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Friday, August 22, 2008

Faery Cats
San Francisco, CA -- From country homes to urban server farms, faery cats are taking America by storm as the hottest trend in pets.

16-year-old Melissa Eager's bedroom is decorated entirely with paintings and statuettes of winged cats, which she has acquired at science fiction conventions around the country.

"I love love love faery cats," says Eager. "And I had no idea they were for real until I saw one at a shop in Mill Valley. It was all black, and it had long, shiny wings like a raven. So pretty! I was all like, 'Mom, I will totally die if you don't get me that!'"

The purchase of the cat--a Balinese Sylphstalker named "Skynight"--was not an easy decision for Eager's mother, Victoria Knott.

"The shopkeeper wanted $2,500 for it. I could see paying that for a good handbag, but for a cat? I just wasn't sure.

"But Missy kept pestering me. And it occurred to me that if I bought her the cat, maybe she would stop spending so much time and money at those silly sci-fi conventions. I keep arranging dates with perfectly nice young men with good prospects, and then she goes to a convention and brings home these boys who spend all their time reading novels and playing games!

"So, I got Missy to agree that, if I got her the cat, no more conventions for her until she gets her business degree. At Harvard. If it keeps her on the proper path to success, then the cat has been a good investment," Knott says.

Exotic cat breeder Kyle Salinas says, "Faery cats have become extremely popular ever since the Shimmer Incident. Now that people can actually see the cats, they practically sell themselves."

Salinas says that faery cats--scientifically classified in the genus Felis fae--were created in Europe and Asia around 300 B.C. The cats thrived in Europe until the Dark Ages.

"Considering that plain old alley cats were hung for being minions of the Devil, you can imagine how superstitious folk reacted to faery cats, which in rare instances were the pets of various demons," says Salinas.

Most witches and wizards put an invisibility charm on their flying familiars to keep them safe. However, after the angry mobs caught the cats' masters, the spells remained unbroken and the familiars stayed invisible, as did their kittens.

Salinas says that, because of their invisibility, faery cats were left out of bestiaries and were often mistaken for other entities such as banshees, poltergeists, and boggarts.

"A faery cat in heat does sound very much like a banshee," he says. "And if an invisible kitten gets into a house at night and finds a stash of catnip or valerian root, most residents would be convinced they need an exorcist."

The faery cats might have remained invisible to this day if it had not been for Angus Shimmer.

"It was totally an accident," says Shimmer, now Associate Professor of Thaumaturgy at Miskatonic State. "I was in undergrad, and my quadmates were playing a practical joke on me. They'd stolen every last one of my spellbooks, turned them invisible, and had stashed them in trees around the dorms."

"Man, I was angry," says Shimmer. "And there was a storm coming--I was sure my books would all be ruined before I found them."

Shimmer says that he climbed the bell tower in order to cast a broad-range revisibility spell on the campus. Just as he was finishing his incantation, lightning struck the tower.

"We still aren't 100% sure what happened," Shimmer admits. "Maybe it was the copper in the bell tower combined with the moon phase and the power of the lightning strike and the hemiphasic alignment of Venus and Saturn--nobody knows. But at that moment, every invisible thing on the face of the planet became visible again."

In addition to surprises like the discovery of The Dunwich Horror in the back of a Waffle House in Tewksbury, MA, people across the world were shocked to discover faery cats living in their sheds and gardens.

"I had no clue these things were real," says artist Jim Beemer. "I mean, I don't even like cats, but I got tired of going to art shows and not selling a single piece while cutesy crayon drawings of crap-with-wings sold like hotcakes at the sci-fi conventions around the corner. So, yeah, I sold out. I'm not proud. I gotta pay off my art school loans somehow, right?

"But then I wake up one morning and there's this freaking cat with wings on my patio. And it's munching on a freaking leprechaun. I check myself into the nuthouse that very afternoon but oh, no, they won't keep me, because I'm not hallucinating," says Beemer.

"Now even the top collectors want pictures of crap-with-wings. Nobody cares about my still-lifes or landscapes," he says. "That cat is out there every day, taunting me with his cutesy wings and his dead leprechauns. Haunting me. I'm haunted by a cat. God. The whole world's gone insane. I need a drink ... where's my bourbon?"

Scottish faery fancier Edwina Cotton was also surprised by the flying felines.

"I kept finding the wee corpses o' pixies and brownies in me flowerbeds," she says. "I always thought it was me young nephew up to mischief with his slingshot, but it turned out I had a lovely fluttery tortie kitten living in me greenhouse."

"I brought the kit inside to keep her from slaughterin' the rest of me faeries," Cotton says, "but she's been quite a handful compared to me other cats!"

Salinas agrees that faery cats are much more challenging pets than regular housecats.

"Faery cats need space, high ceilings and places to roost. If you live in a small home, an outdoor aviary will do. But you can't just lock a faery cat in a parrot cage and expect it to do well," he says. "Most breeds will howl or refuse to eat under cramped conditions, but some from European lines can teleport short distances and will do so if they feel trapped. You can kiss your drapes goodbye if that happens."

He adds that not all pet owners realize that faery cats were bred for a specific purpose.

"These creatures are beautiful and magical, sure. But their job is killing faeries. And if they can't do that job, they get frustrated and bored."

Cryptoveterinary researcher Rudy Briggs has spent several years tracking the origins of the faery cat. "We've managed to trace the European breeds to a Germanic witch named Scharlatte who had a serious problem with disgruntled pillywiggins tearing up her garden."

According to local legends, when the young cat she kept for mousing was able to catch a pillywiggin, Scharlatte hit upon the notion of crossing the cat and her pet crow to create an airborne hunter that could better catch the flittering faeries. After a few unsuccessful attempts, the cat gave birth to a litter of winged kittens that soon sent the pillywiggins packing.

"The crow-cat legend is similar to the legend of the Mandarin wizard Ming Mei, whose house was plagued by angry sylphs," says Briggs.

Ming Mei crossed his favorite cat--presumably a Siamese, according to Briggs--with a falcon. The winged kittens were fierce, quick hunters, and while they could not kill the sylphs, they drove the air spirits away.

"Many modern animal lovers are horrified that their kitties are bred to be merciless killing machines, but that's the breaks," says Briggs.

Faery cats have been increasingly finding homes as night guards in computer companies that have deployed cyberspiritual networks.

"The faery cats have been great for us," says Amanda O'Brien, a systems specialist at Monkeybrain Computing in San Francisco. "We've been running Aetherweb for a while now, and the spiritual aura the network cables give off attract all sorts of supernatural entities. What the warding spells don't keep out, the cats take care of."

O'Brien says that her company's three faery cats--all Scotch Boggartharriers--have free run of the building.

"Yes, they shed just like regular cats, so we provide free antihistamines for people with allergies. Sometimes the cats will hork featherballs on people, but we've turned it into a positive thing for the staff. You get splatted with a featherball, you get the rest of the day off. So far--knock on wood--there haven't been any airborne litterbox accidents," she says.

O'Brien says that the staff reaction to the cats has mostly been positive. "A lot of geeks are cat lovers anyway, and our little bogie-slayers are real beauties. Pretty much anyone who would have had major issues with cats flying around resigned when we deployed the Aetherweb last year.

"Because, let's face it, if you can't deal with a cat sleeping on your monitor, you're going to be way less okay with finding a pillywiggin digging through your trash."



If you enjoyed this story, you can find it and more stories like it in Installing Linux on a Dead Badger.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

There will never be another you
An excerpt from the story "The Sisterhood of Plain-Faced Women" by Gary A. Braunbeck

This is our last dance together,
Tonight soon will be long ago.
And in our moment of parting,
This is all I want you to know...

I remember my mother used to love this one old 1943 Nat King Cole record. It was the only one she owned, as far as I know. She played a song called "There Will Never Be Another You" all the time; it was written by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon. It was one of the sappiest songs I ever heard. I never understood why she liked it so much. But she loved it.

Our house was always immaculately clean when I was growing up. But give my mom even the simplest task--washing a few dishes or something like that--and she'd take about three times longer to get it done than almost anybody else. I used to think it was just her way of avoiding having to listen to my Dad complain about things, but the older I got, the more I began to notice that she didn't really do anything else with her days. She got up, made breakfast, then set about her tasks.

There will be many other nights like this,
And I'll be standing here with someone new.
There will be other songs to sing,
Another fall...another spring...
But there will never be another you.

I remember she used to have a few shots of whiskey after my dad went to bed, then she'd play that record over and over, until she got this dreamy look on her face, sitting there in her chair and listening to that song and pretending she wasn't who she was. Sometimes I could see it in her face, that wish. She was someone else and the song wasn't on a record, it was being sung to her by some handsome lover come to court her, to ask for her hand and take her away to a better life than the one she had.

There will be other lips that I may kiss,
But they won't thrill me,
Like yours used to do.
Yes, I may dream a million dreams,
But how can they come true,
If there will never, ever be another you?

I used to sneak downstairs and watch her do this, and I'd laugh to myself, you know? I'd laugh at her because I knew that my life was going to turn out differently. I'd never be so stupid as to wind up marrying a man who didn't really love me like a husband should but I stayed with him anyway because that's what the Church told me I was supposed to do. I'd never do that.

I'd never spend my days working around the house, doing the dishes and the laundry and the dusting, having no life of my own, no hobbies, no interests. I'd never spend half the afternoon fixing dinner, then half the evening cleaning up afterward, only finding time for myself after everyone went to bed so I could sip my whiskey and play a goddamn record by Nat King Cole about there never being another me.

I mean, I was eight, I was just a kid in grade school, and even though Mom was only thirty-seven she seemed old and used-up and kind of funny at those times.

But now it's twenty-five years later and here I am. I don't know if my husband still loves me; all I've got now is my work. Instead of whiskey and Nat King Cole I have two weak cocktails on Friday night after work and Jane Eyre or well-thumbed collections of poetry or a ton of videotapes, most of them romantic comedies.

She had no real life, except the one she found in her shot of whiskey and listening to that song, and I realized all of this way too late. All she had was this one little dream of some imaginary lover singing a sappy love song to her, and she spent the entire day anticipating it. That's why she took so long to get her work done; looking forward to her fantasy, to this dream she knew in her heart could never be, it was all she really had for herself.

She's gone now, but here I am, just like her.
Yes, I may dream a million dreams,
But how can they come true,
If there will never, ever be...
Another you?




Italicized lyrics © 1943 by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon

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Monday, May 02, 2005

Guest Feature: Snowbored by Mark Reeder
Mark Reeder currently lives in Boulder, Colorado, where he works as a writer/editor for Centre Communications, an educational video production company. His short fiction has been published on the web at Dark Planet, Deep Magic and Quantum Muse. He is also the coauthor of the science fiction series, The Crystal Sword: A Dark kNight for the King and Queen's kNight Gambit. He has a Master's degree in history from the University of Cincinnati and has studied martial arts for 30 years.


Snowbored
by Mark Reeder

I sighed and scratched at the white stuff with the tip of my sandal. The wind kicked it up and sent it swirling in tiny eddies across the ground.

"Snow! ... again!" I said.

I told Max not to use the discount quantum semiconductors in the chaos accelerator. Werner even warned him about uncertainties when entangling electrons.

As always, Max refused to listen.

"Erwin, you worry too much," he'd said. "Aage has dinner with the company rep every Friday."

I volunteered to be the guinea pig anyway. I mean, I did a good job picking the winners at football, basketball, hockey and baseball. I wasn't a physicist, like the others; just their gambling friend from college with a knack for number theory that gave me a big edge. My earnings financed the chaos accelerator in the first place. Plus, I gambled nothing would happen the first time through.

Pfft! And that's how I ended up here on my fifth jump, trying to return to my time.

Swirling snow chafed my knees, turning them red. Time to get out of here.

I pulled the cell phone out my shirt pocket. Low battery light blinked red. Not good. Better save it until I'm somewhere warm, I thought.

Wrapping my arms around my body against the rising wind and my rising anxiety, I trudged through the dark toward a row of multi-colored, blinking lights in the distance. It could be Christmas; it might also be the lights inside the accelerator building, if I was close by, distance and timewise.

Christmas won out.

I knocked on the door. A young woman opened it. Air rushed out of the house and warmed my legs. She was brunette, tall, glasses, nice smile.

"Hi," I said, through chattering teeth. "May I use your phone?"

She looked askance at my clothes and sandals.

"Fraternity prank," I explained, hoping there was university within driving distance. I mean, I didn't think I was in Barrow, Alaska. On the other hand, I didn't know where this place was, let alone when. I was just glad to see electric lights. Better than the last time. I shuddered at the memory of caves and men in animal skins. "I'll just be a moment," I added.

After a glance outside to see if there was anyone else, perhaps someone with a camera, she shrugged. "Phone's in the kitchen."

I kicked the snow off my feet and followed her down a hallway.

"Name's Erwin," I said.

"Leslie."

She led me into a brightly lit room, pointed to a wall unit next to the refrigerator. Avocado green. Ugh. A closer look and a magnetic calendar revealed January 3, 1969.

At least I was close in time.

"Thanks," I said.

I decided to dial the lab where the chaos accelerator was located. It was a long shot but I figured to try it anyway. Maybe I'd connect somehow. I mean, how do you know if the cat's alive or dead in the box until you open the box. Niehls said it might work. Something about time acting jittery with the fabric of space being filled with quantum gaps between all the electrons, quarks and gluons.

"Fuzzy time," he said. "All light can't travel at the same speed, so space time has a kind of foamy texture to it. All we have to do is catch the right wave and we can travel in time."

He handed me a cell phone before the first jump. "With this, you'll essentially be carrying a signature of time from our era. Call us on it, the accelerator will lock onto it and drag you back here as long as you're holding onto it."

"You sure?"

"It worked in the modeling we did," Paul cut in and went back to tinkering with some new equation.

I picked up her receiver, dialed the number--rotary phone, slow and irritating--and got a busy signal. Interesting. That number shouldn't have connected to anything. Thoughtfully, I placed the phone on the hook.

"Busy," I said.

She nodded and smiled. "Cup of tea?"

"Sure." I pointed to the calendar. "Bit of advice: Mets are going to take the pennant and win the series this year."

She laughed outloud. A full laugh that went beyond amused tolerance into real humor. "They couldn't catch cold."

"And the Jets will win the Super Bowl."

She didn't laugh this time. Just looked at me. I'd seen that look many times from across a poker table. "Stranger, I should take your money, but it would feel like stealing from someone being hazed as badly as you."

I remembered the bit about the fraternity prank in time to stop raising my eyebrows. "What makes you so sure I'd lose?"

"The computer at the lab where I work set the odds at a hundred to one against both events."

"You follow the teams?" I asked.

"Easy money. With the computer helping me, I manage to win at better than house odds. I made seventy grand last year."

Water kettle whistled a flat A. She turned back to the stove.

I calculated for inflation and smiled. "That's good money."

And then it hit me. I had another forty years before I caught up with the guys at the lab. Just think, all that time and all those winning odds.

I looked at the woman, pouring hot water into two cups. She was easy on the eyes and a sports fan. And about my age. All of a sudden 1969 didn't look so bad. I pulled the cell phone out of my shirt, punched in the number for the accelerator lab, waited for the ring and tossed it in her garbage while her back was turned.

I watched the can disappear with a slight popping noise, like air expanding in a hot water pipe.

She turned.

I smiled. "So, how would you like to make a small wager on the Jets?" I asked.

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I'm Lucy Snyder. I'm a Worthington, Ohio author and former magazine editor; on this site you'll find my writing as well as features from my husband, novelist Gary A. Braunbeck.

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