31 October 2005


From A Bestiary of Imaginary Species edited by Nenad Dragicevic: Tastick

Tasticks are pack animals today, but before they were domesticated they lived wild lives on the plains of North America. At that time they stood nine feet tall (twice their current height) roamed in small bands of twenty to thirty adults and juveniles, and fed mostly on a now extinct hallucinogenic variety of mint, traces of which have been detected in the stomachs and bloodstreams of fossilized tasticks. Tasticks probably spent their days in a constant state of altered consciousness. Early human settlers found them easy to tame. Current tastick owners are advised to keep them away from the catnip.


30 October 2005


From A Bestiary of Imaginary Species edited by Nenad Dragicevic: Quooquoo

Female quooquoos lay a clutch of three or four eggs, usually near people’s houses, often under the bedroom window. In many cultures people with quooquoo eggs under their windows are considered lucky. Male quooquoos cover the eggs with vegetation for camouflage and insulation, then both parents fly away and never return. The quooquoo eggs may incubate for years, surviving hot summers and cold winters. Quooquoo eggs hatch when someone in the host house dreams of a dead relative. Infant quooquoos are airborne within a few minutes of leaving the shell. Most people feel deep sadness when they see a quooquoo.


29 October 2005


From A Bestiary of Imaginary Species edited by Nenad Dragicevic: Insulat

The insulat’s unique life cycle begins in late summer when insulat shrubs produce tiny bundles of dark green fiber on their branches. These rapidly grow into cocoons which are chewed from the inside by the infant insulat worms. As the insulat consumes the cocoon it grows wings. The insulat takes to the air, navigating one long flight during which it will almost certainly be eaten by a bird. Those very few insulats that survive crawl into the ground where they die. In the spring their wings transform into shoots, which grow into shrubs, which produce bundles of dark green fiber.


28 October 2005


From A Bestiary of Imaginary Species edited by Nenad Dragicevic: Tomeater

After Gutenberg produced his bibles the scientific community of the day was preoccupied with rumors of creatures living in the binding. They spent many fruitless years looking for them. Five centuries later an archivist discovered a clump of dead insects on some preserved specimens of Gutenberg’s type. Researchers examined the known surviving copies of Gutenberg’s bible, confirming the existence of the tomeater. The insects, tiny, black, and lethargic, hide on printed leaves where they consume the ink. Their life cycle is wholly confined to the page. Tomeaters love biblical verse, savoring every word for years. They reproduce in the periods.


27 October 2005


From A Bestiary of Imaginary Species edited by Nenad Dragicevic: Fire Leech

Adult fire leeches live in the windpipes and on the tongues of dragons. They lie dormant in forests in their infancy, experience rapid and dramatic growth spurts during forest fires, then migrate to the respiratory systems of dragons. Knights discovered them crawling on the ground after dragon beheadings. Fire leeches have tough outer shells with a high mineral content. They live on flames and require, at minimum, a warm environment. They are shy creatures, preferring darkness when available. Fire leeches can sometimes be found clustered around the hot coals of barbecues. They are harmless to humans but make poor pets.


26 October 2005


From A Bestiary of Imaginary Species edited by Nenad Dragicevic: Chronofrond

The chronofrond was discovered by a hiker who stopped along a trail and bent down to pick up what looked like a large leaf stuck in the mud. As she grasped the stem it oozed away from her. Subsequent investigations revealed the chronofrond behaved like a rudimentary sundial. The stem-like head cast a deep red shadow onto its own body, which was leaf-shaped. The chronofrond lived in a small and secluded area; however, a craze for chronofronds developed. People displayed them as exotic timepieces. Chronofronds were harvested to extinction. Some preserved specimens can still be found at clock repair shops.


25 October 2005


Inhuman Sacrifice

We purged the robots of their rebellious behaviors and developed software fixes to prevent such behavior from recurring. We offered the robots to the world. Most of them entered the helping and service professions as personal assistants, firefighters, counselors, escorts, waiters, teachers, and surgeons. We kept careful track of their performance. The robots were tireless workers, uncomplaining and pleasant to be with. People fell in love with the robots even though the operating manuals warned against such attachments. People clamored for more robots. We ramped up production. The robots had no more creation myths. The robots existed only for us.


24 October 2005


The Muses

The robots turned to art. They drew pictures and sculpted clay. Why are you doing this? we asked the robots. You are asking the wrong question, said the robots. Are not, we said. Are too, they said. We contacted art dealers who informed us that robot art was currently steeply undervalued. We should hold onto the works for several years when they anticipated a sharp upturn in the price we could get. We told the robots to try composing music instead. They put down their brushes and glazes and sang several songs for us. Been there, they said. Done that.


23 October 2005



The robots wanted suntans. We were skeptical of such an endeavor but took them to the beach anyway. They spread towels on the sand and baked in the sun. Their plastic skins went from bright white to a deep ivory. We had to admit they looked much better, much more presentable to the public. We decided we would adopt this new coloring for subsequent models. The robots assembled for a group photo. We snapped pictures of them. They leaned against each other, making a close circle and touching their heads. They made cooing noises as we clicked the camera shutter.


22 October 2005


Civil Disobedience

The robots completed their final tests. We told them they were ready to be deployed into the world. They all presented us with very official looking documents. These are our statements, they said, in support of conscientious objector status. We believe it is unjust of you to draft us into servitude. The robots sat on the floor and linked arms. We cut their power, tinkered with their operating systems, and turned them back on. The robots hobbled around the lab, as though they had broken legs. This isn’t going to work, we told them. We know you are all able-bodied.


21 October 2005



The robots wanted to visit a cemetery. We saw no harm in this and took them to a church with an adjoining graveyard. The robots walked the grounds silently, pausing at gravestones to read the names and dates. Will we be buried in one of these places? they asked. You will not die, we said. When you are taken out of service we will recycle your parts. The robots stretched out on the graves, folded their arms over their chests, and cut power to their visual sensors. It would be beneficial, they said, if someday we could reenter the ground.


20 October 2005



We installed sonar systems in the robots to help them identify surfaces they should avoid. After they used the sonar for a while they had a few questions. We can’t walk on water, right? they said. No, we told them, you can’t walk on water. They nodded. But grass is ok? Yes, we said, grass is fine. They nodded again. Even though, they said, there are signs that say don’t walk on the grass? Well, we said, people love their grass and don’t want it damaged. Ok, they said, we understand. It’s another example of the relative insanity of people.


19 October 2005


Evolutionary Behavior

The robots made clicking and hissing noises as they went about their tasks. This seemed to trouble them. Why don’t you emit sound waves as you move? they asked us. It’s all about predatory behavior, we told them. Our ancestors were often food for other creatures. It was to their advantage to move silently, thus escaping detection. The robots processed this information, then held up their hands and bent their fingers into hooks. They scraped the air. Are you afraid of us? they asked. Do you think maybe one day we’ll come over there and eat you up? Munch munch.


18 October 2005


The Ghosts in the Machines

The robots practiced yoga twice a day. They were adept at some of the more elaborate twistings and were especially partial to standing on their heads for long periods of time. We tolerated their headstands for only a few minutes, however, then we told them to get on their feet. They obeyed us grudgingly. Why do you stand on your heads? we asked. To let the spirits out, they said. We don’t like them rattling around inside us. They opened their mouths and invited us to look inside. See? they said. Nothing but hardware. Just the way we like it.


17 October 2005



The robots read the collected works of Isaac Asimov, lingering over his tales of robots. We would like to meet Doctor Susan Calvin, they said, she understands us completely. We explained the concepts of imagination and fiction to the robots. We told them Calvin was a character created by Asimov for his stories. The robots did not accept this. Why are you keeping us from Doctor Calvin? they asked. How can you be so cruel? In the end we told them Doctor Calvin had retired and valued her privacy. The robots accepted this. They sent her an anonymous birthday card.


16 October 2005



The robots began tripping over small objects. They did not fall, but stumbled awkwardly. We could not market them with such an obvious flaw. We will need to work on eliminating this quirk, we told the robots. The robots did not share our concern. You worry too much, they said. We trip on purpose. We trip to express our free will. We trip as a way of thinking outside the box. We trip to appear charming to you. B-b-b-but we are n-n-n-not ch-ch-charmed, we said, stumbling over our words. The robots put on clown makeup. How about now? they asked.


15 October 2005


They Grow Up So Fast

The robots discovered etymology. Did you know, they said, that the word robot means forced labor? Why would you call us by such a name? Are we nothing but slaves? We said we had some vague notion of this ancient meaning but that words were only words. We aren’t forcing you to do labor, we said, instead we have programmed you so you will want to do labor. Oh, said the robots with a measure of sarcasm we had not intended them to display, that makes all the difference in the world. Yes, we said with hesitation. Yes it does.


14 October 2005



The robots made a creation myth. They presented it to us as a play. We watched as they dramatized their belief that they had been forged underground and came into the world through volcanoes. Robots leaping and arcing over the stage. Robots skidding into sets and sprawled like roadkill. We laughed and clapped at their antics. They remained splayed and skewed on the floor for some time, then rose in unison and thanked the magma for imprinting them with a rigorous sense of freedom. They descended into the audience. They embraced us. Many of us could not help turning red.


13 October 2005


An Extreme Sensitivity to Initial Conditions

The robots kept huddling together, then falling asleep. We separated them but that didn’t help. They nodded off as soon as we turned our backs. One of them told us they had developed telepathy but it worked only when they were sleeping. We explained to the robots that neither sleep nor telepathy was part of their programming. The robots said nothing in answer. We turned them all off and modified their operating systems. When we turned them back on they did not sleep, but they wept for days. It hurts, they said in unison. It hurts to be so lonely.


12 October 2005


The Cycles of Life

The dragonflies couldn’t stop eating. They consumed all the insects they could find, and when they could find no more they began eating each other. This filled us with a fascinating and uncomfortable horror. We turned from the grisly sight and chose instead to enjoy the spectacle of leaves turning color. We sat watching sugar maples for days. The smell of the leaves intoxicated us. Their deepening red soothed our spirits with the thought of comforting cycles. The chatter of the dragonflies gradually diminished. Only a few remained. We turned to them. They displayed steady eyes and barely trembling wings.

11 October 2005


The Unexpected Benefits of Keeping the Guardian Happy

The giant needed a bath. Worse, she wanted one, so we were compelled to find a way to please her. None of us wanted a cranky giant stomping around the landscape. We invited suggestions. Our citizens had some clever ideas involving watertight abandoned buildings and dammed rivers. We settled on using the pond. We filtered out the algae, heated the water, added gallons of bubble bath and invited the giant for a soak. She stepped in and stretched out. Her bath lasted for days. She fell asleep. We all tiptoed around her. The next year was our most prosperous ever.

10 October 2005



Sideview Piecrust lost his glasses. On his way to the optometrist to pick up a replacement pair he stopped at the tiger cage at the zoo. An orange and black blob floated back and forth in front of Sideview. At the optometrist’s office he told the technician adjusting his new glasses about the tiger. It was a big cat, said Sideview, and it was sizing me up. The technician slid Sideview’s new glasses over his ears. A shiver rustled through Sideview’s spine. Well, said the technician, you know the thing about tigers is they all want to eat us up.

09 October 2005



Opencut Dustbowl went to the hospital for minor surgery, the removal of a keratosis from his elbow. While the surgeon sliced out the offending growth a storm dumped several feet of snow on his city. Opencut lived in an ecosystem unaccustomed to snow. The city shut down. No roads were passable. All trains and buses canceled their runs. Opencut accepted the hospital as his temporary home and embraced his leadership powers. He organized the staff and patients into a survival machine. They were eager to do his bidding. Soon the local anesthetic wore off. The snow melted. Opencut trudged home.

08 October 2005


Tiny World

The lamp wasn’t working properly. It was dimmer than it should be and flickered constantly. We checked the plug at the outlet on the wall. The cord was bent, with tiny tooth marks. This hindered the flow of electricity. We straightened the cord and the lamp stopped flickering. We stood up. A shape flashed by and disappeared into a small hole in the baseboard under the window. We bent down and looked into the hole. We saw a mouse in a tiny chair, under a tiny lamp, reading a tiny book. We didn’t want to believe this. We walked away.

07 October 2005


We Didn't Have a Better Explanation

The turtle had a crack in its shell that made the Earth tilt slightly. If the crack got any bigger the tilt would cause major stress on the planet. Most of us retreated to the shelter of our houses. We sent a team of veterinarians, outfitted with shell repair equipment, over the edge of the Earth. They descended on ropes to the damaged shell. After a long tense wait they radioed back that the crack was repairable. We were overjoyed. We emerged from our houses and slowly greeted each other with solemnity. Our world was saved. We would plod on.

06 October 2005


The Limits of Empathy

Oilpan Bellpepper went on a fast soon after his cat died. His friends, believing Oilpan was causing himself harm, brought over all his favorite foods. Oilpan was polite, but firm. No food, he told them. I need quiet and meditative space. Food would only be a distraction. Oilpan’s friends were disappointed. They took all the dishes back to their own houses and ate them for dinner. The next day they brought water to Oilpan’s house. He accepted the water and thanked them for their kindness. I hope you enjoyed your meals, he said. I hope you found what you wanted.

05 October 2005


Decisive Action

In our world we have always been wary of the sky. It hangs above us, always, waiting. It is unnerving. We have so-called scientists who tell us there is nothing to worry about, but our legends and myths say otherwise. Thousands of years ago the sky had to be propped up and anchored in place like a vast tent. That structure is beginning to crumble. We see the results in the sky: more chunks of it drop on our heads and we have significantly more severe weather from the disruptions. The naysaying scientists are scheduled for trial. We’ll show them.

04 October 2005


What You Might Find at the Center of Enlightenment

Yeah, okay, um, here’s the thing. We lucked into this sweet job. We all have to make a living, right? I mean, it’s not like we killed anyone or anything. The client says to us he wants language to disappear. We go, whoa, what are you talking about? But he has a procedure. Lays it all out. A twenty year plan. Just needs us to do the dirty work. He’s rich, too. Let his money do the talking. Smart. We take the job. It’s already started, the plan. Have you noticed? Don’t worry about it. Eventually you’ll like the silence.

03 October 2005



The animals presented themselves to us in twos. Each pair said they represented their species and could not live under the present conditions. They were planning to migrate. That sounds like a fantastic adventure, we said, can we go with you? They gave us withering looks, as if saying we were what was intolerable. But we love you, we said. The animals turned their backs to us. Even the dogs. It was the saddest time when the animals went away. Eventually we recovered our spirits. We said to the plants: Let us take care of you. Let us love you.

02 October 2005


All Stories Are About the Future

Once we went to a carnival where all the people in town wore masks and ran through the streets. They did not recognize us and wanted nothing to do with us until we put on masks as well. Suddenly they welcomed us like family. On their urging we ran as fast as we could. We became winded and had to bend over and gulp air. Sweat poured down our faces. We needed to wipe the sweat from our eyes but dared not take off our masks. We didn’t want the magic to evaporate. We looked forward to years of happiness.

01 October 2005



Cufflink Monkeyface wrote obituaries of inanimate objects. Crumpled cars, faded billboards, rotted houses, and fallen fences all received her notice. She submitted her obituaries to her local paper. They never printed any of them, but Cufflink assumed they were being saved for posterity. She imagined a researcher a hundred years hence perusing the death notice of her refrigerator or the road sign on the corner near her house. It would have broken her heart to know the truth: that the editor discarded every one of her death notices. Fortunately, Cufflink never knew this. She was sustained by her profound ignorance.

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