Thursday, March 2, 2017

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Passport Control

by Laura E. Goodin ©2009

I've seen passports from two hundred countries. Writing that looks like armies of spiders, or miniature city skylines, or tiny birds trailing swirling black ribbons. But I'd never seen any like this.

"I can't read this," I said, glancing up. "Please give me the translation."

I knew that look. Every time I saw it, it meant I'd feel like crap for the rest of the day.

I said, as kindly as I could, "English. Passport."

Somehow he managed to look even more worried. His fingers flickered in a nervous pattern on the counter. I guess I should have brought a security guard over, but I try not to do that. It usually creates more problems than it solves.

I wrote the word "English" on a piece of paper and turned it to show him.

He put his hand on the paper. One fingertip just barely nudged my hand. Something like a tiny cymbal crash spread in an instant along my arm and through my chest and up into my head, where it grew and rang and shimmered.

I whispered, "What was that?"

His eyes, dark and startled, stared into mine, then narrowed in sudden intensity. Something crept up the inside of my skull: confusion, terror, a wordless impulse to run, run! I started to pant, as if I really were running. My hand twitched, and the contact was broken.

That was home.

His face said, Please.

"No, mate," I said, my voice low and shaking. "First you, then everyone. I've got people here to look out for."

The immigrant's head dropped, as though he could understand me. I handed his passport back. He reached for it, then with a sudden flick of his hand, seized my fingers and gripped. The buzzing sang along my nerves and into my brain again, and I braced myself for the wave of horror I knew would follow.

Instead, I felt my heart yearning for quiet and order. My jaw tightened: I will make this place better for my being here, I swear it. And a quick reassurance to the worried official whose hand I gripped: I know how to hide. No-one will know.

A security guard sauntered closer and frowned.

The immigrant quickly let go of my hand. Still holding the passport, I gave a calming wave to the guard.

The immigrant and I looked at the passport, looked at each other.

Slowly, I opened the passport to a blank page and placed it on the counter. The rattle-clunk of the visa stamp seemed very loud.

We did not look at each other again.

The next passport was from somewhere in South America. A tourist, 90 days, nice and ordinary.


Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Bureaucrat and the Monster

An innocent bureaucrat, Tom,
had a job that was easy and calm.
He spent his days musing,
approving, refusing,
and losing forms complex and long.

Last Tuesday one form caught his eye.
"Please help me," it read. "Don't ask why.
I'm trapped in a cave
and I need to be saved
from the monster who's sitting nearby."

Tom sat at his desk and debated.
Be a hero, as it seemed he was fated?
Or stay at his desk,
safe from the grotesque,
until this odd feeling abated?

Just then a new email arrived.
"Staff meeting begins 9:05
It's starting right now,
will keep going somehow
until you're all barely alive."

Tom cried,"Right, then," and jumped to his feet.
"I'll save you, there'll be no retreat!
I'll battle the beast
'til its roaring has ceased,
and I'll take you back home, job complete!"

He got to the cave about three.
The captive exclaimed fretfully,
"Thank goodness you're here!
I've been waiting a year
for someone to process my plea!

"There – there it is, over there –
the thing with the horrible hair!
It bellows and squeals
and eats loathsome meals
of entrails and chocolate eclairs!"

Tom took out his phone with due speed,
prayed that two bars would do what he'd need.
His inbox had minutes
from the staff meeting in it.
Tom tapped – and started to read.

He read 'til the monster succumbed,
and slumped over, sucking its thumb.
Its glowing eyes closed,
it snuffled and dozed,
then it slept as though passed out on rum.

The captive said, "Ah, my plan worked!
I can have a nice meal!" and he smirked.
"A desk-money like you
will make excellent stew.
Now shut up and simmer, you jerk."

"I just wanted to help," Tom cried.
"Help my dinner," the captive replied.
The one who had schemed
was the real monster, it seemed,
and Tom's good intentions were fried.

He fought, bit, and kicked for hours
to somehow avoid being devoured.
But the captive, now captor,
was fierce as a raptor,
and fought back with inhuman power.

I don't know what Tom did that day
to finally win in the fray.
But he's missing an eye,
three teeth, and his tie,
and his hair is a premature grey.

So if you've got a job you detest,
and you've gotten adventure-obsessed,
be cautious, be calm.
Remember poor Tom.
There are worse things than being depressed.

©2012, Laura E. Goodin

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

In honor of the impending transit of Venus

The Transit of Venus
by Laura E. Goodin ©2012

They gather, looking to join fire and mud,
to discuss at last
the ratio of yearning to cold fact.

She's bound to show.

They squint and scowl, glance at their watches,
waiting for her wild arrival.

With a pulse of joy,
they see her.
It's like they've always known.
The iron laws that brought her here
do not affect her pounding heart.

By her dance across the sun
are all things measured.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Monster Tarantella

Marigold was substantial, overly jovial, large, lanky, all awkward angles.

Ballet was attempted. Young men with wispy hair and pained expressions lifted her in teams. At some point all agreed it should stop.

Marigold danced alone across lands of ice and fire, rock and mire. She galumphed by cover of night, listening between each thudding figure for the silvery giggles of the lithe.

One night there followed two clumsy children with blotchy faces. The next, a man who muttered to himself and could meet no-one's eyes. Then, a woman brittle with age and apprehension. Each night more, a hundred, a thousand, dancing in their own flawed, fantastical ways.

On the day the Great Sea Monster rose, slime-covered, bored, and irritable, the people screamed and hid. The monster travelled across ice and fire, rock and mire, and at last found Marigold. She came forth to meet it, her dancers following, and occasionally stepping on one another's toes.

Marigold looked the monster up and down and laughed her braying laugh. The monster recoiled, and Marigold and her dancers surged to close the distance.

A long moment passed, in which they could all hear each other breathing.

Experimentally, the monster moved forward again, and the dancers skipped backward, waving their arms to keep their uncertain balance. The monster stared at the patterns they made, like seaweed, like the tops of waves, like the northern lights. A strange joy swelled within its heart.

The monster flung its own arms up and twirled on its clawed and scaly feet. Marigold, seeing at last a dance that befitted her, joined in.

One by one, the others took up the wild and unmeasured steps, each in their own, irregular way. The moon rose, and thousands danced the Monster Tarantella.


Monday, November 30, 2009

In the Toolbag

Backyard Skywatchers Find Tool Bag Lost in Space

Amateur astronomers have been monitoring a shiny tool bag that has been orbiting Earth ever since it was dropped last week by an astronaut during a spacewalk outside the International Space Station. The bag is reportedly about magnitude 6.4, which under most sky conditions is too faint to see with the naked eye. Veteran spacewalker and Endeavor astronaut Heide Stefanyshyn-Piper lost her grip on the backpack-sized bag on Nov. 18 while cleaning up a mess from a leaking grease gun she was carrying to help mop up metal grit from inside a massive gear that turns the space station's starboard solar wings.

"Just tell them the bag slipped out of your reach when you were — oh, hell, I don't know. Cleaning spilled grease off the tools. We can squirt grease into the rest of the bags to make it look more plausible. They'll never know."

"No-one's going to believe something that stupid."

"Would you rather tell them the real story?"

"Point taken."

I heard their voices fading behind me as I drifted out, out, out into the bright, hard light of the stars. I exulted. My plan, so patiently implemented, had disintegrated into a chaos of flailing limbs and swashbuckling, but never mind: I had finally escaped.

How many years had I languished amid the heat and smells of the planet below? When I'd been marooned, the pyramids of Egypt were not yet even a sated despot's sleepy afternoon vision. Year after year, I studied Earth's sticky, fetid inhabitants, watching them with distaste as they went about their revolting business. I learned to know them — and, eventually, to guide them.

It takes a world to build a ship. And so I began: a suggestion here, a nudge there, some "lucky find" placed where one of their shambling dreamers could stumble on it and slowly, dully, make the connection.

Metallurgy in particular was a nightmare to get through their skulls. But I needed their arms to mine the coal, to pump the bellows, to wield the hammers, to farm and to govern so that the smiths and the scientists might work unmolested by starvation and pillage. Cities sprang up where I had worked most closely; I'd saved large areas of the planet for later, knowing that when the first mines and forests were depleted, they would — I would — need fresh earth. And when the time came, new lands, sparsely populated by those I had left in peace, were ready for my trained animals to arrive.

Year after year they built, connection after connection, forming in the end vast networks of knowledge and skill. Any single idea, any single achievement, was moronic in its simplicity, but the humans bred in their thousands and their millions, and each one, however awkwardly, did something.

And so they progressed until they burst at last from their planet's gravity. Those first brief trips into space, no more than pleasant afternoon jaunts, were nothing to me. The moon landings were an unfortunate distraction; I could no more escape the moon's gravity than the earth's. But the space station — ah, yes. The platform from which I could spring outward and begin my journey back to my home and my revenge.

My beasts have honored me: Prometheus, Matarisvan, Grandmother Spider, the altruistic bringer of knowledge. Those who call me Azazel know me better: the sneering puppeteer who gives only to take, teaches only to exploit. I am not ashamed. My crew, appalled, had refused to complete my visions. I will miss these more-biddable hands. And yet they, too, were beginning to cause me trouble — several of them will bear the scars of battle as a price for looking too soon into the toolbag.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Jester and the King

I. The King Speaks

He is my life, the ember of my heart, the bowl that holds my soul. I hate him. I hate his wild limbs, his vital ribs, his skull-grin, his clanging laugh. I hate the way he shows me everything, everything.

Many times, I reached out with my armored hand, each soldier a finger. Each time that I drew it back with fewer fingers left, and yet clasping nothing, he cackled and danced and his poetry forced shame down my throat.

When I brought young women to me, beckoned them with a careless wave, he mocked me that they shrank from me in the night. I didn't tell him they did. But he knew. I don't beckon them now.

When my sons and daughters wept at what I chose for them, when they howled for freedom and I wouldn't give it — had I not begotten them for just these purposes? — his small jokes, his sly winks, taught them rebellion and escape. I don't know where they are, and I sit at table alone.

I could kill him. Hear my voice: no rage or spite. I tell you simply, I could.

Except I can't.

The cord between us, wet and pulsing, can't be cut. You don't see it, do you? You don't feel it, or hear the rush of blood back and forth along its purple veins. You don't believe in it.

How wonderful for you, to have that choice.

II. The Jester Speaks

I tried to leave once. Got as far as that hill. The only thing I remember is hot, stretching agony, and then waking, helpless, in my bed. The cord, it seems, cannot be torn.

I know more about him than he does. I see him disgusted by his desires and fears. I see the man who wishes...who wishes he could be....


Maybe someday he will see the difference between wishing and wanting. Maybe, instead of straining against the cord, he will grasp it to save himself. That's what I had to do. The evil of the king gives me life. I exist to be his jester. Which is to say, to show him his true self, forever. Hate him? No! Maybe, someday, he will see how alike two brothers can be.


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Three Feet from Doom

This play was performed on June 5, 2009 in England as part of the Gone in 60 Seconds International Play Festival; there is a link to the performance on that site. Go to timestamp 1:01 (one hour, one minute).

Three Feet from Doom
by Laura E. Goodin
© 2009

CURTIS a man

(Enter CURTIS and GERALDINE. She is carrying a computer bag.)

That went well.

I'm still nervous. You saw the way he looked at me.

Who, Stone?

Gives me the shivers. Eyes like outer space.

I don't care what they say in the lunchroom. His being an alien is just a theory.

So I guess it's normal for him to have three feet.

Oh, he does not. Where's the third one?

Take a look at his left shoe sometime. It's all lumpy.

I'm going back in there and flat-out ask him.

Go ahead. You'll see it's not a theory when he kidnaps you to keep you quiet and you're staring at Earth from somewhere around Orion's butt.

Don't you mean Orion's belt?

Not where you're concerned.

You really think he's an alien. And he has many powers, and three feet.

Well, I'm not sure about the powers. But he is planning interstellar domination!

Starting at the Australian Tax Office.

Where better?

(Sudden sounds of ray-gun fire.)

Oh, God, I thought I had weeks yet!

(Pulls from her bag the most spectacular ray gun the props department can cobble together. Runs offstage, shouting.)

Stone! Stone, you bastard! Earth will never surrender!


(Looks around furtively. Pulls a walkie-talkie or sufficiently weird-looking phone from a pocket.)

Yeah, she's gone, finally. Got distracted. Some wannabe named Stone, trying to launch his own pissy little invasion. The universe is full of amateurs. So are we ready to activate? Yeah, good, my feet are all killing me.

(Striking a pose.)

Let the invasion begin!