't think, I can't
sleep. So tell me, Danny, why shouldn't I just kill you again, and get
rid of all that fear?"

"I know where the brothers are," he said instantly. "I know where there
are more people like us. All the answers, Albert, every answer you've
ever looked for. I've got them. And I won't tell you any of them. But so
long as I'm walking around and talking, you think that I might."

#

Alan took Marci back to his bedroom, the winter bedroom that was no more
than a niche in the hot-spring cavern, a pile of rags and a sleeping bag
for a bed. It had always been enough for him, but now he was ashamed of
it. He took the flashlight from Marci and let it wind down, so that they
were sitting in darkness.

"Your parents --" she said, then broke off.

"It's complicated."

"Are they dead?"

He reached out in the dark and took her hand.

"I don't know how to explain it," he said. "I can lie, and you'll
probably think I'm telling the truth. Or I can tell the truth, and
you'll think that I'm lying."

She squeezed his hand. Despite the sweaty heat of the cave, her fingers
were cold as ice. He covered her hand with his free hand and rubbed at
her cold fingers.

"Tell me the truth," she whispered. "I'll believe you."

So he did, in mutters and whispers. He didn't have the words to explain
it all, didn't know exactly how to explain it, but he tried. How he knew
his father's moods. How he felt his mother's love.

After keeping this secret all his life, it felt incredible to be letting
it out. His heart thudded in his chest, and his shoulders felt
progressively lighter, until he thought he might rise up off his bedding
and fly around the cave.

If it hadn't been dark, he wouldn't have been able to tell it. It was
the dark, and the faint lunar glow of Marci's face that showed no
expression that let him open up and spill out all the secrets. Her
fingers squeezed tighter and tighter, and now he felt like singing and
dancing, because surely between the two of them, they could find a book
in the library or maybe an article in the microfilm cabinets that would
*really* explain it to him.

He wound down. "No one else knows this," he said. "No one except you."
He leaned in and planted a kiss on her cold lips. She sat rigid and
unmoving as he kissed her.

"Marci?"

"Alan," she breathed. Her fingers went slack. She pulled her hand free.

Suddenly Alan was cold, too. The scant inches between them felt like an
unbridgeable gap.

"You think I'm lying," he said, staring out into the cave.

"I don't know --"

"It's okay," he said. "I can help you get home now, all right?"

She folded her hands on her lap and nodded miserably.

On the way out of the cave, Eddie-Freddie-Georgie tottered over, still
holding his car. He held it out to her mutely. She knelt down solemnly
and took it from him, then patted him on the head. "Merry Christmas,
kiddo," she said. He hugged her leg, and she laughed a little and bent
to pick him up. She couldn't. He was too heavy. She let go of him and
nervously pried his arms from around her thigh.

Alan took her down the path to the side road that led into town. The
moonlight shone on the white snow, making the world glow bluish. They
stood by the roadside for a long and awkward moment.

"Good night, Alan," she said, and turned and started trudging home.

#

There was no torture at school the next day. She ignored him through the
morning, and he couldn't find her at recess, but at lunch she came and
sat next to him. They ate in silence, but he was comforted by her
presence beside him, a warmth that he sensed more than felt.

She sat beside him in afternoon classes, too. Not a word passed between
them. For Alan, it felt like anything they could say to one another
would be less true than the silence, but that realization hurt. He'd
never been able to discuss his life and nature with anyone and it seemed
as though he never would.

But the next morning, in the school yard, she snagged him as he walked
past the climber made from a jumble of bolted-together logs and dragged
him into the middle. It smelled faintly of pee and was a rich source of
mysterious roaches and empty beer bottles on Monday mornings after the
teenagers had come and gone.

She was crouched down on her haunches in the snow there, her steaming
breath coming in short huffs. She grabbed him by the back of his knit
toque and pulled his face to hers, kissing him hard on the mouth,
shocking the hell out of him by forcing her tongue past his lips.

They kissed until the bell rang, and as Alan made his way to class, he
felt like his face was glowing like a lightbulb. His homeroom teacher
asked him if he was feeling well, and he stammered out some kind of
affirmative while Marci, sitting in the next row, stifled a giggle.

They ate their lunches together again, and she filled the silence with a
running commentary of the deficiencies of the sandwich her father had
packed her, the strange odors coming from the brown bag that Alan had
brought, filled with winter mushrooms and some soggy bread and cheese,
and the hairiness of the mole on the lunch lady's chin.

When they reached the schoolyard, she tried to drag him back to the
logs, but he resisted, taking her instead to the marsh where he'd first
spied her. The ground had frozen over and the rushes and reeds were
stubble, poking out of the snow. He took her mittened hands in his and
waited for her to stop squirming.

Which she did, eventually. He'd rehearsed what he'd say to her all
morning: *Do you believe me? What am I? Am I like you? Do you still love
me? Are you still my friend? I don't understand it any better than you
do, but now, now there are two of us who know about it, and maybe we can
make sense of it together. God, it's such a relief to not be the only
one anymore.*

But now, standing there with Marci, in the distant catcalls of the
playground and the smell of the new snow and the soughing of the wind in
the trees, he couldn't bring himself to say it. She either knew these
things or she didn't, and if she didn't, he didn't know what he could do
to help it.

"What?" she said at last.

"Do you --" he began, then fell silent. He couldn't say the words.

She looked irritated, and the sounds and the smells swept over him as
the moment stretched. But then she softened. "I don't understand it,
Alan," she said. "Is it true? Is it really how you say it is? Did I see
what I saw?"

"It's true," he said, and it was as though the clouds had parted, the
world gone bright with the glare off the snow and the sounds from the
playground now joyous instead of cruel. "It's true, and I don't
understand it any more than you do, Marci."

"Are you...*human*, Alan?"

"I *think* so," he said. "I bleed. I eat. I sleep. I think and talk and
dream."

She squeezed his hands and darted a kiss at him. "You kiss," she said.

And it was all right again.

#

The next day was Saturday, and Marci arranged to meet him at the
cave-mouth. In the lee of the wind, the bright winter sun reflected
enough heat off the snow that some of it melted away, revealing the
stunted winter grass beneath. They sat on the dry snow and listened to
the wind whistle through the pines and the hiss of loose snow blowing
across the crust.

"Will I get to meet your Da, then?" she said, after they'd watched a
jackrabbit hop up the mountainside and disappear into the woods.

He sniffed deeply, and smelled the coalface smell of his father's
cogitation.

"You want to?" he said.

"I do."

And so he led her inside the mountain, through the winter cave, and back
and back to the pool in the mountain's heart. They crept along quietly,
her fingers twined in his. "You have to put out the flashlight now," he
said. "It'll scare the goblin." His voice shocked him, and her, he felt
her startle. It was so quiet otherwise, just the sounds of breathing and
of cave winds.

So she let the whirring dynamo in the flashlight wind down, and the
darkness descended on them. It was cool, but not cold, and the wind
smelled more strongly of coalface than ever. "He's in there," Alan
said. He heard the goblin scamper away. His words echoed over the pool
around the corner. "Come on." Her fingers were very cool. They walked in
a slow, measured step, like a king and queen of elfland going for a walk
in the woods.

He stopped them at the pool's edge. There was almost no light here, but
Alan could make out the smooth surface of his father's pool.

"Now what?" she whispered, the hissing of her words susurrating over the
pool's surface.

"We can only talk to him from the center," he whispered. "We have to
wade in."

"I can't go home with wet clothes," she whispered.

"You don't wear clothes," he said. He let go of her hand and began to
unzip his snowsuit.

And so they stripped, there on his father's shore. She was luminous in
the dark, a pale girl-shape picked out in the ripples of the pool,
skinny, with her arms crossed in front of her chest. Even though he knew
she couldn't see him, he was self-conscious in his nudity, and he
stepped into the pool as soon as he was naked.

"Wait," she said, sounding panicked. "Don't leave me!"

So he held out his hand for her, and then, realizing that she couldn't
see it, he stepped out of the pool and took her hand, brushing her small
breast as he did so. He barely registered the contact, though she
startled and nearly fell over. "Sorry," he said. "Come on."

The water was cold, but once they were in up to their shoulders, it
warmed up, or they went numb.

"Is it okay?" she whispered, and now that they were in the center of the
cavern, the echoes crossed back and forth and took a long time to die
out.

"Listen," Andy said. "Just listen."

And as the echoes of his words died down, the winds picked up, and then
the words emerged from the breeze.

"Adam," his father sighed. Marci jumped a foot out of the water, and her
splashdown sent watery ripples rebounding off the cavern walls.

Alan reached out for her and draped his arm around her shoulders. She
huddled against his chest, slick cold naked skin goose-pimpled against
his ribs. She smelled wonderful, like a fox. It *felt* wonderful, and
solemn, to stand there nude, in the heart of his father, and let his
secrets spill away.

Her breathing stilled again.

"Alan," his father said.

"We want to understand, Father," Alan whispered. "What am I?" It was the
question he'd never asked. Now that he'd asked it, he felt like a fool:
Surely his father *knew*, the mountain knew everything, had stood
forever. He could have found out anytime he'd thought to ask.

"I don't have the answer," his father said. "There may be no answer. You
may never know."

Adam let go of Marci, let his arms fall to his sides.

"No," he said. "No!" he shouted again, and the stillness was broken. The
wind blew cold and hard, and he didn't care. "*NO!*" he screamed, and
Marci grabbed him and put her hand over his mouth. His ears roared with
echoes, and they did not die down, but rather built atop one another, to
a wall of noise that scared him.

She was crying now, scared and openmouthed sobs. She splashed him and
water went up his nose and stung his eyes. The wind was colder now, cold
enough to hurt, and he took her hand and sloshed recklessly for the
shore. He spun up the flashlight and handed it to her, then yanked his
clothes over his wet skin, glaring at the pool while she did the same.

#

In the winter cave, they met a golem.

It stood like a statue, brick-red with glowing eyes, beside Alan's
mother, hands at its sides. Golems didn't venture to this side of his
father very often, and almost never in daylight. Marci caught him in the
flashlight's beam as they entered the warm humidity of the cave,
shivering in the gusting winds. She fumbled the flashlight and Alan
caught it before it hit the ground.

"It's okay," he said. His chest was heaving from his tantrum, but the
presence of the golem calmed him. You could say or do anything to a
golem, and it couldn't strike back, couldn't answer back. The sons of
the mountain that sheltered -- and birthed? -- the golems owed nothing
to them.

He walked over to it and folded his arms.

"What is it?" he said.

The golem bent its head slightly and looked him in the eye. It was
man-shaped, but baggier, muscles like frozen mud. An overhang of belly
covered its smooth crotch like a kilt. Its chisel-shaped teeth clacked
together as it limbered up its jaw.

"Your father is sad," it said. Its voice was slow and grinding, like an
avalanche. "Our side grows cold."

"I don't care," Alan said. "*Fuck* my father," he said. Behind him,
perched atop their mother, Davey whittered a mean little laugh.

"You shouldn't --"

Alan shoved the golem. It was like shoving a boulder. It didn't give at
all.

"You don't tell me what to do," he said. "You can't tell me what to
do. I want to know what I am, how we're possible, and if you can't help,
then you can leave now."

The winds blew colder, smelling now of the golem's side of the mountain,
of clay and the dry bones of their kills, which they arrayed on the
walls of their cavern.

The golem stood stock still.

"Does it...*understand*?" Marci asked. Davey snickered again.

"It's not stupid," Alan said, calming a little. "It's...*slow*. It
thinks slowly and acts slowly. But it's not stupid." He paused for a
moment. "It taught me to speak," he said.

That did it. He began to cry, biting his lip to keep from making a
sound, but the tears rolled down his cheeks and his shoulders shook. The
flashlight's beam pinned him, and he wanted to run to his mother and
hide behind her, wanted to escape the light.

"Go," he said softly to the golem, touching its elbow. "It'll be all
right."

Slowly, gratingly, the golem turned and lumbered out of the cave, clumsy
and ponderous.

Marci put her arm around him and he buried his face in her skinny neck,
the hot tears coursing down her collarbones.

#

Davey came to him that night and pinned him in the light of the
flashlight. He woke staring up into the bright bulb, shielding his
eyes. He groped out for the light, but Darryl danced back out of reach,
keeping the beam in his eyes. The air crackled with the angry grinding
of its hand-dynamo.

He climbed out of bed naked and felt around on the floor. He had a geode
there, he'd broken it and polished it by hand, and it was the size of a
softball, the top smooth as glass, the underside rough as a coconut's
hide.

Wordless and swift, he wound up and threw the geode as hard as he could
at where he judged Davey's head to be.

There was a thud and a cry, and the light clattered to the ground,
growing more dim as its dynamo whirred to a stop. Green blobs chased
themselves across his vision, and he could only see Darren rolling on
the ground by turning his head to one side and looking out of the corner
of his eye.

He groped toward Davey and smelled the blood. Kneeling down, he found
Davey's hand and followed it up to his shoulder, his neck. Slick with
blood. Higher, to Davey's face, his forehead, the dent there sanded
ragged by the rough side of the geode. The blood flowed freely and
beneath his other hand Danny's chest heaved as he breathed, shallowly,
rapidly, almost panting.

His vision was coming back now. He took off his T-shirt and wadded it
up, pressed it to Davey's forehead. They'd done first aid in class. You
weren't supposed to move someone with a head injury. He pressed down
with the T-shirt, trying to stanch the blood.

Then, quick as a whip, Davey's head twisted around and he bit down,
hard, on Alan's thumbtip. Albert reeled back, but it was too late: Davey
had bitten off the tip of his right thumb. Alan howled, waking up
Ed-Fred-Geoff, who began to cry. Davey rolled away, scampering back into
the cave's depths.

Alan danced around the cave, hand clamped between his thighs,
mewling. He fell to the floor and squeezed his legs together, then
slowly brought his hand up before his face. The ragged stump of his
thumb was softly spurting blood in time with his heartbeat. He struggled
to remember his first aid. He wrapped his T-shirt around the wound and
then pulled his parka on over his bare chest and jammed his bare feet
into his boots, then made his way to the cave mouth and scooped up snow
under the moon's glow, awkwardly packing a snowball around his hand. He
shivered as he made his way back into the winter cave and propped
himself up against his mother, holding his hurt hand over his head.

The winter cave grew cold as the ice packed around his hand. Bobby,
woken by his clairvoyant instincts, crept forward with a sheet and
draped it over Alan. He'd foreseen this, of course -- had foreseen all
of it. But Bobby followed his own code, and he kept his own counsel,
cleaning up after the disasters he was powerless to prevent.

Deep in the mountains, they heard the echoes of Davey's tittering
laughter.

#

"It was wrong to bring her here, Adam," Billy said to him in the
morning, as he fed Alan the crusts of bread and dried apples he'd
brought him, packing his hand with fresh snow.

"I didn't bring her here, she followed me," Adam said. His arm ached
from holding it aloft, and his back and tailbone were numb with the ache
of a night spent sitting up against their mother's side. "And besides,
why should it be wrong? Whose rules? What rules? What are the *fucking*
rules?"

"You can feel the rules, brother," he said. He couldn't look Alan in the
eye, he never did. This was a major speech, coming from Bobby.

"I can't feel any rules," Alan said. He wondered if it was true. He'd
never told anyone about the family before. Had he known all along that
he shouldn't do this?

"I can. She can't know. No one can know. Even we can't know. We'll never
understand it."

"Where is Davey?"

"He's doing a...ritual. With your thumb."

They sat silent and strained their ears to hear the winds and the
distant shuffle of the denizens of the mountain.

Alan shifted, using his good hand to prop himself up, looking for a
comfortable position. He brought his injured hand down to his lap and
unwrapped his blood-soaked T-shirt from his fist, gently peeling it away
from the glue of dried blood that held it there.

His hand had shriveled in the night, from ice and from restricted
circulation, and maybe from Davey's ritual. Alan pondered its crusty,
clawed form, thinking that it looked like it belonged to someone --
some*thing* -- else.

Buddy scaled the stalactite that served as the ladder up to the lofty
nook where he slept and came back down holding his water bottle. "It's
clean, it's from the pool," he said, another major speech for him. He
also had an armload of scavenged diapers, much-washed and worn soft as
flannel. He wet one and began to wipe away the crust of blood on Alan's
arm and hand, working his way up from the elbow, then tackling the
uninjured fingers, then, very gently, gently as a feather-touch, slow as
a glacier, he worked on Alan's thumb.

When he was done, Alan's hand was clean and dry and cold, and the wound
of his thumb was exposed and naked, a thin crust of blood weeping liquid
slowly. It seemed to Alan that he could see the stump of bone protruding
from the wound. He was amazed to see his bones, to get a look at a
cross-section of himself. He wondered if he could count the rings and
find out how old he was, as he had never been really certain on that
score. He giggled ghoulishly.

He held out his good hand. "Get me up, okay?" Bobby hauled him to his
feet. "Get me some warm clothes, too?"

And he did, because he was Bobby, and he was always only too glad to
help, only too glad to do what service he could for you, even if he
would never do you the one service that would benefit you the most:
telling you of his visions, helping you avoid the disasters that loomed
on your horizon.

Standing up, walking around, being clean -- he began to feel like
himself again. He even managed to get into his snow pants and parka and
struggle out to the hillside and the bright sunshine, where he could get
a good look at his hand.

What he had taken for a bone wasn't. It was a skinny little thumbtip,
growing out of the raggedy, crusty stump. He could see the whorl of a
fingerprint there, and narrow, nearly invisible cuticles. He touched the
tip of his tongue to it and it seemed to him that he could feel a tongue
rasping over the top of his missing thumbtip.

#

"It's disgusting, keep it away," Marci said, shrinking away from his
hand in mock horror. He held his proto-thumb under her nose and waggled
it.

"No joking, okay? I just want to know what it *means*. I'm *growing a
new thumb*."

"Maybe you're part salamander. They regrow their legs and tails. Or a
worm -- cut a worm in half and you get two worms. It's in one of my Da's
books."

He stared at his thumb. It had grown perceptibly, just on the journey
into town to Marci's place. They were holed up in her room, surrounded
by watercolors of horses in motion that her mother had painted. She'd
raided the fridge for cold pork pies and cheese and fizzy lemonade that
her father had shipped from the Marks & Spencer in Toronto. It was the
strangest food he'd ever eaten but he'd developed a taste for it.

"Wiggle it again," she said.

He did, and the thumbtip bent down like a scale model of a thumbtip,
cracking the scab around it.

"We should go to a doctor," she said.

"I don't go to doctors," he said flatly.

"You *haven't* gone to a doctor -- doesn't mean you can't."

"I don't go to doctors." X-ray machines and stethoscopes, blood tests
and clever little flashlights in your ears -- who knew what they'd
reveal? He wanted to be the first to discover it, he didn't want to have
to try to explain it to a doctor before he understood it himself.

"Not even when you're sick?"

"The golems take care of it," he said.

She shook her head. "You're a weirdo, you know that?"

"I know it," he said.

"I thought my family was strange," she said, stretching out on her tummy
on the bed. "But they're not a patch on you."

"I know it."

He finished his fizzy lemonade and lay down beside her, belching.

"We could ask my Da. He knows a lot of strange things."

He put his face down in her duvet and smelled the cotton covers and her
nighttime sweat, like a spice, like cinnamon. "I don't want to do
that. Please don't tell anyone, all right?"

She took hold of his wrist and looked again at the teensy thumb. "Wiggle
it again," she said. He did. She giggled. "Imagine if you were like a
worm. Imagine if your thumbtip was out there growing another *you*."

He sat bolt upright. "Do you think that's possible?" he said. His heart
was thudding. "Do you think so?"

She rolled on her side and stared at him. "No, don't be daft. How could
your thumb grow another *you?*"

"Why wouldn't it?"

She had no answer for him.

"I need to go home," he said. "I need to know."

"I'm coming with," she said. He opened his mouth to tell her no, but she
made a fierce face at him, her foxy features wrinkled into a mock snarl.

"Come along then," he said. "You can help me do up my coat."

#

The winter cave was deserted. He listened at the mouths of all the
tunnels, straining to hear Davey. From his high nook, Brian watched
them.

"Where is he, Billy?" Alan called. "Tell me, godfuckit!"

Billy looked down from him perch with his sad, hollow eyes -- had he
been forgetting to eat again? -- and shook his head.

They took to the tunnels. Even with the flashlight, Marci couldn't match
him for speed. He could feel the tunnels through the soles of his boots,
he could smell them, he could pick them apart by the quality of their
echoes. He moved fast, dragging Marci along with his good hand while she
cranked the flashlight as hard as she could. He heard her panting,
triangulated their location from the way that the shallow noises
reflected off the walls.

When they found Davey at last, it was in the golem's cave, on the other
side of the mountain. He was hunkered down in a corner, while the golems
moved around him slowly, avoiding him like he was a boulder or a
stalagmite that had sprung up in the night. Their stony heads turned to
regard Marci and Adam as they came upon them, their luminous eyes
lighting on them for a moment and then moving on. It was an eloquent
statement for them: *This is the business of the mountain and his
sons. We will not intervene.*

There were more golems than Alan could remember seeing at once, six,
maybe seven. The golems made more of their kind from the clay they found
at the riverbank whenever they cared to or needed to, and allowed their
number to dwindle when the need or want had passed by the simple
expedient of deconstructing one of their own back to the clay it had
come from.

The golems' cave was lined with small bones and skulls, rank and row
climbing the walls, twined with dried grasses in ascending
geometries. These were the furry animals that the golems patiently
trapped and killed, skinned, dressed, and smoked, laying them in small,
fur-wrapped bundles in the family's cave when they were done. It was
part of their unspoken bargain with the mountain, and the tiny bones had
once borne the flesh of nearly every significant meal Alan had ever
eaten.

Davey crouched among the bones at the very back of the cave, his back to
them, shoulders hunched.

The golems stood stock still as Marci and he crept up on Davey. So
intent was he on his work that he didn't notice them, even as they
loomed over his shoulder, staring down on the thing he held in his
hands.

It was Alan's thumb, and growing out of it -- Allen. Tiny, the size of a
pipe-cleaner man, and just as skinny, but perfectly formed, squirming
and insensate, face contorted in a tiny expression of horror.

Not so perfectly formed, Alan saw, once he was over the initial
shock. One of the pipe-cleaner-Allen's arms was missing, protruding
there from Davey's mouth, and he crunched it with lip-smacking
relish. Alan gawped at it, taking it in, watching his miniature
doppelganger, hardly bigger than the thumb it sprouted from, thrash like
a worm on a hook.

Davey finished the arm, slurping it back like a noodle. Then he dangled
the tiny Allen from the thumb, shaking it, before taking hold of the
legs, one between the thumb and forefinger of each hand, and he gently,
almost lovingly pulled them apart. The Allen screamed, a sound as tiny
and tortured as a cricket song, and then the left leg wrenched free of
its socket. Alan felt his own leg twist in sympathy, and then there was
a killing rage in him. He looked around the cave for the thing that
would let him murder his brother for once and for all, but it wasn't to
be found.

Davey's murder was still to come.

Instead, he leapt on Davey's back, arm around his neck, hand gripping
his choking fist, pulling the headlock tighter and tighter. Marci was
screaming something, but she was lost in the crash of the blood-surf
that roared in his ears. Davey pitched over backward, trying to buck him
off, but he wouldn't be thrown, and he flipped Davey over by the neck,
so that he landed it a thrash of skinny arms and legs. The Allen fell to
the floor, weeping and dragging itself one-armed and one-legged away
from the melee.

Then Davey was on him, squeezing his injured hand, other thumb in his
eye, screeching like a rusted hinge. Alan tried to see through the tears
that sprang up, tried to reach Davey with his good hand, but the rage
was leaking out of him now. He rolled desperately, but Davey's weight on
his chest was like a cannonball, impossibly heavy.

Suddenly Davey was lifted off of him. Alan struggled up into a sitting
position, clutching his injured hand. Davey dangled by his armpits in
the implacable hands of one of the golems, face contorted into
unrecognizability. Alan stood and confronted him, just out of range of
his kicking feet and his gnashing teeth, and Darrel spat in his face, a
searing gob that landed in his eye.

Marci took his arm and dragged him back toward the cave mouth. He fought
her, looking for the little Allen, not seeing him. Was that him, there,
in the shadows? No, that was one of the little bone tableaux, a field
mouse's dried bones splayed in an anatomically correct mystic
hieroglyph.

Marci hauled him away, out into the bright snow and the bright sun. His
thumb was bleeding anew, dripping fat drops the color of a red crayon
into the sun, blood so hot it seemed to sizzle and sink into the snow.

#

"You need to tell an adult, Alan," she said, wrapping his new little
thumb in gauze she'd taken from her pocket.

"My father knows. My mother knows." He sat with his head between his
knees, not daring to look at her, in his nook in the winter cave.

She just looked at him, squinting.

"They count," he said. "They understand it."

She shook her head.

"They understand it better than any adult you know would. This will get
better on its own, Marci. Look." He wiggled his thumb at her. It was now
the size of the tip of his pinky, and had a well-formed nail and
cuticle.

"That's not all that has to get better," she said. "You can't just let
this fester. Your brother. That *thing* in the cave..." She shook her
head. "Someone needs to know about this. You're not safe."

"Promise me you won't tell anyone, Marci. This is important. No one
except you knows, and that's how it has to be. If you tell --"

"What?" She got up and pulled her coat on. "What, Alan? If I tell and
try to help you, what will you do to me?"

"I don't know," he mumbled into his chest.

"Well, you do whatever you have to do," she said, and stomped out of the
cave.

#

Davey escaped at dawn. Kurt had gone outside to repark his old Buick,
the trunk bungeed shut over his haul of LCD flat panels, empty
laser-toner cartridges, and open gift baskets of pricey Japanese
cosmetics. Alan and Davey just glared at each other, but then Davey
closed his eyes and began to snore softly, and even though Alan paced
and pinched the bridge of his nose and stretched out his injured arm, he
couldn't help it when he sat down and closed his eyes and nodded off.

Alan woke with a start, staring at the empty loops of duct tape and
twine hanging from his captain's chair, dried strings of skin like
desiccated banana peel fibers hanging from them. He swore to himself
quietly, and shouted Shit! at the low basement ceiling. He couldn't have
been asleep for more than a few seconds, and the half-window that Davey
had escaped through gaped open at him like a sneer.

He tottered to his feet and went out to find Kurt, bare feet jammed into
sneakers, bare chest and bandages covered up with a jacket. He found
Kurt cutting through the park, dragging his heels in the bloody dawn
light.

Kurt looked at his expression, then said, "What happened?" He had his
fists at his sides, he looked tensed to run. Alan felt that he was
waiting for an order.

"He got away."

"How?"

Alan shook his head. "Can you help me get dressed? I don't think I can
get a shirt on by myself."

They went to the Greek's, waiting out front on the curb for the old man
to show up and unchain the chairs and drag them out around the table. He
served them tall coffees and omelets sleepily, and they ate in silence,
too tired to talk.

"Let me take you to the doctor?" Kurt asked, nodding at the bandage that
bulged under his shirt.

"No," Alan said. "I'm a fast healer."

Kurt rubbed at his calf and winced. "He broke the skin," he said.

"You got all your shots?"

"Hell yeah. Too much crap in the dumpsters. I once found a styro cooler
of smashed blood vials in a Red Cross trash."

"You'll be okay, then," Alan said. He shifted in his seat and winced. He
grunted a little ouch. Kurt narrowed his eyes and shook his head at him.

"This is pretty fucked up right here," Kurt said, looking down into his
coffee.

"It's only a little less weird for me, if that's any comfort."

"It's not," Kurt said.

"Well, that's why I don't usually tell others. You're only the second
person to believe it."

"Maybe I could meet up with the first and form a support group?"

Alan pushed his omelet away. "You can't. She's dead."

#

Davey haunted the schoolyard. Alan had always treated the school and its
grounds as a safe haven, a place where he could get away from the
inexplicable, a place where he could play at being normal.

But now Davey was everywhere, lurking in the climber, hiding in the
trees, peering through the tinsel-hung windows during class. Alan only
caught the quickest glimpses of him, but he had the sense that if he
turned his head around quickly enough, he'd see him. Davey made himself
scarce in the mountain, hiding in the golems' cave or one of the deep
tunnels.

Marci didn't come to class after Monday. Alan fretted every morning,
waiting for her to turn up. He worried that she'd told her father, or
that she was at home sulking, too angry to come to school, glaring at
her Christmas tree.

Davey's grin was everywhere.

On Wednesday, he got called into the vice principal's office. As he
neared it, he heard the rumble of Marci's father's thick voice and his
heart began to pound in his chest.

He cracked the door and put his face in the gap, looking at the two men
there: Mr. Davenport, the vice principal, with his gray hair growing out
his large ears and cavernous nostrils, sitting behind his desk, looking
awkwardly at Marci's father, eyes bugged and bagged and bloodshot, face
turned to the ground, looking like a different man, the picture of worry
and loss.

Mr. Davenport saw him and crooked a finger at him, looking stern and
stony. Alan was sure, then, that Marci'd told it all to her father,
who'd told it all to Mr. Davenport, who would tell the world, and
suddenly he was jealous of his secret, couldn't bear to have it
revealed, couldn't bear the thought of men coming to the mountain to
catalogue it for the subject index at the library, to study him and take
him apart.

And he was... afraid. Not of what they'd all do to him. What Davey would
do to them. He knew, suddenly, that Davey would not abide their secrets
being disclosed.

He forced himself forward, his feet dragging like millstones, and stood
between the two men, hands in his pockets, nervously twining at his
underwear.

"Alan," Marci's father croaked. Mr. Davenport held up a hand to silence
him.

"Alan," Mr. Davenport said. "Have you seen Marci?"

Alan had been prepared to deny everything, call Marci a liar, betray her
as she'd betrayed him, make it her word against his. Protect
her. Protect her father and the school and the town from what Davey
would do.

Now he whipped his head toward Marci's father, suddenly understanding.

"No," he said. "Not all week! Is she all right?"

Marci's father sobbed, a sound Alan had never heard an adult make.

And it came tumbling out. No one had seen Marci since Sunday night. Her
presumed whereabouts had moved from a friend's place to Alan's place to
runaway to fallen in a lake to hit by a car and motionless in a ditch,
and if Alan hadn't seen her --

"I haven't," Alan said. "Not since the weekend. Sunday morning. She said
she was going home."

Another new sound, the sound of an adult crying. Marci's father, and his
sobs made his chest shake and Mr. Davenport awkwardly came from behind
his desk and set a box of kleenexes on the hard bench beside him.

Alan caught Mr. Davenport's eye and the vice principal made a shoo and
pointed at the door.

#

Alan didn't bother going back to class. He went straight to the golems'
cave, straight to where he knew Davey would be -- must be -- hiding, and
found him there, playing with the bones that lined the walls.

"Where is she?" Alan said, after he'd taken hold of Davey's hair and,
without fanfare, smashed his face into the cold stone floor hard enough
to break his nose. Alan twisted his wrists behind his back and when he
tried to get up, Alan kicked his legs out from under him, wrenching his
arms in their sockets. He heard a popping sound.

"Where is she?" Alan said again, amazing himself with his own
calmness. Davey was crying now, genuinely scared, it seemed, and Alan
reveled in the feeling. "I'll kill you," he whispered in Davey's ear,
almost lovingly. "I'll kill you and put the body where no one will find
it, unless you tell me where she is."

Davey spat out a milk tooth, his right top incisor, and cried around the
blood that coursed down his face. "I'm -- I'm *sorry,* Alan," he
said. "But it was the *secret*." His sobs were louder and harsher than
Marci's father's had been.

"Where is she?" Alan said, knowing.

"With Caleb," Davey said. "I buried her in Caleb."

He found his brother the island midway down the mountain, sliding under
cover of winter for the seaway. He climbed the island's slope, making
for the ring of footprints in the snow, the snow peppered brown with
soil and green with grass, and he dug with his hands like a dog, tossing
snow soil grass through his legs, digging to loose soil, digging to a
cold hand.

A cold hand, protruding from the snow now, from the soil, some of the
snow red-brown with blood. A skinny, freckled hand, a fingernail
missing, torn off leaving behind an impression, an inverse fingernail. A
hand, an arm. Not attached to anything. He set it to one side, dug,
found another hand. Another arm. A leg. A head.

She was beaten, bruised, eyes swollen and two teeth missing, ear torn,
hair caked with blood. Her beautiful head fell from his shaking cold
hands. He didn't want to dig anymore, but he had to, because it was the
secret, and it had to be kept, and --

-- he buried her in Caleb, piled dirt grass snow on her parts, and his
   eyes were dry and he didn't sob.

#

It was a long autumn and a long winter and a long spring that year,
unwiring the Market. Alan fell into the familiar rhythm of the work of a
new venture, rising early, dossing late, always doing two or three
things at once: setting up meetings, sweet-talking merchants, debugging
his process on the fly.

His first victory came from the Greek, who was no pushover. The man was
over seventy, and had been pouring lethal coffee and cheap beer down the
throats of Kensington's hipsters for decades and had steadfastly refused
every single crackpot scheme hatched by his customers.

"Larry," Andy said, "I have a proposal for you and you're going to hate
it."

"I hate it already," the Greek said. His dapper little mustache
twitched. It was not even seven a.m. yet, and the Greek was tinkering
with the guts of his espresso delivery system, making it emit loud
hisses and tossing out evil congealed masses of sin-black coffee
grounds.

"What if I told you it wouldn't cost you anything?"

"Maybe I'd hate it a little less."

"Here's the pitch," Alan said, taking a sip of the thick, steaming
coffee the Greek handed to him in a minuscule cup. He shivered as the
stuff coated his tongue. "Wow."

The Greek gave him half a smile, which was his version of roaring
hilarity.

"Here's the pitch. Me and that punk kid, Kurt, we're working on a
community Internet project for the Market."

"Computers?" the Greek said.

"Yup," Alan said.

"Pah," the Greek said.

Anders nodded. "I knew you were going to say that. But don't think of
this as a computer thing, okay? Think of this as a free speech
thing. We're putting in a system to allow people all over the Market --
and someday, maybe, the whole city -- to communicate for free, in
private, without permission from anyone. They can send messages, they
can get information about the world, they can have conversations. It's
like a library and a telephone and a café all at once."

Larry poured himself a coffee. "I hate when they come in here with
computers. They sit forever at their tables, and they don't talk to
nobody, it's like having a place full of statues or zombies."

"Well, *sure*," Alan said. "If you're all alone with a computer, you're
just going to fall down the rabbit hole. You're in your own world and
cut off from the rest of the world. But once you put those computers on
the network, they become a way to talk to anyone else in the world. For
free! You help us with this network -- all we want from you is
permission to stick up a box over your sign and patch it into your
power, you won't even know it's there -- and those customers won't be
antisocial, they'll be socializing, over the network."

"You think that's what they'll do if I help them with the network?"

He started to say, *Absolutely*, but bit it back, because Larry's
bullshit antennae were visibly twitching. "No, but some of them
will. You'll see them in here, talking, typing, typing, talking. That's
how it goes. The point is that we don't know how people are going to use
this network yet, but we know that it's a social benefit."

"You want to use my electricity?"

"Well, yeah."

"So it's not free."

"Not entirely," Alan said. "You got me there."

"Aha!" the Greek said.

"Look, if that's a deal breaker, I'll personally come by every day and
give you a dollar for the juice. Come on, Larry -- the box we want to
put in, it's just a repeater to extend the range of the network. The
network already reaches to here, but your box will help it go
farther. You'll be the first merchant in the Market to have one. I came
to you first because you've been here the longest. The others look up to
you. They'll see it and say, 'Larry has one, it must be all right.'"

The Greek downed his coffee and smoothed his mustache. "You are a
bullshit artist, huh? All right, you put your box in. If my electricity
bills are too high, though, I take it down."

"That's a deal," Andy said. "How about I do it this morning, before you
get busy? Won't take more than a couple minutes."

The Greek's was midway between his place and Kurt's, and Kurt hardly
stirred when he let himself in to get an access point from one of the
chipped shelving units before going back to his place to get his ladder
and Makita drill. It took him most of the morning to get it securely
fastened over the sign, screws sunk deep enough into the old, spongy
wood to survive the build up of ice and snow that would come with the
winter. Then he had to wire it into the sign, which took longer than he
thought it would, too, but then it was done, and the idiot lights
started blinking on the box Kurt had assembled.

"And what, exactly, are you doing up there, Al?" Kurt said, when he
finally stumbled out of bed and down the road for his afternoon
breakfast coffee.

"Larry's letting us put up an access point," he said, wiping the pigeon
shit off a wire preparatory to taping it down. He descended the ladder
and wiped his hands off on his painter's pants. "That'll be ten bucks,
please."

Kurt dug out a handful of coins and picked out enough loonies and
toonies to make ten dollars, and handed it over. "You talked the Greek
into it?" he hissed. "How?"

"I kissed his ass without insulting his intelligence."

"Neat trick," Kurt said, and they had a little partner-to-partner
high-five. "I'd better login to that thing and get it onto the network,
huh?"

"Yeah," Anders said. "I'm gonna order some lunch, lemme get you
something."

#

What they had done, was they had hacked the shit out of those boxes that
Kurt had built in his junkyard of a storefront of an apartment.

"These work?" Alan said. He had three of them in a big catering tub from
his basement that he'd sluiced clean. The base stations no longer looked
like they'd been built out of garbage. They'd switched to low-power
Mini-ATX motherboards that let them shrink the hardware down to small
enough to fit in a 50-dollar all-weather junction box from Canadian
Tire.

Adam vaguely recognized the day's street-kids as regulars who'd been
hanging around the shop for some time, and they gave him the hairy
eyeball when he had the audacity to question Kurt. These kids of Kurt's
weren't much like the kids he'd had working for him over the years. They
might be bright, but they were a lot...angrier. Some of the girls were
cutters, with knife scars on their forearms. Some of the boys looked
like they'd been beaten up a few times too many on the streets, like
they were spoiling for a fight. Alan tried to unfocus his eyes when he
was in the front of Kurt's shop, to not see any of them too closely.

"They work," Kurt said. He smelled terrible, a combination of garbage
and sweat, and he had the raccoon-eyed jitters he got when he stayed up
all night. "I tested them twice."

"You built me a spare?" Alan said, examining the neat lines of hot glue
that gasketed the sturdy rubberized antennae in place, masking the
slightly melted edges left behind by the drill press.

"You don't need a spare," Kurt said. Alan knew that when he got touchy
like this, he had to be very careful or he'd blow up, but he wasn't
going to do another demo Kurt's way. They'd done exactly one of those,
at a Toronto District School Board superintendents meeting, when Alan
had gotten the idea of using schools' flagpoles and backhaul as test
beds for building out the net. It had been a debacle, needless to
say. Two of the access points had been permanently installed on either
end of Kurt's storefront and the third had been in storage for a month
since it was last tested.

One of the street kids, a boy with a pair of improbably enormous raver
shoes, looked up at Alan. "We've tested these all. They work."

Kurt puffed up and gratefully socked the kid in the shoulder. "We did."

"Fine," Adam said patiently. "But can we make sure they work now?"

"They'll work," Kurt had said when Alan told him that he wanted to test
the access points out before they took them to the meeting. "It's
practically solid-state. They're running off the standard
distribution. There's almost no configuration."

Which may or may not have been true -- it certainly sounded plausible to
Alan's lay ear -- but it didn't change the fact that once they powered
up the third box, the other two seized up and died. The blinking network
lights fell still, and as Kurt hauled out an old VT-100 terminal and
plugged it into the serial ports on the backs of his big, ugly,
bestickered, and cig-burned PC cases, it became apparent that they had
ceased to honor all requests for routing, association, deassociation,
DHCP leases, and the myriad of other networking services provided for by
the software.

"It's practically solid-state," Kurt said, nearly *shouted*, after he'd
powered down the third box and found that the other two -- previously
routing and humming along happily -- refused to come back up into their
known-good state. He gave Alan a dirty look, as though his insistence on
preflighting were the root of their problems.

The street-kid who'd spoken up had jumped when Kurt raised his voice,
then cringed away. Now as Kurt began to tear around the shop, looking
through boxes of CDs and dropping things on the floor, the kid all but
cowered, and the other three all looked down at the table.

"I'll just reinstall," Kurt said. "That's the beauty of these
things. It's a standard distro, I just copy it over, and biff-bam, it'll
come right back up. No problem. Take me ten minutes. We've got plenty of
time."

Then, five minutes later, "Shit, I forgot that this one has a different
mo-bo than the others."

"Mo-bo?" Alan said, amused. He'd spotted the signs of something very
finicky gone very wrong and he'd given up any hope of actually doing the
demo, so he'd settled in to watch the process without rancor and to
learn as much as he could.

"Motherboard," Kurt said, reaching for a spool of blank CDs. "Just got
to patch the distribution, recompile, burn it to CD, and reboot, and
we're on the road."

Ten minutes later, "Shit."

"Yes?" Alan said.

"Back off, okay?"

"I'm going to call them and let them know we're going to be late."

"We're *not* going to be late," Kurt said, his fingers going into claws
on the keyboard.

"We're already late," Alan said.

"Shit," Kurt said.

"Let's do this," Alan said. "Let's bring down the two that you've got
working and show them those, and explain the rest."

They'd had a fight, and Kurt had insisted, as Alan had suspected he
would, that he was only a minute or two away from bringing everything
back online. Alan kept his cool, made mental notes of the things that
went wrong, and put together a plan for avoiding all these problems the
next time around.

"Is there a spare?" Alan said.

Kurt sneered and jerked a thumb at his workbench, where another junction
box sat, bunny-ear antennae poking out of it. Alan moved it into his
tub. "Great," he said. "Tested, right?"

"All permutations tested and ready to go. You know, you're not the boss
around here."

"I know it," he said. "Partners." He clapped Kurt on the shoulder,
ignoring the damp gray grimy feeling of the clammy T-shirt under his
palm.

The shoulder under his palm sagged. "Right," Kurt said. "Sorry."

"Don't be," Alan said. "You've been hard at it. I'll get loaded while
you wash up.

Kurt sniffed at his armpit. "Whew," he said. "Yeah, okay."

When Kurt emerged from the front door of his storefront ten minutes
later, he looked like he'd at least made an effort. His mohawk and its
fins were slicked back and tucked under a baseball hat, his black jeans
were unripped and had only one conservative chain joining the wallet in
his back pocket to his belt loop. Throw in a clean t-shirt advertising
an old technology conference instead of the customary old hardcore band
and you had an approximation of the kind of geek that everyone knew was
in possession of secret knowledge and hence must be treated with
attention, if not respect.

"I feel like such a dilbert," he said.

"You look totally disreputable," Alan said, hefting the tub of their
access points into the bed of his truck and pulling the bungees tight
around it. "Punk as fuck."

Kurt grinned and ducked his head. "Stop it," he said. "Flatterer."

"Get in the truck," Alan said.

Kurt drummed his fingers nervously on his palms the whole way to Bell
offices. Alan grabbed his hand and stilled it. "Stop worrying," he
said. "This is going to go great."

"I still don't understand why we're doing this," Kurt said. "They're the
phone company. They hate us, we hate them. Can't we just leave it that
way?"

"Don't worry, we'll still all hate each other when we get done."

"So why bother?" He sounded petulant and groggy, and Alan reached under
his seat for the thermos he'd had filled at the Greek's before heading
to Kurt's place. "Coffee," he said, and handed it to Kurt, who groaned
and swigged and stopped bitching.

"Why bother is this," Alan said. "We're going to get a lot of publicity
for doing this." Kurt snorted into the thermos. "It's going to be a big
deal. You know how big a deal this can be. We're going to communicate
that to the press, who will communicate it to the public, and then there
will be a shitstorm. Radio cops, telco people, whatever -- they're going
to try to discredit us. I want to know what they're liable to say."

"Christ, you're dragging me out for that? I can tell you what they'll
say. They'll drag out the Four Horsemen of the Infocalypse: kiddie porn,
terrorists, pirates, and the mafia. They'll tell us that any tool for
communicating that they can't tap, log, and switch off is
irresponsible. They'll tell us we're stealing from ISPs. It's what they
say every time someone tries this: Philly, New York, London. All around
the world same song."

Alan nodded. "That's good background -- thanks. I still want to know
*how* they say it, what the flaws are in their expression of their
argument. And I wanted us to run a demo for some people who we could
never hope to sway -- that's a good audience for exposing the flaws in
the show. This'll be a good prep session."

"So I pulled an all-nighter and busted my nuts to produce a demo for a
bunch of people we don't care about? Thanks a lot."

Alan started to say something equally bitchy back, and then he stopped
himself. He knew where this would end up -- a screaming match that would
leave both of them emotionally overwrought at a time when they needed
cool heads. But he couldn't think of what to tell Kurt in order to
placate him. All his life, he'd been in situations like this: confronted
by people who had some beef, some grievance, and he'd had no answer for
it. Usually he could puzzle out the skeleton of their cause, but
sometimes -- times like this -- he was stumped.

He picked at the phrase. *I pulled an all-nighter*. Kurt pulled an
all-nighter because he'd left this to the last minute, not because Alan
had surprised him with it. He knew that, of course. Was waiting, then,
for Alan to bust him on it. To tell him, *This is your fault, not mine.*
To tell him *If this demo fails, it's because you fucked off and left it
to the last minute.* So he was angry, but not at Alan, he was angry at
himself.

*A bunch of people we don't care about,* what was that about? Ah. Kurt
 knew that they didn't take him seriously in the real world. He was too
 dirty, too punk-as-fuck, too much of his identity was wrapped up in
 being alienated and alienating. But he couldn't make his dream come
 true without Alan's help, either, and so Alan was the friendly face on
 their enterprise, and he resented that -- feared that in order to keep
 up his appearance of punk-as-fuckitude, he'd have to go into the
 meeting cursing and sneering and that Alan would bust him on that, too.

Alan frowned at the steering wheel. He was getting better at
understanding people, but that didn't make him necessarily better at
being a person. What should he say here?

"That was a really heroic effort, Kurt," he said, biting his lip. "I can
tell you put a lot of work into it." He couldn't believe that praise
this naked could possibly placate someone of Kurt's heroic cynicism, but
Kurt's features softened and he turned his face away, rolled down the
window, lit a cigarette.

"I thought I'd never get it done," Kurt said. "I was so sleepy, I felt
like I was half-baked. Couldn't concentrate."

*You were up all night because you left it to the last minute*, Alan
 thought. But Kurt knew that, was waiting to be reassured about it. "I
 don't know how you get as much done as you do. Must be really hard."

"It's not so bad," Kurt said, dragging on his cigarette and not quite
disguising his grin. "It gets easier every time."

"Yeah, we're going to get this down to a science someday," Alan
said. "Something we can teach anyone to do."

"That would be so cool," Kurt said, and put his boots up on the
dash. "God, you could pick all the parts you needed out of the trash,
throw a little methodology at them, and out would pop this thing that
destroyed the phone company."

"This is going to be a fun meeting," Alan said.

"Shit, yeah. They're going to be terrified of us."

"Someday. Maybe it starts today."

#

The Bell boardroom looked more like a retail operation than a back
office, decked out in brand-consistent livery, from the fabric-dyed rag
carpets to the avant-garde lighting fixtures. They were given espressos
by the young secretary-barista whose skirt-and-top number was some kind
of reinterpreted ravewear outfit toned down for a corporate workplace.

"So this is the new Bell," Kurt said, once she had gone. "Our tax
dollars at work."

"This is good work," Alan said, gesturing at the blown-up artwork of
pan-ethnic models who were extraordinary- but not beautiful-looking on
the walls. The Bell redesign had come at the same time as the telco was
struggling back from the brink of bankruptcy, and the marketing firm
they'd hired to do the work had made its name on the strength of the
campaign. "Makes you feel like using a phone is a really futuristic,
cutting-edge activity," he said.

His contact at the semiprivatized corporation was a young kid who
shopped at one of his protégés' designer furniture store. He was a young
turk who'd made a name for himself quickly in the company through a
couple of ISP acquisitions at fire-sale prices after the dot-bomb, which
he'd executed flawlessly, integrating the companies into Bell's network
with hardly a hiccup. He'd been very polite and guardedly enthusiastic
when Alan called him, and had invited him down to meet some of his
colleagues.

Though Alan had never met him, he recognized him the minute he walked in
as the person who had to go with the confident voice he'd heard on the
phone.

"Lyman," he said, standing up and holding out his hand. The guy was
slightly Asian-looking, tall, with a sharp suit that managed to look
casual and expensive at the same time.

He shook Alan's hand and said, "Thanks for coming down." Alan introduced
him to Kurt, and then Lyman introduced them both to his colleagues, a
gender-parity posse of young, smart-looking people, along with one
graybeard (literally -- he had a Unix beard of great rattiness and
gravitas) who had no fewer than seven devices on his belt, including a
line tester and a GPS.

Once they were seated, Alan snuck a look at Kurt, who had narrowed his
eyes and cast his gaze down onto the business cards he'd been
handed. Alan hadn't been expecting this -- he'd figured on finding
himself facing down a group of career bureaucrats -- and Kurt was
clearly thrown for a loop, too.

"Well, Alan, Kurt, it's nice to meet you," Lyman said. "I hear you're
working on some exciting stuff."

"We are," Alan said. "We're building a city-wide mesh wireless network
using unlicensed spectrum that will provide high-speed, Internet
connectivity absolutely gratis."

"That's ambitious," Lyman said, without the skepticism that Alan had
assumed would greet his statement. "How's it coming?"

"Well, we've got a bunch of Kensington Market covered," Alan
said. "Kurt's been improving the hardware design and we've come up with
something cheap and reproducible." He opened his tub and handed out the
access points, housed in gray high-impact plastic junction boxes.

Lyman accepted one solemnly and passed it on to his graybeard, then
passed the next to an East Indian woman in horn-rim glasses whose
bitten-down fingernails immediately popped the latch and began lightly
stroking the hardware inside, tracing the connections. The third landed
in front of Lyman himself.

"So, what do they do?"

Alan nodded at Kurt. Kurt put his hands on the table and took a
breath. "They've got three network interfaces; we can do any combination
of wired and wireless cards. The OS is loaded on a flash-card; it
auto-detects any wireless cards and auto-configures them to seek out
other access points. When it finds a peer, they negotiate a
client-server relationship based on current load, and the client then
associates with the server. There's a key exchange that we use to make
sure that rogue APs don't sneak into the mesh, and a self-healing
routine we use to switch routes if the connection drops or we start to
see too much packet loss."

The graybeard looked up. "It izz a radio vor talking to Gott!" he
said. Lyman's posse laughed, and after a second, so did Kurt.

Alan must have looked puzzled, for Kurt elbowed him in the ribs and
said, "It's from Indiana Jones," he said.

"Ha," Alan said. That movie had come out long before he'd come to the
city -- he hadn't seen a movie until he was almost 20. As was often the
case, the reference to a film made him feel like a Martian.

The graybeard passed his unit on to the others at the table.

"Does it work?" he said.

"Yeah," Kurt said.

"Well, that's pretty cool," he said.

Kurt blushed. "I didn't write the firmware," he said. "Just stuck it
together from parts of other peoples' projects."

"So, what's the plan?" Lyman said. "How many of these are you going to
need?"

"Hundreds, eventually," Alan said. "But for starters, we'll be happy if
we can get enough to shoot down to 151 Front."

"You're going to try to peer with someone there?" The East Indian woman
had plugged the AP into a riser under the boardroom table and was
examining its blinkenlights.

"Yeah," Alan said. "That's the general idea." He was getting a little
uncomfortable -- these people weren't nearly hostile enough to their
ideas.

"Well, that's very ambitious," Lyman said. His posse all nodded as
though he'd paid them a compliment, though Alan wasn't sure. Ambitious
could certainly be code for "ridiculous."

"How about a demo?" the East Indian woman said.

"Course," Kurt said. He dug out his laptop, a battered thing held
together with band stickers and gaffer tape, and plugged in a wireless
card. The others started to pass him back his access points but he shook
his head. "Just plug 'em in," he said. "Here or in another room nearby
-- that'll be cooler."

A couple of the younger people at the table picked up two of the APs and
headed for the hallway. "Put one on my desk," Lyman told them, "and the
other at reception."

Alan felt a sudden prickle at the back of his neck, though he didn't
know why -- just a random premonition that they were on the brink of
something very bad happening. This wasn't the kind of vision that Brad
would experience, that far away look followed by a snap-to into the now,
eyes filled with certitude about the dreadful future. More like a goose
walking over his grave, a tickle of badness.

The East Indian woman passed Kurt a VGA cable that snaked into the
table's guts and down into the riser on the floor. She hit a button on a
remote and an LCD projector mounted in the ceiling began to hum,
projecting a rectangle of white light on one wall. Kurt wiggled it into
the backside of his computer and spun down the thumbscrews, hit a
button, and then his desktop was up on the wall, ten feet high. His
wallpaper was a picture of a group of black-clad, kerchiefed protesters
charging a police line of batons and gas-grenades. A closer look
revealed that the protester running in the lead was probably Kurt.

He tapped at his touchpad and a window came up, showing relative
strength signals for two of the access points. A moment later, the third
came online.

"I've been working with this network visualizer app," Kurt said. "It
tries to draw logical maps of the network topology, with false coloring
denoting packet loss between hops -- that's a pretty good proxy for
distance between two APs."

"More like the fade," the graybeard said.

"Fade is a function of distance," Kurt said. Alan heard the dismissal in
his voice and knew they were getting into a dick-swinging match.

"Fade is a function of geography and topology," the graybeard said
quietly.

Kurt waved his hand. "Whatever --
sure. Geography. Topology. Distance. It's a floor wax and a dessert
topping."

"I'm not being pedantic," the graybeard said.

"You're not just being pedantic," Lyman said gently, watching the screen
on which four animated jaggy boxes were jumbling and dancing as they
reported on the throughput between the routers and the laptop.

"Not just pedantic," the graybeard said. "If you have a *lot* of these
boxes in known locations with known nominal throughput, you can use them
as a kind of sensor array. When throughput drops between point foo and
point bar, it will tell you something about the physical world between
foo and bar."

Kurt looked up from his screen with a thoughtful look. "Huh?"

"Like, whether a tree had lost its leaves in the night. Or whether there
were a lot of people standing around in a normally desolate area. Or
whether there are lots of devices operating between foo and bar that are
interfering with them."

Kurt nodded slowly. "The packets we lose could be just as interesting as
the packets we don't lose," he said.

A light went on in Alan's head. "We could be like jazz critics,
listening to the silences instead of the notes," he said. They all
looked at him.

"That's very good," Lyman said. "Like a jazz critic." He smiled.

Alan smiled back.

"What are we seeing, Craig?" Lyman said.

"Kurt," Alan said.

"Right, Kurt," he said. "Sorry."

"We're seeing the grid here. See how the access points go further up the
spectrum the more packets they get? I'm associated with that bad boy
right there." He gestured to the box blinking silently in the middle of
the board room table. "And it's connected to one other, which is
connected to a third."

Lyman picked up his phone and dialed a speed-dial number. "Hey, can you
unplug the box on my desk?"

A moment later, one of the boxes on the display winked out. "Watch
this," Kurt said, as the remaining two boxes were joined by a
coruscating line. "See that? Self-healing. Minimal packet
loss. Beautiful."

"That's hot," Lyman said. "That makes me all wet."

They chuckled nervously at his crudity. "Seriously."

"Here," Kurt said, and another window popped up, showing twenty or more
boxes with marching ant trails between them. "That's a time-lapse of the
Kensington network. The boxes are running different versions of the
firmware, so you can see that in some edge cases, you get a lot more
oscillation between two similar signals. We fixed that in the new
version."

The graybeard said, "How?"

"We flip a coin," Kurt said, and grinned. "These guys in Denmark ran
some simulations, proved that a random toss-up worked as well as any
other algorithm, and it's a lot cheaper, computationally."

"So what's going on just to the northeast of center?"

Alan paid attention to the patch of screen indicated. Three access
points were playing musical chairs, dropping signal and reacquiring it,
dropping it again.

Kurt shrugged. "Bum hardware, I think. We've got volunteers assembling
those boxes, from parts."

"Parts?"

Kurt's grin widened. "Yeah. From the trash, mostly. I dumpster-dive for
'em."

They grinned back. "That's very hot," Lyman said.

"We're looking at normalizing the parts for the next revision," Alan
said. "We want to be able to use a single distro that works on all of
them."

"Oh, sure," Lyman said, but he looked a little disappointed, and so did
Kurt.

"Okay, it works," Lyman said. "It works?" he said, nodding the question
at his posse. They nodded back. "So what can we do for you?"

Alan chewed his lip, caught himself at it, stopped. He'd anticipated a
slugfest, now he was getting strokes.

"How come you're being so nice to us?" Kurt said. "You guys are The
Man." He shrugged at Alan. "Someone had to say it."

Lyman smiled. "Yeah, we're the phone company. Big lumbering dinosaur
that is thrashing in the tarpit. The spazz dinosaur that's so
embarrassed all the other dinosaurs that none of them want to rescue
us."

"Heh, spazz dinosaur," the East Indian woman said, and they all laughed.

"Heh," Kurt said. "But seriously."

"Seriously," Lyman said. "Seriously. Think a second about the scale of a
telco. Of this telco. The thousands of kilometers of wire in the
ground. Switching stations. Skilled linesmen and
cable-pullers. Coders. Switches. Backhaul. Peering arrangements. We've
got it all. Ever get on a highway and hit a flat patch where you can't
see anything to the horizon except the road and the telephone poles and
the wires? Those are *our wires*. It's a lot of goodness, especially for
a big, evil phone company.

"So we've got a lot of smart hackers. A lot of cool toys. A gigantic
budget. The biggest network any of us could ever hope to manage -- like
a model train set the size of a city.

"That said, we're hardly nimble. Moving a Bell is like shifting a
battleship by tapping it on the nose with a toothpick. It can be done,
but you can spend ten years doing it and still not be sure if you've
made any progress. From the outside, it's easy to mistake 'slow' for
'evil.' It's easy to make that mistake from the inside, too.

"But I don't let it get me down. It's *good* for a Bell to be slow and
plodding, most of the time. You don't want to go home and discover that
we've dispatched the progress-ninjas to upgrade all your phones with
video screens and a hush mode that reads your thoughts. Most of our
customers still can't figure out voice mail. Some of them can't figure
out touch-tone dialing. So we're slow. Conservative. But we can do lots
of killer R&D, we can roll out really hot upgrades on the back end, and
we can provide this essential service to the world that underpins its
ability to communicate. We're not just cool, we're essential.

"So you come in and you show us your really swell and interesting
meshing wireless data boxes, and I say, 'That is damned cool.' I think
of ways that it could be part of a Bell's business plan in a couple
decades' time."

"A couple decades?" Kurt squawked. "Jesus Christ, I expect to have a
chip in my brain and a jetpack in a couple decades' time."

"Which is why you'd be an idiot to get involved with us," Lyman said.

"Who wants to get involved with you?" Kurt said.

"No one," Alan said, putting his hands on the table, grateful that the
conflict had finally hove above the surface. "That's not what we're here
for."

"Why are you here, Alvin?" Lyman said.

"We're here because we're going into the moving-data-around trade, in an
ambitious way, and because you folks are the most ambitious
moving-data-around tradespeople in town. I thought we'd come by and let
you know what we're up to, see if you have any advice for us."

"Advice, huh?"

"Yeah. You've got lots of money and linesmen and switches and users and
so forth. You probably have some kind of well-developed cosmology of
connectivity, with best practices and philosophical ruminations and
tasty metaphors. And I hear that you, personally, are really good at
making geeks and telcos play together. Since we're going to be a kind of
telco" -- Kurt startled and Alan kicked him under the table -- "I
thought you could help us get started right."

"Advice," Lyman said, drumming his fingers. He stood up and paced.

"One: don't bother. This is at least two orders of magnitude harder than
you think it is. There aren't enough junk computers in all of Toronto's
landfills to blanket the city in free wireless. The range is nothing but
three hundred feet, right? Less if there are trees and buildings, and
this city is all trees and buildings.

"Two: don't bother. The liability here is stunning. The gear you're
building is nice and all, but you're putting it into people's hands and
you've got no idea what they're going to do with it. They're going to
hack in bigger antennae and signal amplifiers. The radio cops will be on
your ass day and night.

"What's more, they're going to open it up to the rest of the world and
any yahoo who has a need to hide what he's up to is going to use your
network to commit unspeakable acts -- you're going to be every pirate's
best friend and every terrorist's safest haven.

"Three: don't bother. This isn't going to work. You've got a cute little
routing algorithm that runs with three nodes, and you've got a model
that may scale up to 300, but by the time you get to 30 thousand, you're
going to be hitting so much latency and dropping so many packets on the
floor and incurring so much signaling overhead that it'll be a gigantic
failure.

"You want my advice? Turn this into a piece of enterprise technology: a
cheap way of rolling out managed solutions in hotels and office towers
and condos -- building-wide meshes, not city-wide. Those guys will pay
-- they pay a hundred bucks per punchdown now for wired networking, so
they'll gladly cough up a thousand bucks a floor for these boxes, and
you'll only need one on every other story. And those people *use*
networks, they're not joe consumer who doesn't have the first clue what
to do with a network connection."

Kurt had stiffened up when the rant began, and once he heard the word
"consumer," he began to positively vibrate. Alan gave him a warning
nudge with his elbow.

"You're shitting me, right?" Kurt said.

"You asked me for advice --" Lyman said, mildly.

"You think we're going to bust our balls to design and deploy all this
hardware so that business hotels can save money on cable-pullers? Why
the hell would we want to do that?"

"Because it pays pretty well," Lyman said. He was shaking his head a
little, leaning back from the table, and his posse picked up on it,
going slightly restless and fidgety, with a room-wide rustle of papers
and clicking of pens and laptop latches.

Alan held up his hand. "Lyman, I'm sorry, we've been unclear. We're not
doing this as a money-making venture --" Kurt snorted. "It's about
serving the public interest. We want to give our neighbors access to
tools and ideas that they wouldn't have had before. There's something
fundamentally undemocratic about charging money for communications: It
means that the more money you have, the more you get to communicate. So
we're trying to fix that, in some small way. We are heartily
appreciative of your advice, though --"

Lyman held up a hand. "Sorry, Alan, I don't mean to interrupt, but there
was something I wanted to relate to you two, and I've got to go in about
five minutes." Apparently, the meeting was at an end. "And I had made
myself a note to tell you two about this when I discovered it last
week. Can I have the floor?"

"Of course," Alan said.

"I took a holiday last week," Lyman said. "Me and my girlfriend. We went
to Switzerland to see the Alps and to visit her sister, who's doing
something for the UN in Geneva. So her sister, she's into, I don't know,
saving children from vampires in Afghanistan or something, and she has
Internet access at the office, and can't see any reason to drop a
connection in at home. So there I was, wandering the streets of Geneva
at seven in the morning, trying to find a WiFi connection so I can get
my email and find out how many ways I can enlarge my penis this week.

"No problem -- outside every hotel and most of the cafés, I can find a
signal for a network called Swisscom. I log on to the network and I fire
up a browser and I get a screen asking me for my password. Well, I don't
have one, but after poking around, I find out that I can buy a card with
a temporary password on it. So I wait until some of the little smoke
shops open and start asking them if they sell Swisscom Internet Cards,
in my terrible, miserable French, and after chuckling at my accent, they
look at me and say, 'I have no clue what you're talking about,' shrug,
and go back to work.

"Then I get the idea to go and ask at the hotels. The first one, the guy
tells me that they only sell cards to guests, since they're in short
supply. The cards are in short supply! Three hotels later, they allow as
how they'll sell me a 30-minute card. Oh, that's fine. Thirty whole
minutes of connectivity. Whoopee. And how much will that be? Only about
a zillion Swiss pesos. Don't they sell cards of larger denominations? Oh
sure, two hours, 24 hours, seven days -- and each one costs about double
the last, so if you want, you can get a seven day card for about as much
as you'd spend on a day's worth of connectivity in 30-minute increments
-- about three hundred dollars Canadian for a week, just FYI.

"Well, paying 300 bucks for a week's Internet is ghastly, but very
Swiss, where they charge you if you have more than two bits of cheese at
breakfast, and hell, I could afford it. But three hundred bucks for a
day's worth of 30-minute cards? Fuck that. I was going to have to find a
seven-day card or bust. So I ask at a couple more hotels and finally
find someone who'll explain to me that Swisscom is the Swiss telco, and
that they have a retail storefront a couple blocks away where they'd
sell me all the cards I wanted, in whatever denominations I require.

"By this time, it's nearly nine a.m. and I'm thinking that my girlfriend
and her sister are probably up and eating a big old breakfast and
wondering where the fuck I am, but I've got too much invested in this
adventure to give up when I'm so close to finding the treasure. And so I
hied myself off to the Swisscom storefront, which is closed, even though
the sign says they open at nine and by now it's nine-oh-five, and so
much for Swiss punctuality. But eventually this sneering kid with last
year's faux-hawk comes out and opens the door and then disappears up the
stairs at the back of the show room to the second floor, where I follow
him. I get up to his counter and say, '*Pardonnez moi*,' but he holds up
a hand and points behind me and says, 'Numero!' I make an elaborate
shrug, but he just points again and says, '*Numero*!' I shrug again and
he shakes his head like he's dealing with some kind of unbelievable
moron, and then he steps out from behind his counter and stalks over to
a little touchscreen. He takes my hand by the wrist and plants my palm
on the touchscreen and a little ribbon of paper with zero-zero-one
slides out. I take it and he goes back behind his counter and says,
'*Numero un*!'

"I can tell this is not going to work out, but I need to go through the
motions. I go to the counter and ask for a seven-day card. He opens his
cash drawer and paws through a pile of cards, then smiles and shakes his
head and says, sorry, all sold out. My girlfriend is probably through
her second cup of coffee and reading brochures for nature walks in the
Alps at this point, so I say, fine, give me a one-day card. He takes a
moment to snicker at my French, then says, so sorry, sold out those,
too. Two hours? Nope. Half an hour? Oh, those we got.

"Think about this for a second. I am sitting there with my laptop in
hand, at six in the morning, on a Swiss street, connected to Swisscom's
network, a credit card in my other hand, wishing to give them some money
in exchange for the use of their network, and instead I have to go
chasing up and down every hotel in Geneva for a card, which is not to be
found. So I go to the origin of these cards, the Swisscom store, and
they're sold out, too. This is not a T-shirt or a loaf of bread: there's
no inherent scarcity in two-hour or seven-day cards. The cards are just
a convenient place to print some numbers, and all you need to do to make
more numbers is pull them out of thin air. They're just numbers. We have
as many of them as we could possibly need. There's no sane, rational
universe in which all the 'two-hour' numbers sell out, leaving nothing
behind but '30-minute' numbers.

"So that's pretty bad. It's the kind of story that net-heads tell about
Bell-heads all around the world. It's the kind of thing I've made it my
business to hunt down and exterminate here wherever I find it. So I just
wrote off my email for that week and came home and downloaded a hundred
thousand spams about my cock's insufficient dimensions and went in to
work and I told everyone I could find about this, and they all smiled
nervously and none of them seemed to find it as weird and ridiculous as
me, and then, that Friday, I went into a meeting about our new
high-speed WiFi service that we're piloting in Montreal and the guy in
charge of the program hands out these little packages to everyone in the
meeting, a slide deck and some of the marketing collateral and -- a
little prepaid 30-minute access card.

"That's what we're delivering. Prepaid cards for Internet
access. *Complet avec* number shortages and business travelers prowling
the bagel joints of Rue St Urbain looking for a shopkeeper whose cash
drawer has a few seven-day cards kicking around.

"And you come in here, and you ask me, you ask the ruling Bell, what
advice do we have for your metro-wide free info-hippie wireless
dumpster-diver anarcho-network? Honestly -- I don't have a fucking
clue. We don't have a fucking clue. We're a telephone company. We don't
know how to give away free communications -- we don't even know how to
charge for it."

"That was refreshingly honest," Kurt said. "I wanna shake your hand."

He stood up and Lyman stood up and Lyman's posse stood up and they
converged on the doorway in an orgy of handshaking and grinning. The
graybeard handed over the access point, and the East Indian woman ran
off to get the other two, and before they knew it, they were out on the
street.

"I liked him," Kurt said.

"I could tell," Alan said.

"Remember you said something about an advisory board? How about if we
ask him to join?"

"That is a *tremendous* and deeply weird idea, partner. I'll send out
the invite when we get home."

#

Kurt said that the anarchist bookstore would be a slam dunk, but it
turned out to be the hardest sell of all.

"I spoke to them last month, they said they were going to run it down in
their weekly general meeting. They love it. It's anarcho-radio. Plus,
they all want high-speed connectivity in the store so they can webcast
their poetry slams. Just go on by and introduce yourself, tell 'em I
sent you."

Ambrose nodded and skewered up a hunk of omelet and swirled it in the
live yogurt the Greek served, and chewed. "All right," he said, "I'll do
it this afternoon. You look exhausted, by the way. Hard night in the
salt mines?"

Kurt looked at his watch. "I got about an hour's worth of diving in. I
spent the rest of the night breaking up with Monica."

"Monica?"

"The girlfriend."

"Already? I thought you two just got together last month."

Kurt shrugged. "Longest fucking month of my life. All she wanted to do
was go clubbing all night. She hated staying over at my place because of
the kids coming by in the morning to work on the access points."

"I'm sorry, pal," Andy said. He never knew what to do about failed
romance. He'd had no experience in that department since the seventh
grade, after all. "You'll find someone else soon enough."

"Too soon!" Kurt said. "We screamed at each other for five hours before
I finally got gone. It was probably my fault. I lose my temper too
easy. I should be more like you."

"You're a good man, Kurt. Don't forget it."

Kurt ground his fists into his eyes and groaned. "I'm such a fuck-up,"
he said.

Alan tugged Kurt's hand away from his face. "Stop that. You're an
extraordinary person. I've never met anyone who has the gifts you
possess, and I've met some gifted people. You should be very proud of
the work you're doing, and you should be with someone who's equally
proud of you."

Kurt visibly inflated. "Thanks, man." They gripped one another's hands
for a moment. Kurt swiped at his moist eyes with the sleeve of his
colorless grey sweatshirt. "Okay, it's way past my bedtime," he
said. "You gonna go to the bookstore today?"

"Absolutely. Thanks for setting them up."

"It was about time I did some of the work, after you got the nut-shop
and the cheese place and the Salvadoran pupusa place."

"Kurt, I'm just doing the work that you set in motion. It's all you,
this project. I'm just your helper. Sleep well."

Andy watched him slouch off toward home, reeling a little from sleep
deprivation and emotional exhaustion. He forked up the rest of his
omelet, looked reflexively up at the blinkenlights on the AP over the
Greek's sign, just above the apostrophe, where he'd nailed it up two
months before. Since then, he'd nailed up five more, each going more
smoothly than the last. At this rate, he'd have every main drag in the
Market covered by summer. Sooner, if he could offload some of the labor
onto one of Kurt's eager kids.

He went back to his porch then, and watched the Market wake up. The
traffic was mostly bicycling bankers stopping for a fresh bagel on their
way down to the business district. The Market was quite restful. It
shuffled like an old man in carpet slippers, setting up streetside
produce tables, twiddling the dials of its many radios looking for
something with a beat. He watched them roll past, the Salvadoran pupusa
ladies, Jamaican Patty Kings, Italian butchers, Vietnamese pho-tenders,
and any number of thrift-store hotties, crusty-punks, strung-out
artistes, trustafarians and pretty-boy skaters.

As he watched them go past, he had an idea that he'd better write his
story soon, or maybe never. Maybe never nothing: Maybe this was his last
season on earth. Felt like that, apocalyptic. Old debts, come to be
settled.

He shuffled upstairs and turned on the disused computer, which had sat
on his desk for months and was therefore no longer top-of-the-line, no
longer nearly so exciting, no longer so fraught with promise. Still, he
made himself sit in his seat for two full hours before he allowed
himself to get up, shower, dress, and head over to the anarchist
bookstore, taking a slow route that gave him the chance to eyeball the
lights on all the APs he'd installed.

The anarchist bookstore opened lackadaisically at 11 or eleven-thirty or
sometimes noon, so he'd brought along a nice old John D. MacDonald
paperback with a gun-toting bikini girl on the cover to read. He liked
MacDonald's books: You could always tell who the villainesses were
because the narrator made a point of noting that they had fat asses. It
was as good a way as any to shorthand the world, he thought.

The guy who came by to open the store was vaguely familiar to Alfred, a
Kensington stalwart of about forty, whose thrifted slacks and unraveling
sweater weren't hip so much as they were just plain old down and out. He
had a frizzed-out, no-cut haircut, and carried an enormous army-surplus
backpack that sagged with beat-up lefty books and bags of organic
vegetariania.

"Hi there!" Arnold said pocketing the book and dusting off his hands.

"Hey," the guy said into his stringy beard, fumbling with a
keyring. "I'll be opening up in a couple minutes, okay? I know I'm
late. It's a bad day. okay?"

Arnold held his hands up, palms out. "Hey, no problem at all! Take as
much time as you need. I'm in no hurry."

The anarchist hustled around inside the shop, turning on lights, firing
up the cash-register and counting out a float, switching on the coffee
machine. Alan waited patiently by the doorway, holding the door open
with his toe when the clerk hauled out a rack of discounted paperbacks
and earning a dirty look for his trouble.

"Okay, we're open," the anarchist said looking Alan in the toes. He
turned around and banged back into the shop and perched himself behind
the counter, opening a close-typed punk newspaper and burying his nose
in it.

Adam walked in behind him and stood at the counter, politely,
waiting. The anarchist looked up from his paper and shook his head
exasperatedly. "Yes?"

Alan extended his hand. "Hi, I'm Archie, I work with Kurt, over on
Augusta?"

The anarchist stared at his hand, then shook it limply.

"Okay," he said.

"So, Kurt mentioned that he'd spoken to your collective about putting a
wireless repeater up over your sign?"

The anarchist shook his head. "We decided not to do that, okay." He went
back to his paper.

Andrew considered him for a moment. "So, what's your name?"

"I don't like to give out my name," the anarchist said. "Call me Waldo,
all right?"

"All right," Andy said smiling. "That's fine by me. So, can I ask why
you decided not to do it?"

"It doesn't fit with our priorities. We're here to make print materials
about the movement available to the public. They can get Internet access
somewhere else. Internet access is for people who can afford computers,
anyway."

"Good point," Art said. "That's a good point. I wonder if I could ask
you to reconsider, though? I'd love a chance to try to explain why this
should be important to you."

"I don't think so," Waldo said. "We're not really interested."

"I think you *would* be interested, if it were properly explained to
you."

Waldo picked up his paper and pointedly read it, breathing heavily.

"Thanks for your time," Avi said and left.

#

"That's *bullshit*," Kurt said. "Christ, those people --"

"I assumed that there was some kind of politics," Austin said, "and I
didn't want to get into the middle of it. I know that if I could get a
chance to present to the whole group, that I could win them over."

Kurt shook his head angrily. His shop was better organized now, with six
access points ready to go and five stuck to the walls as a test bed for
new versions of the software. A couple of geeky Korean kids were seated
at the communal workbench, eating donuts and wrestling with drivers.

"It's all politics with them. Everything. You should hear them argue
about whether it's cool to feed meat to the store cat! Who was working
behind the counter?"

"He wouldn't tell me his name. He told me to call him --"

"Waldo."

"Yeah."

"Well, that could be any of about six of them, then. That's what they
tell the cops. They probably thought you were a narc or a fed or
something."

"I see."

"It's not total paranoia. They've been busted before -- it's always
bullshit. I raised bail for a couple of them once."

Andrew realized that Kurt thought he was offended at being mistaken for
a cop, but he got that. He was weird -- visibly weird. Out of place
wherever he was.

"So they owe me. Let me talk to them some more."

"Thanks, Kurt. I appreciate it."

"Well, you're doing all the heavy lifting these days. It's the least I
can do."

Alan clapped a hand on his shoulder. "None of this would exist without
you, you know." He waved his hand to take in the room, the Korean kids,
the whole Market. "I saw a bunch of people at the Greek's with laptops,
showing them around to each other and drinking beers. In the park, with
PDAs. I see people sitting on their porches, typing in the
twilight. Crouched in doorways. Eating a bagel in the morning on a
bench. People are finding it, and it's thanks to you."

Kurt smiled a shy smile. "You're just trying to cheer me up," he said.

"Course I am," Andy said. "You deserve to be full of cheer."

#

"Don't bother," Andy said. "Seriously, it's not worth it. We'll just
find somewhere else to locate the repeater. It's not worth all the
bullshit you're getting."

"Screw that. They told me that they'd take one. They're the only ones
*I* talked into it. My contribution to the effort. And they're fucking
*anarchists* -- they've *got* to be into this. It's totally irrational!"
He was almost crying.

"I don't want you to screw up your friendships, Kurt. They'll come
around on their own. You're turning yourself inside out over this, and
it's just not worth it. Come on, it's cool." He turned around his laptop
and showed the picture to Kurt. "Check it out, people with tails. An
entire gallery of them!" There were lots of pictures like that on the
net. None of people without belly buttons, though.

Kurt took a pull off his beer. "Disgusting," he said and clicked through
the gallery.

The Greek looked over their shoulder. "It's real?"

"It's real, Larry," Alan said. "Freaky, huh?"

"That's terrible," the Greek said. "Pah." There were five or six other
network users out on the Greek's, and it was early yet. By five-thirty,
there'd be fifty of them. Some of them brought their own power strips so
that they could share juice with their coreligionists.

"You really want me to give up?" Kurt asked, once the Greek had given
him a new beer and a scowling look over the litter of picked-at beer
label on the table before him.

"I really think you should," Alan said. "It's a poor use of time."

Kurt looked ready to cry again. Adam had no idea what to say.

"Okay," Kurt said. "Fine." He finished his beer in silence and slunk
away.

#

But it wasn't fine, and Kurt wouldn't give it up. He kept on beating his
head against the blank wall, and every time Alan saw him, he was grimmer
than the last.

"Let it *go*," Adam said. "I've done a deal with the vacuum-cleaner
repair guy across the street." A weird-but-sweet old Polish Holocaust
survivor who'd listened attentively to Andy's pitch before announcing
that he'd been watching all the hardware go up around the Market and had
simply been waiting to be included in the club. "That'll cover that
corner just fine."

"I'm going to throw a party," Kurt said. "Here, in the shop. No, I'll
rent out one of the warehouses on Oxford. I'll invite them, the kids,
everyone who's let us put up an access point, a big mill-and-swill. Buy
a couple kegs. No one can resist free beer."

Alan had started off frustrated and angry with Kurt, but this drew him
up and turned him around. "That is a *fine* idea," he said. "We'll
invite Lyman."

#

Lyman had taken to showing up on Alan's stoop in the morning sometimes,
on his way to work, for a cup of coffee. He'd taken to showing up at
Kurt's shop in the afternoon, sometimes, on his way home from work, to
marvel at the kids' industry. His graybeard had written some code that
analyzed packet loss and tried to make guesses about the crowd density
in different parts of the Market, and Lyman took a proprietary interest
in it, standing out by Bikes on Wheels or the Portuguese furniture store
and watching the data on his PDA, comparing it with the actual crowds on
the street.

He'd only hesitated for a second when Andrew asked him to be the
inaugural advisor on ParasiteNet's board, and once he'd said yes, it
became clear to everyone that he was endlessly fascinated by their
little adhocracy and its experimental telco potential.

"This party sounds like a great idea," he said. He was buying the
drinks, because he was the one with five-hundred-dollar glasses and a
full-suspension racing bike. "Lookit that," he said.

From the Greek's front window, they could see Oxford Street and a little
of Augusta, and Lyman loved using his PDA and his density analysis
software while he sat, looking from his colored map to the crowd
scene. "Lookit the truck as it goes down Oxford and turns up
Augusta. That signature is so distinctive, I could spot it in my
sleep. I need to figure out how to sell this to someone -- maybe the
cops or something." He tipped Andy a wink.

Kurt opened and shut his mouth a few times, and Lyman slapped his palm
down on the table. "You look like you're going to bust something," he
said. "Don't worry. I kid. Damn, you've got you some big, easy-to-push
buttons."

Kurt made a face. "You wanted to sell our stuff to luxury hotels. You
tried to get us to present at the *SkyDome*. You're capable of
anything."

"The SkyDome would be a great venue for this stuff," Lyman said settling
into one of his favorite variations of bait-the-anarchist.

"The SkyDome was built with tax-dollars that should have been spent on
affordable housing, then was turned over to rich pals of the premier for
a song, who then ran it into the ground, got bailed out by the province,
and then it got turned over to different rich pals. You can just shut up
about the goddamned SkyDome. You'd have to break both of my legs and
*carry me* to get me to set foot in there."

"About the party," Adam said. "About the party."

"Yes, certainly," Lyman said. "Kurt, behave."

Kurt belched loudly, provoking a scowl from the Greek.

#

The Waldos all showed up in a bunch, with plastic brown liter bottles
filled with murky homemade beer and a giant bag of skunk-weed. The party
had only been on for a couple hours, but it had already balkanized into
inward-facing groups: merchants, kids, hackers. Kurt kept turning the
music way up ("If they're not going to talk with one another, they might
as well dance." "Kurt, those people are old. Old people don't dance to
music like this." "Shut up, Lyman." "Make me."), and Andy kept turning
it down.

The bookstore people drifted in, then stopped and moved vaguely toward
the middle of the floor, there to found their own breakaway
conversational republic. Lyman startled. "Sara?" he said and one of the
anarchists looked up sharply.

"Lyman?" She had two short ponytails and a round face that made her look
teenage young, but on closer inspection she was more Lyman's age,
mid-thirties. She laughed and crossed the gap to their little republic
and threw her arms around Lyman's neck. "Crispy Christ, what are *you*
doing here?"

"I work with these guys!" He turned to Arnold and Kurt. "This is my
cousin Sara," he said. "These are Albert and Kurt. I'm helping them
out."

"Hi, Sara," Kurt said.

"Hey, Kurt," she said looking away. It was clear even to Alan that they
knew each other already. The other bookstore people were looking on with
suspicion, drinking their beer out of refillable coffee-store thermos
cups.

"It's great to meet you!" Alan said taking her hand in both of his and
shaking it hard. "I'm really glad you folks came down."

She looked askance at him, but Lyman interposed himself. "Now, Sara,
these guys really, really wanted to talk something over with you all,
but they've been having a hard time getting a hearing."

Kurt and Alan traded uneasy glances. They'd carefully planned out a
subtle easeway into this conversation, but Lyman was running with it.

"You didn't know that I was involved, huh?"

"Surprised the hell outta me," Lyman said. "Will you hear them out?"

She looked back at her collective. "What the hell. Yeah, I'll talk 'em
into it."

#

"It starts with the sinking of the *Titanic*," Kurt said. They'd
arranged their mismatched chairs in a circle in the cramped back room of
the bookstore and were drinking and eating organic crumbly things with
the taste and consistency of mud-brick. Sara told Kurt that they'd have
ten minutes, and Alan had told him that he could take it all. Alan'd
spent the day reading on the net, remembering the arguments that had
swayed the most people, talking it over. He was determined that Kurt
would win this fight.

"There's this ship going down, and it's signaling S-O-S, S-O-S, but the
message didn't get out, because the shipping lanes were full of other
ships with other radios, radios that clobbered the *Titanic*'s
signal. That's because there were no rules for radio back then, so
anyone could light up any transmitter and send out any signal at any
frequency. Imagine a room where everyone shouted at the top of their
lungs, nonstop, while setting off air horns.

"After that, they decided that fed regulators would divide up the radio
spectrum into bands, and give those bands to exclusive licensees who'd
know that their radio waves would reach their destination without being
clobbered, because any clobberers would get shut down by the cops.

"But today, we've got a better way: We can make radios that are capable
of intelligently cooperating with each other. We can make radios that
use databases or just finely tuned listeners to determine what bands
aren't in use, at any given moment, in any place. They can talk between
the gaps in other signals. They can relay messages for other
radios. They can even try to detect the presence of dumb radio devices,
like TVs and FM tuners, and grab the signal they're meant to be
receiving off of the Internet and pass it on, so that the dumb device
doesn't even realize that the world has moved on.

"Now, the original radio rules were supposed to protect free expression
because if everyone was allowed to speak at once, no one would be
heard. That may have been true, but it was a pretty poor system as it
went: Mostly, the people who got radio licenses were cops, spooks, and
media barons. There aren't a lot of average people using the airwaves to
communicate for free with one another. Not a lot of free speech.

"But now we have all this new technology where computers direct the
operation of flexible radios, radios whose characteristics are
determined by software, and it's looking like the scarcity of the
electromagnetic spectrum has been pretty grossly overstated. It's hard
to prove, because now we've got a world where lighting up a bunch of
smart, agile radios is a crime against the 'legit' license-holders.

"But Parliament's not going to throw the airwaves open because no
elected politician can be responsible for screwing up the voters'
televisions, because that's the surest-fire way to not get
reelected. Which means that when you say, 'Hey, our freedom of speech is
being clobbered by bad laws,' the other side can say, 'Go study some
physics, hippie, or produce a working network, or shut up.'

"The radios we're installing now are about one millionth as smart as
they could be, and they use one millionth as much spectrum as they could
without stepping on anyone else's signal, but they're legal, and they're
letting more people communicate than ever. There are people all over the
world doing this, and whenever the policy wonks go to the radio cops to
ask for more radio spectrum to do this stuff with, they parade people
like us in front of them. We're like the Pinocchio's nose on the face of
the radio cops: They say that only their big business buddies can be
trusted with the people's airwaves, and we show them up for giant
liars."

He fell silent and looked at them. Adam held his breath.

Sara nodded and broke the silence. "You know, that sounds pretty cool,
actually."

#

Kurt insisted on putting up that access point, while Alan and Lyman
steadied the ladder. Sara came out and joked with Lyman, and Alan got
distracted watching them, trying to understand this notion of "cousins."
They had an easy rapport, despite all their differences, and spoke in a
shorthand of family weddings long past and crotchety relatives long
dead.

So none of them were watching when Kurt overbalanced and dropped the
Makita, making a wild grab for it, foot slipping off the rung, and
toppled backward. It was only Kurt's wild bark of panic that got Adam to
instinctively move, to hold out his arms and look up, and he caught Kurt
under the armpits and gentled him to the ground, taking the weight of
Kurt's fall in a bone-jarring crush to his rib cage.

"You okay?" Alan said once he'd gotten his breath back.

"Oof," Kurt said. "Yeah."

They were cuddled together on the sidewalk, Kurt atop him, and Lyman and
Sara bent to help them apart. "Nice catch," Lyman said. Kurt was helped
to his feet, and he declared that he'd sprained his ankle and nothing
worse, and they helped him back to his shop, where a couple of his kids
doted over him, getting him an ice pack and a pillow and his laptop and
one of the many dumpster-dived discmen from around the shop and some of
the CDs of old punk bands that he favored.

There he perched, growly as a wounded bear, master of his kingdom, for
the next two weeks, playing online and going twitchy over the missed
dumpsters going to the landfill every night without his expert picking
over. Alan visited him every day and listened raptly while Kurt gave him
the stats for the day's network usage, and Kurt beamed proud the whole
while.

#

One morning, Alan threw a clatter of toonies down on the Greek's counter
and walked around the Market, smelling the last night's staggering
pissers and the morning's blossoms.

Here were his neighbors, multicolored heads at the windows of their
sagging house adjoining his, Link and Natalie in the adjacent windows
farthest from his front door, Mimi's face suspicious at her window, and
was that Krishna behind her, watching over her shoulder, hand between
her wings, fingers tracing the scars depending from the muscles there?

He waved at them. The reluctant winter made every day feel like the day
before a holiday weekend. The bankers and the retail slaves coming into
and out of the Market had a festive air.

He waved at the neighbors, and Link waved back, and then so did Natalie,
and he hefted his sack of coffees from the Greek's suggestively, and
Mimi shut her curtains with a snap, but Natalie and Link smiled, and a
moment later they were sitting in twig chairs on his porch in their
jammies, watching the world go past as the sun began to boil the air and
the coffee tasted as good as it smelled.

"Beautiful day," Natalie said rubbing the duckling fuzz on her scalp and
closing her eyes.

"Found any work yet?" Alan said remembering his promise to put her in
touch with one of his fashionista protégés.

She made a face. "In a video store. Bo-ring."

Link made a rude noise. "You are *so* spoiled. Not just any video store,
she's working at Martian Signal on Queen Street."

Alan knew it, a great shop with a huge selection of cult movies and a
brisk trade in zines, transgressive literature, action figures and
T-shirts.

"It must be great there," he said.

She smiled and looked away. "It's okay." She bit her lip. "I don't think
I like working retail," she said.

"Ah, retail!" he said. "Retail would be fantastic if it wasn't for the
fucking customers."

She giggled.

"Don't let them get to you," he said. "Get to be really smart about the
stock, so that there's always something you know more about than they
do, and when that isn't true, get them to *teach you* more so you'll be
in control the next time."

She nodded.

"And have fun with the computer when it's slow," he said.

"What?"

"A store like that, it's got the home phone number of about seventy
percent of the people in Toronto you'd want to ever hang out with. Most
of your school friends, even the ones you've lost track of. All the
things they've rented. All their old addresses -- you can figure out
who's living together, who gave their apartment to whom, all of that
stuff. That kind of database is way more fun than you realize. You can
get lost in it for months."

She was nodding slowly. "I can see that," she said. She upended her
coffee and set it down. "Listen, Arbus --" she began, then bit her lip
again. She looked at Link, who tugged at his fading pink shock of hair.

"It's nothing," he said. "We get emotionally overwrought about friends
and family. I have as much to apologize for as... Well, I owe you an
apology." They stared at the park across the street, at the damaged
wading pool where Edward had vanished.

"So, sorries all 'round and kisses and hugs, and now we're all friends
again, huh?" Link said. Natalie made a rude noise and ruffled his hair,
then wiped her hand off on his shirt.

Alan, though, solemnly shook each of their hands in turn, and thanked
them. When he was done, he felt as though a weight had been lifted from
him. Next door, Mimi's window slammed shut.

"What is it you're doing around here, Akin?" Link said. "I keep seeing
you running around with ladders and tool belts. I thought you were a
writer. Are you soundproofing the whole Market?"

"I never told you?" Alan said. He'd been explaining wireless networking
to anyone who could sit still and had been beginning to believe that
he'd run it down for every denizen of Kensington, but he'd forgotten to
clue in his own neighbors!

"Right," he said. "Are you seated comfortably? Then I shall begin. When
we connect computers together, we call it a network. There's a *big*
network of millions of computers, called the Internet."

"Even *I* know this," Natalie said.

"Shush," Alan said. "I'll start at the beginning, where I started a year
ago, and work my way forward. It's weird, it's big and it's cool." And
he told them the story, the things he'd learned from Kurt, the arguments
he'd honed on the shopkeepers, the things Lyman had told him.

"So that's the holy mission," he said at last. "You give everyone a
voice and a chance to speak on a level playing field with the rich and
powerful, and you make democracy, which is good."

He looked at Link and Natalie, who were looking to one another rather
intensely, communicating in some silent idiom of sibling body-language.

"Plate-o-shrimp," Natalie said.

"Funny coincidence," Link said.

"We were just talking about this yesterday."

"Spectrum?" Alan quirked his eyebrows.

"No, not exactly," Natalie said. "About making a difference. About holy
missions. Wondering if there were any left."

"I mean," Link said, "riding a bike or renting out videos are honest
ways to make a living and all, and they keep us in beer and rent money,
but they're not --"

"-- *important*." Natalie said.

"Ah," Alan said.

"Ah?"

"Well, that's the thing we all want, right? Making a difference."

"Yeah."

"Which is why you went into fashion," Link said giving her skinny
shoulder a playful shove.

She shoved him back. "And why *you* went into electrical engineering!"

"Okay," Alan said. "It's not necessarily about what career you
pick. It's about how you do what you do. Natalie, you told me you used
to shop at Tropicál."

She nodded.

"You liked it, you used to shop there, right?"

"Yeah."

"And it inspired you to go into fashion design. It also provided
employment for a couple dozen people over the years. I sometimes got to
help out little alternative girls from North Toronto buy vintage prom
dresses at the end of the year, and I helped Motown revival bands put
together matching outfits of red blazers and wide trousers. Four or five
little shops opened up nearby selling the same kind of thing, imitating
me -- that whole little strip down there started with Tropicál."

Natalie nodded. "Okay, I knew that, I guess. But it's not the same as
*really* making a difference, is it?"

Link flicked his butt to the curb. "You're changing people's lives for
the better either way, right?"

"Exactly," Alan said.

Then Link grinned. "But there's something pretty, oh, I dunno, *ballsy*,
about this wireless thing, yeah? It's not the same."

"Not the same," Alan said grinning. "Better."

"How can we help?"

#

Kurt had an assembly line cranking out his access points now. Half a
dozen street kids worked in the front of his place, in a cleared-out
space with a makeshift workbench made from bowed plywood and scratched
IKEA table-legs. It made Alan feel better to watch them making sense of
it all, made him feel a little like he felt when he was working on The
Inventory. The kids worked from noon, when Kurt got back from breakfast,
until 9 or 10, when he went out to dive.

The kids were smart, but screwed up: half by teenaged hormones and half
by bad parents or bad drugs or just bad brain chemistry. Alan understood
their type, trying to carve some atom of individual identity away from
family and background, putting pins through their bodies and affecting
unconvincing tough mannerisms. They were often bright -- the used
bookstore had been full of their type, buying good, beat-up books off
the sale rack for 50 cents, trading them back for 20 cents' credit the
next day, and buying more.

Natalie and Link were in that morning, along with some newcomers,
Montreal street punks trying their hand at something other than squeegee
bumming. The punks and his neighbors gave each other uneasy looks, but
Alan had deliberately put the sugar for the coffee at the punks' end of
the table and the cream in front of Natalie and the stirs by the
bathroom door with the baklava and the napkins, so a rudimentary social
intercourse was begun.

First, one of the punks (who had a rusty "NO FUTURE" pin that Alan
thought would probably go for real coin on the collectors' market) asked
Natalie to pass her the cream. Then Link and another punk (foppy silly
black hair and a cut-down private school blazer with the short sleeves
pinned on with rows of safety pins) met over the baklava, and the punk
offered Link a napkin. Another punk spilled her coffee on her lap,
screeching horrendous Quebecois blasphemies as curses, and that cracked
everyone up, and Arnold, watching from near the blanket that fenced off
Kurt's monkish sleeping area, figured that they would get along.

"Kurt," he said pulling aside the blanket, handing a double-double
coffee over to Kurt as he sat up and rubbed his eyes. He was wearing a
white T-shirt that was the grimy grey of everything in his domain, and
baggy jockeys. He gathered his blankets around him and sipped
reverently.

Kurt cocked his head and listened to the soft discussions going on on
the other side of the blanket. "Christ, they're at it already?"

"I think your volunteers showed up a couple hours ago -- or maybe they
were up all night."

Kurt groaned theatrically. "I'm running a halfway house for geeky street
kids."

"All for the cause," Alan said. "So, what's on the plate for today?"

"You know the church kittycorner from your place?"

"Yeah?" Alan said cautiously.

"Its spire is just about the highest point in the Market. An
omnidirectional up there..."

"The church?"

"Yeah."

"What about the new condos at the top of Baldwin? They're tall."

"They are. But they're up on the northern edge. From the bell-tower of
that church, I bet you could shoot half the houses on the west side of
Oxford Street, along with the backs of all the shops on Augusta."

"How are we going to get the church to go along with it. Christ, what
are they, Ukrainian Orthodox?"

"Greek Orthodox," Kurt said. "Yeah, they're pretty conservative."

"So?"

"So, I need a smooth-talking, upstanding cit to go and put the case to
the pastor. Priest. Bishop. Whatever."

"Groan," Alex said.

"Oh, come on, you're good at it."

"If I get time," he said. He looked into his coffee for a moment. "I'm
going to go home," he said.

"Home?"

"To the mountain," he said. "Home," he said. "To my father," he said.

"Whoa," Kurt said. "Alone?"

Alan sat on the floor and leaned back against a milk crate full of
low-capacity hard drives. "I have to," he said. "I can't stop thinking
of..." He was horrified to discover that he was on the verge of
tears. It had been three weeks since Davey had vanished into the night,
and he'd dreamt of Eugene-Fabio-Greg every night since, terrible dreams,
in which he'd dug like a dog to uncover their hands, their arms, their
legs, but never their heads. He swallowed hard.

He and Kurt hadn't spoken of that night since.

"I sometimes wonder if it really happened," Kurt said.

Alan nodded. "It's hard to believe. Even for me."

"I believe it," Kurt said. "I won't ever not believe it. I think that's
probably important to you."

Alan felt a sob well up in his chest and swallowed it down
again. "Thanks," he managed to say.

"When are you leaving?"

"Tomorrow morning. I'm going to rent a car and drive up," he said.

"How long?"

"I dunno," he said. He was feeling morose now. "A couple days. A week,
maybe. No longer."

"Well, don't sweat the Bishop. He can wait. Come and get a beer with me
tonight before I go out?"

"Yeah," he said. "That sounds good. On a patio on Kensington. We can
people-watch."

#

How Alan and his brothers killed Davey: very deliberately.

Alan spent the rest of the winter in the cave, and Davey spent the
spring in the golem's cave, and through that spring, neither of them
went down to the school, so that the younger brothers had to escort
themselves to class. When the thaws came and icy meltoff carved
temporary streams in the mountainside, they stopped going to school, too
-- instead, they played on the mountainside, making dams and canals and
locks with rocks and imagination.

Their father was livid. The mountain rumbled as it warmed unevenly, as
the sheets of ice slid off its slopes and skittered down toward the
highway. The sons of the mountain reveled in their dark ignorance, their
separation from the school and from the nonsensical and nonmagical
society of the town. They snared small animals and ate them raw, and
didn't wash their clothes, and grew fierce and guttural through the slow
spring.

Alan kept silent through those months, becoming almost nocturnal,
refusing to talk to any brother who dared to talk to him. When
Ed-Fred-George brought home a note from the vice principal asking when
he thought he'd be coming back to school, Alan shoved it into his mouth
and chewed and chewed and chewed, until the paper was reduced to gruel,
then he spat it by the matted pile of his bedding.

The mountain grumbled and he didn't care. The golems came to parley, and
he turned his back to them. The stalactites crashed to the cave's floor
until it was carpeted in ankle-deep chips of stone, and he waded through
them.

He waited and bided. He waited for Davey to try to come home.

#

"What have we here?" Alan said, as he wandered into Kurt's shop, which
had devolved into joyous bedlam. The shelves had been pushed up against
the wall, clearing a large open space that was lined with long trestle
tables. Crusty-punks, goth kids, hippie kids, geeks with vintage
video-game shirts, and even a couple of older, hard-done-by street
people crowded around the tables, performing a conglomeration of arcane
tasks. The air hummed with conversation and coffee smells, the latter
emanating from a catering-sized urn in the corner.

He was roundly ignored -- and before he could speak again, one of the
PCs on the floor started booming out fuzzy, grungy rockabilly music that
made him think of Elvis cassettes that had been submerged in salt
water. Half of the assembled mass started bobbing their heads and
singing along while the other half rolled their eyes and groaned.

Kurt came out of the back and hunkered down with the PC, turning down
the volume a little. "Howdy!" he said, spreading his arms and taking in
the whole of his dominion.

"Howdy yourself," Alan said. "What do we have here?"

"We have a glut of volunteers," Kurt said, watching as an old rummy
carefully shot a picture of a flat-panel LCD that was minus its
housing. "I can't figure out if those laptop screens are worth
anything," he said, cocking his head. "But they've been taking up space
for far too long. Time we moved them."

Alan looked around and realized that the workers he'd taken to be at
work building access points were, in the main, shooting digital pictures
of junk from Kurt's diving runs and researching them for eBay
listings. It made him feel good -- great, even. It was like watching an
Inventory being assembled from out of chaos.

"Where'd they all come from?"

Kurt shrugged. "I dunno. I guess we hit critical mass. You recruit a few
people, they recruit a few people. It's a good way to make a couple
bucks, you get to play with boss crap, you get paid in cash, and you
have colorful co-workers." He shrugged again. "I guess they came from
wherever the trash came from. The city provides."

The homeless guy they were standing near squinted up at them. "If either
of you says something like, *Ah, these people were discarded by society,
but just as with the junk we rescue from landfills, we have seen the
worth of these poor folks and rescued them from the scrapheap of
society,* I'm gonna puke."

"The thought never crossed my mind," Alan said solemnly.

"Keep it up, Wes," Kurt said, patting the man on the shoulder. "See you
at the Greek's tonight?"

"Every night, so long as he keeps selling the cheapest beer in the
Market," Wes said, winking at Alan.

"It's cash in the door," Kurt said. "Buying components is a lot more
efficient than trying to find just the right parts." He gave Alan a
mildly reproachful look. Ever since they'd gone to strictly controlled
designs, Kurt had been heartbroken by the amount of really nice crap
that never made its way into an access point.

"This is pretty amazing," Alan said. "You're splitting the money with
them?"

"The profit -- anything leftover after buying packaging and paying
postage." He walked down the line, greeting people by name, shaking
hands, marveling at the gewgaws and gimcracks that he, after all, had
found in some nighttime dumpster and brought back to be recycled. "God,
I love this. It's like Napster for dumpsters."

"How's that?" Alan asked, pouring himself a coffee and adding some UHT
cream from a giant, slightly dented box of little creamers.

"Most of the music ever recorded isn't for sale at any price. Like 80
percent of it. And the labels, they've made copyright so strong, no one
can figure out who all that music belongs to -- not even them! Costs a
fortune to clear a song. Pal of mine once did a CD of Christmas music
remixes, and he tried to figure out who owned the rights to all the
songs he wanted to use. He just gave up after a year -- and he had only
cleared one song!

"So along comes Napster. It finds the only possible way of getting all
that music back into our hands. It gives millions and millions of people
an incentive to rip their old CDs -- hell, their old vinyl and tapes,
too! -- and put them online. No label could have afforded to do that,
but the people just did it for free. It was like a barn-raising: a
library raising!"

Alan nodded. "So what's your point -- that companies' dumpsters are
being napstered by people like you?" A napsterized Inventory. Alan felt
the *rightness* of it.

Kurt picked a fragile LCD out of a box of dozens of them and smashed it
on the side of the table. "Exactly!" he said. "This is garbage -- it's
like the deleted music that you can't buy today, except at the bottom of
bins at Goodwill or at yard sales. Tons of it has accumulated in
landfills. No one could afford to pay enough people to go around and
rescue it all and figure out the copyrights for it and turn it into
digital files and upload it to the net -- but if you give people an
incentive to tackle a little piece of the problem and a way for my work
to help you..." He went to a shelf and picked up a finished AP and
popped its latches and swung it open.

"Look at that -- I didn't get its guts out of a dumpster, but someone
else did, like as not. I sold the parts I found in my dumpster for money
that I exchanged for parts that someone else found in *her* dumpster --"

"Her?"

"Trying not to be sexist," Kurt said.

"Are there female dumpster divers?"

"Got me," Kurt said. "In ten years of this, I've only run into other
divers twice or three times. Remind me to tell you about the cop
later. Anyway. We spread out the effort of rescuing this stuff from the
landfill, and then we put our findings online, and we move it to where
it needs to be. So it's not cost effective for some big corporation to
figure out how to use or sell these -- so what? It's not cost-effective
for some big dumb record label to figure out how to keep music by any of
my favorite bands in print, either. We'll figure it out. We're spookily
good at it."

"Spookily?"

"Trying to be more poetic." He grinned and twisted the fuzzy split ends
of his newly blue mohawk around his fingers. "Got a new girlfriend, she
says there's not enough poetry in my views on garbage."

#

They found one of Davey's old nests in March, on a day when you could
almost believe that the spring would really come and the winter would go
and the days would lengthen out to more than a few hours of sour
greyness huddled around noon. The reference design for the access point
had gone through four more iterations, and if you knew where to look in
the Market's second-story apartments, rooftops, and lampposts, you could
trace the evolution of the design from the clunky PC-shaped boxen in
Alan's attic on Wales Avenue to the environment-hardened milspec surplus
boxes that Kurt had rigged from old circuit boxes he'd found in Bell
Canada's Willowdale switching station dumpster.

Alan steadied the ladder while Kurt tightened the wing nuts on the
antenna mounting atop the synagogue's roof. It had taken three meetings
with the old rabbi before Alan hit on the idea of going to the temple's
youth caucus and getting *them* to explain it to the old cleric. The
synagogue was one of the oldest buildings in the Market, a
brick-and-stone beauty from 1930.

They'd worried about the fight they'd have over drilling through the
roof to punch down a wire, but they needn't have: The wood up there was
soft as cottage cheese, and showed gaps wide enough to slip the power
cable down. Now Kurt slathered Loctite over the nuts and washers and
slipped dangerously down the ladder, toe-tips flying over the rungs.

Alan laughed as he touched down, thinking that Kurt's heart was aburst
with the feeling of having finished, at last, at last. But then he
caught sight of Kurt's face, ashen, wide-eyed.

"I saw something," he said, talking out of the sides of his mouth. His
hands were shaking.

"What?"

"Footprints," he said. "There's a lot of leaves that have rotted down to
mud up there, and there were a pair of little footprints in the
mud. Like a toddler's footprints, maybe. Except there were two toes
missing from one foot. They were stamped down all around this spot where
I could see there had been a lot of pigeon nests, but there were no
pigeons there, only a couple of beaks and legs -- so dried up that I
couldn't figure out what they were at first.

"But I recognized the footprints. The missing toes, they left prints
behind like unbent paperclips."

Alan moved, as in a dream, to the ladder and began to climb it.

"Be careful, it's all rotten up there," Kurt called. Alan nodded.

"Sure, thank you," he said, hearing himself say it as though from very
far away.

The rooftop was littered with broken glass and scummy puddles of
meltwater and little pebbles and a slurry of decomposing leaves, and
there, yes, there were the footprints, just as advertised. He patted the
antenna box absently, feeling its solidity, and he sat down cross-legged
before the footprints and the beaks and the legs. There were no tooth
marks on the birds. They hadn't been eaten, they'd been torn apart, like
a label from a beer bottle absently shredded in the sunset. He pictured
Davey sitting here on the synagogue's roof, listening to the evening
prayers, and the calls and music that floated over the Market, watching
the grey winter nights come on and slip away, a pigeon in his hand,
writhing.

He wondered if he was catching Bradley's precognition, and if that meant
that Bradley was dead now.

#

Bradley was born with the future in his eyes. He emerged from the belly
of their mother with bright brown eyes that did not roll aimlessly in
the manner of babies, but rather sought out the corners of the cave
where interesting things were happening, where movement was about to
occur, where life was being lived. Before he developed the muscle
strength and coordination necessary to crawl, he mimed crawling, seeing
how it was that he would someday move.

He was the easiest of all the babies to care for, easier even than
Carlo, who had no needs other than water and soil and cooing
reassurance. Toilet training: As soon as he understood what was expected
of him -- they used the downstream-most bend of one of the underground
rivers -- Benny could be relied upon to begin tottering toward the spot
in sufficient time to drop trou and do his business in just the right
spot.

(Alan learned to pay attention when Bruce was reluctant to leave home
for a walk during those days -- the same premonition that made him
perfectly toilet-trained at home would have him in fretting sweats at
the foreknowledge that he has destined to soil himself during the
recreation.)

His nightmares ran twice: once just before bed, in clairvoyant preview,
and again in the depths of REM sleep. Alan learned to talk him down from
these crises, to soothe the worry, and in the end it worked to
everyone's advantage, defusing the nightmares themselves when they came.

He never forgot anything -- never forgot to have Alan forge a signature
on a permission form, never forgot to bring in the fossil he'd found for
show-and-tell, never forgot his mittens in the cloakroom and came home
with red, chapped hands. Once he started school, he started seeing to it
that Alan never forgot anything, either.

He did very well on quizzes and tests, and he never let the pitcher fake
him out when he was at bat.

After four years alone with the golems, Alan couldn't have been more
glad to have a brother to keep him company.

Billy got big enough to walk, then big enough to pick mushrooms, then
big enough to chase squirrels. He was big enough to play
hide-and-go-seek with, big enough to play twenty questions with, big
enough to horse around in the middle of the lake at the center of the
mountain with.

Alan left him alone during the days, in the company of their parents and
the golems, went down the mountain to school, and when he got back, he'd
take his kid brother out on the mountain face and teach him what he'd
learned, even though he was only a little kid. They'd write letters
together in the mud with a stick, and in the winter, they'd try to spell
out their names with steaming pee in the snow, laughing.

"That's a fraction," Brad said, chalking "3/4" on a piece of slate by
the side of one of the snowmelt streams that coursed down the springtime
mountain.

"That's right, three-over-four," Alan said. He'd learned it that day in
school, and had been about to show it to Billy, which meant that Brad
had remembered him doing it and now knew it. He took the chalk and drew
his own 3/4 -- you had to do that, or Billy wouldn't be able to remember
it in advance.

Billy got down on his haunches. He was a dark kid, dark hair and eyes
the color of chocolate, which he insatiably craved and begged for every
morning when Alan left for school, "Bring me, bring me, bring me!"

He'd found something. Alan leaned in and saw that it was a milkweed
pod. "It's an egg," Bobby said.

"No, it's a weed," Alan said. Bobby wasn't usually given to flights of
fancy, but the shape of the pod was reminiscent of an egg.

Billy clucked his tongue. "I *know* that. It's also an egg for a
bug. Living inside there. I can see it hatching. Next week." He closed
his eyes. "It's orange! Pretty. We should come back and find it once it
hatches."

Alan hunkered down next to him. "There's a bug in here?"

"Yeah. It's like a white worm, but in a week it will turn into an orange
bug and chew its way out."

He was about three then, which made Alan seven. "What if I chopped down
the plant?" he said. "Would the bug still hatch next week?"

"You won't," Billy said.

"I could, though."

"Nope," Brad said.

Alan reached for the plant. Took it in his hand. The warm skin of the
plant and the woody bole of the pod would be so easy to uproot.

He didn't do it.

That night, as he lay himself down to sleep, he couldn't remember why he
hadn't. He couldn't sleep. He got up and looked out the front of the
cave, at the countryside unrolling in the moonlight and the far lights
of the town.

He went back inside and looked in on Benji. He was sleeping, his face
smooth and his lips pouted. He rolled over and opened his eyes,
regarding Alan without surprise.

"Told you so," he said.

#

Alan had an awkward relationship with the people in town. Unaccompanied
little boys in the grocery store, at the Gap, in the library and in toy
section of the Canadian Tire were suspect. Alan never "horsed around" --
whatever that meant -- but nevertheless, he got more than his share of
the hairy eyeball from the shopkeepers, even though he had money in his
pocket and had been known to spend it on occasion.

A lone boy of five or six or seven was suspicious, but let him show up
with the tiny hand of his dark little brother clasped in his, quietly
explaining each item on the shelf to the solemn child, and everyone got
an immediate attitude adjustment. Shopkeepers smiled and nodded,
shoppers mouthed, "So cute," to each other. Moms with babies in snuglis
bent to chuckle them under their chins. Store owners spontaneously gave
them candy, and laughed aloud at Bryan's cries of "Chocolate!"

When Brian started school, he foresaw and avoided all trouble, and
delighted his teachers with his precociousness. Alan ate lunch with him
once he reached the first grade and started eating in the cafeteria with
the rest of the non-kindergartners.

Brad loved to play with Craig after he was born, patiently mounding soil
and pebbles on his shore, watering him and patting him smooth, planting
wild grasses on his slopes as he crept toward the mouth of the
cave. Those days -- before Darcy's arrival -- were a long idyll of good
food and play in the hot sun or the white snow and brotherhood.

Danny couldn't sneak up on Brad and kick him in the back of the head. He
couldn't hide a rat in his pillow or piss on his toothbrush. Billy was
never one to stand pat and eat shit just because Davey was handing it
out. Sometimes he'd just wind up and take a swing at Davey, seemingly
out of the blue, knocking him down, then prying open his mouth to reveal
the chocolate bar he'd nicked from under Brad's pillow, or a comic book
from under his shirt. He was only two years younger than Brad, but by
the time they were both walking, Brad hulked over him and could lay him
out with one wild haymaker of a punch.

#

Billy came down from his high perch when Alan returned from burying
Marci, holding out his hands wordlessly. He hugged Alan hard, crushing
the breath out of him.

The arms felt good around his neck, so he stopped letting himself feel
them. He pulled back stiffly and looked at Brian.

"You could have told me," he said.

Bram's face went expressionless and hard and cold. Telling people wasn't
what he did, not for years. It hurt others -- and it hurt him. It was
the reason for his long, long silences. Alan knew that sometimes he
couldn't tell what it was that he knew that others didn't. But he didn't
care, then.

"You should have told me," he said.

Bob took a step back and squared up his shoulders and his feet, leaning
forward a little as into a wind.

"You *knew* and you didn't *tell me* and you didn't *do anything* and as
far as I'm concerned, you killed her and cut her up and buried her along
with Darryl, you coward." Adam knew he was crossing a line, and he
didn't care. Brian leaned forward and jutted his chin out.

Avram's hands were clawed with cold and caked with mud and still echoing
the feeling of frozen skin and frozen dirt, and balled up into fists,
they felt like stones.

He didn't hit Barry. Instead, he retreated to his niche and retrieved
the triangular piece of flint that he'd been cherting into an arrowhead
for school and a hammer stone and set to work on it in the light of a
flashlight.

#

He sharpened a knife for Davey, there in his room in the cave, as the
boys ran feral in the woods, as the mountain made its slow and ponderous
protests.

He sharpened a knife, a hunting knife with a rusty blade and a cracked
handle that he'd found on one of the woodland trails, beside a hunter's
snare, not lost but pitched away in disgust one winter and not
discovered until the following spring.

But the nicked blade took an edge as he whetted it with the round stone,
and the handle regained its grippiness as he wound a cord tight around
it, making tiny, precise knots with each turn, until the handle no
longer pinched his hand, until the blade caught the available light from
the cave mouth and glinted dully.

The boys brought him roots and fruits they'd gathered, sweets and bread
they'd stolen, small animals they'd caught. Ed-Fred-George were an
unbeatable team when it came to catching and killing an animal, though
they were only small, barely out of the second grade. They were fast,
and they could coordinate their actions without speaking, so that the
bunny or the squirrel could never duck or feint in any direction without
encountering the thick, neck-wringing outstretched hands of the pudgy
boys. Once, they brought him a cat. It went in the night's stew.

Billy sat at his side and talked. The silence he'd folded himself in
unwrapped and flapped in the wind of his beating gums. He talked about
the lessons he'd had in school and the lessons he'd had from his big
brother, when it was just the two of them on the hillside and Alan would
teach him every thing he knew, the names of and salient facts regarding
every thing in their father's domain. He talked about the truths he'd
gleaned from reading chocolate-bar wrappers. He talked about the things
that he'd see Davey doing when no one else could see it.

One day, George came to him, the lima-bean baby grown to toddling about
on two sturdy legs, fat and crispy red from his unaccustomed time
out-of-doors and in the sun. "You know, he *worships* you," Glenn said,
gesturing at the spot in his straw bedding where Brad habitually sat and
gazed at him and chattered.

Alan stared at his shoelaces. "It doesn't matter," he said. He'd dreamt
that night of Davey stealing into the cave and squatting beside him,
watching him the way that he had before, and of Alan knowing, *knowing*
that Davey was there, ready to rend and tear, knowing that his knife
with its coiled handle was just under his pillow, but not being able to
move his arms or legs. Paralyzed, he'd watched Davey grin and reach
behind him with agonizing slowness for a rock that he'd lifted high
above his head and Andrew had seen that the rock had been cherted to a
razor edge that hovered a few feet over his breastbone, Davey's arms
trembling with the effort of holding it aloft. A single drop of sweat
had fallen off of Davey's chin and landed on Alan's nose, and then
another, and finally he'd been able to open his eyes and wake himself,
angry and scared. The spring rains had begun, and the condensation was
thick on the cave walls, dripping onto his face and arms and legs as he
slept, leaving behind chalky lime residue as it evaporated.

"He didn't kill her," Greg said.

Albert hadn't told the younger brothers about the body buried in Craig,
which meant that Brad had been talking to them, had told them what he'd
seen. Alan felt an irrational streak of anger at Brad -- he'd been
blabbing Alan's secrets. He'd been exposing the young ones to things
they didn't need to know. To the nightmares.

"He didn't stop her from being killed," Alan said. He had the knife in
his hand and hunted through his pile of belongings for the whetstone to
hone its edge.

Greg looked at the knife, and Andy followed his gaze to his own white
knuckles on the hilt. Greg took a frightened step back, and Alan, who
had often worried that the smallest brother was too delicate for the
real world, felt ashamed of himself.

He set the knife down and stood, stretching his limbs and leaving the
cave for the first time in weeks.

#

Brad found him standing on the slopes of the gentle, soggy hump of
Charlie's slope, a few feet closer to the seaway than it had been that
winter when Alan had dug up and reburied Marci's body there.

"You forgot this," Brad said, handing him the knife.

Alan took it from him. It was sharp and dirty and the handle was grimed
with sweat and lime.

"Thanks, kid," he said. He reached down and took Billy's hand, the way
he'd done when it was just the two of them. The three eldest sons of the
mountain stood there touching and watched the outside world rush and
grind away in the distance, its humming engines and puffing chimneys.

Brendan tugged his hand free and kicked at the dirt with a toe,
smoothing over the divot he'd made with the sole of his shoe. Andy
noticed that the sneaker was worn out and had a hole in the toe, and
that it was only laced up halfway.

"Got to get you new shoes," he said, bending down to relace them. He had
to stick the knife in the ground to free his hands while he worked. The
handle vibrated.

"Davey's coming," Benny said. "Coming now."

Alan reached out as in his dream and felt for the knife, but it wasn't
there, as in his dream. He looked around as the skin on his face
tightened and his heart began to pound in his ears, and he saw that it
had merely fallen over in the dirt. He picked it up and saw that where
it had fallen, it had knocked away the soil that had barely covered up a
small, freckled hand, now gone black and curled into a fist like a
monkey's paw. Marci's hand.

"He's coming." Benny took a step off the hill. "You won't lose," he
said. "You've got the knife."

The hand was small and fisted, there in the dirt. It had been just below
the surface of where he'd been standing. It had been there, in
Clarence's soil, for months, decomposing, the last of Marci
going. Somewhere just below that soil was her head, her face sloughing
off and wormed. Her red hair fallen from her loosened scalp. He gagged
and a gush of bile sprayed the hillside.

Danny hit him at the knees, knocking him into the dirt. He felt the
little rotting fist digging into his ribs. His body bucked of its own
accord, and he knocked Danny loose of his legs. His arm was hot and
slippery, and when he looked at it he saw that it was coursing with
blood. The knife in his other hand was bloodied and he saw that he'd
drawn a long ragged cut along his bicep. A fountain of blood bubbled
there with every beat of his heart, blub, blub, blub, and on the third
blub, he felt the cut, like a long pin stuck in the nerve.

He climbed unsteadily to his feet and confronted Danny. Danny was naked
and the color of the red golem clay. His ribs showed and his hair was
matted and greasy.

"I'm coming home," Danny said, baring his teeth. His breath reeked of
corruption and uncooked meat, and his mouth was ringed with a crust of
dried vomit. "And you're not going to stop me."

"You don't have a home," Alan said, pressing the hilt of the knife over
the wound in his bicep, the feeling like biting down on a cracked
tooth. "You're not welcome."

Davey was monkeyed over low, arms swinging like a chimp, teeth bared,
knees splayed and ready to uncoil and pounce. "You think you'll stab me
with that?" he said, jerking his chin at the knife. "Or are you just
going to bleed yourself out with it?"

Alan steadied his knife hand before him, unmindful of the sticky
blood. He knew that the pounce was coming, but that didn't help when it
came. Davey leapt for him and he slashed once with the knife, Davey
ducking beneath the arc, and then Davey had his forearm in his hands,
his teeth fastened onto the meat of his knife thumb.

Andre rolled to one side and gripped down hard on the knife, tugging his
arm ineffectually against the grip of the cruel teeth and the grasping
bony fingers. Davey had lost his boyish charm, gone simian with filth
and rage, and the sore and weak blows Alan was able to muster with his
hurt arm didn't seem to register with Danny at all as he bit down
harder.

Arnold dragged his arm up higher, dragging the glinting knifetip toward
Davey's face. Drew kicked at his shins, planted a knee alongside his
groin. Alan whipped his head back, then brought it forward as fast and
hard as he could, hammering his forehead into the crown of Davey's head
so hard that his head rang like a bell.

He stunned Davey free of his hand and stunned himself onto his back. He
felt small hands beneath each armpit, dragging him clear of the
hill. Brian. And George. They helped him to his feet and Breton handed
him the knife again. Darren got onto his knees, and then to his feet,
holding the back of his head.

They both swayed slightly, standing to either side of Chris's
rise. Alan's knife-hand was red with blood streaming from the bite
wounds and his other arm felt unaccountably heavy now.

Davey was staggering back and forth a little, eyes dropping to the
earth. Suddenly, he dropped to one knee and scrabbled in the dirt, then
scrambled back with something in his hand.

Marci's fist.

He waggled it at Andrew mockingly, then charged, crossing the distance
between them with long, loping strides, the fist held out before him
like a lance. Alan forgot the knife in his hand and shrank back, and
then Davey was on him again, dropping the fist to the mud and taking
hold of Alan's knife-wrist, digging his ragged nails into the bleeding
bites there.

Now Alan released the knife, so that it, too, fell to the mud, and the
sound it made woke him from his reverie. He pulled his hand free of
Davey's grip and punched him in the ear as hard as he could,
simultaneously kneeing him in the groin. Davey hissed and punched him in
the eye, a feeling like his eyeball was going to break open, a feeling
like he'd been stabbed in the back of his eye socket.

He planted a foot in the mud for leverage, then flipped Danny over so
that Alan was on top, knees on his skinny chest. The knife was there
beside Davey's head, and Alan snatched it up, holding it ready for
stabbing.

Danny's eyes narrowed.

Alan could do it. Kill him altogether dead finished yeah. Stab him in
the face or the heart or the lung, somewhere fatal. He could kill Davey
and make him go away forever.

Davey caught his eye and held it. And Alan knew he couldn't do it, and
an instant later, Davey knew it, too. He smiled a crusty smile and went
limp.

"Oh, don't hurt me, *please*," he said mockingly. "Please, big brother,
don't stab me with your big bad knife!"

Alan hurt all over, but especially on his bicep and his thumb. His head
sang with pain and blood loss.

"Don't hurt me, please!" Davey said.

Billy was standing before him, suddenly.

"That's what Marci said when he took her, 'Don't hurt me, please,'" he
said. "She said it over and over again. While he dragged her here. While
he choked her to death."

Alan held the knife tighter.

"He said it over and over again as he cut her up and buried her. He
*laughed.*"

Danny suddenly bucked hard, almost throwing him, and before he had time
to think, Alan had slashed down with the knife, aiming for the face, the
throat, the lung. The tip landed in the middle of his bony chest and
skated over each rib, going *tink, tink, tink* through the handle, like
a xylophone. It scored along the emaciated and distended belly, then
sank in just to one side of the smooth patch where a real person --
where Marci -- would have a navel.

Davey howled and twisted free of the seeking edge, skipping back three
steps while holding in the loop of gut that was trailing free of the
incision.

"She said, 'Don't hurt me.' She said, 'Please.' Over and over. He said
it, too, and he laughed at her." Benny chanted it at him, standing just
behind him, and the sound of his voice filled Alan's ears.

Suddenly Davey reeled back as a stone rebounded off of his
shoulder. They both looked in the direction it had come from, and saw
George, with the tail of his shirt aproned before him, filled with
small, jagged stones from the edge of the hot spring in their father's
depths. They took turns throwing those stones, skimming them over the
water, and Ed and Fred and George had a vicious arm.

Davey turned and snarled and started upslope toward George, and a stone
took him in the back of the neck, thrown by Freddie, who had sought
cover behind a thick pine that couldn't disguise the red of his
windbreaker, red as the inside of his lip, which pouted out as he
considered his next toss.

He was downslope, and so Drew was able to bridge the distance between
them very quickly -- he was almost upon Felix when a third stone, bigger
and faster than the others, took him in the back of the head with
terrible speed, making a sound like a hammer missing the nail and
hitting solid wood instead.

It was Ernie, of course, standing on Craig's highest point, winding up
for another toss.

The threesome's second volley hit him all at once, from three sides,
high, low, and medium.

"Killed her, cut her up, buried her," Benny chanted. "Sliced her open
and cut her up," he called.

"SHUT UP!" Davey screamed. He was bleeding from the back of his head,
the blood trickling down the knobs of his spine, and he was crying,
sobbing.

"KILLED HER, CUT HER UP, SLICED HER OPEN," Ed-Fred-George chanted in
unison.

Alan tightened his grip on the cords wound around the handle of his
knife, and his knife hand bled from the puncture wounds left by Davey's
teeth.

Davey saw him coming and dropped to his knees, crying. Sobbing.

"Please," he said, holding his hands out before him, palms together,
begging.

"Please," he said, as the loop of intestine he'd been holding in trailed
free.

"Please," he said, as Alan seized him by the hair, jerked his head back,
and swiftly brought the knife across his throat.

Benny took his knife, and Ed-Fred-George coaxed Clarence into a slow,
deep fissuring. They dragged the body into the earthy crack and Clarence
swallowed up their brother.

Benny led Alan to the cave, where they'd changed his bedding and laid
out a half-eaten candy bar, a shopping bag filled with bramble-berries,
and a lock of Marci's hair, tied into a knot.

#

Alan dragged all of his suitcases up from the basement to the living
room, from the tiny tin valise plastered with genuine vintage deco
railway stickers to the steamer trunk that he'd always intended to
refurbish as a bathroom cabinet. He hadn't been home in fifteen
years. What should he bring?

Clothes were the easiest. It was coming up on the cusp of July and
August, and he remembered boyhood summers on the mountain's slopes abuzz
with blackflies and syrupy heat. White T-shirts, lightweight trousers,
high-tech hiking boots that breathed, a thin jacket for the mosquitoes
at dusk.

He decided to pack four changes of clothes, which made a very small pile
on the sofa. Small suitcase. The little rolling carry-on? The wheels
would be useless on the rough cave floor.

He paced and looked at the spines of his books, and paced more, into the
kitchen. It was a beautiful summer day and the tall grasses in the back
yard nodded in the soft breeze. He stepped through the screen door and
out into the garden and let the wild grasses scrape over his thighs. Ivy
and wild sunflowers climbed the fence that separated his yard from his
neighbors, and through the chinks in the green armor, he saw someone
moving.

Mimi.

Pacing her garden, neatly tended vegetable beds, some flowering
bulbs. Skirt and a cream linen blazer that rucked up over her shoulders,
moving restlessly. Powerfully.

Alan's breath caught in his throat. Her pale, round calves flashed in
the sun. He felt himself harden, painfully. He must have gasped, or
given some sign, or perhaps she heard his skin tighten over his body
into a great goosepimply mass. Her head turned.

Their eyes met and he jolted. He was frozen in his footsteps by her
gaze. One cheek was livid with a purple bruise, the eye above it slitted
and puffed. She took a step toward him, her jacket opening to reveal a
shapeless grey sweatshirt stained with food and -- blood?

"Mimi?" he breathed.

She squeezed her eyes shut, her face turning into a fright mask.

"Abel," she said. "Nice day."

"Are you all right?" he said. He'd had his girls, his employees, show up
for work in this state before. He knew the signs. "Is he in the house
now?"

She pulled up a corner of her lip into a sneer and he saw that it was
split, and a trickle of blood wet her teeth and stained them pink.

"Sleeping," she said.

He swallowed. "I can call the cops, or a shelter, or both."

She laughed. "I gave as good as I got," she said. "We're more than
even."

"I don't care," he said. "'Even' is irrelevant. Are you *safe*?"

"Safe as houses," she said. "Thanks for your concern." She turned back
toward her back door.

"Wait," he said. She shrugged and the wings under her jacket strained
against the fabric. She reached for the door. He jammed his fingers into
the chain-link near the top and hauled himself, scrambling, over the
fence, landing on all fours in a splintering of tomato plants and
sticks.

He got to his feet and bridged the distance between them.

"I don't believe you, Mimi," he said. "I don't believe you. Come over to
my place and let me get you a cup of coffee and an ice pack and we'll
talk about it, please?"

"Fuck off," she said tugging at the door. He wedged his toe in it, took
her wrist gently.

"Please," she said. "We'll wake him."

"Come over," he said. "We won't wake him."

She cracked her arm like a whip, shaking his hand off her wrist. She
stared at him out of her swollen eye and he felt the jolt again. Some
recognition. Some shock. Some mirror, his face tiny and distorted in her
eye.

She shivered.

"Help me over the fence," she said pulling her skirt between her knees
-- bruise on her thigh -- and tucking it behind her into her
waistband. She jammed her bare toes into the link and he gripped one
hard, straining calf in one hand and put the other on her padded, soft
bottom, helping her up onto a perch atop the fence. He scrambled over
and then took one bare foot, one warm calf, and guided her down.

"Come inside," he said.

She'd never been in his house. Natalie and Link went in and out to use
his bathroom while they were enjoying the sunset on his porch, or to get
a beer. But Mimi had never crossed his threshold. When she did, it felt
like something he'd been missing there had been finally found.

She looked around with a hint of a smile on her puffed lips. She ran her
fingers over the cast-iron gas range he'd restored, caressing the
bakelite knobs. She peered at the titles of the books in the kitchen
bookcases, over the honey wood of the mismatched chairs and the
smoothed-over scars of the big, simple table.

"Come into the living room," Alan said. "I'll get you an ice pack."

She let him guide her by the elbow, then crossed decisively to the
windows and drew the curtains, bringing on twilight. He moved aside his
piles of clothes and stacked up the suitcases in a corner.

"Going somewhere?"

"To see my family," he said. She smiled and her lip cracked anew,
dripping a single dark droplet of blood onto the gleaming wood of the
floor, where it beaded like water on wax paper.

"Home again, home again, jiggety jig," she said. Her nearly closed eye
was bright and it darted around the room, taking in shelves, fireplace,
chairs, clothes.

"I'll get you that ice pack," he said. As he went back into the kitchen,
he heard her walking around in the living room, and he remembered the
first time he'd met her, of walking around her living room and thinking
about slipping a VCD into his pocket.

He found her halfway up the staircase with one of the shallow
bric-a-brac cabinets open before her. She was holding a
Made-in-Occupied-Japan tin robot, the paint crazed with age into
craquelaire like a Dutch Master painting in a gallery.

"Turn it upside down," he said.

She looked at him, then turned it over, revealing the insides of the
tin, revealing the gaudily printed tuna-fish label from the original can
that it had been fashioned from.

"Huh," she said and peered down into it. He hit the light switch at the
bottom of the stairs so that she could see better. "Beautiful," she
said.

"Have it," he said surprising himself. He'd have to remove it from The
Inventory. He restrained himself from going upstairs and doing it before
he forgot.

For the first time he could remember, she looked flustered. Her
unbruised cheek went crimson.

"I couldn't," she said.

"It's yours," he said. He went up the stairs and closed the cabinet,
then folded her fingers around the robot and led her by the wrist back
down to the sofa. "Ice pack," he said handing it to her, releasing her
wrist.

She sat stiff-spined in on the sofa, the hump of her wings behind her
keeping her from reclining. She caught him staring.

"It's time to trim them," she said.

"Oh, yes?" he said, mind going back to the gridwork of old scars by her
shoulders.

"When they get too big, I can't sit properly or lie on my back. At least
not while I'm wearing a shirt."

"Couldn't you, I don't know, cut the back out of a shirt?"

"Yeah," she said. "Or go topless. Or wear a halter. But not in public."

"No, not in public. Secrets must be kept."

"You've got a lot of secrets, huh?" she said.

"Some," he said.

"Deep, dark ones?"

"All secrets become deep. All secrets become dark. That's in the nature
of secrets."

She pressed the towel-wrapped bag of ice to her face and rolled her head
back and forth on her neck. He heard pops and crackles as her muscles
and vertebrae unlimbered.

"Hang on," he said. He ran up to his room and dug through his T-shirt
drawer until he found one that he didn't mind parting with. He brought
it back downstairs and held it up for her to see. "Steel Pole Bathtub,"
he said. "Retro chic. I can cut the back out for you, at least while
you're here."

She closed her eyes. "I'd like that," she said in a small voice.

So he got his kitchen shears and went to work on the back of the shirt,
cutting a sizable hole in the back of the fabric. He folded duct tape
around the ragged edges to keep them from fraying. She watched
bemusedly.

"Freakshow Martha Stewart," she said.

He smiled and passed her the shirt. "I'll give you some privacy," he
said, and went back into the kitchen and put away the shears and the
tape. He tried not to listen to the soft rustle of clothing in the other
room.

"Alan," she said -- *Alan* and not *Asshole* or *Abel* -- "I could use
some help."

He stepped cautiously into the living room and saw there, in the
curtained twilight, Mimi. She was topless, heavy breasts marked red with
the outline of her bra straps and wires. They hung weightily, swaying,
and stopped him in the doorway. She had her arms lifted over her head,
tugging her round belly up, stretching her navel into a cat-eye
slit. The T-shirt he'd given her was tangled in her arms and in her
wings.

Her magnificent wings.

They were four feet long each, and they stretched, one through the neck
hole and the other through the hole he'd cut in the T-shirt's back. They
were leathery as he remembered, covered in a downy fur that glowed where
it was kissed by the few shafts of light piercing the gap in the
drapes. He reached for the questing, almost prehensile tip of the one
that was caught in the neck hole. It was muscular, like a strong finger,
curling against his palm like a Masonic handshake.

When he touched her wing, she gasped and shivered, indeterminately
between erotic and outraged. They were as he imagined them, these wings,
strong and primal and dark and spicy-smelling like an armpit after sex.

He gently guided the tip down toward the neck hole and marveled at the
intricate way that it folded in on itself, at the play of mysterious
muscle and cartilage, the rustle of bristling hair, and the motility of
the skin.

It accordioned down and he tugged the shirt around it so that it came
free, and then he slid the front of the shirt down over her breasts,
painfully aware of his erection as the fabric rustled down over her
rounded belly.

As her head emerged through the shirt, she shook her hair out and then
unfolded her wings, slowly and exquisitely, like a cat stretching out,
bending forward, spreading them like sails. He ducked beneath one,
feeling its puff of spiced air on his face, and found himself staring at
the hash of scars and the rigid ropes of hyperextended muscle and
joints. Tentatively, he traced the scars with his thumbs, then, when she
made no move to stop him, he dug his thumbs into the muscles, into their
tension.

He kneaded at her flesh, grinding hard at the knots and feeling them
give way, briskly rubbing the spots where they'd been to get the blood
going. Her wings flapped gently around him as he worked, not caring that
his body was pretzeled into a knot of its own to reach her back, since
he didn't want to break the spell to ask her to move over to give him a
better angle.

He could smell her armpit and her wings and her hair and he closed his
eyes and worked by touch, following scar to muscle, muscle to knot,
working his way the length and breadth of her back, following the muscle
up from the ridge of her iliac crest like a treasure trail to the muscle
of her left wing, which was softly twitching with pleasure.

She went perfectly still again when he took the wing in his hands. It
had its own geometry, hard to understand and irresistible. He followed
the mysterious and powerful muscles and bones, the vast expanses of
cartilage, finding knots and squeezing them, kneading her as he'd
kneaded her back, and she groaned and went limp, leaning back against
him so that his face was in her hair and smelling her scalp oil and
stale shampoo and sweat. It was all he could do to keep himself from
burying his face in her hair and gnawing at the muscles at the base of
her skull.

He moved as slow as a seaweed and ran his hands over to her other wing,
giving it the same treatment. He was rock-hard, pressed against her, her
wings all around him. He traced the line of her jaw to her chin, and
they were breathing in unison, and his fingers found the tense place at
the hinge and worked there, too.

Then he brushed against her bruised cheek and she startled, and that
shocked him back to reality. He dropped his hands to his sides and then
stood, realized his erection was straining at his shorts, sat back down
again in one of the club chairs, and crossed his legs.

"Well," he said.

Mimi unfolded her wings over the sofa-back and let them spread out, then
leaned back, eyes closed.

"You should try the ice-pack again," he said weakly. She groped blindly
for it and draped it over her face.

"Thank you," she sighed.

He suppressed the urge to apologize. "You're welcome," he said.

"It started last week," she said. "My wings had gotten longer. Too
long. Krishna came home from the club and he was drunk and he wanted
sex. Wanted me on the bottom. I couldn't. My wings. He wanted to get the
knife right away and cut them off. We do it about four times a year,
using a big serrated hunting knife he bought at a sporting-goods store
on Yonge Street, one of those places that sells dud grenades and camou
pants and tasers."

She opened her eyes and looked at him, then closed them. He shivered and
a goose walked over his grave.

"We do it in the tub. I stand in the tub, naked, and he saws off the
wings right to my shoulders. I don't bleed much. He gives me a towel to
bite on while he cuts. To scream into. And then we put them in garden
trash bags and he puts them out just before the garbage men arrive, so
the neighborhood dogs don't get at them. For the meat."

He noticed that he was gripping the arm rests so tightly that his hands
were cramping. He pried them loose and tucked them under his thighs.

"He dragged me into the bathroom. One second, we were rolling around in
bed, giggling like kids in love, and then he had me so hard by the
wrist, dragging me naked to the bathroom, his knife in his other fist. I
had to keep quiet, so that I wouldn't wake Link and Natalie, but he was
hurting me, and I was scared. I tried to say something to him, but I
could only squeak. He hurled me into the tub and I cracked my head
against the tile. I cried out and he crossed the bathroom and put his
hand over my mouth and nose and then I couldn't breathe, and my head was
swimming.

"He was naked and hard, and he had the knife in his fist, not like for
slicing, but for stabbing, and his eyes were red from the smoke at the
club, and the bathroom filled with the booze-breath smell, and I sank
down in the tub, shrinking away from him as he grabbed for me.

"He -- *growled*. Saw that I was staring at the
knife. Smiled. Horribly. There's a piece of granite we use for a soap
dish, balanced in the corner of the tub. Without thinking, I grabbed it
and threw it as hard as I could at him. It broke his nose and he closed
his eyes and reached for his face and I wrapped him up in the shower
curtain and grabbed his arm and bit at the base of his thumb so hard I
heard a bone break and he dropped the knife. I grabbed it and ran back
to our room and threw it out the window and started to get dressed."

She'd fallen into a monotone now, but her wingtips twitched and her
knees bounced like her motor was idling on high. She jiggled.

"You don't have to tell me this," he said.

She took off the ice pack. "Yes, I do," she said. Her eyes seemed to
have sunk into her skull, vanishing into dark pits. He'd thought her
eyes were blue, or green, but they looked black now.

"All right," he said.

"All right," she said. "He came through the door and I didn't scream. I
didn't want to wake up Link and Natalie. Isn't that stupid? But I
couldn't get my sweatshirt on, and they would have seen my wings. He
looked like he was going to kill me. Really. Hands in claws. Teeth
out. Crouched down low like a chimp, ready to grab, ready to swing. And
I was back in a corner again, just wearing track pants. He didn't have
the knife this time, though.

"When he came for me, I went limp, like I was too scared to move, and
squeezed my eyes shut. Listened to his footsteps approach. Felt the
creak of the bed as he stepped up on it. Felt his breath as he reached
for me.

"I exploded. I've read books on women's self-defense, and they talk
about doing that, about exploding. You gather in all your energy and
squeeze it tight, and then blamo boom, you explode. I was aiming for his
soft parts: Balls. Eyes. Nose. Sternum. Ears. I'd misjudged where he
was, though, so I missed most of my targets.

"And then he was on me, kneeling on my tits, hands at my throat. I
bucked him but I couldn't get him off. My chest and throat were crushed,
my wings splayed out behind me. I flapped them and saw his hair move in
the breeze. He was sweating hard, off his forehead and off his nose and
lips. It was all so detailed. And silent. Neither of us made a sound
louder than a grunt. Quieter than our sex noises. *Now* I wanted to
scream, *wanted* to wake up Link and Natalie, but I couldn't get a
breath.

"I worked one hand free and I reached for the erection that I could feel
just below my tits, reached as fast as a striking snake, grabbed it,
grabbed his balls, and I yanked and I squeezed like I was trying to tear
them off.

"I was.

"Now *he* was trying to get away and I had him cornered. I kept
squeezing. That's when he kicked me in the face. I was dazed. He kicked
me twice more, and I ran downstairs and got a parka from the closet and
ran out into the front yard and out to the park and hid in the bushes
until morning.

"He was asleep when I came back in, after Natalie and Link had gone
out. I found the knife beside the house and I went up to our room and I
stood there, by the window, listening to you talk to them, holding the
knife."

She plumped herself on the cushions and flapped her wings once, softly,
another puff of that warm air wafting over him. She picked up the tin
robot he'd given her from the coffee table and turned it over in her
hands, staring up its skirts at the tuna-fish illustration and the
Japanese ideograms.

"I had the knife, and I felt like I had to use it. You know Chekhov? 'If
a gun is on the mantle in the first act, it must go off in the third.' I
write one-act plays. Wrote. But it seemed to me that the knife had been
in act one, when Krishna dragged me into the bathroom.

"Or maybe act one was when he brought it home, after I showed him my
wings.

"And act two had been my night in the park. And act three was then,
standing over him with the knife, cold and sore and tired, looking at
the blood crusted on his face."

Her face and her voice got very, very small, her expression distant. "I
almost used it on myself. I almost opened my wrists onto his face. He
liked it when I... rode... his face. Like the hot juices. Seemed
mean-spirited to spill all that hot juice and deny him that pleasure. I
thought about using it on him, too, but only for a second.

"Only for a second.

"And then he rolled over and his hands clenched into fists in his sleep
and his expression changed, like he was dreaming about something that
made him angry. So I left.

"Do you want to know about when I first showed him these?" she said, and
flapped her wings lazily.

She took the ice pack from her face and he could see that the swelling
had gone down, the discoloration faded to a dim shadow tinged with
yellows and umbers.

He did, but he didn't. The breeze of her great wings was strangely
intimate, that smell more intimate than his touches or the moment in
which he'd glimpsed her fine, weighty breasts with their texture of
stretch marks and underwire grooves. He was awkward, foolish feeling.

"I don't think I do," he said at last. "I think that we should save some
things to tell each other for later."

She blinked, slow and lazy, and one tear rolled down and dripped off her
nose, splashing on the red T-shirt and darkening it to wineish purple.

"Will you sit with me?" she said.

He crossed the room and sat on the other end of the sofa, his hand on
the seam that joined the two halves together, crossing the border into
her territory, an invitation that could be refused without awkwardness.

She covered his hand with hers, and hers was cold and smooth but not
distant: immediate, scritching and twitching against his skin. Slowly,
slowly, she leaned toward him, curling her wing round his far shoulder
like a blanket or a lover's arm, head coming to rest on his chest,
breath hot on his nipple through the thin fabric of his T-shirt.

"Alan?" she murmured into his chest.

"Yes?"

"What are we?" she said.

"Huh?"

"Are we human? Where do we come from? How did we get here? Why do I have
wings?"

He closed his eyes and found that they'd welled up with tears. Once the
first tear slid down his cheek, the rest came, and he was crying,
weeping silently at first and then braying like a donkey in sobs that
started in his balls and emerged from his throat like vomit, gushing out
with hot tears and hot snot.

Mimi enveloped him in her wings and kissed his tears away, working down
his cheeks to his neck, his Adam's apple.

He snuffled back a mouthful of mucus and salt and wailed, "I don't
know!"

She snugged her mouth up against his collarbone. "Krishna does," she
whispered into his skin. She tugged at the skin with her teeth. "What
about your family?"

He swallowed a couple of times, painfully aware of her lips and breath
on his skin, the enveloping coolth of her wings, and the smell in every
breath he took. He wanted to blow his nose, but he couldn't move without
breaking the spell, so he hoarked his sinuses back into his throat and
drank the oozing oyster of self-pity that slid down his throat.

"My family?"

"I don't have a family, but you do," she said. "Your family must know."

"They don't," he said.

"Maybe you haven't asked them properly. When are you leaving?"

"Today."

"Driving?"

"Got a rental car," he said.

"Room for one more?"

"Yes," he said.

"Then take me," she said.

"All right," he said. She raised her head and kissed him on the lips,
and he could taste the smell now, and the blood roared in his ears as
she straddled his lap, grinding her mons -- hot through the thin cotton
of her skirt -- against him. They slid down on the sofa and they groaned
into each others' mouths, his voice box resonating with hers.

#

He parked the rental car in the driveway, finishing his cell phone
conversation with Lyman and then popping the trunk before getting
out. He glanced reflexively up at Mimi and Krishna's windows, saw the
blinds were still drawn.

When he got to the living room, Mimi was bent over a suitcase, forcing
it closed. Two more were lined up beside the door, along with three
shopping bags filled with tupperwares and ziplocs of food from his
fridge.

"I've borrowed some of your clothes," she said. "Didn't want to have to
go back for mine. Packed us a picnic, too."

He planted his hands on his hips. "You thought of everything, huh?" he
said.

She cast her eyes down. "I'm sorry," she said in a small voice. "I
couldn't go home." Her wings unfolded and folded down again nervously.

He went and stood next to her. He could still smell the sex on her, and
on him. A livid hickey stood out on her soft skin on her throat. He
twined her fingers in his and dropped his face down to her ear.

"It's okay," he said huskily. "I'm glad you did it."

She turned her head and brushed her lips over his, brushed her hand over
his groin. He groaned softly.

"We have to get driving," he said.

"Yes," she said. "Load the car, then bring it around the side. I'll lie
down on the back seat until we're out of the neighborhood."

"You've thought about this a lot, huh?"

"It's all I've thought of," she said.

#

She climbed over the back seat once they cleared Queen Street, giggling
as her wings, trapped under her jacket, brushed the roof of the big
Crown Victoria he'd rented. She prodded at the radio and found a college
station, staticky and amateurish, and nodded her head along with the
mash-up mixes and concert bootlegs the DJ was spinning.

Alan watched her in the rearview and felt impossibly old and
strange. She'd been an incredible and attentive lover, using her hands
and mouth, her breasts and wings, her whole body to keep him quivering
on the brink of orgasm for what felt like hours, before finally giving
him release, and then had guided him around her body with explicit
instructions and firm hands on his shoulders. When she came, she
squeezed him between her thighs and screamed into his neck, twitching
and shuddering for a long time afterward, holding him tight, murmuring
nonsense and hot breath.

In the dark, she'd seemed older. His age, or some indeterminate
age. Now, sitting next to him, privately spazzing out to the beat, she
seemed, oh, 12 or so. A little girl. He felt dirty.

"Where are we going?" she said, rolling down the window and shouting
over the wind as they bombed up the Don Valley Parkway. The traffic had
let up at Sheppard, and now they were making good time, heading for the
faceless surburbs of Richmond Hill and Thornhill, and beyond.

"North," he said. "Past Kapuskasing."

She whistled. "How long a drive is it?"

"Fifteen hours. Twenty, maybe. Depends on the roads -- you can hit
cottage traffic or a bad accident and get hung up for hours. There are
good motels between Huntsville and North Bay if we get tired out. Nice
neon signs, magic fingers beds. A place I like has 'Swiss Cabins' and
makes a nice rosti for dinner."

"God, that's a long trip," she said.

"Yeah," he said, wondering if she wanted out. "I can pull off here and
give you cab fare to the subway station if you wanna stay."

"No!" she said quickly. "No. Want to go."

#

She fed him as he drove, slicing cheese and putting it on crackers with
bits of olive or pepper or salami. It appeared that she'd packed his
entire fridge in the picnic bags.

After suppertime, she went to work on an apple, and he took a closer
look at the knife she was using. It was a big, black hunting knife, with
a compass built into the handle. The blade was black except right at the
edge, where it gleamed sharp in the click-clack of the passing highway
lights.

He was transfixed by it, and the car drifted a little, sprayed gravel
from the shoulder, and he overcorrected and fishtailed a little. She
looked up in alarm.

"You brought the knife," he said, in response to her unasked question.

"Couldn't leave it with him," she said. "Besides, a sharp knife is
handy."

"Careful you don't slice anything off, okay?"

"I never cut anything *unintentionally*," she said in a silly-dramatic
voice, and socked him in the shoulder.

He snorted and went back to the driving, putting the hammer down, eating
up the kilometers toward Huntsville and beyond.

She fed him slices of apple and ate some herself, then rolls of ham with
little pieces of pear in them, then sips of cherry juice from a glass
bottle.

"Enough," he said at last. "I'm stuffed, woman!"

She laughed. "Skinny little fucker -- gotta put some meat on your
bones." She tidied the dinner detritus into an empty shopping bag and
tossed it over her shoulder into the back seat.

"So," she said. "How long since you've been home?"

He stared at the road for a while. "Fifteen years," he said. "Never been
back since I left."

She stared straight forward and worked her hand under his thigh, so he
was sitting on it, then wriggled her knuckles.

"I've never been home," she said.

He wrinkled his brow. "What's that mean?" he said.

"It's a long story," she said.

"Well, let's get off the highway and get a room and you can tell me,
okay?"

"Sure," she said.

#

They ended up at the Timberline Wilderness Lodge and Pancake House, and
Mimi clapped her hands at the silk-flowers-and-waterbeds ambience of the
room, fondled the grisly jackalope head on the wall, and started running
a tub while Alan carried in the suitcases.

She dramatically tossed her clothes, one item at a time, out the
bathroom door, through the clouds of steam, and he caught a glimpse of
her round, full ass, bracketed by her restless wings, as she poured into
the tub the bottle of cheap bubble-bath she'd bought in the lobby.

He dug a T-shirt and a fresh pair of boxers to sleep in out of his
suitcase, feeling ridiculously modest as he donned them. His feet
crunched over cigarette burns and tangles in the brown shag carpet and
he wished he'd brought along some slippers. He flipped through both
snowy TV channels and decided that he couldn't stomach a televangelist
or a thirty-year-old sitcom right then and flicked it off, sitting on
the edge of the bed, listening to the splashing from the bathroom.

Mimi was in awfully good spirits, considering what she'd been through
with Krishna. He tried to think about it, trying to make sense of the
day and the girl, but the splashing from the tub kept intruding on his
thoughts.

She began to sing, and after a second he recognized the tune. "White
Rabbit," by the Jefferson Airplane. Not the kind of thing he'd expect
her to be giving voice to; nor she, apparently, for she kept breaking
off to giggle. Finally, he poked his head through the door.

She was folded into the tub, knees and tits above the foamline, wings
slick with water and dripping in the tile. Her hands were out of sight
beneath the suds. She caught his eye and grinned crazily, then her hands
shot out of the pool, clutching the hunting knife.

"*Put on the White Rabbit!*" she howled, cackling fiendishly.

He leapt back and she continued to cackle. "Come back, come back," she
choked. "I'm doing the tub scene from *Fear and Loathing in Las
Vegas*. I thought you were into reading?"

He cautiously peeked around the doorjamb, playing it up for comic
effect. "Give me the knife," he said.

"Awww," she said, handing it over, butt first. He set it down on the
dresser, then hurried back to the bathroom.

"Haven't you read all those books?"

Alan grinned. "What's the point of a bunch of books you've already
read?" He dropped his boxers and stripped off his T-shirt and climbed
into the tub, sloshing gallons of water over the scummy tile floor.

#

When I was two years old,

(she said, later, as she reclined against the headboard and he reclined
against her, their asses deforming the rusted springs of the mattress so
that it sloped toward them and the tins of soda they'd opened to
replenish their bodily fluids lost in sweat and otherwise threatened to
tip over on the slope; she encased him in her wings, shutting out the
light and filling their air with the smell of cinnamon and pepper from
the downy hair)

When I was two years old,

(she said, speaking into the shaggy hair at the back of his neck, as his
sore muscles trembled and as the sweat dried to a white salt residue on
his skin, as he lay there in the dark of the room and the wings,
watching the constellation of reflected clock-radio lights in the black
TV screen)

When I was two years old,

(she began, her body tensing from toes to tip in a movement that he felt
along the length of his body, portending the time when lovers close
their eyes and open their mouths and utter the secrets that they hide
from everyone, even themselves)

When I was two years old, my wings were the size of a cherub's, and they
had featherlets that were white as snow. I lived with my "aunt," an old
Russian lady near Downsview Air Force Base, a blasted suburb where the
shops all closed on Saturday for Sabbath and the black-hatted Hasids
marked the days by walking from one end to the other on their way to
temple.

The old Russian lady took me out for walks in a big black baby buggy the
size of a bathtub. She tucked me in tight so that my wings were pinned
beneath me. But when we were at home, in her little apartment with the
wind-up Sputnik that played "The Internationale," she would let my wings
out and light the candles and watch me wobble around the room, my wings
flapping, her chin in her hands, her eyes bright. She made me mashed up
cabbage and seed and beef, and bottles of dilute juice. For dessert, we
had hard candies, and I'd toddle around with my toys, drooling sugar
syrup while the old Russian lady watched.

By the time I was four, the feathers had all fallen out, and I was
supposed to go to school, I knew that. "Auntie" had explained to me that
the kids that I saw passing by were on their way to school, and that I'd
go some day and learn, too.

She didn't speak much English, so I grew up speaking a creole of
Russian, Ukrainian, Polish and English, and I used my words to ask her,
with more and more insistence, when I'd get to go to class.

I couldn't read or write, and neither could she. But I could take apart
gadgets like nobody's business. Someone -- maybe Auntie's long dead
husband -- had left her a junky tool kit with cracked handles and
chipped tips, and I attacked anything that I could get unplugged from
the wall: the big cabinet TV and radio, the suitcase record player, the
Sputnik music box. I unwired the lamps and peered at the workings of the
electric kitchen clock.

That was four. Five was the year I put it all back together again. I
started with the lamps, then the motor in the blender, then the toaster
elements. I made the old TV work. I don't think I knew how any of it
*really* worked -- couldn't tell you a thing about, you know, electrical
engineering, but I just got a sense of how it was *supposed* to go
together.

Auntie didn't let me out of the apartment after five. I could watch the
kids go by from the window -- skinny Hasids with side-curls and
Filipinos with pretty ribbons and teenagers who smoked, but I couldn't
go to them. I watched *Sesame Street* and *Mr. Dressup* and I began to
soak up English. I began to soak up the idea of playing with other kids.

I began to soak up the fact that none of the kids on the TV had wings.

Auntie left me alone in the afternoons while she went out shopping and
banking and whatever else it was she did, and it was during those times
that I could get myself into her bedroom and go rooting around her
things.

She had a lot of mysterious beige foundation garments that were utterly
inexplicable, and a little box of jewelry that I liked to taste, because
the real gold tasted really rich when I sucked on it, and a stack of old
cigarette tins full of frayed photos.

The pictures were stiff and mysterious. Faces loomed out of featureless
black backgrounds: pop-eyed, jug-eared Russian farm boys, awkward farm
girls with process waves in their hair, everyone looking like they'd
been stuffed and mounted. I guess they were her relatives, because if
you squinted at them and cocked your head, you could kind of see her
features in theirs, but not saggy and wrinkled and three-chinned, but
young and tight and almost glowing. They all had big shoulders and
clothing that looked like the kind of thing the Hasids wore, black and
sober.

The faces were interesting, especially after I figured out that one of
them might belong to Auntie, but it was the blackness around them that
fascinated me. The boys had black suits and the girls wore black
dresses, and behind them was creased blackness, complete darkness, as
though they'd put their heads through a black curtain.

But the more I stared at the blackness, the more detail I picked out. I
noticed the edge of a curtain, a fold, in one photo, and when I looked
for it, I could just pick it out in the other photos. Eventually, I hit
on the idea of using a water glass as a magnifying lens, and as I
experimented with different levels of water, more detail leapt out of
the old pictures.

The curtains hanging behind them were dusty and wrinkled. They looked
like they were made of crushed velvet, like the Niagara Falls souvenir
pillow on Auntie's armchair in the living room, which had whorls of
paisley trimmed into them. I traced these whorls with my eye, and tried
to reproduce them with a ballpoint on paper bags I found under the sink.

And then, in one of the photos, I noticed that the patterns disappeared
behind and above the shoulders. I experimented with different water
levels in my glass to bring up the magnification, and I diligently
sketched. I'd seen a *Polka Dot Door* episode where the hosts showed how
you could draw a grid over an original image and a matching grid on a
sheet of blank paper and then copy over every square, reproducing the
image in manageable, bite-sized chunks.

That's what I did, using the edge of a nail file for a ruler, drawing my
grid carefully on the paper bag, and a matching one on the picture,
using the blunt tip of a dead pen to make a grid of indentations in the
surface of the photo.

And I sketched it out, one square at a time. Where the pattern was,
where it wasn't. What shapes the negative absence-of-pattern took in the
photos. As I drew, day after day, I realized that I was drawing the
shape of something black that was blocking the curtain behind.

Then I got excited. I drew in my steadiest hand, tracing each curve,
using my magnifier, until I had the shape drawn and defined, and long
before I finished, I knew what I was drawing and I drew it anyway. I
drew it and then I looked at my paper sack and I saw that what I had
drawn was a pair of wings, black and powerful, spread out and stretching
out of the shot.

#

She curled the prehensile tips of her wings up the soles of his feet,
making him go, Yeek! and jump in the bed.

"Are you awake?" she said, twisting her head around to brush her lips
over his.

"Rapt," he said.

She giggled and her tits bounced.

"Good," she said. "'Cause this is the important part."

#

Auntie came home early that day and found me sitting at her vanity, with
the photos and the water glass and the drawings on the paper sacks
spread out before me.

Our eyes met for a moment. Her pupils shrank down to tiny dots, I
remember it, remember seeing them vanish, leaving behind rings of
yellowed hazel. One of her hands lashed out in a claw and sank into my
hair. She lifted me out of the chair by my hair before I'd even had a
chance to cry out, almost before I'd registered the fact that she was
hurting me -- she'd never so much as spanked me until then.

She was strong, in that slow old Russian lady way, strong enough to
grunt ten sacks of groceries in a bundle-buggy up the stairs to the
apartment. When she picked me up and tossed me, it was like being fired
out of a cannon. I rebounded off the framed motel-room art over the bed,
shattering the glass, and bounced twice on the mattress before coming to
rest on the floor. My arm was hanging at a funny angle, and when I tried
to move it, it hurt so much that I heard a high sound in my ears like a
dog whistle.

I lay still as the old lady yanked the drawers out of her vanity and
upended them on the floor until she found an old book of matches. She
swept the photos and my sketches into the tin wastebasket and then lit a
match with trembling hands and dropped it in. It went out. She repeated
it, and on the fourth try she got the idea of using the match to light
all the remaining matches in the folder and drop that into the bin. A
moment later, it was burning cheerfully, spitting curling red embers
into the air on clouds of dark smoke. I buried my face in the matted
carpet and tried not to hear that high note, tried to will away the sick
grating feeling in my upper arm.

She was wreathed in smoke, choking, when she finally turned to me. For a
moment, I refused to meet her eye, sure that she would kill me if I did,
would see the guilt and the knowledge in my face and keep her secret
with murder. I'd watched enough daytime television to know about dark
secrets.

But when she bent down to me, with the creak of stretching elastic, and
she lifted me to my feet and bent to look me in the eye, she had tears
in her eyes.

She went to the pile of oddments and junk jewelry that she had dumped
out on the floor and sorted through it until she found a pair of sewing
shears, then she cut away my T-shirt, supporting my broken arm with her
hand. My wings were flapping nervously beneath the fabric, and it got
tangled, and she took firm hold of the wingtips and folded them down to
my back and freed the shirt and tossed it in the pile of junk on her
normally spotless floor.

She had spoken to me less and less since I had fixed the television and
begun to pick up English, and now she was wordless as she gently rotated
my fingerbones and my wristbones, my elbow and my shoulder, minute
movements, listening for my teakettle hiss when she hit the sore spots.

"Is broken," she said. "*Cholera*," she said. "I am so sorry, *lovenu*,"
she said.

#

"I've never been to the doctor's," she said. "Never had a pap smear or
been felt for lumps. Never, ever had an X-ray. Feel this," she said, and
put her upper arm before his face. He took it and ran his fingertips
over it, finding a hard bump halfway along, opposite her fleshy bicep.

"What's this?" he said.

"It's how a bone sets if you have a bad break and don't get a
cast. Crooked."

"Jesus," he said, giving it another squeeze. Now that he knew what it
was, he thought -- or perhaps fancied -- that he could feel how the
unevenly splintered pieces of bone mated together, met at a slight angle
and fused together by the knitting process.

"She made me a sling, and she fed me every meal and brushed my teeth. I
had to stop her from following me into the toilet to wipe me up. And I
didn't care: She could have broken both of my arms if she'd only
explained the photos to me, or left them with me so that I could go on
investigating them, but she did neither. She hardly spoke a word to me."

She resettled herself against the pillows, then pulled him back against
her again and plumped his head against her breasts.

"Are you falling in love with me?" she said.

He startled. The way she said it, she didn't sound like a young adult,
she sounded like a small child.

"Mimi --" he began, then stopped himself. "I don't think so. I mean, I
like you --"

"Good," she said. "No falling in love, all right?"

#

Auntie died six months later. She keeled over on the staircase on her
way up to the apartment, and I heard her moaning and thrashing out
there. I hauled her up the stairs with my good arm, and she crawled
along on her knees, making gargling noises.

I got her laid out on the rug in the living room. I tried to get her up
on the sofa, but I couldn't budge her. So I gave her pillows from the
sofa and water and then I tried tea, but she couldn't take it. She threw
up once, and I soaked it up with a tea towel that had fussy roses on it.

She took my hand and her grip was weak, her strong hands suddenly thin
and shaky.

It took an hour for her to die.

When she died, she made a rasping, rattling sound and then she shat
herself. I could smell it.

It was all I could smell, as I sat there in the little apartment, six
years old, hot as hell outside and stuffy inside. I opened the windows
and watched the Hasids walk past. I felt like I should *do something*
for the old lady, but I didn't know what.

I formulated a plan. I would go outside and bring in some grown-up to
take care of the old lady. I would do the grocery shopping and eat
sandwiches until I was twelve, at which point I would be grown up and I
would get a job fixing televisions.

I marched into my room and changed into my best clothes, the little
Alice-blue dress I wore to dinner on Sundays, and I brushed my hair and
put on my socks with the blue pom-poms at the ankles, and found my shoes
in the hall closet. But it had been three years since I'd last worn the
shoes, and I could barely fit three toes in them. The old lady's shoes
were so big I could fit both feet in either one.

I took off my socks -- sometimes I'd seen kids going by barefoot
outside, but never in just socks -- and reached for the doorknob. I
touched it.

I stopped.

I turned around again.

There was a stain forming under Auntie, piss and shit and death-juice,
and as I looked at her, I had a firm sense that it wouldn't be *right*
to bring people up to her apartment with her like this. I'd seen dead
people on TV. They were propped up on pillows, in clean hospital
nighties, with rouged cheeks. I didn't know how far I could get, but I
thought I owed it to her to try.

I figured that it was better than going outside.

She was lighter in death, as though something had fled her. I could drag
her into the bathroom and prop her on the edge of the tub. I needed to
wash her before anyone else came up.

I cut away her dress with the sewing shears. She was wearing an elastic
girdle beneath, and an enormous brassiere, and they were too tough --
too tight -- to cut through, so I struggled with their hooks, each one
going *spung* as I unhooked it, revealing red skin beneath it, pinched
and sore-looking.

When I got to her bra, I had a moment's pause. She was a modest person
-- I'd never even seen her legs without tan compression hose, but the
smell was overwhelming, and I just held to that vision of her in a
nightie and clean sheets and, you know, *went for it*.

Popped the hooks. Felt it give way as her breasts forced it off her
back. Found myself staring at.

Two little wings.

The size of my thumbs. Bent and cramped. Broken. Folded. There, over her
shoulder blades. I touched them, and they were cold and hard as a turkey
neck I'd once found in the trash after she'd made soup with it.

#

"How did you get out?"

"With my wings?"

"Yeah. With your wings, and with no shoes, and with the old lady dead
over the tub?"

She nuzzled his neck, then bit it, then kissed it, then bit it
again. Brushed her fingers over his nipples.

"I don't know," she breathed, hot in his ear.

He arched his back. "You don't know?"

"I don't know. That's all I remember, for five years."

He arched his back again, and raked his fingertips over her thighs,
making her shudder and jerk her wings back.

That's when he saw the corpse at the foot of the bed. It was George.

#

He went back to school the day after they buried Davey. He bathed all
the brothers in the hot spring and got their teeth brushed, and he fed
them a hot breakfast of boiled mushroom-and-jerky stew, and he gathered
up their schoolbooks from the forgotten corners of the winter cave and
put them into school bags. Then he led them down the hillside on a
spring day that smelled wonderful: loam and cold water coursing down the
mountainside in rivulets, and new grass and new growth drying out in a
hard white sun that seemed to spring directly overhead five minutes
after it rose.

They held hands as they walked down the hill, and then
Elliot-Franky-George broke away and ran down the hill to the roadside,
skipping over the stones and holding their belly as they flew down the
hillside. Alan laughed at the impatient jig they danced as they waited
for him and Brad to catch up with them, and Brad put an arm around his
shoulder and kissed him on the cheek in a moment of uncharacteristic
demonstrativeness.

He marched right into Mr. Davenport's office with his brothers in tow.

"We're back," he said.

Mr. Davenport peered at them over the tops of his glasses. "You are, are
you?"

"Mom took sick," he said. "Very sick. We had to go live with our aunt,
and she was too far away for us to get to school."

"I see," Mr. Davenport said.

"I taught the littler ones as best as I could," Alan said. He liked
Mr. Davenport, understood him. He had a job to do, and needed everything
to be accounted for and filed away. It was okay for Alan and his
brothers to miss months of school, provided that they had a good excuse
when they came back. Alan could respect that. "And I read ahead in my
textbooks. I think we'll be okay."

"I'm sure you will be," Mr. Davenport said. "How is your mother now?"

"She's better," he said. "But she was very sick. In the hospital."

"What was she sick with?"

Alan hadn't thought this far ahead. He knew how to lie to adults, but he
was out of practice. "Cancer," he said, thinking of Marci's mother.

"Cancer?" Mr. Davenport said, staring hard at him.

"But she's better now," Alan said.

"I see. You boys, why don't you get to class? Alan, please wait here a
moment."

His brothers filed out of the room. and Alan shuffled nervously, looking
at the class ring on Mr. Davenport's hairy finger, remembering the time
that Davey had kicked him. He'd never asked Alan where Davey was after
that, and Alan had never offered, and it had been as though they shared
a secret.

"Are you all right, Alan?" he asked, settling down behind his desk,
taking off his glasses.

"Yes, sir," Alan said.

"You're getting enough to eat at home? There's a quiet place where you
can work?"

"Yes," Alan said, squirming. "It's fine, now that Mom is home."

"I see," Mr. Davenport said. "Listen to me, son," he said, putting his
hands flat on the desk. "The school district has some resources
available: clothes, lunch vouchers, Big Brother programs. They're not
anything you have to be ashamed of. It's not charity, it's just a little
booster. A bit of help. The other children, their parents are well and
they live in town and have lots of advantages that you and your brothers
lack. This is just how we level the playing field. You're a very bright
lad, and your brothers are growing up well, but it's no sin to accept a
little help."

Alan suddenly felt like laughing. "We're not underprivileged," he said,
thinking of the mountain, of the feeling of being encompassed by love of
his father, of the flakes of soft, lustrous gold the golems produced by
the handful. "We're very well off," he said, thinking of home, now free
of Davey and his hateful, spiteful anger. "Thank you, though," he said,
thinking of his life unfolding before him, free from the terror of
Davey's bites and spying and rocks thrown from afar.

Mr. Davenport scowled and stared hard at him. Alan met his stare and
smiled. "It's time for classes," he said. "Can I go?"

"Go," Mr. Davenport said. He shook his head. "But remember, you can
always come here if you have anything you want to talk to me about."

"I'll remember," Alan said.

#

Six years later, Bradley was big and strong and he was the star goalie
of all the hockey teams in town, in front of the puck before it arrived,
making desperate, almost nonchalant saves that had them howling in the
stands, stomping their feet, and sloshing their Tim Horton's coffee over
the bleachers, to freeze into brown ice. In the summer, he was the star
pitcher on every softball team, and the girls trailed after him like a
long comet tail after the games when the other players led him away to a
park to drink illicit beers.

Alan watched his games from afar, with his schoolbooks on his lap, and
Eric-Franz-Greg nearby playing trucks or reading or gnawing on a sucker.

By the ninth inning or the final period, the young ones would be too
tired to play, and they'd come and lean heavily against Alan, like a bag
of lead pressing on him, eyes half open, and Alan would put an arm
around them and feel at one with the universe.

It snowed on the afternoon of the season opener for the town softball
league that year, fat white wet flakes that kissed your cheeks and
melted away in an instant, so soft that you weren't sure they'd be there
at all. Bradley caught up with Alan on their lunch break, at the
cafeteria in the high school two blocks from the elementary school. He
had his mitt with him and a huge grin.

"You planning on playing through the snow?" Alan said, as he set down
his cheeseburger and stared out the window at the diffuse white radiance
of the April noontime bouncing off the flakes.

"It'll be gone by tonight. Gonna be *warm*," Bradley said, and nodded at
his jock buddies sitting at their long table, sucking down Cokes and
staring at the girls. "Gonna be a good game. I know it."

Bradley knew. He knew when they were getting shorted at the assayers'
when they brought in the golems' gold, just as he knew that showing up
for lunch with a brown bag full of dried squirrel jerky and mushrooms
and lemongrass was a surefire way to end up social roadkill in the high
school hierarchy, as was dressing like someone who'd been caught in an
explosion at the Salvation Army, and so he had money and he had burgers
and he had a pair of narrow-leg jeans from the Gap and a Roots
sweatshirt and a Stussy baseball hat and Reebok sneakers and he looked,
basically, like a real person.

Alan couldn't say the same for himself, but he'd been making an effort
since Bradley got to high school, if only to save his brother the
embarrassment of being related to the biggest reject in the building --
but Alan still managed to exude his don't-fuck-with-me aura enough that
no one tried to cozy up to him and make friends with him and scrutinize
his persona close in, which was just as he wanted it.

Bradley watched a girl walk past, a cute thing with red hair and
freckles and a skinny rawboned look, and Alan remembered that she'd been
sitting next to him in class for going on two years now and he'd never
bothered to learn her name.

And he'd never bothered to notice that she was a dead ringer for Marci.

"I've always had a thing for redheads," Bradley said. "Because of you,"
he said. "You and your girlfriend. I mean, if she was good enough for
*you*, well, she had to be the epitome of sophistication and
sexiness. Back then, you were like a god to me, so she was like a
goddess. I imprinted on her, like the baby ducks in Bio. It's amazing
how much of who I am today I can trace back to those days. Who knew that
it was all so important?"

He was a smart kid, introspective without being
moody. Integrated. Always popping off these fine little observations in
between his easy jokes. The girls adored him, the boys admired him, the
teachers were grateful for him and the way he bridged the gap between
scholarship and athleticism.

"I must have been a weird kid," he said. "All that quiet."

"You were a great kid," Alan said. "It was a lot of fun back then,
mostly."

"Mostly," he said.

They both stared at the girl, who noticed them now, and blushed and
looked confused. Bradley looked away, but Alvin held his gaze on her,
and she whispered to a friend, who looked at him, and they both laughed,
and then Alan looked away, too, sorry that he'd inadvertently interacted
with his fellow students. He was supposed to watch, not participate.

"He was real," Bradley said, and Alan knew he meant Davey.

"Yeah," Alan said.

"I don't think the little ones really remember him -- he's more like a
bad dream to them. But he was real, wasn't he?"

"Yeah," Alan said. "But he's gone now."

"Was it right?"

"What do you mean?" Alan said. He felt a sear of anger arc along his
spine.

"It's nothing," Billy said, mumbling into his tray.

"What do you mean, Brad?" Alan said. "What else should we have done? How
can you have any doubts?"

"I don't," Brad said. "It's okay."

Alan looked down at his hands, which appeared to belong to someone else:
white lumps of dough clenched into hard fists, knuckles white. He made
himself unclench them. "No, it's *not* okay. Tell me about this. You
remember what he was like. What he...did."

"I remember it," Bryan said. "Of course I remember it." He was staring
through the table now, the look he got when he was contemplating a
future the rest of them couldn't see. "But."

Alan waited. He was trembling inside. He'd done the right thing. He'd
saved his family. He knew that. But for six years, he'd found himself
turning in his memory to the little boy on the ground, holding the loops
of intestine in through slippery red fingers. For six years, whenever
he'd been somewhere quiet long enough that his own inner voices fell
still, he'd remember the hair in his fist, the knife's thirsty draught
as it drew forth the hot splash of blood from Davey's throat. He'd
remembered the ragged fissure that opened down Clarence's length and the
way that Davey fell down it, so light and desiccated he was almost
weightless.

"If you remember it, then you know I did the right thing. I did the only
thing."

"*We* did the only thing," Brian said, and covered Alan's hand with his.

Alan nodded and stared at his cheeseburger. "You'd better go catch up
with your friends," he said.

"I love you, Adam," he said.

"I love you, too."

Billy crossed the room, nodding to the people who greeted him from every
table, geeks and jocks and band and all the meaningless tribes of the
high school universe. The cute redhead sprinkled a wiggle-finger wave at
him, and he nodded at her, the tips of his ears going pink.

#

The snow stopped by three p.m., and the sun came out and melted it away,
so that by the time the game started at five-thirty, its only remnant
was the soggy ground around the bleachers with the new grass growing out
of the ragged brown memory of last summer's lawn.

Alan took the little ones for dinner at the diner after school, letting
them order double chocolate-chip pancakes. At 13, they'd settled into a
fatness that made him think of a foam-rubber toy, the rolls and dimples
at their wrists and elbows and knees like the seams on a doll.

"You're starting high school next year?" Alan said, as they were pouring
syrup on their second helping. He was startled by this -- how had they
gotten so old so quickly?

"Uh-huh," Eli said. "I guess."

"So you're graduating from elementary school this spring?"

"Yeah." Eli grinned a chocolate smile at him. "It's no big deal. There's
a party, though."

"Where?"

"At some kid's house."

"It's okay," Alan said. "We can celebrate at home. Don't let them get to
you."

"We can't go?" Ed suddenly looked a little panicked.

"You're invited?" He blurted it out and then wished he hadn't.

"Of course we're invited," Fred said from inside Ed's throat. "There's
going to be dancing."

"You can dance?" Alan asked.

"We can!" Ed said.

"We learned in gym," Greg said, with the softest, proudest voice, deep
within them.

"Well," Alan said. He didn't know what to say. High
school. Dancing. Invited to parties. No one had invited him to parties
when he'd graduated from elementary school, and he'd been too busy with
the little ones to go in any event. He felt a little jealous, but mostly
proud. "Want a milkshake?" he asked, mentally totting up the cash in his
pocket and thinking that he should probably send Brad to dicker with the
assayer again soon.

"No, thank you," Ed said. "We're watching our weight."

Alan laughed, then saw they weren't joking and tried to turn it into a
cough, but it was too late. Their shy, chocolate smile turned into a
rubber-lipped pout.

#

The game started bang on time at six p.m., just as the sun was
setting. The diamond lights flicked on with an audible click and made a
spot of glare that cast out the twilight.

Benny was already on the mound, he'd been warming up with the catcher,
tossing them in fast and exuberant and confident and controlled. He
looked good on the mound. The ump called the start, and the batter
stepped up to the plate, and Benny struck him out in three pitches, and
the little ones went nuts, cheering their brother on along with the
other fans in the bleachers, a crowd as big as any you'd ever see
outside of school, thirty or forty people.

The second batter stepped up and Benny pitched a strike, another strike,
and then a wild pitch that nearly beaned the batter in the head. The
catcher cocked his mask quizzically, and Benny kicked the dirt and
windmilled his arm a little and shook his head.

He tossed another wild one, this one coming in so low that it
practically rolled across the plate. His teammates were standing up in
their box now, watching him carefully.

"Stop kidding around," Alan heard one of them say. "Just strike him
out."

Benny smiled, spat, caught the ball, and shrugged his shoulders. He
wound up, made ready to pitch, and then dropped the ball and fell to his
knees, crying out as though he'd been struck.

Alan grabbed the little ones' hand and pushed onto the diamond before
Benny's knees hit the ground. He caught up with Benny as he keeled over
sideways, bringing his knees up to his chest, eyes open and staring and
empty.

Alan caught his head and cradled it on his lap and was dimly aware that
a crowd had formed round them. He felt Barry's heart thundering in his
chest, and his arms were stuck straight out to his sides, one hand in
his pitcher's glove, the other clenched tightly around the ball.

"It's a seizure," someone said from the crowd. "Is he an epileptic? It's
a seizure."

Someone tried to prize Alan's fingers from around Barry's head and he
grunted and hissed at them, and they withdrew.

"Barry?" Alan said, looking into Barry's face. That faraway look in his
eyes, a million miles away. Alan knew he'd seen it before, but not in
years.

The eyes came back into focus, closed, opened. "Davey's back," Barry
said.

Alan's skin went cold and he realized that he was squeezing Barry's head
like a melon. He relaxed his grip and helped him to his feet, got
Barry's arm around his shoulders, and helped him off the diamond.

"You okay?" one of the players asked as they walked past him, but Barry
didn't answer. The little ones were walking beside them now, clutching
Barry's hand, and they turned their back on the town as a family and
walked toward the mountain.

#

George had come to visit him once before, not long after Alan'd moved to
Toronto. He couldn't come without bringing down Elliot and Ferdinand, of
course, but it was George's idea to visit, that was clear from the
moment they rang the bell of the slightly grotty apartment he'd moved
into in the Annex, near the students who were barely older than him but
seemed to belong to a different species.

They were about 16 by then, and fat as housecats, with the same sense of
grace and inertia in their swinging bellies and wobbling chins.

Alan welcomed them in. Edward was wearing a pair of wool trousers pulled
nearly up to his nipples and short suspenders that were taut over his
sweat-stained white shirt. He was grinning fleshily, his hair damp with
sweat and curled with the humidity.

He opened his mouth, and George's voice emerged. "This place is..." He
stood with his mouth open, while inside him, George
thought. "*Incredible.* I'd never..." He closed his mouth, then opened
it again. "*Dreamed*. What a..."

Now Ed spoke. "Jesus, figure out what you're going to say before you say
it, willya? This is just plain --"

"Rude," came Fede's voice from his mouth.

"I'm sorry," came George's voice.

Ed was working on his suspenders, then unbuttoning his shirt and
dropping his pants, so that he stood in grimy jockeys with his slick,
tight, hairy belly before Alan. He tipped himself over, and then Alan
was face-to-face with Freddy, who was wearing a T-shirt and a pair of
boxer shorts with blue and white stripes. Freddy was scowling comically,
and Alan hid a grin behind his hand.

Freddy tipped to one side and there was George, short and delicately
formed and pale as a frozen french fry. He grabbed Freddy's hips like
handles and scrambled out of him, springing into the air and coming down
on the balls of his feet, holding his soccer-ball-sized gut over his
Hulk Underoos.

"It's incredible," he hooted, dancing from one foot to the other. "It's
brilliant! God! I'm never, ever going home!"

"Oh, yes?" Alan said, not bothering to hide his smile as Frederick and
George separated and righted themselves. "And where will you sleep,
then?"

"Here!" he said, running around the tiny apartment, opening the fridge
and the stove and the toaster oven, flushing the toilet, turning on the
shower faucets.

"Sorry," Alan called as he ran by. "No vacancies at the Hotel Anders!"

"Then I won't sleep!" he cried on his next pass. "I'll play all night
and all day in the streets. I'll knock on every door on every street and
introduce myself to every person and learn their stories and read their
books and meet their kids and pet their dogs!"

"You're bonkers," Alan said, using the word that the lunch lady back at
school had used when chastising them for tearing around the cafeteria.

"Easy for you to say," Greg said, skidding to a stop in front of
him. "Easy for you -- you're *here*, you got *away*, you don't have to
deal with *Davey* --" He closed his mouth and his hand went to his lips.

Alan was still young and had a penchant for the dramatic, so he went
around to the kitchen and pulled a bottle of vodka out of the freezer
and banged it down on the counter, pouring out four shots. He tossed
back his shot and returned the bottle to the freezer.

George followed suit and choked and turned purple, but managed to keep
his expression neutral. Fred and Ed each took a sip, then set the drinks
down with a sour face.

"How's home?" Alan said quietly, sliding back to sit on the minuscule
counter surface in his kitchenette.

"It's okay," Ed mumbled, perching on the arm of the Goodwill sofa that
came with the apartment. Without his brothers within him, he moved
sprightly and lightly.

"It's fine," Fred said, looking out the window at the street below,
craning his neck to see Bloor Street and the kids smoking out front of
the Brunswick House.

"It's awful," Greg said, and pulled himself back up on the counter with
them. "And I'm not going back."

The two older brothers looked balefully at him, then mutely appealed to
Alan. This was new -- since infancy, Earl-Frank-Geoff had acted with
complete unity of will. When they were in the first grade, Alan had
wondered if they were really just one person in three parts -- that was
how close their agreements were.

"Brian left last week," Greg said, and drummed his heels on the
grease-streaked cabinet doors. "Didn't say a word to any of us, just
left. He comes and goes like that all the time. Sometimes for weeks."

Craig was halfway around the world, he was in Toronto, and Brian was
God-knew-where. That left just Ed-Fred-George and Davey, alone in the
cave. No wonder they were here on his doorstep.

"What's he doing?"

"He just sits there and watches us, but that's enough. We're almost
finished with school." He dropped his chin to his chest. "I thought we
could finish here. Find a job. A place to live." He blushed
furiously. "A girl."

Ed and Fred were staring at their laps. Alan tried to picture the
logistics, but he couldn't, not really. There was no scenario in which
he could see his brothers carrying on with --

"Don't be an idiot," Ed said. He sounded surprisingly bitter. He was
usually a cheerful person -- or at least a fat and smiling person. Alan
realized for the first time that the two weren't equivalent.

George jutted his chin toward the sofa and his brothers. "They don't
know what they want to do. They think that, 'cause it'll be hard to live
here, we should hide out in the cave forever."

"Alan, talk to him," Fred said. "He's nuts."

"Look," George said. "You're gone. You're *all* gone. The king under the
mountain now is Davey. If we stay there, we'll end up his slaves or his
victims. Let him keep it. There's a whole world out here we can live in.

"I don't see any reason to let my handicap keep me down."

"It's not a handicap," Edward said patiently. "It's just how we
are. We're different. We're not like the rest of them."

"Neither is Alan," George said. "And here he is, in the big city, living
with them. Working. Meeting people. Out of the mountain."

"Alan's more like them than he is like us," Frederick said. "We're not
like them. We can't pass for them."

Alan's jaw hung slack. Handicapped? Passing? Like them? Not like them?
He'd never thought of his brothers this way. They were just his
brothers. Just his family. They could communicate with the outside
world. They were people. Different, but the same.

"You're just as good as they are," he said.

And that shut them up. They all regarded him, as if waiting for him to
go on. He didn't know what to say. Were they, really? Was he? Was he
better?

"What are we, Alan?" Edward said it, but Frederick and George mouthed
the words after he'd said them.

"You're my brothers," he said. "You're. . ."

"I want to see the city," George said. "You two can come with me, or you
can meet me when I come back."

"You *can't* go without us," Frederick said. "What if we get hungry?"

"You mean, what if I don't come back, right?"

"No," Frederick said, his face turning red.

"Well, how hungry are you going to get in a couple hours? You're just
worried that I'm going to wander off and not come back. Fall into a
hole. Meet a girl. Get drunk. And you won't ever be able to eat again."
He was pacing again.

Ed and Fred looked imploringly at him.

"Why don't we all go together?" Alan said. "We'll go out and do
something fun -- how about ice-skating?"

"Skating?" George said. "Jesus, I didn't ride a bus for 30 hours just to
go *skating*."

Edward said, "I want to sleep."

Frederick said, "I want dinner."

Perfect, Alan thought. "Perfect. We'll all be equally displeased with
this, then. The skating's out in front of City Hall. There are lots of
people there, and we can take the subway down. We'll have dinner
afterward on Queen Street, then turn in early and get a good night's
sleep. Tomorrow, we'll negotiate something else. Maybe Chinatown and the
zoo."

They are stared at him.

"This is a limited-time offer," Alan said. "I had other plans tonight,
you know. Going once, going twice --"

"Let's go," George said. He went and took his brothers' hands. "Let's
go, okay?"

They had a really good time.

#

George's body was propped up at the foot of the bed. He was white and
wrinkled as a big toe in a bathtub, skin pulled tight in his face so
that his hairline and eyebrows and cheeks seemed raised in surprise.

Alan smelled him now, a stink like a mouse dead between the gyprock in
the walls, the worst smell imaginable. He felt Mimi breathing behind
him, her chest heaving against his back. He reached out and pushed aside
the wings, moving them by their translucent membranes, fingers brushing
the tiny fingerlets at the wingtips, recognizing in their touch some
evolutionary connection with his own hands.

George toppled over as Alan stepped off the bed, moving in the twilight
of the light from under the bathroom door. Mimi came off the bed on the
other side and hit the overhead light switch, turning the room as bright
as an icebox, making Alan squint painfully. She closed the blinds
quickly, then went to the door and shot the chain and the deadbolt
closed.

Mimi looked down at him. "Ugly sumbitch, whoever he was."

"My brother," Alan said.

"Oh," she said. She went back around the bed and sat on the edge, facing
the wall. "Sorry." She crossed her leg and jiggled her foot, making the
springs squeak.

Alan wasn't listening. He knelt down and touched George's cheek. The
skin was soft and spongy, porous and saturated. Cold. His fingertips
came away with shed white flakes of translucent skin clinging to them.

"Davey?" Alan said. "Are you in here?"

Mimi's foot stilled. They both listened intently. There were night-time
sounds in the motel, distant muffled TVs and car engines and fucking,
but no sound of papery skin thudding on ground-down carpet.

"He must have come up through the drain," Alan said. "In the bathroom."
The broad pale moon of George's belly was abraded in long grey stripes.

He stood and, wiping his hand on his bare thigh, reached for the
bathroom doorknob. The door swung open, revealing the
sanitized-for-your-protection brightness of the bathroom, the water
sloshed on the floor by Mimi earlier, the heaps of damp towels.

"How'd he find us here?"

Mimi, in her outsized blazer and track pants, touched him on his bare
shoulder. He suddenly felt terribly naked. He backed out of the
bathroom, shoving Mimi aside, and numbly pulled on his jeans and a
shapeless sweatshirt that smelled of Mimi and had long curly hairs
lurking in the fabric that stuck to his face like cobwebs. He jammed his
feet into his sneakers.

He realized that he'd had to step over his brother's body six times to
do this.

He looked at his brother again. He couldn't make sense of what he was
seeing. The abraded belly. The rictus. His balls, shrunk to an albino
walnut, his cock shriveled up to unrecognizability. The hair, curly,
matted all over his body, patchily rubbed away.

He paced in the little run beside the bed, the only pacing room he had
that didn't require stepping over George's body, back and forth, two
paces, turn, two paces, turn.

"I'm going to cover him up," Mimi said.

"Good, fine," Alan said.

"Are you going to be okay?"

"Yes, fine," Alan said.

"Are you freaking out?"

Alan didn't say anything.

George looked an awful lot like Davey had, the day they killed him.

#

Mimi found a spare blanket in the closet, reeking of mothballs and
scarred with a few curdled cigarette burns, and she spread it out on the
floor and helped him lift Grant's body onto it and wind it tightly
around him.

"What now?" she said.

He looked down at the wound sheet, the lump within it. He sat down
heavily on the bed. His chest was tight, and his breath came in short
*hup*s.

She sat beside him and put an arm around his shoulder, tried to pull his
head down to her bosom, but he stiffened his neck.

"I knew this was coming," he said. "When we killed Darren, I knew."

She stood and lit a cigarette. "This is your family business," she said,
"why we're driving up north?"

He nodded, not trusting his voice, seeing the outlines of Grad's face,
outlined in moth-eaten blanket.

"So," she said. "Let's get up north, then. Take an end."

The night was cold, and they staggered under the weight of the body
wound in the blanket and laid him out in the trunk of the car, shifting
luggage and picnic supplies to the back seat. At two a.m., the motel
lights were out and the road was dark and silent but for the soughing of
wind and the distant sounds of night animals.

"Are you okay to drive?" she said, as she piled their clothes
indiscriminately into the suitcases.

"What?" he said. The cool air on his face was waking him up a little,
but he was still in a dream-universe. The air was spicy and outdoors and
it reminded him powerfully of home and simpler times.

He looked at Mimi without really seeing her.

"Are you okay to drive?"

The keys were in his hands, the car smelling of the detailing-in-a-can
mist that the rental agency sprayed on the upholstery to get rid of the
discount traveler farts between rentals.

"I can drive," he said. Home, and the mountain, and the washing machine,
and the nook where he'd slept for 18 years, and the golems, and the
cradle they'd hewn for him. Another ten or twelve hours' driving and
they'd be at the foot of the trail where the grass grew to waist-high.

"Well, then, *drive*." She got in the car and slammed her door.

He climbed in, started the engine, and put the hertzmobile into reverse.

#

Two hours later, he realized that he was going to nod off. The thumps of
the body sliding in the trunk and the suitcases rattling around in the
back seat had lost their power to keep him awake.

The body's thumping had hardly had the power to begin with. Once the
initial shock had passed, the body became an object only, a thing, a
payload he had to deliver. Alan wondered if he was capable of feeling
the loss.

"You were eleven then," he said. It was suddenly as though no time had
past since they'd sat on the bed and she'd told him about Auntie.

"Yes," she said. "It was as though no time had passed."

A shiver went up his back.

He was wide awake.

"No time had passed."

"Yes. I was living with a nice family in Oakville who were sending me to
a nice girls' school where we wore blazers over our tunics, and I had a
permanent note excusing me from gym classes. In a building full of four
hundred girls going through puberty, one more fat shy girl who wouldn't
take her top off was hardly noteworthy."

"The family, they were nice. WASPy. They called me Cheryl. With a
Why. When I asked them where I'd been before, about 'Auntie,' they
looked sad and hurt and worried for me, and I learned to stop. They
hugged me and touched my wings and never said anything -- and never
wiped their hands on their pants after touching them. They gave me a
room with a computer and a CD player and a little TV of my own, and
asked me to bring home my friends.

"I had none.

"But they found other girls who would come to my 'birthday' parties, on
May 1, which was exactly two months after their son's birthday and two
months before their daughter's birthday.

"I can't remember any of their names.

"But they made me birthday cards and they made me breakfast and dinner
and they made me welcome. I could watch them grilling burgers in the
back yard by the above ground pool in the summer from my bedroom
window. I could watch them building forts or freezing skating rinks in
the winter. I could listen to them eating dinner together while I did my
homework in my bedroom. There was a place for me at the dinner-table,
but I couldn't sit there, though I can't remember why."

"Wait a second," Alan said. "You don't remember?"

She made a sad noise in her throat. "I was told I was welcome, but I
knew I wasn't. I know that sounds paranoid -- crazy. Maybe I was just a
teenager. There was a reason, though, I just don't know what it was. I
knew then. They knew it, too -- no one blamed me. They loved me, I
guess."

"You stayed with them until you went to school?"

"Almost. Their daughter went to Waterloo, then the next year, their son
went to McGill in Montreal, and then it was just me and them. I had two
more years of high school, but it just got unbearable. With their
children gone, they tried to take an interest in me. Tried to make me
eat with them. Take me out to meet their friends. Every day felt worse,
more wrong. One night, I went to a late movie by myself downtown and
then got to walking around near the clubs and looking at the club kids
and feeling this terrible feeling of loneliness, and when I was finally
ready to go home, the last train had already gone. I just spent the
night out, wandering around, sitting in a back booth at Sneaky Dee's and
drinking Cokes, watching the sun come up from the top of Christie Pitts
overlooking the baseball diamond. I was a 17-year-old girl from the
suburbs wearing a big coat and staring at her shoelaces, but no one
bugged me.

"When I came home the next morning, no one seemed particularly bothered
that I'd been away all night. If anything, the parental people might
have been a little distraught that I came home. 'I think I'll get my own
place,' I said. They agreed, and agreed to put the lease in their name
to make things easier. I got a crummy little basement in what the
landlord called Cabbagetown but what was really Regent Park, and I
switched out to a huge, anonymous high school to finish school. Worked
in a restaurant at nights and on weekends to pay the bills."

The night highway rushed past them, quiet. She lit a cigarette and
rolled down her window, letting in the white-noise crash of the wind and
the smell of the smoke mixed with the pine-and-summer reek of the
roadside.

"Give me one of those," Alan said.

She lit another and put it between his lips, damp with her saliva. His
skin came up in goosepimples.

"Who knows about your wings?" he said.

"Krishna knows," she said. "And you." She looked out into the
night. "The family in Oakville. If I could remember where they lived,
I'd look them up and ask them about it. Can't. Can't remember their
names or their faces. I remember the pool, though, and the barbecue."

"No one else knows?"

"There was no one else before Krishna. No one that I remember, anyway."

"I have a brother," he said, then swallowed hard. "I have a brother
named Brad. He can see the future."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah." He pawed around for an ashtray and discovered that it had been
removed, along with the lighter, from the rental car's
dashboard. Cursing, he pinched off the coal of the cigarette and flicked
it to the roadside, hoping that it would burn out quickly, then he
tossed the butt over his shoulder at the back seat. As he did, the body
in the trunk rolled while he navigated a curve in the road and he braked
hard, getting the car stopped in time for him to open the door and pitch
a rush of vomit onto the roadway.

"You okay to drive?"

"Yeah. I am." He sat up and put the car into gear and inched to the
shoulder, then put it in park and set his blinkers. The car smelled of
sour food and sharp cigarettes and God, it smelled of the body in the
trunk.

"It's not easy to be precognizant," Alan said, and pulled back onto the
road, signaling even though there were no taillights or headlights for
as far as the eye could see.

"I believe it," she said.

"He stopped telling us things after a while. It just got him into
trouble. I'd be studying for an exam and he'd look at me and shake his
head, slowly, sadly. Then I'd flunk out, and I'd be convinced that it
was him psyching me out. Or he'd get picked for kickball and he'd
say. 'What's the point, this team's gonna lose,' and wander off, and
they'd lose, and everyone would hate him. He couldn't tell the
difference between what he knew and what everyone else knew. Didn't know
the difference between the past and the future, sometimes. So he stopped
telling us, and when we figured out how to read it in his eyes, he
stopped looking at us.

"Then something really -- Something terrible... Someone I cared about
died. And he didn't say anything about it. I could have -- stopped --
it. Prevented it. I could have saved her life, but he wouldn't talk."

He drove.

"For real, he could see the future?" she said softly. Her voice had more
emotion than he'd ever heard in it and she rolled down the window and
lit another cigarette, pluming smoke into the roar of the wind.

"Yeah," Alan said. "*A* future or *the* future, I never figured it
out. A little of both, I suppose."

"He stopped talking, huh?"

"Yeah," Alan said.

"I know what that's like," Mimi said. "I hadn't spoken more than three
words in the six months before I met Krishna. I worked at a direct-mail
house, proofreading the mailing labels. No one wanted to say anything to
me, and I just wanted to disappear. It was soothing, in a way, reading
all those names. I'd dropped out of school after Christmas break, just
didn't bother going back again, never paid my tuition. I threw away my
houseplants and flushed my fish down the toilet so that there wouldn't
be any living thing that depended on me."

She worked her hand between his thigh and the seat.

"Krishna sat next to me on the subway. I was leaning forward because my
wings were long -- the longest they've ever been -- and wearing a big
parka over them. He leaned forward to match me and tapped me on the
shoulder.

"I turned to look at him and he said, 'I get off at the next stop. Will
you get off with me and have a cup of coffee? I've been riding next to
you on the subway for a month, and I want to find out what you're like.'

"I wouldn't have done it, except before I knew what I was doing, I'd
already said, 'I beg your pardon?' because I wasn't sure I'd heard him
right. And once I'd said that, once I'd spoken, I couldn't bear the
thought of not speaking again."

#

They blew through Kapuskasing at ten a.m., on a grey morning that dawned
with drizzle and bad-tempered clouds low overhead. The little main drag
-- which Alan remembered as a bustling center of commerce where he'd
waited out half a day to change buses -- was deserted, the only evidence
of habitation the occasional car pulling through a donut store
drive-through lane.

"Jesus, who divorced me this time?" Mimi said, ungumming her eyes and
stuffing a fresh cigarette into her mouth.

"*Fear and Loathing* again, right?"

"It's *the* road-trip novel," she said.

"What about *On the Road*?"

"Oh, *that*," she said. "Pfft. Kerouac was a Martian on crank. Dope
fiend prose isn't fit for human consumption."

"Thompson isn't a dope fiend?"

"No. That was just a put-on. He wrote *about* drugs, not *on* drugs."

"Have you *read* Kerouac?"

"I couldn't get into it," she said.

He pulled sharply off the road and into a parking lot.

"What's this?" she said.

"The library," he said. "Come on."

It smelled just as it had when he was 17, standing among the aisles of
the biggest collection of books he'd ever seen. Sweet, dusty.

"Here," he said, crossing to the fiction section. The fiction section at
the library in town had fit into three spinner racks. Here, it occupied
its own corner of overstuffed bookcases. "Here," he said, running his
finger down the plastic Brodart wraps on the spines of the books, the
faded Dewey labels.

H, I, J, K... There it was, the edition he'd remembered from all those
years ago. *On the Road.*

"Come on," he said. "We've got it."

"You can't check that out," she said.

He pulled out his wallet as they drew up closer to the checkout
counter. He slid out the plastic ID holder, flipping past the health
card and the driver's license -- not a very good likeness of his face or
his name on either, and then produced a library card so tattered that it
looked like a pirate's map on parchment. He slid it delicately out of
the plastic sleeve, unbending the frayed corner, smoothing the feltlike
surface of the card, the furry type.

He slid the card and the book across the counter. Mimi and the librarian
-- a boy of possibly Mimi's age, who wore a mesh-back cap just like his
patrons, but at a certain angle that suggested urbane irony -- goggled
at it, as though Alan had slapped down a museum piece.

The boy picked it up with such roughness that Alan flinched on behalf of
his card.

"This isn't --" the boy began.

"It's a library card," Alan said. "They used to let me use it here."

The boy set it down on the counter again.

Mimi peered at it. "There's no name on that card," she said.

"Never needed one," he said.

He'd gotten the card from the sour-faced librarian back home, tricked
her out of it by dragging along Bradley and encouraging him to waddle
off into the shelves and start pulling down books. She'd rolled it into
her typewriter and then they'd both gone chasing after Brad, then she'd
asked him again for his name and they'd gone chasing after Brad, then
for his address, and then Brad again. Eventually, he was able to simply
snitch it out of the platen of the humming Selectric and walk out. No
one ever looked closely at it again -- not even the thoroughly
professional staffers at the Kapuskasing branch who'd let him take out a
stack of books to read in the bus station overnight while he waited for
the morning bus to Toronto.

He picked up the card again then set it down. It was the first piece of
identification he ever owned, and in some ways, the most important.

"I have to give you a new card," the mesh-back kid said. "With a bar
code. We don't take that card anymore." He picked it up and made to tear
it in half.

"NO!" Alan roared, and lunged over the counter to seize the kid's
wrists.

The kid startled back and reflexively tore at the card, but Alan's iron
grip on his wrists kept him from completing the motion. The kid dropped
the card and it fluttered to the carpet behind the counter.

"Give it to me," Alan said. The boy's eyes, wide with shock, began to
screw shut with pain. Alan let go his wrists, and the kid chafed them,
backing away another step.

His shout had drawn older librarians from receiving areas and offices
behind the counter, women with the look of persons accustomed to
terminating children's mischief and ejecting rowdy drunks with equal
aplomb. One of them was talking into a phone, and two more were moving
cautiously toward them, sizing them up.

"We should go," Mimi said.

"I need my library card," he said, and was as surprised as anyone at the
pout in his voice, a sound that was about six years old, stubborn, and
wounded.

Mimi looked hard at him, then at the librarians converging on them, then
at the mesh back kid, who had backed all the way up to a work surface
several paces back of him. She planted her palms on the counter and
swung one foot up onto it, vaulting herself over. Alan saw the back of
her man's jacket bulge out behind her as her wings tried to spread when
she took to the air.

She snatched up the card, then planted her hands again and leapt into
the air. The toe of her trailing foot caught the edge of the counter and
she began to tumble, headed for a face-plant into the greyed-out
industrial carpet. Alan had the presence of mind to catch her, her tit
crashing into his head, and gentle her to the floor.

"We're going," Mimi said. "Now."

Alan hardly knew where he was anymore. The card was in Mimi's hand,
though, and he reached for it, making a keening noise deep in his
throat.

"Here," she said, handing it to him. When he touched the felted card
stock, he snapped back to himself. "Sorry," he said lamely to the
mesh-back kid.

Mimi yanked his arm and they jumped into the car and he fumbled the key
into the ignition, fumbled the car to life. His head felt like a balloon
on the end of a taut string, floating some yards above his body.

He gunned the engine and the body rolled in the trunk. He'd forgotten
about it for a while in the library and now he remembered it
again. Maybe he felt something then, a twitchy twinge of grief, but he
swallowed hard and it went away. The clunk-clunk of the wheels going
over the curb as he missed the curb-cut back out onto the road, Mimi
sucking breath in a hiss as he narrowly avoided getting T-boned by a
rusted-out pickup truck, and then the hum of the road under his wheels.

"Alan?" Mimi said.

"It was my first piece of identification," he said. "It made me a person
who could get a book out of the library."

They drove on, heading for the city limits at a few klicks over the
speed limit. Fast, lots of green lights.

"What did I just say?" Alan said.

"You said it was your first piece of ID," Mimi said. She was twitching
worriedly in the passenger seat. Alan realized that she was air-driving,
steering and braking an invisible set of controls as he veered around
the traffic. "You said it made you a person --"

"That's right," Alan said. "It did."

#

He never understood how he came to be enrolled in kindergarten. Even in
those late days, there were still any number of nearby farm folk whose
literacy was so fragile that they could be intimidated out of it by a
sheaf of school enrollment forms. Maybe that was it -- the five-year-old
Alan turning up at the school with his oddly accented English and his
Martian wardrobe of pieces rescued from roadside ditches and snitched
off of clotheslines, and who was going to send him home on the first day
of school? Surely the paperwork would get sorted out by the time the
first permission-slip field trip rolled around, or possibly by the time
vaccination forms were due. And then it just fell by the wayside.

Alan got the rest of his brothers enrolled, taking their forms home and
forging indecipherable scrawls that satisfied the office ladies. His own
enrollment never came up in any serious way. Permission slips were easy,
inoculations could be had at the walk-in clinic once a year at the fire
house.

Until he was eight, being undocumented was no big deal. None of his
classmates carried ID. But his classmates *did* have Big Wheels,
catcher's mitts, Batmobiles, action figures, Fonzie lunchboxes, and
Kodiak boots. They had parents who came to parents' night and sent trays
of cupcakes to class on birthdays -- Alan's birthday came during the
summer, by necessity, so that this wouldn't be an issue. So did his
brothers', when their time came to enroll.

At eight, he ducked show-and-tell religiously and skillfully, but one
day he got caught out, empty-handed and with all the eyes in the room
boring into him as he fumfuhed at the front of the classroom, and the
teacher thought he was being kind by pointing out that his hand-stitched
spring moccasins -- a tithe of the golems -- were fit subject for a
brief exposition.

"Did your mom buy you any real shoes?" It was asked without malice or
calculation, but Alan's flustered, red-faced, hot stammer chummed the
waters and the class sharks were on him fast and hard. Previously
invisible, he was now the subject of relentless scrutiny. Previously an
observer of the playground, he was now a nexus of it, a place where
attention focused, hunting out the out-of-place accent, the strange
lunch, the odd looks and gaps in knowledge of the world. He thought he'd
figured out how to fit in, that he'd observed people to the point that
he could be one, but he was so wrong.

They watched him until Easter break, when school let out and they
disappeared back into the unknowable depths of their neat houses, and
when they saw him on the street headed for a shop or moping on a bench,
they cocked their heads quizzically at him, as if to say, *Do I know you
from somewhere?* or, if he was feeling generous, *I wonder where you
live?* The latter was scarier than the former.

For his part, he was heartsick that he turned out not to be half so
clever as he'd fancied himself. There wasn't much money around the
mountain that season -- the flakes he'd brought down to the assayer had
been converted into cash for new shoes for the younger kids and
chocolate bars that he'd brought to fill Bradley's little round belly.

He missed the school library achingly during that week, and it was that
lack that drove him to the town library. He'd walked past the squat
brown brick building hundreds of times, but had never crossed its
threshold. He had a sense that he wasn't welcome there, that it was not
intended for his consumption. He slunk in like a stray dog, hid himself
in the back shelves, and read books at random while he observed the
other patrons coming and going.

It took three days of this for him to arrive at his strategy for getting
his own library card, and the plan worked flawlessly. Bradley pulled the
books off the back shelves for the final time, the librarian turned in
exasperation for the final time, and he was off and out with the card in
his hand before the librarian had turned back again.

Credentialed.

He'd read the word in a book of war stories.

He liked the sound of it.

#

"What did Krishna do?"

"What do you mean?" She was looking at him guardedly now, but his
madness seemed to have past.

"I mean," he said, reaching over and taking her hand, "what did Krishna
do when you went out for coffee with him?"

"Oh," she said. She was quiet while they drove a narrow road over a
steep hill. "He made me laugh."

"He doesn't seem that funny," Alan said.

"We went out to this coffee shop in Little Italy, and he sat me down at
a tiny green metal table, even though it was still cold as hell, and he
brought out tiny cups of espresso and a little wax-paper bag of
biscotti. Then he watched the people and made little remarks about
them. 'She's a little old to be breeding,' or 'Oh, is that how they're
wearing their eyebrow in the old country?' or 'Looks like he beats his
wife with his slipper for not fixing his Kraft Dinner right.' And when
he said it, I *knew* it wasn't just a mean little remark, I *knew* it
was true. Somehow, he could look at these people and know what they were
self-conscious about, what their fears were, what their little secrets
were. And he made me laugh, even though it didn't take long before I
guessed that that meant that he might know my secret."

"So we drank our coffee," she said, and then stopped when the body
thudded in the trunk again when they caught some air at the top of a
hill. "We drank it and he reached across the table and tickled my open
palm with his fingertips and he said, 'Why did you come out with me?'

"And I mumbled and blushed and said something like, 'You look like a
nice guy, it's just coffee, shit, don't make a big deal out of it,' and
he looked like I'd just canceled Christmas and said, 'Oh, well, too
bad. I was hoping it was a big deal, that it was because you thought I'd
be a good guy to really hang out with a *lot*, if you know what I mean.'
He tickled my palm again. I was a blushing virgin, literally though I'd
had a couple boys maybe possibly flirt with me in school, I'd never
returned the signals, never could.

"I told him I didn't think I could be romantically involved with him,
and he flattened out his palm so that my hand was pinned to the table
under it and he said, 'If it's your deformity, don't let that bother
you. I thought I could fix that for you.' I almost pretended I didn't
know what he meant, but I couldn't really, I knew he knew I knew. I
said, 'How?' as in, *How did you know* and *How can you fix it*? but it
just came out in a little squeak, and he grinned like Christmas was back
on and said, 'Does it really matter?'

"I told him it didn't, and then we went back to his place in Kensington
Market and he kissed me in the living room, then he took me upstairs to
the bathroom and took off my shirt and he --"

"He cut you," Alan said.

"He fixed me," she said.

Alan reached out and petted her wings through her jacket. "Were you
broken?"

"Of *course* I was," she snapped, pulling back. "I couldn't *talk* to
people. I couldn't *do* anything. I wasn't a person," she said.

"Right," Alan said. "I'm following you."

She looked glumly at the road unraveling before them, grey and hissing
with rain. "Is it much farther?" she said.

"An hour or so, if I remember right," he said.

"I know how stupid that sounds," she said. "I couldn't figure out if he
was some kind of pervert who liked to cut or if he was some kind of
pervert who liked girls like me or if I was lucky or in trouble. But he
cut them, and he gave me a towel to bite on the first time, but I never
needed it after that. He'd do it quick, and he kept the knife sharp, and
I was able to be a person again -- to wear cute clothes and go where I
wanted. It was like my life had started over again."

The hills loomed over the horizon now, low and rolling up toward the
mountains. One of them was his. He sucked in a breath and the car
wavered on the slick road. He pumped the brakes and coasted them to a
stop on the shoulder.

"Is that it?" she said.

"That's it," he said. He pointed. His father was green and craggy and
smaller than he remembered. The body rolled in the trunk. "I feel --" he
said. "We're taking him home, at least. And my father will know what to
do."

"No boy has ever taken me home to meet his folks," she said.

Alan remembered the little fist in the dirt. "You can wait in the car if
you want," he said.

#

Krishna came home,

(she said, as they sat in the parked car at a wide spot in the highway,
looking at the mountains on the horizon)

Krishna came home,

(she said, after he'd pulled off the road abruptly, put the car into
park, and stared emptily at the mountains ahead of them)

Krishna came home,

(she said, lighting a cigarette and rolling down the window and letting
the shush of the passing cars come fill the car, and she didn't look at
him, because the expression on his face was too terrible to behold)

and he came through the door with two bags of groceries and a bottle of
wine under one arm and two bags from a ravewear shop on Queen Street
that I'd walked past a hundred times but never gone into.

He'd left me in his apartment that morning, with his television and his
books and his guitar, told me to make myself at home, told me to call in
sick to work, told me to take a day for myself. I
felt...*glorious*. Gloried *in*. He'd been so attentive.

He'd touched me. No one had touched me in so long. No one had *ever*
touched me that way. He'd touched me with...*reverence*. He's gotten
this expression on his face like, like he was in *church* or
something. He'd kept breathing something too low for me to hear and when
he put his lips right to my ear, I heard what he'd been saying all
along, "Oh God, oh God, my God, oh God," and I'd felt a warmness like
slow honey start in my toes and rise through me like sap to the roots of
my hair, so that I felt like I was saturated with something hot and
sweet and delicious.

He came home that night with the makings of a huge dinner with boiled
soft-shell crabs, and a bottle of completely decent Chilean red, and
three dresses for me that I could never, ever wear. I tried to keep the
disappointment off my face as he pulled them out of the bag, because I
*knew* they'd never go on over my wings, and they were *so* beautiful.

"This one will look really good on you," he said, holding up a Heidi
dress with a scoop neck that was cut low across the back, and I felt a
hot tear in the corner of my eye. I'd never wear that dress in front of
anyone but him. I couldn't, my wings would stick out a mile.

I knew what it meant to be different: It meant living in the second
floor with the old Russian Auntie, away from the crowds and their
eyes. I knew then what I was getting in for -- the rest of my life spent
hidden away from the world, with only this man to see and speak to.

I'd been out in the world for only a few years, and I had barely touched
it, moving in silence and stealth, watching and not being seen, but oh,
I had *loved it*, I realized. I'd thought I'd hated it, but I'd loved
it. Loved the people and their dialogue and their clothes and their
mysterious errands and the shops full of goods and every shopper hunting
for something for someone, every one of them part of a story that I
would never be part of, but I could be *next to* the stories and that
was enough.

I was going to live in an attic again.

I started to cry.

He came to me. he put his arms around me. He nuzzled my throat and
licked up the tears as they slid past my chin. "Shhh," he said. "Shhh."

He took off my jacket and my sweater, peeled down my jeans and my
panties, and ran his fingertips over me, stroking me until I quietened.

He touched me reverently still, his breath hot on my skin. No one had
ever touched me like that. He said, "I can fix you."

I said, "No one can fix me."

He said, "I can, but you'll have to be brave."

I nodded slowly. I could do brave. He led me by the hand into the
bathroom and he took a towel down off of the hook on the back of the
door and folded it into a long strip. He handed it to me. "Bite down on
this," he said, and helped me stand in the tub and face into the corner,
to count the grid of tiles and the greenish mildew in the grout.

"Hold still and bite down," he said, and I heard the door close behind
me. Reverent fingertips on my wing, unfolding it, holding it away from
my body.

"Be brave," he said. And then he cut off my wing.

It hurt so much, I pitched forward involuntarily and cracked my head
against the tile. It hurt so much I bit through two thicknesses of
towel. It hurt so much my legs went to mush and I began to sit down
quickly, like I was fainting.

He caught me, under my armpits, and held me up, and I felt something icy
pressed to where my wing had been -- I closed my eyes, but I heard the
leathery thump as my wing hit the tile floor, a wet sound -- and gauzy
fabric was wrapped around my chest, holding the icy towel in place over
the wound, once twice thrice, between my tits.

"Hold still," he said. And he cut off the other one.

I screamed this time, because he brushed the wound he'd left the first
time, but I managed to stay upright and to not crack my head on
anything. I felt myself crying but couldn't hear it, I couldn't hear
anything, nothing except a high sound in my ears like a dog whistle.

He kissed my cheek after he'd wound a second bandage, holding a second
cold compress over my second wound. "You're a very brave girl," he
said. "Come on."

He led me into the living room, where he pulled the cushions off his
sofa and opened it up to reveal a hide-a-bed. He helped me lie down on
my belly, and arranged pillows around me and under my head, so that I
was facing the TV.

"I got you movies," he said, and held up a stack of DVD rental boxes
from Martian Signal. "We got *Pretty in Pink*, *The Blues Brothers*,
*The Princess Bride*, a Robin Williams stand-up tape and a really
funny-looking porno called *Edward Penishands*."

I had to smile in spite of myself, in spite of the pain. He stepped into
his kitchenette and came back with a box of chocolates. "Truffles," he
said. "So you can laze on the sofa, eating bonbons."

I smiled more widely then.

"Such a beautiful smile," he said. "Want a cup of coffee?"

"No," I said, choking it out past my raw-from-screaming throat.

"All right," he said. "Which video do you want to watch?"

"*Princess Bride*," I said. I hadn't heard of any of them, but I didn't
want to admit it.

"You don't want to start with Edward Penishands?"

#

Alan stood out front of the video shop for a while, watching Natalie
wait on her customers. She was friendly without being perky, and it was
clear that the mostly male clientele had a bit of a crush on her, as did
her mooning, cow-eyed co-worker who was too distracted to efficiently
shelve the videos he pulled from the box before him. Alan smiled. Hiring
cute girls for your shop was tricky business. If they had brains, they'd
sell the hell out of your stock and be entertaining as hell; but a lot
of pretty girls (and boys!) had gotten a free ride in life and got
affronted when you asked them to do any real work.

Natalie was clearly efficient, and Alan knew that she wasn't afraid of
hard work, but it was good to see her doing her thing, quickly and
efficiently taking people's money, answering their questions, handing
them receipts, counting out change... He would have loved to have had
someone like her working for him in one of his shops.

Once the little rush at the counter was cleared, he eased himself into
the shop. Natalie *was* working for him, of course, in the impromptu
assembly line in Kurt's storefront. She'd proven herself to be as
efficient at assembling and testing the access points as she was at
running the till.

"Alan!" she said, smiling broadly. Her co-worker turned and scowled
jealously at him. "I'm going on break, okay?" she said to him, ignoring
his sour puss.

"What, now?" he said petulantly.

"No, I thought I'd wait until we got busy again," she said, not
unkindly, and smiled at him. "I'll be back in ten," she said.

She came around the counter with her cigs in one hand and her lighter in
the other. "Coffee?" she said.

"Absolutely," he said, and led her up the street.

"You liking the job?" he said.

"It's better now," she said. "I've been bringing home two or three
movies every night and watching them, just to get to know the stock, and
I put on different things in the store, the kind of thing I'd never have
watched before. Old horror movies, tentacle porn, crappy kung-fu
epics. So now they all bow to me."

"That's great," Alan said. "And Kurt tells me you've been doing amazing
work with him, too."

"Oh, that's just fun," she said. "I went along on a couple of dumpster
runs with the gang. I found the most amazing cosmetics baskets at the
Shiseido dumpster. Never would have thought that I'd go in for that
girly stuff, but when you get it for free out of the trash, it feels
pretty macha. Smell," she said, tilting her head and stretching her
neck.

He sniffed cautiously. "Very macha," he said. He realized that the other
patrons in the shop were eyeballing him, a middle-aged man, with his
face buried in this alterna-girl's throat.

He remembered suddenly that he still hadn't put in a call to get her a
job somewhere else, and was smitten with guilt. "Hey," he said. "Damn. I
was supposed to call Tropicál and see about getting you a job. I'll do
it right away." He pulled a little steno pad out of his pocket and
started jotting down a note to himself.

She put her hand out. "Oh, that's okay," she said. "I really like this
job. I've been looking up all my old high school friends: You were
right, everyone I ever knew has an account with Martian Signal. God, you
should *see* the movies they rent."

"You keep that on file, huh?"

"Sure, everything. It's creepy."

"Do you need that much info?"

"Well, we need to know who took a tape out last if someone returns it
and says that it's broken or recorded over or whatever --"

"So you need, what, the last couple months' worth of rentals?"

"Something like that. Maybe longer for the weirder tapes, they only get
checked out once a year or so --"

"So maybe you keep the last two names associated with each tape?"

"That'd work."

"You should do that."

She snorted and drank her coffee. "I don't have any say in it."

"Tell your boss," he said. "It's how good ideas happen in business --
people working at the cash register figure stuff out, and they tell
their bosses."

"So I should just tell my boss that I think we should change our whole
rental system because it's creepy?"

"Damned right. Tell him it's creepy. You're keeping information you
don't need to keep, and paying to store it. You're keeping information
that cops or snoops or other people could take advantage of. And you're
keeping information that your customers almost certainly assume you're
not keeping. All of those are good reasons *not* to keep that
information. Trust me on this one. Bosses love to hear suggestions from
people who work for them. It shows that you're engaged, paying attention
to their business."

"God, now I feel guilty for snooping."

"Well, maybe you don't mention to your boss that you've been spending a
lot of time looking through rental histories."

She laughed. God, he liked working with young people. "So, why I'm
here," he said.

"Yes?"

"I want to put an access point in the second-floor window and around
back of the shop. Your boss owns the building, right?"

"Yeah, but I really don't think I can explain all this stuff to him --"

"I don't need you to -- I just need you to introduce me to him. I'll do
all the explaining."

She blushed a little. "I don't know, Abe..." She trailed off.

"Is that a problem?"

"No. Yes. I don't know." She looked distressed.

Suddenly he was at sea. He'd felt like he was in charge of this
interaction, like he understood what was going on. He'd carefully
rehearsed what he was going to say and what Natalie was likely to say,
and now she was, what, afraid to introduce him to her boss? Because why?
Because the boss was an ogre? Then she would have pushed back harder
when he told her to talk to him about the rental records. Because she
was shy? Natalie wasn't shy. Because --

"I'll do it," she said. "Sorry. I was being stupid. It's just -- you
come on a little strong sometimes. My boss, I get the feeling that he
doesn't like it when people come on strong with him."

Ah, he thought. She was nervous because he was so goddamned weird. Well,
there you had it. He couldn't even get sad about it. Story of his life,
really.

"Thanks for the tip," he said. "What if I assure you that I'll come on
easy?"

She blushed. It had really been awkward for her, then. He felt
bad. "Okay," she said. "Sure. Sorry, man --"

He held up a hand. "It's nothing."

He followed her back to the store and he bought a tin robot made out of
a Pepsi can by some artisan in Vietnam who'd endowed it with huge tin
testicles. It made him laugh. When he got home, he scanned and filed the
receipt, took a picture, and entered it into The Inventory, and by the
time he was done, he was feeling much better.

#

They got into Kurt's car at five p.m., just as the sun was beginning to
set. The sun hung on the horizon, *right* at eye level, for an eternity,
slicing up their eyeballs and into their brains.

"Summer's coming on," Alan said.

"And we've barely got the Market covered," Kurt said. "At this rate,
it'll take ten years to cover the whole city."

Alan shrugged. "It's the journey, dude, not the destination -- the act
of organizing all these people, of putting up the APs, of advancing the
art. It's all worthwhile in and of itself."

Kurt shook his head. "You want to eat Vietnamese?"

"Sure," Alan said.

"I know a place," he said, and nudged the car through traffic and on to
the Don Valley Parkway.

"Where the hell are we *going*?" Alan said, once they'd left the city
limits and entered the curved, identical cookie-cutter streets of the
industrial suburbs in the north end.

"Place I know," Kurt said. "It's really cheap and really good. All the
Peel Region cops eat there." He snapped his fingers. "Oh, yeah, I was
going to tell you about the cop," he said.

"You were," Alan said.

"So, one night I'd been diving there." Kurt pointed to an anonymous
low-slung, sprawling brown building. "They print hockey cards, baseball
cards, monster cards -- you name it."

He sipped at his donut-store coffee and then rolled down the window and
spat it out. "Shit, that was last night's coffee," he said. "So, one
night I was diving there, and I found, I dunno, fifty, a hundred boxes
of hockey cards. Slightly dented at the corners, in the trash. I mean,
hockey cards are just *paper*, right? The only thing that makes them
valuable is the companies infusing them with marketing juju and glossy
pictures of mullet-head, no-tooth jocks."

"Tell me how you really feel," Alan said.

"Sorry," Kurt said. "The hockey players in junior high were real
jerks. I'm mentally scarred.

"So I'm driving away and the law pulls me over. The local cops, they
know me, mostly, 'cause I phone in B&Es when I spot them, but these guys
had never met me before. So they get me out of the car and I explain
what I was doing, and I quote the part of the Trespass to Property Act
that says that I'm allowed to do what I'm doing, and then I open the
trunk and I show him, and he busts a *nut*: 'You mean you found these in
the *garbage?* My kid spends a fortune on these things! In the
*garbage*?' He keeps saying, 'In the garbage?' and his partner leads him
away and I put it behind me.

"But then a couple nights later, I go back and there's someone in the
dumpster, up to his nipples in hockey cards."

"The cop," Alan said.

"The cop," Kurt said. "Right."

"That's the story about the cop in the dumpster, huh?" Alan said.

"That's the story. The moral is: We're all only a c-hair away from
jumping in the dumpster and getting down in it."

"C-hair? I thought you were trying not to be sexist?"

"*C* stands for *cock*, okay?"

Alan grinned. He and Kurt hadn't had an evening chatting together in
some time. When Kurt suggested that they go for a ride, Alan had been
reluctant: too much on his mind those days, too much *Danny* on his
mind. But this was just what he needed. What they both needed.

"Okay," Alan said. "We going to eat?"

"We're going to eat," Kurt said. "The Vietnamese place is just up
ahead. I once heard a guy there trying to speak Thai to the waiters. It
was amazing -- it was like he was a tourist even at home, an ugly
fucked-up tourist. People suck."

"Do they?" Alan said. "I quite like them. You know, there's pretty good
Vietnamese in Chinatown."

"This is good Vietnamese."

"Better than Chinatown?"

"Better situated," Kurt said. "If you're going dumpster diving
afterward. I'm gonna take your cherry, buddy." He clapped a hand on
Alan's shoulder. Real people didn't touch Alan much. He didn't know if
he liked it.

"God," Alan said. "This is so sudden." But he was happy about it. He'd
tried to picture what Kurt actually *did* any number of times, but he
was never very successful. Now he was going to actually go out and jump
in and out of the garbage. He wondered if he was dressed for it,
picturing bags of stinky kitchen waste, and decided that he was willing
to sacrifice his jeans and the old Gap shirt he'd bought one day after
the shirt he'd worn to the store -- the wind-up toy store? -- got soaked
in a cloudburst.

The Vietnamese food was really good, and the family who ran the
restaurant greeted Kurt like an old friend. The place was crawling with
cops, a new two or three every couple minutes, stopping by to grab a
salad roll or a sandwich or a go-cup of pho. "Cops always know where to
eat fast and cheap and good," Kurt mumbled around a mouthful of pork
chop and fried rice. "That's how I found this place, all the cop cars in
the parking lot."

Alan slurped up the last of his pho and chased down the remaining hunks
of rare beef with his chopsticks and dipped them in chili sauce before
popping them in his mouth. "Where are we going?" he asked.

Kurt jerked his head in the direction of the great outdoors. "Wherever
the fates take us. I just drive until I get an itch and then I pull into
a parking lot and hit the dumpsters. There's enough dumpsters out this
way, I could spend fifty or sixty hours going through them all, so I've
got to be selective. I know how each company's trash has been running --
lots of good stuff or mostly crap -- lately, and I trust my intuition to
take me to the right places. I'd love to go to the Sega or Nintendo
dumpsters, but they're like Stalag Thirteen -- razorwire and
motion-sensors and armed guards. They're the only companies that take
secrecy seriously." Suddenly he changed lanes and pulled up the driveway
of an industrial complex.

"Spidey-sense is tingling," he said, as he killed his lights and crept
forward to the dumpster. "Ready to lose your virginity?" he said,
lighting a cigarette.

"I wish you'd stop using that metaphor," Alan said. "Ick."

But Kurt was already out of the Buick, around the other side of the car,
pulling open Alan's door.

"That dumpster is full of cardboard," he said, gesturing. "It's
recycling. That one is full of plastic bottles. More recycling. This
one," he said, *oof*ing as he levered himself over it, talking around
the maglight he'd clenched between his teeth, "is where they put the
good stuff. Looky here."

Alan tried to climb the dumpster's sticky walls, but couldn't get a
purchase. Kurt, standing on something in the dumpster that crackled,
reached down and grabbed him by the wrist and hoisted him up. He
scrambled over the dumpster's transom and fell into it, expecting a wash
of sour kitchen waste to break over him, and finding himself, instead,
amid hundreds of five-inch cardboard boxes.

"What's this?" he asked.

Kurt was picking up the boxes and shaking them, listening for the
rattle. "This place is an import/export wholesaler. They throw out a lot
of defective product, since it's cheaper than shipping it all back to
Taiwan for service. But my kids will fix it and sell it on eBay. Here,"
he said, opening a box and shaking something out, handing it to him. He
passed his light over to Alan, who took it, unmindful of the drool on
the handle.

It was a rubber duckie. Alan turned it over and saw it had a hard chunk
of metal growing out of its ass.

"More of these, huh?" Kurt said. "I found about a thousand of these last
month. They're USB keychain drives, low-capacity, like 32MB. Plug them
in and they show up on your desktop like a little hard drive. They light
up in all kinds of different colors. The problem is, they've all got a
manufacturing defect that makes them glow in just one color -- whatever
shade the little gel carousel gets stuck on.

"I've got a couple thousand of these back home, but they're selling
briskly. Go get me a couple cardboard boxes from that dumpster there and
we'll snag a couple hundred more."

Alan gawped. The dumpster was seven feet cubed, the duckies a few inches
on a side. There were thousands and thousands of duckies in the
dumpster: more than they could ever fit into the Buick. In a daze, he
went off and pulled some likely flattened boxes out of the trash and
assembled them, packing them with the duckies that Kurt passed down to
him from atop his crunching, cracking mound of doomed duckies that he
was grinding underfoot.

Once they'd finished, Kurt fussed with moving the boxes around so that
everything with a bootprint was shuffled to the bottom. "We don't want
them to know that we've been here or they'll start hitting the duckies
with a hammer before they pitch 'em out."

He climbed into the car and pulled out a bottle of window cleaner and
some paper towels and wiped off the steering wheel and the dash and the
handle of his flashlight, then worked a blob of hand sanitizer into his
palms, passing it to Alan when he was done.

Alan didn't bother to point out that as Kurt had worked, he'd
transferred the flashlight from his mouth to his hands and back again a
dozen times -- he thought he understood that this ritual was about Kurt
assuring himself that he was not sinking down to the level of rummies
and other garbage pickers.

As if reading his mind, Kurt said, "You see those old rum-dums pushing a
shopping cart filled with empty cans down Spadina? Fucking *morons* --
they could be out here pulling LCDs that they could turn around for ten
bucks a pop, but instead they're rooting around like raccoons in the
trash, chasing after nickel deposits."

"But then what would you pick?"

Kurt stared at him. "You kidding me? Didn't you *see*? There's a hundred
times more stuff than I could ever pull. Christ, if even one of them had
a squint of ambition, we could *double* the amount we save from the
trash."

"You're an extraordinary person," Alan said. He wasn't sure he meant it
as a compliment. After all, wasn't *he* an extraordinary person, too?

#

Alan was stunned when they found a dozen hard drives that spun up and
revealed themselves to be of generous capacity and moreover stuffed with
confidential looking information when he plugged them into the laptop
that Kurt kept under the passenger seat.

He was floored when they turned up three slightly elderly Toshiba
laptops, each of which booted into a crufty old flavor of Windows, and
only one of which had any obvious material defects: a starred corner in
its LCD.

He was delighted by the dumpsters full of plush toys, by the lightly
used office furniture, by the technical books and the CDs of last year's
software. The smells were largely inoffensive -- Kurt mentioned that the
picking was better in winter when the outdoors was one big fridge, but
Alan could hardly smell anything except the sour smell of an old
dumpster and occasionally a whiff of coffee grounds.

They took a break at the Vietnamese place for coconut ice and glasses of
sweet iced coffee, and Kurt nodded at the cops in the restaurant. Alan
wondered why Kurt was so pleasant with these cops out in the boonies but
so hostile to the law in Kensington Market.

"How are we going to get connectivity out of the Market?" Kurt said. "I
mean, all this work, and we've hardly gotten four or five square blocks
covered."

"Buck up," Alan said. "We could spend another two years just helping
people in the Market use what we've installed, and it would still be
productive." Kurt's mouth opened, and Alan held his hand up. "Not that
I'm proposing that we do that. I just mean there's plenty of good that's
been done so far. What we need is some publicity for it, some critical
mass, and some way that we can get ordinary people involved. We can't
fit a critical mass into your front room and put them to work."

"So what do we get them to do?"

"It's a good question. There's something I saw online the other day I
wanted to show you. Why don't we go home and get connected?"

"There's still plenty of good diving out there. No need to go home
anyway -- I know a place."

They drove off into a maze of cul-de-sacs and cheaply built, gaudy
monster homes with triple garages and sagging rain gutters. The streets
had no sidewalks and the inevitable basketball nets over every garage
showed no signs of use.

Kurt pulled them up in front of a house that was indistinguishable from
the others and took the laptop from under the Buick's seat, plugging it
into the cigarette lighter and flipping its lid.

"There's an open network here," Kurt said as he plugged in the wireless
card. He pointed at the dormer windows in the top room.

"How the hell did you find that?" Alan said, looking at the darkened
window. There was a chain-link gate at the side of the house, and in the
back an aboveground pool.

Kurt laughed. "These 'security consultants'" -- he made little quotes
with his fingers -- "wardrove Toronto. They went from one end of the
city to the other with a GPS and a wireless card and logged all the open
access points they found, then released a report claiming that all of
those access points represented ignorant consumers who were leaving
themselves vulnerable to attacks and making Internet connections
available to baby-eating terrorists.

"One of the access points they identified was *mine*, for chrissakes,
and mine was open because I'm a crazy fucking anarchist, not because I'm
an ignorant 'consumer' who doesn't know any better, and that got me to
thinking that there were probably lots of people like me around, running
open APs. So one night I was out here diving and I *really* was trying
to remember who'd played the Sundance Kid in Butch Cassidy, and I knew
that if I only had a net connection I could google it. I had a stumbler,
an app that logged all the open WiFi access points that I came into
range of, and a GPS attachment that I'd dived that could interface with
the software that mapped the APs on a map of Toronto, so I could just
belt the machine in there on the passenger seat and go driving around
until I had a list of all the wireless Internet that I could see from
the street.

"So I got kind of bored and went back to diving, and then I did what I
usually do at the end of the night, I went driving around some
residential streets, just to see evidence of humanity after a night in
the garbage, and also because the people out here sometimes put out nice
sofas and things.

"When I got home, I looked at my map and there were tons of access
points out by the industrial buildings, and some on the commercial
strips, and a few out here in the residential areas, but the one with
the best signal was right here, and when I clicked on it, I saw that the
name of the network was 'ParasiteNet.'"

Alan said, "Huh?" because ParasiteNet was Kurt's name for his wireless
project, though they hadn't used it much since Alan got involved and
they'd gotten halfway legit. But still.

"Yeah," Kurt said. "That's what I said -- huh? So I googled ParasiteNet
to see what I could find, and I found an old message I'd posted to
toronto.talk.wireless when I was getting started out, a kind of
manifesto about what I planned to do, and Google had snarfed it up and
this guy, whoever he is, must have read it and decided to name his
network after it.

"So I figger: This guy *wants* to share packets with me, for sure, and
so I always hunt down this AP when I want to get online."

"You've never met him, huh?"

"Never. I'm always out here at two a.m. or so, and there's never a light
on. Keep meaning to come back around five some afternoon and ring the
bell and say hello. Never got to it."

Alan pursed his lips and watched Kurt prod at the keyboard.

"He's got a shitkicking net connection, though -- tell you what. Feels
like a T1, and the IP address comes off of an ISP in Waterloo. You need
a browser, right?"

Alan shook his head. "You know, I can't even remember what it was I
wanted to show you. There's some kind of idea kicking at me now,
though..."

Kurt shifted his laptop to the back seat, mindful of the cords and the
antenna. "What's up?"

"Let's do some more driving around, let it perk, okay? You got more
dumpsters you want to show me?"

"Brother, I got dumpsters for weeks. Months. Years."

#

It was the wardriving, of course. Alan called out the names of the
networks that they passed as they passed them, watching the flags pop up
on the map of Toronto. They drove the streets all night, watched the sun
go up, and the flags multiplied on the network.

Alan didn't even have to explain it to Kurt, who got it
immediately. They were close now, thinking together in the feverish
drive-time on the night-dark streets.

"Here's the thing," Kurt said as they drank their coffees at the Vesta
Lunch, a grimy 24-hour diner that Alan only seemed to visit during the
smallest hours of the morning. "I started off thinking, well, the cell
companies are screwed up because they think that they need to hose the
whole city from their high towers with their powerful transmitters, and
my little boxes will be lower-power and smarter and more realistic and
grassroots and democratic."

"Right," Alan said. "I was just thinking of that. What could be more
democratic than just encouraging people to use their own access points
and their own Internet connections to bootstrap the city?"

"Yeah," Kurt said.

"Sure, you won't get to realize your dream of getting a free Internet by
bridging down at the big cage at 151 Front Street, but we can still play
around with hardware. And convincing the people who *already* know why
WiFi is cool to join up has got to be easier than convincing shopkeepers
who've never heard of wireless to let us put antennae and boxes on their
walls."

"Right," Kurt said, getting more excited. "Right! I mean, it's just ego,
right? Why do we need to *control* the network?" He spun around on his
cracked stool and the waitress gave him a dirty look. "Gimme some apple
pie, please," he said. "This is the best part: it's going to violate the
hell out of everyone's contracts with their ISPs -- they sell you an
all-you-can-eat Internet connection and then tell you that they'll cut
off your service if you're too hungry. Well, fuck that! It's not just
community networking, it'll be civil disobedience against shitty
service-provider terms of service!"

There were a couple early morning hard-hats in the diner who looked up
from their yolky eggs to glare at him. Kurt spotted them and
waved. "Sorry, boys. Ever get one of those ideas that's so good, you
can't help but do a little dance?"

One of the hard-hats smiled. "Yeah, but his wife always turns me down."
He socked the other hard-hat in the shoulder.

The other hard-hat grunted into his coffee. "Nice. Very nice. You're
gonna be a *lot* of fun today, I can tell."

They left the diner in a sleepdep haze and squinted into the sunrise and
grinned at each other and burped up eggs and sausages and bacon and
coffee and headed toward Kurt's Buick.

"Hang on," Alan said. "Let's have a walk, okay?" The city smelled like
morning, dew and grass and car-exhaust and baking bread and a whiff of
the distant Cadbury's factory oozing chocolate miasma over the hills and
the streetcar tracks. Around them, millions were stirring in their beds,
clattering in their kitchens, passing water, and taking on vitamins. It
invigorated him, made him feel part of something huge and
all-encompassing, like being in his father the mountain.

"Up there," Kurt said, pointing to a little playground atop the hill
that rose sharply up Dupont toward Christie, where a herd of plastic
rocking horses swayed creakily in the breeze.

"Up there," Alan agreed, and they set off, kicking droplets of dew off
the grass beside the sidewalk.

The sunrise was a thousand times more striking from atop the climber,
filtered through the new shoots on the tree branches. Kurt lit a
cigarette and blew plumes into the shafting light and they admired the
effect of the wind whipping it away.

"I think this will work," Alan said. "We'll do something splashy for the
press, get a lot of people to change the names of their networks -- more
people will use the networks, more will create them... It's a good
plan."

Kurt nodded. "Yeah. We're smart guys."

Something smashed into Alan's head and bounced to the dirt below the
climber. A small, sharp rock. Alan reeled and tumbled from the climber,
stunned, barely managing to twist to his side before landing. The air
whooshed out of his lungs and tears sprang into his eyes.

Gingerly, he touched his head. His fingers came away wet. Kurt was
shouting something, but he couldn't hear it. Something moved in the
bushes, moved into his line of sight. Moved deliberately into his line
of sight.

Danny. He had another rock in his hand and he wound up and pitched
it. It hit Alan in the forehead and his head snapped back and he
grunted.

Kurt's feet landed in the dirt a few inches from his eyes, big boots
a-jangle with chains. Davey flitted out of the bushes and onto the
plastic rocking-horses, jumping from the horse to the duck to the
chicken, leaving the big springs beneath them to rock and creak. Kurt
took two steps toward him, but Davey was away, under the chain link
fence and over the edge of the hill leading down to Dupont Street.

"You okay?" Kurt said, crouching down beside him, putting a hand on his
shoulder. "Need a doctor?"

"No doctors," Alan said. "No doctors. I'll be okay."

They inched their way back to the car, the world spinning around
them. The hard-hats met them on the way out of the Vesta Lunch and their
eyes went to Alan's bloodied face. They looked away. Alan felt his
kinship with the woken world around him slip away and knew he'd never be
truly a part of it.

#

He wouldn't let Kurt walk him up the steps and put him to bed, so
instead Kurt watched from the curb until Alan went inside, then gunned
the engine and pulled away. It was still morning rush hour, and the
Market-dwellers were clacking toward work on hard leather shoes or
piling their offspring into minivans.

Alan washed the blood off his scalp and face and took a gingerly
shower. When he turned off the water, he heard muffled sounds coming
through the open windows. A wailing electric guitar. He went to the
window and stuck his head out and saw Krishna sitting on an unmade bed
in the unsoundproofed bedroom, in a grimy housecoat, guitar on his lap,
eyes closed, concentrating on the screams he was wringing from the
instrument's long neck.

Alan wanted to sleep, but the noise and the throb of his head -- going
in counterpoint -- and the sight of Davey, flicking from climber to bush
to hillside, scuttling so quickly Alan was scarce sure he'd seen him, it
all conspired to keep him awake.

He bought coffees at the Donut Time on College -- the Greek's wouldn't
be open for hours -- and brought it over to Kurt's storefront, but the
lights were out, so he wandered slowly home, sucking back the coffee.

#

Benny had another seizure halfway up the mountain, stiffening up and
falling down before they could catch him.

As Billy lay supine in the dirt, Alan heard a distant howl, not like a
wolf, but like a thing that a wolf had caught and is savaging with its
jaws. The sound made his neck prickle and when he looked at the little
ones, he saw that their eyes were rolling crazily.

"Got to get him home," Alan said, lifting Benny up with a grunt. The
little ones tried to help, but they just got tangled up in Benny's long
loose limbs and so Alan shooed them off, telling them to keep a lookout
behind him, look for Davey lurking on an outcropping or in a branch,
rock held at the ready.

When they came to the cave mouth again, he heard another one of the
screams. Brendan stirred over his shoulders and Alan set him down, heart
thundering, looking every way for Davey, who had come back.

"He's gone away for the night," Burt said conversationally. He sat up
and then gingerly got to his feet. "He'll be back in the morning,
though."

The cave was destroyed. Alan's books, Ern-Felix-Grad's toys were
smashed. Their clothes were bubbling in the hot spring in rags and
tatters. Brian's carvings were broken and smashed. Schoolbooks were
ruined.

"You all right?" Alan said.

Brian dusted himself off and stretched his arms and legs out. "I'll be
fine," he said. "It's not me he's after."

Alan stared blankly as the brothers tidied up the cave and made piles of
their belongings. The little ones looked scared, without any of the
hardness he remembered from that day when they'd fought it out on the
hillside.

Benny retreated to his perch, but before the sun set and the cave
darkened, he brought a couple blankets down and dropped them beside the
nook where Alan slept. He had his baseball bat with him, and it made a
good, solid aluminum sound when he leaned it against the wall.

Silently, the small ones crossed the cave with a pile of their own
blankets, George bringing up the rear with a torn T-shirt stuffed with
sharp stones.

Alan looked at them and listened to the mountain breathe around them. It
had been years since his father had had anything to say to them. It had
been years since their mother had done anything except wash the
clothes. Was there a voice in the cave now? A wind? A smell?

He couldn't smell anything. He couldn't hear anything. Benny propped
himself up against the cave wall with a blanket around his shoulders and
the baseball bat held loose and ready between his knees.

A smell then, on the wind. Sewage and sulfur. A stink of fear.

Alan looked to his brothers, then he got up and left the cave without a
look back. He wasn't going to wait for Davey to come to him.

The night had come up warm, and the highway sounds down at the bottom of
the hill mingled with the spring breeze in the new buds on the trees and
the new needles on the pines, the small sounds of birds and bugs
foraging in the new year. Alan slipped out the cave mouth and looked
around into the twilight, hoping for a glimpse of something out of the
ordinary, but apart from an early owl and a handful of fireflies
sparking off like distant stars, he saw nothing amiss.

He padded around the mountainside, stooped down low, stopping every few
steps to listen for footfalls. At the high, small entrance to the
golems' cave, he paused, lay on his belly, and slowly peered around the
fissure.

It had been years since Alvin had come up to the golems' cave, years
since one had appeared in their father's cave. They had long ago ceased
bringing their kills to the threshold of the boys' cave, ceased leaving
pelts in neat piles on the eve of the waning moon.

The view from the outcropping was stunning. The village had grown to a
town, fast on its way to being a city. A million lights twinkled. The
highway cut a glistening ribbon of streetlamps through the night, a
straight line slicing the hills and curves. There were thousands of
people down there, all connected by a humming net-work -- a work of
nets, cunning knots tied in a cunning grid -- of wire and radio and
civilization.

Slowly, he looked back into the golems' cave. He remembered it as being
lined with ranks of bones, a barbarian cathedral whose arches were
decorated with ranked skulls and interlocked, tiny animal tibia. Now
those bones were scattered and broken, the ossified wainscoting rendered
gap-toothed by missing and tumbled bones.

Alan wondered how the golems had reacted when Darl had ruined their
centuries of careful work. Then, looking more closely, he realized that
the bones were dusty and grimed, cobwebbed and moldering. They'd been
lying around for a lot longer than a couple hours.

Alan crept into the cave now, eyes open, ears straining. Puffs of dust
rose with his footfalls, illuminated in the moonlight and city light
streaming in from the cave mouth. Another set of feet had crossed this
floor: small, boyish feet that took slow, arthritic steps. They'd come
in, circled the cave, and gone out again.

Alan listened for the golems and heard nothing. He did his own slow
circle of the cave, peering into the shadows. Where had they gone?

There. A streak of red clay, leading to a mound. Alan drew up alongside
of it and made out the runny outlines of the legs and arms, the torso
and the head. The golem had dragged itself into this corner and had
fallen to mud. The dust on the floor was red. Dried mud. Golem-dust.

How long since he'd been in this cave? How long since he'd come around
this side of the mountain? Two months. Three? Four? Longer. How long had
the golems lain dead and dust in this cave?

They'd carved his cradle. Fed him. Taught him to talk and to walk. In
some sense, they were his fathers, as much as the mountain was.

He fished around inside himself for emotion and found none. Relief,
maybe. Relief.

The golems were an embodiment of his strangeness, as weird as his
smooth, navelless belly, an element of his secret waiting to surface and
-- what? What had he been afraid of? Contempt? Vivisection? He didn't
know anymore, but knew that he wanted to fit in and that the golems'
absence made that more possible.

There was a smell on the wind in here, the death and corruption smell
he'd noticed in the sleeping cave. Father was worried.

No. Davey was inside. That was his smell, the smell of Davey long dead
and back from the grave.

Alan walked deeper into the tunnels, following his nose.

#

Davey dropped down onto his shoulders from a ledge in an opening where
the ceiling stretched far over their heads. He was so light, at first
Alan thought someone had thrown a blanket over his shoulders.

Then the fingers dug into his eyes. Then the fingers fishhooked the
corner of his mouth.

Then the screech, thick as a desiccated tongue, dry as the dust of a
golem, like no sound and like all the sounds at once.

The smell of corruption was everywhere, filling his nostrils like his
face has been ground into a pile of rotten meat. He tugged at the dry,
thin hands tangled in his face, and found them strong as iron bands, and
then he screamed.

Then they were both screeching and rolling on the ground, and he had
Danny's thumb in his hand, bending it back painfully, until *snap*, it
came off clean with a sound like dry wood cracking.

Doug was off him then, crawling off toward the shadows. Alan got to his
knees, still holding the thumb, and made ready to charge him, holding
his sore face with one hand, when he heard the slap of running footfalls
behind him and then Bill was streaking past him, baseball bat at ready,
and he swung it like a polo-mallet and connected with a hollow crunch of
aluminum on chitinous leathery skin.

The sound shocked Alan to his feet, wet sick rising in his gorge. Benny
was winding up for a second blow, aiming for Darren's head this time, an
out-of-the park *smack* that would have knocked that shrunken head off
the skinny, blackened neck, and Alan shouted, "NO!" and roared at Benny
and leapt for him. As he sailed through the air, he thought he was
saving *Benny* from the feeling he'd carried with him for a decade, but
as he connected with Benny, he felt a biting-down feeling, clean and
hard, and he knew he was defending *Drew*, saving him for once instead
of hurting him.

He was still holding on to the thumb, and Davey was inches from his
face, and he was atop Benny, and they breathed together, chests
heaving. Alan wobbled slowly to his feet and dropped the thumb onto
Drew's chest, then he helped Billy to his feet and they limped off to
their beds. Behind them, they heard the dry sounds of Davey getting to
his feet, coughing and hacking with a crunch of thin, cracked ribs.

#

He was sitting on their mother the next morning. He was naked and
unsexed by desiccation -- all the brothers, even little George, had
ceased going about in the nude when they'd passed through puberty --
sullen and silent atop the white, chipped finish of her enamel top, so
worn and ground down that it resembled a collection of beach-China. It
had been a long time since any of them had sought solace in their
mother's gentle rocking, since, indeed, they had spared her a thought
beyond filling her belly with clothes and emptying her out an hour
later.

The little ones woke first and saw him, taking cover behind a
stalagmite, peering around, each holding a sharp, flat rock, each with
his pockets full of more. Danny looked at each in turn with eyes gone
yellow and congealed, and bared his mouthful of broken and blackened
teeth in a rictus that was equal parts humor and threat.

Bradley was the next to wake, his bat in his hand and his eyelids
fluttering open as he sprang to his feet, and then Alan was up as well,
a hand on his shoulder.

He crouched down and walked slowly to Davey. He had the knife, handle
wound with cord, once-keen edge gone back to rust and still reddened
with ten-year-old blood, but its sharpness mattered less than its
history.

"Welcome me home," Davey rasped as Alan drew closer. "Welcome me home,
mother*fucker*. Welcome me home, *brother*."

"You're welcome in this home," Alan said, but Davey wasn't welcome. Just
last week, Alan had seen a nice-looking bedroom set that he suspected he
could afford -- the golems had left him a goodly supply of gold flake,
though with the golems gone he supposed that the sacks were the end of
the family's no-longer-bottomless fortune. But with the bedroom set
would come a kitchen table, and then a bookcase, and a cooker and a
fridge, and when they were ready, he could send each brother on his way
with the skills and socialization necessary to survive in the wide
world, to find women and love and raise families of their own. Then he
could go and find himself a skinny redheaded girl with a Scots accent,
and in due time her belly would swell up and there would be a child.

It was all planned out, practically preordained, but now here they were,
with the embodied shame sitting on their mother, his torn thumb gleaming
with the wire he'd used to attach it back to his hand.

"That's very generous, *brother*," Danny said. "You're a prince among
*men*."

"Let's go," Alan said. "Breakfast in town. I'm buying."

They filed out and Alan spared Davey a look over his shoulder as they
slipped away, head down on his knees, rocking in time with their mother.

#

Krishna grinned at him from the front porch as he staggered home from
Kurt's storefront. He was dressed in a hoodie and huge, outsized raver
pants that dangled with straps and reflectors meant to add kinetic
reflections on the dance floor.

"Hello, neighbor," he said as Alan came up the walkway. "Good evening?"

Alan stopped and put his hands on his hips, straightened his head out on
his neck so that he was standing tall. "I understand what he gets out of
*you*," Alan said. "I understand that perfectly well. Who couldn't use a
little servant and errand boy?

"But what I don't understand, what I can't understand, what I'd like to
understand is: What can you get out of the arrangement?"

Krishna shrugged elaborately. "I have no idea what you're talking
about."

"We had gold, in the old days. Is that what's bought you? Maybe you
should ask me for a counteroffer. I'm not poor."

"I'd never take a penny that *you* offered -- voluntarily." Krishna lit
a nonchalant cig and flicked the match toward his dry, xeroscaped
lawn. There were little burnt patches among the wild grasses there, from
other thrown matches, and that was one mystery-let solved, then, wasn't
it?

"You think I'm a monster," Alan said.

Krishna nodded. "Yup. Not a scary monster, but a monster still."

Alan nodded. "Probably," he said. "Probably I am. Not a human, maybe not
a person. Not a real person. But if I'm bad, he's a thousand times
worse, you know. He's a scary monster."

Krishna dragged at his cigarette.

"You know a lot of monsters, don't you?" Alan said. He jerked his head
toward the house. "You share a bed with one."

Krishna narrowed his eyes. "She's not scary, either."

"You cut off her wings, but it doesn't make her any less monstrous.

"One thing I can tell you, you're pretty special: Most real people never
see us. You saw me right off. It's like *Dracula*, where most of the
humans couldn't tell that there was a vampire in their midst."

"Van Helsing could tell," Krishna said. "He hunted Dracula. You can't
hunt what you can't see," he said. "So your kind has been getting a safe
free ride for God-knows-how-long. Centuries. Living off of us. Passing
among us. Passing for us."

"Van Helsing got killed," Alan said. "Didn't he? And besides that, there
was someone else who could see the vampires: Renfield. The pathetic pet
and errand boy. Remember Renfield in his cage in the asylum, eating
flies? Trying to be a monster? Von Helsing recognized the monster, but
so did Renfield."

"I'm no one's Renfield," Krishna said, and spat onto Alan's lawn. First
fire, then water. He was leaving his mark on Alan's land, that was
certain.

"You're no Van Helsing, either," Alan said. "What's the difference
between you and a racist, Krishna? You call me a monster, why shouldn't
I call you a paki?"

He stiffened at the slur, and so did Alan. He'd never used the word
before, but it had sprung readily from his lips, as though it had lurked
there all along, waiting to be uttered.

"Racists say that there's such a thing as 'races' within the human race,
that blacks and whites and Chinese and Indians are all members of
different 'races,'" Krishna said. "Which is bullshit. On the other hand,
you --"

He broke off, left the thought to hang. He didn't need to finish
it. Alan's hand went to his smooth belly, the spot where real people had
navels, old scarred remnants of their connections to real, human
mothers.

"So you hate monsters, Krishna, all except for the ones you sleep with
and the ones you work for?"

"I don't work for anyone," he said. "Except me."

Alan said, "I'm going to pour myself a glass of wine. Would you like
one?"

Krishna grinned hard and mirthless. "Sure, neighbor, that sounds
lovely."

Alan went inside and took out two glasses, got a bottle of something
cheap and serviceable from Niagara wine country out of the fridge,
worked the corkscrew, all on automatic. His hands shook a little, so he
held them under the cold tap. Stuck to the wall over his work surface
was a magnetic bar, and stuck to it was a set of very sharp chef's
knives that were each forged from a single piece of steel. He reached
for one and felt its comfort in his hand, seductive and glinting.

It was approximately the same size as the one he'd used on Davey, a
knife that he'd held again and again, reached for in the night and
carried to breakfast for months. He was once robbed at knifepoint,
taking the deposit to the bank after Christmas rush, thousands of
dollars in cash in a brown paper sack in his bag, and the mugger -- a
soft-spoken, middle-aged man in a good suit -- knew exactly what he was
carrying and where, must have been casing him for days.

The soft-spoken man had had a knife about this size, and when Alan had
seen it pointed at him, it had been like an old friend, one whose orbit
had escaped his gravity years before, so long ago that he'd forgotten
about their tender camaraderie. It was all he could do not to reach out
and take the knife from the man, say hello again and renew the
friendship.

He moved the knife back to the magnet bar and let the field tug it out
of his fingers and *snap* it back to the wall, picked up the wine
glasses, and stepped back out onto the porch. Krishna appeared not to
have stirred except to light a fresh cigarette.

"You spit in mine?" Krishna said.

Though their porches adjoined, Alan walked down his steps and crossed
over the lawn next door, held the glass out to Krishna. He took it and
their hands brushed each other, the way his hand had brushed the
soft-spoken man's hand when he'd handed over the sack of money. The
touch connected him to something human in a way that made him ashamed of
his desperation.

"I don't normally drink before noon," Adam said.

"I don't much care when I drink," Krishna said, and took a slug.

"Sounds like a dangerous philosophy for a bartender," Adam said.

"Why? Plenty of drunk bartenders. It's not a hard job." Krishna
spat. "Big club, all you're doing is uncapping beers and mixing shooters
all night. I could do it in my sleep."

"You should quit," Alan said. "You should get a better job. No one
should do a job he can do in his sleep."

Krishna put a hand out on Alan's chest, the warmth of his fingertips
radiating through Alan's windbreaker. "Don't try to arrange me on your
chessboard, monster. Maybe you can move Natalie around, and maybe you
can move around a bunch of Kensington no-hopers, and maybe you can budge
my idiot girlfriend a couple of squares, but I'm not on the board. I got
my job, and if I leave it, it'll be for me."

Alan retreated to his porch and sipped his own wine. His mouth tasted
like it was full of blood still, a taste that was woken up by the
wine. He set the glass down.

"I'm not playing chess with you," he said. "I don't play games. I try to
help -- I *do* help."

Krishna swigged the glass empty. "You wanna know what makes you a
monster, Alvin? That attitude right there. You don't understand a single
fucking thing about real people, but you spend all your time rearranging
them on your board, and you tell them and you tell yourself that you're
helping.

"You know how you could help, man? You could crawl back under your rock
and leave the people's world for people."

Something snapped in Alan. "Canada for Canadians, right? Send 'em back
where they came from, right?" He stalked to the railing that divided
their porches. The taste of blood stung his mouth.

Krishna met him, moving swiftly to the railing as well, hood thrown
back, eyes hard and glittering and stoned.

"You think you can make me feel like a racist, make me *guilty*?" His
voice squeaked on the last syllable. "Man, the only day I wouldn't piss
on you is if you were on fire, you fucking freak."

Some part of Alan knew that this person was laughable, a Renfield eating
bugs. But that voice of reason was too quiet to be heard over the animal
screech that was trying to work its way free of his throat.

He could smell Krishna, cigarettes and booze and club and sweat, see the
gold flecks in his dark irises, the red limning of his eyelids. Krishna
raised a hand as if to slap him, smirked when he flinched back.

Then he grabbed Krishna's wrist and pulled hard, yanking the boy off his
feet, slamming his chest into the railing hard enough to shower dried
spider's nests and flakes of paint to the porch floor.

"I'm every bit the monster my brother is," he hissed in Krishna's
ear. "I *made* him the monster he is. *Don't squirm*," he said, punching
Krishna hard in the ear with his free hand. "Listen. You can stay away
from me and you can stay away from my family, or you can enter a world
of terrible hurt. It's up to you. Nod if you understand."

Krishna was still, except for a tremble. The moment stretched, and Alan
broke it by cracking him across the ear again.

"Nod if you understand, goddammit," he said, his vision going fuzzily
black at the edges. Krishna was silent, still, coiled. Any minute now,
he would struggle free and they'd be in a clinch.

He remembered kneeling on Davey's chest, holding the rock over him and
realizing that he didn't know what to do next, taking Davey to their
father.

Only Davey had struck him first. He'd only been restraining him,
defending himself. Alan had hit Krishna first. "Nod if you understand,
Krishna," he said, and heard a note of pleading in his voice.

Krishna held still. Alan felt like an idiot, standing there, his
neighbor laid out across the railing that divided their porches, the
first cars of the day driving past and the first smells of bread and
fish and hospital and pizza blending together there in the heart of the
Market.

He let go and Krishna straightened up, his eyes downcast. For a second,
Alan harbored a germ of hope that he'd bested Krishna and so scared him
into leaving him alone.

Then Krishna looked up and met his eye. His face was blank, his eyes
like brown marbles, heavy lidded, considering, not stoned at all
anymore. Sizing Alan up, calculating the debt he'd just amassed, what it
would take to pay it off.

He picked up Alan's wine glass, and Alan saw that it wasn't one of the
cheapies he'd bought a couple dozen of for an art show once, but rather
Irish crystal that he'd found at a flea market in Hamilton, a complete
fluke and one of his all-time miracle thrift scores.

Krishna turned the glass one way and another in his hand, letting it
catch the sunrise, bend the light around the smudgy fingerprints. He set
it down then, on the railing, balancing it carefully.

He took one step back, then a second, so that he was almost at the
door. They stared at each other and then he took one, two running steps,
like a soccer player winding up for a penalty kick, and then he unwound,
leg flying straight up, tip of his toe catching the wine glass so that
it hurtled straight for Alan's forehead, moving like a bullet.

Alan flinched and the glass hit the brick wall behind him,
disintegrating into a mist of glass fragments that rained down on his
hair, down his collar, across the side of his face, in his ear. Krishna
ticked a one-fingered salute off his forehead, wheeled, and went back
into his house.

The taste of blood was in Alan's mouth. More blood coursed down his neck
from a nick in his ear, and all around him on the porch, the glitter of
crystal.

He went inside to get a broom, but before he could clean up, he sat down
for a moment on the sofa to catch his breath. He fell instantly asleep
on the creaking horsehide, and when he woke again, it was dark and
raining and someone else had cleaned up his porch.

#

The mountain path had grown over with weeds and thistles and condoms and
cans and inexplicable maxi-pads and doll parts.

She clung to his hand as he pushed through it, stepping in brackish
puddles and tripping in sink holes. He navigated the trail like a
mountain goat, while Mimi lagged behind, tugging his arm every time she
misstepped, jerking it painfully in its socket.

He turned to her, ready to snap, *Keep the fuck up, would you?* and then
swallowed the words. Her eyes were red-rimmed and scared, her full lips
drawn down into a clown's frown, bracketed by deep lines won by other
moments of sorrow.

He helped her beside him and turned his back on the mountain, faced the
road and the town and the car with its trunk with its corpse with his
brother, and he put an arm around her shoulders, a brotherly arm, and
hugged her to him.

"How're you doing there?" he said, trying to make his voice light,
though it came out so leaden the words nearly thudded in the wet dirt as
they fell from his mouth.

She looked into the dirt at their feet and he took her chin and turned
her face up so that she was looking into his eyes, and he kissed her
forehead in a brotherly way, like an older brother coming home with a
long-lost sister.

"I used to want to know all the secrets," she said in the smallest
voice. "I used to want to understand how the world worked. Little
things, like heavy stuff goes at the bottom of the laundry bag, or big
things, like the best way to get a boy to chase you is to ignore him, or
medium things, like if you cut an onion under running water, your eyes
won't sting, and if you wash your fingers afterward with lemon-juice
they won't stink.

"I used to want to know all the secrets, and every time I learned one, I
felt like I'd taken -- a step. On a journey. To a place. A destination:
To be the kind of person who knew all this stuff, the way everyone
around me seemed to know all this stuff. I thought that once I knew
enough secrets, I'd be like them.

"I don't want to learn secrets anymore, Andrew." She shrugged off his
arm and took a faltering step down the slope, back toward the road.

"I'll wait in the car, okay?"

"Mimi," he said. He felt angry at her. How could she be so selfish as to
have a crisis *now*, *here*, at this place that meant so much to him?

"Mimi," he said, and swallowed his anger.

#

His three brothers stayed on his sofa for a week, though they only left
one wet towel on the floor, only left one sticky plate in the sink, one
fingerprint-smudged glass on the counter.

He'd just opened his first business, the junk shop -- not yet upscale
enough to be called an antiques shop -- and he was pulling the kinds of
long hours known only to ER interns and entrepreneurs, showing up at 7
to do the books, opening at 10, working until three, then turning things
over to a minimum-wage kid for two hours while he drove to the city's
thrift shops and picked for inventory, then working until eight to catch
the evening trade, then answering creditors and fighting with the
landlord until ten, staggering into bed at eleven to sleep a few hours
before doing it all over again.

So he gave them a set of keys and bought them a MetroPass and stuffed an
old wallet with $200 in twenties and wrote his phone number on the brim
of a little pork pie hat that looked good on their head and turned them
loose on the city.

The shop had all the difficulties of any shop -- snarky customers,
shoplifting teenagers, breakage, idiots with jumpy dogs, never enough
money and never enough time. He loved it. Every stinking minute of
it. He'd never gone to bed happier and never woken up more full of
energy in his life. He was in the world, finally, at last.

Until his brothers arrived.

He took them to the store the first morning, showed them what he'd
wrought with his own two hands. Thought that he'd inspire them to see
what they could do when they entered the world as well, after they'd
gone home and grown up a little. Which they would have to do very soon,
as he reminded them at every chance, unmoved by George's hangdog
expression at the thought.

They'd walked around the shop slowly, picking things up, turning them
over, having hilarious, embarrassing conversations about the likely
purpose of an old Soloflex machine, a grubby pink Epilady leg razor, a
Bakelite coffee carafe.

The arguments went like this:

George: Look, it's a milk container!

Ed: I don't think that that's for milk.

Fred: You should put it down before you drop it, it looks valuable.

George: Why don't you think it's for milk? Look at the silver inside,
that's to reflect off the white milk and make it look, you know, cold
and fresh.

Fred: Put it down, you're going to break it.

George: Fine, I'll put it down, but tell me, why don't you think it's
for milk?

Ed: Because it's a thermos container, and that's to keep hot stuff hot,
and it's got a screwtop and whatever it's made of looks like it'd take a
hard knock without breaking.

And so on, nattering at each other like cave men puzzling over a
walkman, until Alan was called upon to settle the matter with the
authoritative answer.

It got so that he set his alarm for four a.m. so that he could sneak
past their snoring form on the sofa and so avoid the awkward, desperate
pleas to let them come with him into the shop and cadge a free breakfast
of poutine and eggs from the Harvey's next door while they were at
it. George had taken up coffee on his second day in the city, bugging
the other two until they got him a cup, six or seven cups a day, so that
they flitted from place to place like a hummingbird, thrashed in their
sleep, babbled when they spoke.

It came to a head on the third night, when they dropped by the shop
while he was on the phone and ducked into the back room in order to
separate into threes again, with George wearing the pork pie hat even
though it was a size too big for his head and hung down around his ears.

Adam was talking to a woman who'd come into the shop that afternoon and
greatly admired an institutional sofa from the mid-seventies whose lines
betrayed a pathetic slavish devotion to Danish Moderne aesthetics. The
woman had sat on the sofa, admired the sofa, walked around the sofa,
hand trailing on its back, had been fascinated to see the provenance
he'd turned up, an inventory sticker from the University of Toronto
maintenance department indicating that this sofa had originally been
installed at the Robarts Library, itself of great and glorious aesthetic
obsolescence.

Here was Adam on the phone with this woman, closing a deal to turn a
$3,000 profit on an item he'd acquired at the Goodwill As-Is Center for
five bucks, and here were his brothers, in the store, angry about
something, shouting at each other about something. They ran around like
three fat lunatics, reeking of the BO that they exuded like the ass end
of a cow: Loud, boorish, and indescribably weird. Weird beyond the
quaint weirdness of his little curiosity show. Weird beyond the
interesting weirdness of the punks and the goths and the mods who were
wearing their subcultures like political affiliations as they strolled
by the shops. Those were redeemable weirds, weirds within the bounds of
normal human endeavor. His brothers, on the other hand, were utterly,
utterly irredeemable.

He sank down behind the counter as George said something to Fred in
their own little shorthand language, a combination of grunts and
nonsense syllables that the three had spoken together for so long that
he'd not even noticed it until they were taken out of their context and
put in his. He put his back against the wall and brought his chest to
his knees and tried to sound like he had a belly button as he said to
the woman, "Yes, absolutely, I can have this delivered tomorrow if you'd
like to courier over a check."

This check, it was enough money to keep his business afloat for another
30 days, to pay his rent and pay the minimum-wage kid and buy his
groceries. And there were his brothers, and now Ed was barking like a
dog -- a rare moment of mirth from him, who had been the sober outer
bark since he was a child and rarely acted like the 17-year-old he was
behaving like today.

"Is everything all right?" she said down the phone, this woman who'd
been smartly turned out in a cashmere sweater and a checked scarf and a
pair of boot-cut jeans that looked new and good over her designer shoes
with little heels. They'd flirted a little, even though she was at least
ten years older than him, because flirting was a new thing for Alan, and
he'd discovered that he wasn't bad at it.

"Everything is fine," he said. "Just some goofballs out in the street
out front. How about if I drop off the sofa for six o'clock?"

"KILLED HER, CUT HER UP, SLICED HER OPEN," George screeched suddenly,
skidding around the counter, rolling past him, yanking the phone out of
the wall.

And in that moment, he realized what the sounds they had been making in
their private speech had been: They had been a reenactment, a grunting,
squeaking playback of the day, the fateful day, the day he'd taken his
knife and done his mischief with it.

He reached for the phone cable and plugged it back into the wall, but it
was as though his hand were moving of its own accord, because his
attention was focused elsewhere, on the three of them arrayed in a
triangle, as they had been on the hillside, as they had been when they
had chanted at him when the knife grip was sure in the palm of his
hands.

The ritual -- that's what it was, it was a *ritual* -- the ritual had
the feel of something worn smooth with countless repetitions. He found
himself rigid with shock, offended to his bones. This was what they did
now, in the cave, with Davey sitting atop their mother, black and
shriveled, this was how they behaved, running through this reenactment
of his great shame, of the day Danny died?

No wonder Darrel had terrorized them out of their home. They were beyond
odd and eccentric, they were -- unfit. Unfit for polite company. For
human society.

The phone in his hand rang. It was the woman.

"You know, I'm thinking that maybe I should come back in with a tape
measure and measure up the sofa before I commit to it. It's a lot of
money, and to be honest, I just don't know if I have room --"

"What if I measure it for you? I could measure it for you and call you
back with the numbers." The three brothers stared at him with identical
glassy, alien stares.

"That's okay. I can come in," and he knew that she meant, *I won't ever
come in again.*

"What if I bring it by anyway? I could bring it by tomorrow night and
you could see it and make up your mind. No obligation."

"That's very kind of you, but I'm afraid that I'll be out tomorrow
evening --"

"Friday? I could come by Friday --" He was trying to remember how to
flirt now, but he couldn't. "I could come by and we could have a glass
of wine or something," and he knew he'd said the exact wrong thing.

"It's all right," she said coldly. "I'll come by later in the week to
have another look.

"I have to go now, my husband is home," and he was pretty sure she
wasn't married, but he said good bye and hung up the phone.

He looked at his solemn brothers now and they looked at him.

"When are you going home?" he said, and Edward looked satisfied and Fred
looked a little disappointed and George looked like he wanted to throw
himself in front of a subway, and his bottom lip began to tremble.

"It was Ed's game," he said. "The Davey game, it was his." He pointed a
finger. "You know, I'm not like them. I can be on my own. I'm what
*they* need, they're not what *I* need."

The other two stared at their fat bellies in the direction of their fat
feet. Andrew had never heard George say this, had never even suspected
that this thought lurked in his heart, but now that it was out on the
table, it seemed like a pretty obvious fact to have taken note of. All
things being equal, things weren't equal. He was cold and numb.

"That's a really terrible thing to say, George," is what he said.

"That's easy for you to say," is what George said. "You are here, you
are in the *world*. It's easy for you to say that we should be happy
with things the way they are."

George turned on his heel and put his head down and bulled out the door,
slamming it behind him so that the mail slot rattled and the glass shook
and a stack of nice melamine cafeteria trays fell off a shelf and
clattered to the ground.

He didn't come back that night. He didn't come back the next day. Ed and
Fred held their grumbling tummies and chewed at the insides of their
plump cheeks and sat on the unsold Danish Modern sofa in the shop and
freaked out the few customers that drifted in and then drifted out.

"This is worse than last time," Ed said, licking his lips and staring at
the donut that Albert refused to feel guilty about eating in front of
them.

"Last time?" he said, not missing Felix's quick warning glare at Ed,
even though Ed appeared to.

"He went away for a whole day, just disappeared into town. When he came
back, he said that he'd needed some away time. That he'd had an amazing
day on his own. That he wanted to come and see you and that he'd do it
whether we wanted to come or not."

"Ah," Alvin said, understanding then how the three had come to be
staying with him. He wondered how long they'd last without the middle,
without the ability to eat. He remembered holding the infant Eddie in
his arms, the boy light and hollowed out. He remembered holding the
three boys at once, heavy as a bowling ball. "Ah," he said. "I'll have
to have a word with him."

#

When Greg came home, Alan was waiting for him, sitting on the sofa,
holding his head up with one hand. Eli and Fred snored uneasily in his
bed, breathing heavily through their noses.

"Hey," he said as he came through the door, scuffing at the lock with
his key for a minute or two first. He was rumpled and dirty, streaked
with grime on his jawline and hair hanging limp and greasy over his
forehead.

"Greg," Alan said, nodding, straightening out his spine and listening to
it pop.

"I'm back," George said, looking down at his sneakers, which squished
with grey water that oozed over his carpet. Art didn't say anything,
just sat pat and waited, the way he did sometimes when con artists came
into the shop with some kind of scam that they wanted him to play along
with.

It worked the same with George. After a hard stare at his shoes, he
shook his head and began to defend himself, revealing the things that he
knew were indefensible. "I had to do it, I just had to. I couldn't live
in that cave, with that thing, anymore. I couldn't live inside those two
anymore. I'm going crazy. There's a whole world out here and every day I
get farther away from it. I get weirder. I just wanted to be normal.

"I just wanted to be like you.

"They stopped letting me into the clubs after I ran out of money, and
they kicked me out of the cafés. I tried to ride the subway all night,
but they threw me off at the end of the line, so I ended up digging a
transfer out of a trash can and taking an all-night bus back downtown.

"No one looked at me twice that whole time, except to make sure that I
was gone. I walked back here from Eglinton."

That was five miles away, a good forty minute walk in the night and the
cold and the dark. Greg pried off his sneakers with his toes and then
pulled off his grey, squelching socks. "I couldn't find anyone who'd let
me use the toilet," he said, and Alan saw the stain on his pants.

He stood up and took Greg by the cold hand, as he had when they were
both boys, and said, "It's all right, Gord. We'll get you cleaned up and
changed and put you to bed, okay? Just put your stuff in the hamper in
the bathroom and I'll find you a change of clothes and make a couple
sandwiches, all right?"

And just as easy as that, George's spirit was tamed. He came out of the
shower pink and steaming and scrubbed, put on the sweats that Adam found
for him in an old gym bag, ate his sandwiches, and climbed into Adam's
bed with his brothers. When he saw them again next, they were
reassembled and downcast, though they ate the instant oatmeal with
raisins and cream that he set out for them with gusto.

"I think a bus ticket home is about forty bucks, right?" Alan said as he
poured himself a coffee.

They looked up at him. Ed's eyes were grateful, his lips clamped shut.

"And you'll need some food on the road, another fifty or sixty bucks,
okay?"

Ed nodded and Adam set down a brown hundred-dollar bill, then put a
purple ten on top of it. "For the taxi to the Greyhound station," he
added.

#

They finished their oatmeal in silence, while Adam puttered around the
apartment, stripping the cheese-smelling sheets and oily pillowcases off
his bed, rinsing the hairs off the soap, cleaning the toilet. Erasing
the signs of their stay.

"Well," he said at length. "I should get going to the shop."

"Yeah," Ed said, in George's voice, and it cracked before he could close
his lips again.

"Right," Adam said. "Well."

They patted their mouth and ran stubby fingers through their lank hair,
already thinning though they were still in their teens. They stood and
cracked their knuckles against the table. They patted their pockets
absently, then pocketed the hundred and the ten.

"Well," Adam said.

They left, turning to give him the keys he'd had cut for them, a gesture
that left him feeling obscurely embarrassed and mean-spirited even
though -- he told himself -- he'd put them up and put up with them very
patiently indeed.

And then he left, and locked the door with his spare keys. Useless spare
keys. No one would ever come to stay with him again.

#

What I found in the cave,

(he said, lying in the grass on the hillside, breathing hard, the taste
of vomit sour in his mouth, his arms and legs sore from the pumping run
down the hillside)

What I found in the cave,

(he said, and she held his hand nervously, her fingers not sure of how
hard to squeeze, whether to caress)

What I found in the cave,

(he said, and was glad that she hadn't come with him, hadn't been there
for what he'd seen and heard)

What I found in the cave was the body of my first girlfriend. Her
skeleton, polished to a gleam and laid out carefully on the floor. Her
red hair in a long plait, brushed out and brittle, circled over her
small skull like a halo.

He'd laid her out before my mother, and placed her fingernails at the
exact tips of her fingerbones. The floor was dirty and littered with
rags and trash. It was dark and it stank of shit, there were piles of
shit here and there.

The places where my brothers had slept had been torn apart. My brother
Bradley, his nook was caved in. I moved some of the rocks, but I didn't
find him under there.

Benny was gone. Craig was gone. Ed, Frankie, and George were gone. Even
Davey was gone. All the parts of the cave that made it home were gone,
except for my mother, who was rusted and sat askew on the uneven
floor. One of her feet had rusted through, and her generator had run
dry, and she was silent and dry, with a humus-paste of leaves and guano
and gunk sliming her basket.

I went down to the cave where my father spoke to us, and I found that I
-- I --

I found that I couldn't see in the dark anymore. I'd never had a
moment's pause in the halls of my father, but now I walked falteringly,
the sounds of my footsteps not like the steps of a son of the mountain
at all. I heard them echo back and they sounded like an outsider, and I
fell twice and hurt my head, here --

(he touched the goose egg he'd raised on his forehead)

and I got dizzy, and then I was in the pool, but it didn't sound right
and I couldn't hear it right, and I got my clothes off and then I stood
there with them in my arms --

(his hand came back bloody and he wiped it absently on the grass and
Mimi took hold of it)

Because. If I put them down. It was dark. And I'd never find them
again. So I bundled them all up and carried them over my head and I
waded in and the water had never been so cold and had never felt so oily
and there was a smell to it, a stagnant smell.

I waded out and I stood and I shivered and I whispered, "Father?" and I
listened.

I heard the sound of the water I'd disturbed, lapping around my ears and
up on the shore. I smelled the sewage and oil smell, but none of the
habitual smells of my father: Clean water, coalface, sulfur, grass, and
lime.

I picked my way out of the water again and I walked to the shore, and it
was too dark to put on my clothes, so I carried them under one arm and
felt my way back to the summer cave and leaned against my mother and
waited to drip dry. I'd stepped in something soft that squished and
smelled between my mother and my father, and I didn't want to put on my
socks until I'd wiped it off, but I couldn't bring myself to wipe it on
the cave floor.

Marci's eye sockets looked up at the ceiling. She'd been laid out with
so much care, I couldn't believe that Davey had had anything to do with
it. I thought that Benny must be around somewhere, looking in, taking
care.

I closed my eyes so that I wasn't looking into the terrible,
recriminating stare, and I leaned my head up against my mother, and I
breathed until the stink got to me and then I pried myself upright and
walked out of the cave. I stopped and stood in the mouth of the cave and
listened as hard as I could, but my father wasn't speaking. And the
smell was getting to me.

#

She got him dressed and she fed him sips of water and she got him
standing and walked him in circles around the little paddock he'd
collapsed in.

"I need to get Georgie out of the car," he said. "I'm going to leave him
in the cave. It's right."

She bit her lip and nodded slowly. "I can help you with that," she said.

"I don't need help," he said lamely.

"I didn't say you did, but I can help anyway."

They walked down slowly, him leaning on her arm like an old man, steps
faltering in the scree on the slope. They came to the road and stood
before the trunk as the cars whizzed past them. He opened the trunk and
looked down.

The journey hadn't been good to Gregg. He'd come undone from his winding
sheet and lay face down, neck stiff, his nose mashed against the floor
of the trunk. His skin had started to flake off, leaving a kind of scale
or dandruff on the flat industrial upholstery inside the trunk.

Alan gingerly tugged loose the sheet and began, awkwardly, to wrap it
around his brother, ignoring the grit of shed skin and hair that clung
to his fingers.

Mimi shook him by the shoulder hard, and he realized she'd been shaking
him for some time. "You can't do that here," she said. "Would you listen
to me? You can't do that here. Someone will see." She held something
up. His keys.

"I'll back it up to the trailhead," she said. "Close the trunk and wait
for me there."

She got behind the wheel and he sloped off to the trailhead and stood,
numbly, holding the lump on his forehead and staring at a rusted Coke
can in a muddy puddle.

She backed the car up almost to his shins, put it in park, and came
around to the trunk. She popped the lid and looked in and wrinkled her
nose.

"Okay," she said. "I'll get him covered and we'll carry him up the
hill."

"Mimi --" he began. "Mimi, it's okay. You don't need to go in there for
me. I know it's hard for you --"

She squeezed his hand. "I'm over it, Andy. Now that I know what's up
there, it's not scary any longer."

He watched her shoulders work, watched her wings work, as she wrapped up
his brother. When she was done, he took one end of the bundle and
hoisted it, trying to ignore the rain of skin and hair that shook off
over the bumper and his trousers.

"Up we go," she said, and moved to take the front. "Tell me when to
turn."

They had to set him down twice before they made it all the way up the
hill. The first time, they just stood in silence, wiping their cramped
hands on their thighs. The second time, she came to him and put her arm
around his shoulders and gave him a soft kiss on the cheek that felt
like a feather.

"Almost there?" she said.

He nodded and bent to pick up his end.

Mimi plunged through the cave mouth without a moment's hesitation and
they set him down just inside the entrance, near a pair of stained
cotton Y-fronts.

Alan waited for his heart to stop thudding and the sweat to cool on his
brow and then he kicked the underwear away as an afterthought.

"God," he said. She moved to him, put her arm around his shoulder.

"You're being brave," she said.

"God," he said again.

"Let it out, you know, if you want to."

But he didn't, he wanted to sit down. He moved to his mother's side and
leaned against her.

Mimi sat on her hunkers before him and took his hand and tried to tilt
his chin up with one finger, but he resisted her pull and she rose and
began to explore the cave. He heard her stop near Marci's skeleton for a
long while, then move some more. She circled him and his mother, then
opened her lid and stared into her hamper. He wanted to tell her not to
touch his mother, but the words sounded ridiculous in his head and he
didn't dare find out how stupid they sounded moving through freespace.

And then the washing machine bucked and made a snapping sound and hummed
to life.

*The generator's dead,* he thought. *And she's all rusted through.* And
 still the washing machine moved. He heard the gush of water filling
 her, a wet and muddy sound.

"What did you do?" he asked. He climbed slowly to his feet, facing away
from his mother, not wanting to see her terrible bucking as she wobbled
on her broken foot.

"Nothing," Mimi said. "I just looked inside and it started up."

He stared at his mother, enraptured, mesmerized. Mimi stole alongside of
him and he noticed that she'd taken off her jacket and the sweatshirt,
splaying out her wings around her.

Her hand found his and squeezed. The machine rocked. His mother rocked
and gurgled and rushed, and then she found some local point of stability
and settled into a soft rocking rhythm.

The rush of water echoed off the cave walls, a white-noise shushing that
sounded like skis cutting through powder. It was a beautiful sound, one
that transported him to a million mornings spent waiting for the boys'
laundry to finish and be hung on the line.

*All gone.*

He jerked his head up so fast that something in his neck cracked,
needling pain up into his temples and forehead. He looked at Mimi, but
she gave no sign of having heard the voice, the words, *All gone.*

*All gone.*

Mimi looked at him and cocked her head. "What?" she said.

He touched her lips with a finger, forgetting to be mindful of the
swelling there, and she flinched away. There was a rustle of wings and
clothing.

*My sons, all my sons, gone.*

The voice emerged from that white-noise roar of water humming and
sloshing back and forth in her basket. Mimi squeezed his hand so hard he
felt the bones grate.

"Mom?" he said softly, his voice cracking. He took half a step toward
the washer.

*So tired. I'm worn out. I've been worn out.*

He touched the enamel on the lid of the washer, and felt the vibrations
through his fingertips. "I can -- I can take you home," he said. "I'll
take care of you, in the city."

*Too late.*

There was a snapping sound and then a front corner of the machine
settled heavily. One rusted out foot, broken clean off, rolled across
the cave floor.

The water sounds stilled.

Mimi breathed some words, something like Oh my God, but maybe in another
language, or maybe he'd just forgotten his own tongue.

"I need to go," he said.

#

They stayed in a different motel on their way home from the mountain,
and Mimi tried to cuddle him as he lay in the bed, but her wings got in
the way, and he edged over to his side until he was almost falling off
before she took the hint and curled up on her side. He lay still until
he heard her snore softly, then rose and went and sat on the toilet,
head in his hands, staring at the moldy grout on the tiled floor in the
white light, trying not to think of the bones, the hank of brittle red
hair, tied tightly in a shopping bag in the trunk of the rental car.

Sunrise found him pacing the bathroom, waiting for Mimi to stir, and
when she padded in and sat on the toilet, she wouldn't meet his eye. He
found himself thinking of her standing in the tub, rolled towel between
her teeth, as Krishna approached her wings with his knife, and he went
back into the room to dress.

"We going to eat breakfast?" she asked in the smallest voice.

He said nothing, couldn't will himself to talk.

"There's still food in the car," she said after some silence had slipped
by. "We can eat that."

And without any more words, they climbed into the car and he put the
pedal down, all the way to Toronto, stopping only once for gas and
cigarettes after he smoked all the ones left in her pack.

When they cleared the city limits and drove under the viaduct at
Danforth Avenue, getting into the proper downtown, he eased off the
Parkway and into the city traffic, taking the main roads with their high
buildings and stoplights and people, people, people.

"We're going home?" she said. The last thing she'd said was, "Are you
hungry?" fourteen hours before and he'd only shook his head.

"Yes," he said.

"Oh," she said.

Was Krishna home? She was rooting in her purse now, and he knew that she
was looking for her knife.

"You staying with me?" he said.

"Can I?" she said. They were at a red light, so he looked into her
eyes. They were shiny and empty as marbles.

"Yes," he said. "Of course. And I will have a word with Krishna."

She looked out the window. "I expect he'll want to have a word with you,
too."

#

Link rang his doorbell one morning while he was hunched over his
computer, thinking about the story he was going to write. When he'd
moved into the house, he'd felt the shape of that story. All the while
that he'd sanded and screwed in bookcases, it had floated just below the
surface, its silhouette discernible through the ripples.

But when Adam left Mimi watching television and sat at his desk in the
evening with the humming, unscuffed, and gleaming laptop before him,
fingers poised over the keys, nothing came. He tapped out an opening
sentence,

	I suspect that my father is dead

and deleted it. Then undid the delete.

He called up The Inventory and stroked the spacebar with his thumb,
paging through screensful of pictures and keywords and pricetags and
scanned-in receipts. He flipped back to the story and deleted his
sentence.

	My dead brother had been hiding out on the synagogue's roof for
	God knows how long.

The last thing he wanted was to write an autobiography. He wanted to
write a story about the real world, about the real people who inhabited
it. He hit the delete key.

	The video-store girl never got bored behind her counter, because
	she could always while away the hours looking up the rental
	histories of the popular girls who'd shunned her in high school.

That's when Link rang his doorbell and he startled guiltily and quit the
text editor, saving the opening sentence. Which had a lot of promise, he
thought.

"Link!" he said. "Come in!"

The kid had put on ten or fifteen pounds since they'd first met, and no
longer made Alan want to shout, *Someone administer a sandwich* stat*!*
Most of it was muscle from hard riding as a bike messenger, a gig that
Link had kept up right through the cold winter, dressing up like a
gore-tex Martian in tights and ski goggles and a fleece that showed
hints of purple beneath its skin of crusted road salt and pollution.

Andrew had noticed the girls in the Market and at Kurt's shop noticing
Link, whose spring wardrobe showed off all that new muscle to new
effect, and gathered from the various hurt looks and sulks from the
various girls that Link was getting more ass than a toilet-seat.

	Her brother spent the winter turning into the kind of stud that
	she'd figured out how to avoid before she finished high school,
	and it pained her to see the hordes of dumb-bunnies making
	goo-goo eyes at him.

That would be a good second sentence for his story.

"You okay, Abby?" Link said, looking concerned. Albert realized that
he'd been on another planet for a moment there.

"Sorry, just fell down a rabbit hole," he said, flapping his arms
comically. "I was writing " -- felt *good* to say that -- "and I'm in a
bit of a, how you say, creative fog."

Link took a step back. "I don't want to disturb you," he said.

	But for all that, she still approved his outfits before he left
	the house, refusing to let him succumb to the ephemeral awful
	trendiness of mesh-back caps and too-tight boy-scout jamboree
	shirts. Instead, she put him into slightly fitted cotton shirts
	that emphasized his long lean belly and his broad shoulders.

"Don't sweat it. I could use a break. Come in and have a drink or
something." He checked the yellowing face of the tick-tock clock he kept
on the mantelpiece and saw that it was just past noon. "Past lunchtime,
that means that it's okay to crack a beer. You want a beer?"

	And for all that, her brother still managed to come home looking
	like some kind of frat-rat pussy-hound, the kind of boy she'd
	always hoped he wouldn't be.

"Beer would be great," Link said. He stepped into the cool of the living
room and blinked as his eyes adjusted. "This really is a hell of a
place," he said, looking around at the glass cases, the teetering stacks
of books that Andrew had pulled down and not reshelved, making ziggurats
of them instead next to all the chairs.

"What can I do for you?" Adam said, handing him a glass of Upper Canada
Lager with a little wedge of lime. He'd bought a few cases of beer that
week and had been going through them steadily in the living room, paging
through the most favored of his books, trying to find something, though
he wasn't sure what.

Link sipped. "Summer's here," he said.

"Yeah," Alan said.

"Well, the thing is, summer. I'm going to be working longer hours and,
you know, evenings. Well. I mean. I'm 19 years old, Andy."

Alan raised an eyebrow and sat back in his chair. "What's the message
you're trying to convey to me, Link?"

"I'm not going to be going around your friend's shop anymore. I really
had fun doing it all year, but I want to try something different with my
spare time this summer, you understand?"

"Sure," Alan said. He'd had kids quit on him before. That's what kids
did. Attention spans.

"Right. And, well, you know: I never really understood what we were
*doing*..."

"Which part?"

"The WiFi stuff --"

"Well, you see --"

"Stop, okay? I've heard you explain it ten times now and I still don't
get it. Maybe after a semester or two of electrical engineering it'll
make more sense."

"Okay," Adam said, smiling broadly to show no hard feelings. "Hey," he
said, carefully. "If you didn't understand what we were doing, then why
did you do it?"

Link cocked his head, as if examining him for traces of sarcasm, then
looked away. "I don't know. It was exciting, even if I didn't quite get
it. Everyone else seemed to get it, sort of, and it was fun to work
alongside of them, and sometimes the money was okay."

	Which is why she decided to --
	
Damn, what did she decide to do? That was shaping up to be a really good
opener.

	Which is why she wasn't surprised when he didn't come home for
	three nights in a row.

Aha.

"No hard feelings, Link," Adam said. "I'm really grateful for the help
you gave us and I hope you'll think about helping again in the fall..."

	But on the fourth night, she got worried, and she started
	calling his friends. They were all poor students, so none of
	them had land-line numbers you could look up in the phone book,
	but that was okay, since they all had accounts with the video
	store where she worked, with their deadbeat pre-paid mobile
	numbers listed.

"Yeah, that sounds great, you know, September, it gets dark early. Just
got word that I got into Ryerson for the fall, so I'll be taking
engineering classes. Maybe I can help out that way?"

"Perfect," Alan said. Link took a step backward, drained his beer, held
out the glass.

"Well, thanks," Link said, and turned. Alan reached past him and opened
the door. There were a couple of girls there, little suburban girls of
the type that you could find by the hatful in the Market on Saturday
mornings, shopping for crazy clothes at the vintage shops. They looked
14, but might have been as old as 16 or 17 and just heartbreakingly
naive. Link looked over his shoulder and had the decency to look
slightly embarrassed as they smiled at him.

"Okay, thanks, then," he said, and one of the girls looked past him to
get a glimpse inside the house. Andy instinctively stepped aside to give
her a better view of his showroom and he was about to offer her a soda
before he caught himself.

"You've got a nice place," she said. "Look at all those books!"

Her friend said, "Have you read all those books?" She was wearing thick
concealer over her acne, but she had a round face and heart-shaped lips
that he wouldn't have been surprised to see on the cover of a
magazine. She said it with a kind of sneer.

Link said, "Are you kidding? What's the point of a houseful of books
you've already read?"

They both laughed adoringly -- if Adam was feeling uncharitable, he'd
say it was simpering, not laughing, and took off for the exciting
throngs in the Market.

Alan watched them go, with Link's empty glass in one hand and his full
glass in the other. It was hot out in the Market, sunny, and it felt
like the spring had rushed up on him and taken him by surprise when he
wasn't looking. He had owned the house for more than a year now, and the
story only had three or four paragraphs to it (and none of them were
written down yet!).

	"You can't wash shit," is what her mother said when she called
	home and asked what she should do about her brother. "That kid's
	been a screw-up since he was five years old."

He should write the story down. He went back upstairs and sat down at
the keyboard and pecked out the sentences that had come to him, but they
seemed very sterile there aglow on the screen, in just the same way that
they'd felt restless and alive a moment before. The sunny day beamed
through the study window and put a glare up on his screen that made it
hard to type, and when he moved to the other side of the desk, he found
himself looking out the window at the city and the spring.

He checked his calendar and his watch and saw that he only had a couple
hours before the reporter from NOW magazine came by. The reporter -- a
summer intern -- was the only person to respond to his all-fluff press
release on the open network. He and Kurt had argued about the wording
all night and when he was done, he almost pitched it out, as the
editorial thrash had gutted it to the point of meaninglessness.

Oh well. The breeze made the new leaves in the trees across the street
sway, and now the sun was in his eyes, and the sentences were inert on
the screen.

He closed the lid of the laptop and grabbed his coat and left the house
as fast as he could, obscurely worried that if he didn't leave then, he
wouldn't get out all day.

#

As he got closer to Kurt's storefront, he slowed down. The crowds were
thick, laughing suburban kids and old men in buttoned-up cardigans and
fisherman's caps and subcultural tropical fish of all kinds: Goths and
punks and six kinds of ravers and hippies and so forth.

He spied Link sitting on the steps leading up to one of the above-shop
apartments, passing a cigarette to a little girl who sat between his
knees. Link didn't see him, he was laughing at something the boy behind
him said. Alan looked closer. It was Krishna, except he'd shaved his
head and was wearing a hoodie with glittering piping run along the
double seams, a kind of future-sarcastic raver jumper that looked like
it had been abandoned on the set of *Space: 1999*.

Krishna had his own little girl between *his* knees, with heart-shaped
lips and thick matte concealer over her zits. His hand lay casually on
her shoulder, and she brushed her cheek against it.

Alan felt the air whuff out of him as though he'd been punched in the
stomach, and he leaned up against the side of a fruit market, flattening
himself there. He turned his head from side to side, expecting to see
Mimi, and wanting to rush out and shield her from the sight, but she was
nowhere to be seen, and anyway, what business was it of his?

And then he spied Natalie, standing at the other end of the street,
holding on to the handles of one of the show bicycles out front of Bikes
on Wheels. She was watching her brother closely, with narrowed eyes.

	It was her fault, in some way. Or at least she thought it
	was. She'd caught him looking at Internet porn and laughed at
	him, humiliating him, telling him he should get out and find a
	girl whose last name wasn't "Jpeg."

He saw that her hands were clenched into fists and realized that his
were, too.

	It was her fault in some way, because she'd seen the kind of
	person he was hanging out with and she hadn't done a thing about
	it.

He moved into the crowd and waded through it, up the street on the
opposite side from his neighbors. He closed in on Natalie and ended up
right in front of her before she noticed he was there.

"Oh!" she said, and blushed hard. She'd been growing out her hair for a
couple months and it was long enough to clip a couple of barrettes
to. With the hair, she looked less skinny, a little older, a little less
vulnerable. She tugged at a hank of it absently. "Hi."

"We going to do anything about that?" he said, jerking his head toward
the steps. Krishna had his hand down the little girl's top now, cupping
her breast, then laughing when she slapped it away.

She shrugged, bit her lip. She shook her head angrily. "None of my
business. None of *your* business."

She looked at her feet. "Look, there's a thing I've been meaning to tell
you. I don't think I can keep on volunteering at the shop, okay? I've
got stuff to do, assignments, and I'm taking some extra shifts at the
store --"

He held up a hand. "I'm grateful for all the work you've done,
Natalie. You don't need to apologize."

"Okay," she said. She looked indecisively around, then seemed to make up
her mind and she hugged him hard. "Take care of yourself, okay?"

It struck him as funny. "I can take care of myself just fine, don't
worry about me for a second. You still looking for fashion work? I think
Tropicál will be hiring for the summer. I could put in that phone-call."

"No," she said. "No, that's okay." She looked over his shoulder and her
eyes widened. He turned around and saw that Krishna and Link had spotted
them, and that Krishna was whispering something in Link's ear that was
making Link grin nastily.

"I should go," she said. Krishna's hand was still down the little girl's
top, and he jiggled her breast at Alan.

#

The reporter had two lip piercings, and a matt of close-cropped
micro-dreads, and an attitude.

"So here's what I don't get. You've got the Market wired --"

"Unwired," Kurt said, breaking in for the tenth time in as many
minutes. Alan shot him a dirty look.

"Unwired, right." The kid made little inverted commas with his
fingertips, miming, *Yes, that is a very cute jargon you've invented,
dork.* "You've got the Market unwired and you're going to connect up
your network with the big interchange down on Front Street."

"Well, *eventually*," Alan said. The story was too complicated. Front
Street, the Market, open networks...it had no focus, it wasn't a
complete narrative with a beginning, middle, and end. He'd tried to
explain it to Mimi that morning, over omelets in his kitchen, and she'd
been totally lost.

"Eventually?" The kid took on a look of intense, teenaged skepticism. He
claimed to be 20, but he looked about 17 and had been the puck in an
intense game of eyeball hockey among the cute little punk girls who'd
been volunteering in the shopfront when he'd appeared.

"That's the end-goal, a citywide network with all-we-can eat free
connectivity, fully anonymized and hardened against malicious attackers
and incidental environmental interference." Alan steepled his fingers
and tried to look serious and committed.

"Okay, that's the goal."

"But it's not going to be all or nothing. We want to make the community
a part of the network. Getting people energized about participating in
the network is as important as providing the network itself -- hell, the
network *is* people. So we've got this intermediate step, this way that
everyone can pitch in."

"And that is, what, renaming your network to ParasiteNet?"

Kurt nodded vigorously. "Zactly."

"And how will I find these ParasiteNet nodes? Will there be a map or
something with all this information on it?"

Alan nodded slowly. "We've been thinking about a mapping application --"

"But we decided that it was stupid," Kurt said. "No one needed to draw a
map of the Web -- it just grew and people found its weird corners on
their own. Networks don't *need* centralized authority, that's just the
chains on your mind talking --"

"The chains on my mind?" The kid snorted.

Alan held his hands up placatingly. "Wait a second," he said. "Let's
take a step back here and talk about *values*. The project here is about
free expression and cooperation. Sure, it'd be nice to have a city-wide
network, but in my opinion, it's a lot more important to have a city
full of people working on that network because they value expression and
understand how cooperation gets us more of that."

"And we'll get this free expression how?"

"By giving everyone free Internet access."

The kid laughed and shook his head. "That's a weird kind of 'free,' if
you don't mind my saying so." He flipped over his phone. "I mean, it's
like, 'Free speech if you can afford a two-thousand-dollar laptop and
want to sit down and type on it.'"

"I can build you a desktop out of garbage for twenty bucks," Kurt
said. "We're drowning in PC parts."

"Sure, whatever. But what kind of free expression is that? Free
expression so long as you're sitting at home with your PC plugged into
the wall?"

"Well, it's not like we're talking about displacing all the other kinds
of expression," Alan said. "This is in addition to all the ways you've
had to talk --"

"Right, like this thing," the kid said. He reached into his pocket and
took out a small phone. "This was free -- not twenty dollars, not even
two thousand dollars -- just free, from the phone company, in exchange
for a one-year contract. Everyone's got one of these. I went trekking in
India, you see people using these out in the bush. And you know what
they use them for? Speech! Not speech-in-quotes meaning some kind of
abstract expression, but actual *talking.*"

The kid leaned forward and planted his hands on his knees and suddenly
he was a lot harder to dismiss as some subculture-addled intern. He had
that fiery intensity that Alan recognized from himself, from Kurt, from
the people who believe.

Alan thought he was getting an inkling into why this particular intern
had responded to his press release: Not because he was too ignorant to
see through the bullshit, but just the opposite.

"But that's communication through the *phone company*," Kurt said,
wonderment in his voice that his fellow bohemian couldn't see how
sucktastic that proposition was. "How is that free speech?"

The kid rolled his eyes. "Come off it. You old people, you turn up your
noses whenever someone ten years younger than you points out that cell
phones are actually a pretty good way for people to communicate with
each other -- even subversively. I wrote a term paper last year on this
stuff: In Kenya, electoral scrutineers follow the ballot boxes from the
polling place to the counting house and use their cell phones to sound
the alarm when someone tries to screw with them. In the Philippines,
twenty thousand people were mobilized in 15 minutes in front of the
presidential palace when they tried to shut down the broadcast of the
corruption hearings.

"And yet every time someone from my generation talks about how important
phones are to democracy, there's always some old pecksniff primly
telling us that our phones don't give us *real* democracy. It's so much
bullshit."

He fell silent and they all stared at each other for a moment. Kurt's
mouth hung open.

"I'm not old," he said finally.

"You're older than me," the kid said. His tone softened. "Look, I'm not
trying to be cruel here, but you're generation-blind. The Internet is
great, but it's not the last great thing we'll ever invent. My pops was
a mainframe guy, he thought PCs were toys. You're a PC guy, so you think
my phone is a toy."

Alan looked off into the corner of the back room of Kurt's shop for a
while, trying to marshal his thoughts. Back there, among the shelves of
milk crates stuffed with T-shirts and cruft, he had a thought.

"Okay," he said. "Fair enough. It may be that today, in the field,
there's a lot of free expression being enabled with phones. But at the
end of the day" -- he thought of Lyman -- "this is the *phone company*
we're talking about. Big lumbering dinosaur that is thrashing in the tar
pit. The spazz dinosaur that's so embarrassed all the other dinosaurs
that none of them want to rescue it.

"Back in the sixties, these guys sued to keep it illegal to plug
anything other than their rental phones into their network. But more to
the point, you get a different kind of freedom with an Internet network
than a phone-company network -- even if the Internet network lives on
top of the phone-company network.

"If you invent a new way of using the phone network -- say, a cheaper
way of making long-distance calls using voice-over-IP, you can't roll
that out on the phone network without the permission of the carrier. You
have to go to him and say, 'Hey, I've invented a way to kill your most
profitable line of business, can you install it at your switching
stations so that we can all talk long distance for free?'

"But on the net, anyone can invent any application that he can get his
buddies to use. No central authority had to give permission for the Web
to exist: A physicist just hacked it together one day, distributed the
software to his colleagues, and in just a very short while, people all
over the world had the Web.

"So the net can live on top of the phone network and it can run
voice-calling as an application, but it's not tied to the phone
network. It doesn't care whose wires or wireless it lives on top
of. It's got all these virtues that are key to free expression. That's
why we care about this."

The kid nodded as he talked, impatiently, signaling in body language
that even Alan could read that he'd heard this already.

"Yes, in this abstract sense, there are a bunch of things to like about
your Internet over there. But I'm talking about practical, nonabstract,
nontheoretical stuff over here. The real world. I can get a phone for
*free*. I can talk to *everyone* with it. I can say *anything* I want. I
can use it *anywhere*. Sure, the phone company is a giant conspiracy by
The Man to keep us down. But can you really tell me with a straight face
that because I can't invent the Web for my phone or make free long
distance calls I'm being censored?"

"Of course not," Kurt said. Alan put a steadying hand on his
shoulder. "Fine, it's not an either-or thing. You can have your phones,
I can have my Internet, and we'll both do our thing. It's not like the
absence of the Web for phones or high long-distance charges are *good*
for free expression, Christ. We're trying to unbreak the net so that no
one can own it or control it. We're trying to put it on every corner of
the city, for free, anonymously, for anyone to use. We're doing it with
recycled garbage, and we're paying homeless teenagers enough money to
get off the street as part of the program. What's not to fucking like?"

The kid scribbled hard on his pad. "*Now* you're giving me some quotes I
can use. You guys need to work on your pitch. 'What's not to fucking
like?' That's good."

#

He and Link saw each other later that day, and Link still had his two
little girls with him, sitting on the patio at the Greek's, drinking
beers, and laughing at his jokes.

"Hey, you're the guy with the books," one of them said when he passed
by.

He stopped and nodded. "That's me, all right," he said.

Link picked at the label of his beer bottle and added to the dandruff of
shredded paper in the ashtray before him. "Hey, Abe," he said.

"Hey, Link," he said. He looked down at the little girls' bags. "You've
made some finds," he said. "Congratulations."

They were wearing different clothes now -- double-knit neon pop-art
dresses and horn-rim shades and white legs flashing beneath the
tabletop. They kicked their toes and smiled and drank their beers, which
seemed comically large in their hands.

Casually, he looked to see who was minding the counter at the Greek's
and saw that it was the idiot son, who wasn't smart enough to know that
serving liquor to minors was asking for bad trouble.

"Where's Krishna?" he asked.

One girl compressed her heart-shaped lips into a thin line.

	And so she resolved to help her brother, because when it's your
	fault that something has turned to shit, you have to wash
	shit. And so she resolved to help her brother, which meant that,
	step one, she had to get him to stop screwing up.

"He took off," the girl said. Her pancake makeup had sweated away during
the day and her acne wasn't so bad that she'd needed it. "He took off
running, like he'd forgotten something important. Looked scared."

"Why don't you go get more beers," Link said angrily, cutting her off,
and Alan had an intuition that Link had become Krishna's Renfield, a
recursion of Renfields, each nesting inside the last like Russian dolls
in reverse: Big Link inside medium Krishna inside the stump that
remained of Darrel.

	And that meant that she had to take him out of the company of
	his bad companions, which she would accomplish through the
	simple expedient of scaring the everlasting fuck out of them.

She sulked off and the remaining girl looked down at her swinging toes.

"Where'd he go, Link?" Alan said. If Krishna was in a hurry to go
somewhere or see something, he had an idea of what it was about.

Link's expression closed up like a door slamming shut. "I don't know,"
he said. "How should I know?"

The other girl scuffed her toes and took a sip of her beer.

Their gazes all flicked down to the bottle.

"The Greek would bar you for life if he knew you were bringing underaged
drinkers into here," Alan said.

"Plenty of other bars in the Market," Link said, shrugging his newly
broad shoulders elaborately.

	Trey was the kid who'd known her brother since third grade and
	whose puberty-induced brain damage had turned him into an utter
	turd. She once caught him going through the bathroom hamper,
	fetishizing her panties, and she'd shouted at him and he'd just
	ducked and grinned a little-boy grin that she had been incapable
	of wiping off his face, no matter how she raged. She would enjoy
	this.

"And they all know the Greek," Alan said. "Three, two, one." He turned
on his heel and began to walk away.

"Wait!" Link called. The girl swallowed a giggle. He sounded desperate
and not cool at all anymore.

Alan stopped and turned his body halfway, looking impatiently over his
shoulder.

Link mumbled something.

"What?"

"Behind Kurt's place," Link said. "He said he was going to go look
around behind Kurt's place."

"Thank you, Link," he said. He turned all the way around and got down to
eye level with the other girl. "Nice to meet you," he said. He wanted to
tell her, *Be careful* or *Stay alert* or *Get out while the getting's
good*, but none of that seemed likely to make much of an impression on
her.

She smiled and her friend came back with three beers. "You've got a
great house," she said.

Her friend said, "Yeah, it's amazing."

"Well, thank you," he said.

"Bye," they said.

Link's gaze bored into the spot between his shoulder blades the whole
way to the end of the block.

#

The back-alleys of Kensington were a maze of coach houses, fences, dead
ends and narrow doorways. Kids who knew their secrets played ball-hockey
nearly undisturbed by cars, junkies turned them into reeking pissoirs,
homeless people dossed down in the lees of their low, crazy-angled
buildings, teenagers came and necked around corners.

But Alan knew their secrets. He'd seen the aerial maps, and he'd
clambered their length and breadth and height with Kurt, checking sight
lines for his network, sticking virtual pushpins into the map on his
screen where he thought he could get some real benefit out of an access
point.

So once he reached Kensington Avenue, he slipped behind a Guyanese patty
stand and stepped through a wooden gate and began to make his way to the
back of Kurt's place. Cautiously.

From behind, the riot of colors and the ramshackle signs and subculture
of Kensington was revealed as a superfice, a skin stretched over
slightly daggy brick two-stories with tiny yards and tumbledown
garages. From behind, he could be walking the back ways of any anonymous
housing development, a no-personality greyzone of nothing and no one.

The sun went behind a cloud and the whole scene turned into something
monochromatic, a black-and-white clip from an old home movie.

Carefully, he proceeded. Carefully, slipping from doorway to doorway,
slipping up the alleyway to the next, to the corner that led to the
alley that led to Kurt's. Carefully, listening, watching.

And he managed to sneak up on Krishna and Davey, and he knew that for
once, he'd be in the position to throw the rocks.

Krishna sat with his back against the cinderblock wall near Kurt's back
door, knees and hands splayed, head down in a posture of
supplication. He had an unlit cigarette in his mouth, which he nervously
shifted from corner to corner, like a soggy toothpick. Behind him,
standing atop the dented and scabrous garbage cans, Dumont.

He rested his head on his folded arms, which he rested on the sill, and
he stood on tiptoe to see in the window.

"I'm hungry," Krishna said. "I want to go get some food. Can I go and
get food and come back?"

"Quiet," Dewayne said. "Not another fucking word, you sack of shit." He
said it quietly in a neutral tone that was belied by his words. He
settled his head back on his folded forearms like a babe settling its
head in a bosom and looked back through the window. "Ah," he said, like
he had taken a drink.

Krishna climbed slowly to his feet and stood off a pace or two, staring
at Drew. He reached into the pocket of his old bomber jacket and found a
lighter and flicked it nervously a couple times.

"Don't you light that cigarette," Davey said. "Don't you dare."

"How long are we going to be here?" Krishna's whine was utterly devoid
of his customary swagger.

"What kind of person is he?" Davey said. "What kind of person is he? He
is in love with my brother, looks at him with cow-eyes when he sees him,
hangs on his words like a love-struck girl." He laughed nastily. "Like
*your* love-struck girl, like she looks at him.

"I wonder if he's had her yet. Do you think he has?"

"I don't care," Krishna said petulantly, and levered himself to his
feet. He began to pace and Alan hastily backed himself into the doorway
he'd been hiding in. "She's mine, no matter who she's fucking. I *own*
her."

"Look at that," Darrel said. "Look at him talking to them, his little
army, like a general giving them a pep talk. He got that from my
brother, I'm sure. Everywhere he goes, he leaves a trail of manipulators
who run other people's lives."

Alan's stomach clenched in on itself, and his butt and thighs ached
suddenly, like he'd been running hard. He thought about his protégés
with their shops and their young employees, learning the trade from them
as they'd learned it from him. How long had Don been watching him?

"When are we going to do it?" Krishna spat out his cigarette and shook
another out of his pack and stuck it in his mouth.

"Don't light it," Drew said. "We're going to do it when I say it's time
to do it. You have to watch first -- watching is the most important
part. It's how you find out what needs doing and to whom. It's how you
find out where you can do the most damage."

"I know what needs doing," Krishna said. "We can just go in there and
trash the place and fuck him up. That'd suit me just fine. Send the
right message, too."

Danny hopped down off the trash can abruptly and Krishna froze in his
paces at the dry rasp of hard blackened skin on the pavement. Davey
walked toward him in a bowlegged, splay-hipped gait that was more a
scuttle than a walk, the motion of some inhuman creature not accustomed
to two legs.

"Have you ever watched your kind, ever? Do you understand them, even a
little? Just because you managed to get a little power over one of my
people, you think you understand it all. You don't. That one in there is
bone-loyal to my brother. If you vandalized his little shop, he'd just
go to my brother for protection and end up more loyal and more. Please
stop thinking you know anything, it'll make it much easier for us to get
along."

Krishna stiffened. "I know things," he said.

"Your pathetic little birdie girl is *nothing*," Davey said. He stumped
over to Krishna, stood almost on his toes, looking up at him. Krishna
took an involuntary step backward. "A little one-off, a changeling
without clan or magic of any kind."

Krishna stuck his balled fists into the pockets of his space-age
future-sarcastic jacket. "I know something about *you*," he said. "About
*your* kind."

"Oh, yes?" Davey's tone was low, dangerous.

"I know how to recognize you, even when you're passing for normal. I
know how to spot you in a crowd, in a second." He smiled. "You've been
watching my kind all your life, but I've been watching your kind for all
of *mine*. I've seen you on the subway and running corner stores,
teaching in classrooms and driving to work."

Davey smiled then, showing blackened stumps. "Yes, you can, you
certainly can." He reached out one small, delicate hand and stroked the
inside of Krishna's wrist. "You're very clever that way, you are."
Krishna closed his eyes and breathed heavily through his nose, as though
in pain or ecstasy. "That's a good skill to have."

They stood there for a moment while Davey slowly trailed his fingertips
over Krishna's wrist. Then, abruptly, he grabbed Krishna's thumb and
wrenched it far back. Krishna dropped abruptly to his knees, squeaking
in pain.

"You can spot my kind, but you know nothing about us. You *are* nothing,
do you understand me?" Krishna nodded slowly. Alan felt a sympathetic
ache in his thumb and a sympathetic grin on his face at the sight of
Krishna knelt down and made to acquiesce. "You understand me?" Krishna
nodded again.

Davey released him and he climbed slowly to his feet. Davey took his
wrist again, gently. "Let's get you something to eat," he said.

Before Alan knew it, they were nearly upon him, walking back down the
alley straight toward his hiding place. Blood roared in his ears and he
pressed his back up against the doorway. They were only a step or two
away, and after a couple of indiscreetly loud panting gasps, he clamped
his lips shut and held his breath.

There was no way they could miss him. He pressed his back harder against
the door, and it abruptly swung open and a cold hand wrapped itself
around his bicep and pulled his through into a darkened, oil- and
must-smelling garage.

He tripped over his own heel and started to go over, but a pair of hands
caught him and settled him gently to the floor.

"Quiet," came a hoarse whisper in a voice he could not place.

And then he knew who his rescuer was. He stood up silently and gave
Billy a long hug. He was as skinny as death.

#

	Trey's phone number was still current in the video store's
	database, so she called him.

	"Hey, Trey," she said. "It's Lara."
	
	"Lara, heeeeeeyyyy," he said, in a tone that left no doubt that
	he was picturing her panties. "Sorry, your bro ain't here."

	"Want to take me out to dinner tonight?"
	
	The silence on the other end of the line made her want to laugh,
	but she bit her lip and rolled her eyes and amused the girl
	browsing the chop-socky epics and visibly eavesdropping.

	"Trey?"
	
	"Lara, uh, yes, I'd love to, sure. Is this like a group thing
	or..."

	"No, Trey, I thought I'd keep this between the two of us. I'll
	be at the store until six -- meet me here?"

	"Yeah, okay. Okay! Sure. I'll see you tonight."

#

Brad was so thin he looked like a corpse. He was still tall, though, and
his hair and beard were grown out into long, bad-smelling straggles of
knot and grime. In the half-light of the garage, he had the instantly
identifiable silhouette of a street person.

He gathered Adam up in a hug that reeked of piss and booze, a hug like a
bundle of twigs in his arms.

"I love you," he whispered.

Andrew backed away and held him at arm's length. His skin had gone to
deep creases lined with soot, his eyes filmed with something that looked
like pond scum.

"Brady. What are you doing here?"

He held a finger up to his lips, then opened the door again onto the
now-empty alley. Alan peered the way that Davey and Krishna had gone,
just in time to see them turn a distant corner.

"Give it another minute," Blake said, drawing the door nearly closed
again. A moment later, they heard another door open and then Kurt's
chain-draped boots jangled past, headed the other way. They listened to
them recede, and then Brian swung the door wide again.

"It's okay now," he said.

They stepped out into the sunlight and Bert started to walk slowly
away. Alan caught up with him and Bert took his arm with long bony
fingers, leaning on him. He had a slight limp.

"Where have you been?" Alan asked when they had gone halfway home
through deft, confident turnings led by Blake.

"Watching you," he said. "Of course. When I came to the city, I worked
out at the racetrack for a week and made enough money to live off of for
a couple months, and avoided the tough guys who watched me winning and
waited to catch me alone at the streetcar stop. I made enough and then I
went to watch you.

"I knew where you were, of course. Always knew where you were. I could
see you whenever I closed my eyes. I knew when you opened your shops and
I went by at night and in the busy parts of the day so that I could get
a better sense of them. I kept an eye on you, Alan, watched over you. I
had to get close enough to smell you and hear you and see you, though,
it wasn't enough to see you in my mind.

"Because I had to know the *why*. I could see the *what*, but I had to
know the *why* -- why were you opening your stores? Why were you saying
the things you said? I had to get close enough because from the outside,
it's impossible to tell if you're winking because you've got a secret,
or if you've got dust in your eye, or if you're making fun of someone
who's winking, or if you're trying out a wink to see how it might feel
later.

"It's been four years I've been watching you when I could, going back to
the track for more when I ran out of money, and you know what? I know
what you're doing."

Alan nodded. "Yeah," he said.

"You're watching. You're doing what I'm doing. You're watching them to
figure out what they're doing."

Alvin nodded. "Yeah," he said.

"You don't know any more about the world than I do."

Albert nodded. "Yeah," he said.

Billy shook his head and leaned more heavily on Alan's arm. "I want a
drink," he said.

"I've got some vodka in the freezer," Alan said.

"I'll take some of the Irish whiskey on the sideboard in the living
room."

Adam looked at him sharply and he shrugged and smiled an apologetic
smile. "I've been watching," he said.

They crossed the park together and Buddy stopped to look hard at the
fountain. "That's where he took Edward, right? I saw that."

"Yeah," Alvin said. "Do you know where he is now?"

"Yeah," Billy said. "Gone."

"Yeah," Adam said. "Yeah."

They started walking now, Billy's limp more pronounced.

"What's with your leg?"

"My foot. I lost a couple toes last year to frostbite and never got them
looked at properly." He reeked of piss and booze.

"They didn't...grow back?"

Bradley shook his head. "They didn't," he said. "Not mine. Hello,
Krishna," he said.

Alan looked to his neighbors' porch. Krishna stood there, stock still,
against the wall.

"Friend of yours, huh?" Krishna said. "Boyfriend?"

"He offered me a bottle of wine if I let him take me home," Bradley
said. "Best offer I had all week. Wanna make it a threesome? An *'ow you
say* 'mange ma twat?'"

Krishna contorted his face into an elaborate sneer. "Puke," he said.

"Bye, Krishna," Buddy said. Alan put his key into the lock and let them
in.

Blaine made a hobbling beeline for the sideboard and picked up the Jim
Beam Apollo 8 commemorative decanter that Adam kept full of Bushmills
1608 and poured himself a tall glass of it. He drank it back in two
swallows, then rolled his tongue around in his mouth with his eyes
closed while he breathed out the fumes.

"I have been thinking about that bottle ever since you bought it," he
said. "This stuff is legendary. God, that's good. I mean, that's fucking
magical."

"It's good," Andrew said. "You can have more if you want."

"Yeah," Burke said, and poured out another drink. He carried it and the
decanter to the sofa and settled into it. "Nice sofa," he said. "Nice
living room. Nice house. Not very normal, though."

"No," Andrew said. "I'm not fitting in very well."

"I fit in great." He drank back another glug of whiskey and poured out
another twenty dollars' worth. "Just great, it's the truth. I'm totally
invisible and indistinguishable. I've been sleeping at the Scott Mission
for six months now and no one has given me a second glance. They can't
even steal my stuff, because when they try, when they come for my shoes
or my food in the night, I'm always awake and watching them and just
shaking my head."

The whole living room stank of whiskey fumes with an ammoniac
tinge. "What if I find you some clothes and a towel?"

"Would I clean myself up? Would I get rid of this protective coloration
and become visible again?" He drank more, breathed out the fumes. "Sure,
why not. Why not. Time to be visible. You've seen me, Krishna's seen
me. Davey's gonna see me. Least I got to see them first."

And so he let his older brother lead him by the hand upstairs to the
bathroom with its damp-swollen paperbacks and framed kitsch-art
potty-training cartoons. And so he let his brother put him under the
stinging hot shower and shampoo his hair and scrub him vigorously with a
back brush, sluicing off the ground-in grime of the streets -- though
the calous pads on his hands remained as dark with soot as the feet of
an alleycat. And so he let his older brother wash the stumps of his toes
where the skin was just a waxy pucker of scar, like belly buttons, which
neither of them had.

And so he let his brother trim away his beard, first with scissors and
then with an electric razor, and so he let his brother brush out his
long hair and tie it back with an elastic taken from around a bunch of
broccoli in the vegetable crisper.

And so, by the time the work was done and he was dressed in too-big
clothes that hung over his sunken chest and spindly legs like a tent, he
was quite sober and quite clean and quite different.

"You look fine," Adam said, as Brent fingered his chin and watched the
reflection in the full-length mirror on the door of Alan's study. "You
look great."

"I look conspicuous. Visible. Used to be that eyes just slid off of
me. Now they'll come to rest on me, if only for a few seconds."

Andy nodded. "Sure, that's right. You know, being invisible isn't the
same as being normal. Normal people are visible."

"Yeah," Brad said, nodding miserably. He pawed again at the smooth
hollows of his cheeks.

"You can stay in here," Alan said, gesturing at his study. The desk and
his laptop and his little beginning of a story sat in the middle of the
room, surrounded by a litter of access points in various stages of
repair and printed literature full of optimistic, nontechnical
explanations of ParasiteNet. "I'll move all that stuff out."

"Yeah," Billy said. "You should. Just put it in the basement in
boxes. I've been watching you screw around with that wireless stuff and
you know, it's not real normal, either. It's pretty desperately
weird. Danny's right -- that Kurt guy, following you around, like he's
in love with you. That's not normal." He flushed, and his hands were in
fists. "Christ, Adam, you're living in this goddamned museum and nailing
those stupid science-fair projects to the sides of buildings. You've got
this comet tail of druggy kids following you around, buying dope with
the money they make off of the work they do for you. You're not just
visible, you're *strobing*, and you're so weird even *I* get the
crawlies around you."

His bare feet slapped the shining cool wood as he paced the room, lame
foot making a different sound from the good one.

Andy looked out the window at the green maple-keys rattling in the
wind. "They're buying drugs?"

Benny snorted. "You're bankrolling weekly heroin parties at two
warehouses on Oxford, and three raves a month down on Liberty Street."

He looked up at the ceiling. "Mimi's awake now," he said. "Better
introduce me."

Mimi kept her own schedule, mostly nocturnal, padding quietly around his
house while he slept, coming silently to bed after he rose, while he was
in the bathroom. She hadn't spoken a word to him in more than a week,
and he had said nothing to her. But for the snores and the warmth of the
bed when he lay down and the morning dishes in the sink, she might not
have been living with him at all. But for his constant awareness of her
presence in his house and but for the shirts with cut-away backs in the
laundry hamper, he might be living all on his own.

But for the knife that he found under the mattress, compass set into the
handle, serrated edge glinting, he might have forgotten those wings,
which drooped near to the floor now.

Footsteps crossing between the master bedroom and the bathroom. Pausing
at the top of the stairs. A soft cough.

"Alan?"

"It's okay, Mimi," he said.

She came down in a pair of his boxer shorts, with the topsheet
complicatedly draped over her chest in a way that left her wings
free. Their tips touched the ground.

"This is my brother Bentley," Adam said. "I told you about him."

"You can see the future," she said reproachfully.

"You have wings," he said.

She held out her hand and he shook it.

"I want breakfast," she said.

"Sounds good to me," Brent said.

Alan nodded. "I'll cook."

#

He made pancakes and cut up pears and peaches and apples and bananas for
fruit salad.

"This reminds me of the pancake house in town," Bart said. "Remember?"

Adam nodded. It had been Ed-Fred-George's favorite Sunday dinner place.

"Do you live here now?" Mimi said.

Alan said, "Yes." She slipped her hand into his and squeezed his
thumb. It felt good and unexpected.

"Are you going to tell her?" Billy said.

She withdrew her hand. "What is it." Her voice was cold.

Billy said, "There's no good comes of keeping secrets. Krishna and Davey
are planning to attack Kurt. Krishna says he owns you. He'll probably
come for you."

"Did you see that?" Adam said. "Him coming for her?"

"Not that kind of seeing. I just understand enough about people to know
what that means."

	Trey met her at six, and he was paunchier than she'd remembered,
	his high school brawn run to a little fat. He shoved a gift into
	her hand, a brown paper bag with a quart of cheap vodka in
	it. She thanked him simperingly and tucked it in her
	knapsack. "It's a nice night. Let's get takeout and eat it in
	High Park."

	She saw the wheels turn in his head, meal plus booze plus
	secluded park equals pussy, pussy, pussy, and she let the tip of
	her tongue touch her lips. This would be even easier than she'd
	thought.

"How can you tell the difference?" Arthur said. "Between seeing and
understanding?"

"You'll never mistake them. Seeing it is like remembering spying on
someone, only you haven't spied on him yet. Like you were standing
behind him and he just didn't notice. You hear it, you smell it, you see
it. Like you were standing *in* him sometimes, like it happened to you.

"Understanding, that's totally different. That's like a little voice in
your head explaining it to you, telling you what it all means."

"Oh," Andy said.

"You thought you'd seen, right?"

"Yeah. Thought that I was running out of time and going to die, or kill
Davey again, or something. It was a feeling, though, not like being
there, not like having anything explained."

"Is that going to happen?" Mimi asked Brad.

Brad looked down at the table. "'Answer unclear, ask again later.'
That's what this Magic 8-Ball I bought in a store once used to say."

"Does that mean you don't know?"

"I think it means I don't want to know."

#

"Don't worry," Bert said. "Kurt's safe tonight."

Alan stopped lacing up his shoes and slumped back on the bench in his
foyer. Mimi had done the dishes, Bill had dried, and he'd fretted about
Kurt. But it wasn't until he couldn't take it anymore and was ready to
go and find him, bring him home if necessary, that Billy had come to
talk to him.

"Do you know that for sure?"

"Yes. He has dinner with a woman, then he takes her dumpster diving and
comes home and goes to bed. I can see that."

"But you don't see everything?"

"No, but I saw that."

"Fine," Adam said. He felt hopeless in the face of these predictions, as
though the future were something set and immutable.

"I need to use the bathroom," Billy said, and made his way upstairs
while Alan moved to a sofa and paged absently through an old edition of
*Alice in Wonderland* whose marbled frontispiece had come detached.

A moment later, Mimi joined him, sitting down next to him, her wings
unfolded across the sofa back.

"How big are they going to get, do you think?" she said, arranging them.

"You don't know?"

"They're bigger than they've ever been. That was good food," she
said. "I think I should go talk to Krishna."

Adam shook his head. "Whoa."

"You don't need to be in between us. Maybe I can get him to back off on
you, on your family."

"Mimi, I don't even want to discuss it."

"It's the right thing to do," she said. "It's not fair to you to stay."

"You want to have your wings cut," Alan said. "That's why you want to go
back to him."

She shied back as though he'd slapped her. "No --"

"You do. But what Billy didn't tell you is that Krishna's out there with
other women, I saw him today. With a girl. Young. Pretty. Normal. If he
takes you back, it will be as a toy, not as a lover. He can't love."

"Christ," she said. "Why are you saying this?"

"Because I don't want to watch you self-destruct, Mimi. Stay here. We'll
sort out Krishna together. And my brother. Billy's here now, that means
they can't sneak up on us."

"And these?" she said, flapping her wings, one great heave that sent
currents of air across the room, that blew the loose frontispiece from
*Alice in Wonderland* toward the fireplace grate. "You'll sort these
out, too?"

"What do you want from me, Mimi?" He was angry now. She hadn't spoken a
word to him in weeks, and now --

"Cut them off, Alan. Make me into someone who can go out again, who can
be seen. Do it. I have the knife."

Adam squeezed his eyes shut. "No," he said.

"Good-bye," she said, and stood, headed for the stairs. Upstairs, the
toilet flushed and they heard the sink running.

"Wait!" he said, running after her. She had her hand on the doorknob.

"No," she said. She was crying now. "I won't stay. I won't be trapped
again. Better to be with him than trapped --"

"I'll do it," he said. "If you still want me to do it in two days, I'll
do it."

She looked gravely at him. "Don't you lie to me about this," she
said. "Don't you dare be lying."

He took her hands. "I swear," he said.

From the top of the stairs then, "Whups," said Billy. "I think I'll just
tuck myself into bed."

Mimi smiled and hugged Alan fiercely.

	Trey's ardor came out with his drunkenness. First a clammy arm
	around her shoulder, then a casual grope at her boob, then a
	sloppy kiss on the corner of her mouth. That was as far as she
	was going to let it go. She waited for him to move in for
	another kiss, then slipped out from under his arm so that he
	fell into the roots of the big tree they'd been leaning
	against. She brained him with the vodka bottle before he'd had a
	chance to recover, then, as he rocked and moaned, she calmly
	took the hunting knife she'd bought at the Yonge Street
	survivalist store out of her bag. She prized one of his hands
	off his clutched head and turned it over, then swiftly drew the
	blade across his palm, laying it open to the muscle.

	She hadn't been sure that she'd be capable of doing that, but it
	was easier than she'd thought. She had nothing to worry
	about. She was capable of that and more.

#

They climbed into bed together at the same time for the first time since
they'd come home, like a domesticated couple, and Mimi dug under her
pillow and set something down with a tin *tink* on the bedstand, a sound
too tinny to be the hunting knife. Alan squinted. It was the robot, the
one he'd given her, the pretty thing with the Dutch Master craquelure up
its tuna-can skirts.

"He's beautiful," she said. "Like you." She wrapped her wings around him
tightly, soft fur softer than any down comforter, and pressed her
dimpled knees into the hollows of his legs, snuggling in.

	He cried like a baby once the pain in his hand set in. She
	pointed the knifepoint at his face, close enough to stab him if
	need be. "I won't kill you if you don't scream," she said. "But
	I will be taking one joint of one toe and one joint of one
	finger tonight. Just so you know."

He tried not to fall asleep, tried to stay awake and savor that feeling
of her pressed against him, of her breath on the nape of his neck, of
the enfolded engulfment of her wings, but he couldn't keep his eyes
open. Soon enough, he was asleep.

What roused him, he couldn't say, but he found himself groggily awake in
the close heat of those wings, held tight. He listened attentively,
heard something else, a tinny sound. The robot.

His bladder was full. He gently extricated himself from Mimi, from her
wings, and stood. There was the robot, silhouetted on the end table. He
smiled and padded off to the toilet. He came back to find Mimi splayed
across the whole bed, occupying its length and breadth, a faintly
naughty smile on her face. He began to ease himself into bed again, when
he heard the sound, tinny, a little rattle. He looked at the robot.

It was moving. Its arms were moving. That was impossible. Its arms were
painted on. He sat up quickly, rousing Mimi, who let out a small sound,
and something small and bent emerged from behind the robot and made a
dash for the edge of the end table. The way the thing ran, it reminded
him of an animal that had been crippled by a trap. He shrank back from
it instinctively, even as he reached out for the table light and
switched it on.

Mimi scrunched her eyelids and flung an arm over her face, but he hardly
noticed, even when she gave an outraged groan. He was looking at the
little, crippled thing, struggling to get down off the end table on
Mimi's side of the bed.

It was the Allen. Though he hadn't seen it in nearly 20 years, he
recognized it. Tiny, malformed, and bandy-legged, it was still the
spitting image of him. Had Davey been holding on to it all these years?
Tending it in a cage? Torturing it with pins?

Mimi groaned again. "Switch off the light, baby," she said, a moment's
domesticity.

"In a sec," he said, and edged closer to the Allen, which was huddled in
on itself, staring and crazy.

"Shhh," Adam breathed. "It's okay." He very slowly moved one hand toward
the end table, leaning over Mimi, kneeing her wing out of the way.

The Allen shied back farther.

"What're you doing?" Mimi said, squinting up at him.

"Be very still," he said to her. "I don't want to frighten it. Don't
scream or make any sudden movements. I'm counting on you."

Her eyes grew round and she slowly looked over toward the end table. She
sucked in sudden air, but didn't scream.

"What is --"

"It's me," he said. "It grew out of a piece of me. My thumb. After Davey
bit it off."

"Jesus," she said.

The Allen was quaking now, and Alan cooed to it.

"It's hurt," Mimi said.

"A long time ago," Andreas said.

"No, now. It's bleeding."

She was right. A small bead of blood had formed beneath it. He extended
his hand farther. Its bandy scurry was pathetic.

Holding his breath, Alan lifted the Allen gently, cradling it in his
palms. It squirmed and thrashed weakly. "Shh," he said again. His hands
were instantly made slippery and sticky with its blood. "Shh." Something
sharp pricked at his hand.

Now that he had it up close, he could see where the blood was coming
from: A broken-off sewing needle, shoved rudely through its distended
abdomen.

"Cover up," Bradley said, "I'm coming up." They heard his lopsided tread
on the steps.

Mimi pulled the blanket up around her chin. "Okay," she said.

Bert opened the door quickly. He wore nothing but the oversized jeans
that Alan had given him, his scrawny chest and mutilated feet bare.

"It's going to die," Brad said, hunkering down beside the bed. "Davey
pinned it and then sent Link over with it. It can't last through the
night."

Adam felt like he was choking. "We can help it," he said. "It can
heal. It healed before."

"It won't this time. See how much pain it's in? It's out of its mind."

"So what do you want me to do?"

"We need to put it out of its misery," Brad said. "It's the right
thing."

In his hands, the thing squirmed and made a small, hurt sound. "Shhh,"
Alan said. The sound it made was like sobbing, but small, so small. And
weak.

Mimi said, "I think I'm going to be sick."

"Yeah," Brian said. "Yeah, I can see that."

She lifted herself out of bed, unmindful of her nudity, and pushed her
way past him to the door, to the bathroom.

	"Stop being such a baby," she told Trey as he clutched at his
	foot. "It's almost stopped bleeding already."

	He looked up at her with murder in his eyes. "Shall I take
	another one?" she said. He looked away.

	"If I get word that you've come within a mile of my brother, I
	will come back and take your eyes. The toe and the finger joint
	were just a down payment on that."

	He made a sullen sound, so she took his vain and girlish blond
	hair in her fist and tugged his head back and kissed his throat
	with the knife.

	"Nod if you understand. Slowly."
	
#

"The knife is under Mimi's pillow."

"I can't do it," Alan said.

"I know," Brian said. "I will."

And he did. Took the knife. Took the Allen. It cried. Mimi threw up in
another room, the sound more felt than heard. The toilet flushed and
Brian's hands were sure and swift, but not sure enough. The Allen made a
sound like a dog whistle. Bruce's hand moved again, and then it was
over. He dug a sock out of the hamper and rolled up the Allen's remains
in it. "I'll bury it," he said. "In the back."

Numbly, Alan stood and began dressing. "No," he said. "I will."

Mimi joined them, wrapped in a blanket. Alan dug and Brent held the sock
and Mimi watched solemnly.

A trapezoid of light knifed across the back garden. They looked up and
saw Krishna staring down at them from a third-floor window. He was
smiling very slightly. A moment later, Link appeared in the window,
reeling like he was drunk, giggling.

They all looked at one another for a frozen moment, then Alan turned
back to his shoveling. He dug down three feet, and Brent laid the little
Allen down in the earth gently as putting it to bed, and Alan filled the
hole back up. Mimi looked back up at the window, eyes locked on
Krishna's.

"I'm going inside," Adam announced. "Are you coming?"

"Yeah," Mimi said, but she didn't. She stayed out there for ten minutes,
then twenty, and when Alan looked out his window at her, he saw she was
still staring up at Krishna, mesmerized.

He loudly opened his window and leaned out. Mimi's eyes flicked to him,
and then she slowly made her way back into the house.

	She took his pants and his shoes and left him in the park,
	crying and drunk. All things considered, it had gone well. When
	Trey told her that he had no idea where her brother was, she
	believed him. It was okay, she'd find her brother. He had lots
	of friends.

Alan thought that that was the end of the story, maybe. Short and
sweet. A kind of lady or the tiger thing. Let the reader's imagination
do the rest.

There on the screen, it seemed awfully thin. Here in the house he'd
built for it, it seemed awfully unimportant. Such a big and elaborate
envelope for such a small thing. He saved the file and went back up to
bed. Mimi was asleep, which was good, because he didn't think he'd be
able to fall asleep with her twice that night.

He curled up on his side of the bed and closed his eyes and tried to
forget the sound the Allen had made.

#

	"What is wrong with you?"
	
	"Not a thing," she said. Her brother's phone-call hadn't been
	unexpected.

	"You're fucking insane."
	
	"Maybe," she said.
	
	"What do you *want from me*?"
	
	"I want you to behave yourself."
	
	"You're completely fucking insane."

He woke to find Billy gone, and had a momentary panic, a flashback to
the day that Fred had gone missing in the night. But then he found a
note on the kitchen table, terse: "Gone out. B." The handwriting sent
him back through the years to the days before Davey came home, the days
when they'd been a family, when he'd signed Brad's report cards and
hugged him when he came home with a high-scoring paper.

Mimi came down while he was holding the note, staring at the few spare
words there. She was draped in her wings.

"Where did he go?"

"I don't know," Alan said. "Out."

"Is this what your family is like?"

"Yeah," Alan said. "This is what they're like."

"Are you going to go out, too?"

"Yeah."

"Fine," she said. She was angry. She stomped out of the kitchen, and
stepped on her own wing, tripping, going over on her face. "Tomorrow,
you cut these tomorrow!" she said, and her wings flared open, knocking
the light fixtures a-swing and tumbling piles of books. "Tomorrow!" she
said.

#

"Good morning, Natalie," he said. She was red-eyed and her face was
puffy, and her hand shook so that the smoke from her cigarette rose in a
nervous spiral.

"Andy," she said, nodding.

He looked at her across the railing that divided their porches. "Would
you like to join me for a coffee?"

"I'm hardly dressed for it," she said. She was wearing a pair of cutoffs
and house slippers and a shapeless green T-shirt that hung down past her
butt.

"The Greek doesn't stand on ceremony," he said. He was hardly dressed
better. He hadn't wanted to go up to the master bedroom and face Mimi,
so he'd dressed himself out of the laundry hamper in the basement.

"I don't have *shoes*, Alan."

"You could go in and get some," he said.

She shook her head.

Her shoulders were tensed, her whole skinny body a cringe.

"We'll go barefoot and sit on the patio," he said after a moment,
kicking his shoes off.

She looked at him and gave a sad laugh. "Okay."

The sidewalk was still cool enough for bare feet. The Greek didn't give
their bare feet a second look, but brought iced coffees and yogurt with
walnuts and honey.

"Do you want to tell me about them?"

"It's been bad ever since -- ever since Mimi left. All of a sudden,
Krishna's Link's best friend. He follows him around."

Alan nodded. "Krishna beat Mimi up," he said.

"I know it," she said. "I heard it. I didn't do anything, goddamn me,
but I heard it happen."

"Eat," he said. "Here." He reached for a clean napkin from the next
table and handed it to her. She dried her eyes and wiped her nose and
ate a spoonful of yogurt. "Drink," he said, and handed her the
coffee. She drank.

"They brought those girls home last night. *Little*
girls. Teenyboppers. Disappeared into their bedrooms. The noises they
made."

"Drink," Alan said, and then handed her the napkin again.

"Drunk. They got them drunk and brought them home."

"You should get out of there," Andrew said, surprising himself. "Get
out. Today, even. Go stay with your mom and find a new apartment next
month."

She set her cup down carefully. "No," she said.

"I'm serious. It's a bad situation that you can't improve and the more
you stay there, the worse it's going to get."

"That's not a practical suggestion."

"Staying there, in potential danger, is not practical. You need to get
out. Staying there will only make things worse for you."

She clenched her jaw. "You know, there comes a point where you're not
giving advice anymore. There comes a point where you're just moralizing,
demonstrating your hypothetical superiority when it comes to doing the
right thing. That's not very fucking helpful, you know. I'm holding my
shit together right now, and rather than telling me that it's not
enough, you could try to help me with the stuff I'm capable of."

Alan digested this. She'd said it loudly, and a few of the other morning
patrons at the Greek's were staring at them. He looked away, across the
street, and spied Billy standing in a doorway, watching. Billy met his
eyes, then looked away.

"I'm sorry, Natalie," he said. "You're right."

She blew air out her nostrils.

"What about this. You can knock on my door any time. I'll make up the
sofa for you." He thought of Mimi and cringed inwardly. She'd have to
stay upstairs and be quiet if there were strangers in the house. Then he
remembered his promise about her wings. He bit his lip.

She let out a harsh chuckle. "Will I be any safer there?"

"What does that mean?"

"You're the weirdest person I've ever met, Alvin. I mean, sorry, no
offense, but why the hell would I knock on your door?"

She stood and turned on her barefoot heel and took herself away, walking
at a brisk and gingerly pace.

Barry moseyed over and sat in her seat. "She'll be okay," he said. He
picked up her spoon and began to finish her breakfast. "You know, I
can't watch the way I could yesterday, not anymore. Too visible. What do
I do now?"

Aaron shrugged. "Find a job. Be visible. Get a place to live. We can
have each other over for dinner."

Brett said, "Maybe I could get a job where I got to watch. Security
guard."

August nodded. He closed his eyes.

"She's very pretty," Barry said. "Prettier than Mimi."

"If you say so."

"Kurt's awake."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. You could introduce me to him."

	I did it for your own good, you know. She couldn't bring herself
	to say the words, for the enormity of what she'd done was
	overwhelming her. She'd found three of his friends and treated
	each of them to an evening of terror and hurt, and none of them
	would tell her where her brother was, none of them knew. Maybe
	they'd been innocent all along.

	"Where are you?"
	
	"Far from you," he said. In the background, she heard a girl
	crying.

#

"It's going to happen, we're going to cover the whole Market," Kurt
said. He had the latest coverage map out and it looked like he was
right. "Look at this." The overlapping rings of WiFi false-colored over
the map were nearly total.

"Are those our own nodes, or just friendlies?" Alan asked, all his
confusion and worry forgotten at the sight of the map.

"Those are our own," Kurt said. "Not so many friendlies." He tapped a
key and showed a map of the city with a pitiful sprinkling of fellow
travelers who'd opened up their networks and renamed them "ParasiteNet."

"You'll have more," Buddy said. Kurt looked a question at Alan.

"My brother Brent," he said. "Meet Kurt."

They shook.

"Your brother?"

Adam nodded.

"Not one of the missing ones?"

He shook his head. "A different one."

"It's nice to meet you." Kurt wiped off his palms. Adam looked around
the little private nest at the back of the shop, at the small, meshed-in
window on the back wall. Danny watched at that window sometimes.

"I'm gonna send a screengrab of this to Lyman, he'll bust a nut."

It made Anton smile. Lyman and Kurt were the unlikeliest of pals, but
pals they were.

"You do that."

"Why aren't you wearing shoes?"

Anton smiled shyly. "No volunteers today?"

Kurt shrugged, a jingle of chains. "Nope. Slow day. Some days just
are. Was thinking of seeing a movie or something. Wanna come?"

"I can't," Anton said.

"Sure," Brett said, oblivious to the fact that the invitation hadn't
really been directed at him. "I'd like that."

"O-kaaay," Kurt said. "Great. Gimme an hour or so and meet me out
front."

"It's a date."

#

He was half a block from home when he spotted Natalie sitting on her
porch, staring at the park. Kurt and Link were gone. The patio at the
Greek's was full. He was stood in his bare feet in the middle of
Kensington Market on a busy shopping day, and he had absolutely nowhere
to go. Nowhere he belonged.

He realized that Natalie had never put him in touch with her boss at
Martian Signal.

Barefoot, there wasn't much of anywhere he could go. But he didn't want
to be home with Mimi and he didn't want to walk past Natalie. Barefoot,
he ended up in the alleyway behind Kurt's again, with nowhere else to
go.

#

Blake and Kurt got back around suppertime, and by then Alan had counted
every shingle on the roofs of the garages, had carefully snapped the
sharps off of two syringes he found in some weeds, and then sat and
waited until he was ready to scream.

Blake walked confidently into the shop, through Kurt's nest, and to the
back door. He opened it and smiled at Adam. "Come on in," he said.

"Right," Alan said. "How was the movie?"

"It was fine," Kurt said.

"Incredible," Burt said. "I mean, *incredible*. God, I haven't been to
the movies in ten years at least. So *loud*, Jesus, I've never heard
anything like that."

"It was just A&E," Kurt said. "Asses and explosions."

Alan felt a wave of affection for his friend, and an indefinite sadness,
a feeling that they were soon to be parted.

Kurt stretched and cracked his knuckles. "Getting time for me to go out
diving."

"Let's go get some dinner, okay?" Andy said to Brad.

"G'night guys," Kurt said, locking the door behind them.

	"I'm sorry," she said. There had been five minutes of
	near-silence on the line, only the girl crying in the background
	at his end. She wasn't sure if he'd set the phone down or if he
	was listening, but the "sorry" drew a small audible breath out
	of him.

	"I'm really, really sorry," she said, and her hands felt sticky
	with blood. "God, I just wanted to *save you*."

#

Mimi was back in bed when they got home. Alan took a shower and scrubbed
at his feet, then padded silently around the shuttered bedroom, dressing
in the dark. Mimi made a sleepful noise.

"I'm making dinner," he said. "Want some?"

"Can you bring it up here?" she said.

"Yeah, sure," he said.

"I just can't face --" She waved a hand at the door, then let it flop
back down to the bed.

"It's all right, babe," he said.

He and Brad ate dinner in silence in the kitchen, boiled hot dogs with
cheese and sliced baby tomatoes from the garden and lemonade from
scratch. Bradley ate seven. Mimi had three bites out of the one that he
brought up to her room, and when he went up to collect her plate, she
was asleep and had the covers wrapped snugly around her. He took a spare
sheet and a blanket out of the linen closet and brought it downstairs
and made up the living room sofa. In moments, he was sleeping.

This night, he was keenly aware of what had roused him from sleep. It
was a scream, at the back of the house. A scared, drunken scream that
was half a roar.

He was at the back door in a moment, still scrubbing at his eyes with
his fists, and Bennett was there already.

He opened the door and hit the switch that turned on the garden lights,
the back porch lights, the garage lights in the coach house. It was
bright enough to dazzle him, but he'd squinted in anticipation.

So it only took him a moment to take in the tableau. There was Link, on
the ground, splayed out and face down, wearing boxer shorts and nothing
else, his face in a vegetable bed in the next door yard. There was
Krishna, standing in the doorway, face grim, holding a hammer and
advancing on Link.

He shouted, something wordless and alarmed, and Link rolled over and
climbed up to his feet and lurched a few steps deeper into the
postage-stamp-sized yard, limping badly. Krishna advanced two steps into
the yard, hammer held casually at his waist.

Alan, barefoot, ran to the dividing fence and threw himself at it going
up it like a cat, landing hard and painfully, feeling something small
and important give in his ankle. Krishna nodded cordially at him, then
hefted the hammer again.

Krishna took another step toward Alan and then Natalie, moving so fast
that she was a blur, streaked out of the back door, leaping onto
Krishna's back. She held there for a minute and he rocked on his heels,
but then he swung the hammer back, the claws first.

It took her just above her left eye with a sound like an awl punching
through leather and her cry was terrible. She let go and fell over
backward, holding her face, screaming.

But it was enough time, enough distraction, and Alan had hold of
Krishna's wrist. Remembering a time a long time ago, he pulled Krishna's
hand to his face, heedless of the shining hammer, and bit down on the
base of his thumb as hard as he could, until Krishna loosed the hammer
with a shout. It grazed Alan's temple and then bounced off his
collarbone on the way to the ground, and he was momentarily stunned.

And here was Link, gasping with each step, left leg useless, but hauling
himself forward anyway, big brawny arms reaching for Krishna, pasting a
hard punch on his cheek and then taking hold of his throat and bearing
him down to the ground.

Alan looked around. Benny was still on his side of the fence. Mimi's
face poked out from around the door. The sound of another hard punch
made him look around as Link shook the ache out of his knuckles and made
to lay another on Krishna's face. He had a forearm across his throat,
and Krishna gasped for breath.

"Don't," Adam said. Link looked at him, lip stuck out in belligerence.

"Stop me," he said. "Try it. Fucker took a hammer to my *knee*."

Natalie went to him, her hand over her face. "Don't do it," she
said. She put a hand on his shoulder. "We'll call the cops."

Krishna made a choking sound. Link eased up on him a little, and he drew
a ragged breath. "Go ahead and call them," he rasped.

Alan took a slow step back. "Brian, can you bring me the phone, please?"

Link looked at his sister, blood streaming down her face, at Krishna's
misshapen nose and mouth, distorted into a pink, meaty sneer. He
clenched each fist in turn.

"No cops," he said.

Natalie spat. "Why the hell not?" She spat again. Blood was running into
her eye, down her cheek, into her mouth.

"The girl, she's inside. Drunk. She's only 15."

Alan watched the brother and sister stare at one another. Blaine handed
him the phone. He hit a speed dial.

"I need a taxi to Toronto Western Hospital at 22 Wales Avenue, at
Augusta," he said. He hung up. "Go out front," he told Natalie. "Get a
towel for your face on your way."

"Andrew --" she said.

"I'll call the cops," he said. "I'll tell them where to find you."

It was as she turned to go that Krishna made a lunge for the
hammer. Billy was already kicking it out of the way, and Link, thrown
from his chest, got up on one knee and punched him hard in the kidneys,
and he went back down. Natalie was crying again.

"Go," Alan said, gently. "We'll be okay."

She went.

Link's chest heaved. "I think you need to go to the hospital too, Link,"
Alan said. The injured knee was already so swollen that it was visible,
like a volleyball, beneath his baggy trousers.

"No," Link said. "I wait here."

"You don't want to be here when the cops arrive," Alan said.

Krishna, face down in the dirt, spat. "He's not going to call any cops,"
he said. "It's grown-up stuff, little boy. You should run along."

Absently, Link punched him in the back of the head. "Shut up," he
said. He was breathing more normally now. He shifted and made a
squeaking sound.

"I just heard the cab pull up," Alan said. "Brian can help you to the
front door. You can keep your sister company, get your knee looked at."

"The girl --" he said.

"Yes. She'll be sober in the morning, and gone. I'll see to it," Adam
said. "All right?"

Brian helped him to his feet and toward the door, and Andrew stood
warily near Krishna.

"Get up," he said.

Mimi, in his doorway, across the fence, made a sound that was half a
moan.

Krishna lay still for a moment, then slowly struggled to his knees and
then his feet.

"Now what?" Krishna said, one hand pressed to his pulped cheek.

"I'm not calling the cops," he said.

"No," Krishna said.

"Remember what I told you about my brother? I *made him*. I'm stronger
than him, Krishna. You picked the wrong Dracula to Renfield for. You are
doomed. When you leave him, he will hunt you down. If you don't leave
him, I'll get you. You made this situation."

Billy was back now, in the doorway, holding the hammer. He'd hand it to
Adam if he asked for it. He could use it. After all, once you've killed
your brother, why not kill his Renfield, too?

Krishna looked scared, a little scared. Andrew teased at how that felt
and realized that it didn't feel like he'd thought it would. It didn't
feel good.

"Go, Krishna," he said. "Get out of this house and get out of my sight
and don't ever come back again. Stay away from my brother. You will
never profit by your association with him. He is dead. The best he can
do for you is make you dead, too. Go."

And Krishna went. Slowly. Painfully. He stood and hobbled toward the
front door.

Mimi watched him go, and she smiled once he was gone.

Benny said, "Kurt's shop is on fire."

#

They ran, the two of them, up Augusta, leaving Mimi behind, wrapped in
her blanket. They could smell the smoke as soon as they crossed
Kensington, and they could see the flames licking out of the dark black
clouds just a moment later.

The smell was terrible, a roiling chemical reek that burned the skin and
the lungs and the eyes. All those electronics, crisping and curling and
blackening.

"Is he in there?" Alan said.

"Yes," Barry said. "Trapped."

"Call the fire department," Andrew said, and ran for the door, fishing
in his pocket for his keys. "Call 911."

He got the door open and left his keys in the lock, pulling his shirt up
over his head. He managed a step into the building, two steps, and the
heat beat him back.

He sucked up air and ran for it again.

The heat was incredible, searing. He snorted half a breath and felt the
hair inside his nostrils scorch and curl and the burning was nearly
intolerable. He dropped down on all fours and tried to peer under the
smoke, tried to locate Kurt, but he couldn't find him.

Alan crawled to the back of the store, to Kurt's den, sure that his
friend would have been back there, worn out from a night's dumpster
diving. He took a false turn and found himself up against the
refrigerator. The little piece of linoleum that denoted Kurt's kitchen
was hot and soft under his hands, melting and scorching. He reoriented
himself, spinning around slowly, and crawled again.

Tears were streaming freely down his face, and between them and the
smoke, he could barely see. He drew closer to the shop's rear, nearly
there, and then he was there, looking for Kurt.

He found him, leaned up against the emergency door at the back of the
shop, fingers jammed into the sliver of a gap between the door's bottom
and the ground. Alan tried the door's pushbar, but there was something
blocking the door from the other side.

He tried slapping Kurt a couple times, but he would not be roused. His
breath came in tiny puffs. Alan took his hand, then the other hand, and
hoisted his head and neck and shoulders up onto his back and began to
crawl for the front door, going as fast as he could in the blaze.

He got lost again, and the floor was hot enough to raise blisters. When
he emerged with Kurt, he heard the sirens. He breathed hard in the night
air.

As he watched, two fire trucks cleared the corner, going the wrong way
down one-way Augusta, speeding toward him. He looked at Billy.

"What?"

"Is Kurt all right?"

"Sure, he's fine." He thought a moment. "The ambulance man will want to
talk with him, he said. "And the TV people, soon.

"Let's get out of here," Brad said.

"All right," he said. "Now you're talking."

Though it was only three or four blocks back to Adam's place, it took
the better part of half an hour, relying on the back alleys and the dark
to cover his retreat, hoping that the ambulance drivers and firefighters
wouldn't catch him here. Having to lug Kurt made him especially suspect,
and he didn't have a single good explanation for being caught toting
around an unconscious punk in the dead of night.

"Come on, Brent," Adam said. "Let's get home and put this one to bed and
you and me have a nice chat."

"You don't want me to call an ambulance?"

Kurt startled at this and his head lolled back, one eye opened a crack.

"No," Alan said. "No ambulances. No cops. No firemen. Just me and
him. I'll make him better," he said.

The smoke smell was terrible and pervaded everything, no matter which
direction the wind blew from.

Adam was nearly home when he realized that his place and his lover and
everything he cared about in the entire world were *also* on fire, which
couldn't possibly be a coincidence.

#

The flames licked his porch and the hot air had blown out two of the
windows on the second story. The flames were lapping at the outside of
the building, crawling over the inside walls.

No coincidence.

Kurt coughed hard, his chest spasming against Alan's back. Alan set him
down, as in a dream. As in a dream, he picked his way through the flames
on his porch and reached for the doorknob. It burned his hand.

It was locked. His keys were in Kurt's door, all the way up Augusta.

"Around the back," Bentley called, headed for the fence gate. Alan
vaulted the porch rail, crashing though the wild grasses and ornamental
scrub. "Come on," Bentley said.

His hand throbbed with the burn. The back yard was still lit up like
Christmas, all the lights ablaze, shining through the smoke, the ash of
books swirling in it, buoyed aloft on hot currents, fragments of words
chasing each other like clouds of gnats.

"Alan," Kurt croaked. Somehow, he'd followed them back into the
yard. "Alan." He held out his hand, which glowed blue-white. Alan looked
closer. It was his PDA, stubby wireless card poking out of it. "I'm
online. Look."

Alan shook his head. "Not now." Mimi, somewhere up there was Mimi.

"Look," Kurt croaked. He coughed again and went down to his knees.

Arnos took the PDA in hand and peered at it. It was a familiar app, the
traffic analysis app, the thing that monitored packet loss between the
nodes. Lyman and Kurt had long since superimposed the logical network
map over a physical map of the Market, using false-color overlays to
show the degree to which the access points were well connected and
firing on all cylinders.

The map was painted in green, packets flying unimpeded throughout the
empty nighttime Market. And there, approaching him, moving through the
alleys toward his garage, a blob of interference, a slow, bobbing
something that was scattering radio waves as it made its way toward
him. Even on a three-inch screen, he recognized that walk. Davey.

Not a coincidence, the fires.

"Mimi!" he called. The back window was blown out, crystal slivers of
glass all around him on the back lawn. "*Mimi!*"

Billy was at his side, holding something. A knife. The knife. Serrated
edge. Sharp. Cracked handle wound with knotted twine, but as he reached
for it, it wasn't cracked. It was the under-the-pillow knife, the wings
knife, Krishna's knife.

"You forgot this," he said, taking the PDA.

Then Davey was in the yard. He cocked his head and eyed the knife
warily.

"Where'd you get that?" he said.

Adam shifted his grip for slashing, and took one step forward, stamping
his foot down as he did it. Davey retreated a step, then took two steps
forward.

"He set the fires," Bentley said. "She's as good as dead. Cooked. Won't
be long now, she'll be cooked."

Darren looked at him for the first time. "Oh, yes," he said. "That's
about right. I never found you, no matter how I looked. You don't get
found if you don't want to."

Brent shook his head. "He set the fire, he used gasoline. Up the stairs,
so it would spread up every floor quickly."

Aaron growled and lunged forward, slicing wildly, but Davey's scurry was
surprising and fast and nimble.

"You're going to stab me again, cut me again? What do you suppose that
will get you?"

"He's weaker than he was, then. We got six years, then. He's
weaker. We'll get ten years. Twenty." Billy was hopping from foot to
foot. "*Do it*."

Alan sliced and stabbed again, and the knife's point caught Danny's
little bandy leg, like cutting through a loaf of stale bread, and Danny
gasped and hopped back another step.

"He gave you the knife, didn't he? He gave you the knife last time. Last
time, he took me to the school yard and showed me you and your
girlfriend. He explained all about girlfriends to me and about what it
would mean once our secret was out. He taught me the words, taught me to
say *pervert*. Remember, Billy? Remember how you taught me?"

Andrew hesitated.

"He taught me the ritual with your thumbtip, how to make the little you,
and then he took it away from me for safekeeping. He kept it in one of
his rabbit cages, around on the other side of the mountain. It's not
there now. Have you seen it? Does he still have it?

"He never liked having a little brother, not me or the others, but he
liked having that little thing around to torture."

Billy hissed. "She'll be dead in minutes," he said. "In seconds. Another
one dead. His doing!

"Killed her, cut her up, buried her," Benny chanted. "Sliced her open
and cut her up," he shrilled.

Alan let the knife fall from his hands. Benny leapt for Danny, hands
outstretched. Danny braced for the impact, rolled with him, and came up
on top of him, small hands in Benny's eyes, grinding.

There were sirens out front now, lots of sirens.

A distant crash, and a rain of glass fell about his shoulders. He turned
and looked up, looked up into the dormer window of his attic, four
stories up. Mimi's head poked out from the window, wreathed in smoke,
her face smudged and eyes screwed up.

"Mimi!" he cried.

She climbed unsteadily onto the windowsill, perched there for a
moment. Then she leaned forward, ducked her head, and slipped into the
sky.

Her magnificent wings unfolded in the smoke, in the hot ash, in the
smoldering remains of all of Alan's life in human society. Her
magnificent wings unfolded and caught the air with a sound he heard and
with a downdraft of warm air that blew his hair off his forehead like a
lover's hand, smoky smell and spicy smell.

She flew.

The sirens grew louder and she swooped over the yard. She gave two
powerful beats of her wings and rose higher than the roof, then she
circled the yard in great loops, coming lower and lower with each
pass. Davey and Benny watched her. Kurt watched her.

Alan watched her. She was coming straight for him. He held out his arms
and she fell into them, enfolding them both in her wings, her great and
glorious wings.

"Come on," she said. Kurt was already limping for the alley. Benny and
David had already melted away. They were alone in the yard, and the
sirens were so loud now, and there were the reflections of emergency
lights bouncing off the smoke around them. "Come on," she said, and she
put her arms around his waist, locking her wrists.

It took five beats of her wings to get them aloft, and they barely
cleared the fence, but they banked low over the alley and she beat her
wings again and then they were gaining altitude, catching an updraft
from the burning house on Wales Avenue, rising so high into the sky that
he felt like they would fly to the moon.

#

The day that Lyman and Kurt were on the cover of NOW magazine, they
dropped by Martian Signal to meet with Natalie's boss. Lyman carried the
pitch package, color-matched, polyethnic, edgy and cool, with great
copy.

Natalie met them. She'd grown out her hair and wore it with bangs
hanging over the scar on her forehead, just over her left eye, two
punctures with little dents. Three surgeries had cleared all the bone
fragments from the orbit of that eye, and she'd kept her sight. Once she
was out of the hospital, she quickly became the best employee Martian
Signal had ever had. She quickly became manager. She quickly undertook
to make several improvements in the daily operations of the store that
increased turnover by 30 percent. She slowly and reluctantly hired her
brother, but his gimpy knee made it hard for him to bend down to
reshelve, and he quickly quit.

Kurt and Natalie hugged, and Lyman formally shook her hand, and then
shook her boss's hand.

It took less than an hour to convince her boss to let them put up their
access point. On the way back, three different people stopped them and
told them how much they liked the article, and swore that the first
thing they'd do when they got home would be to open up their networks
and rename them ParasiteNet.

Lyman handled the thank-you's for this, and Kurt smiled and fiddled with
his PDA and watched the sky, looking for a girl with wings as wide as a
house.

#

I went to the house,

(she said, as he tended the fire, turning the yams in the coals and
stirring the pot in which his fish stew bubbled)

I went to the house,

(she said, resting up from the long flight she'd flown from Toronto to
Craig's distant, warm shores, far away from Kensington Market and
Krishna and Billy and Danny)

I went to the house,

(she said, and Andy worked hard to keep the grin off his face, for he'd
been miserable during her long absence and now he could scarcely contain
his delight)

I went to the house, and there was no one home. I had the address you'd
given me, and it was just like you'd described it to me, down to the
basketball hoop in the driveway.

It was empty. But it was as I'd remembered it. They'd lived there. I'd
lived there. You were right, that was the house.

That was the house I'd lived in. I rang the doorbell, then I peeked in
through a crack in the blinds. The rooms were empty. No furniture. Just
blinds. It was night, and no one was looking, so I flew up to the third
floor, to the window I'd stared out all those times.

The window was unlatched, and I slid aside the screen and let myself
in. The room was empty. No carpet. No frilly bed and stuffed animals. No
desk. No clothes in the closet, no hangers.

The only thing in the room was a small box, plugged into the wall, with
a network cable snaking away into the phone jack. It had small lights on
it, blinking. It was like the one you'd had in your attic. A wireless
access point.

I remembered their names, then. Oliver and Patricia. They'd been my
mother and father for a few years. Set me up with my first
apartment. This had been their house.

I slept there that day, then, come nightfall, I set out again to come
home to you.

#

Something woke Andy from his sound sleep, nestled in her wings, in her
arms. A tread on Craig's inviolable soil, someone afoot on his brother.

Slowly, he got himself loose of Mimi and sat up and looked around.

The golem standing before him was small, and its eyes glowed red. It
bent over and set something down on the earth, a fur-wrapped bundle of
smoked meat.

It nodded at him. He nodded back.

"Thank you," he said.

Mimi put her hand on his calf. "Is it okay?"

"It's right," he said. "Just as it was meant to be."

He returned to her arms and they kissed. "No falling in love," she said.

"Perish the thought," he said.

She bit his lip and he bit hers and they kissed again, and then he was
asleep, and at peace.


=== Bio ===

Canadian-born Cory Doctorow (craphound.com) is the European Affairs
coordinator for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (eff.org). He is the
coeditor of the popular weblog Boing Boing -- boingboing.net -- with
millions of visitors every month. He won the John W. Campbell Award for
Best New Writer at the 2000 Hugo awards and his novel Down and Out in
the Magic Kingdom (http://craphound.com/down/) won the Locus Award for
Best First Novel the same year that his short story collection A Place
So Foreign and Eight More (http://craphound.com/place/) won the Sunburst
Award for best Canadian science fiction book. His other books include
Eastern Standard Tribe (http://craphound.com/est/) and Rapture of the
Nerds (with Charles Stross).

Join my mailing list for infrequent notices of books, articles, stories
and appearances.

http://www.ctyme.com/mailman/listinfo/doctorow


=========================
Machine-readable metadata
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   Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town
   2005-7-1
   A novel by Cory Doctorow

   
      Cory Doctorow
   
   
      Cory Doctorow
   
   




   
   
   
   
   




   
   
   
   
   
   



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