30 October 2009


By Curtis C. Chen

Alice put on her boots and gloves and went outside. The shoveling might have waited, but the tears wouldn't, and she preferred to be doing something rather than just sitting by the window using up Kleenex. Besides, the cat wouldn't shut up, and Alice didn't need the grief today.

An hour later, her muscles ached, her cheeks were cold and wet, and there still seemed to be an entire mountain range of snow between her and the street. She looked back toward her front door. The winding path she'd dug along the walkway was a twisted, purposeless trench, going nowhere, coming from despair.

The cat was staring at her through the window. Alice stared back, catching her breath, exhaling fog. The cat blinked slowly, then began grooming itself, licking one paw and dragging it over its face.

"Stupid cat," Alice muttered. She hadn't even wanted a pet. The cat had been a stray, and adopting it had been Nathan's idea. It was also the last thing Nathan had touched before leaving the house that day, exactly one year ago. He had kissed Alice, the cat had rubbed up against his leg, and he'd scratched its head and smiled at Alice and then vanished. Probably forever.

Some people still held out hope that their loved ones might reappear someday, returned by the whim of whatever mysterious force had snatched them away in the first place, but Alice knew better than to delude herself. Even if he did return, he would be different, changed by whatever experience he'd had. And if, as some supposed, he was trapped inside a time bubble, frozen while the rest of the world spun on—well, then Alice would be the changed one, and they would still be separated by a gulf of difference. She had long ago decided to move on.

But Alice couldn't get rid of the cat. She just couldn't.

The cat stopped grooming, sat up, opened its mouth, and began convulsing.

"Not again!" Alice dropped the shovel and ran back into the house. She managed to scoop up the cat and position it on the tiled kitchen floor before it coughed up a very large hairball.

"What is wrong with you?" Alice asked the cat. "I've told you, if you think you're going to puke, go into the bathroom."

"Right," said the cat. "You remember that the next time you're on a tequila bender."

Stupid cat, Alice thought. The vanishings by themselves were bad enough without all the animals on the planet also starting to talk on the same damn day. How many weird things did the world need in it, anyway? "Are you done?"

"Yeah. Thanks a million." The cat squirmed out of her grip and sauntered down the hallway. "By the way, you're going to need more Kleenex."

Alice looked up at the windowsill. The side of the cardboard box was torn open, and a pile of shredded tissue paper sat on the carpet below.

"I hate you," Alice said.

"Hate you too," the cat sang, and disappeared into the bedroom.


26 October 2009

512 Words After Hours

My appearance on last Friday's Strange Love Live: After Hours (NSFW) included an exclusive reading of "The Wren and the Hen and the Men in the Pen." To get to the reading, scroll the video forward a few minutes until you see me staring down at a piece of paper. It's shortly after I flash a copy of Cory Doctorow's Overclocked and offer to read from it (I would have done "Printcrime"). If streaming video isn't your thing, you can also just listen to the audio.

Thanks to Cami Kaos and Dr. Normal for having me on the show!