Vampire Code: The Calculus of Others


The Loogaroo Express runs both directions: It can take passengers out of Forgotten Hollow just as easily as it can bring them in, and Sylvia’s mother had thirteen reasons why Sylvia was not going to be riding it out of the valley this weekend.

Sylvia concentrated on calculus while her mother rattled off her concerns. “Firstly, the curtains fit the windows poorly! Light always seeps in through the cracks. And knowing you, you’d have your nose in a book and wouldn’t even notice when your arm was bathed in sunlight!”

Her mother’s voice, especially when she was trying to make a point, or rather, thirteen successive points, became musical. Sylvia reflected on something she’d read in a lesson by Knill in her advanced math textbook: “Calculus plays a role in music because every music piece just is a function.”


If that’s the case, then her mother’s voice could be described by calculus.

“Reason number seven,” said her mother, “The vending machines on the train don’t sell plasma packs! Not on the train, not in the station, not in San Myshuno. What if you get hungry?”

Her mother’s voice rose in pitch towards the end of that statement, but it was quite melodious. The last syllable, “ree,” actually sounded like it was pitched at 440 A.

Assume g(x) is a 2π periodic function, we can generate a sound of 440 Hertz when playing the function f(x) = g(440 · 2πx). If the function does not have a smaller period, then we hear the A tone with 440 Hertz. (Knill)


“And finally, reason number thirteen,” said her mother, “I like having you here. I just don’t want you out gallivanting through the strange world with all those strangers.”

“All right, Ma,” said Sylvia. Her own voice was lower, softer.


We can not hear the actual function because the function changes too fast… [to allow us to] notice individual vibrations. But we can hear the hull function… We can generate a beautiful hull by playing two frequencies which are close. You hear interference. (Knill)

Sylvia began to hum softly, barely audibly, while her mother canted on about all the reasons to stay off the Loogaroo.

The frequencies of their voices combined into a beautiful resonance, and the glasses on the shelves began to vibrate slightly.

“It’s settled then,” said Sylvia’s mother, and she walked upstairs to tuck in Zap.

The moon shone on the patio. Sylvia wondered about the logarithm for moonlight.


Mathematics made her world feel less small, somehow. It defined it, surely, but it also connected it. If she knew the logarithm for the observed moonlight here on the patio of her mother’s ancestral home in Forgotten Hollow, then she could imagine the logarithm of the moonlight shining over San Myshuno Bay, and so it was through the moonlight that she might explore all of the world onto which it shone.


The old lore held fascination, too, connecting her to time, rather than space. The practices she read about in her mother’s old leather-bound encyclopedia were every bit as precise as mathematical formulae.


“Have you practiced any of these things?” she asked her mother when she joined her with her own volume of the esoterica.


“Yes, dear,” said Miranda. “My father ensured that my own upbringing was very traditional, and very thorough. I wasn’t allowed to be some young wild thing, like you are!”

“Oh, Ma!” Sylvia protested. “I’m not so wild.”

“But you are,” said her mother, wrapping her in a hug. “Your father and I spoil you so. We wouldn’t have it any other way. But still. Wouldn’t you like to go shopping, dear? Get something a little less nomdish and a little more rune?”

“Oh, Ma! You know I’m happiest in my old sweats.”


Sylvia escaped to the garret, where her thoughts could wander in solitude. She found an old easel, a stack of canvases, and a cabinet with fresh acrylics. Her grandfather was an artist, in addition to all his other myriad accomplishments.


The next day, after school, Sylvia found her mother deep in study down in the cellar library. Her father was napping in the cryptorium.


Back upstairs, her math text didn’t bring the comfort she sought. The daily problem for their homework was the old train travel puzzle:

A train leaves the station at 8 p.m., travelling north at 90 miles per hour. Another train starting from the same point at 10 p.m. travels east at 100 miles per hour. Find, to the nearest mile per hour, how fast the two trains are separating at midnight.


Oh, to be on a train at midnight, instead of stuck here, in this prison of a house!


If she caught the southbound train at 8 p.m., how many kilometers away from this stockade would she be by 10 p.m.?  They didn’t call it the San Myshuno Rapid Transit system for nothing: the Loogaroo pulled into the city an hour after leaving the Forgotten Hollow station.

She’d do it. She had permission, of course, to roam the valley all she wanted during nighttime, and as long as she was home before sunrise, neither parent cared. They were, after all, creatures of the night.

“Ma!” she called down to the library. “I’m heading out! I’ll be back before breakfast!”

“That’s nice, dear! Have fun!”

She raced through the square down to the station, hopped onto the last car just as the doors were closing, and in a little over an hour, she got off at the station in the art district, near a bright building that housed the modern art museum.

A woman dressed in hippie clothes, with her hair wrapped in scarves, approached her.

“Are you here for the organ?” she asked.


Sylvia felt self-conscious. Was it that obvious what she was?

“No, I’m not hungry,” she said. “No need for organs.”

The woman laughed. “Pipe organ! The new pipe organ! The one that Bach selected himself!”

Sylvia had read about this on the web. The St. Catherine organ, which sixteen-year-old Bach traveled 50 kilometers, mostly on foot, to play and listen to had been donated to the museum, which boasted of ideal acoustics for such an instrument. Sylvia confessed that she hadn’t come for the organ, but to see the city.

“Well, the organ is amazing,” said the woman. “I’m terrible on it–it’s nothing like a piano. But still, the sound!”

Sylvia began talking about the calculus of music, and how a person’s voice can travel the same frequencies as any instrument, and how we hear not just with our ears, but with all the empty spaces within our bodies, and how we listen not just with our minds, but with our stored cellular memories, too. And then, they remembered that they hadn’t yet introduced themselves.


After the introductions, Sylvia and Cathy Tea fell silent for a moment. They shifted in that awkward space that’s shared when two strangers have dove into the deep end and find themselves friends before they, really, know anything about each other except that they are kindred spirits.

“I’m going to meet some friends,” Cathy said at last. “Would you like to come? We’re meeting in Willow Springs, but it’s a short ride on the express. And the organ will be here later.”

Sylvia felt swept along, and besides, saving the organ for another night would give her an excuse to return.

The two new friends never stopped talking on the quick ride to the next town. They talked of everything that mattered: Bach’s music and the mathematical patterns found within it and the replication of those patterns in the songs of wrens and the influence of bird songs on abstract concepts in art and the ways that painting shapes the arc of a story or a line of poetry and what does it really mean to be an artist, anyway? Is it something one does or something one is? They both agreed: It is who one is.

Sylvia felt just as comfortable with Cathy’s friends.


They were so wholesome: fit, and tan, and cheerful. She envied Cathy, being a part of this group, and the longing she felt seemed to clarify something for her. It was like looking into her grandfather’s old stereoscope. Suddenly, she saw her future in 3-D. This was what she wanted be.


“Where you say you be coming from?” asked Davion.

“I didn’t,” replied Sylvia. “But it’s not too far of a ride on the train.”


Davion didn’t say where he was from, either.

“At present snotch of time,” he said, “I live on the isle of the Windenburg quenya.”

“I’ve always wanted to listen to the sea,” said Sylvia. “I’ve never seen the sea.”

“Never seen it?” asked Davion, in amazement.

“No,” said Sylvia. “But I’ve read about it! I can imagine it!”


Cathy sat alone at the next table, and Sylvia excused herself to go join her.

“I like your friends,” she said.


“They’re your friends now, too!” said Cathy.

“If only it were that easy,” replied Sylvia.


Soon, her new friends began marking the late hour. “I’ve got an early morning,” said Cathy. “I have little ones, you know, and they never sleep past the thrush’s first song!”

An hour before midnight, and they left Sylvia there alone. She pulled out her i-phone and looked for videos of the ocean.

It’s the same pattern, she thought, watching the waves rolling in and out on the shore, only trochoidal, not sinusoidal.

The Trochoidal shape [of a wave] can be approximated to the shape of the Hyperbolic Tan Function graph, tanh(x). (Passy)


She wasn’t sure which she liked best, the smooth wave of the sine or the peaked wave of the trochoid, but the pulsing of each reminded her of what drew her most strongly to these new friends: their own internal bright red oceans, salty as the sea, moving through the veins in their own continents of flesh.

The heart beats in fractal patterns as it flows through the fractal pathways of veins. The fractal dimension of the human voice produces resonance. The fractal dimension of the cerebellum receives the fractal patterns of Bach’s fugues. “Everything is sound and light.”

“Hey, there!” said a bright voice.

Syvlia turned to see a young woman seated at the table.

“I was supposed to meet my mom and my neighbor here,” the young woman said. “Have you seen them?”

When she discovered that her new friend Cathy was the neighbor, and her friend was the mom, Sylvia joined the woman. The woman talked about her garden until after midnight, and then, complaining of the late hour, she, too, headed home.


Sylvia was alone in the night. Soon, the last train would stop to pick up passengers heading back to the shadowed valley of her home. She would be on it, returning well before the first sun. But part of her dreams would remain here, to walk out beside the willow in the morning light, listening to the thrush’s song.

Through the fractal dimension of her cerebellum, this imagined self might be felt to be real, just as real as a Bach fugue played on the St. Catherine’s organ in the Museum of Modern Art in San Myshuno.

And it was that imagined self, she thought, that would get her through the stretches of long, sunless days that awaited her back home.

Works Cited:

Knill, Oliver. “Lecture 33: Calculus and Music.” Math 1A: Introduction to Functions and Calculus. 2012. Web. 2 Feb. 2017.

Passy. “Mathematics of Ocean Waves and Surfing.” Passy’s World of Mathematics. 4 Dec. 2013. Web. 3 Feb. 2017.

See also:

Bieberich, Erhard. “Structure in human consciousness: A fractal approach to the topology of the self perceiving an outer world in an inner space.” Web. 3 Feb. 2017.

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City Tales: My Lovely Landlord, 4


By the time the bonsai outgrew its windswept form, CT had stopped indulging in the sweet yearnings of homesickness. She discovered she no longer wished to be anywhere else: she found plenty of inspiration exactly where she was.

Dozens of canvases lined the walls, waiting to be filled. She specialized in the flotsam of urban commercialism, finding perfection in the color and form of shapes that might otherwise be overlooked. Through her years in the city, she learned to discount nothing. Everything formed a worthwhile subject.


She showed each canvas to Atharv. He appreciated them all.

“One day,” he said, “you will create something that will stop the heart. Not for long! Just an instant.”

“An eternity.”

“And then when the heart starts to beat again, the viewer will feel that life has changed. Nothing will be the same again.”

“I’m not that kind of artist,” she said.

“I wouldn’t be so sure.”

“My paintings don’t mean much. They’re just pleasant to look at. Something to fill an empty corner! Maybe something that brings a smile.”

“It will happen,” Atharv said. “I have great faith in art and in the artist.”


In spring, she included natural forms in her subject matter. She loved the juxtaposition of brick and leaf, petals and metal, wood and steel.


Things kept breaking in the apartment. Every month or so the fuse box would spark or the pipes would leak.

“I’d think you’d find a different place, my friend!” Atharv told her. “I have properties all through the city, and many are not in need of repair.”

“But do they come with furry friends?” she asked. “And how could I get through a month without a visit from you?”


It was a joke, for Atharv was as likely to drop by on any Tuesday as he was to come in response to a repair call.

While CT painted, Atharv cooked a meal. He seldom ate it himself, but he would carefully pack up the leftovers and store them in the fridge.

“Artists must eat!” he said. “And if they are too busy painting to cook for themselves, then someone must cook for them!”


Winter again, and CT prepared for her first big show in the Art Center.

“So the critic will have to review her own work!” Atharv joked.

“Hardly!” she replied. “Will you come with me to the opening?” she asked. “I’m nervous. It’s silly. But I am. If I were there with someone I felt safe with, then I wouldn’t be so scared.”

“Do you feel safe with me?” Atharv asked.

“Yes,” she replied.


In the weeks leading up to the opening, Atharv dropped by daily.

“I’m feeling so unsure of my paintings,” CT confessed.

“But why?” asked Atharv. “They are you! They show how you see the world!”

“But they’re not relevant,” CT replied. “They don’t mean anything. They’re just pleasing to look at.”

“That is not such a bad thing,” Atharv said. “If you can show beauty where it might not be seen, that is not a waste.”

“I can hear the reviews already,” CT said. “‘Derivative mish-mash of style and form, CT’s work leaves one wondering about the future of two-dimensional art.’

Atharv chuckled in spite of himself.


“Do you remember the night we spoke of the tiger?” he asked.

She did, of course.

“You told a story that night, too.”

CT thought back to the story she had told. She had been twelve. It was a few weeks after her cat had had to be put to sleep. That was her first experience with grief and betrayal. The cat’s illness came about because of additives in the pet food that caused liver failure. Her rage and sense of injustice threatened to overwhelm her. She lost trust in the world, trust in her parents, trust in the vet. How could shops sell something that caused harm? How could pet food companies produce it? How could her parents not know this and buy it? Why hadn’t the vet warned them? How could it be so senseless?

She took long walks in the hills around her house, sometimes following them deep into the woods. When her tears stopped, sometimes, her thoughts would stop, too, and she walked for hours in a silence that was deeper within than without.

One day, after hours of silence, the trees around her began to glow. She had no words for what she saw. It was light–but it wasn’t the sunshine. It was the light of life, in each growing thing. The world around her was vibrating in light.

She watched for an instant–an eternity–until the everyday forms returned.

When she got back home, she didn’t know how to express what she had seen to anyone. She kept the story a secret within her. Atharv was the first person she’d told, after he shared his story of the tiger.

A few days before the opening, Atharv stepped into the studio. There on the easel was a painting of the light of life.

When his heart began to beat again, Atharv wrapped her in his arms. “This is the painting that does it for me,” he said. “Now nothing is the same.”


He laughed while she fixed a pot of tea for them.

“Someday, they will say, ‘This is the apartment where ‘Light’ was painted!’ We will have to erect a plaque!”

“Nonsense,” she said. “That you like it. That’s enough.”


She had two more paintings to finish for the opening. After they finished their tea, she returned to the easel, and Atharv stepped out onto the balcony.

He left not long after, and CT painted through the night. Shortly before sunrise, she headed to the balcony to catch the changing colors of the sky.

Atharv had trimmed the bonsai, and her own heart stopped when she saw it, for an instant. And when it beat again, nothing was the same.


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City Tales: My Lovely Landlord, 3


Evenings in the city brought nostalgia. With roughly 837,440 people living in approximately 47 square miles, it seemed strange to feel so alone. But after a day of painting and writing, CT often realized she’d spoken to no one. Surprisingly, when she stood on her balcony looking over the empty streets, no one in the apartment building across the way ever looked out at her, standing there. She felt invisible. Her neighbors in her small town always said hello.

Fortunately, her work drew her outside many nights. She had festivals to cover, new musicians to discover, and gallery openings to review.

Walking out of the Art Center, the night air felt bracing. And when she looked up, she was startled to notice that she could still see the stars. It was as if night imposed itself over the entire region. I am Night, more powerful than city lights. You cannot dampen my stars or the depths of my darkness.

And no matter how much noise the city let loose, Night somehow absorbed it all in the silence of its space.


Paper lanterns spread magic through the squares, and the dragon-river mural on the brick tenement seemed enchanted, moving as if it were real.

The reviews CT wrote became touched with this magic. “It’s as if you’re describing a foreign land,” her editor wrote to her in an email. “Why! Your review of the food stands in the Art District garnered 125,062 hits! The commission reports that booth sales skyrocketed!”

“It’s not supposed to be about commercialism,” CT wrote back.

“Yeah, keep believing that  :),” the editor wrote in his reply.


CT longed to bring a bit of enchantment into her apartment. She picked up gallons of casein paints and began a mural on the studio wall. The sweet scent of caseins relaxed her. She was so focused on her painting that she didn’t hear the knocking on her door.

Her landlord let himself in with his key.

“Anyone at home?” he called. “I am here to check the suspicious smell in the hallway that the neighbors reported!”

“Back here!” she called back.

“Ah!” Atharv cried. “This is magic! And it smells like milkshakes!”

She apologized. Was the scent of the paints that strong? And was it OK she was painting the wall without permission? And she was sorry she hadn’t heard him knock.

“Too many worries!” he replied. The scent of the paints was not a problem, and the mural added beauty to the apartment, and when one is creating a thing of beauty, one cannot be expected to answer the door at any random moment.

“You’re a kind man, Atharv,” CT said, and he rewarded her with a warm smile.


A few weeks later, he dropped by unannounced late at night.

“I was walking by, checking on the kestrel nests under the eaves of the building, and I thought to myself, ‘Let’s see how that magical mural is coming along on the wall of the studio of my favorite tenant!'”

She invited him in to see the finished work.

“This is magic!” He said. “What do you know about color properties and the ways that colors, when used with skill,  create an environment that can keep a person cheerful?”


She didn’t know much–only what she’d learned through experience and intuition.

He shared the color principles he’d learned from his grandmother in India, who held that each color carried a specific frequency that affected mood and health.

Talk of color led to talk of light. Talk of light led to talk of growing things. Talk of growing things led to talk of wilderness, and soon they found they’d talked through the night.

Atharv told of summers he’d spent as a child on his grandparents’ tea plantation in Darjeeling.

“One summer, a tiger had been seen in the jungle surrounding the plantation. The field hands worried, keeping pitchforks and machetes always nearby. I was a wild thing, spending all my free time in the jungle. One afternoon, I climbed down a vine and there, standing right beside me was the tiger. He looked in my eyes. I looked in his. He saw the light of my eyes. I saw the light of his. It was like that.”

Atharv looked into her eyes so that the light sparked from his irises to hers.


“That moment of connection,” Atharv said. When he got home he told his grandfather that he had met the tiger. “He’s nothing to fear!” Atharv had told his grandfather. That afternoon, his grandfather told the laborers that Krishna had come to Atharv in the jungle in the form of the tiger. They put away their pitchforks then. And the tiger harmed no one.

“But I got no peace!” Atharv said. “All the rest of that summer, people followed me everywhere I went! I was the boy who met the Holder of the Disk in the face of the tiger!”

Before the sun rose, the sky turned the color of a ripe plum. Atharv and CT walked out to the balcony, where morning felt cool and fresh.

“How long before this color changes?” Atharv asked, looking at the sky.

“Not long,” said CT. “An instant.” They watched silently. “An eternity.”

The sun rose.


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City Tales: My Lovely Landlord, 2


Slowly, the view from the balcony stopped beckoning CT elsewhere and began to welcome her here.

Each morning, she looked for clouds. Sometimes, they were wispy remnants of fog. Other times, they preceded storms that rushed in from the ocean. Rarely was the sky without cloud, except perhaps on a chilly night. Through the months, the clouds became friends of a sort.

CT made slow friends, too, with Geeta, who lived next door with her grown son, Raj.

Sunday mornings, Geeta loved to casually drop by.

“Something smells wonderful!” She’d say. “Is that basil?”

The balcony garden provided plenty of herbs and spinach for CT’s dishes.

“It’s fresh from the garden,” CT would say. “I’ve got plenty. Take some!”

Geeta never would, though she’d always accept a plate of whichever dish CT had cooked that morning.

Atharv had stopped by to check the fuse box one Sunday when Geeta knocked at the door.

“Come in!” cried CT. “I’ve just made quiche! Grab a plate!”


“Mr. Kumar?” said Geeta. “Rent’s not due ’til next week. I hope there’s nothing wrong with the building.”

“Oh, my dear Ms. Rasoya,” Atharv said. “Something’s always wrong with this building. Fortunately,” he added under his breath.

“It’s not rats again, is it?” Geeta asked, aghast.


Relieved to hear that the rodent infestation hadn’t returned, Geeta finished her quiche and drank a cup of coffee before heading back to her apartment.

“The fuse box awaits,” Atharv said, as she was leaving. “Wish me luck!”


When he finished with the faulty wiring, he found CT at her easel. He stood behind her while she worked.

“Art assumes new meaning in the city, yes?” he asked. “When Mother Nature hides, the artist helps us see that, even here, surrounded by concrete, we find beauty.”

CT thought about his words. What was beauty?

What made some shapes and patterns of colors settle the mind into a sigh?

“Fibonacci,” she said.


Atharv stepped onto the balcony while CT continued painting. She was just squeezing a little more phthalo blue onto her palette, when he came back in.

“Tally-ho!” he said. “Until we meet again!”

By the time her attention emerged from the canvas, the front door was closing. Atharv had left.

When she reached a stopping point, she stepped outside for a breath of fresh air. In the corner of her balcony, stood her bonsai, freshly trimmed by Atharv into a windswept form.

She remembered rocky bluffs along the coast and a feeling of home rushed in on her.


Through the winter, she often took her canvas out to the balcony. She could always find something to paint: the windswept bonsai; the container garden; a corner of night sky; the city streets.

Across the avenue, the arched windows of the Queen Anne building spoke of warmth and faded opulence. Maybe human history could be as interesting as natural history, almost.


The apartment remained in tip-top shape for months on end: no rodents, no roaches, no sparking fuse boxes, no leaking pipes.

CT pursued her career as art critic, squeezing in plenty of time for her own painting, writing, and music.

One evening, when she was listening to a new violinist busking in the square, she heard someone call her name.

It took a moment to recognize her landlord without his tool belt and red baseball hat.

“So you really do exist!” she said.

He laughed. “Ah, yes! I am more than the apartment fix-it genii! I have a life outside the bottle of antiquity!”


They talked about music. Atharv’s father played sitar, and he grew up with music as part of the landscape of his life.

“The ears learn young,” he said. “This is strange for me, these tones.” They listened to the Irish folk songs the violinist played. “Bach, too. Or, your favorite, Brahms. It sounds funny to me. But I learn to listen new. I learn to hear that beauty doesn’t need a drone or raga. Beauty exists in Western harmony, too! And so, my understanding of beauty, it grows!”

The next afternoon, CT looked over the Queen Anne apartments towards the hills. She still felt a pull on her heart every time she saw a natural expanse. Could she, too, experience an expansion in her understanding of beauty?


Beauty, for her, was connected to expanse–to wide views of sky and cloud and sea. To hills that rolled back towards the horizon. To blues that belonged to nature. Was there a division between the natural and the constructed? Could beauty expand to such a degree that it integrated all? She wanted to ask Atharv how his ears managed to hear home in both the tala of the east and the meter of the west.


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City Tales: My Lovely Landlord, 1

Every day, roughly 150 people move out of the city. Some leave because old dreams have died. Others, because new dreams are born. Some lose their jobs. Others accept new positions. Some have lost love, or found love, or grown bored, or developed new interests. Some move to forget themselves, others to find themselves. Whatever change has happened, it takes them away.

These aren’t their stories. These are the stories of four of the roughly 145 people who move to the city on any particular day. And the reasons that bring them are much the same as the reasons that eventually will take them away.

CT surveyed her dank apartment, trying to hold in her mind her purpose for being here. Any recent MFA grad would consider herself lucky to have found employment within a few months of completing her degree. And to find employment that actually ties in with that degree would be even luckier.


So when newly graduated CT came across the advertisement for arts critic with an online city magazine, she knew she had to apply. And when she was offered the position, she knew she’d be foolish not to accept.

She didn’t allow herself to consider commuting. Sure, the towns across the bay promised bucolic charms, but if she was gonna rock the talk, she’d have to rock the walk: commuting wouldn’t cut it.

She traded her old car for a bike and walking shoes, and reduced her footprint by a good 50 percent or more.

She just hadn’t realized that the city would be so much of a city. She counted all of two trees on her block, and those were spindly, suffocating things without enough leaves for the sorriest of house sparrows.

She could barely see the sky over the ugly faces of brick and concrete.


Buck up, she told herself. The job was one-in-a-million, offering time for her own painting, music, and writing, with a salary that would keep her in oil paints and maybe, in a year or two, let her save up for a half-way decent violin.

If only the apartment held a bit more color. Think of it as a blank canvas, she thought, and her first night, she pulled out her spray paint and covered the stained, frayed carpet with a mural of rivers and stones.


It would do, she realized, before she turned in on her first night in the city. After all, think how many people would give anything for this opportunity. Least she could do was give it a chance. Maybe she’d find a vacant lot somewhere where some wildflowers grew. Or dandelions, at the very least.


The job kept her busy. Chasing down art shows, checking out buskers, and frequenting festivals got her out of the apartment. She had to admit, with scents of cinnamon, chocolate, and coffee, sights of rich Indian hues, and music from every country, the city had charms of its own.

Late one night, leaving an evening tea festival, she ran into the man who lived next door.

“I know you!” she said.

He raised his left eyebrow. When she explained they were neighbors, and she’d seen him getting into or out of the elevator a few times, he sighed heavily.

“I suppose this makes us friends of a sort,” he said.

“Well, acquaintances, at least!” she answered.


She wondered sometimes if the lack of green, growing things made people grumpy. Hardly anyone smiled, ever. She hadn’t lost her country habit of walking with a grin on her face, greeting neighbors, friends, and strangers alike with a cheerful hello.

But it slowly began to occur to her that, maybe, friendliness wasn’t a trait native to the city.


She didn’t mind. Just because she worked and lived here, she didn’t have to belong here.  She could keep her country ways so that when, at last, she followed her career out of the city, she would still remember the warmth of a smile and a friendly word.


She found nature where she could find it: in the garden plots surrounding the squares, in the planter boxes lining the sidewalks, in her container garden on the patio, even in the cracks in the sidewalks where she might find a willow shoot or a mahonia seedling struggling to grow.

Her first response when the brown rat scampered out of the hole in the floorboard in her living room was to welcome the four-legged furry creature. But it didn’t look all that healthy. And she supposed it would find its way to the pantry, eventually.


She dialed her landlord’s number.

“I really am not even sure if I should be calling you,” she said when he answered. “Maybe it’s something I should take care of myself? I mean, I don’t want any poison used or to have it killed, but I also think I probably shouldn’t just let it keep running around here. It might eat the wires, right? Or get into my oatmeal? Though I could feed it.”

“I’ll be right over,” said Atharv Kumar, her landlord. “No need for concern!”

When he came, he explained his methods. “This is a green zone apartment!” he said. “No poisons, no chemicals! Everything natural! No kill! No worries!”

He explained that he belonged to a capture-and-release program for mammals and birds. He and the other members of the group had been trained in using live-traps and nets, and then once the creatures were captive, they were transported to wildlands near the park, where they were released under the park manager’s supervision.


“This is wonderful!” she said. “And you don’t mind having come over to take care of this?”

“Of course not!” replied Atharv, who suddenly leapt up, tossed his canvas work bag onto the floor, and cried, “Got it!”

Then ensued squeaking.

“Don’t hurt it!” CT yelled.

“I won’t!” said Atharv. “Can you get me a towel?”

All the towels were in the wash, but CT grabbed an old T-shirt. “Use this.”

And Atharv gently wrapped the T-shirt around the rat, who stopped squeaking and looked out at them with bright eyes. “See?” said Atharv. “I didn’t even need to use the trap.”

CT didn’t know who he was talking to, her or the rat.

“Tally-ho, then!” said Atharv, and off he and the rat went, to the wildlands beside the park.

Her heart still beating quickly from all the excitement, CT stepped out onto the balcony. A cool breeze blew in from the bay. She could see the water, if she leaned over the railing. And there was a little corner of sky, right above those hills that called to her every day.

Maybe it wasn’t home, at least not yet, but at least, from out here, she could see home.


She thought of Atharv in his truck, with the brown rat in the canvas work bag on the passenger’s seat next to him, driving to the wildlands. At least someone is getting a new green home today! She hoped the meadows would welcome him.

Next >>

Whisper 1.4


College. I arrive. It’s what I’ve wanted for so long. When I get here, everybody’s heading into the dorm.

“Get a room quick,” says a student in knee socks. I guess she’s one of my new dormies. She looks nice–kinda rebel spirit, like me.

But as I paint a ground mural on the front walk, I hear her talking about me to the other dormies. I can’t hear what she says, just my name, a sarcastic tone of voice, and their snickers.

Don’t worry. It always takes a while to make new friends. Don’t let first impressions get in the way. Yours–or theirs.


In the evening, after orientation, I head over to the quad. A student with a shaved head and tattoos comes up to me.

“I’m worried about snails. Like, they don’t have any rights. And they totally should,” she says, “because they exist, too, right?”

I agree. I like snails. “Their shells are like works of art.”

“I’m thinking of some kind of protest at the groundskeepers’ building. Or maybe I’ll just like blow up all the snail poison. What do you think?”

“Well, that sounds like it might spread toxins into the environment. Maybe we can just start a public awareness campaign.”

“I’ll get back to you,” Shannon says.


In my first class, I halfway check out all the other students. There’s this guy in a dog collar who makes really intelligent comments during the discussions.

After class, he happens to come out of the hall at the same time I do.


He’s already dashing off to his class, but I call after him.

“Um? Excuse me? Do you know of a good place to get a cup of coffee?”

“Did you say a cup of Cathy?” he asks, and I blush.


What do I say?

“My last name is Tea.”

“Oh! Indian or Chinese?” And we launch into a conversation about how Indian tea might actually be a different variety than Chinese.

“They’re both camellia sinensis,” I say, “but the Indian is varietal assamica and the Chinese is varietal sinensis.”

“Oooh! Camellia sinensis var. sinensis! Because, you know. Sinensis means Chinese!”


I like him, this guy in the dog collar. Derek Khan. I’m glad we’ve got classes together. That means I’ll see him again.

In the afternoons, I paint.

Before I’ve realized what I’ve done, I’ve painted the center of the canvas red. It’s the same color as Countess Snypes’ glowing heart. That image is burned so deep in me.


My dorm mate with the knee socks is also a fine arts major. She plays the guitar with expression and skill. Since we have classes and interests in common, I begin to hope that we’ll be friends.


In the evening, I paint murals on the side of the dorm. The bricks make a nice texture for bolder designs.

I invite Derek to come hang out. He arrives right away, but then, while we’re talking–and, OK, I guess I’m flirting a little bit–he starts insulting me, and walks away. I don’t even want to think about what he said. And it’s that whole cycle like with Chauncey again. What am I doing to bring this on?

It’s not you.

I just want to meet somebody nice, considerate, gentle, and strong. Who likes tea and likes to talk about it. Is that asking too much?


After class on Thursday, this guy with blue hair stops me.

“You’re Cathy,” he says.

There’s something about him. I’m seeing hearts and feeling as high as party balloons.

“Hi, Cid,” I say. “I was kinda hoping to meet you when I saw you in class.”


“Really?” he asks.

“Yeah,” I reply. “I mean, how can my education in art history be complete, if I don’t get to know one of the greatest modern masterpieces?”


To my surprise, he doesn’t mind my corny brand of flirting!

In fact, he says, “Life is like a pallet. It’s not complete until we fill it with all the colors.”

I nod like I know what he’s talking about.


He comes back to the dorm with me, and I fix us veggie wraps.

“Look how the plates reflect the light,” he says. “Trippy.”

I like him, this guy with the blue hair. Cid Serverus. I’m glad we’ve got classes together.

Easy does it.


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Whisper 1.2


I really want to go to university.

Take some time to develop skills and earn some money first. You’ll have a better time, and there’s really no rush.

I guess college is a goal I can work towards. Gives me a reason to save. Now I just need a way to earn some money.

I’ve always wanted to be a street artist. There’s money in that, right? I’ve been practicing a lot. I don’t want to get busted, so I just spray on the floors and the walls at home.

I’ve been seeing Chauncey, too. First, we just called each other. Then he started coming around. Now he’s here every day.


I ask him to move in. Not as my boyfriend–we’re not there yet. Just as a roommate and a friend. My best friend, actually. I can’t really believe he says yes. I’ve got nothing–not even enough money to fully furnish the place. So he’s sleeping on the floor in the spare room. The entrance to the bathroom is in that room. I try not to stare when I walk past.

He’s so dreamy.


He’s a great roommate, too. He’s been helping to keep the place clean. And he’s got a job as a weather man.

I still can’t believe my luck, meeting him on my first day here. It’s like it’s fate.

Don’t be so sure. Take some time to get to know him.


I get a call from the city to paint some ground murals. I don’t know how they found out about me. Perhaps Chauncey has some contacts at city hall, and he told them about my work.

While I’m finishing up the mural, a wild horse approaches me. It’s majestic.

“Want something to eat?” I ask. Then it gets spooked and runs off. I hope I see it again.


Chauncey wears the cutest bunny slippers. He’s got a furry chest, too. I don’t usually like a lot of body hair, but on Chauncey it looks good. What does it feel like? Soft? Or coarse.


We have some nice times. Chauncey surprises me by having a painting delivered, because he was thinking about me, and he thought I’d like it. We talk all the time. He reads a lot, and works on his laptop. We don’t even have a proper table, but he doesn’t mind. He just sits with it on the floor.

He pays his rent on time. He cleans. He enjoys my cooking. Life is great.

Sure, he’s got quirks. I notice that he gets really upset whenever he takes a shower–he gets panicky. I wonder if he had a bad experience with water as a kid. He also never takes off his clothes. Even when he showers, he’s got swim trunks or his boxers on.

It’s little things like that that give us each our individual charm.

Then, with no warning, storms come. Chauncey rages into the bathroom while I’m washing my hands and slaps me.

This is out of nowhere. What did I do?

It’s not you.

I keep running through my mind what I might have done. Is it because I didn’t clean the shower stall? Is it because we don’t have furniture? Did I forget something? Am I just an awful person?

It’s not you.


“What’s that for?” I ask.

“Like you don’t know.”

This is abuse. Now you know. It’s not too late.

I don’t know. I realize I did nothing wrong. And even if I had done something, this isn’t an acceptable way to handle it. He’s got issues.


I think about asking him to leave. I feel like I lost a friend. In fact, I did. I lost my best friend. Maybe we can be friends again. But there’s no way I’m going to get romantically involved with him now. Soon as I earn enough money and finish with college prep, I’m leaving for university. When that happens, I’ll be glad to leave Chauncey Grimm behind.

I guess you never know somebody until you know them.

Better to discover now, before you’re more entangled.

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Whisper 1.1


I love my phone. When I feel lost, overwhelmed, or generally mildly freaking out–like I’m doing quietly on the inside right now–I pull out my phone and get lost browsing the web. I move into a world where everything’s contained, and suddenly, my worries about landing here, in this tiny cabin at the edge of a cemetery at the edge of town, with little money, no marketable skills, and nobody I know, disappear. I’ve got the same Internet, the same websites, I did back home. Hey look! Trip updated her blog!

There’s a beautiful world all around you.

I think I have an Internet addiction.

Go explore.

Says here there’s an arboretum in town, with some of the sweetest smelling baby’s breath you can find. I love the smell of flowers.

Go on…

Maybe I’ll ride over there.


It really is a beautiful town. Smells like pine and mist!


I explore the arboretum where calendula, foxgloves, and forget-me-nots are blooming. And baby’s breath, too.

The park was empty when I arrived, but when I finish touring the arboretum, it’s packed.

“Hi, I’m Cathy.” I introduce myself to a skinny guy with a cute beard. In fact, the beard isn’t the only thing cute about him.

“Chauncey Grimm,” he says. “Enchanted to meet you, Cathy.”

He talks like he walked out of a book. I like him.


“I know this is terribly corny,” I say. “But, can I ask? What’s your sign?” I cringe at the cliche of it.


But he doesn’t seem to mind.

“I’m a Cancer,” he says. He’s smiling and looking right into my eyes. Oh, man. I’m a Cancer, too.


Gosh, he’s sweet.

“I knew you were a Cancer,” I say. Am I flirting? No. Ok, maybe. Yeah. A little bit.


“Don’t go anywhere,” he says. “Promise?”

I promise. While he’s gone, I resist the urge to pull out my phone. Instead, I listen to the wind chimes playing in the arboretum.

Soon he’s back with a bouquet of flowers.

“For you!”


I thank him for the flowers, feeling as sweet as a purple plum, and we start talking.

“Do you ever feel wild?” he asks. “Like more like a monster than human?”


“I felt like a total zombie this morning,” I answer. “A cup of coffee and a little time browsing the web brought me back to humanity, though.”

He chuckles. I like his laugh.


“What did you have for breakfast?” he asks. Somehow, I don’t mind small talk with him.

“I had my fav. PB and J. How about you?”


“I love burgers,” he says. “I’d eat them every day if I could, but I hardly ever have them. I seem to be living on salad and green tea.”


“Why don’t you eat what you like?”

“Oh, you know. Health food regime.”

I’m about to say that part of eating healthy can also be eating what you love when he tells me once again not to disappear.

He comes back with a bouquet of yellow flowers. It’s silly. But it’s also so sweet I can hardly stand it. And they smell so heavenly!


It’s nearly dark by now. He has to go. I have to go. We exchange phone numbers.

“I really want to see you again,” he says. I want to see him, too.

Riding back, I pedal to the rhythm of his name: Chauncey Grimm. Chauncey Grimm.

Easy does it.


The world around me looks beautiful and magical. My first day here, and I think I’m falling in love.


Next >>

New World Symphony: Three Wishes for Tomas, pt. 2

Tomas stood at the last grave in the long row of tombstones that lined Cradle Rock: his grave. He was the last to die here, so close to making it to the new era when time would shift. He regretted nothing: not one aspect of his long life with Redbud. But he mourned the loss of that long life.


He spent the day wandering Cradle Rock, visiting all his favorite spots, watching Redbud as she went about her day, and then, as night fell, he returned to Cathy Tea’s.

Sparkroot greeted him.

“Where’s your mom, little bud?” Tomas asked.

“Not sure, exactly,” Sparkroot said.


“We were playing outside after dinner, and we heard this weird whirring sound,” Sparkroot said. “You ever see one of those big lit-up frisbees in the sky? It was one of those!”


“Ah, I see!” said Tomas. “I don’t suppose your mom headed over to check out the lights.”

“Yeah,” said Sparkroot. “That’s just what she did. She told me to go inside and wait for her, and she went out front to take a look, and then the whir noise got louder, and then by the time the noise was gone, I couldn’t find Ama! You think she’s OK?”

“Yes, I do,” said Tomas. “Not to worry. It’s happened to a lot of us. She’ll be back safe and sound and all the wiser. Where’s your sister?”

“She’s at Little Green’s home in the big meadow.”

Tomas smiled to think of his granddaughter Sempervirens playing with Cathy Tea’s child. Thinking of Little Green made him want to return to life all the more! How incredible it would be to be an actual part, not just a spiritual part, of his granddaughter’s life.

“Think I can use your Wishing Well again?” Tomas asked Sparkroot.

“Sure thing,” said Sparkroot. “Just be careful what you wish for. That’s what Ama always tells us.”

Tomas had a good feeling about his wish this time. He felt so much more sure.

He tossed in the bag of coin for his donation, and as the white light of gratitude shone up, he felt confident. His intentions were set: they were right.


He knew this wish was for the best. Let it happen!


Green light shone out: green, the color of life, living, and growing things. His hope grew.


He felt the white helix surround him. The tingling was less extensive than before.


And then it faded. No change? After all of that? After the pure setting of intention and the clarity of thought and wishing? And, nothing?

There was something. He felt a round bump in his pocket, like a pebble. When he took it out, he saw a seed in the shape of a skull. It looked like something he’d seen in an old illustrated book: the seed of the death flower.

It wasn’t what he’d wished for, but at least his wish left him something in his pocket.


He didn’t want to leave the the children while their mother was still gone, so he found a book inside and settled down to wait.

Late at night, Florinda straggled in.


“You’re home, I see!” he said. “And how was Little Green? How is my granddaughter?”

“You’re Little Green’s arsa’thair?” asked Florinda. “She’s my really good friend!”


Tomas heard all about the mischief and games that Florinda and Sempervirens got into that day. While Tomas was tucking in Florinda for the night, he heard the whirring sound.

The saucer circled, then hovered over the house, sending down its beam of light.


And Cathy Tea slid down the beam, landing without even a wobble, as if she’d done this a thousand times before.


“How was it?” Tomas asked. “Safe trip?”

“Yeah,” she replied. “It was fine. I was just catching up with onezero’s thousand. They left a message for me. In fact… oh, forgive me. My mind’s a little groggy. All that travel. I haven’t caught up with myself yet. Let’s see. They said… Oh! They had a message for you!”


“For me?” Tomas asked.

“Yes! For you! They said, ‘If at first you don’t succeed, don’t at first give up!’ And then they said something about the power of two and all of that. It’s a little beyond me at the moment, but there you have it!”


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New World Symphony: Three Wishes for Tomas

Tomas’s ghost waited at Cathy Tea’s door. If things worked out the way he hoped, he’d walk out this door on two solid legs on the solid ground, rather than glide through air, and when he got back home, he’d wrap his wife in his arms and feel her warmth on his skin. To breathe again! Could it happen?


That morning, onezero told Tomas about Cathy’s wishing well.

“They say you can wish for anything!” she said. “Of course, wishes are limited, and they don’t always come true the way we might envision, but there is power in that well that can make the most incredible things manifest!”


Tomas felt grateful that he could be with his wife in spirit–he was able to watch her daily and to see that she still felt joy and that she was well.


Some days, they were able to talk together. She still loved sharing with him her ideas for novels or specific composition challenges she was working on in her paintings.


But he missed so much. He missed the quiet daily rhythms of living beside her, most of all: sharing a bed; finding, as they slept, that their breath had fallen into the same rhythm; the moments when her arm might brush against his; feeling her warmth.

So when onezero told him about Cathy’s wishing well, he felt a rush of hope.

“What about life?” he asked. “Do its powers extend to life?”

onezero told him about Brennan Stuckey, Cathy’s Wishing Well Man and the father of her twins.

“But you have to be careful how the wish manifests,” she said. “Sure, Cathy now has two twins, but they came at a price! Their father isn’t the most considerate or reliable man. But there’s life, sure! So, there’s that.”


Tomas was willing to give it a try.

“I don’t have that much to lose, right?”

onezero paused. There is always so much to lose! Every choice, every action incurs loss of some sort.

“Loss isn’t anything to worry over,” she said at last. “It’s like breathing: inhale and exhale. What will you gain? That’s the question.”


So Tomas ventured to Cathy’s home at the end of the road on the hillside.

When she didn’t answer the door, he glided out back, where he found her working on a canvas.

He hadn’t counted on how beautiful it was here. He’d grown accustomed to the stark russet landscape of the desert. The soft greens and muted blues, the flowers at every turn, the sweet moist air that tickled as it blew through him–it truly was stepping into a new world.


“I’ve heard about your well,” he said. “Can anyone use it? Can I?”

“Sure!” she said. “It’s not mine. It just happens to be here. It’s a little bit greedy. It likes donations. It’s kind of fickle, too. I’ve got mixed feelings about it, actually, Tomas. I mean, there are so many ways to make wishes come true! I’m starting to like it when I can use my own rune to bring them about.”

“I’m not sure I can do what I want on my own,” Tomas said.

“Well, it’s around back,” she said. “Have at it!”


Tomas had brought a purse of money with him. He paused a moment. What would help wishes come true? Gratitude, surely!

He felt thankful: for his life, for his children Cypress and J. P., for his wife Redbud, for this wishing well.

He tossed the purse into the well.


Bright light flew out of it, shining from the eyes and mouth of the well’s face.

This was auspicious!

He tossed in the coin quickly with his wish: Life! Give me back life!

A crack of granite shot from the well’s depths, and as the echoes faded, gold light seeped up through the gap.


Tomas felt heat rise with the light.


White light encircled him, and the energy lifted him. He felt sensations! Tingling! As if he had nerve endings that could tingle!


Then the light faded. He was set back upon the ground. He was not solid.


He had felt life flow through him, and it had left.


In that moment, when he’d felt life blow through him, he had experienced such joy. All his hopes rose and gathered into possibility.

And now, they left. Every single hope.

He had died. Nothing could undo that.


He hadn’t realized how much he had wanted to hold his wife in arms that could feel. How much he’d wanted to hear his granddaughter’s laughter. How he’d wanted to feel his two feet on solid ground.


Cathy sat with him in the garden.


“I hadn’t realized how much I’d wanted it,” Tomas said.

“Yeah,” replied Cathy. “The well is like that. If anything, it helps us see what we want and what we don’t, sometimes too late.”

“onezero said there’s always something to lose,” Tomas replied. “I guess I’ve lost my peaceful acceptance of being dead.”

“That’s heavy,” said Cathy. “But what did you gain? Every loss brings a gain.”

Tomas tried to lighten the mood. “You can still see through me?”

“Yeah,” Cathy joked back. “You wear the colors of your feelings!”


“I got to spend a morning here in your garden,” Tomas said. “That’s something.”


“I guess, really, though, I got a clearer understanding of what I want. I know I can just accept this state I’m in, but it’s not what I want. And knowing that, well, that gives me something to work towards, right? I’m not ready to give up.”


Sparkroot came home from school as they were finishing their conversation.

“Are you a real ghost?” Sparkroot asked Tomas.

“I am at that, for now.”

“Cool!” said Sparkroot. “I’ve always wanted to meet a ghost!”


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