Archives for category: Lovely Fantasy Story

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I.
Dragon
Sing Lin skips down Fish Alley, seeking fresh shrimp for Master’s supper.
She swings her wicker shopping basket with a frivolous hand, her young heart bobbing with innocent joy. The city air is ripe with the odors of raw sea creatures and sandalwood incense, of the mouthwatering scent of peanut oil smoking in someone’s hot wok.
A mooie jai just doesn’t skip down the streets of Tangrenbu, not on most days. Certainly not on a day as fresh and crisp as this, with sunlight sparkling high above and a cool west wind from the sea. A day which Cook would have gladly savored for himself.
A lucky day.
But Cook has injured himself. His ankle has swollen up like a bundle of newspapers left out in a night rain. Cook took a wrong step into a pothole on Jasmine Avenue, and now he cannot step at all.
Cook had seized her skinny arm as Sing Lin had knelt over the wash basin, scrubbing the sheets for Master’s bed. He flung her to her feet and said, “Here, you lazy girl, go get two pounds shrimp for Master’s supper, and make quick.”
“Yes, Cook,” she murmured.
Sing Lin had washed her hands and face, and retied her queue, and smoothed the wrinkles from her black cotton sahm. And she set out with Cook’s coins and her wicker shopping basket, her young heart bobbing with innocent joy. Shrimp is double good luck because, first, here she is, out of the house in such a long time. And because, second, Master will let Cook give her one spicy fried shrimp with her usual supper of boiled rice and greens. “You the shrimp girl, anyway,” Cook joked in his dour way. “Master bought you for ten pieces of gold, plus five pounds shrimp.”
Two more skips and a hop and a jump, and Sing Lin finds herself among the peddlers of Fish Alley. They are, one and all, clad in blue-denim sahms. Yet all are not alike in the throng of blue tunics and trousers, a truth that even Sing Lin’s eyes can discern. The ones wearing jaunty felt fedoras have taken to the new ways of the city. The ones in embroidered satin caps have not. And the ones who cannot escape their lot in life no matter where they flee to wear the flat straw cone of peasantry. They are, one and all, men. There is not a woman in sight, unless Sing Lin peeks at her own reflection in a shop window, and even she’s not a woman, not yet.
Master employs many men just like the fish peddlers in his drayage business along the waterfront. Once she overheard him talking to Cook. They are not, of course, human beings, Master had said. They are oxen to be led by a ring through the nose. Later, lying on her straw pallet in the pantry, Sing Lin had wondered for a long time what Master must think of her.
Now she glimpses the longing and the bitterness in the fish peddlers’ eyes and something else, something strange and disturbing. Anxiety casts a shadow on her happiness, and she is only too aware she does not belong here. After all, a mooie jai just doesn’t skip down the streets of Tangrenbu. It’s not a proper thing. Not on any day.
Fish Alley is not really much of an alley, and certainly not at all an actual street on which horses and wagons travel as they do on other city streets. It is only a mean, narrow passage permitting pedestrian traffic from east to west and back again. Ancient shacks line its gutters, tenements abandoned long ago by fortune-seekers, their claims staked out now by landlords and merchants like Master. Within these shacks dwell the peddlers and the draymen of Tangrenbu, men tripled up to a room, drifting in and out of the city with the fickle tides of bust or boom.
The clapboard walls are covered over with bulletins, strips of red rice paper announcing the news near and far in bold, black slashes of calligraphy. Sing Lin spies a t’ai chi adorning a lintel, a little circle comprised of two teardrops, one red, one black, with a spot of each color in the opposite drop. The t’ai chi is triple good luck, that’s what Cook says. First, for the red, which is yang, thus fiery and excitable, and, second, for the black, which is yin, thus cool and restful. And third for the spots, which rouse restfulness into excitement, and calm excitement into rest.
Oh! A t’ai chi!
Sing Lin is positively glowing with good luck.
She strolls among straw baskets bulging with the sea’s bounty. There are speckled black oysters tossed on handfuls of dank seaweed. Mottled green crabs with their slow, pinching claws. And shrimp, of course, translucent blue and sooty like ill-made glass before they spill into the wok and cook up clean and deliciously pink. She pauses before a basket of salmon, lovely lithe creatures paved in silvery scales. Some of the fish are still flopping. The air is tainted with their brackishness and the smell of their blood. Sing Lin’s heart catches at the sight of the salmon struggling in their death throes.
“Hey, you little girl. Why such a sad face?”
Sing Lin turns, startled. A girl? A girl! Another girl! Whoever sees a girl in Tangrenbu? Yet it’s true, another girl stands beside her. In a black cotton sahm just like hers, a wicker shopping basket slung over her arm, ‘her queue wound around her head in an ebony crown. She is taller than Sing Lin by a handspan and very skinny. Her face is as round as the moon, her eyes almond-shaped slivers of mischief, her skin as flawless as a piece of polished ivory. Her laughing mouth quirks to the left as if she would tell you things you didn’t especially want to hear, but she’ll insist on telling you anyway. Around her neck she’s strung a black silk cord which holds, on the end of it, a tiny t’ai chi. Little shadows pool beneath the high bones of her flat cheeks.
The fish peddlers stare at her—Sing Lin can’t help but notice–as if she is a two-headed, five-legged pig.
“Well? I’m waiting for your answer,” she says. Ah. A little empress she is.
“I’m. . . .I’m sorry the pretty fishes must die.”
The girl mimics weeping and a face full of sorrow, then grins. “Your heart is too soft, little girl. Salmon is delicious! It will put some meat on those matchsticks you call your arms and legs.” She widens her eyes and drops her mouth, the very picture of scandalized disbelief. “Don’t tell me your master is so cruel he never lets a little girl like you ever taste salmon.”
Sing Lin stares down, ashamed. Her big bony toes bulge out of her straw sandals. Peasant toes. She is not someone who tastes salmon, but then–she lifts her chin–she doesn’t want to admit that to this bossy girl. “Sometimes Master gives me spicy fried shrimp with my rice and greens.”
“You mean one little shrimp, don’t you?” At Sing Lin’s abashed nod, the girl throws back her head and laughs, a sound like the tinkling of a silver bell.
The fish peddlers murmur. Sing Lin is only too aware of their eyes. “Don’t laugh like that,” she mutters. “They’re all looking.”
“Ho! Let them look. Come over here into the shade with me, if you’re so worried.”
The girl takes her arm and draws her into the shadows beneath a balcony. The balcony has a great curved railing painted the rich velvety yellow of an egg yolk. “I am Kwai Yin.”
“I am Sing Lin.”
“You are mooie jai?”
“Yes.”
“Me, too.”
The language they once spoke in the old country is as vast as the ancient land from which it had sprung. There are so many dialects that Sing Lin, a girl from the north, would have trouble understanding Kwai Yin, a girl from the south, if they spoke in their mother tongues. So they twist their tongues around another language altogether. The pigeon language of the new country. Of Tangrenbu.
“Where’s your master’s cook, anyway?” Kwai Yin says, looking her up and down. “What’s a girl like you doing, gadding about Fish Alley?”
“Cook stepped into a pothole. Now he can’t take a step!” Sing Lin suppresses a giggle, nervous and not a little awed. This bossy girl, a mooie jai, too? And her master lets her taste salmon? What else does her master let her do? “What’re you doing, gadding about Fish Alley?”
“Shopping, of course.” As if such a pastime for a mooie jai is nothing.
Which it is not. Not in Tangrenbu.
Sing Lin is bursting with questions, but her throat clenches. The balcony may shield them from the sun and from the fish peddlers’ eyes, but affords no relief from the stink of a bin filled with offal. She spies fish heads and fish fins and husked shrimp shells, the flat little mitt of a manta that wandered into some fisherman’s net. Sing Lin wrinkles her nose, presses fingers to her throat. “Oh, let’s go someplace else!”
But Kwai Yin peers into the bin, avid with curiosity. “Wait, wait. Look there!”
And there, next to the manta, lies another dead little creature, speckled gray, serpentine like an eel. But it is not an eel. It has four fragile legs, each tipped with a foot, and stubby toes, and claws as thick as darning needles. In the way that a sea horse resembles a horse, the tiny head resembles that of an ox. There are bovine ears and round eyes, a broad snout with flaring nostrils. The jaws hang slack, baring fangs that would have given your finger a nasty bite.
“Poor thing,” Sing Lin murmurs. “What is it?”
“Your heart is way too soft,” Kwai Yin says. “That is lung.”
“What is lung?”
“It’s a dragon. Did you ever see such a lousy little dragon?”
“A dragon! That’s a dragon?”
“I know, it was so tiny and weak. Thrown away with the fish heads. The sea must be awfully full of poisons these days.”
Sing Lin eyes the creature. “But there’s no such thing as a dragon. Not really.”
Kwai Yin whips around, her eyes flashing. “Then what is that, I ask you? It is lung, the dragon, I’m telling you, one of the four Fabulous Creatures. Usually he’s bigger and stronger than ten oxen. And his roar! Usually his roar shakes the rooftops off castles. Usually he’s handsome and powerful and brave. Ignorant girl, don’t you know anything about the four Fabulous Creatures?”
Sing Lin shakes her head. Yet she will not stare at her toes, not now. She’s eager to learn. “Please tell me.”
“They are the Dragon, the Phoenix, the Unicorn, and the Tortoise,” Kwai Yin says in her imperious way, counting out the creatures on her fingers. “My Teacher taught me this, and many other things.” She adds in a voice not quite so proud, “I had a Teacher once, you know.”
She pulls Sing Lin away from the vile bin. Angling down from the balcony is buttress of iron scrollwork, which reaches halfway to the street. Kwai Yin slings her basket handles over her head, and leaps up, and seizes the scrollwork in her fist. She walks her feet up the wall, hooks her leg over the buttress, and straddles it, flushed and triumphant. Mounted on her perch, she leans down and holds out her hand. “Come on up. Let’s get some fresh air.”
Sing Lin slings her basket handles over her head, too, and leaps up, and seizes Kwai Yin’s hand. She walks up the wall, too. Kwai Yin pulls her onto the buttress, and they climb up onto the cool stone floor of the balcony. They sit with their legs sticking out beneath the egg-yolk yellow railing and dangle their feet, gazing down at Fish Alley.
Sing Lin is tingling with excitement and also with anxiety. She’s never done such a bold thing, climbing up on a stranger’s balcony. She glances over her shoulder. “What if the man who lives here comes home and finds us?”
“What if, you silly girl? Do you think he’s an ogre who will eat us?” She grabs Sing Lin’s arm and pretends she’s chewing on it, which makes Sing Lin laugh. “Stop being afraid of things that don’t matter. Now, listen. My Teacher said, the four Fabulous Creatures are manifestations of the Tao. Just loaded with so much luck you can’t even believe it.”
Sing Lin peers down at the little dead dragon. How could that could be lucky?
“They are rare and flighty things, the four Fabulous Creatures. You just don’t see a Fabulous Creature every day of the week.”
“I’ve never seen a dragon in my whole life. Not even a little one like that.”
Kwai Yin bobs her head. “Me, neither. My Teacher said, if ever you see a Fabulous Creature in the world, it means that the Tao is near. That the magic of the Tao will touch you.”
Sing Lin shivers with delight. “Magic!”
“Yes, but just look at that lousy little dragon. I see no Tao in Tangrenbu. I see no magic for mooie jai like you and me.”
Sing Lin does not want to be so easily discouraged. “But maybe magic will come!”
“Maybe.” Kwai Yin shrugs. “When did you come to Tangrenbu?”
“In the Year of the Tiger. The Swallow brought me here.”
There was a time when Sing Lin could not speak of that time at all. Of how her father sold her to a slaver in the seaport. Who sold her to the master of a clipper-ship named for a quick-winged bird. It didn’t seem right that a ship with a lovely name like the Swallow was a notorious slave ship, but so it was, carrying illegal human cargo from the old country to the new.
How grateful she’d been when they dragged her out of steerage and off the hellish ship into the cold sunlight of Tangrenbu. Grateful when they stripped off the filthy rags she’d worn for weeks. Grateful still when they stood her up, naked, on an auction block, and an auctioneer displayed her to a crowd of merchants. Grateful at last to go to Master for ten pieces of gold, plus five pounds shrimp. She is mooie jai, fated to serve at Master’s beck and call. She is grateful for one spicy fried shrimp with her boiled rice and greens.
She can say no more about the Swallow. What’s done is done.
“Oh ho, in the Year of the Tiger,” Kwai Yin is saying, her tone as tart as green oranges. “And how many celestial creatures did you count before the Tiger?”
Now Sing Lin grins. She likes this game of recounting the celestial creatures. She may not know anything about the four Fabulous Creatures, but the twelve celestial creatures, the creatures each of whom who rules over each year, these she knows well. Cook often asks her to recount the celestial creatures, too, and suddenly she realizes he has asked her this so she will remember how old she is. “I remember the Year of the Dog, but only a little because I was little.”
“Go on.”
“Then came the Boar, the Rat, and the Ox. Then the Tiger.”
“So you were five years old when your father sold you?”
Sing Lin says nothing. She cannot even say “yes,” though it’s true. “What about you?”
“Well, I can recount two more celestial creatures than you,” Kwai Yin says in her haughty way. “I saw the Monkey and the Rooster come and go long before the Year of the Dog.”
“Oh!” Sing Lin is delighted. Kwai Yin is two years older than her. Like a sister!
But Kwai Yin is stern, quizzing her further. “And after the Year of the Tiger?”
Sing Lin thinks carefully. “After the Tiger came the Hare.”
“Yes.”
“After the Hare came the Dragon.” She doesn’t want to look at the little dead dragon. “After the Dragon came the Snake. Oh, I’m afraid of snakes.”
“Now that is something to be afraid of. Once I picked up a sack of rice shipped in from the old country. And there, coiled underneath the sack, was the prettiest little piece of string, the color of a shining emerald. And do you know what that pretty little string was? It was a bamboo viper, the most deadliest snake in the whole world! If my master himself hadn’t pulled me away and killed it, I wouldn’t be here at all, talking to you.” She smiles at Sing Lin’s wide eyes. “Go on.”
“After the Snake came the Year of the Horse,” Sing Lin says cautiously. “Now it is the Year of the Ram.”
“Correct. And the new year coming?”
“The new year coming is the Year of the Monkey. I like the Monkey. He’s the Trickster. He likes to play games.” She improvises. “He’s the protector of bossy girls.”
“Yes, yes, very good.” Kwai Yin rewards her with a squeeze of her hand. “I was born in the Year of Monkey.”
“Then the new year coming will be your best lucky year!”
“Ho! Lots of luck, but who knows what kind.” A door suddenly bangs behind them. Kwai Yin cocks her head. “Oops, I hear the ogre. We better go!”
She swings herself over the railing, slides down the scrollwork, and leaps to the street–very much like a monkey. Sing Lin follows, clumsy with panic, banging her elbow hard on a strut of iron. There will be a bruise she will have to explain to Cook.
“Come on!” Kwai Yin says.
The girls dash away from the ogre, who is only a withered old man leaning over the yellow railing of his balcony with a perplexed look. They come to a breathless halt where the alley empties out onto Jasmine Avenue. A horse and hansom clatter by, and people stride by, too, clad in denim sahms or in the grand sweeping robes of merchants. Men, all of them men.
Men who stare at two mooie jai.
The girls press themselves against the wall of a dry goods shop, both alarmed, both trying to become invisible.
“I have seen twelve celestial animals come and go,” Kwai Yin says, shrinking from the traffic, her manner no longer so bold. “That’s why my master makes me eat salmon.”
Makes you!”
“Yes. Till my belly can hold no more, and sometimes I feel a little sick.”
Sing Lin cannot picture this tall, skinny girl eating so much salmon. For one thing, such rich meals have added no meat to the matchsticks she calls her arms and legs. Sing Lin should be glad Kwai Yin can feast so well on rich food her master insists that she eat. But her heart catches, like when she saw the salmon fishes dying. “Why does your master make you eat salmon till you’re sick?”
Kwai Yin says, cold and grim, “Because I must grow fat before I go to meet my fate.”
II
Phoenix
Sing Lin skips back to Master’s house, carrying two pounds of shrimp in her wicker basket and a handful of copper coins in change. More coins than you might think. After meeting Kwai Yin, she’s started feeling bolder herself. She smiled sweetly at the shrimp vendor instead of casting her eyes down and, in return, he gave her a very good price and a very nice smile of his own.
Cook, taking his ease in the servants’ quarters, his swollen ankle propped up on a cushion, counts out the coins. He glances up at her, startled, and parts his thin lips, revealing two fence rows of teeth stained brown by tobacco. Cook’s rendition of a smile. “Very good, girl. I tell Master you not so lazy, after all.”
“Thank you, Cook. Is there any other thing you wish?”
A tough little knotty man, like an oft-tied leather shoestring, Cook regards the whole world as if deciding how to skin and gut and slice and boil it. Sing Lin averts her eyes from him and keeps her own mouth from smiling. She’s fresh and rosy-cheeked, her hair disheveled from the sea wind, she’s unaccountably happy, and she knows Cook notices this. She knows he is speculating just exactly how she came up with the extra coins and is deciding whether or not he approves of her cleverness.
He doles out another dime from his leather purse.
Late sunlight slants over the western hills, casting long shadows over Tangrenbu. But the day is not yet done.
“Yes, another thing. Go to the sweetmeats shop and buy some sugar plums for Master’s dessert. And a coconut candy for you. But just one. And bring back change.”
“Yes, Cook.”
“And, for goodness sake, put something over your sahm.”
Cook lurches to his feet, and takes off his jacket, and pulls the garment over her shoulders. “Tuck up your hair, take a hat.” He knots her queue into a coil at the nape of her neck, jams his slouch hat over her head. The hat is way too big and smells of Cook’s sweat and his suety hair oil. She giggles, already too warm beneath the jacket and hat. Cook shakes his finger at her. “No laugh. You must pass for a boy. I made a mistake earlier today. I cannot send a girl like you alone into Tangrenbu.”
“Cook, why are there no mothers in Tangrenbu? Why no girls?”
He yanks the jacket over her scrawny chest. “The governors of the new country have passed laws. These laws say we cannot bring our wives or our daughters from the old country to Tangrenbu.”
“Why?”
“Because we came here to work and make a new life, but the governors and the people who live here do not want us to stay and make a new life after the work is done.”
Why?”
“You’re too old to ask why, why, why like a baby child.”
“But why?”
He buttons up the jacket all the way, from her neck to her thigh. “The governors fear us. If we cannot bring our families to Tangrenbu, the governors hope we will return to the old country when the work is done. But many of us cannot return. I cannot return to my wife and daughter. After all my work in Tangrenbu, I cannot save the fare for my sea passage. It would be better for me to make a new life here with my family and pay for their fare. I very much want that. But if I have no fare for myself, have can I provide fare for them?”
Sing Lin ponders that. “Cannot stay, yet cannot go. Cannot go back to family, cannot bring family here to settle down. Like a fish caught in a net, thrashing about.” She thinks of the dead dragon, but decides not to tell Cook about it. Beneath the tough nutshell of his face, she can discern the kernel of his sorrow.
“Yes. And so here we men must stay alone, in Tangrenbu. And here in Tangrenbu, there are only mooie jai and–” But now Cook claps his jaws shut.
Sing Lin is puzzled and a little frightened. “And who else, Cook?”
“And daughters of joy.”
That sounds lovely to Sing Lin’s ears. She’s reminded of Kwai Yin, of her own joy today. “Oh, I should like to meet a daughter of joy.”
“No, no! Never, never meet a daughter of joy.” Cook frowns and dark shapes move in his eyes. “You listen to me, girl. You must never go to Soot Alley. Never go to Bleak Place.”
One time, in the Year of the Snake, Sing Lin had walked with Cook past Bleak Place. It was a dreadful dark alley in a labyrinth of many such alleys in Tangrenbu. She recalls the strange, birdlike cries she’d heard when they passed by. She recalls how they’d seen men dragging something out of one of the shacks. A burlap sack that might have held the corpse of a large dog. How the men had tossed the sack onto the flatbed of a garbage wagon, and how Cook had made her hurry.
“Never, never go to those places,” Cook says and darkness moves in his voice. “For that is where the daughters of joy are kept hidden. You sabe?”
She isn’t sure if she understands, but she says, “I sabe.
And she sets out for sugar plums for Master’s dessert, plus one coconut candy for herself. She brings back the coins in change, which Cook takes, along with the candy. He splits the candy in two, giving her half, and pops the other half in his mouth. No matter. Half a coconut candy is well worth another taste of freedom.
*   *   *
To discover what Kwai Yin’s terrible fate is, Sing’s danger, Tao Magic, and the rest of the Four Fabulous Creatures, visit my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 for the full story of “Daughter of the Tao” and become a patron. Help me recover from the Attack and get access to delightful new and previously published stories, writing tips, book excerpts, movie reviews, original healthy recipes, and more!
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Just in time for the Chinese New Year on January 25, 2020.
In 1996, the (now-late) editor, writer, and my dear friend, Janet Berliner had a hot streak. She wrangled excellent deals for three anthologies with Big Publishers, for which she commissioned me to contribute stories, including a story for this anthology, Peter S, Beagle’s Immortal Unicorn.
Yes, that Peter S. Beagle who wrote The Last Unicorn, which got made into a successful fantasy animated movie in 1982. Peter and Jan had been friends going way back.
The gorgeous hardcover anthology was published by HarperPrism (a division of HarperCollins) in 1996, then also in a mass paperback edition, and in several foreign countries.
Jan’s proposal to me (once again) could not have come at a better time. I’d recently finished The Gilded Age, a time travel which takes place in 1895 and in 2395, as well as Celestial Girl, A Lily Modjeska Mystery, a four mini-book series and a passionate historical mystery which takes place exclusively in 1895. I was conversant in the Chinese presence in America and ancient Chinese mythology.
The project was ably suited (once again) to my resources at hand. I wanted to write about a Chinese unicorn, not the conventional European mythical creature, but I first started with the Thames and Hudson beautiful large-format paperback, Unicorn, which, lavishly illustrated, covers just about all of the European mythology. Then, too, the dependable J.E. Cirlot’s A Dictionary of Symbols, which covers symbols and their meanings among all cultures worldwide. Yes, there’s an extensive entry for unicorn.
But I specifically wanted a Chinese unicorn, and so I turned to C.A.S. Williams’ Outlines of Chinese Symbolism & Art Motives. The Chinese unicorn has a specially nuanced meaning, a “Dragon Horse,” and is one the Four Celestial Creatures. You’ll have to read the story to find out what the other Creatures are. No other author in the anthology had a Chinese unicorn! And other authors included Charles de Lint, Karen Joy Fowler, Robert Sheckley, and Ellen Kushner.
Here’s what one reader had to say about “Daughter of the Tao”:
5.0 out of 5 stars
A beautiful novella!
“The characters in this little book jumped off the page and you really cared what happened to them. It is a rare talent that can do that so well! This was a compelling tale of a girl sold into slavery as her culture allowed. I found myself hooked from the very first page as I followed her through the twists and turns of her life. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a character-based story with a touch of magic and fantasy to it!”
To read “Daughter of the Tao”, please join my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 and become a patron. Help me recover from the violent criminal Attack on me and you’ll get access to delightful new and previously published stories, writing tips, book excerpts, movie reviews, original healthy recipes, and more!
Visit me at www.lisamason.com for all my books, ebooks, stories, and screenplays, worldwide links, covers, reviews, interviews, blogs, round-tables, adorable cat pictures, forthcoming works, fine art and bespoke jewelry by my husband Tom Robinson, and more

MysteryCoverSmall

In 1996, the (now-late) editor, writer, and my dear friend, Janet Berliner had a hot streak. She wrangled excellent deals for three anthologies with Big Publishers, for which she commissioned me to contribute three stories, including this one for the anthology, David Copperfield’s Tales of the Impossible.
Yes, that David Copperfield, the handsome stage magician who appeared frequently on television in the 1990s and has a long-running show in Las Vegas (still, I think). From the San Francisco Bay Area where I met her, Jan had moved to Las Vegas, crossed paths with David, and convinced him (she could be very convincing) to put his name on the anthology. He contributed a story, as well.
The gorgeous hardcover anthology was published by HarperPrism (a division of HarperCollins) in 1996, then also in a mass paperback edition, and in several foreign countries.
Jan’s proposal could not have come at a better time. I’d recently finished The Gilded Age, a time travel which takes place in 1895 and in 2395, as well as Celestial Girl, A Lily Modjeska Mystery, a four mini-book series and a passionate historical mystery which takes place exclusively in 1895. I was conversant in that time period in San Francisco and I was fluent in my Victorian voice, which is a bit different from my modern voice(s).
The project was also ably suited to my resources at hand.
It turns out that Tom Robinson, the abstract symbolist artist and studio jeweler (and my husband), was fascinated by stage magic as a boy growing up in Los Angeles. He collected stage magic magazines and books, acquired magic tricks from a local curio shop, and invented a few tricks himself.
He and a friend were wandering through their neighborhood in the Los Angeles hills when they came upon a fence surrounding a warehouse. In the backyard were placards and instruments and strange devices. Tom recognized them at once. “Those are stage magic tricks!” He hopped over the fence and met John Guaghan, the premier stage magic illusion-builder in the world, purveyor to Blackstone and probably to the young David Copperfield. Tom worked for Guaghan while he was still a teenager in high school, building and decorating stage magic illusions.
he opening quotation of “Every Mystery Unexplained” (and the title) is from one of Tom’s magic books and the ebook cover of “The Great Socar”, a stage magician from India, is a charming illustration from one of Tom’s carefully preserved magazines.
My story, “Every Mystery Unexplained”, is the only stage magic story in Tales of the Impossible. I expected other authors to turn in stage magic stories, but they didn’t. Mine is the only one!
Here’s what one critic had to say:
“This is the type of story I was hoping for from these anthologies: a blend of fiction and magic history . . .  Mason knows her magic history (the title is from a Harry Kellar quote) and she knows San Francisco. My favorite story of the year!”
-Katherine Nabity, The Writerly Reader
To read the complete story of “Every Mystery Unexplained”, join my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206. Thank you for your help while I recover from the Attack. I’ve posted delightful new and previously published stories, book excerpts, writing tips, movie reviews, original healthy recipes, and more!
Donate a tip from your PayPal account to lisasmason@aol.com.
Visit me at www.lisamason.com for all my books, ebooks, stories, and screenplays, worldwide links, covers, reviews, interviews, blogs, round-tables, adorable cat pictures, forthcoming works, fine art and bespoke jewelry by my husband Tom Robinson, and more!

This story was commissioned by Katharine Kerr for her anthology, The Shimmering Door: Sorcerers and Shamans, Witches and Warlocks, Enchanters and Spell-Casters, Magicians and Mages, and published by HarperPrism in 1996. The anthology includes so many wonderful writers of fantasy, I can’t type all the names. I’m pleased and honored to be among them.
The Hanged Man
Lisa Mason
There is no such thing as magic in telespace. Telespace is the aggregated correlation of five billion minds worldwide, uploaded into a computer-generated virtual reality. In a word, technology. And technology is scientific. Provable. Repeatable. Logical.
Whereas, magic. Well, magic is superstition. The belief that supernatural forces exist. That you can contact them, these supernatural forces. Manipulate them. Command them. But that’s an illusion, all right? You cannot depend on magic.
So Snap was outraged when a Hanged Man popped out of nowhere in the industrial telespace he was jacked into. “Damn telespace! Crashing again?” He’d been wrestling with a recalcitrant code and muttering to himself. He would never finish the TeleSystems infrastructure proposal if telespace crashed again.
Sometimes you cannot depend on technology, either.
A gruesome sight he was, too. Snap had never seen such a thing. Not some purple-faced, black-tongued, bug-eyed corpse throttled at the neck and dangling as hanged men do. Snap could have dealt with that. He would have thought Chickeeta was pecking at the resolution switch again. Was it Halloween? Snap had jacked in for three days straight, burning hypertime on the infrastructure proposal. For a moment, he couldn’t remember what month this was. What day. Dawn or dusk.
No, the Hanged Man dangled from his foot, his long, golden hair streaming down. A noose bound his right ankle. His left leg was crossed behind his right knee. His arms were trussed behind his back. He wore scarlet leggings, an azure jacket. And the Hanged Man was alive. He gazed at Snap with lucid, sorrowful eyes. His expression of silent agony was terrifying.
Then ping! he was gone.
Fear prickled through Snap’s telelink. He felt nauseated and dizzy, like the time some mooner had bumped the back of his motortrike in the gridlock and nearly killed him. Black streaks oozed in his perimeters. He dropped the code, which landed on the floor of the industrial telespace with a resounding plop and lay there, gelatinous as a jellyfish out of water.
“So help me,” Snap muttered, an expression he’d picked up from Chickeeta. “Whip you into shape later,” he promised the limp code.
Snap talked to himself a lot these days. He’d been ungainfully employed as a freelance telelinker ever since he’d been downsized out of a steady job with a utilities company two years ago. Except for a rented friend who’d been hired for three days because Snap couldn’t afford a longer term, he lived alone with Chickeeta. He saved the three days’ work on the TeleSystems infrastructure proposal to his backup drive, praying that the drive had enough space.
Praying. Now there’s some magic for you.
He jacked out of telespace.
And found himself strapped into the workstation tucked in his shabby studio apartment a story above the gravity dancing club deep in the wilds of the nightclub district. What the gravity dancers lacked in technical skill, they more than made up for in charm. Snap himself never patronized the club, but he often saw the dancers crowded around the front door, sneaking a smoke of this or that. Flashing gap-toothed grins, they lingered there in their fourth-hand danceskins and retreaded athletic shoes.
Snap’s studio apartment was not the kind of place to show your grandmother, but he liked it fine. Plus the price was right for a freelance telelinker. Snap unclipped the straps, cut the electro-neural. Feeling like three loads of dirty laundry, he dragged himself out of the workstation. Swigged a can of tweaked Coke. Threw open the window shade.
The damp chill and glimmer behind the eastern hills told him maybe four-thirty, maybe five a.m. Chickeeta huddled by the wallboard heater, eking out a bit of warmth, and glanced at him with glossy eyespots that always seemed too wise. Or wise-ass.
“Hey, idiot, where’ve you been?” Chickeeta said, ruffling its plumes. “I want to live, I want to dance, I want to cha-cha-cha.” Chickeeta let loose a tremendous shriek, then muttered, “So help me, ol’ salty boy.”
Snap grinned. He’d acquired the microbot from one of the sailors who frequented his lovely neighborhood. The sailor had mooned out in back of the club next to the door that led up to Snap’s studio. Someone had relieved the sailor of just about everything but the shirt on his back and the microbot.
Snap let the sailor sleep it off upstairs, gave him a pair of jeans and a ten-credit disk. For that small favor, the sailor gave Snap the microbot. A tiny, graceful entity with a bright copper head, anodized emerald aluminum plumes, and a silver rotary propeller extruding from its slender spine.
The exchange with the sailor turned out to be a good deal. Snap had the microbot appraised and discovered it could fetch up to five thousand credits through classy first-hand markets. Wow! But when a potential buyer responded to his telespace posting, Snap had to admit he didn’t want to sell, after all.
He’d grown attached to Chickeeta. The microbot was a pretty little thing. Smart. Sassy. Always nagging him. And at least Snap could complain to someone—something—other than himself.
Snap finished the tweaked Coke, which lessened the pounding in his head, sweetened the sourness in his stomach. A decent deal. He shuffled to the fridge. A small glacier calved out of the freezer. Down below, the fridge held the withered wrapper from a toner cartridge and half an organic apple that had seen better days.
Snap shredded the wrapper for Chickeeta. Sliced the apple for himself. Boiled tap water, mixed up instant coffee. Which could have been dishwater except it was black.
“You look like hell, amigo,” Chickeeta said, seizing wrapper shreds in its beak. The microbot processed metals and motor oil, automatically repairing its internal hardware.
“Tell me about it,” Snap muttered. “So help me.”
“Heh, heh, heh, so help me,” Chickeeta said. “Yeeeek!
An anomaly, that’s what the Hanged Man was. Snap sighed and sipped coffee. The brew tasted like freeway grit, but the caffeine wended its way to his exhausted brain. An anomaly. He’d heard of them, of course. Who hadn’t? The Hanged Man’s eyes were glossed with some awesome emotion, a strange intelligence that Snap couldn’t place at all. He shivered. Anomalies were random manifestations in telespace, erratic bits of electro-neural energy. Anomalies could never be completely deleted, not even with all those terabytes of artificial intelligence.
Yes, but telespace was technology. Technology was science. You could depend on science. Couldn’t you?
The Hanged Man meant Snap’s telelink was whacked. He didn’t know how it happened, but he had to get himself fixed. And fast. The TeleSystems infrastructure proposal had a deadline. He was depending on landing this gig. He tried to cast away the thought of his debts stacking up, the rent due in a week, his empty fridge. His unemployment compensation had long since expired. He would wind up on the street if he didn’t land this gig.
Snap stroked the microbot’s gleaming back. Chickeeta nuzzled his elbow. If Snap were to give up Chickeeta on the street, bargain and sell the microbot, he’d be no better off than the sailor in the alley. He’d be without Chickeeta. He’d be no good at all.
“Gotta go downtown, big bopper,” Snap said, draining the last drops of the coffee.
“What’s happenin,’ massa?”
Microbots cannot really understand concepts, Snap reminded himself. They don’t have much memory, let alone intelligence. They just repeat routines they’ve learned.
“Need to check with Data Control. Ah, what am I saying. You don’t really know what I mean, right?”
Chickeeta winked. Or maybe the microbot just had to clean a speck of dust on its eyespot.
“I won’t be long,” Snap added, just in case.
Chickeeta ruefully picked at the shredded wrapper. The microbot was looking rather scruffy lately. So was Snap.
“I’ll get some decent grub for us, too, okay? I’ll charge it, what the hell.”
Microbots can’t smile, either, but a grin curved Chickeeta’s beak. “Charge it, what the hell, heh, heh, heh!”
*   *   *
The gridlock idled downtown, emitting a filthy haze over the morning. The toiling masses were decked out in their facemasks and oxygen tanks. Since the air-borne San Joaquin fever caused a half million deaths in the city last year and toxic fumes claimed nearly another million, masks and tanks had become a necessity, despite escalating robberies and police protests.
To read the rest of “The Hanged Man” and find out how Snap solves his problem, the woman he meets who changes his life, and an Afterword about the story’s setting, please join Join my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 and support me while I recover from the Attack. I’ve got lots of goodies for you there—more stories, recipes, movie reviews, book excerpts—with more on the way.
Donate a tip from your PayPal account to lisasmason@aol.com.
Visit me at www.lisamason.com for all my books, ebooks, stories, and screenplays, worldwide links, covers, reviews, interviews, blogs, round-tables, adorable cat pictures, forthcoming works, fine art and bespoke jewelry by my husband Tom Robinson, and more!

10.18.17.3.ATHENA.IN.BOX_NEW

About Me
I’ve published eleven novels including Summer of Love, a Philip K. Dick Award Finalist and San Francisco Recommended Book of the Year, The Gilded Age, a New York Times Notable Book and a New York Public Library Recommended Book, a collection of previously published fiction, Strange Ladies: 7 Stories, three screenplays, and forty stories and novellas in magazines and anthologies worldwide. My Omni story, “Tomorrow’s Child”, sold outright as a feature film in 2001 to Universal Pictures. But that sale occurred eighteen years ago. Will the movie ever happen? Who knows? I’m working on a new screenplay for it.
I live in the San Francisco Bay area with my artist husband, Tom Robinson, and our Siamese-Angora cat (a breed otherwise known as a rag doll). Athena.
CHROME is my new speculative fiction novel.
Why Patreon?
Books take me years to research and write. Stories, even, may take months. If I try to rush, the result never comes out good.
I wish I could have written hundreds of books and stories like some other authors. But I can’t. I have too much respect for you, the reader, and for the work itself. The work is my legacy. The work will last long after I’m gone.
When a writer sells a book to a traditional publisher, typically that writer signs up for a modest advance against which a miniscule percentage of earnings are charged before the publisher pays out a royalty—every six months. When a writer, rebelling against the System as so many traditionally published writers have, goes to publish independently, there’s a huge personal investment in production, distribution, and promotion.
But I’m not on Patreon to complain that the lives of writers and artists is difficult. You can read such complaints anywhere. And they’re legitimate complaints—that’s why Patreon exists.
No, I’m on Patreon because something terrible and unexpected happened to me.
On July 11, 2018, I was walking around Lake Merritt on a sunny afternoon, with the dog-walkers, the moms and baby strollers, the bicyclists and joggers, as I’ve done virtually every day since 1996—rain or shine, hot or cold, summer or winter, three and a half miles—when a man jumped out of the bushes and confronted me on the sidewalk.
He tried to beat me up, I fended him off, then he shoved me into two lanes of oncoming traffic on the street. To avoid plunging into the traffic, I backpedaled with my feet, and fell on the concrete curb.
The police apprehended him after he assaulted several other people around lake. From the back of an ambulance, I identified him.
Then I went off in the ambulance to a big urban hospital where I underwent three hours of surgery under general anesthetic for a fractured hip and a broken thigh.
Now it’s a year later and I can’t walk like I did before. Half a mile to the market and back takes nearly an hour. I can’t walk three miles daily to my publishing office, where I earned a good salary. I can no longer walk around the lake, which I miss terribly. The Attack has inflicted me—a former ballet dancer, a swimmer, and an athlete—with a partial disability, daily pain, a nasty limp, and nastier scars. Other health complications may be ensuing.
That’s why Patreon.
I’m prepared to give you, my wonderful Patrons, in exchange for your Sustenance, my best efforts on a monthly basis.
For the September 2019 Tier One, Essential Sustenance, I posted a tribute to my late friend and Japanese translator, Yoshio Kobayashi, my recipe for California Spicy Rice, and my movie review of “Can You Ever Forgive Me?
For Tier Two, Vital Sustenance, I posted a delightful urban fantasy, “Crawl Space,” a spin-off story from my novel, The Garden of Abracadabra, an Introduction to the story, and Afterword about the extensive research I undertook for this 4,000-word story, and the September Writer’s Tip about inadvertent repetition in your writing. (August 2019 was a lovely cat fantasy, “Crazy Chimera Lady.”)
On Tier Three, Necessary Sustenance, I posted Excerpt 2 from my new SF novel, CHROME. (August 2019 was Excerpt 1.) Also I posted to the public the first five-star review.
I’m making changes to Tier Four, Nutritious Sustenance, and adding Tier Five, Delicious Sustenance. I’ll tell you about that tomorrow or the next day.
Join my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 and support me while I recover from the Attack. I’ve got lots of goodies for you there with more on the way.
Donate from your PayPal account to lisasmason@aol.com. Even a tiny tip will help!
Visit me at www.lisamason.com for all my books, ebooks, stories, and screenplays, worldwide links, covers, reviews, interviews, blogs, round-tables, adorable cat pictures, forthcoming works, fine art and bespoke jewelry by my husband Tom Robinson, and more!

10.18.17.3.ATHENA.IN.BOX_NEW

The August Lisa Mason Story
I first told this true story, event by event, on Facebook .and received such expressions of worried suspense and relief, delight and enjoyment that I was inspired to write the lovely story below, taken one fantasy level above reality.
Some time before we adopted Athena, we saw the outstanding documentary, “The Elephant in the Living Room,” about people who are compelled to keep wild animals and the wild animals that often live near—and endanger—our civilized homes (think huge serpents, mountain lions). I have to wonder about our domesticated cats and dogs, who sometimes still have one paw in the jungle, and why we love them so.
“Crazy Chimera Lady”
Lisa Mason
“It’s now or never,” Thomas says as we breathe the scent of lavender perfuming our garden. “We should adopt another chimera. And soon.”
“Before we get too much older and have to worry about the chimera outliving you and me?” I sip my chilled chardonnay.
“Yes.” My husband contemplates his cabernet sauvignon. Thomas prefers red, I prefer white. In the two-hundred-forty-five chimera years of our marriage, we’ve never had a wine fight. We’ve both come to think about time in chimera years. It has made us feel closer to them. “And so? What do you think?”
Midnight after a productive day. I’ve woven half a tapestry commissioned by a wealthy coder. Thomas has carved a dozen gemstones for a day-trader who, despite her abrasive manners, always pays in full and on time.
“I don’t know.” I sigh. It’s been fifty-six long chimera years since Alana died at the age of a hundred-twenty-six. A good long life for an ivory-wing, a breed not known for its longevity. Six chimera years earlier, Luna had died. We didn’t know Luna’s age when we adopted her from the animal shelter, but she was a blue-wing, which is a long-lived breed. She probably had been older than Alana.
After fourteen chimera years, the grief for my girls eventually subsided. Became a distant ache rather than tears streaming down my face while I slept. Now I’m not sure I can watch another beloved chimera grow from clutchling to full-fledged to oldster and die. Which they do. Usually before we do.
“I’ve loved chimeras since I was a kid,” my husband argues. “My dad always had a clutch of seal-wings in the house. I want a chimera again, Susan, I really do.  Before it would be irresponsible of us to adopt.”
“We’re having this conversation now that we’re four-hundred-thirty-four chimera years old?” I joke. “Not when we were two-hundred-ten?”
“Yes.” Maybe Thomas is in such a serious mood because we’ve just executed our wills, powers of attorney, and all those other fun documents that force you to contemplate your own mortality. That’s not something you do when you’re two-hundred-ten, either. “Now or never, for the rest of our lives.”
“Never, then,” I whisper.
He chooses to ignore that. “I wish you’d search the Web one more time.”
It’s not as if I haven’t. Though I’ve searched only for another ivory-wing like Alana—golden eyes, plumy white tail, white feathery wings. I’d found such an enchanted creature thirty-five chimera years ago. But she was—as her foster mom honestly admitted—a biter. My seal-wing, Sita, had been a biter. Blue-eyed and beautiful, with fawn-colored wings and paws, Sita had often made my life difficult. I was a university student, then a graduate weaver looking for a husband. She’d left a scar across my left hand.
I couldn’t have a biter who looked like my gentle Alana. That would have been too hard. I had to let that chimera go.
Going on Facebook hasn’t helped. Everyone, it seems, has a beloved domesticated chimera. Posts adorable photos and videos. Chimeras snoozing in the sun. Chimeras leaping in and out of crates. Chimeras flapping happily in aviaries, fetching Frisbees. The big wild chimeras, in zoos and wildlife preserves, have their own photo opps, too. Frolicking with their clutchlings in grasslands. Soaring over mountaintops.
A Facebook friend, a weaver in Australia, started posting photos of the silver-stripe clutchlings she’d rescued from a parking lot in Sidney, and I found myself straying into the pet supplies aisle at Whole Foods. Sure enough, the Whole Paws label offers high-quality canned chimera food and bagged kibbles with a low ash content. No soy, corn, grain, or dairy. Just whole ground rabbit fortified with B-6, calcium, and other vitamins and minerals.
Rabbit—not fish, fowl, or deer—is a chimera’s food of choice in the wild. Rabbits are the reason farmers domesticated chimeras centuries ago and bred down their size. Which is fine with me. If you think rabbits are cute, you’ve never tried to grow vegetables. There’s nothing cute about ravenous lagomorphs gnawing your carrots and spinach into mulch.
I push back my patio chair, go inside to the computer. “If it’ll make you happy,” I tell Thomas, “I’ll search now.”
“It’ll make me very happy,” my husband says and follows me.
I log onto the Web, go to the usual websites—Ebay, the Tri-County Society for the Protection of Chimeras, and Purebred Chimeras Rescue. Thomas stands behind my chair, leaning over the screen.
“Oh?” I click on an Ebay listing for a blue-eyed, blue-wing clutchling. “Damn! Her breeder is up in Redding. You must be kidding me.”
“What is that, a four-hour drive from Piedmont?”
“Try five, and that’s just one way. This won’t work. I can’t see ten hours on the freeway to adopt a chimera, no matter how sweet she looks.”
Thomas brings me my glass of wine. “Keep searching.”
Tri-County has hundreds of listings of the usual domesticated chimeras. Though they look appealing and desperately need homes, we can’t find a likely candidate. We’ve both been raised with seal-wings. For the last chimera we will probably ever own, we want an exotic.
I go to Purebred Chimeras Rescue. The website has three pages of promising exotics, but they’re all males. Ara, our flame-wing who died sixty-three chimera years ago, had been a lovely boy chimera, but he didn’t have that loving maternal instinct which, in my experience, all female chimeras possess. The last chimera we will ever own has to be a girl.
Then there she is.
Baby Blue is a nine-month-old clutchling surrendered by an ailing, aging breeder to the San Jose SPOC. Purebred Chimeras Rescue took her from San Jose to their headquarters in Davis for registration, then to a vet in Salinas where she was de-wormed, given surgery under anesthetic to spay her, treated for fleas and lice, and given the full battery of vaccinations. From Salinas, PCR took her to Chimera Hill in Santa Cruz for adopting out.
“Born and bred in cages and carrying crates all her life,” Thomas says, “with a history like that.”
“Yes.” I frown. “They’re calling her a blue-wing mix, but look. She looks like a lilac-wing bred with an ivory-wing.”
“They must have named her Baby Blue on account of her eyes.”
Oh, her eyes! Her slanted, almond-shaped eyes are the color of a cloudless summer sky. Her description says she’s shy. Fearful of people. She struggles to escape when a human handles her. Possibly, the description says, she will be a problem chimera. A biter. A clawer. A potential killer.
You see that now and then on the Web. A chimera kills her human.
In the shelter’s four photos, Baby Blue looks shy and fearful and gorgeous. She looks like Luna and Alana miraculously combined into one chimera. A blue-eyed ivory-wing with a lilac face-mask, artistic splotches of lilac on her silky white coat and wings, and a plumy lilac tail.
My fingertips hesitate on the keyboard. “What do you think?”
“Fill out the application,” Thomas says. “Do it, Susan.”
“A problem chimera?”
“She’s young. We can train her.” He adds, “She needs us.”
I feverishly navigate through the website. “You know, it will be a lot of extra work, caring for a chimera again. Just when our businesses are doing so well. Our careers transitioning into Act Two.”
I can picture who will take care of the chimera. Clean her eyes, trim her talons, floss her fangs, brush her coat, comb her wing feathers, feed her rabbit meat, change her drinking water, clean her litter box, take her out into the aviary, toss around chimera toys, ooh and aah.
That will be me.
Thomas looks at me. “I’ll take care of her, too. I promise.”
“It’s till death do us part. When she dies, we’ll be a whole lot closer to our own deaths. Are you prepared for that?”
“Absolutely. I’ll work harder than ever on the gemstones. Please, Susan.”
I click on “Apply.”
The application asks a lot of nosy questions. Are we married? Do we rent or own our home? Do we have children living there? How about other animals? Are we financially secure? What is our estimate of an acceptable veterinarian bill for medical services? Do we have heirs or other arrangements for the chimera if anything happens to us? Do we know how to train a chimera? What is our position on neutering, de-taloning, de-fanging, wing-clipping?
Neutering, yes. Everything else, no.
The application requires that we provide two local personal references and their phone numbers. It’s sobering and a little saddening to realize that, at four-hundred-thirty-four chimera years, Thomas and I don’t have a lot of local references. Friends have died or moved away. We’ve each run our independent businesses for a hundred-seventy-five chimera years, deal with gallery owners and clients and agents, but don’t have business partners or employees. Thomas’ parents and step-parents died many chimera years ago, as have mine. His cousins live in Washington State, my only sibling in Colorado.
I understand, I suppose. Purebred Chimeras Rescue is serious about adopting out chimeras to legitimate people. Not to people who would adopt an exotic chimera, then resell her for three times the price. Or de-talon and de-fang and clip her wings. Or sell her to a research laboratory. Or sacrifice her in some satanic ritual.
I shudder to think of it.
We’ve got Stuart as a local reference. Stuart is my tech guy at General Computer Store who replaced the motherboard on my aging Dell. And we’ve got Yoshio, a recluse who’s lived in our neighborhood for two-hundred-and-one chimera years. Yoshio owns a hundred-forty-year-old blue-eyed blue-wing. This last March, he asked us to feed, water, medicate, and fly her while he went off on his annual hike in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. We gladly did.
I electronically sign and send the application. “When I was at the university,” I tell Thomas, “I saw an ad for Sita in the Ann Arbor Gazette. I drove to a farm outside of town, handed over ten bucks, and left with my clutchling, fleas and all. No questions asked.”
“It’s a different world,” Thomas agrees.
The next morning a woman emails me. She identifies herself as Gwyneth from Purebred Chimeras Rescue, asks for my phone number and when is a good time to call for an interview.
An interview? Yes. She informs me that twelve other people have applied for Baby Blue. That we shouldn’t be too disappointed if we don’t get her.
“What?” I shout at Thomas. “We finally find a chimera who could be our last and they’re playing games?”
“Send her another email,” Thomas says. “Insist. You’re good at insisting.”
I send Gwyneth another email reiterating how much we want this chimera. I beg and plead. I send the Web address of my weaver’s website, which features two pages of Luna and Alana, two pages of my husband’s carved gemstones, and twenty pages of my award-winning tapestries. A photo of Thomas and me on our wedding day. A photo of me holding Alana in our kitchen. Her furry white arms wrapped lovingly around my shoulders, plumy white tail curled around my waist, white wings fluttering. Thomas took it, one of those once-in-a-lifetime photos you cherish forever.
Gwyneth calls exactly at three in the afternoon.
“So you were this hot-shot industrial weaver and you left it all to make art?” she begins. For someone who wants to adopt out a chimera for a hefty fee—two thousand dollars, cash or check, no credit cards—her tone sounds  a bit belligerent.
My story is no secret. I’ve laid out my checkered life on my Bio page. “Yep,” I say amiably. “I love the craft of weaving. I just didn’t fit into an industrial setting.”
If she thought I was going to pull an attitude, apparently she doesn’t think so anymore. “I know exactly what you mean,” she replies. “I’m an architect myself, but I didn’t like dealing with clients. Now I run a boarding facility for chimeras. Go figure.”
“Which is amazing,” I say and mean it. I looked up Chimera Hill on Facebook. Found photos of a clapboard house beneath a giant avocado tree. Gwyneth is expanding the house, constructing aviaries adjacent to the cages so the chimeras can stretch their wings in the sunlight. “Really amazing.”
She gives a little chimera-like trill. Quizzes me about my previous chimeras. Had Sita, the biter, been de-taloned? Yes, she had. Vets did that in those unenlightened days. Now they won’t because it’s cruel.
“Oh, some vets still de-talon,” Gwyneth snaps. “That’s probably why Sita became a biter. Talons are a chimera’s first defense in the wild.”
“That’s a good point. Extract the talons, and the chimera has to resort to her fangs.”
“Exactly.” Gwyneth sounds pleased. “Do you understand about chimera nutrition? You and your husband look like New-Agey types.”
She’s baiting me. “I totally understand. Chimeras are obligate carnivores.” I recently stumbled upon this term in a chimera magazine. I’m happy to trot it out now.
“Obligate carnivores,” Gwyneth echoes as if she’s never heard the term before, either, but will use it to good advantage with some hapless interviewee in the future. “How do you feel about adopting a female chimera? Some people think they’re inferior to males.”
“Oh, no! We definitely want a female.”
“Okay.” A rustle of papers on her end. ”Just so you know, we’re keeping Baby Blue in a cage with two males. When the vet spayed her two weeks ago, she wasn’t pregnant.”
I don’t like the sound of that. I don’t want our chimera staying in that cage one more night. “I’ll come and get Baby Blue tomorrow.”
“I’ll pencil you in for Saturday.” Gwyneth is paying for the long-distance call but that doesn’t mean she’s allowed to bully me.
“Gwyneth, Saturday is the Fourth of July. Traffic will be hellish up to Santa Cruz. Drunk drivers?”
“Yeah, but tomorrow’s not good.” More rustling of papers. “Our reference checker has to teach class tomorrow. How about Thursday?”
They’re actually going to call Stuart and Yoshio? “Thursday, it is. I will be there for my chimera and I will see you then.” I’m not taking no for an answer.
“I’ll email you directions. Is Thomas coming with you?” Her tone turns coy. “His gemstones are beautiful.”
So she has given our website a going-over. How many of the other twelve applicants have a website with two pages of chimera pictures? “Nope. Thomas will be taking the chimera tree out of storage. And the water bowls and food bowls and chimera toys. And staking up the aviary in the backyard. Our new chimera will be the heiress to the bounty of our chimeras past.”
“Wonderful,” she trills. “But I do hope Thomas will come. I’d love to meet him. He’s really cute.”
I smile. “Yes, he is.”
For the rest of the brand-new August Lisa Mason cat fantasy story, join Tier 2 on my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206.
Donate from your PayPal account to lisasmason@aol.com. Thank you!
Visit me at www.lisamason.com for all my books, ebooks, stories, and screenplays, reviews, interviews, blogs, roundtables, adorable cat pictures, forthcoming works, fine art and bespoke jewelry by my husband Tom Robinson, worldwide links, and more!