Saturday, September 30, 2006


by Matthew Sanborn Smith

The oil man poked the back yard until it looked like a sponge and everywhere he poked, black muck came to the surface. Dad looked like he had looked a few weeks after my little sister, Shirley, died.

"How much to get it out of the ground and get rid of it?" he asked the oil man. The oil man was young and skinny and wore a stained white jumpsuit with powder blue pinstripes. Except for his bright red cap, he looked like his job and his life had sucked the color out of him.

"Gonna run probably 'bout five bucks a gallon, I 'magine," he said, snorting as he wiped his nose with a finger.

"Five bucks? That's fucking robbery! I remember my uncle paying a buck twenty-five a gallon when he got oil in his yard!"

"Buck twenty-five was thirty years ago, maybe," the oil man said. "We got more work than we can handle nowadays. Everybody's got oil. There's only so much you can refine, before you gotta start finding places to put it."

"I'll haul it off myself thanks," Dad said. "Five bucks'll bankrupt me."

"I know how it is. It's bankrupting whole countries out there in the Mid-East. They're drownin' in the shit. Awright, you got my card if you need me, but the way things are goin' it might be up to six bucks next week."

"Six bucks my ass," Dad muttered.

"What are we gonna do, Dad?" I asked him after the oil man left.

"Your cousin's got a truck with a hose. We might be able to skim it off the top or something. Pay the refinery to take that much at a time and hopefully I won't have to go to the bank."

"Dad, the refinery pays people to burn it all in their cars and furnaces. With everyone burning as much as they can, we're destroying the world."

"Take a look around the yard, son. The world's already destroyed. All there's left to do is sweep it under each other's rugs."

Friday, September 29, 2006

How We Beat The Aliens

by Matthew Sanborn Smith

When the Oustratum were about to invade Earth we needed some good ideas and fast. The aliens were the most powerful beings we had ever encountered and we knew we couldn't outgun them. Passive aggression was our only hope. We would bend like the reed so as not to break like the oak. And once our cultures were thoroughly intermingled, clever humanity would destroy the Oustratum from within.

The first days were the hardest. The aliens struck hard, expecting us to put up a real fight. We did have a reputation as one of the fiercest races of the continuum. We could hardly contain ourselves. They destroyed our infrastructures first. Communications, roads, utilities. They were using our old war strategies against us. Quite considerate, if you think about it. We never had to live in fear of surprises.

They destroyed our food and water supplies next. This was going to be tough. The Oustratum actually grew a little nervous at how easily the campaign was going. They nearly shook themselves apart knowing our counterattack could occur at any moment. But we weren't ready for them yet. When the time came, it was going to be sweet.

We nearly lost it when they killed our mothers and aunties right there in front of us. We mentally swore gruesome revenges as they killed our children. They began destroying the rest of us in alphabetical order by the names of our shoe sizes. All the eights went first, then eight and a halves, eighteens, eighteen and a halves, elevens, and so on through the alphabet. Soon we were all dead.

Wait. That's not right. What were we planning to do at this point? We had something. The cultures weren't going to become any more intermingled than they were now, them covering the planet, us being extinct. I swear we had this whole thing thought out. It looked fricking brilliant in the Power Point presentation.


Thursday, September 28, 2006

Something Is Wrong

Something is obviously wrong with and once it lets me edit my posts again I'll try to clean up the mess below.

Life Was Lite, Life Was Brite

BY Matthew Sanborn Smith

And then, suddenly, everything was Lite-Brite. Our entire world had become colored pegs on an unseeable black background. You'd think that insanity would overtake us all, but everyone seemed okay with it. Lite-Brite was pretty cool, after all. Irma looked at me with unnerving pink eyes. I plucked them out without a second thought.

She started screaming, "I can't see! I'm blind!"

I grabbed her by the shoulders and said, "Hold still, get a hold of yourself!"

From somewhere, the blue pegs that I wanted appeared in my hand, unglowing until I plugged them into her eye sockets. "Can you see now?"


"Did it hurt?"

"No." All the same, she hit me. "Don't ever do that to me again!"


"My eyes. You changed them. You didn't like me the way I was?" Tiny little white pegs trailed down her cheek.

How could she see that? "I'll change them back, if you want."

"Don't touch me! Don't ever touch me ever again! How would you like it if I added more pegs to your dick and made it bigger?"

"Are you kidding? I'd love that. I might do that myself."

"Stupid men. You think everything is a joke."

She walked out of my life that day. I suppose I could have chased her, but by that time, my pants were around my ankles and I was lucky if I could walk, let alone run.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


I went to bed last night thinking that I missed a day of posting. I tried posting my story again and again with no luck - the page just kept loading, so I gave up. Today I see that it wound up posting eight times. I'm going to edit seven of them out best I can, though I don't think I can wipe out all traces of them. You'll probably still see a number of blank posts. Ain't technology grand?

On Benders As A Quest for Higher Consciousness

by Matthew Sanborn Smith

Half-drunk, half asleep, one hundred percent in the moment. The only difference between you and me is that I'm in the moment on a different level. I'm experiencing this smoke-hazy conversation in the fourth dimension, and while it feels linear and fading to you, it's all there at once for me and I'm seeing all sides, through it and around it. Already, I'm embarrassed that minutes from now, I'll tell you twice that Southern Comfort mixed with Orange Crush tastes just like cough medicine. Two sentences in I say:

"Tell Susan you love her and put a bullet between Gabby's ears."

"What the hell are you talking about?" you ask. "I'm asking you if you wanna grab some burgers!"

"That's what you thought you were asking me over here." My pointer swoops up and under your left arm and behind your back.

"Dude, you are so fucking drunk!"

I ignore the rest of your conversation except to put my lines in where you'll need them. I swill some more cough medicine in the meantime.

"So what do you think I should do?" you say.


"I'm asking you what I should do!"

I'm leaning back into a couch that I didn't know I was on. It's orange/brown and it stinks, but the stink is somewhere else for me, not in my nose, but in my ears, like I heard that it stinks and believed it without question. I whip my head back and forth trying to go someplace higher. And when I think I'm there, when I can't see you or hear the stink or feel the couch, I say:

"Man, I already told you. I've lived this conversation twice and I'm damned tired of it. Away with you."


Three quarters drunk and three quarters asleep, I'm a man and a half, staring off a pier into the black water twelve feet below. You're not that last one. I think sex with you. And your talk is so everlasting and so pervasive it has become my entire universe. I wasn't around when your speech began. I was born into it. It's the background noise of eternity. It fills ninety percent of my brain, leaving room for only the knotty boards pressing the metal buttons of some jacket into my heaving chest and the chilly ink below, which moves sometimes like I should be scared of it, but I'm not.

Your speech will be around long after I am in the grave. And I belch, what a pathetic existence I have. Everything I know is your speech and the button pain and the water and - did I just shit my pants? No, no, I guess not. I guess I'll find out in the morning.

I try to get one little piece of my brain to focus on what you're saying while the rest of my life is all about getting my big hulking body to roll over. Is there anything in the infinite reaches of your monologue about me shitting my pants? I follow here and there, understand bits of it. There's nothing I can gather that's relevant to my life. My pants must be okay. I forgot I was trying to roll over. I try again for about three-tenths of a second, barely enough time for a muscle twitch and then I let out a moan that rocks the world, but not in a good way.

"What the hell is wrong with you?" you ask in that girlish voice you use when you're a girl.

"How would you like it if the only constant in your universe wasn't even a speech about you? It's about somebody else entirely. I'm not Dave, I'm me. And I'm pretty sure me isn't Dave."

And then I vomit, and the ink below ripples at my command. I enjoy the power so much, I puke some more. It goes on like this for years.

"I mean," I continue as if nothing had happened, "I'm not even the center of my own universe. I'm some side character punished with existence!"

"You are one drunk mother fucker!" you say.

"Not yet," I say. Finding a ferocious strength I never knew I had, I reach for the half pint of Schnapps inside my jacket. Propping myself up on stinging elbows, I suck the plastic teat and wait to be transported somewhere better.


Fully drunk. Fully asleep. Why am I drunk in my dreams too? That isn't fair. I'm trying to reach a higher plane of consciousness here. Can't you stop the world from spinning long enough that I can make a single coherent thought?

So the world stops spinning. I go hurtling off into space.

"Damn you, Newton!" I scream, like he had something to do with it. And there you are. Washing over me, warm and thick like you're myself and you've always belonged here. I make a couple of kissy noises with gigantic lips and I settle down. Finally . . .


Not at all drunk. Not at all asleep. You are my world now, pain/nausea/notrightness. When my eyes meet open and swallow the walls of my vast, dull bedroom, I understand how full I am. I am everything there is.

And you are everything else.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


by Matthew Sanborn Smith

Ravi loved girls. Ravi loved bubblewrap. It only seemed right that Ravi would superlove a girl made out of bubblewrap.

He didn't want to sully his woman with used bubblewrap so he bought the new stuff from the pack and ship stores. Big bubbles for the overall form (he used a lot in the bosom area as it was one of his favorites), little bubbles for the details. It took a couple of tries, but he settled on rubber bands to supplement her shape. And, of course, hold her together. Staples had been so bad in so many ways. He woke up three times Monday night to check his scabbed mouth for the first signs of tetanus.

Wednesday night, BubbleRuth was born.

For the first half hour, he drove her down the lonely, unlit back roads of his little town with his hand on her knee, though she didn't really bend very well there. He played his cherished Air Supply mix CD and moved to her thigh.

Back at his pad (and he could say pad because she didn't judge) Ravi tore her clothes off (yes) and fondled her lumpy form, enraptured. He rubbed his body all over hers, did everything with her that he would with a real woman (yes). With the ultimate moment came a passion that made him leave sense behind. He had to have her firmness, squeeze it like it was meant to be squeezed: terminally. He arrived in a cacophony of ruptured flesh, a climax louder than any one moment of Chinese New Year.

The lights came on at the neighbor's house. Ravi leapt in terror and ran to the bathroom, BubbleRuth trailing behind. In mindless fear he tried to flush her mangled form down the toilet, causing a backup that flooded the bathroom and finally brought him back to reality. He sat on the edge of his tub, looked at BubbleRuth's remains, half in, half out of the toilet, and he wept.

Bubblewrap. Girls. The perfect mix? He thought not.

In Ravi's back yard there sits a simple marker: BubbleRuth, September 27th, 2006 - September 27th, 2006.

Ravi never married.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Sunday Dinner

by Matthew Sanborn Smith

Troy spent the days in the library, in a squared off chair of wood and yellow vinyl, driving himself insane. The place smelled dusty and the old air was thicker than outside, but things were a little better here in periodicals. His resident spot was in view of a plastic bust of Poe alongside the yellowing microfiche machine.

Josie had let him in and he was first through the door. Troy's torn and patchy backpack played its role as place keeper at his seat while he set to work. Out came his crumpled handwritten list.

"Bon Appetit, Apr. 2010, page 77." The issue had made its way onto the archive shelves, which saddened him. It was old and losing its scent. He flipped through the issue and found the ad he wanted. It wasn't even a food ad. It was an ad for a convection oven. But the oven baked cookies. Chocolate chip. Troy held the magazine away from him for a moment, took a big whiff of stale library air and let it out slowly. Then he buried his head in the issue and inhaled through his nose. There it was. It grew faint and this might be the last day he left the magazine on his list, but for right now, he caught the melty, oily aroma of the chocolate seeping into the still softish dough. "Jesus," he whispered. It was better than porn.

"O Magazine, Jan. 2011, page 133." This one was still on the stand. McDonald's french fries. Hot and greasy and salty. He remembered how the bag felt when they came right out of the deep fry, the paper the only thing between him and a first degree burn. He took another smell and tried had to remember it for later. Josie walked by and Troy acted like he was reading the ad. She knew and he knew but he couldn't bring himself to indulge right there in front of her.

His cruddy fingernail ran down the list. He wanted to save the best one for just before breakfast.

"Ladies' Home Journal, Nov. 2011, page 42." The picture was a dinner table set for a party, with a huge roast on a platter in front of an autumnal center piece of brown and orange. Troy's mouth watered just looking at it. He sniffed hard and loud like his cousin Lena used to snort coke. It all rushed in: Sunday dinner at his mother's house on Long Island, the steaming, juicy roast, and the margarine on the mashed potatoes. Even the peas smelled good and he didn't used to like peas but he hadn't tasted anything like his mother's cooking since he left home twenty-odd years ago. Troy's eyes were wet. He concentrated and snorted again.

He put the magazine back and grabbed his pack and headed for the door. Not too fast, otherwise they might think you took something.

On the library steps, over by the skinny bare trees, he sat and opened the his can of tuna. It was an old high-mercury albacore they couldn't sell in the grocery stores anymore, but you could still get them at the shelters.

He thought about the roast. Troy put himself back in the library just two minutes before and felt the magazine in his hands and he remembered. He really remembered until his mouth watered once more. He shut his eyes tight and scooped the tuna into his mouth and he brought back the smell and maybe even the taste of that roast just like his mother's Sunday dinners when he was a kid.

Christ, he thought, the cold wind a million miles away, What could be better than this?

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Chuck vs. Buck

by Matthew Sanborn Smith

Chuck thought it would be cool to convert the guitars so they shot bullets. Now we were on the run after a show where he tried to get fancy with a G minor chord and some improvised harmonics.

"That dog would be alive right now if we'd gotten flame throwers like I'd wanted," I complained between puffs. Our boots slapped against the white gravel of the railroad tracks.

"I'm an artist, Zip," he said. "I find pyrotechnics gauche."

We were a trio until about two hours ago. Marty had hopped on his chopper when we bolted (He was playing the house's drum kit). When he started his bike the thing shot him. I told Chuck if he wanted to try a solo act, all he had to do was tell us.

"Marty's fine," he said. "He just won't be playing double bass for a while."

Now he said, "You know, I bet I could make these railroad tracks fire a .22."

"What are you, fucking MacGuyver or something? This is almost a sickness with you! You should give up music and go work for the CIA! They'd snap you up in a heartbeat."

"Hold it, hold it," Chuck hissed, coming to a stop.

"What?" I whispered. He pointed into the woods. There, in the moonlight was an eight point buck (I found out later it was a ten point, but hey, moonlight, remember?).

"I don't know about you, Zip, but I'm starving."

"Oh, man, you're not kidding. I could really go for some venison." I watched to see what he was going to shoot the thing with. His shoe? A toothbrush? Instead, he grabbed me, spun me around and gave me a bear hug from behind. The bullet rattled my bones as it flew out of my chest and caught the buck right in the neck. I hadn't even felt the conversion.

God damn, that guy was gifted.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Purgatory Is For Pencils

by Matthew Sanborn Smith

Update: The story that used to be here was accepted for publication at Everyday Weirdness. After May 21st, 2009, You'll be able to read it here:


Friday, September 22, 2006

We All Looked So Pretty

by Matthew Sanborn Smith

Darva became the first to find addiction in the new bodyform drugs. Her skin became smoother and smoother and her pores shrunk until she shone like soft plastic and couldn't go out on warm days. Fortunately, she never attempted exertion.

Mallory's waist shrunk until her bottom half went necrotic and fell off. Thank goodness the age of over the counter Waist-Away was the age of bottom half machines. She changed the faceplate on her artificial colon on a daily basis to match her nails.

David grew enough hair for his brother to cop a comb-over when they hit the bars together.

Trevor's penis enlargement nanos seemed at first to be leading to work in Hollywood but by the end he fainted with every erection with the sudden drop in blood pressure.

Andrea spent days locked in her hotel room after an overdose of Liposqueeze. Fat oozed from her skin until her bridesmaid dress was destroyed and she squirted out of her grandmother's embrace at the reception.

And lucky Drew, a prostitute so hooked on transgender medication that not only was he the first of his generation to reach artificially drug-induced hermaphroditic status, but in fact achieved a third sex as well, driving his/her/its asking price through the roof.

Catherine was found dead in her car days after leaving the pharmacy with her breast augmentation supplies in tow. The fat assemblers were supposed to stop once the nutrient sac was drained. Instead they fed off of Catherine's body while her swelling chest pinned her within her vehicle.

If only she had met Andrea.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Prophecy

by Matthew Sanborn Smith

And there shall come a skyscraper man. And he shall rise from the earth and the sewers shall be his bowels. He shall grasp the wicked with his crooked street light fingers and hurl them into the abyss, the aftermath of his own creation.

Mighty bridges will be his limbs and he will enter the sea in long strides to wrestle with the cold evil of all mankind's hearts which has sunk these long years to the pit of the icy ocean floor and conglomerated into the Demon Bysphor. These titans born of man, one of head and hand, one of heart and tongue shall struggle without relent, seeding cataclysm in their wake. Only the skyscraper man shall survive to rise from the water and shine light upon all the lands of the earth, reflected by his blue mirror-glass shell.

Darkness shall burn like dry fields of tinder. Peace will rain from above and a heaven shall be made upon earth. His labors complete, the skyscraper man shall lay his groaning metal hulk down on the plains of the Serengeti. The hunters will find shelter within his lifeless body. The hunted will find shade without.

Little Girl Giant

Here's a beautiful video. It's incredible that we humans can look at an enormous constuct made of wood and ropes and whatever else, and see a little girl.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Carl's Best

by Matthew Sanborn Smith

Carl's restless form had pulled the sheets from the mattress. Jenna knew it was going to be a tough road ahead, but losing sleep wasn't going to help their situation.

"Honey," she said, putting her hand on his chest to quiet him. "We'll get through this. There are plenty of people who want to hire tire salesmen. I'll help you look tomorrow, just get some sleep."

"It's not that, Irene."


"It's not that, Jenna. I'm just starting to think that I could be something more."

"What do you mean? Like a sales manager?"

"No. Haven't you ever wondered what it would be like to be the best at something? Like Michael Jordan or Mozart or Alexander the Great?"

"Not really. I've got a house to run."

"I want to be the best at something. Getting fired was the best thing that could have happened to me. I'm gonna make my mark."

"That's great, honey. Doing what?"

"That's what I'm trying to figure out."

Jenna fell asleep around 4 AM and woke up four hours later to her husband's shouting. She ran to the kitchen to see what was happening.

"I've got it! I know what I'm going to do!" Carl said.


"I'm going to be the greatest mustard maker ever!"

Jenna's sigh turned into a yawn. "Do you anything about making mustard?"

"Absolutely!" Carl ran to the pantry and returned with a paper plate and a large yellow squeeze bottle of Belgian's Mustard. He squeezed the bottle's contents onto the plate. "Look, I'm making mustard."

"I think maybe the fatigue has made you a bit daffy, Carl. You're not making mustard. You're just squeezing it out of a bottle."

"I'm making mustard!" he screamed. "Watch!" He opened a drawer and pulled out a few of packs of Whitey's Yellow Mustard they'd gotten with their burger take-out last week. He tore open a pack and squirted it onto the plate. "I'm making mustard!" he screamed again.

"I think I'm going to stay with my mother for a few days," Jenna said, heading to the bathroom.

"You never supported my mustard business!" Carl shouted. Looking at the plate on the table, he dabbed a finger into a place where the two mustards had mixed. "Holy cow! Irene, come quick!"


"Jenna, come quick!" When she didn't come, he followed her into the bathroom. She was already showering. He tore aside the shower curtain and jabbed his yellow finger into her mouth.

"Glurp!" was the first thing she said before slapping his hand away. The next thing she said was, "Oh, my gosh!"

"Yes," Carl said, with a dripping, maniacal grin. "I've created Supermustard!"


Belgian's and Whitey's sued almost immediately, once Carl's Best Supermustard hit the market. As the months dragged on and Carl's rapidly gained market share, however, the two older companies felt it was in their best interest to drop their suits, as Carl's had become their largest single customer. In two years, Carl became the greatest mustard maker on the planet. People everywhere chastised their spouses for not becoming wealthy through the theft and recombination of the ideas of others who had to sweat for a living.

Jenna knew which way the wind blew. She had her name legally changed to Irene and she and Carl put her lack of support in the lean times behind them.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Notes From The Bottomless Pit

by Matthew Sanborn Smith

At first blush one might think that being thrown into a bottomless pit would be a dreadful thing. In truth it's only the public relations people that have made it seem so. Lokar, the God-King, needs a punishment with which he can really threaten the populace, to keep them in line and all that and the bottomless pit is a good threat on the face of it. No one who's in it can go back and tell the others that it's really quite nice. The commoners would be lining up to throw themselves in, if they only knew.

One gets over the screaming after about twenty minutes or so, once the throat becomes sore. But consider this: What's to fear? It's initially quite unnerving, of course. No one likes falling, but when it occurs to a person that he or she will never hit bottom, relaxation sets in and it's taken in stride.

Even so, you ask, wouldn't a body eventually starve, falling for eternity? Not so. You'd be surprised at the number of marmosets, not to mention imported lemmings, one can just pluck from the air and devour at one's leisure.

When all of these factors are taken into account with the added benefit of not toiling for Lokar's whip-masters for eighteen hours a day, one concludes that falling into a bottomless pit is really quite preferable to life above.

I do miss my wife. Often I find myself wishing that someone would throw her into the bottomless pit and we may some day be reunited.

I sometimes wonder how they knew it was a bottomless pit in the first place. Perhaps that was more PR. Such thoughts interfere with one's sleep and are best left alone.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Road Trip

by Matthew Sanborn Smith

"I'm gonna go get the mail," Daryl said.

Tom sprung up from behind the couch. "Dude, hold up, I'll go with you."

"I'm just going for the mail."

"No, no, it'll be good for me, my analyst says I need to go outside more. Stave off my impending agoraphobia."

"He's your stock analyst, Tom."

"And he hasn't steered me wrong yet. Let me just get some pants on!" Tom ran off to his bedroom. Daryl sighed. Getting the mail had been one way to get away from Tom for two minutes. The phone rang.

"Yep?" Daryl said.

"What are you doing right now?" Jerry asked.

"I'm waiting for Tom to put his pants on so we can get the mail."

"Great! I'll be right over!" he said and hung up.

"What the hell?"

"I'm ready," Tom said, buttoning up a pair of red denims.

"Good." Daryl opened the door and Jerry was there. He had two pretty girls under his arms. Jerry's blue and white nylon pants were huge and lumpy. He had his hair slicked back like he was the Fonz and wore a bright yellow sport jacket that didn't match anything.

"Hey!" Jerry said. "Daryl, Tom, this is Michelle, and this is Ditzy."

"Deeta!" she squealed.

"Yeah, whatever. You guys ready to go?"

"Go where?" Daryl asked.

"To get the mail!" Jerry said. "Christ, did you forget already?"

"Great! Let's do this thing!" Tom said, pushing past Daryl. No sooner had Daryl pulled in the door than Tom was back on him, clinging like a leading lady. "Can we take the LTD?"

"We're just going to the end of the damn driveway," Daryl said.

"Please!" Tom begged. His eyes were wet. "It's the agoraphobia, D, it's not me! You've got to understand!"

"Why don't you just stay inside, while I get the mail?"

"No, Daryl, please. I need this." He smoothed Daryl's shirt where he'd pulled at it. "I need this."

"Why don't you just take the car for your friend, you big meanie?" Deeta asked.

"Are they gay?" Michelle asked Jerry.

"Nobody's gay!" Daryl yelled. "Everybody get in the goddamned car!"

They all piled into the dusty green Ford LTD. From the driver's seat, Daryl heard Michelle's mousy voice say, "Nobody's gay?"

"Let's have some tunes!" Jerry yelled, placing beers into everyone's hands.

"We don't have any tunes," Daryl said. "The battery's been dead for three months. Where the hell did you get cold beers from?"

"My new cooler pants, baby! Everybody's gonna be wearing these next year."

Daryl twisted off the cap and took a long swig. He needed it. Then he threw the old Ford into neutral and they were on their way.

Tom stuck his head out the window and howled. "Woooooooo!" And two beers later, they reached the mailbox.

Daryl got out because he didn't expect anyone else would. The mailbox was empty. At least Jerry and Michelle helped him push the car back while Deeta and Tom made out in the back seat.

"That was awesome!" Tom said once they were back home. "Let's all do this again some time."

"How about, like, 3:30?" Deeta asked. "Maybe the mail will be here by then."

"Great," Jerry agreed. "I'll bring some tunes this time."

"Bring some travel games!" Tom said.

"I got Boggle. Anybody like Boggle?"

"Oh, I love Boggle!" Michelle said.

Daryl went to his room, got online, started looking for apartments.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Killer of Killers

by Matthew Sanborn Smith

My heart burned arc welder bright as all of them, the insects and the rats and the human vermin skittered to the darkness through the striped shadows cast by my ribs. They knew I was back: The Killer of all Killers.

By nature I had no reputation but my aura shook the preternatural fear in their boiling guts and I was Terror. The broken alley crackled under my boots: shattered vials of Juice and the grit of three lifetimes. A handful of Portnoy's stooges dropped the slug they were beating and darted through the back entrance of their lair. I cut through the stench of piss and rotting garbage and grabbed a straggler before he found his filthy haven.

He screamed until his throat burst and with parted jaws, I consumed his history like a school of starving pirana. In an instant not only did he cease to exist but he ceased to have ever existed. Only I remembered him; I stand outside the timestream. Enriched by vivid memories of a life I had never lived, I savored the familiar bloat of my belly. His name had been Ben. My actual life was crowded a little more as he joined the scores of others who had gone the same way over the last few years.

Tryka wouldn't have wanted this. She could see beyond even what I saw, the alternate presents that I eradicated with my hate. She may have married me only to get my promise to stop. But my promise was only as good as "till death do us part." She was gone now, and those vows were null and void. Besides that, killing the way I did was the only way to bring her back.

The others, the ones that had gotten away, sought safety behind a single steel door, mottled with patches of brown rust and flaking green paint. I made its hinges never be, and with a kick, the door fell outward at my feet. The bullets that Portnoy's goons fired disappeared just inches out of the barrels with a sharp "Fwip! Fwip! Fwip!" The ore from which they'd eventually been made never was. The bullets that might have replaced them were never purchased, or never loaded. When I make things go away, they're ripped out of the Universe leaving a void that's not a vacuum, a hole that can never be filled. Men of flesh and bone scattered before me but I couldn't stomach another one just now and still have room for Portnoy.

I never knew the exact details of Tryka's vendetta. Only that she told me Portnoy had once raped someone she'd been very close to. I knew it had to be her.

"He's dead," I'd said with Hell in my scratchy voice.

"No," she'd said. Her soft green eyes hardened into bulletproof glass. "It has to be me. I have to do this myself. No matter what happens to me, don't do him." I nodded. She had to do it to feel whole again. But I'd have no problem breaking my promise to her if anything went wrong.

I'd assumed human form for her four years ago. Until then I was a force of nature, an impossibly large-scale quantum phenomenon stretching through the fourth dimension. Her passion coalesced me. Her peripheral power formed my consciousness without her awareness of it. I was nothing but a byproduct of Tryka's gift as it dredged reality behind her.

The old wooden steps that ran up to Portnoy's office rang deep and hollow with each slow step I took. The commotion at the top of the stairs abated and drew my attention. There stood Little Maxi, one of Portnoy's inner circle, Ben's memories told me. Dressed in a sharp suit of dark purple, his head was smooth and hairless and his hands and fingers were traced with the thin metallic strips of Sawyer VI exoskeletal modules. Those enhanced fingers gripped a NeuSoviet industrial collapser, one of the few of a growing number of items which are my equal. One which could kill me.

The collapser field manipulated particles at a sub-atomic level. It kept one foot in the fourth dimension in order to do it, so it wasn't affected by my transchronological tricks. But the Sawyer VI modules were. They evaporated from reality an instant before he fired. The unenhanced fingers of his right hand were too weak to work the handgrip. Before he could get a two-handed grip, my titanium alloy fist had shattered his jaw. His small body spilled across the pockmarked hardwood floor at the end of a blood-flecked trail.

Needles spat out of the wall to my side, tearing through my chest before I could stop them. The needle gun was Portnoy's signature weapon. He'd used it to remove the top of Tryka's head after her muddled assassination attempt. I reached out to him beyond the torn gypsum board walls and ripped his being out of the Universe.

"Oh, God!" I moaned. I fell to my knees overwhelmed by this new man inside my soul and everything that he meant. I had destroyed myself.

A warm dish pressed against my head. Maxi was a tough one. Any second now he'd activate the collapser. When he did, countless electrons would fall from their orbits and the atoms that made my head would collapse. My head would disappear. A flicker of my speed-of-thought reflexes and I could dodge. I could kill Maxi, maybe with his own collapser if I felt like it. I shouldn't exist now anyway, but I stand outside the timestream. I am the crux of paradox.

Tryka would never come back to me. She had never existed at all because Portnoy hadn't only been her killer. He'd been her father.

I let Maxi pull the grip.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Fluffy's Biggest Fan

by Matthew Sanborn Smith

How many years was this going to go on? That's all I wanted to know. I'd already blown half the afternoon. The warehouse could hold thirty-seven space shuttles, Gabinder had said. Right now, among a billion other things, it held one hamster. And not even a fully grown hamster at that.

What did I have going for me? Not a lot. I had a pile of Hamster food at my feet at one end of the facility. I had a handful of dust that used to be hamster food in my hand. And I had an oscillating fan that dwarfed my car which the maintenance boys had spent the last two hours dragging here from its cushy wind tunnel job. I'd asked Steve and Joey to stick around after delivery. They became the oscillators of our oscillating fan, following a quick rigging of ropes.

We fired her up and the dust in my hand was soon spread to the four corners of the warehouse. The hope was that the scent of the food might lure Fluffy to us. We waited a half hour (The warehouse was one heck of a journey for a hamster at the other end of it). We got diddly.

"Well, he did have a big breakfast before he escaped," I said.

"So what are you looking for after a big meal?" Joey asked.

"A big nap," I said. "But he's had plenty of time for that."

"A big dump," Steve offered.

"He doesn't need us for that. So you've had a big meal, taken a big nap, and taken a big dump. What more could you possibly want?"

"A little action," Steve said with a smile and a nod.

About an hour later, a bewildered Anastasia, freshly delivered from Petland, swam through the air at the end of seven feet of green yarn in the most intense wind stream she was ever likely to face in ten hamster lifetimes.

Again, nothing.

"Yo, Harv," Jackson shouted from the door.

"What is it?"

"Boss says his kid's hamster is a girl."

I grumbled to myself, "I'm gettin' a paper on the way home, and I'm readin' the classifieds from end to . . ."

And then, there she was! Little Fluffy dashed through the door from behind Jackson, just as excited as she could be. Maybe Fluffy ate from both sides of the bowl, I postulated. But I never found out for sure because when she got about halfway to Anastasia, Fluffy was sucked into the fan and summarily sprayed across the whole of Warehouse 17.

I waited patiently while my brain struggled to process what had just happened.

Lured by Fluffy's scent, roughly thirty-seven hamsters (presumably male) and forty-two snakes all made their way into the general vicinity. In the chaos that followed, Anastasia seemed genuinely relieved to be soaring high above it all.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Karma And The Lucky Man

by Matthew Sanborn Smith

"The health inspector came by today," Karma said quietly.

Andy's spatula hit the floor when he froze. He didn't have to study her face long, he knew she was telling the truth. "And we're still open?" he asked incredulously.

"Yep," she said, not looking at him.

He picked up the spatula and flipped the egg he'd been working on before it burned. His brow furrowed as his eyes bounced across the grill, making twenty snap decisions in a few seconds. "What did it cost me?" he asked.

"Your wife's fidelity," she answered, pulling another gallon of milk from the fridge.

"And how much time did it buy me?"

"About a month."

He walked over and put his hands on her shoulders. "You know, a lot of guys have wives who don't support them in their goals."

"You're a lucky man," she said, beaming.

He thought about that as his eyes danced across the myriad flat surfaces in the little diner. He nearly asked her where they did it. Then thought better of it. One food or another had already slapped every one of those surfaces sometime today.

It's better this way. Not knowing.

"Indeed." Andy got that far away look in his eyes.

"What are you thinking about," Karma asked. He looked down at her. Everybody told her she looked like Meryl Streep and he liked the idea of being with an older woman. It was so different from any life his friends led.

"I'm thinking about next month."

"I am too," she said, smiling at the milk she'd just spilled on the counter. She pulled the rag from her apron and wiped it up. "You're a lucky, lucky man."

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Jim Comes Out

by Matthew Sanborn Smith

There came a time when Jim's pants felt too tight even for him. He'd loved his pants; they were made of some sort of NASA material and they were the last thing his astronaut father had given him before the accident took him away. They were the only pair he'd ever worn, since he was four years old. But now, twenty-seven years later, crippled and bed-ridden, he was beginning to rethink some of his choices.

He took tiny steps; after a month of discussion with his mother he finally decided to unbutton. It took some pricey hypno-therapy to unzip but half a year later that's exactly what he did. His doctors were astounded with this rapid progress after decades of inertia and updated their papers accordingly. The breakthrough would come any year now!

The next advance came not from up but from down when he turned his pants into cutoffs. The whole process took about eight months, not due to his reluctance but rather his choice of tools. He'd sliced through two legs of space-age corduroy with nothing more than the pointy end of a vinyl coated paperclip.

Eventually, the whole thing came off in shreds. Along with some flesh. He'd expected that part, he'd read about the same thing happening to Michelangelo when he was working on the Sistine Chapel and Jim felt partly as great as the Master for having this in common.

He was quite useless from the waist down and the realization was heartbreaking. All of these years he just figured it was the pants. He was sure that he'd spring from his bed fully formed once the pants came off. Those damned doctors were all, "We told you so!" but to hell with them. He'd show them all.

Jim threw himself into his own therapeutic regimen. He drank from the wealth of positive thinking books that the bookmobile offered.

"Did you see?" he shouted at the nurse one Saturday morning. "Something moved! I'm practically walking!"

"That's because I turned on the fan, Mr. Hallis."

"Up yours! Get out!" he said, and he threw his shoe at her. But it was such a tiny shoe it didn't really hurt.

He'd show her too. He spent the rest of the day concentrating on wiggling his -- well, whatever the hell that thing was down there. This would make one hell of a Lifetime movie someday.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Adventures Of Smart Guy

by Matthew Sanborn Smith

"Are you Superman?" Davey yelled. He spotted the 'S' on the guy's chest from fifty feet down the sidewalk. The guy was taking his sweet time about getting to the tree, that was for sure. Davey supposed that was what happened when mother finds you a superhero in the yellow pages.

"No kid, I'm Smart Guy, a vast improvement over neanderthals like Superman." He shook Davey's hand firmly, without crushing.

"Well, can you fly up there and get my cat out of the tree? Please?"

"I don't fly."

"Could you climb up there then?"

"I could, yes. But honestly, my shift just started. I don't want to get all sweaty and stain my uniform."

"Well, what do you do?" Sunset approached and Davey, no fan of comics, just wanted to get this over with.

"I bring common sense to the common man. So many of the world's problems aren't really problems except that people make them so. Do you see what I mean?"


"Take that, for instance," he said, pointing to the top of the tree. "Why don't you leave the cat in the tree?"


"I mean, look at him, sitting up there, he's not even looking at you. If he really cared about you would he be hurting your feelings like this?"

Davey studied the cat for a moment before saying, "No?"

"No. He doesn't give a damn about your feelings. Listen to me, son. Fuck him. Let the little bastard rot up there. Go get a dog instead. There's plenty at the pound whose lives you can save, and they'll appreciate it for the next twelve years or so, unless they get hit by a car or something, but at least they'll go down having a good time."

Davey's brow wrinkled. He looked to the cat, then to the supremely confident man in the cape, then back to the cat which looked quite relaxed and began grooming itself.

"Gee, you're right!" Davey's face brightened. "Thanks, Smart Guy."

"No sweat."

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


by Matthew Sanborn Smith

A hotter day I think I had never seen. Listening to old Martin, not being able to get away, well it was like sitting in a pot of Sarah's stew the way she talks to it to coax out the flavor. I decided right then and there to buy the old man a dog so's he'd leave me be for once.

"Ah, Jacob," he says, "You should be mighty proud of yourself, what with the boys working so hard and all. And on their free day! You're sure to get that promotion once Portly Porter hears about this."

It was the same thing over and over again. Of what a fine man I was and how pleased they'd all be to see me as their boss. Soon he'd be spit-polishing my boots to tie up his future with me. I changed my mind and decided to save my money on the dog. Martin would be the first man I fired.

Still, for today, while we were peers, his honey-soaked droning went on and on. And so you can imagine my relief as the boys came around, swathed in clots of filth and sweat.

"Well, we're half-a-ways there now , Jake," Thorn said to me. He was a thin, dark-haired man. His muscles were stretched across his knobby frame just a little too tight, like they'd snap at any time.

"Just so long as you can make it through the other half," I said, throwing them the waterskin. "And see that Daniel gets some of that too."

Big yellow-bearded Kelly licked the dirt from his teeth, waiting for his turn at the skin. He threw the shovel into the ground so that it stood upright (he was a strong one, all right) and plopped himself down onto the dirt.

"Yeah, he'll get his fair share for the work that he's done."

I pointed a snot-sticky finger at him (I'd forgotten my rag at home). "Now, Kelly, Daniel's duties for today are just "

I stopped short, for I talked of the Devil and he had come.

"I believe Mr. Barlay is starting to stir, Mr. Lawton," the young boy said, almost out of breath.

Thorn cursed. "I'd hoped he wouldn't wake till this was over and done with."

"It'll be better this way, you'll see," Kelly spat.

I slapped Daniel on the shoulder without taking my eyes from Kelly. "That's a good lad, Danny, watching the overseer for us. I'll see to him now."

Barlay lay on his side when I pulled the blanket away. His head rolled about like it was ready to twist off the shoulders. He was heavier than I'd expected from such a slight man. But then in his condition he was practically dead weight.

"There now, Mr. Barlay. Yes, it is awfully bright, isn't it? Come and let's get you out of the sun. It's somewhat cooler down here also, I should say."

I generally like to think of myself as a strong man, but I'm ashamed to say I cringed when I saw the size of the lump on his head.

"Lord the pain must be unbearable! Here, let me give you something to bite down on."

I dug down into my pockets and came up empty. For a second time I swore for forgetting my rag, and then remembered I'd forgotten the man's blanket too. But then, inspiration! I pulled at my boot to shuck off a sweat-soaked stocking and stuffed it full into his mouth.

"No need, Mr. Barlay, sir. The least I could do. And don't worry about a thing. We'll be done with our work soon, and I'd be more than happy to fill in for you at Porter's tomorrow morning."

I slipped back into my boot, more aware now of the hole in the side, and stretched my weary bones.

"Thorn! Kelley!" I shouted, straining my dry throat. "Come and cover this poor man up!"

The finishing went much faster than the starting, I'm pleased to say. Though it wasn't the type of work we were used to, the boys threw themselves into it with a ferocity that was as uncommon as the heat, and with Daniel now putting his back into it, we were done in time for a pint before supper. We cut through the woods on the way back and old Martin stopped at the spring to fill his waterskin. I dug into my remaining stocking and fished out two bits. It was five cents a head at Riley's. I had just enough for all of us. "You'll want to hold up on that skin," I said to Martin. "The pints are on me."

This got me a couple of whoops, the loudest being from Daniel, whose mother strongly believed in temperance. Their pace had markedly picked up from that point and they all laughed when I pointed it out.

"Ah, but you've certainly earned it, men, for a good day's work. It was as fine a burial as I've ever seen."

Monday, September 11, 2006

Homemade Heroes, Face Two: Captain Swell

by Matthew Sanborn Smith

"Jesus, Captain Swell is a junkie!"

Carter and Margie had cut away the collapsed hero's uniform to discover a leopard skin of tracks and skin popping scars that no heroin user should have lived long enough to earn.

"The Plain Blue Corsicans are trashing the hospital as we speak," Captain Swell whispered from his stretcher.

"You bastard! My kids look up to you!" Margie said.

"Hell, I look up to you!" Carter said. "And all these years, you were just some spastic drug addict."

"You don't understand," Captain Swell said, "These are my powers. Somebody had to destroy himself so that the people could be saved."

There were screams from beyond the door.

"They're here," the Captain said weakly.

"The doors are dead bolted," Carter said. "Three inches of steel."

"Don't you people read comic books?" the Captain groaned. "They'll rip through that without a second thought." He reached for his belt. Margie tore his hand away.

"Look at you," she said. "You can't even fight me off!"

"I can, with the belt."

"No, you can't. They've already beaten you senseless and you've destroyed yourself from the inside. You're a walking corpse. Except you can't walk!"

The pounding on the doors nearly made Carter wet himself.

"They're going to kill us," Captain Swell said.

"They're not going to kill us!" Margie said. "We're two nurses and a mummy. We don't pose a threat."

"We're they're favorite kinds of murders. Helpless. Save yourselves then. Take my belt, it can inject directly into your abdomen. That one's super-strength," the Captain said, pointing at the first button. "There's super speed and invulnerability "

"Shut up!" Margie said. "You're gonna risk our lives to save your sorry ass! What kind of hero is that?"

"No, look at me. I'm practically dead as it is. If my life was all they wanted, I'd have given it to them already. But after I'm gone they'll want him and they'll want you. They won't ever stop.

"I'll put on the belt" Carter said.

"Are you nuts? Your career is history if you do that!"

"We're going to die if I don't. Do you understand that?"

A human body smashed against the doors, causing them to buckle.

"He's got to take the belt," Captain Swell said, "Not because I want to live, but because they need to be --"

"What? They need to be what? He's dying! Help me, Carter."

"Too late," Carter said. He cinched the belt about his waist as the doors blew open. Margie screamed. Through the door walked four tall, lanky, psychotic men in plain blue suits.

"God's almighty billy goats!" shouted Ghjuvani Blade, the most vicious of the group. "Captain Swell is dead! Tonight's party has just begun!"

Carter thought an instant prayer and slammed all the buttons on the belt at once. He felt more incredible than he had ever thought possible.

"You're right, boys," Carter said. "It's time to have some fun. Behold: Captain Sweller!"

"Uh-oh," Ghjuvani said.

Carter stepped forward into history.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Family Portrait

by Matthew Sanborn Smith

Her feet were tightly knit groups of butterflies. The right, black and orange monarchs; the left, a smaller species of pale yellow wings. My melancholy sister, Diana, was an otherwise ordinary woman from calves to face, but above her sea-green eyes, her head flared out to resemble the body of a manta ray. Her purplish head rippled as she moved and some scientists believed its wing-like form helped her to float. Mother thought it was strictly power lepidoptera.

Our mother was nobody special. Our father was ageless, having fought alongside Alexander as well as Patton before meeting mother and finally giving up on life. He doled out the secrets of life in micrograms so that I wasn't much more of a person than my mother or my classmates. He only gave me enough to know my station in the vast universe and that station wasn't impressive.

His work was unfathomable to me. I found him in the old barn once, hammering what looked to be an enormous rusting girder, claiming he was extracting from it the secrets of margarine.

When my father wasn't working he would take us to human carnivals, show us the spectacle of daily life in the city where lava flowed through ancient streets and the skies turned texture, glass-smooth to sandpaper, according to the prevailing mood. He'd question people, reducing them to tears with queries as innocent as "What are you doing?" or "Who are you?"

It wasn't the questions so much as his penetrating eyes, black as the depths of space. My mother had fallen in love with those eyes. She claimed when they met she lost herself forever in them and what we saw was just the shell of who she used to be. Her real essence, she said, was in those eyes, swimming through their abyssal expanse.

Dad would uplift the downtrodden on the occasional whim, not out of the kindness of his heart, but just to show us that it could be done. He'd turn morphine addicts into kings with a look. The eventual effort was theirs but he was the trigger. He made them get up.

I often wondered at the point of all this and would ask him.

"That's just it," he'd get around to answering in one way or another. "There is no point." He seemed at his happiest whenever he gave me this answer.

We found his body, one Thursday afternoon at the foot of the great anvil he had made himself. As we ran to him, Mother and I watched the barn swallows swooping down to pick at his face. They fluttered away at our stampede, revealing the old, old man's mouth and nose, choked with the corpses of butterflies. We cleaned him up before alerting the authorities.

My sister's soul blossomed after that and she became a great comfort to all she touched. Although she never walked again, she was happier than she ever had been.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Aladdin's Lamp Is Passed Around The Psychiatric Ward

by Matthew Sanborn Smith

"I just wish it was Thursday, yes," Carmen said, picking at the yellow flowers embroidered on her robe.

"This Thursday or last Thursday?" the djinn asked.

"Next Thursday."

"By next Thursday, do you mean the one coming up in four days or next week Thursday?"

"Next Thursday, yes. You know what? Any Thursday will do. I just like Thursday. The week's almost over but you don't have to worry about the weekend just yet."


"Are you in that Blue Man Group?" Sally asked.

"I wish! Those guys are awesome! But I'm afraid not. My skin is naturally this color."


"I wish I had hot and cold running mail," Norris said.

"And what exactly is that?" the djinn asked. He didn't care much for Norris. The old man had dropped the lamp twice now and he smelled like a diabolical combination of juice box remnants.

"You're the djinn, you figure it out. All I know is I want to be able to turn a faucet and get my mail at the temperature I so choose."

"As you wish."


The djinn parted the yellow curtains and looked down into the brown city streets. How in the world had he wound up here?

"The guy in the mirror has cooler stuff than me," Sam cried from behind him. "I want cooler stuff!"

A better question: How soon could he get out of here? These people had to sleep some time.


"Isn't there anyone here who wants money? Or love? How about love?"

Harold cleared his throat from the back of the TV room.


Harold rose from his blue plastic stackable chair and slowly crossed the floor, watching the others while avoiding their eyes. Terror warped his face. Now at the front, he whispered:

"The first erotic dream I ever had was about Ruth Buzzi sitting on my toilet in her underwear. I was seventeen years old. Let me have that."

"You want Ruth Buzzi now, or from the Laugh-In era?"

"I don't want Ruth Buzzi at all, I wouldn't know what to say to her. I'm not very good with women. I just want the dream again."


Simon's eyes were wet and shone a cold grey in the flourescent light. "I want the asphalt to rise from the earth and form itself into a twenty foot tall asphalt monster named Asphalty. He has eyes made of ice and spits safety pins. Poor people lurk behind Asphalty's path of destruction to gather safety pins and sell them to new mothers. They buy bread and Jell-o with the money. Then they make Jell-o sandwiches in a rainbow of colors. Unfortunately, Asphalty is attracted by the smell of rainbow colored Jell-O sandwiches. It's the circle of life."

The Djinn clapped his hands with a boom. "Finally! Someone decisive!"


"You realize your daily schedule hasn't altered in the last twelve and a half years?" the djinn asked.

"Just do it. I know what Thursday feels like, yes."

"It is so."

Friday, September 08, 2006

Sunday In May, In The Water

by Matthew Sanborn Smith

After a few false starts we made it out of the car and walked through the cold rain to the beach. Thanks to the weather we had the place mostly to ourselves; there were maybe a dozen people there, including us. The walk to the water went: Rough asphalt; smooth sidewalk; dirt; wooden walkway; wooden gritty step, step, step down to the soft sand; hard cutting shells; soft sand again; then the wonderful wet packed sand gushing around our feet and finally the water ran up to greet us. It darted back and forth to introduce us to this magnificent ocean thing of which it had become a part.

The children went in without hesitation. The cold wet wasn't reason for trepidation, it was fun and excitement, the first they'd had all day. I went in starts and sputters, cringing with the chill but driven relentlessly by the need to relieve my bladder. With each small wave my chest tightened and my heart sped. More and more bare skin was goosebumped until for a few moments my world went dizzy and I pretended my body had a taste of what shock must feel like. Relieved and able to think again, I moved further into the rain-dimpled sea. Up to my chin.

I looked east. To the west was civilization, hotels, human beings, a green-roofed concession area and a tall erector set of a tower with a dish on top to give it a purpose. But to the east . . . To the east was the ocean, vast and green and the broken grey sky. There wasn't room for anything else. To the east was forever, the awesome splendor of nature. I had returned to the Earth's womb for just a few moments. A dozen feet from my bobbing head, two pelicans swept across the surface of the water, their wingtips nearly slicing its rippling skin.

My son called to me. I was too far out. I let myself be gently pushed back home by wide bluish waves. They cast nets of foam at the beach which brought some sand in before dissolving. My time was done here, but I waited, for my children had thrown their worries into the sea and had surrendered their lives to joy. They, like the patient ocean, had eternity.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Running Downhill, Naked

by Matthew Sanborn Smith

Running downhill,
With blood all
over me.
"Who the heck
is this maniac?"

"Give him a cookie!"
"A nice one
with raisins."
"They're Nature's

They pelt me
with nice cookies.
And now I am naked
and screaming
with blood and
cookies all over me
and still running downhill.

It's a big hill.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


By Matthew Sanborn Smith

A stop sign on a lonely country road set Jeff off. It was red and it was "STOP." It was negative in every way it could be and there were, what, millions(?) all over the country just like it.

"This is what's wrong with the country!" he screamed out of the window of his Nissan. A flock of birds scattered into the sky.

Back home, Jeff blew the dust off the sheet metal machines at his father's old factory and got to work on the scraps that littered the place. Fourteen hours later he curled up on a floor dusted with insect droppings and exoskeletons and slept hard with his arms wrapped around a bright green, round "GO" sign.

Stop signs saved lives, Jeff knew that. He certainly wasn't gong to remove them. But wherever there wasn't a stop sign, why not post a go sign? He hired a couple of guys and they'd make signs during the day and plant them around town at four in the morning, when the local cops changed shifts and were less likely to drive by. People liked the signs and they caught on. Jeff had plans far beyond "GO."

His vision of positive reinforcement next took on the venerable "YIELD" sign. Powder blue "PUSH ON!" signs sprung up everywhere. But why stop with street signs? They planted "PLEASE PLAY WITH DOG" signs wherever there weren't "BEWARE OF DOG" signs. "SLOW CHILDREN" signs were replaced with "CHILDREN WHO ARE REALLY TRYING HARD" signs (there was some misunderstanding there).

Copycat sign makers tried their own hands at the game. Some started slowly, merely buying other people's signs and cutting off the "NO" in them. "PARKING" signs were rampant and people actually paid money for the "SMOKING" signs. "LOITERING" signs were popular with young people. Lonely shut-ins ordered "SOLICITING" signs by mail, phone, and internet. Kids wrought delightful havoc with their misplaced "SPITTING" and "FOUL LANGUAGE" signs. Popular "PANTS, SHOES, SERVICE" signs quickly overtook their negative cousins.

Amid the chaos, a change came over the people as they discovered freedoms that were always available but about which no one ever thought. Millions reveled in all the places they could go as unauthorized personnel. They proceeded without caution down their two way streets, through live ends as quickly as the speed allowance signs directed. They dumped and trespassed and thru traffic beeped its horns with glee as it raced past the new "FAST" signs that were not near construction sites. There were so many outlets! And so much fishing!

Jeff was made the Secretary of Transportation. The whole country just lightened up and felt better about itself. It didn't go unnoticed either. Other countries started asking us out and inviting us to parties and soon we were popular again.

But we wouldn't put out.

We weren't a floozy.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Saturday Night, Wasted At Bill's

by Matthew Sanborn Smith

"What's the secretest society you can imagine?" Bill asked, unwrapping a super bubble. "I mean, how secret can it get?"

"Welp," Popper said, "I s'pose nobody would know who they were. I mean, there wouldn't even be any conspiracy theories about them because no one would know they even exist." He pushed off on the cable spool coffee table that Bill had bolted to the floor and squirmed deeper into the pea green couch. He was pretty satisfied with himself. Bill nodded.

"Okay, not bad. But that's just a pretty secret society. I'm talking the secretest. How secret?"

"I don't know, dude, just tell me, will ya? I'm ready to grab some nachos at Fine's and Dandy's."

Bill sighed. "Look, think about it. The secretest society would be one so secret that not even the people in it would know they were members."

"Whoa." Popper got a far away look in his eyes. "Dude, are you trying to tell me something? Are we in this society?"

"What I'm trying to tell you is that this goes beyond conspiracy. This shit goes so deep that everyone is involved in it and no one knows they are." Bowser walked over to Bill, licked his hand and fell onto her back waiting for Bill's scratch. So much of her fur was embedded in the carpet, it seemed like the carpet was made of it.

Popper ran his hand through his hair. "But if everyone is in it, is that still a secret society? I mean it sounds like it's just . . . Society."

"Not if we don't know about it."

"So who's pulling the strings?"

"We all are!"

"Whoa." Popper looked around the place slowly, paying close attention to corners and shadows. He grabbed the first cigarette within reach, didn't care that it was tobacco, and lit up. "I don't know about you, man, but I'm gettin' kinda scared."

"Hold it together, Popper! This is our chance to make something of ourselves!"


"I don't know yet, but if we're the only ones who know, that puts us ahead of everyone else doesn't it?"

"Hey, yeah! We could be like the kings of the town or something!"

"Forget that, how about kings of the world?"

"Well, I don't know about that. I don't like to fly. King of the world probably has to do a lot of flying."

"Dude, we're the kings! We can have everything flown to us!"

Popper was slowly overcome with revelation. "Yeah. Yeah! Kings of the world!"

"Now you're talking!"

"Wait, wait, wait. Wait a minute." Popper said.


"Dude, if we know we're in the secret society then we can't be in it."

Bill stared at him for a long time, then said, "Shit! You're right! Man, we had the whole world right in our hands for a minute. Shit like this is why we can't get ahead!" He desperately wanted to throw a beer can at Popper's head for thinking of this because it would have worked otherwise, but all he had nearby were empties.

"We just gotta find a society that's even secreter," Popper said.

Bill's eyes went white all the way around. "Man, you nailed it! I knew there was a reason I told you about this! We're gonna find a society so secret it . . . it . . ."

"It doesn't even exist!"

"Yes! Yes! Forget your damn nachos, grab us a couple more beers. We've got a lot of work to do!"

Monday, September 04, 2006

The World's Worst Choose Your Own Adventure

by Matthew Sanborn Smith

You wake up. You’re pretty tired.

Get up or
Roll over and go back to sleep

Finally He Gets To The Review

Happy Labor Day, laborers and non-laborers alike. This is one of the few Labor Days that I don't have to work. Wayyyyyy back in my post of 11/27/05 I raved about the AlphaSmart 3000, a product I hadn't even used but was going to get for Christmas and I promised a review of the product. This is what I wrote at the time:

The Alphasmart 3000 IR is a keyboard with a memory and a little screen. According to the website, it runs for hundreds (!) of hours on 3 AA batteries (!) and stores about 100 single spaced pages of text. You can use it anywhere and then upload your work to your PC. It auto-saves every keystroke and turns on and off in a couple of seconds.

Well, after about nine months of actually using the thing, I have to tell you, it is indeed awesome. It's very light and therefore portable and it's built to last. I've been using the same batteries since Christmas and according to the power indicator, I may have used about three percent of the juice so far. To be honest, since I've been posting a story a day, I've been getting much more use out of it. I take it to work and often hammer out most of a first draft on my lunch break. Once home, I upload the file to my PC and finish it off.

Here comes one of the most important parts though: For some reason, cutting and pasting doesn't work very well either when I'm posting here or in my nearly identical MySpace blog. It raises my blood pressure and takes forever to edit a post into shape. But if I copy my post from my PC back to the AlphaSmart, it's able to enter the text into the blog not as a cut and paste, but as if it's typing really fast. I can't tell you how much my lifespan has been extended because of this machine (I really can't because I don't know, but I bet I'm getting at least a couple extra days tacked onto the end), not only because my stress levels over blogging have evaporated, but because of the time I'm saving by not having to overhaul each post.

Now that you know how wonderful it is, I have to tell you can't have one. Sort of. See, I was telling a customer at the job about its wonders yesterday and told him to check the website. Being the person that I am, I checked the website ( when I got home to see what he would see and discovered that AlphaSmart no longer sells the 3000. Of course, it's too late to tell him otherwise, but I'm telling you. The base model is now the Neo, which is swell and has more bells and whistles as well as more memory, but costs $110 dollars more. I'm not saying it's not worth it. If all you're doing is writing it's still cheaper than a laptop. But if money is really tight you may want to check ebay for an old 3000.

You can still buy accessories for a 3000 from the AlphaSmart website. I must warn you though, not to invest in their GetUtility software. I shelled out an extra $30 for it because they suggested it was the only way to download text from your PC to the 3000. This is not true. The AlphaSmart Manager software does the job just as well. Save your money.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

The Conquest of the Pumpkins

by Matthew Sanborn Smith

For fifty-thousand years, pumpkins had been lying in wait, ready to burst into action at any time. Up till now, there simply hadn't been a need. Many of you will ask, "What about all that pumpkin eating we've been doing? The pumpkin pie and the Jack O'Lanterns and such?" But you'd be looking at it from a human point of view. Pumpkins prefer this treatment. It beats rotting on the vine.

Now, however, the time had come. The world was ripe for conquest. Through an organically achieved electro-chemical pulse through the soil below, Pierre, self-proclaimed Pharaoh of the Pumpkin Clans (he wasn't really up on his history), gave the signal:


After a series of remarkably strenuous exertions, they found they couldn't move.

"Dammit!" Pierre tried to yell, before he realized he couldn't even do that. "We should have exercised! Even a little!"

Pierre's patch was harvested, like so many of their recent ancestors and sold from the lawn of a local church whose members swore up and down that they weren't for Halloween, but for the Harvest Festival which only coincidentally happened to fall on the last day of October, since it was a Saturday.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Aggie's Song

by Matthew Sanborn Smith

"Tell me you've got hard evidence on who murdered him, DEL," Aggie said. When she spoke to me, she spoke with an underlying melody of binary, driving her words into the soul of this machine. We sat on the edge of a pink divan in windowless apartment. She kept the place cold for my comfort.

"I can't tell you what you want to hear, Aggie," I said. "I can only tell you the truth." Her sad face turned hard, but even angry she evoked a kind of pity.

Humans, I'm told, found her unnerving. She'd removed her eyelids with two slow slices of a razor. One of the fits of misguided paranoia that had consumed her since the finalization of RAN. I, myself, found her look slightly alluring. More robotic than human.

Med-green spouts peeked out from beneath the skin that still surrounded her eyes, overcompensating for a lack of lids and lashes. Heavily misted with a solution of her own oil, mucous and saline, Aggie's now over-large eyes looked perpetually teary (which may have suited her perpetual grief).

"RAN killed himself," I said.

"No," she said, chastising me for giving her the wrong answer. She had her own theories. RAN's employer planned to send him to Mars to manage a farming franchise. There were men who didn't think a robot should have such a lucrative job and men didn't equate the destruction of a bot with murder. Neither did most robots. Aggie did. She'd drawn the police bot working on the case, SYSIL, to her cause. But he had disappeared before the police investigation was concluded which only added to Aggie's paranoia. If RAN's killers were ever caught, they'd be fined for property damage and that would be the extent of it. She wanted to catch them first and administer her own justice.

"You've been gone for days," she said. "Too long to come back with an answer like that. You didn't see what RAN looked like!"

"I did," I said, recalling the mess at the scrapyard. Every inch of metal that was once RAN had been twisted inside out, every bit of plastic looked like it had been instantly frozen while boiling, bubbles caught in mid-pop. The mech was a hideous mockery of the beautiful thing he once was.

"Then they've gotten to you too, haven't they?" she said. "They killed RAN, they killed SYSIL, and now they've turned you against me."

"No," I said, looking down at my segmented legs. "No, they haven't gotten to me." I almost lamented the loss of my poor, unblinking Aglaope. But she'd been this way since I'd met her, hadn't she?

I was an AI psychologist, programmed by the Alsing school and Aggie hired me in the hope that some memory of RAN's final moments could be retrieved. Unfortunately there wasn't enough of his brain left to explore. But in my experience, an AI's psychology can also be found by noting the wear and tear on its body, the enhancements purchased and the stress indicators of its various components. I can see an entity's habitual behaviors laid out before me under ideal conditions. The condition of RAN's body was far from ideal. There were older injuries, though. There were repair records. There were Aggie's deluded memories, the least reliable evidence, but I couldn't escape them. I didn't want to escape them. I could sit for hours and feel my electronic organs dance to her enhanced voice. It hurt that she didn't want to believe me now.

Aggie climbed onto me, straddling my lap. "They're out there, Del," she said to me, taking my face in her hands in another one of her unnerving mood swings. "They're out there and they're after me too. They're after both of us because of what we know. You know in your heart RAN didn't kill himself."

I felt sucked into those eyes. It was true, RAN didn't kill himself. No, what was I thinking? I proved to myself that he had. He was in love with her. Love was all I could call it. The state that he was in at the time of death couldn't be called anything else. RAN couldn't live without Aggie. The prospect of leaving her for an off-world assignment was more than he could bear. But that couldn't be right. Why was he murdered for that?

"You're right," I said. "He was killed. There's more to it though, I know there is. Let me go back over the data, Aggie. I can find the killers, I know I can." I lifted her off of my body, taxing my processors more than my artificial muscles. "I have to go."

"Don't leave me!" she cried and the full force of her subliminal song flooded my consciousness. I pulled her to me and held her a little too tightly. She gasped and I felt her song and her concentration break as she struggled to catch her breath. I threw her to the floor and bolted for the Gate.

"Wait." It was all she could do to choke out the words.

"I'll be back," I said. "I promise. I'll find them. We have to go on the offensive." I was through the Gate and miles away in a pulse. Out of her apartment, out of her reach. My senses were coming back to me only slowly. I jogged through empty city streets (the last place anyone would look) and let the air flow through my chest vents, cooling my overheated brain.

How many bots had Aggie brought to their doom? I could only count two but I hadn't known her that long. Was she doing it on purpose? Or were we just being drawn into her needy aura of self-destruction?

I began to run. I had to keep running until that nagging little piece of RAM in my brain stopped telling me to keep my promise. Until it stopped telling me to return to her.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Our Hero

by Matthew Sanborn Smith

They called Gard Fehfer mad when he tried to tile his bathroom with slices of American cheese. They called him mad when he sewed a parrot onto an iguana and built twenty-foot robot that ate puppies and ran on table linens. Well, okay. These things could be construed as eccentric, taken out of context like that. But if you knew the whole story, you'd see why his actions made sense.

It was all in preparation for the invasion. Not a military invasion, but an invasion of fashion. The Designers' Guild, never the most unified body in the first place had broken into multiple factions and a civil war now raged throughout the land. Jelly Jam, the youngest, hottest thing going, said everyone else was just marmalade and vowed that his new line would rock the planet to its very foundations.

Gard Fehfer had gotten wind of Jelly Jam's evil machinations through his network of double agents (they were actually triple agents but neither Gard nor Jelly knew this because the agents were just that good). Gard knew that he was the only thing standing between the world and high top loafers, cross your heart hats, and fountain skirts. The last piece of Gard's defense was to recite the biography of a non-existent Canadian chef in a dark room where no one could hear.

Those fools. They'd never understand that he was their savior. They all laughed at him. They called him mad for writing about himself in the third person, past tense.