Month: December 2021

They Also Feed

The Feeder King often hunched by the shadowed mouth of his cave, listening to the rush of the waterfall as he waited for pilgrims to visit him. He’d see them coming from miles off. They would emerge from the shadow between the mountains before laboring up the twisted pathway, hugging shawls, cloaks and scarves to their necks and shoulders even as they sweated with the effort of the climb. It wasn’t easy to bring new lies to the Feeder. But they brought their lies all the same.

“I gave up my farm to help my sister’s boy.”


“The village watch makes sure nothing befalls us.”


“I love my old woman more than all the gold in heaven.”


“We all worship you, Feeder King.”

Almost a lie.

One of the Feeder’s acolytes once asked him plainly, “Why lies, Feeder King? There must be some more tasteful way to sate you, if you take my meaning.”

“Would you rather that I taxed you on your food instead?” the Feeder asked. “Your gold? Your women? Your handiwork? I could live off those things too, like you scrawny men do.”

The acolyte recoiled ever so slightly. “I’m only curious. I don’t presume to tell you what’s best.”

“Of course you presume. All people do, in their own ways,” the Feeder replied, smirking at the acolyte’s discomfort as he leaned his oily body closer. “I’ve tried feeding off other things before.”

He’d consumed grain and meat when he was young, light, water and fire after that, then music for a time. He’d even tried truth when he was feeling desperate. The thing was, truth didn’t change anything. It simply was. But lies? Lies tipped the balance. They transformed people. Lies made things. Infused new life where there wasn’t anything before.

“I think I’ll stick to lies for now,” the Feeder said and dismissed his acolyte with a wave of a deformed hand.

The Fog Queen

The girl walked into my office. Yeah, I know that’s a boring first line. I’m supposed to wax poetic about her calves or whatever, but that just wouldn’t be true, even though I sometimes swing that way. This girl all but stomped into my office with her angry face and her frumpy clothes.

“Mr. Sidney Bergamot?” she asked.

I’d called her up through the building’s intercom. From that brief conversation, I knew her name was Greta Wong and that she was a referral from her friend Mary Lee. Mary Lee was the daughter of a higher-up in the Eighth Street Tong, and as such, had paid me good money to help her out a while back. This girl, however, in her faded plaid dress and scuffed-up shoes, was clearly no tong princess, and I immediately wondered how she was going to pay. Not that I should be too snooty—Oakland’s now chock-full of sleek new tiled skyscrapers accented with sunbursts and zig-zags and God knows what else, but I’m stuck in this draft-plagued dust factory.

“Miss Wong, please take a seat.”

She flopped into the chair in front of my desk, then reached into a battered knapsack and pulled something out. She placed this object on my desk: tortoiseshell glasses that had seen better days—a man’s glasses, by the look of them.

“As I said downstairs, I have an urgent request,” she said. “A missing person’s case.”

I sighed internally. A man who’d run out on his lady friend: just the case every detective wants. Unless she was pregnant, there was nothing to tell her but to let him go.

“Who’s missing?” I asked gamely.

“Ciaran McKay. He goes by Kay.”

“An Irish boy. Why not? It’s the 20th Century.”

She didn’t laugh.

“Age?” I asked.

“Nineteen, same as me.”

“What are the circumstances of his disappearance?”

“He was ambushed on Piedmont Avenue two days ago, out by the cemetery. A man tackled him, knocking off his glasses, then pulled him into a green car.”

Ok, maybe this was more than a boyfriend who had skedaddled.

“What was he doing out by the cemetery?”

“He was hired to sing at a funeral.”

“He’s a singer?”

“Yes, a bass-baritone. He’s exceptional. I’m a composer.”

“I see. And you were with him?”

“No, I was at my job. I work the box office at the Grand Lake Theatre, and sometimes play the Wurlitzer.”

“Who saw him get taken in the car then?”

If it was a friend of his, we were right back at skedaddled. Instead, the girl gestured to the tortoiseshell glasses.

“When he didn’t come home, I took the street car out there and found these. They’re haunted by the sea turtle whose shell was used to make them. She told me.”

Unconventional, but I’d seen stranger things. Still, I’m not a sucker.

“Is this turtle ghost willing to be interviewed?”

“She only talks to me and Kay.”

Of course.

“Okay, so you go out to Mountain View Cemetery and find his glasses. Did you talk to anyone else out there? Anyone at the chapel?”

“Yesterday I canvassed that neighborhood for hours. Everyone brushed me off except a groundskeeper at the cemetery. He told me there hadn’t been a funeral that evening.”

“Who hired him for the job?”

“A woman. She came into the grocery where he works.”

“You know her name? Or what she looked like?”

“Kay said her name was Mrs. Jones, but I’d guess that’s an alias.”

“Good guess. What about enemies? Either of you got any enemies?”

She shook her head.

“Is there someone you owe money?”

She shook her head again.

“Does the kid have rich parents who don’t want him with a Chinese girl? Or do yours not want a white boy around their daughter?”

Another shake of the head. “He’s an orphan. We both are. Neither of us have anything.”

“You’re not…in the family way, are you?”

Greta’s face reddened. “The cops asked the same thing before they laughed me off. No. And we haven’t had any arguments, either.”

I held back a sigh. “Look, you’re not giving me a lot to go on here.”

“You found Hana Yamamoto.”

Hana Yamamoto was the girlfriend of Mary Lee, the Eighth Street Tong daughter who’d referred Greta. When Hana went missing, Mary had reached out to me instead of using the tong’s vast resources because the relationship was, of course, a secret. The daughter of one of Chinatown’s most prominent families romancing a lady, and a Japanese one at that? She would have been disowned.

Hana’s folks weren’t any more understanding, and when they figured out what their daughter was up to, they had her smuggled out of Oakland in the dead of night. I found her in the Central Valley, got her to San Jose, and helped the star-crossed lovers set up a secret correspondence. They planned to run to Paris in a year or so.

“I did find Hana Yamamoto, but I had a bit more to go on there. Girl in a relationship her family would disapprove of disappears? Of course it was her family. And what do you know, she ends up at her uncle’s farm in Fresno. So far you’ve given me a green car and no witnesses besides a ghost turtle.”

Some potential clients would have started the waterworks, but Greta just stared me down.

“You’re the detective. Finding the clues is supposed to be your job.”

“Sure, but it will take some work, and you’re clearly no daughter of a wealthy tong family.”

Her attention faltered and I realized she was looking past me. “You have a cat?”

I sighed. I didn’t need to look to know what I’d find behind me, but I swiveled my chair anyway. There on the windowsill, smirking at me, was a black and white cat with striking blue eyes. The bastard had snuck in.

“I don’t,” I said, turning back to Greta. “He just shows up sometimes. Let’s not get distracted. How are you paying for this?”

“I don’t have much, but please—”

“Can’t Mary Lee give you some money?”

“She gave me two dollars.”

“Two dollars?”

“She sends almost all her allowance to her girlfriend now. You have to find Kay. You’d be doing the world a favor. His voice…there’s nothing like it. He’s going to be an opera star someday. In my operas. And he’s the kindest—”

Judging by her startled reaction, the cat chose that moment to jump off the windowsill and turn into a slim, dapperly dressed young man with slicked back black hair and sinister-yet-breathtaking blue eyes. This was Alexander Cobalt, villain-for-hire of the San Francisco Bay.

I had met Alexander “Coby” Cobalt when he showed up in my apartment two years earlier to threaten me. He’d been hired by a wealthy industrialist whose wife had hired me to get evidence of his affairs. I’ll be honest: he got the drop on me, being able to silently sneak in through a barely cracked open window as a cat. But when he lunged at me in human form, the true distraction was that this criminal Adonis was throwing himself at me, albeit with decidedly unromantic intent.

“Look, kid,” I said once he had me pinned to the floor with a knife to my throat, “if you’re going to kill me, let’s at least have some fun first. I might even teach you some things. You’ll know I don’t have a weapon on me, ‘cause I’ll be naked.”

Those deep blue eyes expressed no disgust at the suggestion, but rather alarm that I had him figured out, so I continued.

“Come on, when are you going to get another opportunity like this?”

Now, I’m about twenty years older than Coby, and closer to fifty than forty, but I’m not awful to look at, I’m a pretty smooth talker, and I won’t be shy in saying I have the skills to back my talk up. To conclude: the wealthy industrialist’s wife ended up with the fortune, and Coby started stopping by whenever he felt like it, sneaking in as a cat.

In human form, Coby leaned against my desk like he owned it. “Keep the two bucks,” he told Greta Wong, who had recovered from her momentary shock—after all, changelings were rare, but hardly unknown. “I’ll cover the cost.” Then he turned toward me. “Take the case. I’ve heard this girl play the Wurlitzer at the Grand Lake; she’s a real pro. And I’ve heard the Irish kid sing arias all over Oakland. This girl’s usually going around with a hat, getting pennies from the crowd, but he should be at La Scala.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Greta.

Coby stuck out his hand. “Alexander Cobalt, patron of the arts.”

“Greta Wong, composer and Ciaran McKay’s manager.”

“Now, look, I haven’t agreed to take the case yet,” I interjected.

Coby smiled at me in that smug, suggestive way that drives me crazy. “I’ll make it up to you later.”

Greta put two and two together and looked me in the eye. “After all, it is the 20th Century.”

If A Tree Cries In The Forest

He never saw his mother again after that night.

He never saw his father, either, except for news photos of the trial.

The sheriff assumed his father dumped her body in the river, and though deputies spent weeks dredging and searching, they never found it.

His father never said what he did with her corpse, and eventually the hangman sealed his lips forever.

Unsurprisingly, the boy grew up sad and alone.

Older cousins took him in, and while they treated him kindly and saw to it he never wanted for anything, they couldn’t fill the void the crime left.

In school other kids would talk about him, whisper about him, and while most weren’t overtly cruel, neither were they compassionate.

He started taking long walks in the woods, then hikes, then weekends camping.

Being in the wilderness soothed him, and as his senses absorbed the sharp pine smell, the calls of birds, the chatter of squirrels, the brisk cold of fall and the drowsy warmth of spring, he could forget about people, forget about his pain.

Small wonder he gravitated towards working in the great outdoors.

He inherited his mother’s calm and forbearance, but from his father a burly body and exceptional strength.

Logging proved the perfect trade for him: He could work outdoors and vent his feelings by swinging a great ax against a mighty tree, until finally his pain and sorrow brought it down.

A dozen trees, a hundred, then a thousand.

For him, as good a life as possible.

Call him Hank, an apt name for any logger, especially a faller, and a perfect name for him.

Hank felled the trees after the high climbers topped them by removing their crowns and branches.

Swinging a double bit ax, he hacked away at both sides of the selected trees, first cutting a notch about a third of the way into the trunk on the side he wanted it to fall, then a second notch, deeper and higher up, on the opposite side.

Eventually gravity came to his aid, and the trees majestically toppled over, crashing to the ground where buckers would cut them into more manageable lengths, then setters would wrap choker chains around the limbless trunks to drag them down the skid road to the river where the knot bumpers would brand them for their trip to market.

After their lunch break, Hank and Witte, a wiry high climber, went up the hill to the tallest spruce, one marked for them to fell that afternoon.

Hank wanted to plot the angle of the fall; if he fell the tree right, it would slide halfway down the hill on its own, making the setters’ job easier.

As Witte strapped on his climbing spikes, Hank, ax resting on his shoulder, casually placed his palm against the bark of the tree.

He didn’t hear it, he didn’t feel it, but he suddenly knew it:

His mother lay buried under the tree.

He staggered back, blinking and working his open mouth like a mountain perch hooked out of the stream.

“You okay?” Witte asked. Hank never took a sick day, and while quiet and stand offish, never acted peculiar, either.

Hank blinked some more, getting reoriented. He nodded, and Witte took out his climbing belt to top the tree.

Hank stopped him. “No.”



Witte looked up at the tree then back at Hank. “Why?”

Hank swallowed drily. How could he articulate what he knew — how he knew it? A tribal native logger might claim to hear spirit voices, but Hank heard nothing.

All he knew was…he knew.

“We just can’t,” he said.

Witte looked at him for a moment, then shrugged and started looping his climbing belt around the tree.

Hank slapped the belt away.

Witte looked at him impassively. Other than the occasional arm wrestling match, nobody at the camp ever knew Hank to be physical, much less confrontational.

But while Hank didn’t threaten him, Witte could tell the bigger man wouldn’t let him climb the tree.

“The siderod ain’t gonna like this,” Witte said, referring to the camp’s second in command.

Hank shrugged, standing like a baseball player in the batter’s box, waiting his turn at the plate. “Can’t help that,” he said. “But we aren’t chopping this tree down.”

Tyree, the siderod, looked like a rat bastard.

That’s to say he resembled the short, thin metal file of that name, skinny and colorless, with hard rough edges.

It took him less than ten minutes to confront Hank and Witte. “Why aren’t you jackasses working? You got blanket fever?”

“Ask him,” Witte said, glad to excuse himself from the conversation.

“We can’t cut down this tree,” Hank said.

“The blazes we can’t!” Tyree said. He stood on the downhill slope, allowing Hank to tower over him even more than normal, but he never felt intimidated by the larger men working for him. “Quit screwing around! Get that tree topped and down pronto.”

“I can’t let you do that,” said Hank.

Tyree scowled at him. “Okay, you’re fired.”

Hank shrugged: So be it.

Tyree realized that despite being fired, Hank wouldn’t move. “Go down to the ink slinger, draw your pay, and hit the pike!”


Tyree leaned back now, not in fear, but in careful consideration of how to proceed.

He dealt with drunks and timber beasts before, but Hank seemed different.

“Clear outta my camp,” Tyree repeated, but he could tell Hank wouldn’t move.
Hank shook his head.

“Bah!” Tyree turned on his heel, marched down the hill, found five big buckers working on a felled tree, and sent them up to deal with Hank.

The five all knew Hank, of course. Bunking months with the same crew made them pretty much family.

“Hank,” said Oleson, the eldest of the five, “Tyree say you gotta clear out.”

Hank shook his head. He backed up against the tree so they couldn’t get behind him. “You can take any other tree you want,” Hank said, “but not this one.”

The five advanced on him. When they were still two ax handles away, Hank swung his double-headed ax in a wide lazy arc at chest level.

A warning, a caution: Stay back.

The Little Bang Theory

Cynthia Toms clung to her bed like a life raft sinking in a sea of chaos. Maybe if she didn’t open her eyes, the world would give up and go away. Trying to do the right thing, over the course of the last three weeks, had turned her existence into a hot mess. First, she was fired as assistant barista second-class from a downtown San Antone Starbucks. Then Herbie, the expresso guy, dumped her for the cold-brew girl- because Cynthia was “smothering his bliss.” After that, the cat she tried to rescue ran away, presumably to a better home two streets over; and to top it off, last night just before bed, she stepped on her glasses. They now had a lightning crack over the left eye that made her look like a crazy woman.

She exhaled and rolled over into a crucified position. “At this point,” she said out loud, “crazy would be easy. I’ll just stay in this heap of an apartment, gorging on cheese doodles and talking to myself until social services arrive.”

Trouble was, her bladder was about to burst. “Pain! The great motivator,” she moaned.

With tremendous effort, she righted herself and searched with her toe for her slippers. She found the left slipper and while groping for its partner, she hit upon her broken glasses. Wearing her broken glasses, her WWF t-shirt with the spaghetti stain over the panda’s face, and one slipper, she shuffled into her cramped apartment bathroom. Once finished with the commode, she summoned the gargantuan effort necessary to confront herself in the mirror. She sighed. Brown curls fought for control of her forehead, while several renegade strands of hair reached upwards as if possessed. She leaned in. “So, this is what hair looks like when it has given up on life.”

It caught her by surprise- the loud “Pop!”- followed by the “Bang!” And then the whole room reverberated. Out of sheer self-preservation, she crouched and squinted into the mirror. Plaster trickled to the floor from the wall behind her as a jagged hole appeared. It was dark, and no bigger than a nail-hole, yet the insides swirled with a strange purple light.

She spun around just as an object the size and shape of a pumpkin seed sailed out of the hole. Four similar shapes followed it. “Great. Flying termites. Just what I need.” She raised her hand to swat them then stopped. They were humming. “What type of termites hum?” She peered through her cracked glasses. The things reflected off the bathroom light, like they were made of metal. She ran a hand across her cheek and stepped back, “I’m losing my mind.”

Her doorbell chimed. She jumped at the sound of a man’s voice. “Ms. Toms?”

“Oh great! The landlord,” she said to the little buggies, then shuffled out, clicking the door shut.

“Mr. Bukowski,” she said, opening the front door. A gangly man in his mid-seventies, sporting a long hipster beard, stood impatiently on the bright sidewalk leading to her apartment.

“Woe!” he said when he saw her. “Didn’t think it was that early.” His beard yo-yo’ed up and down on his chin whenever he spoke. The motion reminded Cynthia of a ventriloquist’s dummy performing one-liners. “It’s about the rent,” he said, his beard yo-yoing. “You’re past due. If you can’t pay by tomorrow. You’ll find your stuff waiting for you on the curb. Sorry- young lady.”

Not so young anymore Mr. Bukowski. She wanted to say. Instead, she said, “Look at this place. The water comes out as brown as the Rio Grande, the AC has two settings- frostbite or arctic blast, and if I’m not losing my mind there seems to be some kind of insect infestation in my bathroom. It may lay vacant a long time if you boot me out.”

“Nevertheless, you have until tomorrow. I’m sorry,” he repeated and he lumbered away, the tools on his work belt clanging with each step.

“What I need, is a little diversion,” she said in a huff. She found the bottle of gin under the sink and poured two shot glasses. One for the Cynthia who used to give a damn and one for the Cynthia who was determined to never get a job, never fall in love, and never set foot in the real world again. She raised her glass in a toast. “Here’s to my new motto. If you don’t try, you don’t fail.” She downed both shots and followed them with several more. It was 11 AM.

By two o’clock, she was swinging the bottle low and circling her cluttered dinette table reciting her new motto. Wasn’t repeatedly talking to yourself the first sign? Maybe she actually was losing her mind. Not unlike the poor homeless woman out front of the store standing in the rain she had given a free coffee too. Or the crazy brown cat she rescued from the rain and hid in the supply room. Events, that eventually got her fired.

She tip-toed to the bathroom and eased open the door.

The insects were building some kind of a nest. It hovered a good five feet from the middle of her bathroom floor with a lot of bugs buzzing about it. They really were amazing. She peered closer and whispered, “Hovering nests?”

She set down the gin and staggered back to a kitchen drawer. She found the huge magnifying glass she used to read microwave cooking instructions with and patted back to the bathroom.

A line of pumpkin seed bugs seemed to be commuting between the nest and the hole in her wall, which had now grown to the size of a quarter. She held up the magnifying glass. The hole was very dark but the seeds were spewing out of what looked like a purple-blue funnel worming its way out of the blackness.

She moved to the nest thingy. It floated at maybe four inches square. The insects frantically filled it with weird webs of scaffolding and platforms and oddly colored oblong structures. “Incredible!”

She zoomed in closer. There were minuscule doors and windows, with tiny, tiny creatures scurrying to-and-fro as they worked. The creatures were kind of pleasant to look at, like happy yellow dust motes with arms and legs. This wasn’t a nest at all. It was some kind of metal frame. She could see that now. The seeds too, they were more like tiny ships, filled with busy yellow dot people, moving back and forth inside.

She let the heavy magnifying glass clatter to the tile floor. She slowly leaned against the far wall and slid down onto her haunches. “Okay, it’s official. I’m bat-crap crazy.”

True to her new motto, she did the only thing she was capable of doing at the time. She stumbled back to bed, and slept until five forty-five A.M. the next day.

She woke. Without thinking she headed to the bathroom.

The four-inch square structure floating in the middle of the room had now doubled in size. It had grown to roughly the dimensions of a toaster. With an impressive complex of intricate buildings and miniature spaceports, haloed by an entire regatta of seed-ships in various holding patterns. “Oh. My. God!” Cynthia said, “They’re building a little city! A city, with a spectacular view of my toilet!” It was almost flattering. But if she got evicted…

She hopped back to her bed and sitting cross-legged against a pillow, fired up her laptop. It was now up to Google. Before dropping out, four months of community college had taught her how to perform a perfect keyword search.

“First,” she said, “we have to find out who you are.” She typed: “What are tiny little holes in your bathroom that have strange flying seeds buzzing out of them?” Yeah…no good. She tried: “Swirling holes.” Then, “Bang holes.” Then, “Popping, banging swirling holes.” Which brought up a whole slew of graphic images she’d likely never forget. Next, she tried: “Appearing holes,” which lead to the Big Bang theory, which lead to the controversial, Little Bang Theory, derived from the work of Hawking in 1971. This proposed that lots of small black holes could have been produced by the Big Bang or possibly through subsequent phase transitions.”

She frowned, and read on. Currently, the Little Bang theory was being explored by an associate professor of physics at the University of Texas named Heart. Evidently, Heart and his hypotheses had been unanimously dismissed by many of his fellows. “Poor guy,” Cynthia said, glancing at a photo of a young man in a plaid suit sweating under hot camera lights. “He looks sweet. A little goofy, but sweet.” She tapped the screen. “Hurts to have your hypotheses judged, doesn’t it, cutie?” Then she stopped. The proposed rendering of Professor Heart’s tiny bang hole was a dead ringer for hers. The caption read, “Could be a possible means for interstellar transportation.”

“Hot damn,” she said, smacking herself on the forehead. “I don’t believe it. They’re aliens! Little, tiny, aliens living in my bathroom. And I’m not even allowed to sublet.” She shook her head, and said, “Now who’s gonna look out for them?”

At the bottom of the site was a link to Heart’s email. “What the hell.” She dashed off a description of the tiny-tot-dots and the hole in her wall. Five minutes later she was surprised to hear the “ding” of a response. It read:

“Your description is incredibly detailed. Do you have any physical proof?”

She jumped up, took a picture of the hole with her phone and then, against her better judgment, took a picture of the structure. She sent them both off to him in an attachment with the reply: “How’s this?”

He responded: “Either a great job of photoshopping or world-shattering proof that life exists elsewhere in the universe. In any event, I am intrigued. If this is legit, it must be documented immediately. Please forward your address.”

“Sure.” She sent her address. Then she sat back, ran her fingers through her hair, and panicked. “I don’t know this guy, what if he ends up hurting them? The whole scenario of her screwing up yet again, rushed toward her like an oncoming bus.

She emailed back, “You can’t come. The address I sent you was fake. Sorry.”

“Fake? Wait. Listen, you seem like a nice person and this is quite important. Let me investigate. Or at the very least allow me to communicate with them before it’s too late. In theory, tiny holes of this type should eventually evaporate.”

“Forget it. You can’t come here. And don’t ask me to meet you cause I’m never leaving my apartment again, except to buy gin.”

“Gin? That explains a lot. LOL”

“What? That explains nothing. You nerd!”

“Agggghhh!!” she screamed and slammed down the laptop lid.

Something professor-nerd had mentioned pecked away at her for hours. When she nudged open the bathroom door, the amount of construction the tiny-tot-dots had accomplished astonished her. It wasn’t that the thing was bigger, just more complex, more dazzling. Intricate avenues bisected miniature skyscrapers one built atop the other and all adorned with twinkling lights. They were like seven-year-olds with a subatomic Lego set. Maybe, as Professor P.H.D. Smartass suggested, she should get to know her guests.

In a relaxed, friendly voice, she said, “Tiny-tot-dots? Yoo-hoo? Aliens? Can you hear me?” They froze. She hadn’t bothered with the magnifying glass and it was difficult to see. She moved in closer. She scrunched shut the eye behind the cracked lens while crinkling her nose. They scrambled away helter-skelter. It occurred to her that until now, she must have been nothing more to them than a giant, blurry, foreign object, hovering in the background. Like a cumulus storm cloud, you might be too preoccupied to notice. She pictured a humongous head moving ever closer, with uncombed hair and a funky nor’easter blast of morning breath. Not to mention an earth-shattering voice. Louder than a Christina Aguilera concert.

She backed off and whispered as softly as she could, “Welcome to Earth. I hope you like it. I know it’s a mess but you have landed in my filthy bathroom. Can I get you anything? Cappuccino? Gin?”

Tinkling alarms sounded all over the structure in rapid succession. Tiny-tot-dots scattered in terror. “Oh, God, I’ve made it worse,” she stepped back. “Didn’t mean to frighten you guys. Don’t zap me or anything.”

“Hey! Keep it down!” Small flakes of plaster flittered onto the top of the alien structure as the super-sized, hairy guy who lived upstairs, pounded on his floor. “Sorry!” Cynthia shouted at her ceiling.

A second wave of alarms joined the first. “Oh my, oh my. Hang on.” Cynthia ran to her kitchen and returned with three white paper coffee filters. She draped them carefully over the structure to protect them from the falling specks of plaster.

One by one the alarms grew silent.

“Phew!” she pursed her lips and clutched her chest. Caring for them was going to be harder than she realized. She took a seat on the toilet lid, resting her chin in her hands and watched as they set immediately to work incorporating the make-shift filters into their design. Studying them made her feel good. Like some kind of scientist. Like Jane Goodall with, what was it? The leopards? She observed how they worked continually, and always together. If an arrangement collapsed or for some reason didn’t suit them, they tore it down and rebuilt. If a structure was off-balance, they constantly enhanced it, always rebuilding, always rethinking, and always together.

For no apparent reason, Cynthia thought of a waterspout and a song she learned at summer camp. The one about the itsy-bitsy spider. No matter how hard it rained or how many times the spider was washed out of that spout, eventually the sun would come out, and that sucker would try again. Even when any other self-respecting bug would have given up and gone home… it didn’t. It kept going. Just like the little-tot-dots.

“Huh…” she said out loud. She stood up, careful not to distract her ambitious little visitors and looked hard at herself in the mirror. “Shit!” she sighed. “I don’t even recognize myself.” She gripped the edge of the sink and leaned in, looking herself straight in her one good eye. “Cynthia Mora Toms, You’ve got to get a hold of yourself. If buggy alien dust motes can build, and keep building, a thinga-ma-jig in your bathroom, you can at least get your ass together.” In a grand, dramatic gesture she yanked a cheese doodle bit out of her hair.

Grabbing her brush, she carefully combed out the rat’s nest of knots. She washed her face. Not wanting to risk a shower, she wiped down with a washcloth and slipped on a pair of clean jeans, along with a nice blouse. She set to work picking up the apartment. In her clothes hamper she found her spare eyeglasses. Next came the kitchen. The dishes alone took close to an hour. At last, she was able to sit down with a hot cup of chamomile tea. And it felt good. It felt right. I’m gonna be okay, she thought.

Then there came a knock at the door.