ODDITIES
22 Stories
Lisa Mason
Table of Stories
Part I
Yesterday
“Every Mystery Unexplained
Ed. Janet Berliner and David Copperfield
Tales of the Impossible (HarperPrism 1996)
“Daughter of the Tao”
Ed. Peter S. Beagle and Janet Berliner
Immortal Unicorn (HarperPrism 1996)
“Ghiordes Knot”
Bast Books, 2020
“The Sixty-third Anniversary of Hysteria”
Ed. Jennifer Hershey, Tom Dupree, and Janna Silverstein
Full Spectrum 5 (Bantam Spectra 1995)
Part II
Tomorrow
“Tomorrow is a Lovely Day”
Ed. Gordon Van Gelder
The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (November-December 2015)
“Illyria, My Love”
Bast Books 2015
“Infringement”
Bast Books, 2020
“The Bicycle Whisperer”
Ed. C. C. Finlay
The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (May-June 2018)
“Arachne”
Ed. Ellen Datlow
Omni Magazine (December 1987)
“The Hanged Man”
Ed. Katharine Kerr
The Shimmering Door: Sorcerers and Shamans, Witches and Warlocks, Enchanters and Spell-Casters, Magicians, and Mages (HarperPrism 1996)
“Anything for You”
Ed. C. C. Finlay
The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (September-October 2016)
“She Loves You”
Bast Books, 2020
“Taiga”
Ed. John Benson
Not One of Us (Issue #61 April 2019)
“Teardrop”
Ed. Gordon Van Gelder
The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (May-June 2015)
“Bess”
Ed. Jonathan Laden and Michele-lee Barasso
Daily Science Fiction (May, 2019)
“Tomorrow’s Child”
Ed. Ellen Datlow
Omni Magazine (December 1989)
Part III
Fantasy
“Hummers”
Ed. Gardner Dozois
Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine (February 1991)
Reprinted in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, Fifth Annual Collection
Ed. Ellen Datlow and Terry Windling
(St. Martin’s Press 1992)
“Starfish”
Bast Books 2020
“Riddle”
Ed. C. C. Finlay
The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (September-October 2017)
“Aurelia”
Ed. C. C. Finlay
The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (January-February 2018)
“Mysteries of Ohio”
Bast Books, 2020
“Crazy Chimera Lady”
Bast Books 2020
Preorder ODDITIES: 22 Stories as a Kindle book (publication date November 17. 2020) at US https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08GL2Q954
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Anticipating the new film by Christopher Nolan, “Tenet”?
Try the Tenets of the Grandmother Principle in Summer of Love and The Gilded Age.
I renamed the traditional “Grandfather Principle” as “Grandmother”. The principle works with either grandparent. Why did I do it?
As a feminist statement. And as homage to my beloved maternal grandmother, Mary.
In Nolan’s film, Tenet is the name of the somewhat shadowy organization in the future managing time travel projects to the past.
Forthwith, here are the Tenets developed by MY shadowy organization in the future managing time travel projects to the past
Tenets of the Grandmother Principle
[Developed for tachyportation projects approved by
the Luxon Institute for Superluminal Applications]
Tenet One:  You cannot kill any of your lineal ancestors prior to his or her historical death.
Tenet Two:  You cannot prevent the death of any of your lineal ancestors.
Tenet Three:  You cannot affect any person in the past, including aiding, abetting, coercing, deceiving, deterring, killing, or saving him or her (except as authorized by the project directors).
Tenet Four:  You cannot affect the world in the past.
Tenet Five:  You cannot reveal your identity as a time traveler to any person in the past, including yourself.
Tenet Six:  You cannot reveal the future of any person in the past, including yourself.
Tenet Seven:  You cannot apply modern technologies to past events or people, except when the result conforms to the Archives and, in that case, you cannot leave evidence of modern technologies in the past.
The CTL Peril:  You are capable of dying in the past, including your personal past. If this occurs, the project is transformed from an Open Time Loop (OTL) to a Closed Time Loop (CTL).
You cannot escape a CTL.
So there you have it, my friends.
Summer of Love is In Print at https://www.amazon.com/Summer-Love-Travel-Lisa-Mason/dp/1548106119/
Summer of Love is on US Kindle at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B003OIBGLC
The Gilded Age is on US Kindle at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005QUIWDQ
The Gilded Age in Print at https://www.amazon.com/Gilded-Age-Time-Travel/dp/1975853172/
ODDITIES: 22 Stories is on Kindle Preorder worldwide, including in the US, in the UK, Canada, Australia, France, Italy, Spain, Germany, in the Netherlands, Mexico, Brazil, India, and Japan.
ODDITIES: 22 Stories is in Print as a beautiful trade paperback on November 17, 2020 in the US
, in the UK, Canada, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, and Japan.
Visit me at http://www.lisamason.com for all my books, ebooks, stories, interviews, round tables, cute pet pictures, the bespoke artwork and studio jewelry of Tom Robinson, forthcoming works, and more!

Christopher Nolan’s new film, Tenet, is a time-travel thriller! I didn’t know that. The advance notices described it as a “spy thriller”.
A critic from The Hollywood Reporter reviewed the film in the latest issue, says it most resembles Inception, which we liked very much. “Tenet” is a palindrome, the name of an organization in the future. There is much talk about time travel paradoxes. I hope Nolan and his writers read Summer of Love and The Gilded Age. I spend time (and space) in those books carefully laying out the paradoxes.
I love palindromes. My car license plate is a palindrome. The name of the protagonist in my story “Triad” (published first in Universe 2, edited by Robert Silverberg [Bantam], reprinted in Strange Ladies: 7 Stories [Bast Books]) who is an androgyne capable of becoming either male or female, is a palindrome.
The THR critic stated that she viewed the movie twice, and she still can’t exactly tell what the plot is. That tends to happen in time travel stories. Apparently agents of Tenet travel to the past to retrieve artifacts from the future that have been carelessly left there (I’m paraphrasing from the THR review) to avoid an apocalypse in the future.
Right off, that violates Tenet Seven of the Grandmother Principle (in Summer ofLove and The Gilded Age): “You cannot apply modern technologies to past events or people, except when the result conforms to the Archives, and, in that case, you cannot leave evidence of modern technologies in the past.”
I’m curious to see how Nolan deals with that! But we’ll have to wait until the film is released on DVD. The theatrical release is in limited areas, not ours.
So there you have it, my friends.
Summer of Love is In Print at https://www.amazon.com/Summer-Love-Travel-Lisa-Mason/dp/1548106119/
Summer of Love is on US Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B003OIBGLC
The Gilded Age is on US Kindle http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005QUIWDQ
The Gilded Age in Print at https://www.amazon.com/Gilded-Age-Time-Travel/dp/1975853172/
Strange Ladies: 7 Stories is in print at https://www.amazon.com/Strange-Ladies-Stories-Lisa-Mason/dp/1981104380/
Strange Ladies: 7 Stories is on US Kindle http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00DNMBSFS
Visit me at http://www.lisamason.com for all my books, ebooks, stories, interviews, round tables, cute pet pictures, the bespoke artwork and studio jewelry of Tom Robinson, forthcoming works, and more!

8.12.20.ODD.SMLL

ODDITIES: 22 Stories is on Kindle Preorder worldwide, including in the US, in the UK, Canada, Australia, France, Italy, Spain, Germany, in the Netherlands, Mexico, Brazil, India, and Japan.

ODDITIES: 22 Stories is in Print as a beautiful trade paperback on November 17, 2020 in the US, in the UK, Canada, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, and Japan.

8.12.20.ODD.SMLL

ODDITIES
22 Stories
Lisa Mason
Here You Enter
Yesterday
Tomorrow
& Fantasy
Coming November 17, 2020 in Print and Ebook

11.19.13cube

When you go out for dinner with a friend, how you handle the expense of your meals? Do you ask the server for separate checks? Split the bill evenly no matter what each of you ate and drank? Have one person pay the whole bill with a credit card and the other brings cash for payment of just what she ate and drank, plus her share of taxes and the tip?
If I take a friend out for her birthday, I offer to treat her and usually pay the whole bill.
What about when you go out with a group of people? If there’s a patriarch or matriarch, do you assume that person will foot the whole bill? What if your friends include a couple, a grown child and his children, and your family comprises just you and your mother? Do you split the bill evenly between the two families? Is that fair?
I’ve known about friendships that have ended over payment for dinner, and plenty of ill-will between two families for uneven group dinners.
On Facebook, people linked to software for splitting checks or paying the bill. Other people suggested you can split the bill on your cellphone. Some said they had group dinners, one would pay with his credit card and the others would pay cash for their dinner. When one person didn’t pay his share of the tax and tip, he wasn’t invited back to the group dinners.
But most preferred separate checks.
How do you handle the situation?
Coming November 17, 2020! ODDITIES: 22 Stories by Lisa Mason
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TRArt1BIG

A local radio broadcast reported that John’s Grill, in downtown San Francisco, was reopening with limited dining on the sidewalk. I’ve never eaten at the restaurant, but the report said John’s Grill was the setting for a scene in The Maltese Falcon, the novel by Dashiell Hammett published in 1929.
We’ve seen the film by John Huston, released in 1941, maybe half a dozen times. My video guide lists the film as “one of the greatest movies of all time.” We’ve loved the moody depiction of old San Francisco.
I had the Vintage Press trade paperback in my TBR stack, sat down, and read the whole thing (it’s only 234 pages long).
Huston didn’t have to do much to adapt the novel. Hammett wrote whole scenes screenplay-like (he himself wrote screenplays, though not this screenplay), and snappy dialogue. The film only had to follow along—the dialogue is verbatim.
It was thrilling to read; I love Hammett’s bold, tight prose. The end gets a bit convoluted, and Huston untangled the most important parts for depiction on the screen. What emerges in the novel, subtly, is a portrait of 1920s San Francisco, including several references to the underground homosexual scene.
When Joel Cairo, a flamboyantly gay character, first enters Spade’s office in the movie, Spade’s secretary, Effie Perrine, gives Spade Cairo’s business card. Humphrey Bogart makes a point of sniffing the card, at which Effie says ironically, “Gardenia.” In the novel, Effie comes into to tell Spade Cairo is there, and she simply says, “He’s queer.” In 1941, apparently Huston had to change that for the movie under the Hays Code. But, in the film, Spade repeatedly refers to Wilmer, Mr. Gutman’s gunman, as “the gunsel.” This is 1920s slang for a man who turns “sissy” while in prison.
About the scene set in John’s Grill, which appears in the novel but not the film—Spade has dinner at the restaurant with Polhaus, one of the cops. The scene novelistically builds character, but doesn’t advance the plot. They discuss Dundy, Polhaus’s partner—whom Spade refers to as Polhaus’s “boyfriend” and “playmate”, probably sarcastically since both cops are big, beefy macho guys. For dinner, Polhaus has a pickled pig-foot, described disgustingly. This is probably Hammett’s joke—I don’t know if cops were referred to disparagingly as “pigs” in 1929, but Spade does refer to them as “bulls.”
A thoroughly enjoyable novel, sexist warts and all, which kept me up all night. Recommended, before or after the film, which so well captures the story and characters. You must do both.
Edits: **Hammett’s first name was Samuel, so his hero is not a little based on him. Spade “digs up dirt.” Hammett worked as a Pinkerton detective before he took up writing.
**And Brigid O’Shaughnessy was another joke and a pun by Dashiell Hammett.
The only way people in the early 1900s could get from San Francisco to Marin County, where a lot of people lived, was by ferry boat. There was a huge public outcry to build the Golden Gate Bridge over the mouth of the Bay, and the city engineer of San Francisco at the time, M.M. O’Shaughnessy, first proposed the project, which took a few years to get underway.
So Hammett joked, “Bridge It, O’Shaughnessy!”
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So the other Friday, I received a persistent message when I logged onto my Dell 2020 internet computer, “Your Windows 10 License Will Expire Soon.” The message linked to my Settings menu, without any further explanation or any further links. There were entries for Uploads Pending, Product Code Change, and Activate.
Don’t waste two hours of your precious time and an abortive customer service call—as I did—trying to figure out how to salvage your old Windows 10, whether your old Windows 10 is the home version or the pro version (did you know they have two versions?), what your old product code is. When you find it, the old code won’t work.
Don’t waste time on the customer chat boards with a thousand people saying “You really %&# mean I have to BUY a new Windows 10 License?”
Yes, you do.
Don’t waste time on the Microsoft Office Sales website, either. On the weekend when I was frantically trying how to fix the problem, that website didn’t work on either of the two browsers I used. Oh, and Microsoft needed $200 to purchase a new license.
Instead, go to the Microsoft Download Store (a legitimate website, link below in the comments). There, the Upgrade from Windows 10 home to Windows pro is “only” a hundred bucks. (Wow, what will I buy with the hundred bucks I “saved”!)
Buy the Upgrade, then wait for the email receipt. The receipt will include a link to tutorial video on how to download the upgrade (I have the attention of a gnat for tutorial videos), simple written instructions, the ALL-IMPORTANT new product code, and the ALL-IMPORTANT download link.
Copy the email receipt entirely to a document on your computer (I copied it twice but then I’m paranoid). Mark the email as “unread” or save it into a folder where you can easily find it again.
Log off the Internet. Go to Settings on your computer (Windows key + x will get you there), update any Updates to your present Windows, and Restart your computer.
When your computer restarts, go to Settings again, go to Change Product Code, and paste the new Code (that you’ve saved into a document on your computer) into the box. You will miraculously be prompted to “Activate.” Click on that.
Then go back to the Internet, find your Microsoft receipt, and click on the download link. The download will take about an hour and a half. The instructions inform you can “minimize” and go on to other work on your computer. I prefer to sit there for the duration, get a book or a magazine to read, and watch that progress bar go up and up and up. A lot of downloads have Install instructions at the end, so I watch for that. This one didn’t, so just a quick check-up that the download happened correctly.
I’ve since received an Update from Windows 10. The update pinned the Microsoft Edge browser (which, for various reasons, I hate) to the Start button. I had to right-click on the icon and unpin that SOB.
A Facebook Friend says this a third-party vendor, but the site was working and the Microsoft store was not. The update on my Control Panel says the publisher is Microsoft and my computer is up and running just fine. https://www.buymicrosoftwindows.com/?msclkid=d6550a7b7af7161a780e557b7f664685
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The Garden of Abracadabra Cover Final

Crawl Space” is a spin-off from my urban fantasy novel, THE GARDEN OF ABRACADABRA (in print and an ebook). The book is “fun and enjoyable,” as reviewers have commented, while also teaching serious lessons of Real Magic.
Abby Teller, the heroine of the novel, makes a cameo appearance here as well as Esmeralda Tormenta and her companion, Senor (plot spoilers of the novel appear in this story). Nikki Tesla is a regular in the novel and, most of all, the Garden of Abracadabra, a magical apartment building in Berkeley, California near the campus of the College of Magical Arts and Crafts, where Abby has started attending classes.
I hope you’ll take a peek at the novel, which took me two-and-a-half years to write. And a lovely two-and-a-half years, it was.
Crawl Space
Lisa Mason
People often ask, “Jo, how did you get into the plumbing business?”
If I’m feeling flip, I’ll say, “I’m into pipes. Pipes are a girl thing.” If I want to impress, “My mothers founded the business and handed it over to me when they retired. It’s an honorable family tradition.” For a friendly touch, I may add, “Phil taught me how to use her tools when I was a kid. While other girls were playing with dolls and plush animals, I was messing around with P-trap fittings.” If I’ve just filed my quarterly estimated taxes and feeling some pain, I’ll say, “Everybody needs a plumber. You called me, right? That’ll be two-hundred-fifty an hour plus parts.”
Tonight I’m reflective. “My mothers took me to Rome when I was ten. What a trip! We toured the Baths of Caracalla, the Acqua Vergine aqueduct, the Fontana di Trevi. Made quite an impression, y’know?”
“Yeah, all that feminine elemental water energy,” says Abby Teller, the superintendent of the Garden of Abracadabra. Abby landed herself an ideal part-time gig for a student at the Berkeley College of Magical Arts and Crafts. She’s one hell of a super and a crackerjack fledgling magician.
She figured out how to turn off the building’s incoming main when water began cascading through a crack in the ceiling plaster onto her favorite tenant’s means of a livelihood. Then she placed the emergency call to me at eight in the evening just as I was kicking back with a Bud Lite and some brainless dramedy on TV.
Abby has called me more than once to pinch-hit the plumbing problems of these grand old apartments. The Mediterranean building—a leafy walk away from the Magical Arts and Crafts campus—is an architectural treasure built during the gold-rush days and registered by an historical preservation society.
I love the place but things can get dicey there after sunset. Tonight on my way up to Apartment Thirty-nine, for instance, I ran into two of Abby’s other tenants. Esmeralda Tormenta carried a mason jar with a tiny tornado whirling inside it. Her companion, by day a Great Dane named Senor, walked by her side. Since the sun had set, he was wearing his customary red neckerchief (the Great Dane wears the neckerchief, too) and black leather jeans, resembling a youthful Daniel Craig with a scowl and jet-black hair.
Abby says—and who am I to doubt her?—that every one of her tenants is some stripe of supernatural entity, every apartment some kind of fairyland or hell. She told me this, with a weary sigh, the first time she called me. “Will that be a problem for you?”
“Nah, I’m okay with supernatural entities,” I said, desperate for the business.
Abby always pays my bills on time, never bounces a check. When she calls, I come, any day, any night. Abby and me, we’re good.
The tenant says, “Yeah, the Fontana di Trevi is pretty cool. ‘Three Coins in the Fountain.’”
I glance at him, surprised he’d know vintage movies. He looks like a classic computer nerd—but who knows at the Garden of Abracadabra?—with peculiar eyes glowing in his long, bony face, the irises swirling with color like the splash screen of some exotic software. His black hair, bushy eyebrows, and bushier mustache play up his suspicious pallor.
He looms protectively over his computers, printer-scanners, and a serious router with flashing green lights. He’s draped sheets of painter’s plastic over his expensive equipment.
An errant water-drop drips from the ceiling, splats on the plastic.
“Three coins in what?” says the general contractor standing beside the tenant, perplexity on his beefy face. This is the guy Abby calls for dry-wall patches and paint touch-ups.
“Roman tradition says when you toss three coins in the Trevi Fountain, you’ll fall in love and marry,” I explain.
“’Three Coins’ is a sappy romance flick from the nineteen-fifties,” the tenant adds and looks me over.
I’m decked out in my denim jumpsuit and a tool belt with brass hooks and loops of leather. The belt holds a flashlight, three sizes of wrenches and screwdrivers, a metal file, a tube of caulk and a caulk gun, a spray can of Rustoleum, a ball-peen hammer, and a deluxe Swiss Army knife. Tonight I’ve also got a dielectric union with a neoprene gasket dangling from a hook.
The tenant grins in a way that makes my heart go pitter-pat. Blue electrical sparks crackle from his fingertips.
“I got the ceiling opened up like you asked,” the contractor says to Abby and strides to the tenant’s kitchen. “Could we get a move on, please? I’ve got a nine o’clock call in Emeryville.”
In Rome, I’d wandered with Philippa and Theodora around massive stonework walls, vast ancient baths. Theo had turned to me, tears of pride in her eyes, and said, “Think of it, Jo. Plumbers built this.”
I may have been only ten years old but I knew very well that plumbers hadn’t built the Acqua Vergine. Slaves had built it and a master architect had designed it—some guy with an understanding of pre-Christian-era civic water management. Hardly what you’d call a plumber. But I’d held my tongue.
I’d had to do that a lot—hold my tongue—about my mothers, in spite of living in Berkeley. Hold my tongue around them, too. To their gentle unspoken disappointment, I’d turned out to be boy-crazy.
e all trek to the kitchen where the contractor has set up a step ladder to the three-foot hole he’s cut in the ceiling. The contractor and me, we’re not so good. We started off on the wrong foot two jobs ago when he looked at my tool belt and asked, “So where are your handcuffs?”
Phil and Theo had christened their business, “Dominatrix Plumbing.” I could have changed the name when they retired. But they’d built up a clientele, good will, name recognition, and a Better Business Bureau approval rating. Besides, it’s hard to grab people’s attention in Berkeley. “Frank the Plumber” just doesn’t cut it in this town. Flip open the Berkeley phonebook and you’ll find Peace & Love Plumbing, Progressive Sump Pumps, and my fave, Ganga Drains and Sewers.
I couldn’t really resent the contractor but he’s always got this smirky attitude.
He smirks at me now.
After they’d eliminated other possibilities—a rain leak from the building’s roof, tenants upstairs overflowing a water closet or a bathtub—Abby and the contractor decided the problem lies with an interior pipe. A five-point-five earthquake shook up Berkeley last week, and the building is old. Really, really old. Maybe a fitting in the aging galvanized piping has corroded and loosened?
“Water goes wherever it wants to go,” I concur. A plumber’s homily that either boosts a customer’s confidence or irritates the hell out of them.
Both the tenant and the contractor are looking at me like I’m the sacrificial virgin. The astronaut in 2001 fated to go outside the shuttle and fix the propulsion engine banged up by space junk. Or the coon-capped scout sent through enemy musket-fire to deliver a message to the bewigged general at the embattled fort upriver in The Last of the Mohicans. The chosen one, boldly going where no fool has gone before.
When you think about it, our world is made up of two places—private and public. I fix clogged kitchen sinks and leaky bathroom faucets, so I see a lot of private spaces where people keep the messy detritus of their lives deeply rooted within walls and locked doors. I also fix sewers and main drains and travel in my van from job to job, so I see a lot of public spaces, too, where people and creatures and things indiscriminately mingle.
But between the inner wall of private space and the outer wall of the public lies another dimension. In that interstice, elusive electrical cables take harbor, and secret communication connections, hidden heating ducts. Termites, spiders, centipedes, silverfish all call this place their home.
The crawl space.
I climb up the contractor’s step ladder, crawl through the hole, slide on my belly inside.
I switch on my black-and-yellow Dorcy flashlight, sending a beam through the murk. The crawl space is maybe three by three feet. The space smells of centuries-old dust, a tang of mold, a whiff of wood rot. No water on the floor, so Abby’s theory—an isolated interior pipe got knocked askew—seems a good bet.
I spot pipes of red brass, others of yellow brass, and snippets of copper tubing randomly spliced among them. The Garden of Abracadabra needs a plumbing overhaul, big time. I gleefully start calculating estimates. If Phil taught me tools, Theo instilled horse sense. What every independent businesswoman needs to figure poundage per hoof.
The prospect of a Big Job has me smiling when suddenly I shimmy off the edge of a cliff. I plummet with a yell, head over heels, into a deep, dark valley. I land with a splash in a shallow pool of water.
The scattered water-drops reconstitute themselves into the shape of a transparent woman—a water woman, her features discernable on the translucent tension of her watery surface. She smiles seductively and strokes my arm, drenching the sleeve of my jumpsuit. Startled, I instinctively draw the metal file from my tool belt and swipe the file’s edge through her naked waist.
She backs away with a moist smile, cleaved in two, and instantly reconstitutes herself. With a tinkling laugh, she dives into an abyss yawning open before me.
I glance around at the valley, taking in the expanse of dull silver metal studded with cottages of red and yellow brass. The valley stretches away to another cliff rising up in the twilit distance. As I’m gawking, trying to convince myself I haven’t inexplicably died in the crawl space and gone to some hellish plumber’s purgatory, an imposing metal man marches up to me, his boot heels clanking.
“I am King Gob,” he declares and slams his fist on his majestic brass chest with a mighty clang. “Who art thou, wench?”
For a moment, I think he’s called me a “wrench.” Then I realize that isn’t what he said. I’m about to spill my usual intro, “Hi, I’m Jo from Dominatrix, here to whip your plumbing into submission,” but I bite back my words. Between the metal file gripped in my hand like a sword and the scowl on Gob’s brassy face, I cobble a more appropriate response.
I stand up straight, square my shoulders, and somberly say, “I am Josephine, at your service, King Gob.”
“Have ye come to take command of the breach?” he says with enough skepticism to arouse my routine defenses whenever a customer questions my capabilities as a woman plumber.
“I have,” I reply. “Show it to me at once.”
Gob turns and strides away. I follow, warily stepping around the abyss. I glance down into it. Water women cling to the steep sides, laughing mischievously as they slide to the bottom and out through a narrow jagged aperture.
The crack in the tenant’s ceiling plaster? Got to be.
Little silver- and copper-colored children gather shyly in a giggling group, whispering among themselves and pointing at me, their metallic button-eyes wide with wonder.
“Who are you?” I say, smiling.
A brave copper girl steps forward and says, “We’re gobbins of the Valley of Gob, of course.”
“Of course,” I reply politely. “Pleased to meet you.”
“This way,” King Gob says and leads me to the far cliff where a rusted iron step ladder juts out of the rock and ascends to the height of a one-story structure. At the top is a flat service platform. I point my flashlight, illuminating a main line of pipe.
A yellow brass pipe-man extends his brawny arms toward a copper pipe-man. Their metal hands form a perfect circle meant to grasp, to connect one pipe-man to the other.
But their grip has been shaken askew. Their hands don’t quite meet at the intended junction.
As I watch, a water woman oozes between the copper man’s hands and leaps out, dropping on Gob, splashing all over him. The droplets reconstitute and she clings to him, entwining her watery arms around him, staining his joints with a scrim of rust.
He scowls and shouts. But he doesn’t push her away.
I step forward and wipe her off him with my sleeve. She splats on the valley floor and somersaults down the incline toward the abyss, laughing merrily.
“Cursed, cursed undine,” Gob sputters.
I rub the ridges of my metal file on the rust spots the undine left on his joints, abrading them away. “King Gob, why did you not resist her?”
“Oh, we resist the undines as best we can with the quality of metal we’re made of. We confine them when we can, and channel their movements. But undines go where they will.”
“How well I know,” I whisper.
“We cannot control them when they find a way through our channels and barriers.” Gob looks at me, his brass eyes beseeching. “We need a commander of the world like you, Josephine, who can move among undines and gobbins alike.”
I nod. I never thought of myself—me, a plumber!—like that before. But Gob is right. The elements—and their inhabitants, the elementals—are powerful natural forces. They stay within their nature, within their destined path, blindly helping or hindering each other as need or confrontation arises. It takes the eyes and hands and will of a human being to guide and direct all the elements. A human being to rule all the elementals.
That would be me.
Gob glances up at the pipeline. “Can ye repair the breach, Commander?”
“I can,” I say, “and I will.”
I thrust the metal file in my tool belt, climb the rungs of the ladder to the service platform. I step gingerly onto it—it’s flimsier than it looked at a distance—but it holds my weight well enough. I move to the junction of the yellow brass pipe-man and the copper pipe-man. As I survey the breach between their cupped hands, an undine squeezes out, drenches me, and drops to the valley below.
Another undine oozes out and another and another, smiling that seductive smile and laughing merrily. One undine presses her face to mine, another runs her fingers through my hair, still another slips her hands into the sleeves of my jumpsuit.
A shout rises to my throat. Are the undines trying to drown me?
I gulp air, press my lips tight, pinch my nostrils.
For a moment, I feel as if I am drowning. I cannot, I must not drown under their elemental magic. I yank a cotton handkerchief from my hip pocket and wipe the undines off my face, off my jumpsuit. I twist the handkerchief, wringing the cotton out.
The water women drop down onto the gobbins below, pooling on the valley floor, staining their cottages with rust.
“Onward,” I mutter and pull the dielectric union with a neoprene gasket off my tool belt. I fit the gasket over the yellow brass pipe-man’s hands, shove my shoulder beneath the copper pipe-man’s hands, and push their grip into alignment. With the ball-peen hammer, I tamp their connection tightly together. For good measure, I fit the tube of caulk in the gun and smear a layer of sealant around the union.
I climb down the ladder and step amid a cheering crowd of gobbin women and children in shades of red brass and yellow brass and copper.
King Gob beats his fist on his chest and beams at me.
“The breach is secured, at least for the moment,” I announce.
“Thank ye, Commander, we are most grateful,” King Gob says.
“‘Tis but one battle in an ongoing war,” I answer modestly. “The war between order and chaos, law and anarchy, construction and destruction. I am glad to have been of service.”
“Will we see you again?”
“You can count on it.”
The metal king leads me back to the cliff from which I’d so unceremoniously fallen into the Valley of Gob. I climb up the ladder set in the side of it. At the top, I turn and wave grandly to the cheering crowd below me. I look out at the valley, safe from the wanton water, and imagine Theo’s tears of pride, her gentle voice saying, “A plumber did this.”
Yes, she did.
Then I slide on my belly through the crawl space. A centipede scurries out of my way. I find the hole cut in the kitchen ceiling and climb down the contractor’s ladder.
“Geeze, it’s about time,” the contractor says, tapping his finger on his wristwatch. “What took you so long?”
“Did you find the problem?” Abby Teller says.
“I sure did. Two pipes knocked askew, just as you suspected. Yellow brass and copper pipes. They’re incompatible, basically.”
“Any trouble fixing it?”
“Nah, I installed a standard gasket.”
Abby reaches out, touches my head. “Hey, Jo, your hair is wet.”
“Yeah, there was a bit of water up there. The gasket, it’s only temporary. I’ve got to tell you, Abby, the Garden of Abracadabra badly needs the plumbing replaced. Like, all of it. Good copper tubing and solid fittings.”
“I’ll check my budget and let you know when I can schedule the work.”
“Then I’ve got the job?”
“Absolutely.” She shakes my hand, and my whole arm vibrates with her magician’s power. “Got to go. The tenants in Number Eleven and Number Twelve are flinging hexes at each other again. Rival covens, what a hassle.”
She strides out, a tall, slim woman with russet hair. The superintendent of the Garden of Abracadabra, and a pal of mine.
The contractor folds up his ladder. “I’ll be back on Thursday to patch up the ceiling,” he tells the tenant. “Is eight in the evening good for you?”
“It’s going to have to be,” the tenant says with a sigh. “When my girlfriend Tabitha found me with another witch, she cursed me to work every day for the rest of my life from sunrise to sunset at Computers ‘R’ Us. I can only be here, at the Garden of Abracadabra, after the sun goes down.”
“Yeah, right.” The contractor rolls his eyes at me. “Sheesh, Berkeley. The Land of Oz.” He trudges out, lugging the ladder.
I’m left standing in the kitchen with the tenant. We look at each other. A beanpole, he stands head and shoulders above me. Blue sparks flicker from his hands. Oh, boy.
“Can I get you a drink?” he says. “By the way, I’m Nikki Tesla. I’m an electronics wizard.”
“What have you got, wizard?”
“Two percent milk, spring water, vodka, and tonic.”
“Vodka tonic, no ice. Got a lemon or lime?”
“A twist of lime, comin’ up.” Tesla putters around at the kitchen counter, then hands me a cocktail glass. He clinks his glass against mine.
“Oh, wait.” He digs three pennies out of his jeans pocket and tosses them in my glass. “What did you say your name is?”
I squeeze water from my hair. Water and electricity—a dangerous mix. I smile. “Call me Commander Josephine.”
Afterword
For a story barely under 4,000 words, “Crawl Space” packs a lot of plot and took some fairly extensive research. First, there’s THE GARDEN OF ABRACADABRA, of course, which explores in more depth the origin of the apartment building.
Then there’s plumbing. I got out my technical books on how to maintain your home, researched the tools Jo would carry and the tasks she was charged with.
Then there’s Italy and its famous fountains and ancient Roman aqueducts. I found my tourist books and got the right spelling and details of the various landmarks.
And then there’s Berkeley, a famously eccentric college town. A cruise through my telephone book (yes, I still have a paper telephone book) gave me some hints of what Jo and her mothers would name their business.
Finally, I consulted Manly P. Hall’s massive treatise, The Secret Teachings of All Ages, for details about elementals, the spirits that inhabit the elements.
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11.19.13cube

The 1967 International and Universal Exposition or Expo 67, was a World’s Fair held in Montreal, Canada from April 27 to October 29, 1967. It is considered to be the most successful World’s Fair of the 20th century, with 50 million people attending over the summer and 62 nations participating, including the USSR and the USA. It also set the single-day attendance record for a world’s fair with 569,500 visitors on its third day.
I had just turned fourteen and my parents took me for a week’s summer vacation to the Fair. (No, I didn’t actually run away to San Francisco for the Summer of Love. That wouldn’t happen for two decades, and only in my mind, when I wrote and researched Summer of Love, the novel.)
The Fair was absolutely amazing, embodying the ebullience, optimism, prosperity, and embracing of technology of the mid-Sixties (despite the underlying dark realities of sexism, racism, the Cold War, and the Vietnam War).
It was in the early afternoon on Wednesday when my mother and I were looking for the Czechoslovakia Exhibit to see the Glass Show. The Glass Show was staged only twice a day, we’d heard it was wonderful, and wanted to see it.
I’m not sure where my father was—probably resting back at the hotel—my mother was consulting her map of the Fair, and tugging on my elbow to hurry when suddenly I saw a man standing before me, all alone.
He was tall and slim, in his mid-twenties, with a very pale complexion and longish black hair. He was dressed in a charcoal gray suit and—a knee-length purple cape.
He was looking around in wonder at the Fair—we all were. I got the distinct impression he was also looking around in wonder at why everyone was ignoring him.
Because Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band had just been released and he was one of the most famous people in the world.
I thought, “OH MY GOD IT’S PAUL MCCARTNEY.”
I was struck dumb. It was as if a mythological god had stepped in my path. I couldn’t even say to my mother, “Oh look, mom, there’s Paul McCartney. He’s all by himself. Let’s go and say hello.”
Anyway, what would I have said to him? I was just snarky enough at just-turned-fourteen to have said, “I loved your music as a child, but I kind of hate Sgt. Pepper.”
It was true. As Walter Jon Williams has pointed out in his excellent blog, the Beatles were constantly evolving creatively. They had evolved way beyond my young teenager’s tastes. I was not alone. The music critic for the Rolling Stone hated the album, too.
My mother tugged some more on my elbow and we made it just in time to the Czech Glass Exhibit. We entered a dark theater with a full-sized movie screen. They played some jazzy classical music and lit up the screen, which consisted of glass cubes that spun around, reflecting myriad colors of light. That description can’t do justice to how dazzling the show was.
At the India Exhibit, my mother bought herself a silk sari in turquoise, scarlet, and gold. At the Canada Exhibit, she bought me a silver charm shaped like a maple leaf to go on my silver charm bracelet.
Three days later, we were back in our family house in a Cleveland suburb. My parents had gone to bed. I stayed up, watching TV, waiting for the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Johnny came up and did his usual introductory routine. He sat down at his desk and said, “Before we go on with the show, we have a special guest.”
Out walked a tall, slim, dark-haired man, wearing the same charcoal gray suit, minus the purple cape. He sat down in the guest chair to thunderous applause, and Johnny said, “Thanks for dropping by, Paul McCartney. What have you been up to?”
Paul said, “I’ve just spent a week at Expo 67, the World’s Fair in Montreal. It was fantastic.”
So there you go. The Universe provided me proof that I hadn’t been hallucinating.
Do I regret that I hadn’t the courage to go up to him and say hello? There are deeds not done and misdeeds that have had far more consequences in my life, but yes of course I regret it. Still, the experience, the moment, confirmed by television (so Sixties) has enriched my life in some small way. And now I can share it with you on the Internet (so 2020).
Happy 78th Birthday, Paul (that was June 18, I believe).
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