it was a nice day. cassie and candy met for lunch at mcdonald’s, as they did every wednesday.
“look at this.” cassie handed her phone to candy.
there was a news story on the screen. history gets a rewrite, read the headline.
“local resident amy marker has had a book published in the fall by the university of a———— press,” tcandy read aloud. the story was illustrated of a photo of a tall, thin young woman with an uncertain smile.
the book is entitled the other side of the shadow and describes all of human history entirely from the point of view of women. i decided to write this book, amy told our correspondent, blah, blah, blah…”
candy handed the phone back to cassie with a shrug. “why are you showing me this?”
“don’t you recognize her? amy marker! from high school!”
“high school - that was a long time ago.” candy shook up her strawberry smoothie and took a sip of it through a straw,
“you must remember her! the one who was about eight feet tall but wouldn’t go out for the basketball team. don’t you remember now?”
“she was a total geek. we were real mean to her.”
“we were real mean to everybody.”
“so you do remember her. “
“no, i don’t remember her. i don’t remember the geeks. actually i don’t remember any girls, i only remember the cute guys, ha ha.”
cassie would not give up. “it just isn’t right. she is going to be rich and famous and make a zillion dollars and go on jimmy kimmel and here we are sitting here sipping smoothies in mcdonalds. it’s not fair.”
“i didn’t see anything making a zillion dollars.”
“she wrote a book, didn’t she? it will get made into a movie and win an oscar and she will be rich and famous forever. like harry potter.”
“everybody who writes a book doesn’t get famous.”
“i bet most of them do.”
“my cousin wrote a book and put it on amazon. she’s not famous. go on amazon sometime, there’s more books in the world than people. they don’t all become famous.“
“i bet amy marker does. i can just feel it. and she wouldn’t go out for the basketball team even though she was ten feet tall. we would have won the state championship.”
“let me see that again.” candy picked cassie’s phone up off the table. she brought the story about amy markham back up, and scrolled through it.
“according to this, she is still working at a bookstore over on fifth street. so i guess she hasn’t made her million dollars yet. “
“she will,” cassie insisted.
“we should go over and see her,” said candy. “talk about old times.”
“yeah, right. we don’t have time, i have to get back to work.”
“we can go next wednesday. or maybe friday or monday. why not? it will be something to do, break the monotony.”
“you knew what we should do? we should kidnap her, hold her for ransom, make her give us some of the money she makes.”
candy laughed. “that sounds like a great idea, very practical.”
“why not? i bet the book is about us.”
“no, it said the book is about the history of women.”
“we’re women, aren’t we? i bet the book is about us. she owes us. and she owes us because she wouldn’t go out for the basketball team even though she was twelve feet tall and cost us the state championship.”
“let’s go see her then. you can have a nice conversation with her about not winning the state championship.”
amy marker was the tallest girl in the world, and ever since she was eleven years old, people had been telling her two things - that she should play basketball and that she should be a porn star.
but she had chosen to avoid both these activities, had gone to state college, and despite getting no encouragement from her teachers, who had advised addressing a less grandiose theme - like her own life - had written her history of the human race from the point of view of women, and to her own amazement had had it accepted and published by the university of a—————— press.
now she was trying to get a job as an instructor at a college, so that she could quit the bookstore. although she actually enjoyed working at the bookstore well enough.
amy had been a little disappointed at how few people coming into the bookstore had seemed to have seen the little piece in the local paper about her and the book. and how few had bought the book, especially at the reading and signing that sandy, the manager of the store, had been nice enough to arrange.
musing on these things as she sat at the cash register, amy was suddenly presented with the shocking sight of candy zimmer and cassie robbins, two of her tormentors from middle school and high school.
cassie looked around the store uncertainly, but candy gave amy a big smile.
“hello, amy,” candy said. “remember us?”
“oh, yes, of course.”
“we read about your book in the paper,” candy said. i thought that was just great. congratulations. you must be so proud,”
“uh - thank you.”
“i bet your mom and dad are proud too.”
“yes, they are.”
“it’s great to see you again”, candy continued.
“it’s nice to see you guys too.”
cassie had still not spoken. finally she stopped looking around the store, and looked at amy.
“did you go to college?” cassie asked amy.
“yes, i did.”
“did you play basketball?”
amy smiled. “no, i did not.”
“we would have won the state championship if you played.”
anna liked her new job at the a——— company well enough, even though it was pretty boring and she had no idea what she was doing, because it was preferable to sitting in her room starving and wondering if she would become homeless.
the people at the a———— company, including her immediate supervisor, ms davis, were generally friendly and helpful.
ms davis had work of her own which occupied most of her time, and was not the kind of supervisor who had nothing to do but supervise other people. not only that, she spent much of her time out of the office visiting other offices of the a—————— company. she seemed to spent most of her life in airports and on airplanes, an existence anna did not envy at all.
anna worked alone at her own little desk, as did most of the other people in the office. very rarely did two or more people work together on a job or project. most of the work was assigned through a computer terminal and done on the computer terminal.
anna found that the other employees were almost always helpful whenever she asked questions about the work. in fact, they usually seemed happy to interrupt their own work to talk to somebody else.
the population of the office was about ninety percent female. anna saw few men, and none in a supervisory capacity. there was a mister johnson who was understood to be the “general manager” or big boss, but anna never saw him. he was as remote as a four star general to a private in the army.
the men anna saw were mostly young men whom anna took to be gay. there was one older man, mister lee, who wore what looked to anna to be very heavy and uncomfortable old fashioned suits.
he had been with the a———— company for “a thousand years”. anna thought he was kind of creepy.
one morning mister lee approached anna’s desk. what can he want, anna thought, surely he doesn’t need any help from me, or have any question he needs to ask me.
good morning, mister lee addressed anna. he made a slight movement with his head. a bow?
good morning , anna replied.
i would be honored, mister lee said, if you would allow me to buy you lunch today.
anna was stupefied. i - i don’t think so , she managed to say, i like to go to lunch alone.
i understand, mister lee replied with a little smile. he bobbed his head again, and was gone as quickly as he had appeared.
anna’s first reaction was relief that she had not said anything to him at all that might be the least bit encouraging - no maybe, or i’ll think about it , or some other time. but she was completely creeped out, and could not get mister lee out of her head.
word about the little incident got around the office and the other women laughed about it and thought mister lee was “cute” or pathetic. a couple of them assured anna that mister lee had been there for a thousand years and was harmless.
anna was not so sure. it was easy for them to say!
mister lee never approached her again. his desk was not that close to anna’s, and anna never caught him looking her way.
but anna could not stop thinking about the incident, even when she was off work. in fact it was worse when she was off work, because then how did she know where mister lee was?
she knew that if she went to ms davis, let alone to anybody higher up, they might express some sympathy but would say there was nothing they could do. and the police - forget it. they would probably laugh right in her face.
she did not want to quit the job and go back to starving in her room. and even if she did - mister lee might find out where she lived and be lurking outside.
anna looked up witches on line. she found a madame yora who specifically included “hexes” in her list of services offered.
madame yora operated out of an apartment even smaller than anna’s and anna went to see her on a friday evening and explained her predicament. she brought along a picture she had printed, of an office christmas party from a couple of years before and mister lee was in it.
madame yora glanced at the picture. this is good, but i don’t really need it. mister lee, works at the a——— company, that is all i really need.
great, said anna. but what can you do?
i can change the gentleman into a flea, said madame yoga, a flea on a dog.
that sounds good, said anna. i don’t even like dogs, and try to avoid them.
there is only one problem, said madame yora, one thing that might go wrong.
and what might that be?
sometimes if the stars are a bit out of line, the subject does not turn into a flea on a dog but into a werewolf.
a werewolf! exclaimed anna. will he come after me?
no, werewolves have no memories of anything that happened before they become werewolves. neither do fleas.
anna paid madame yora her reasonable fee. mister lee did not appear at the office on monday morning , or on the days after that.
and then, a week after anna’s visit to madame yora, a story appeared in the news.
werewolf attacks suspected on north side
anna and madame yora both saw the story at the same time. they each got up and went and looked out their windows.
night was beginning to fall when jennifer and eugene finally reached the campsite outside the tower.
the campsite was not as big as they had expected, and the tower itself was not nearly as tall as they had expected.
still, the tower was the only building of any height in sight, and stood out starkly in the fading light. it was not as lit up as jennifer and eugene had expected. in fact, only a single window, near the top, showed any light.
jennifer and eugene took their packs off their backs and began to set up camp.
an ordinary looking little man had a small tent set up a little to their right, and was sitting on the ground in front of it, and eugene, who was a friendly sort, went over and approached him.
the little man looked up at eugene, with no expression on his face that eugene could read.
eugene noticed a hand printed sign beside the man. it read:
i had a flower in colorado and a friend in the sky above singapore
what does that mean?, eugene asked.
don’t mean nothing, said the man, it’s just who i am.
oh, eugene answered politely. my name is eugene, he told the man, what is yours?
well, rutherford, i must say i am a little surprised to see how few people are here.
it’s a warm night, said rutherford, on a cold night there would be more people because there is a little bit of warmth always coming off the tower.
i see, said eugene, but right now i do not feel anything from the tower.
it ain’t what it used to be, said rutherford, but still a little bit and you can feel it on a cold night.
do you think the tower will fall any time soon? , eugene asked.
hard to say. but it don’t matter if it stands or falls, it is who you are that counts.
of course, eugene agreed.
just then jennifer called to eugene to come help her put up their tent, so he said goodbye to rutherford and went back and joined her.
as eugene walked back, he thought that he might make himself a sign like rutherford’s, showing who he really was.
what were you talking to that bum for? jennifer asked.
i just was, eugene answered.
you shouldn’t be talking to bums, you should be thinking about how to get in to the tower.
eugene just nodded. he never argued with jennifer, or with anybody.
there are two kinds of people - upward lookers and downward lookers.
eugene was a downward looker - always thinking, at least i am better off than them.
jennifer was an upward looker, always thinking, how come they are better off than me?
up in the tower, catherine was looking was looking out the window.
alexander was trying to make contact with headquarters. he had been trying for over a year. but he thought that dusk was the best time to try, so he always gave it another try just as the sun went down.
catherine was a downward looker, alexander was an upward looker.
i think you should give up tonight, catherine told alexander. maybe try again tomorrow night.
no maybe, alexander replied, try again for sure. i am never giving up. what are you looking at, anyway?
just the people down there. they all look so sad. maybe we should just slip away, then they could give up and slip away too.
never, alexander replied resolutely. that is not who i am.
but with a sigh, he gave up for the night.
and so the tower still stood, against the darkening sky.
johnny went to the fair. it was a nice night. the stars were out.
a little old man was sitting on the ground at the entrance to the midway. he had a big hat pulled down over his face, and a jug between his feet.
how’s it going, kid? the little old man asked johnny.
great, johnny replied.
try a hit of this. the little old man offered the jug to johnny.
johnny did not hold liquor well, not like his old pappy and grandpappy, but to be polite he took a sip from the jug.
it made his eyes water. thank you kindly, he told the old man and handed the jug back with a trembling hand.
the old man looked familiar, johnny thought as preceded down the midway, stumbling a little bit.
that was strong stuff, johnny thought, but, dang, i only just wet my lips.
a couple of city slickers were standing in front of a cotton candy stand.
one of them was wearing a sharp blue suit and the other was wearing a sharp brown suit.
the one in the blue suit looked like a white man, and the one in the brown suit like some kind of dago or foreigner.
say, kid, how would you like to make a couple of dollars, the man in the blue shot asked johnny.
i might like it quite a bit, sir, johnny answered. it all depends.
he called you sir, said the man in the brown suit. this is a polite young man.
you a country boy? the man in the blue suit asked johnny. you look like a real country boy.
i guess i am, sir, jjohnny replied. i ain’t never even been to town.
you a hunter? the man in the brown suit asked. you know, go out in the woods and shoot rabbits and moose and such?
i’ve hunted all my life, sir. i mean, since i was old to hold a rifle.
that’s what we want to hear, said the man I’m the blue suit. you a good shot?
the best, sir, johhny replied. i can shoot the feathers off a hummingbird at a hundred paces, and leave him still singing. if i see two squirrels sharing an acorn on the branch of a tree, i can hit the acorn between them without harming a hair on their bodies.
well then, you sound like just the fellow for us, said the man in the blue suit. he pointed to a shooting gallery a little way down the midway, which was surrounded by a great crowd of country folk. you see, we are here to rob the bank in town, and what we need is a diversion. what is your name, by the way?
what a coincidence. my name is john, too, john dillinger, and this here is mr al capone. as i was saying, we are here to rob the federal bank, and we need someone to create a fuss here. as city fellows we are used to used tommy guns and pistols, but not the kind of firearms used in the exhibitions of skill displayed yonder booth. what we need is some plucky young gent such as yourself to put on such an exhibition of shooting that the attention of all far and wide is concentrated on it and we will have a clear path to robbing the bank. later we will meet up with you on the outskirts of town and cut you in for a generous share of the loot. how does that sound?
better than a kick in the face from a bee-stung mule, johnny said. but, sir, how am i to get up to shoot? it looks from here that there is quite a crowd, probably with many fellows impatiently waiting their turn.
do not worry about that, said al capone. for the man in the booth is our confederate, mr pretty boy floyd, and we will give him the high sign, and you will move to the head of the line past those other rubes.
fair enough, johnny replied. he approached the shooting gallery, and it seemed that the crowd around it parted like the red sea, and he was standing in front of the gallery with the “rifle” - really just a toy - that pretty boy floyd handed to him wth a wink.
we will start off with an easy one, pretty boy floyd told the crowd and johnny. he pressed a switch and ten doves flew across the background of the gallery.
should i shoot them all? johnny asked.
all? the crowd roared with laughter. there is only one, kid, a number of people shouted.
johnny tried to hit all ten doves but the “rifle” would only fire seven or eight rubber “bullets”. the laughter got louder behind him.
all right, kid, take a deep breath, pretty boy floyd told him. that was just beginner’s luck - bad luck. try these two rabbits.
dozens of rabbits bounded across the background. johnny sprayed rubber bullets all over the gallery - and beside and over it, but did not hit any rabbits.
he’s gonna kill somebody! somebody yelled behind him. run for your lives! but the general reaction was more and louder laughter.
here, kid, let me have that. a voice beside johnny said. he turned and saw a blonde woman in a tight red dress, with a big red hat flopped down over her face.
let me show you how it’s done, the lady in red said, and took the rifle from johnny.
here we go, said pretty boy floyd.
a bear and a bison shambled across the gallery and the lady in red plugged them both, to roars of laughter from the crowd.
johnny did not wait around to see any more. he pushed his way back through the hooting crowd.
he found himself on the outskirts of town. he left the lights behind, and started walking down the highway.
a black packard pulled up beside him. a voice asked johnny if he wanted a ride.
why not? he got in beside the driver, a burly fellow in a gray suit, with five o’clock shadow and a cigar stuck in his mouth.
where you headed?, the man asked.
that’s where we’re headed, the man in the gray suit said. he laughed, and someone in the back seat laughed with him.
looking for work? a voice behind johnny asked.
sure. johnny turned around. he saw a little man with a scowling face, wearing an orange suit and a red and white polka dot bow tie.
permit me to introduce myself, said the driver. my name is eliot ness. and the gentleman in the back seat is none other than mr j edgar hoover. we’re looking for a few good men.
what can you do? j edgar hoover added johhny.
i’’m a sharpshooter.
you don’t say so, said j edgat hoover. he didn’t smile when he said it.
yes, sir, i do say so. i can shoot the smoke off a corncob pipe at a hundred paces. if i see two acorns falling off a tree, i can hit one and make it bounce off the other, like two pool balls.
pretty impressive, said eliot ness. we will give you a chance to show what you can do,
they drove a little further down the road and clouds drifted across the sky and the night got darker.
the car stopped. eliot ness got out and signaled to johnny to get out and join him.
they were parked beside a bumpy looking field.
eliot ness opened the trunk of the packard and took out a paper sack. he opened it and showed it to johnny. it was filled with rocks.
here’s what you do, kid. take these rocks and kill as many crows as you can with them. you got that?
eliot ness got back in the car and he and j edgar hoover drove off. johnny thought he heard laughter.
johnny looked up at the sky, he did not see any crows, or anything else except the dark clouds.
the sky started to spin.
faster and faster.
johnny fell down in the mud.
in the morning little bo peep brought her sheep to the field and found johnny, still lying face down.
she turned him over to see if he was dead or alive.
the old emperor was ready to expire, and the council of priests and sages met to select his successor from his twenty-two sons.
the reverend mr denby, who had emerged from obscurity by obscure means and gained effective control of the council, proposed frederick, the emperor’s youngest and most feckless child.
the vote went around the table. the other members of the council, expressing faith in mr derby’s judgment, some of them in the most effusive terms, unanimously approved his choice.
except for the archbishop of atlantis, mr derwood, who proposed, without explanation or explication, the the emperor’s oldest son, marco, be proclaimed new emperor. as mr derwood was known to be deliberately perverse on almost all subjects large and small, and to routinely object to proposals purely because he did not believe in unanimous votes, he was not even questioned as to the reasons for his choice.
and so frederick, or freddy as he was known to high and low alike, was approved as the new emperor.
the only problem, and it was regarded as not much of one, was finding freddy, as he spent his existence wandering the dusty and muddy roads of the empire (and sometimes beyond), usually alone, but sometimes with a cat, which he would steal from the farms and homes he passed, as his companion.
what the members of the council did not appreciate, presumably out of ignorance of terms of the established tradition, or perhaps were indifferent to, because they took for granted the freddy could be quickly found, was that if the new proclaimed candidate was not crowned two weeks after the reigning emperor died, then the crown would pass to whomever had received the second most votes from the council.
in this case, marco, who had received the one vote of mr derwood, the cantankerous and contrary archbishop of atlantis.
mr derwood felt he was halfway to a significant coup. if only freddy could be prevented from being found in two weeks, then his man, marco, a simple fellow on whose gratitude he felt confident he could count on, would ascend the imperial throne and he, mr derwood, would effectively be master of the empire.
mr derby, too late, grasped the situation, and resolved to find freddy as quickly as possible. without, however, making tany great commotion about it, and alarming the other members of the council, and the general populace, who were, of course, quite ignorant of the old emperor’s grave condition.
it should be mentioned that mr derby and mr derwood were identical twins, and had long been bitter rivals. their long time enmity was a deep fissure in the apparently placid surface of the empire, threatening to suddenly widen at any time, and plunge the empire into chaos.
mr derby knew there was only one man he could really count on to find freddie, and find him and bring him in quickly, without any fuss.
and that was walter “rug” merchant, a private operative whose incomparable skill and discretion had been relied on for the most sensitive missions by generations of princes and bureaucrats.
mr derby went to find rug merchant. he was told that rug merchant had retired, and was living on the side of a mountain in the steppes of central atlantis.
mr derby was determined to persuade rug to take on one last job.
he found rug sitting in a rocking chair in front of his little hut on the side of the mountain.
rug told mr derby that the mountain was a holy mountain, and that he, rug, was well and truly retired.
the desert stretched away in every direction. black birds flew overhead.
there was a little table beside rug’s rocking chair, covered with minute hand-carved objects. rug had a pair of what looked like jewelers tweezers in his hand and he was, he explained to mr derby, assembling the pieces into a replica of one of the great cathedrals of the ancient world.
this is what he wanted to do now, rug continued, spend his final days assembling little table-sized models of the great lost structures of vanished civilizations. he was done with the modern world, with doing the bidding of princes and ministers.
mr derby took out his wallet and took a small photograph out of the wallet and pushed across the table to rug.
one last job, he told rug. that is all i ask. one last job and the photograph is yours.
freddy and his companions walked down the road. they saw a couple of small houses in the distance, but had the road to themselves.
freddy had two companions with him, a cat named maisie that he had “stolen” - with a wink from the farmer - from a farmyard in the kingdom of y—————, and a little dog named mike, who had begun following them down a road in the republic of z————.
freddy was known by sight to most of the inhabitants of the empire. and could be sure of a friendly wave from most of them as he perambulated the earth. and friendly tankards of ale from innkeepers , and friendly slices of pie from farmers’ wives.
what good times they had! especially since mike had joined them.
this is as good as it gets, freddy announced, as mike barked happily, and maisie trotted along in front of them.
suddenly clouds passed over the sun, and freddy saw a tall building on the horizon.
as they approached the building, it took the form of an ancient cathedral, such as freddy had seen in books and paintings when he was a small child in the imperial palace, before he embarked on his travels.
an old woman, leaning on a stick, stood in the road in front of the cathedral.
freddy recognized his mother. in her youth she had been a peasant girl, one of the thousands that the old emperor had had his way with, and she was dressed as a peasant now, with a rag tied around her head.
what is this, mother, freddy cried, and where are we?
this is the edge of the world, the old woman replied. beyond the cathedral is a great cliff, and you must walk over it.
buy why, freddy cried, why?
because everybody hates you, my child, and they hate you because you are beautiful.