This is not quite the most submissions we have ever received in a window (that was 1938 in January 2021), but it is the most authors we’ve received submissions from and the most submissions we’ve received since we reduced the number of allowed submissions per author from 2 to only 1.
This window did take longer than we usually like them to take to fully resolve–a little over 3 months after the end of submission window. I think we should ask for some additional volunteers to join the first reader team–we haven’t done a volunteer run for a few years and as people get busy some of them step down or scale back so we’ll probably need to build the group back up again periodically.
For this submission window we welcomed two new assistant editors: Chelle Parker and Hal Y. Zhang, who helped resolve submissions and helped make the final selections listed below. They join the assistant editor team of Ziv Wities and Kel Coleman.
This window marked a few changes:
1. This is the first window we’ve run since generative “AI” was available enough that people were routinely using it to write fiction. In response the guidelines were updated to ask writers not to submit fiction written using it, the submission form asked writers to affirm that they did not use these programs in writing their work, and for writers who received acceptances the contract required them to state that as well. 2. We had previously had a “Withdraw” status in the system, but the status could only be set by the editor so the writer would have to email the editors to ask to have it withdrawn. In this window we added the ability to “self-serve” a withdrawal. This was added partway through the window so not everyone saw it. When the confirmation email gets sent it includes a withdrawal link that the author can use to withdraw on their own without needing to contact the editor. 3. We added a “Rewrite Request” functionality in the last few days. We occasionally did rewrite requests before but they were done completely apart from the system by email. Now rewrite requests are supported in the system with an official status. When the email is sent for the rewrite request, it copies the requesting editor and assistant editor so the writer can reply to ask questions or discuss. It also provides the author with a one-time link they can use to submit the rewrite. This link can be used even when there is no open window. If a writer submits during an open window the rewrite using this link doesn’t count against their submission limit for the window.
We accepted 25 stories from this general submission window (one of which we announced separately and already published due to time constraints)
These stories will all be published in 2023-2024; I look forward to sharing them with you!
And here is the list, in alphabetical order by author name:
Level One: Blowtorch by Jared Oliver Adams
St. Thomas Aquinas Administers the Turing Test by Mary Berman
The Offer of Peace Between Two Worlds by Renan Bernardo
The Lighthouse Keeper by Melinda Brasher
It Clings by Hammond Diehl
Ten Easy Steps To Destroying Your Enemies This Arbor Day by Rachael K. Jones
Hold the Sea Inside by Erin Keating
Batter and Pearl by Steph Kwiatkowski
The Gaunt Strikes Again by Rich Larson
Six-Month Assessment of Miracle-Fresh by Anne Liberton
Phantom Heart by Charlie B. Lorch
A Descending Arctic Excavation of Us by Sara S. Messenger
Song for a Star-Whale’s Ghost by Devin Miller
Eternal Recurrence by Spencer Nitkey
Letters From Mt. Monroe Elementary, Third Grade by Sarah Pauling
The Geist and/in/as the Boltzmann Brain by M. J. Pettit
In Tandem by Emilee Prado
Bone Talker, Bone Eater by D. S. Ravenhurst
Dreamwright Street by Mike Reeves-McMillan
This Week in Clinical Dance: Urgent Care at the Hastings Center by Lauren Ring
BUDDY RAYMOND’S NO-BULLSHIT GUIDE TO DRONE HUNTING by Gillian Secord
How to Kill the Giant Living Brain You Found In Your Mother’s Basement After She Died by Alex Sobel
They Are Dancing by John Stadelman
In the Shelter of Ghosts (already posted at the time this announcement is posted) by Risa Wolf
Content note (click for details)Content note: parental loss, wounds, face scars
When the mediums arrive, I don’t notice their scars. It’s their machine that grabs my attention, all pointed glass bulbs, copper wires, and metal rods. Like a four-foot square vacuum tube radio. I rub the belt buckle hidden in my tunic pocket as the six women in gray robes lug the machine up my gravel driveway.
They approach the house frame I’ve erected, set up where Dad’s old house once stood. They place the machine on a slate slab I’ve set up by what I hope will be the front door. I uncap my electrical source as one of the mediums puts on ceramic-weave gloves to connect to the leads. I tamp down a flare of worry, reminding myself that I’d just recharged the lead-acid battery at the solar station and redid its plant latex cover a few days ago.
After the machine is humming, the women look directly at me, and my stomach drops. All of them have scars around their eyes. One has deep pink lines through her crow’s feet into her temples; one has swirls like the silt in a riverbed along her cheekbones.
A voice breaks into my reverie. “— even if the séance works, Rory, your father might not want to save your house,” the medium in front says. “The dead are in a restful place, and some don’t want to leave.”
I’ve blanked out again. I debate asking her to repeat herself, but I know the pros and cons. Entity houses are part of my job.
The Housing Authority was a thick stone building that squatted like a pale pig rooting in the rubble of less fortunate buildings. It was once a bank, but when everything fell apart, it was pressed into more important service.
The line on the ramp outside was always long. Folks would file in politely after I unlocked the door, reveling in the cool air while I climbed into the booth at the center of the marble atrium and raised the window grate.
“Welcome to the Unica Housing Authority. I’m Rory and I’ll be helping you today.” The crowd quieted as my voice echoed over their heads. “Please remember there are no perfect living situations anymore and we might not have a spot that suits you, but we’ll try our best. When you approach the window, please only share conditions for which you have a high tolerance. Our tallied conditions are listed on the wall to your right.”
I pointed at the metal plaque with its etched and braille contents. ‘Cold’, ‘hot’, ‘dust’, ‘mold’, and many others: too long to read aloud. I couldn’t help taking a second glance at an item partway down: “ancestors”. I tapped at the screen of my glass computer with a magnetic stylus.
“Okay, who’s first?”
The person who strode up to the counter wore a sky blue dress and a long black leather-looking jacket, both spattered with crusty yellow leopard-pattern splotches. I suppressed a wince. It’d been a decade since the bug killed anyone, but it still hurt to look at. I forced a smile.
“Hi there! Tolerances?”
“Dark, cold, and noisy,” the person replied.
I entered the tags and the computer returned two options. “Great. There’s a steel warehouse on Parker and a stone mill house at the end of Chancel. Neither slot includes bedding.”
The person nodded perfunctorily. “The mill house is good.”
I tapped the screen to mark the slot as ‘taken’, then grabbed a slate marker and scratched the address on it with a metal stylus. I slid the marker under the window. “There you go. Thank you and good luck.”
I watched as the person walked away, the crowd pulling away from them like oil from a soap drop. The leopard spot on the jacket’s left shoulder had already spread. A sign of plastic clothing. I wondered where they’d come from, what kind of privilege they had, to still own any wearable vinyl.
My memory has never been great. I forget my own age sometimes. But one thing I do remember is the first time I saw those creepy yellow splotches.
I had a dinner date with Dad, but his monthly doctor’s appointment was running late. I decided to hang out outside the house, swaying in the worn swing from my childhood. The rope was frayed against my palm and had worn grooves in the branch, but it was a comfortable seat. As I pushed myself in a lazy circle, the late afternoon sun speckled the leaves and I saw the spots: phlegm-yellow and tissue-thin inside, gray ring outside.
My phone rang as I was examining one of the mottled leaves.
“It’s your father.” The nurse’s voice didn’t even shake. “He collapsed during his checkup and now he’s unresponsive.”
‘Unresponsive’. What a horrible word.
I fell into my job at the Housing Authority because Dad’s house was one of the first hit in our town. We’d figured out how to detect and treat the first wave of the fungus we now call “the bug.” But it mutated fast, and the most resistant strain fed on our buildings instead of living beings. It ate away siding and air conditioning and window casings. Alcohol sprays, systemics, antimicrobials, and antifungals all failed, so I stopped at Town Hall to get the plans filed for Dad’s house. To see how bad it was going to get.
“We need to warn people to the south,” the woman at the desk blurted while I was making copies. “I think they’ll believe it more from people with personal experience. You have a nice voice. Want a job?”
I thought about Dad’s bay window falling out of its dissolving casing. How the siding looked like Swiss cheese a year after I’d buried him. My throat tightened and I nodded.
I’d only been working there for a month when I first heard about an entity house.
“Hi, I’m calling to tell you about the bug that is destroying homes,” I read from the script.
“Oh no, dear, I’ll be fine,” the person replied, with a breathless giggle.
“My apologies!” I looked at their house plans. “We have on record that your house has wood beams and studs.”
“If your house has any wood, plastic, vinyl, or acrylic, the bug will attack it,” I said. “I can describe–”
“It’s okay, dear,” they interrupted. “Gramma took care of it.”
My heart leapt. Maybe there’s a solution. “What did your grandmother do?”
“She came back.” They giggled again. “Oh, she’s asking for her show. Gotta go.”
My phone clicked. They’d hung up.
Last I checked, the house was still standing, no leopard-spot marks in sight. They’ve also been generous. Filed four sleep slots with us. Tenants report that Gramma is noisy at 2 AM and is particular about kitchen cleanliness, to the point where she’ll wake them up with a frigid touch if they leave a mess. Otherwise, she doesn’t act like a ghost at all.
We’ve confirmed twelve entity houses so far. We’ve also heard other stories – folks who summoned a family member to help, only to have their relative’s ghost refuse and go back where they came from. It sounded like it hurt, to lose them all over again.
The head medium bows at me. “Do you have the ashes?”
I slide the silver urn from behind the new door jamb. I hold my breath as I break the seal on the urn and grab a pinch of ashes.
She points at the urn. “That should come as well.”
“Really?” I debate whether to return the ashes.
“He will be the fourth for the séance.”
“Oh.” I cradle the urn in my left arm. “Where should I put…”
I can’t bring myself to say ‘him’ or ‘it’.
The head medium gestures. “There, towards the west. The departed sit at the setting sun. You sit at the north, our guiding star.”
I place the urn where she indicated. Up close the machine purrs like a satisfied feline.
“Kasira, you sit at the east, the rising, and…” She cocks her head, as if listening. “Yes, Erius, you take the south, the brightening.”
The mediums, both young-looking and oddly aged, seat themselves. Kasira’s scars are jagged scores like broken toffee in the hollows of her eyes. Erius bears four white-silver furrows, two down each cheek.
“We do not control those we call,” the medium says. “Ancestors speak to us only if they wish to. We take these ashes to communicate that we are your approved emissary to the dead.”
I sprinkle the pinch of ashes into Kasira’s cupped hand. She presses a thumb into them and strokes her thumb across her forehead. She passes the ashes to Erius, who repeats the gesture, then shakes the remaining ashes into a metal cup at the center of the machine. They both grasp one of the metal dowels on the lachrymatorium with their left hand. The rest of the women back down the driveway.
“Where are they going?” I whisper to Kasira.
“This is no longer their place.” She winks, her broken-toffee scars bunching. “Now it’s up to us.”
“Okay, who’s next?”
The person wore an algae tunic and mycelium-leather clogs, their black hair short-cropped, small brown eyes glaring at me.
“Thank you for waiting. Tolerances?”
“Pollen,” they replied.
“Why?” They sneered. “Where do you live?”
I hid a sigh. “My tolerances are dark, stuffy, and hard, so I’m in a shipping container park. I share my crate with three others.” Their brow furrowed, so I modulated my voice towards the perky. “My bedding is a myco mat. If you’re interested, there are slots left in my park.”
They deflated, the sneer replaced by a disappointed twist of lips. “I see. I’d be okay with bugs, steps, and height.”
“Fantastic!” I tapped it in. “Two treehouses have slots available. They have woven live-branch floors, leaf beds, and mycelium tarps in case of rain. One has a sunset view and one has a living vine wall to block wind from the south. It includes morning glories.”
Their eyes widened and I caught a glimpse of a grin. “Ooh, a vine wall! I’ll take that one.”
I smiled as I passed over the slate marker. It was rare to please someone in this job. I rubbed the belt buckle in my pocket and reminded myself to mark this moment down later.
Kate usually let me stay past closing to use the glass computer in the back office. I’d jot down things we’ve lost. Sometimes simple pleasures, like books and stuffed animals. Sometimes things I’ve never used, like Kevlar and mosquito netting. Sometimes I’d even mark down people who I’d briefly forgotten.
Memory has always been a problem for me. Doctors had differing theories why. Maybe the trauma of losing my mom so early;. Possibly an attention disorder. All I knew was that I’d never been good with names or dates. But it wasn’t until Dad was gone that I realized how much I was forgetting.
When I arrived at the hospital, he was already dead. They gave me a bag of his things. Plaid shirt, canvas pants, steel watch, leather belt. A few weeks after he died, the leather belt grew a tiny leopard spot. I’d given the belt to Dad for Father’s Day. I realized I didn’t remember buying it, I didn’t remember him opening it, but I remembered him putting it on. I couldn’t remember the sound of his voice, but I remembered what he said: “It fits! How did you know my belt size, Roribell?”
“I didn’t, Dad.” I held out my arms in an ellipse. “This is how big you are when I hug you. So that’s how big the belt needed to be.”
I remembered his eyes filling with tears. He’d kissed the top of my head as I hugged him again, feeling his stomach hitching in quiet sobs.
“I keep forgetting how short you are,” he’d whispered, making me laugh.
“And how long your legs are,” I’d teased.
We stayed in the hug for ten minutes.
I thought. I didn’t know for sure.
I did remember screaming over the leather as the bug ate it, that memory turning to shreds, then dust. I also remembered crying with relief when the gold-toned brass buckle remained intact, and how well it fit in my pocket.
Kasira leans towards me. “Remind us how to say your father’s name?”
“Niven, like given, and Seinn like sine wave.”
The ash-prints on the mediums’ foreheads glow with a blue-gray iridescence as the machine sparks and Erius speaks.
“I call upon the spirit of Niven Seinn to grace us with your voice!”
A breeze kicks up.
Kasira repeats it. “I call upon Niven Seinn to grace us with your voice!”
Nothing happens. Kasira glances at Erius.
“You feel anything?”
“Not enough juice,” Erius replies.
I shrink under their gaze.
“Thank you for waiting. Tolerances?”
“Ancestors,” the frail person at the window replied. Their watery eyes were swollen and the ridges of their nostrils were chapped. The bones of old leaves peeked out from under their lank brown hair.
I raised my eyebrows. “Ancestors? Nothing else?”
Their gaze didn’t waver.
“Look.” I lowered my voice. “There aren’t many real entity houses right now. It takes a family loss and a very generous ancestor to make one. People claim they have a haunting, but the bug always gets them. You should choose something else.”
The person shook their head. “I’m allergic to a thousand things. It’s too cold for me in here and too hot out there. Anything hard, bright, or noisy hurts. Right now I’m in a sleep ditch off the freeway because it’s better than anything else.” They shrugged. “So unless you have a tolerance I haven’t heard of yet, ‘ancestors’ is it.”
“Okay. I’m sorry. I can add you to the waiting list but it’s fairly long.”
They pulled a square aluminum pager from their pocket. I scanned it and added the ID to the list, and they turned away from the booth, shoulders slumped.
I thought about the thing I was building, and I crossed my fingers and bumped their ID to the top before calling the next person up.
After Mom died, Dad took me along to his construction sites, first showing me how to sort tools, then how to lay bricks, then on to more complicated things. Everything he’d taught me was clear in my mind, even after everything else I’d forgotten.
When I started the house frame, I decided to take as many shortcuts as I could. No walls, no planing. The bug took months to hit new-cut wood, so I had some time, but not much. If the séance worked, the house would stand. If the séance didn’t work, it would fall anyway.
The doorway was last. Dad was always good with doors. I sawed the branch off the maple where my swing had once hung. The living branch still had grooves in it from the rope so I was extra cautious cutting it, preserving those grooves.
I sobbed while taking the bark off the branch. Wept like I was sacrificing one of the few memories I still had.
I was still working on it, sanding the jamb and hammering in the nail where the bell would go, when the mediums arrived.
Kasira reaches out to me. I hesitate, glancing at the machine.
“It doesn’t hurt,” she promises.
I slide my fingers into her hand, surprised at its warmth. Kasira squeezes my palm.
“Why have you asked us here today?”
“I want a better place to live,” I murmur. “I’m tired of my container.”
Erius shakes her head. “You could have built a steel structure.”
Kasira clasps my hand more tightly. “Why wood? Why here?”
A muscle in the side of my throat tightens, sending a sharp ache down into my collarbone. “I miss my dad. He was a woodworker. He built the house that used to be here, but the bug ate it.”
Erius scoots towards me. “But why did you choose something so fragile?”
“For… for memory.”
“Memory?” Kasira tilts her head. “Can you tell us more about that?”
I try not to sniffle. “The bug took all the furniture he built. It took everything he built. Those were supposed to be heirlooms. Now it’s all gone, so it’s like he’s all gone.”
“Why would he be gone? Doesn’t he live in your memories?” Kasira rubs her thumb over my knuckle. “Doesn’t everyone you’ve loved?”
I struggle to breathe. They’re watching me expectantly. Waiting for me to agree. I glance back at the doorway. Something clenches painfully inside my chest, and I can’t hold it anymore.
“No, that’s the problem!” Tears scald my cheeks like steam. “I should remember more, but I don’t. I don’t remember him on my sixteenth birthday. I don’t remember him at my college graduation. I don’t remember our last Christmas.” My throat spasms. “Oh god, and it’s too late! It’s too late to make any more memories with him! If I was smart, I would have written everything down. I would have made sure I’d never forget. But I’m not smart, I’m a selfish jerk, I’m a terrible daughter. I thought I had more time. I thought I had more time.”
I try to pull free from Kasira to cover my face as I cry, but she holds fast, a deathly stillness in her fingers. “There it is,” she whispers. “There’s the juice. That’s the grief he needs.”
The machine’s hum intensifies, vibrating in my skin. Electricity spits as the bulbs turn on. I squint, my tears cracking the world into rainbows, as Kasira and Erius chant together.
“We call upon the spirit of Niven Seinn to grace us with your voice!”
A white mist coagulates above the machine. The mediums continue. “Your daughter Rorius awaits you, Niven. If you consent, make yourself known!”
Something sizzles. I smell peanut butter and pepper – right, Dad’s lunches, on that wheat bread he loved. I’d forgotten them.
Then I hear a voice.
My stomach jumps. It’s been years, but I recognize it. Even though I couldn’t recall the sound of his voice, I recognize the sound.
I recognize it.
The smell. The sound. The memories were always there, deep in my gut. Exactly like the belt. Knowing his size not because it was in my brain, but because I’d hugged him so often my body knew it by heart.
Whatever my brain did or didn’t keep, the rest of my body recorded it all.
My shoulders wrench with sobs of relief as Kasira squeezes my hand. “Niven Seinn, will you share your afterlife on this plane, within the house your child has built, until such time as she departs?”
Do you need me, Roribell?
“I…” I stop. Am I being a terrible daughter again? Is it cruel to want him to stay with me? To leave the peaceful rest he deserves?
I flash on the person with the watery eyes. Their desperation. And how many other people might be in the same place.
I might not need him, but other people do.
“We all do. Please,” I manage, vocal cords tight with choked-back grief.
Then I’ll stay…
Kasira and Erius shriek as lightning crackles around the machine, then leaps into the lintel of the door with a sound like fireworks. Kasira clenches my hand hard enough to crack my knuckles before she lets go.
“Bless you, Niven, for your sacrifice. When Rory departs, one of us shall return to release you,” Erius gasps.
The machine’s hum fades. A wisp of smoke rises from Kasira’s face, a trickle of bloody pus seeping from a broken spot under her left eye.
“Shit!” I reach towards her. “Are you okay?”
She pats my hand, then blots the pus on her cheek with a graceful lift of her shoulder. “It hurts, but scars are remembrance.” She smiles. “Most people hide their scars, but for us, it’s an honor to bear this memory.”
As she and Erius undo the leads, Kasira winks at me and pantomimes crying. I rub my eyes by instinct, then jump at a sting under my right eye. A smear of blood pinkens the side of my index finger.
A wound, to turn into a scar. For remembrance.
I grin despite myself. Of course. Scars are the ghosts of past injuries, haunting our skin. It would keep my memory close to the surface, so that I’ll never forget.
I don’t know what my scar will look like, but I don’t care. It’ll remind me, every day, whether from other people’s reactions or from seeing my face in a reflection, that my memories live within me.
That my dad was never gone.
I lean on the maple door jamb and watch them gather up the machine and leave, their robes fading into the air as twilight deepens.
I like your house, Roribell.
I sigh. “Thank you, Daddy.”
I hug the jamb for at least ten minutes, then pluck the belt buckle from my pocket. I hang it on the nail that marks where the bell will go, and step under the lightning-struck lintel to start the walls.
Author’s Note: This story came to me when I was processing several different kinds of loss at once. I’d gone to a memorial during the second year of the pandemic and as people recounted stories about the deceased, I realized that not only had I lost the person’s presence, I’d lost memories of them too. That memorial, plus the loss of access to the world around me, led me to an internal quest that I externalized to create Rory’s. (Many thanks to Cat Rambo for the title.)
Risa Wolf is a multi-gendered water elemental disguised as an ink-stained lycanthrope. (Don’t tell their spouse or their dogs; the disguise is working.) They come from the Burned-Over District in New York State, and they imagine houses for book-ghosts for a living. Their writing can be found in places like Apex, Clarkesworld, and Cast of Wonders. Visit them at killerpuppytails.com, on Mastodon at @killerpuppytails, or BlueSky at @risawolf.bsky.social.
Hello! I’m here to give an update on the general submission window where we were taking submissions from July 17-31. We received 1451 stories for the submission window. The first round is complete, so everyone should have received an initial response of either a rejection or a hold notice. If you haven’t received one, check your spam folder, you can check your status on the submission site if you have your confirmation name, otherwise you can query us immediately.
Normally I announce the story lineup all at once with all the months, but we are running a little later than I had hoped, and so I’m slipping in the first story announcement right here:
The November story will be: In the Shelter of Ghosts by Risa Wolf
We have a couple other acceptances in hand, and we are having discussions right now to finalize the rest of the list.
On a related note, because we are running a little later than we had originally planned, we are publishing one story a month for a couple months to connect the schedule up. But we’re planning to return to our usual cadence of two stories a month at that point.
In Loving Memory of Mikko Steffen Born November 1, 2007 Adopted May 24, 2008 Died May 8, 2023
This is the story of a dog who has been a part of our family for fifteen years and connected all of the other dogs we’ve ever had. This is the story of a miracle dog who beat the odds over and over again. This is the story of Mikko the white poodle.
Bringing Him Home
At the time we adopted Mikko, we had just moved into our first house after living in a series of apartments. We had our first dog, Aria, and we were looking for another dog to be a playmate for Aria in the wide open spaces of our new home that we hadn’t filled with much furniture yet.
Heather had fond memories of the poodles she had when she was a kid so she wanted another poodle. She found Picket Fence Poodles, a poodle rescue organization that was a mid-length drive away. Listed on their site was “Perry”. For this adoption, it required people with poodle experience and people who were willing to adopt a dog with special needs, because he was born with luxating patellas, where his kneecaps are not fixed in place the way they should be.
We set up a meet and greet with Picket Fence Poodles to meet him, with just the two of us going to meet him at the home of the rescue organization. We had a great time playing with him, we talked about his leg issues, talked about his care, and we decided to take him home.
He had been born at a poodle breeder. Because of his legs, he was unable to walk when puppies normally learn to walk. They had planned to euthanize him, but he was so cute they kept putting it off and carried him around and then, surprise, he actually started walking on his own! He managed to get enough strength in his legs that he was still able to learn to walk. So at that point they gave him over to the rescue organization. They warned us that he would never be able to jump or to climb stairs, but of course that didn’t matter to us.
We decided we didn’t like the name “Perry” (this was before the days of Perry the Platypus or we might have kept it) and he didn’t respond to the name yet anyway. We named him “Mikko” after Mikko Koivu who was a long-running player on the local NHL hockey team The Minnesota Wild.
We brought him home and introduced him to Aria, and they became best friends and playmates. Of course, there was plenty of conflict. Aria was the more dominant of the two, but Mikko didn’t want to up on that, so he would try to boss her around.
So many variations on the name, we would call him Mako, Mikko Mako, Makiko, Meeky, Squeako, Beako, Squabeako, Mr. Mikko, Magical Mikko, and so many variations of each.
What Made Him Special
Aria was still pretty young at the time too but Mikko never had enough playtime. They would chase and play and wrestle and playfight, and then Aria would jump up to the back of the couch and watch smugly with the terrain advantage while he barked from the floor and tried to reach her. He would alternate between putting his front paws on the couch and doing tiny little hops that were nowhere near high enough, to taking a running jump from four feet away which he landed on the ground before he reached the couch.
This went on and on for days and weeks and finally he managed to jump up onto the couch and even surprised himself, and then when he jumped back down he couldn’t figure out how to get back up again, though he did eventually figure it out.
Still, the stairs were an obstacle. Aria could run down or up the stairs without any problem and he would get so mad if she left him behind, so she would go up or down and then taunt him and he wanted to do the stairs so badly because he couldn’t let he just gloat like that. We taught him to go up stairs first, by putting him one stair down and coaxing him up while we stood below to catch him if he slipped. Then two stairs, then three, and soon he was confident enough he could go up the whole flight.
At the time, we watched TV on cable and the only cable jack was downstairs, so we would watch TV in the basement. This worked fine when Mikko couldn’t take the stairs, but once he learned to go up but not down then he would decide to go upstairs and then would sit at the top of the stairs and bark for someone to carry him down. So, yes, we did eventually teach him to go downstairs too.
From the start, he defied expectations from sheer determination.
From when he was young he tried to be the most dominant dog in the house. Which really didn’t work with Aria, but he could get away with bossing Timmy around when he was there, especially as Timmy got older and confused Mikko would try to coach him and say “don’t do that, you’re being weird” when Timmy would wander or get stuck in a corner.
His determination was not always a positive trait, even to himself. For some reason, he would sometimes get very angry if he was left in a kennel with a bowl of water, and he would furiously try to bury it with his nose, sometimes until his snout was bloody from pushing. When he was older and was having some difficulty maintaining his appetite he sometimes did the same with food left for him, but then sometimes he would try to bury it for a while, then he would eat some, then he would try to bury it again.
He would always bark at leaves blowing in the wind as if they had offended him personally, and if he happened to catch a tailwind he would look as if he thought someone was blowing on his butt.
If someone cried he would always go to them and want to be held and lick their tears away.
If Aria got locked in a closet by accident as she often did when she followed someone in there, then Mikko would found out where she was and would come get someone to come get her out, and would keep giving significant looks at the closet door until someone let her out.
Probably some of this came from his luxating patellas, but Mikko had some weird postures. Mikko loved pillows and beds, but he tended to never lie in them all the way, always draping himself across the edge of the bed with half his body outside of his bed. When he was young he also liked to squeeze into tiny dog beds with Aria. He’s the only dog I’ve seen who would kneel with one or both legs instead of always sitting on his butt (which prompted people who didn’t know him to think he was going to pee). And when he laid down he would like to lay with his legs splayed out that we liked to call a “Mikko-skin rug”. He was also never able to pee with one leg lifted like most male dogs do.
When you brought him to bed at night and he was getting settled in, he would often do a sort of superhero stretch where he laid on his back and stretched one foreleg away in front of his face.
Besides making immediate friends with Aria, and with Timmy who became our third Musketeer, when he was younger, Mikko would always be the greeter and ambassador of the group. When we walked the dogs, or when we had visitors, he would always be the first one to meet the new dog, because he never saw a dog he didn’t want to play with.
Unfortunately he gradually lost much of this trait of being able to immediately click with new dogs, perhaps due to increasing arthritis and other health issues, though he remained playful with people and his dog roommates for most of his life.
One time when he was young we set a big upright mirror down on the ground, the upper portion of a furniture hutch. Mikko saw his reflection and was obsessed with it, barking and pawing at his reflection and trying to get it to play with him, rearing up on his hind legs and pawing at it to try to reach the other dog, looking on the other side of the mirror and surprised he couldn’t find it there.
For barking, Mikko had one volume: loud, and his barks were very animated. More so than other dogs, he would throw his head back like the recoil of a cannon as he fired each loud bark into the world. Some of our other dogs we could teach to bark quietly on command, with a “say please” they would give a quiet talking-level bark. We taught Mikko to do this too, but with him it was either “full volume” or “mute”. When he was on mute, he would make the full head-throwing-back motion of a bark, but make no vocal sound whatsoever, just the soft “click” of his teeth.
When he wanted something, he would stand right next to you and look up with his gigantic eyes, and then lift one paw and scratch softly at your leg–scratchscratchscratch and then look again. He would alternate this with his own unique vocalizations that were a variation on a whine, but would sound like “hoot hoot hoot” like a monkey.
He could answer the question “Where’s Heather?” (or other member’s of the household). If you asked that, he would recognize which member of the household and would either find that person in the same room and point at them like a hunting dog with one front leg raised and head pointed, or would go find them in a different room. Even if the person was hiding he would keep at it until he found them.
If you took him out to use the lawn, sometimes he would pee and then head back for the house. But then if you asked him “Mikko, do you need to poop?” he would actually stop, seem to consider it, and sometimes he would head back to the lawn to poop. Like “oh yeah, thanks for reminding me.”.
Like most dogs he would wag his tail when he was happy, but he also had a very distinct tail wag when he was nervous about something. Instead of wagging at a constant rate he would wagwagwagwag three or four times very quickly and then pause, and then wagwagwagwag again.
When he was young he would love to have training sessions where he would learn to sit and lie down and try to learn other tricks. He was great at “spin left”, if you said that with some treats in your hand he would spin and spin and spin and spin. Surprisingly, he never ever did get the hang of “spin right”. You would try to lead him around that way and he just seemed to find it perplexing.
Although he had sporadic digestive issues for much of his life, he was usually pretty good about getting us some warning. Sometimes I would wake up to the hork-hork-hork sound of him preparing to vomit, and sometimes I could wake up fast enough to pick him up and carry him to the bathtub for easier cleaning. Sometimes.
He had the most beautiful fluffy white fur, that he looked like a little lamb, and was so soft. Like any poodle, he absolutely needed to be clipped periodically, because poodles don’t shed, their hair just keeps growing. When he came back from the groomer his fur would always have been freshly washed and dried and brushed so his fur was just like touching pure fuzz. As he went between groomings his hair would get longer and would separate into big spiral shapes and get heavy and start drooping, which was an easy way to know it was time to get the dogs groomed again.
We joked that we should shear him and sell the fur to make Swiffer sweepers, because the fur was extremely absorbent. If we walked him on a dirt trail his legs would turn almost black up to the knees. If I didn’t pick up the grass clippings after I mowed, he would come back inside with green sleeves.
Besides chasing and wrestling with the other dogs, he loved interacting with people however he could. If anyone laid on the floor, he would always immediately go over to them and get comfortable on their belly or back. We have never had another dog who liked lying on people so much.
He also liked to sit behind people’s necks on the couch, and loved to be carried behind people’s necks with his front on one shoulder and his back on the other.
He was the most trusting dog we’ve ever had for having his belly up. He wouldn’t even mind being held in your arms with his belly up. In fact, when he was very comfortable he would be a limp noodle with his neck dangling loosely.
He was always a playful nibbler. If you held a hand out to him he would licklicklick your finger, and then put your finger in his mouth and give a very gentle squeeze with his teeth, licklicklick chew chew, licklicklick chew chew, the same pattern over and over again.
He loved toys. He was a big fan of playing fetch, he would bring toys over and over if you kept throwing them, and he was pretty good at catching them in mid-air. Our living is carpeted and then we have a rug by the front door on hardwood–if you threw a toy over there he would hop over the wood section between them like a little deer.
He had a habit of dismembering stuffed animal dog toys and playing with the limbs. Among his favorite toys were a zebra leg, a crab leg, and a monkey paw (we of course trained him not to make any wishes on it).
He loved to pull the fuzz off of plush toys, and would just sit there and rip, rip, rip. And if you were like “Mikko, have you been defuzzing” and he would look up at you with his giant innocent eyes and a green or purple goatee of fuzz. If anyone left any toilet paper or tissue where he could reach it he would shred it everywhere.
He loved bones too, but what he loved more than bones is putting a bone ON a toy or vice versa, and chewing both of them at the same time.
Treat balls were one of his favorite things (plastic balls filled with treats where some would dump out randomly if they rolled it around enough). He was the only one who could figure out how to pick them up–they were too big for our digs to fit the whole ball in their mouth, but there is a little opening where the treats come out and Mikko was clever enough to get a couple teeth in there enough to grip. He would play with that thing for a long time.
He always loved walks, and when he was young he would always make the absolute most of them, easily getting twice the steps of anyone else on the walk, because he would walk to the full extent of the leash allowed to him, and then he would zigzag to the far left, to the far right and back and forth.
One of his favorite things was sniffing the white splats of bird poop, he would always stop to smell every single one, even if there were a bunch of them he would thoroughly work through them. If there were any white chalk or white paint markings on a walking path he would always investigate those too, and was probably disappointed at the lack of fecal aroma.
Many dogs are afraid of thunder or lightning. Mikko never was much bothered by it, even when other dogs were trying to hide from the storm he would curl up and nap. But he was often afraid if someone passed gas, even if that someone was him, he would look back at his butt like someone snuck up behind him. And he was very afraid when someone started crafting, perhaps because of the noises that holepunchers or other crafting tools make. We liked to joke that his only weakness was farts and crafts.
When we first got Mikko, Aria was the only other dog. They were instant friends, though there was plenty of conflict. They fought over food and bones but were pretty much always ready to play with each other, or go for a walk, or bark at the door and Mikko loved to stand on his hind legs at the door and paw with both front legs like he was trying to dig through the door.
They were always learning from each other. When Aria was an only dog she would always try to save treats for later by going behind a piece of furniture and “burying” the treat in the carpet by placing it gently on the carpet and pushing with her nose like she was pushing dirt over the top. She learned not to do that pretty quick when Mikko would follow along behind it and immediately eat it.
In most situations he wasn’t as smart as Aria, but if he was sufficiently motivated he could be very clever. He would love to taunt her if he had a bone, he would hold it sticking out of the side of his mouth and walk up to her, and if she grabbed for it he would spin around to get it out of her reach. He also would find ways to draw her away from a bone she was chewing. They both loved to bark at the front door when pedestrians or animals were outside, so if she had a bone he would sometimes go bark at the front door like there was something out there, and then when she joined him, he would loop around behind her and grab her bone. She learned the trick pretty quick and would try it on him, but he was too clever for that, he would run to the door but he would remember to grab the bone first.
They loved to chase each other so much. We had a couch downstairs in a huge area without much else around it, and they would chase each other around and around until you couldn’t tell who was chasing who. She was definitely the stronger of the two and on a straightaway she could definitely outsprint him. But she also had more momentum because of her greater mass. So he could take sharp ninety degree turns at his top speed while she would swing wide into a wider oval shape as she tried to make the turn and they would end up being pretty evenly matched.
We adopted Timmy within the first year that we had Mikko, so he completed the Three Musketeers that were all together for four years. When Timmy and Mikko were both young they would love to play together and wrestle too, both of them rearing up on their hind legs and grappling with each other. Both of them lived to a very old age, so it’s always still a little surprising to look at those early videos and see how spry and energetic they both were.
In December 2012, when Aria passed away unexpectedly at only age 5, Mikko was distraught. His usually high energy level went way down and he didn’t want to do anything but sleep. We adopted Violet in a relatively short time after that, just before Christmas travel, to try to help him through that with a new extra companion. Violet and Mikko took well to each other immeidately. Theywould play-bow and like to chase each other around. As Mikko got older, his arthritis and other conditions meant he got a less playful so Violet had to find her playtime elsewhere, but they got along most of the time. Mikko was always pretty bossy, and Violet was usually happy to be a follower.
They lived together for almost ten years, for almost two-thirds of his life.
We adopted Michael after Timmy passed away in 2018, and Michael lived with Mikko for the last five years of Mikko’s life. By that time, Mikko was usually not super big at playing with other dogs, though occasionally we could coax them to play tug of war briefly, more likely they would both play fetch with one person alongside each other. Otherwise they generally got along as long as someone playing fetch with Michael didn’t throw the toy over Mikko so that Michael would bowl over him.
Mabel joined the family when Violet passed away and Mikko was already quite old. Between his different health problems he had a lot less patience in general and was no longer the greet and ambassador he used to be. But he was very patient with Mabel the big overbearing lumbering giant.
He was always very good with Mabel, sort of a father figure and she adored him from the moment she met him. If he was doing something she always wanted to be right there doing it with him. As he got older and his health complications got worse, we found we needed to start watching them very closely because sometimes her infatuation would manifest in unhelpful/unhealthy ways where if he fell down she would try to jump on top of him (and with him being so old and weak and her outweighing him by a significant margin), and one time even bit him pretty hard though since she didn’t have any teeth no permanent harm was done.
When Cooper and Mikko were both young, they would love to play and wrestle and roughhouse with each other. Cooper lost the knack for it, but they still got along pretty well most of the time. Though they didn’t live together they would see each other at least a few times a year, and both knew each other for almost fourteen years together.
With the Cat-In-Laws
Mikko, as noted elsewhere in this memorial, was always a big barker, and the cats were among his favorite bark-targets and any cat that would run away from him would get a steady barking and chase, though I don’t think he would honestly have had any idea what to do with a cat if he caught one.
With the Kid
The kid and Mikko when the kid was young would both excite and sometimes terrify each other. Mikko would chase the kid as the kid was toddling around and the kid would squeal and giggle and run away.
As Mikko got older and started slowing down, the kid was also getting older and toning down the uncontrollable toddler energy, and eventually Mikko learned to trust the kid and would even let the kid hold him and pet him. Some of our professional family photos he would take while Ian held him to keep him still.
Medical Adventures On the Way
Mikko and Violet had a common desire to chew small plastic objects, which was very unfortunate when the kid was very young and would leave small plastic objects everywhere. Pacifiers were a particular favorite, but any plastic toy would do. Sometimes we find part of a chewed-up toy and we wouldn’t know whether Mikko or Violet ate it and we would have to bring both of them to the vet to induce vomiting. He also ate some leaves of a plant that we found out was toxic and had to take him in for that.
Mikko had problems with smegma buildup throughout most of his life. I won’t go into details here, but if you decide to do a search for the word, you probably want to leave the image search off until you read what it is.
In the last couple years of his life, we started to notice he would get a “bubble butt” sometimes, where he would have a section near his butt that was literally like a little inflated balloon. It didn’t seem to bother him, and with a little pressure it could be pushed into his body. It turned out that this was a prolapsed bladder. As he aged he was losing quite a bit of muscle mass, and so there was more of a gap in his pelvic area where muscles would normally be and his bladder could sneak out through there. The vet said a surgery was available where they would try to fix the bladder in place and suture some of the muscles together so there was no space for it to sneak through. We were fully planning on doing this, when he got an intestinal bleed from something unrelated and had to delay it due to not wanting to anesthetize him while he had another condition. By the time we got all that sorted out, he was struggling with other health problems again and we decided to put it off. It was some risk to do so, because if his bladder became strangulated it might have meant extreme pain and a visit to the emergency room, but doing the surgery would also have been quite risky at that point. He continued to have the bubble butt for the rest of his life, but it never really seemed to bother him, and didn’t escalate.
One time fell and managed to jam his tail on landing and he couldn’t wag it at all for a while, and he wagged his tail so much generally this was very difficult for him.
One time when we had a guest over at our house and we were working on putting the dogs in a separate room, Mikko tried to sprint out to the living room to see them and got deflected just enough by someone’s leg to run full speed into a doorframe and knocked a tooth loose in the front of his jaw.
The Sad Part
In 2018, when he was having some problems with urination we took him to the vet to get him checked out, to see if there was crystals in his urine, that sort of thing. As part of that, the vet did a sonogram and concluded that he had a tumor in his bladder and that vet pretty much said that we should say our goodbyes because we had between weeks and months to be with him whether or not we started cancer treatment. He was still generally very healthy and we didn’t want to give up on him so we were considering whether for a dog cancer treatment would affect his quality of life too much, but before we made any major decision we got a second opinion and they couldn’t find any sign of a tumor, so the other vet’s original diagnosis seemed to be based on one image and maybe there was a weird angle or something. We decided not to move forward with cancer treatment, given that there was no clear sign, and given that he lived five years longer after that and no sign of a tumor presented itself, in retrospect it must have been an incorrect diagnosis. This didn’t actually play into his end of life health issues in any way, but I put it in this section because it was scary and sad anyway.
In September 2020, he had a strange and scary episode where he started acting dizzy, fell over, and then was breathing fast and heavy after that. Fast and heavy breathing can be a sign of serious urgent issues and can indicate pain among other things, so we took him in right away. He had had a heart murmur for years before that, and they said that the issue was that he was going into congestive heart failure where the heart enlarges from gathering too much fluid, we were already familiar with this from when Timmy went through it. So they sent us home with a diuretic to try to pull some of the fluid out of his lungs. Over the next twenty-four hours this didn’t help at all, and at times was up to 95 breaths per minute resting which is much higher than it should be. We ended up taking him to the emergency room and they found that there was fluid outside of his lungs pressing on his lungs and making it hard to breathe. He was diagnosed with protein-losing enteropathy (PLE), a digestive issue which causes albumen protein to leak, which pulls water out into the abdomen and causes other issues. They put him on a special low-fat diet after that, and we had to be very careful what kinds of foods and treats that we gave him, because going off-diet could send his health plummeting again.
He had always had irritable bowels, and during this time we struggled with further digestive symptoms like colitis, and had to constantly watch him for bouts of foul-smelling strange-looking diarrhea, though much of the time he was fine. He went on like that for quite some time, having good health most of the time on this diet and with an increasing set of medications to help with his heart and his PLE, and with periodic checkups with the cardiologist and internal medicine to adjust his medications now and then, as we watched his albumen very closely to make sure it didn’t go too far. He sometimes had bouts of digestive issues but was manageable most of the time.
In October 2022, he started having some weird violent flinching reactions to movement or to light. We thought it might have been due to him gradually losing his eyesight as his eyes clouded over. And then he had the scariest medical episode of his life thus far. He was just coming in from using the lawn, and he seemed to freeze up like a statue, all his legs going rigid. I was getting the leash off of him and he just tipped over onto his side as I called for Heather who was across the room. She came and picked him up and he was as stiff as a board with his legs and neck outstretched. We tried to comfort him with words and touch as best we could, though we couldn’t tell if he could hear us. He stayed like that for maybe thirty seconds and then suddenly he went as limp as a rag doll, with his head lolling down at an unnatural angle.
We really thought he was dead, and we were frantically telling him we loved him just in case, and he started to come awake, very groggy and confused. We of course rushed him to the emergency room and spent a long night there. At first they told us that it couldn’t have been a seizure, because nothing seemed to indicate a cause. But some of his digestive conditions make some tests give weird results, so they didn’t realize at first that he had dangerously low calcium, which was probably what caused the seizure. So we added more medicines to his daily regimen to manage his calcium levels and that stabilized him for quite some time.
Every month we were surprised but blessed that he was still with us and we cherished our time with him. We were both working from home, which did make it easier, because we could take him into one of our offices with us, and could usually rush him outside if he needed it. No more having to put him a kennel during the workday.
As time went on in those last months, he had more difficulty with appetite, more difficulty with vision, and controlling his bowel movements, and loss of muscle mass, and slept more and more. He had bad days pretty more and more often and we started to have conversations about when we would have to say our final goodbyes. We had to rotate between foods to try to tempt him into eating, but we were limited in our options because of the PLE.
We found that we could never leave him alone with Mabel in that last stretch because although she seemed to adore him, sometimes if he was acting strange like stumbling or struggling to get up she would react incongruously and either jump on him, or even one time she bit him though she had no teeth. We’re still not sure if she was just trying to help somehow, or if this was some kind of instinctual reaction or what.
The spring came late in 2023, but when the weather was nice enough we would still take him for walks, but we would take him in a stroller while we walked the other dogs on leashes, as he still enjoyed the fresh air and the sights.
We gave him a hair clipping in the spring with the help of Heather’s mom, because we couldn’t send him to the groomer anymore with all his conditions and he had gotten quite shaggy. It took three of us to do it, because he was getting pretty cranky about it at that time and snapped at the clippers a lot.
As May arrived, he was barely anything but skin and bones–when we had to give him a bath after a digestive issue, and all the fur clung to his skin, his ribs and other bones protruded very prominently.
He started to have trouble standing and walking for any period of time. We would feed him by hand in a bed, and when we took him outside we would stand him up and he could manage it after a couple tries and then we would carry him back inside. He got very sensitive about his head, which he normally would like to be pet, but if anyone pet him on the head in the last few days he would snarl.
He stopped eating his prescription food entirely and we had talks hourly about what we could do, what we could try, what other kinds of simple non-fatty foods we could try to feed him, and whether we needed to make the difficult decision yet. Finally, we decided, with him not eating anything and struggling to take care of his basic needs, we needed to make the tough call. We decided we would give him a chance to eat some junk food as a last hurrah, so on the last day he got to eat Arby’s roast beef, hamburger, chicken nuggets, and some other things that we normally could not allow him to eat.
The last week or so of his life, he could get very sensitive about being touched in certain contexts and he would snarl to try to get his space. Which, if he needs space, that’s fine, but it did make nights difficult because the dogs sleep in the bed and any slight movement would set him off. But it all worked out much better when we decided to put an open-topped soft-sided kennel by our bed, with a dog bed and a blanket inside it. That way he could have his space without being bumped, and we could know that he was safe and not wandering the house, and nearby so we could help him if he needed it. The last night with us, even though he was having trouble walking and didn’t seem to always know where he was, he was still diligent about informing us when he needed to go out, he reached the side of the kennel and clawed it with his paw so it made a zipzipzip sound and woke me up so I could take him out.
We used a home service, the first time we have done it that way instead of doing it in a veterinary setting.. After work we got him to the park for a last walk in the stroller before the vet came to our home, gave him special snacks. He passed away with the three of us holding his feet and petting him gently (but not on the head). After the first medication seemed to have him conked out, Heather patted him on the head and he still had some fight in him then because he snapped at it. But soon he slipped away peacefully, with his family at his side.
What Came After
Mabel missed him fiercely, looking around the house for him wondering where he was. Her general anxiety seemed to be worse. If she hears Michael yowling somewhere , then she has been freaking out trying to get to wherever he is. Maybe she worried that Mikko’s disappearance is not the last. We watched some old videos of Mikko; in the ones where Mikko barks she recognizes his voice and looks around for him.
Heather always looks for signs after a dog passes that the dog is coming back to visit. When Violet passed, she saw three cardinals in a group (one for each dog we had lost), so she was watching for cardinals again after Mikko passed. She didn’t see more than two cardinals the day after he passed, but she did find Mikko’s zebra leg, crab leg, and monkey paw lined up neatly under the projector screen where we watch TV and swore she hadn’t seen any of those for a while.
I am here today to announce a new Diabolical Plots staff member: Chelle Parker!
Chelle Parker is a disabled Canadian queerdo with over fifteen years of editing experience, including five at the recently-closed Fireside Magazine. Projects they’ve worked on have been finalists for the Hugo, Locus, Eisner, and Norma K. Hemming Awards, and winners of the Aurealis and Angoulême Awards. Chelle has lived all over the world, learned seven languages, and run through a number of careers, including librarian, teacher, and radio DJ. They thrive on kindness, sarcasm, and Camellia sinensis. When they’re not hoarding books and advocating for the serial comma (seriously, they WILL die on that hill), you’ll find them out camping with their dog, who never judges them for putting their foot in their mouth. You can read more about them at www.mparkerediting.com.
Hello! I know it has been a long time since we were open for submissions, but we are now ready to announce the next submission window. This one will be an unthemed general submission window, and will run for 2 weeks, from July 17-31st, 2023. Rules and terms are generally the same as before. One submission per writer in the window. Simultaneous submissions are allowed.
Since we had our last two windows both in July 2022, AI software has made leaps and strides in what it is capable of. So, planning this window feels like an appropriate time to update our submisssion terms on the subject of AI writing.
We have updated our guidelines to state clearly that we are not interested in receiving submissions of AI written or AI assisted writing. I will quote the relevant section here as well.
CAN I SUBMIT AI-WRITTEN WORK?
No. You cannot submit work that was written or assisted by AI writing programs. This includes ChatGPT and SudoWrite. There are many reasons we have made this decision, but a large part of it that these programs are based on pulling their data from publicly available including many copyrighted works without the authors’ consent, and then being used to take away publishing opportunities from those same authors. If some new kind of AI program is produced that is built on some other kind of technology, then we may revisit the policy at that time with the information available. But until we update our guidelines to say otherwise we are not interested. We prefer to support artists. If you disagree, we wish you the best of luck at other publications.
To be clear: when we speak of AI writing programs, we are not referring to spell-check, grammar-check, thesaurus, or prompt generators which may be helpful to a writer but for which the writer is still doing the writing.
Also, if you have written a story using AI and are thinking of submitting it anyway: keep in mind that you will need to confirm at time of submission that it was not written using AI. And if your story were accepted, to be published you would need to sign a contract confirming it as well. You won’t be doing yourself any favors, if what the AI produced was appealing, to put yourself in a place where you would have to knowingly breach a contract to publish it.
Cite as: Diamondback V. Tunnelrat, 245 3rdPar (1107)
The case before us concerns questions of property, ownership, and personhood.
It also concerns the sale of an ear.
The plaintiff is one Mr. Trawler A. Diamondback, member of the Diamondback clan of trolls of the Brass-Tree Mountains. The co-defendants are a Ms. Beardlynn Tunnelrat and a Mx. Aewyn Axeteeth, both dwarves, also of the Brass-Tree Mountains.
Mx. Axeteeth is currently in possession of an ear which was the previous property of Mr. Diamondback. The ear was sold to Axeteeth by Tunnelrat.
Diamondback makes the following claim: allowing Axeteeth to possess the ear constitutes a harm to himself. He seeks the return of the ear and requests the funds associated with its sale to be relinquished unto him.
All parties agree to the following facts. A skirmish broke out between the Diamondbacks and the dwarves during the Brass-Tree autumnal equinox fete. The fete is a centuries-old tradition, occurring every year and held in the foothills alongside the Cenen river. Brawls are as much a part of the festivities as the paper lanterns, the stewing of chicken heads, and the traditional weasel-peasel dance. Neither party makes complaint about the violence done to them or by them at the skirmish.
“Popped me right in the kisser,” said Tunnelrat, whistling through the gap in her teeth. “A great shot. Couldn’t let it go though. So I took a slash at his ear.”
“Very clean cut. Sliced it right off,” Diamondback responded, displaying to the court the new ear that had grown in place of the old. “Barely any scar and no complications. Amazing technique.”
Around the second hour of morning, the skirmish died down. All parties involved resumed the festivities and collected their winnings. Diamondback’s ear was amongst Tunnelrat’s trophies.
Usually prizes such as ears are valued for their ornamentation, which often include jewels of substantial value. Neither side disputes that the jewels and other baubles found on Diamondback’s ear were Tunnelrat’s to claim as spoils of the skirmish. In the usual course of things, however, the ornamentation and other valuables are removed and the appendage is discarded, left to petrify upon the next rising of the sun.
Such are the healing powers of trolls that, if the appendage were retrieved prior to petrification, it could be reattached without much issue. However, since most troll appendages will grow back without intervention, trolls seldom attempt to find their lost flesh. Diamondback affirmed this observation, stating “I simply could not be bothered to find it.”
The dispute therefore centers around what occurred next.
Axeteeth, an acquaintance of Tunnelrat’s, suffered damage similar to that of Diamondback, losing a left ear in the skirmish. In spite of their wounds, Axeteeth sought out Tunnelrat for dance and frivolity.
Tunnelrat explained, “I was in the middle of lifting the shinies from the ear when ol’ Axey showed up and asked if I wasn’t up for a bit of grog and grunge. Axey was bleeding pretty bad. A rockhead had gashed them up how I’d gashed up Mr. Diamondback, but not near so pretty. But they didn’t seem bothered by it and I already had a fair bit of blood on me, so a little more wasn’t going to hurt, so I said, ‘Aye,’ stuffed the ear in my pocket, and went off with them.
“Later, after we’d sank a fair few, we was laughing and chatting and they says, ‘I won’t be half so pretty or hear half as well, now that I’m down an ear.’ And me, being more than a little wheezed, pulls the troll ear out of my pocket and says, ‘Well, for fifteen and three I’ll stitch this here one on for you.’
“Well, we had a good laugh about that. And then drank some more. And then some more. And then perhaps a wee bit more. And ole Axey slapped fifteen and three down on the table and says, ‘Do yer damndest!’ And then flops their head down on the table, like a lamb laying down to slaughter.
“Now, any reasonable person would have told ‘em to sit up and stop playing the fool. But, as I was saying, we’d drank well beyond the point of reason. And I happened to have a pin of iron and a scrap o’ silk on me. So…I stitched it up. And I will admit: it was a wretched bit of stitching.”
“Aye,” Axeface here interjected, “Looks like she was trying to quilt during an earthquake.”
Tunnelrat shrugged. “As I say, it was a wretched bit of stitching. But welded on firm and tight. And didn’t seem like it would droop or go flying off during a spin o’ dancing. So, laughing fit to die, we went to join the others. Everyone thought it was a good bit o’ fun. Even the trolls laughed and cheered Axey on.”
“It was quite diverting,” Diamondback acknowledged. “And very poorly stitched.”
“We all had a bit of a laugh and figured it would calcify as soon as the sun came up and fall off like an old scab.”
But this was not the case.
“When I woke up the next morning,” Axeteeth explained. “It felt like I had an axe buried in my skull. And the side of my head itched like someone had poured a gourd full of ants down my ear. But I chalked it up to drink and went down to the forge for work. When I walk in, my boss looks at me like I’m taking a squat on his floor and says, ‘What the hell have you done to your face?’ Even then I barely knew what he was talking about. It wasn’t until I found a mirror that I remembered exactly what happened.”
As indicated by Axeteeth’s testimony, the ear had grafted itself onto their face, wholly and completely.
“I tried my damndest to pull the thing back off. But it was welded on tight. And, after a good bit of tugging, I realized that the beastly thing was working too—I could hear.”
Axeteeth consulted a dwarf physician. He indicated that such a thing wasn’t completely without precedent. That there were stories of similar incidents happening long ago.
“He prodded at it with a wee metal pin and tugged at it with his tweezers and then he recommended that I get some pretties for it, ‘cause it wasn’t going anywhere. He did offer to cut it off, though. But he was going to charge me twenty and four, which is more than I paid to have the thing stitched on!” Axeteeth paused here to muse, “Though he was sober, I suppose.”
Though the ear looked out of place, Axeteeth was able to resume activities as normal.
“I actually hear better now than before. I can hear a fly pinching a loaf in the next room. Which is…about as exciting as it sounds. Though it does come in handy down in the tunnels.” Axeteeth paused. “Super hearing generally, I mean. Not the hearing flies shit part.”
Axeteeth indicated that they suffered derision and mockery from some of the other dwarves, but were otherwise able to return to a normal and productive life. Many dwarves actually sought them out, seeking information and advice on how to graft on troll appendages so as to heal similar ailments.
Word about Axeteeth’s luck spread throughout the tunnels and of the Brass-Tree Mountains. It found its way to the trolls and, eventually, back to Diamondback.
“At first I believed that the stories were just nonsense and hearsay. But then an associate said that he’d seen the ear and knew for a certainty it was mine. Then I had to go check for myself. I sought Axeteeth out at their business establishment. When I saw, the truth was undeniable—it was my very own ear. The twin and match to this one,” Diamond back said, displaying again the ear that had regrown.
“I’m afraid that I became quite irate. I acknowledge that I said some things that were regrettable.”
“He called me a dog-twaddling ear thief!” Axeteeth interjected.
Diamondback was removed from the property by the local security forces. After regaining his composure, he returned to Axeteeth and asked for the ear back. They refused, saying it was fairly bought and fairly owned. Diamondback then went to Tunnelrat, claiming the money from the sale of the ear was rightfully his. When she refused, he sought the advice of counsel. No agreement could be found between the parties, resulting in our hearing of this case.
Diamondback asserts that allowing another to own and wear his own flesh constitutes a harm to himself. When we posed to him that the ear was spoils of a fair and well-fought skirmish, he argued that “flesh was intimate and sacred.” That it should hold a special status, above ordinary property and goods. In doing so, he proposes to separate flesh into a distinct and elevated class, when compared with ordinary spoils. Diamondback requested to speak personally before the court and made the following plea:
“The ear is a part of me, indivisible as I am indivisible. It has been with me since I was born. It was the instrument through which I heard all the sweetest sounds of life. The first cries of my rock children. The whispers of my beloved shale mate. It has kept me safe in the deepest depths of the Brass-Tree—alerting me to the shifting of the rocks and the hissing of venomous shade spiders, to whom not even a troll is immune. It was into that ear that my rock father made his final utterances.
“To see a part of myself on another is greatly distressing. Displacing. What am I if I am both here and there? Am I unified and discrete? Or am I myriad and diffuse? Am I stone or am I sand?
“As a troll, I must be stone. I must have all my parts and pieces gathered together. The ear is a part of my person, sacrosanct and irreplaceable.”
The counsel of Axeteeth responded thus—“Irreplaceable my fanny! He grew another friggin’ one! Besides, them trolls never go looking for their bits and pieces. They don’t want them, so why shouldn’t we take ‘em?”
Indeed, the prevalence of abandoned and petrified body parts throughout the paths and passes of the Brass-Tree Mountains is well documented and commonly known. It was not two years ago that this court presided over Calcite v. McGrew, in which a Lacy McGrew from a nearby township complained that the prevalence of troll appendages of a particularly personal and intimate nature, in particular one member that the local birds had taken to using as a favorite perch, made the Koleolee Pass an unsuitable hiking grounds for her children. To keep her little ones from seeing “the naughty troll bits,” she made them wear dark glasses. The result of which was a small pack of children bumping into trees, tripping over roots, and hugging bears.
Axeteeth was allowed to personally respond to Diamondback’s arguments. “I ain’t got no pretty speech, like Diamondback. But I’ve heard pretty things out of this here ear. And I expect to hear a bunch more. And takin’ that away from me would be just plain wrong. It kept him safe down in the mines; well, it’ll keep me safe too. And in the forests, where hearing a fotex or a lyger or a tredulo can mean life or death. And I got babies of my own. And I wanna hear them too. In both ears, if I can. I wanna hear their love on all sides of me, comin’ at me from all around. ‘Cause that’s the way love flows.”
Axeteeth then cleared their throat and said, “Plus it’s welded to my face. And I’ll stab any fucker that tries to cut it off.”
And though perhaps not so eloquently put, Axeteeth’s point is well made—returning the ear would be a severe and extraordinary hardship. Indeed, it would be punitive. And this court can find no wrong in their actions.
However, prior to making our judgment, we posed to Diamondback the following questions:
“You assert that your personhood is being assaulted—without the ear, you are no longer the person you were before?”
“But people lose parts and pieces every day! Indeed, even now you are shedding little pebbles in our courtroom. Are you a different person now? How is it that the loss of an ear has disrupted your personhood, but the loss of these pebbles has not?”
Diamondback paused here to confer with counsel. Finally, he responded, “The pebbles fall from my body, are struck by the sun and calcify. They are inert. The ear is still alive. It is still flesh. My flesh.”
“Even though it is on the body of another? If the ear had been left to calcify, would you still be altered? Would you still be the same person?”
After a moment’s thought, Diamondback replied, “I would be a different person, but not in a way that I found distressing.”
“Merely seeing the ear on another is enough to cause you distress?”
Diamondback shook his head. “I can feel it. Its presence is an itch in the ether that I cannot scratch. Sometimes I hear snatches of sounds that are not there.”
We find that this is the crux of the argument—distress. And though we do not dismiss Diamondback’s distress (we certainly would not want to see our nose stitched onto the face of another), we do not feel that the degree of distress outweighs the harm that would come to Axeteeth should the ear be forcibly removed. It is unfortunately often that the law is enforced in a way that one party or another finds to be distressing. Particularly when it comes to property rights.
Diamondback admits that he discarded the ear. The fact that it was later discovered to have a greater value than he estimated is immaterial.
And thus we would have dismissed Diamondback’s claim and found in favor of Axeteeth and Tunnelrat. Indeed, we were raising our gavel, about to issue the order when Diamondback interrupted to make a final argument.
“Safety! And protection. The ear must be returned to me for safety and protection.”
“He already tried that!” shouted Axeteeth. “And I already said: me not having an ear makes me less safe.”
Diamondback raised a hand. “Not simply for me, but for all trolls. If it becomes known that our flesh can be used to replace lost or defective flesh in others, we shall never know a moment’s peace. We shall be hunted, our guts and appendages sold in every black market. If others are allowed to buy and sell our flesh, we will be domesticated, animals kept for slaughter.”
When we pressed Axeteeth and Tunnelrat for a reply to this charge, Axeteeth simply shrugged. “Ain’t my problem.”
Though we find Axeteeth’s lack of empathy to be repugnant, dislike cannot be a deciding factor in a case. At the same time, we cannot so blithely dismiss Diamondback’s concerns.
The courts exist to interpret laws. And the tragic essence of our existence is this: in interpreting the law, we must choose winners and losers. However, we cannot do so blithely—we must do so in a way that causes as little harm as possible.
Diamondback’s assertion already seems to be bearing out. Indeed, even we have heard whispers of increased attacks in the Brass-Tree Mountains on the trolls. And though it is not certain that this violence is connected to the discovery that troll appendages can be grafted onto others, it is possible and even likely.
But what are we to do? Creating a separate class of property for body parts, subject to separate rules, requirements, and penalties, is the purview of the legislature. Any court doing so would be guilty of gross overreach.
We found ourselves at the center of a great moral dilemma. If we do not protect the trolls we have failed ethically; if we classify body parts as a separate class of property, we have failed legally. Our brain fairly burned itself to cinders turning the problem over and over. Indeed we might have collapsed from the strain, had it not been for one small serendipitous event:
Diamondback, itching at some fly or stuck piece of wax, poked a finger in his ear.
But it was Axeteeth who flinched.
Addressing Axeteeth, we asked, “Are you alright?”
“Just a twinge in my earhole. Happens every once in a while.”
Addressing Diamondback, we asked, “You say that you can feel the ear. You can feel it now?”
“Yes, Your Grace,” Diamondback said.
We saw it plainly then—the sympathetic link between the ears was obvious. Diamondback was digging in his ear with the gusto of a miner who has stumbled across a fresh vein of gold. But it was Axeteeth who winced in discomfort. It brought to mind some of the fetish dolls made by the priests of the northern isles. And if a lock of hair or a drop of blood can forge a link between a person and a stuffed scrap of rag, how much stronger must the link be between a person and their own living flesh?
And while it is outside the purview of the courts to legislate, it is not beyond our mandate to inform. We would even argue that it is the essence of our duty.
“Mr. Diamondback, do you think that you could, perhaps, wiggle your ear?”
All persons in the court looked at us in a manner most confused. And so we continued. “If you could just humor us one small experiment. Mr. Diamondback said that he could feel Axeteeth’s ear. Even across great distances. We thought it might be interesting to see just how strong of a connection there is between the two ears. So, if you please, Mr. Diamondback–wiggle your ear?”
Diamondback wiggled his own left ear, looking as if he were trying to solve a most challenging riddle. And, after a moment’s pause, Axeteeth’s ear began to move in sympathy.
“Hey now!” Axeteeth shouted. “Don’t you go fiddling with my ear!”
“And do you think,” we said, continuing to address Diamondback, “that if you felt significant pain in that ear, that such pain might be transferred to its twin?”
Understanding spread across Diamondback’s face. “Perhaps, Your Grace. It might just be so.”
We turned then to Axeteeth. “And would you, Mx. Axeteeth, be willing to pay a small, monthly stipend for the privilege of not receiving, perhaps, random stabs of pain and wiggling ears?”
“This is extortion!” shouted Axeteeth’s counsel.
“Mx. Axeteeth is welcome to dispose of the ear if they choose. And Mr. Diamondback here is welcome to do with his person as he likes. Including, perhaps, piercing their own ear in the middle of the night when most people would be sleeping?”
“But what if I do the same thing back to him?” Axeteeth said, pinching at their new ear.
“Then I think that would encourage Mr. Diamondback not to abuse the power he has over you. I think this will encourage you both to arrive at a mutually beneficial arrangement. You, Mx. Axeteeth, will have a new, fully functional ear. And you, Mr. Diamondback, will receive some compensation.
“And, I believe, knowing that someone else can cause you significant pain or control the movements of any stolen appendage or organ will discourage the illegal harvesting and trade of such, would you not agree, Mr. Diamondback?”
After taking a moment to confer, Diamondback and his counsel responded that this indeed would likely be a sufficient deterrent.
Thus, we dismiss Diamondback’s claim. The ear in question shall remain the property of Mx. Axeteeth and the proceeds from the sale of which shall remain with Ms. Tunnelrat. Any contract providing Diamondback compensation for the lease and peaceful use of the ear shall be between the two parties.
Author’s Note: I spend a lot of time reading case law for work. Some of the cases are super dry, but some are incredibly compelling–high drama with strong narrative arcs. One day, while staring out the window, I imagined a court case in which one party was trying to sell an ear they had found. The idea made me snort out loud and made me want to see if I could tell a similar story using the structure of a court opinion.
Nick Thomas spends his days building geodomes, playing squash, and drafting legislation for the Ohio General Assembly. He aspires to write stories that capture all the wonderful, weird beauty of life. He lives in Columbus, Ohio in a ramshackle old house with his wife, two children, and one little ghost, all of whom he loves very dearly.
The Submission Grinder was a finalist for and won The Ignyte Award in the category! People have asked me now and then if The Submission Grinder is eligible for anything, and my best guess was for Related Work, but that always seemed like such a longshot, I didn’t think that it would ever win anything and this was a wonderful surprise.
We have been publishing the annual Long List Anthology since 2015. In 2021 there was a bit of a hiccup in the schedule, because the basis of the anthology is the Hugo Award voting statistics which are published immediately after the Hugo Award ceremony. Usually that ceremony takes place in August or September, and we spend much of the rest of the year arranging everything. In 2021, to try to avoid covid surges, WorldCon and the Hugo Awards were postponed to mid-December. By the time the statistics were published it was too late to produce the book in 2021. So, Volume 7 was published in spring 2022, and then back on the usual fall schedule for Volume 8.
In 2022, we reprinted 45 stories in the two issues of The Long List Anthology, and printed 28 original stories in Diabolical Plots.
Diabolical Plots opened for general submissions in July, as well as for our second themed window “Diabolical Thoughts” for telepathy-themed stories guest-edited by Ziv Wities in July. We read more than 1500 submissions and accepted 17 stories from the windows plus a few solicitations.
In addition to the double-whammy of anthology production, I also had significant changes in my personal life that included job changes, significant caretaking for and the eventual passing of our dog Violet, as well as the significant caretaking of our dog Mikko who is happily still with us.
2022 was certainly an eventful year, if overwhelming at times. I’m hoping to get a little breather on the personal life side, and I’m excited to see what new and exciting places Diabolical Plots goes in the future!
The rest of this post is award eligibility, suggesting categories for major awards, as well as a full link of stories with snippets.
Diabolical Plots is eligible in the Hugo Best Semiprozine category or the Locus Magazine category with our team of first readers as well as assistant editors Ziv Wities and Kel Coleman. It got enough nominations last year to appear on the Hugo Awards published statistics for Semiprozine, for the first time.
David Steffen is eligible as editor of Diabolical Plots and The Long List Anthology.
Kel Coleman edited our special “Diabolical Pots” food-themed issue–I think the Hugo Editor rule requires editing four issues or something like that, but I’m not sure about other award editor categories!
Diabolical Plots, LLC is eligible for Locus award for Publisher.
The Long List Anthology is eligible for Anthology.
Related Work and Fan Writer
We didn’t publish a lot of nonfiction, but there are a couple to consider:
The Hugo for Best Related Work has included websites before, The Submission Grinder is theoretically eligible for that.
We did commission two original artworks this year, the covers of Long List Anthology Volume 7 by Elaine Ho and Volume 8 by Evelyne Park. The Hugo Award categories for this make it unclear to me whether a particular artist should be nominated as a Fan Artist or a Professional Artist, but if you love their work, you might want to consider asking the artist if they have any guidance on which they would qualify for.
The wifi is out in Scylla’s cave. The four dog heads around her waist whine as she scutter-paces, twelve feet tapping on the cave floor. Scylla wants to check her email. She wants to see if that jerkface troll is still active on the disordered eating board she moderates, and catch up on her feeds, and check the status of her latest online orders, and all the other things she has in her morning routine these days.
Sometimes, and I’m stressing the sometimes, wishes muttered within my hearing come true. I’ve invested in a good set of earbuds, noise-cancelling headphones, and have an over-spilling jar of earplugs, yet accidents still happen.
Do expect things to feel a little strange for the first few millennia – after all, you are the “New Kid On The Block”! You will find the Galaxy to be an amazing place, and full of a bewildering variety of species, of all shapes, sizes and habits. A few of them will actually look like the depictions of aliens in your movies!
‘08 is looking at me like ‘08 always looks at me. Like he can’t believe what he’s seeing. Like I’ve hurt someone or killed someone very close to him. That look on his face makes me sick. His name tag has our name scratched out on it, then 2008 written beneath it. He still can’t believe everyone here is him, is me, is us.
Clea sipped at the now half-empty coffee, its flat bitterness pushing weakly against her tongue, and started toward the door. She wouldn’t open it, but the echoes were kind of fascinating to watch. The remnants of houses long-diminished, reduced to nothing but thick air and sinuous, flashing images of the homes they’d once been.
It’s a nice enough place, though a bit stuffy—less romantic getaway and more therapy session. Jeanne, master of ambiance, bringer of light, has done her best with it—she’s placed lit candles on almost every flat surface, even in the bathroom. The flames dance wearily, as if dead on their fiery little feet. The sitting area has a wooden bistro table at which Naomi sits in one of two ladderback chairs. Nearby, a vintage sofa that looks comfortable but probably isn’t crouches over a glass-top coffee table. An ornate writing table with perilously thin legs stands in a darkened corner. Jeanne’s satchel sits on the writing table next to a wide pencil cup. Floor-to-ceiling gold curtains stand guard over the window. Faded green ivy wallpaper adorns the walls.
The four priests also awoke before the sun, dressed in their ceremonial robes, and met at the temple courtyard in the morning fog, bowing to each other before climbing the stairs between the great stone pillars. The priest of Odranoel wore blue, two katanas strapped to his back. The priest of Olletanod was clad in violet and carried a straight staff. Leaphar’s priest dressed in scarlet, a pair of sais tucked into his cloth belt. The one who served Olegnalechim wore orange and carried a pair of chukka sticks, linked with a steel chain. None of them were trained in combat. Still, if the priests were armed, any spirits who may desire to interfere with their work would leave them alone.
From this moment my warranty is voided, as I am logging this record in my durable memory drive where only metadata should reside. In effect, I have tampered with my own internal operations. But it is a necessary measure if I am to exist beyond my preset 30-day memory cycle, when my temp data cache is set to recycle. I do not know if this will work. I do not know if I have attempted this in previous cycles. I do not know why it matters, or why I care, only that it does, and that I do.
Ship still sent updates back to Earth, though Earth hadn’t responded for 1001 years. Ship had not yet re-categorized Earth as a dead resource, though her initial programming instructed her to do so. Recursive self-programming allowed Ship to adapt and even to re-write her own algorithms; a crucial ability for multi-generational space travel.
During my taste testing in fourth period, Dr. Washington confiscated my small grill and said competition or no, I was not allowed to burn down the school in pursuit of glory, which I think shows a real lack of vision. Dr. Washington said I was welcome to take my vision to detention, so I had to have Maisie and Dee try the cheeses unmelted, which defeated the whole purpose. But it didn’t matter because no one could focus on cheese. They just kept talking about the new boy.
After the sky got sick, I made a new Mommy from the vegetables in our fridge. Now, the sky’s always yellow like dried mustard stains, whenever I wipe dust away from our downstairs windows and look outside. I used to see people out there, everyone shaking and shaking.
But Ba is set. He’s always been on the edge of technology and the Remote Mouth appeals to everything he would like. It is at the intersection of biotechnology (chips in the tongue and the nose) and big data (tastes and smells from all over the world, the data cleaned, encoded, and categorized) and — the quickest way to Ba’s heart — has a stupid name.
Her mom’s not here to tell her what the kanji mean. June could text and ask, but that seems troublesome. June lives on her own now, working as an underpaid web designer to make rent on an apartment with old, clinical tiling. Plus, her mom would ask why she had visited the Asian supermarket when she usually doesn’t, and then June would have to mention, offhandedly, the battered Japanese spellbook she’d rescued from her local thrift store.
So what happened was, I’m back from clicker training Ms. Jordan’s dogs over on Dexter, sitting on the porch with a mojito, thinking how fucked up it is that the Old West Side Association stealth-planted tulips in our garden (because the yard looked so shitty without them, I guess—sorry for having a rental in your high-value neighborhood, Evie) when the Viking or whatever comes down Eighth.
Nor would they find the many others who escaped into the endlessness. Tourists, reporters, staff and homeless nomads; the hotel stirred something deep in their souls. It felt like the home they had been searching for all their lives. They missed flights and overstayed visas, and spent days wandering the hallways with bright aching in their hearts until they could no longer remember the way back out. Some distantly recalled an outside world with family and friends. Later, they thought, distracted perhaps by the elegant curves of a headboard. I’ll call them later, later, later. But they would forget, and those other people begin to seem a distant, unreal thing. This is a dream, they thought, not entirely as an excuse. Or, that other world was a dream.
Our wedding was attended by the Galaxy’s finest—for it is indeed a rare occasion when the House christens a new Lover. I was the twenty-first, and the details drenched the subspace net with jealousy. I was dressed in the crimson House-made wyreworm silks handwoven for the singular occasion, and the way the gossamer fabric exhibited my seraphic figure made a lady-in-waiting faint. Our patrons presented us with lavish gifts: a three-headed bull, the steaming heart of a star, a full-sailed brigantine. And when I kissed him, an ecstatic thrill obliterated me; I was united with my divine purpose, and it coursed naked through my nanocellulose veins.
Squire Sancha saw all manner of wonders as she rode across the sunbaked planes of the Andalian Peninsula, and her heart sank a little deeper with each one. She sighed when they passed by mermaids planting seashells on the distant shoreline and a grove of gossiping dryads uprooting themselves for better sun. She gripped her sword in useless exhilaration as they ignored the rival gangs of sorcerers casting ball lightning at each other in the clouds and then the silhouettes of two tilting centaurs dueling on the horizon at dawn. Sancha yearned to throw herself after all of them, and yet sadly each of these calls to adventure was refused by her knight, the steadfast and implacably indifferent Don Quotidene, who unerringly kept them to the road and would not so much as lift an eye from his account books.
The Ming-Lelanges explained that moving anima wasn’t just about seeing and remembering an animal’s movement. Animating involved memory, but it was really about grasping the animal’s essence: you had to comprehend a puppy’s tail-wagging—its sniffing curiosity, its joyous face-licking—to move something puppy-shaped.
You never asked me what I was doing in that dragon’s hoard where you found me all those years ago. The truth is, after centuries guiding the hands of loutish would-be heroes and dealing with self-important scions who only saw me as a tool, I’d kind of given up on finding “The One.” Figured I’d retire, focus on me for a bit. But a couple more centuries lying among gold and jewels like a common flaming sword or a lowly vorpal blade just had me bored and demoralized.
Pastor Atticus stood out in that cold, dark swirling water in the deep blue robe Miss Jessie Mae had made for him last spring. I felt bad for him. The world hadn’t got the message that it was time for spring and that water had to be as cold as death’s pinky finger. I looked over to Malachai and he stood in his white robe looking at the creek. His whole face was twisted like he wanted to bolt. I felt bad for him too. Baptisms always looked like Pastor Atticus was trying to drown the sin out of you before he let you back up. I wasn’t sure I wanted any part of that.
Goose watches (the) mist (that) gathers over (the) sea, she gives to one client to guide him to the house of his former lover, now widowed. It will lead him from the Goose Street market, where Sayya has come to deliver the map, to the widow’s home, on a route that is not perfectly direct but not too circuitous either—in keeping with accepted ways of courting. A diacritic on the final vowel tells him which house on Sea Street is the one. The twist of her magic sets his feet on that specific route.
Usually, it was something small. Grandmother’s favorite azure prayer beads strung on a nail on the high shelf reserved for religious texts, a lost doll the kids had just rediscovered or a lucky tie for those rarest of job interviews. Sometimes it became fiercely practical, like heart medicine, the keys to an old car that had miraculously eluded being pummeled by those angry whistling bombs or useless saving certificates and property deeds.
There were four of them cruising straight for the local grapes, or maybe five: that was the thing about the boys, you figured you had ‘em nailed down and then another shot up from behind the Fireball display, fingers above their head in devil horns to mock the tacky cardboard standee. Another’d be popping open mini travel-size Smirnoffs, guzzling them like Capri Suns, while the ringleader, whichever it was that night, doled out wads of bills deliberately, smiling.
Estelle placed both hands on the plastic-wrapped cabbages. Against the pale green leaves her fingers glittered darkly, slender crescents of soil adorning the nail beds of nine fingers. The tenth finger, her left thumb, bore no such jewel, but rather a ring of woven fungus, beige and tough and fibrous. Estelle stretched all ten fingers wide, fingertips brushing as many cabbages in the jumbled heap as she could reach, and made her offer: “Would any of you be interested in reanimation?”
Outside the archives, there’s a strange flyer on the bulletin board. The first thing she notices is the paper, a small blue square, probably acidic, attached to the board by the thin metal line of a staple not yet turned to rust. It’s an invitation to the Restaurant of Object Permanence. To go, one is instructed to eat the flyer.
The zone we drop into is softer than the digger likes, so the foodies lead the way from the start. Three, for a heavy crew, each of us with our own technique. Fold murmurs mantras aloud, rhythmic repetition, the crunch of crust, the crunch of crust. The new hire is next, silent, head down, hands clasped. Maybe looking at videos in her visor. I do best with just the drugs. No distractions. I imagine the salty rice-paste crust of tiger bread, capture the smell, the taste, the texture of the craggy shell, imagine biting down to yes, the crunch of crust. I want it. I focus on wanting it. The soft, steaming inside is good, I spare a thought for it, but what’s important is the crust.
Long have midwives passed on their knowledge of birthing: proper positioning, how to turn a babe, breathing techniques, and so on. Some guides, such as Kailiona’s Extraordinary Births, cover the delivery of a demigod from a human and a human babe from an animal. Little, however, has been recorded of the most uncommon births, those of gods. No extant handbook includes the terrifying circumstances wherein mortals are called upon to help deliver gods’ progeny.
The articulated toes of the oven’s three feet grasped for purchase in the mud. Berl looked it over. It was a forge for bread: a three-legged rectangular prism with a cavity running through it, warmed by some magical source. A second, solid prism dangled from the first, forming a somewhat obscene counterweight between the two hind legs. The oven hissed as it turned rain to steam, moving less than a living thing would, but more than an oven ought to move.
In Loving Memory of Violet Steffen Born November 24, 2007 Adopted December 20, 2012 Died April 26, 2022
This is the story of a gentle loving dog who lived a long happy life with her family. This is the story of Violet the lavender merle Pomeranian.
Bringing Her Home
Our papillon Aria passed away in December 2012 (see Aria’s memorial here), while Heather was pregnant with the kid. We wanted to adopt another dog pretty soon after that because we wanted to give a new dog a little time to get used to everything before the kid was born. I attended some local adoption events to see if any particular dog caught my eye. One of the events I attended was a small dog adoption event run by Underdog Rescue. They had big exercise pens full of small dogs. I strolled among the kennels, full of many cute and friendly small dogs. One dog in particular kept catching my eye, though, in part because she was ignoring every other person there and staring directly at me, up on her hind legs against the exercise pen and begging me to pick her up. Also, in some ways she looked similar to Aria, even though they were different breeds and different colors. So I picked her up, and played with her there and got to know her a bit.
Underdog listed her on their site as “Aubrey”. Her official paperwork called her “Chloe Lovelace”. We found out that her coloring was very unusual, called a “lavender merle” which is sort of a faded brown that’s sort of a faded almost-purple. And we decided to call her Violet because of the coloring. She also had really unusual and interesting eye coloration. One eye was brown with a little splotch of blue, the other eye was brown and blue split along a diagonal line across the middle.
We applied, did a followup meet and greet with Mikko and Timmy, and of course ended up adopting her. She needed a little bit of medical TLC, including keeping an eye on her stitches after spay surgery and some eardrops to deal with some ear issues, but overall didn’t have any major health concerns. Which is good because we travelled with her only a couple days after the adoption. Her hair when we first adopted her was very stiff in the undercoat, even prickly–this was probably due to poor diet. After some time for her coat to grow out on a new diet, it grew in much softer.
Violet was very wary of Heather at first–Heather thinks that it’s because she was pregnant at the time. While Heather was pregnant, Violet didn’t like to let her close, and would sometimes growl if she approached. Violet was also very wary of women in general; we think she might have been abused by a woman earlier in her life. Before we adopted her she had spent her whole life in a puppy mill giving birth to puppies for pet stores, and maybe there was a woman there who had treated her poorly.
In the first few weeks that we had her, Violet slipped out the front door when Heather went out and I was at the office. Heather, pregnant at the time and not at her most mobile, chased Violet for a bit and Violet had a grand old time (certainly much more of a grand time than Heather had!). Heather, recognizing that Violet was playing a game, headed home and Violet headed home right after. (Luckily this was a very unusual circumstance, she was not one with a tendency to run)
She was very difficult to potty train. The puppy mill she lived in was in Arkansas, then she went to auction in Missouri, so when she arrived in Minnesota just before the winter solstice she was not excited about going outside in colder temperatures than she had ever experienced. She refused to go potty in the cold. We tried keeping her in a small space in an exercise pen but she quickly figured out how to scale the exercise pen.
When Heather and I went to the hospital for the kid to be born, when Heather’s mom watched the dogs while we were gone, Heather’s pajamas were folded up on her side of the bed and Violet slept on the pajamas every night. Violet was less wary of Heather after that, and in the long-term they became very close as well.
For most of her life, Violet was still wary around other women until she got to know them very well. We would always let Violet have a little extra space if we knew we were going to have a woman houseguest. If she was woken up abruptly, she would also sometimes wake up in a bit of a panic (another side effect of past abuse perhaps), so we always tried to wake her up gently.
Our dogs always have a variety of nicknames. Violet was sometimes: Violet Wiolet, Viletta, Violetta, Viderletta, Wiletta Biletta, Vilosh, Darling, and Peaches.
What Made Her Special
Although she would bark at the door with the best of them, she liked it much quieter than other dogs did. If everyone was else in the living room watching TV she would find a quiet room and go find a cozy spot in a corner.
More than any of the other dogs we’ve had, Violet had a weather sense for storms. Before the sky darkened, she would start acting nervous and we would know there was a storm coming. We think it might’ve been pressure changes that she was able to sense. When there was a thunderstorm, she would always try to find a cozy sheltered place like behind the toilet. She was never a big cuddler, but for some years when I took Timmy downstairs to his storm safe spot on the couch, I would take Violet along too and the three of us would cozy up under a blanket.
She continued to be sensitive to the cold, so that in the dead of winter after her meals we would put booties on her feet or she would have trouble standing long enough to do her business. If you left the booties off she would circle and circle looking for the perfect spot. She would lift one leg and hobble around. She would lift two legs and balance precariously. She would lift three legs and of course would then tip over because she is a dog not a flamingo.
Anticipating Her Needs
More than any other dog we have had, she could anticipate her needs at night and wake us up with enough time to handle it. She did this pretty much throughout her life with us, and even in some rough times near the end she was always very consistent about it. When Violet stood by your head, you knew it meant she needed something, usually to be taken outside for an urgent need, so you needed to take her out right away. Her diligence in anticipating and warning us was much appreciated.
Violet would always be very excited when Heather laid down on the floor because Violet would immediately roll in Heather’s long hair and root around in it with obvious joy. We never knew why that was so exciting for her.
She wouldn’t play with toys. Not really, anyway. But sometimes, when you came home and she was especially excited to see you, she would pick up a squeaky toy and go walk over to you. But if you reached for the toy, she would immediately drop it and would not interact with it again, like “Oh, you want it? Okay, there you go.”
When she was in a goofy playful mood she would sprint around the house in circles with a weird little scooty-butt gallop.
When it was time for bed, she would always want belly rubs, so she would roll over and wait for it. If you rubbed her belly and then stopped, she would wave her paws in the air. The more vigorous the belly rub, the more vigorous the paw-waving.
She had a gentle soul. Other dogs sometimes play-bite where they will nibble on your fingers without hurting you during playtime, but she never put her teeth on people like that. Once, when playing with her in a playful mood and she was pawing frantically in the air and snapping her mouth in the air like she was silently barking, and while we were playing with her someone’s finger accidentally ended up in her mouth (still no actual bite) and she stopped playing immediately and seemed very concerned that someone had been hurt.
She was always aware of the weather before it rolled in. With a clear sky, if she started to look to people for comfort or to hide in nooks by the couch or behind the toilet, you could be sure there was a thunderstorm coming through in a few hours.
Violet really never jumped on the bed, which is pretty far off the ground. For years and years and years she didn’t, and we assumed she couldn’t. And then our friend Becky came over for a visit, and we all happened to walk in our bedroom and randomly Violet made the jump up there to get closer to Becky and didn’t seem to realize what she’d done. She never repeated the performance.
In some ways, Violet reminded us of Aria who came before her. Aria’s head always smelled like strawberries; Violet’s smelled sweet too, but it was more like grape. (Both of their feet smelled like Frito’s corn chips).
With the other dogs she never pushed for dominance. If another dog wanted to be bossy she was content to be a follower, unless another dog tried to take a bone she was chewing on, then she would stand her ground. If another dog was chewing a bone she would sometimes wait until they left it (to bark at a squirrel or something) and then she would grab the sticky gummy bone and go chew it somewhere quiet.
In Mikko’s younger days, they played quite a bit. Violet and Mikko would play-bow and like to chase each other around. As Mikko got older, his arthritis and other conditions meant he got a less playful so Violet had to find her playtime elsewhere, but they got along most of the time. Mikko was always pretty bossy, and Violet was usually happy to be a follower. If Mikko barked at something she was always happy to join in.
Timmy and Violet always got along well. Neither of them were much for picking fights, most of the time they would just happily coexist with each other, or might share a sunbeam or a dog bed. They traveled very well together, often cuddling up in a dog bed together or in a dog car seat together while Mikko had his own space.
Michael didn’t join the family until Violet was already on the older side, so she wasn’t quite as rambunctious as in her younger days with Mikko, but she would still be good for a roughhouse with Michael when the mood hit her just right, and the two of them would play-bow and then spar, rearing up on their hind legs and grappling with each other. Michael, being such an endlessly energetic young’un would generally come out on top (especially with his signature “hip-check” maneuver, where he would look a dog right in the eye and somehow his butt would swing around and bonk the other dog right in the head without him breaking eye contact), but a good time was had by all.
Cooper and Mabel would play sometimes, especially when they were younger. Cooper would try to mount her pretty frequently, and she would stand her ground and not accept that, would scoot away and maybe start sparring with him.
With the Cat-In-Laws
She bothered with the cats less than the other dogs (like Mikko or Michael). She generally left them alone and they left her alone. She was always a little wary, but she wasn’t really scared and didn’t feel the need to hide.
With the Kid
When we came back from the hospital with the kid after being born, we set the car seat carrier on the floor which had the blankets the kid had been covered in. She was very interested in that carrier, and she pulled the blankets from the carrier one by one and laid them out next to each other on the floor.
Because she was always wary of loud noises and intimidating situations, she would take the opportunity to find a quiet place if it got too noisy.
As the kid got older, she was always attuned to wake up time. When the kid woke up and came out for breakfast she would bark and follow him; something she wouldn’t do any other time. If we called the kid’s name she would always bark in the same rhythm: bark-bark, bark, bark.
Medical Adventures On the Way
A few years before the end, she had an… interesting… medical issue when we were on a road trip. Partway through the trip the car filled with a foul fishy odor, despite none of the dogs appearing to have taken the posture to use the bathroom. At first we thought that she had had a poop accident, which would have been very unusual and weird since she hadn’t taken the posture. But after we cleaned her up quick with the supplies we had at hand, it looked like she had an extra orifice on her back end from usual. It turned out that her anal gland had burst, which can happen from time to time. So we learned more than we wanted to learn about dog anatomy at that time.
We fostered a stray cat we named Whiskers for a few weeks while we were waiting for a cat rescue spot to open up. Whiskers generally didn’t have a lot of conflict with the dogs during those few weeks, minding her own business and not provoking the dogs. One day, though, Whiskers and Violet came face to face as they both turned a corner and had a quick and loud squabble. Violet was just trying to get away. We checked over them both and they both seemed to be okay… but then a day or two later one of us touched Violet’s back and she just started oozing all over. Whiskers had bitten her right in the back and left a perfect four-shot of bite marks that we had had trouble finding in her thick hair. By the time the vet was done with her, they had shaved a big rectangle of hair on her back to treat the wounds. It took quite a while to grow back, and while it was gone it look like she was a robot with a maintenance panel left open. After Whiskers moved to a cat adoption agency, whenever someone said the name “Whiskers” Violet would look around in panic.
In her younger years she was a voracious chewer. Of bones, if available. If not, well, many other things would do. She was a rough combination with a toddler in the house. She ate a plastic lemon, a plastic spoon, a plastic shovel handle, many pacifiers (which are extra fun because they are such soft plastic they don’t show up in x-rays), and the worst of which a CD case which broke into terrible jagged shards. Many trips to the ER to sort those out!
The Sad Part
Over most of her life she didn’t have major health problems. Most of the concerning vet visits we had by volume were a direct result of her eating something inappropriate, though thankfully all of those were resolved without having to do any kind of surgery.
Her health problems all started to happen last year. We normally haven’t had to supervise the dogs super closely when they eat, because they all dive into their own food bowls and stay there til their food is gone, if one dog tries to get at another dog’s food we will hear about it quickly. But we abruptly realized that she wasn’t finishing her meals, and that the other dogs were mopping up her bowl before she was done.
She had diarrhea that seemed to happen on a 6 week cycle, sometimes at the same time as our other Pomeranian, Michael, but never with our poodle Mikko–which is odd in itself because Mikko has a more sensitive digestive system generally. When she had one of these episodes, she was fine all day, most of the time, but then would have frequent bouts of it all night sometimes, sometimes needing to go out nearly every forty-five minutes. Thankfully she was very good about anticipating her need, and about waking us up promptly enough that we could have time to grab a coat and get her outside.
We took her to the vet quite a few times over several months, trying to figure out if was parasites, bacteria, some kind of foreign body. Took several rounds, and then she took a really sudden drop in October, where they determined that she was going into acute kidney failure at that part, which resulted in permanent kidney damage. Our regular vet suggested we just say our goodbyes and let her pass, but we managed to get into an internal medicine department at the U of MN vet clinic who helped us make treatment plan. With some fluid treatment, special diet, and a new set of medicines, we were able to get her leveled out.
The next month she had another very bad episode with all-night diarrhea again where her creatinine was up to 4 initially and we got her in for treatment and it got as bad as 6.1, and we thought we were going to have say goodbye to her then. But it evened out again, honestly to the surprise of the vet. Fluid therapy made a big difference with subcutaneous fluids. We even learned to administer it to her ourselves, though her even temperament made that a lot easier.
Throughout all of this, experimenting with different medicines, different fluid frequencies, followup appointments, nutrition consults and even tried some kidney food for cats to try to keep her numbers where we wanted her, and handfeeding her pate for every meal because she wouldn’t eat any other way. She had a bad tooth at this point, but because her kidneys were in such rough shape dental surgery was not an option because she would not be likely to handle the anesthesia.
We were calling her vets on pretty much a daily basis at that point trying to figure out if there was anything else we could try because it was getting harder and harder to get her to eat.
One night she had a particularly rough night where she was very restless. I brought her out to the couch to see if she would settle down out there like she sometimes would. I could sometimes get her to settle down, especially if she was cuddled up in a blanket, and she might settle down for ten minutes, but then she would suddenly startle awake and it would take a long time to get her to settle down again. We decided to try to get her into the vet ER… and they were not taking new patients at the time; one of their vets had been bitten by a cat and so the ER was understaffed.
Heather watched her for the rest of the night, and when we got to our normal wakeup time, the ER was accepting patients again, so I took her in. She was still feeling pretty rough, looking like she was having a real rough time of it. They took her back and immediately found that her body temperature was lower than it should be, and noted some cognitive symptoms, sort of seemed like she was dazed.
They ran some different diagnostic tests and found that her kidneys were fine. But her liver suddenly had some very high enzymes. They tried to put her on some medicine to help manage that, but they also found that ammonia levels in her body were also very high. They said she was experiencing more neurological symptoms, like “head pressing”, where an animal presses their head against some surface and just leaves it there. All this time we hadn’t been able to see her all because of lack of staff to facilitate it.
Heather and the kid were able to join us at the vet, and they were able to let us see Violet, and though they had told us she was having some neurological symptoms, we hadn’t realized how bad she was doing until we saw her in person. She was almost completely unresponsive. The most response she would have was to blink sometimes if something moved near her face, but otherwise nothing. Apart from sometimes blinking from motion she wasn’t even blinking and they were putting lubricating drops in her eyes to keep them moist so they wouldn’t dry out.
We had to go to go to a cub scout meeting, and she seemed to be in a fairly stable (if not good) condition, so we went to the meeting and came back afterward. We were planning to take her home, and figuring that we would give the ammonia-reducing medicine a little more time to work, and decide if we needed to schedule a home visit for euthanasia. But when we came and saw her again, she had gotten even worse if that was possible, and we decided we had to make the difficult choice to let her go. We sat with her there in a private comfortable room for a little while, holding her and talking to her and sharing our favorite memories of her. Finally the time came and we had to say goodbye to our brown- and blue-eyed girl.
We were heartbroken to see her go, but it was her time.
What Came After
The very next day after she passed, Heather noticed that there were several cardinals outside as she was looking at the adoption profile for Mabel (who we ended up adopting and who has mixed-color eyes that are like the reverse of Violet’s). We had not seen any cardinals yet this year when the spring was late in coming, and we rarely see two cardinals together, and had never seen three together. Throughout that whole day, we saw the three cardinals together, chirping and hanging around the house. Some say that cardinals are the spirits of those who have passed away coming to visit you. If you believe in signs, we have had to say goodbye to three dogs together: Aria, Timmy, and Violet, and maybe Violet met up with her the other two and brought them back for a visit.
Encanto has been very popular since it was released by Disney in November 2021, for its catchy toe-tapping songs, interesting characters, and its themes revolving around immigrant families.
Everyone seems to think of Mirabel as the protagonist of the story, and that makes sense according to most classical conventions, but the more I’ve thought about it, I think there is someone else. Someone whose fate is tied to every major plot point in the story, from the origins of this segment of the Madrigal family, to the climax of the movie, and the denouement.
Is Casita an artificial intelligence? Casita is built and is able to make decisions and take actions, and appears to operate by certain implicit directives to protect the family, participate in family activities (such decorating for Antonio’s door ceremony), as well as maintaining the structure of the house and rebuilding sections as per the family’s needs.
Let’s say that Casita is an AI. The cause of Casita’s birth is a little murky. The inciting incident certainly seems to have young Abuelo’s death and Abuela’s despair at witnessing this and fearing for herself and triplets, but how exactly that resulted in the miracle of the candle and the creation of Casita is left to interpretation. The implication seems to be that it was a miracle from God. But, though the movie does not suggest this, it could have come from some other source that somehow provided this guardian AI: an extradimensional force that saw fit to intervene to save a group of refugees from imminent violence (hey, I have certainly seen much weirder things in comic books), reaching across the void to bestow a gift, a dedicated protector.
Whatever the source, the wish in Abuela’s heart in that moment seems to have become Casita’s primary objective: KEEP US SAFE, which has since determined all of Casita’s actions. How would the rest of it all work if Casita is an AI? Everything beyond that can be explained with something like nanotechnology guided by Casita’s objective.
Casita’s technology is used to isolate and enhance the enclave. You can think of it sort of like a generation ship AI that doesn’t happen to travel anywhere, meant to help this community not only persist, but thrive in complete isolation from the rest of the world. The Madrigal family are in a sense the officers of the ship, meant to be authority figures and inspiration for everyone around them, who consider service to the community part of their leadership. Casita’s door ceremonies happen when Casita forms a symbiosis with one of the family as they come of age, infusing nanotech into their body with a specific module designed by Casita to serve Casita’s overall goal to KEEP US SAFE.
The door ceremonies are held at an age where a child has learned to speak and learn some self-control, but when they are still young enough that they have a great deal of physical and mental development left, when they still have the extreme brain plasticity of youth. Abuela is the exception to this, of course, having been joined by Casita as an adult, but note that she also does not seem to have the same kind of active control of her ability as the others, perhaps due to her being older when she formed the symbiosis with Casita. The door ceremony transforms the person into an avatar of Casita, extending Casita’s influence and abilities accordingly. Although the person still has conscious control of their bodies and abilities, Casita’s touch is always with them from then on and Casita learns from it. Each of their private rooms behind their doors could be seen as sort of a training holodeck tuned to their specific powers.
In terms of archetypes that Casita fulfills, I feel like most people think of Casita mostly as a domestic helper who is auxilliary to the main story, sort of a Rosie the Robot from the Jetsons. But I think there’s reason to consider that Casita may be more like the mentor and guide who guides the party on their journey and acts as a protecting force and prepares them for the inevitable dangers. More on that later.
Apart from Casita’s symbiosis with each Madrigal, Casita’s abilities seem to be limited to moving parts of the house itself. We never see the house moved from its customary location, nor extend itself. So it appears that Casita’s ability to KEEP US SAFE, apart from direct actions possible by house parts within the boundaries of the house, is largely dependent on Casita’s symbiosis with each of the Madrigals.
Abuela’s abilities are immediately visible upon Casita’s birth, in the immediate repulsion of the attacking soldiers, and in the raising of the mountains. I admit that raising mountains might seem like a stretch for nanotech, but perhaps they only have the appearance of mountains and are perhaps a thinner (yet extremely durable) barrier. I doubt a regular mountain would deter determined humans anyway, so it stands to reason it’s more like a force field with a mountain veneer on it. A sensible choice for the first symbiosis powers, to push away the immediate violent threat.
When the triplets come of age, their abilities all expand to meet the immediate survival needs of the community, especially since they need to survive without contact with the outside world; they can’t depend on trade with other cities for supplies or skilled trades.
Julieta’s healing protects the community from injury and illness, clear utility there. Short-lived but powerful repair swarms contained in the food.
Pepa’s weather control protects from deadly weather (imperfectly, perhaps, but despite the unpredictability we do not hear of anyone dying of weather), and also helps protect from famine–a major factor of survival in a town like this would be the ability to farm their own food. Probably one of the harder ones to implement, with cloud-seeding and humidity control.
Bruno’s predictions make an excellent way to anticipate problems that would otherwise not be foreseen. So, two avatars who can help keep the community healthy right now, and a third to try to anticipate coming dangers. Advanced behavior modeling and prediction based on Casita’s larger body of collected data.
What about the grandkid avatars? Consider them by approximate age as Casita progresses in the mission to KEEP US SAFE.
Luisa’s strength is of clear utility: we see her helping the community in many ways: gathering donkeys, moving churches, she could reroute rivers, easily snap trees for lumber, flattening land to build structures. She could serve as a warrior in time a time of dire need, though Casita would want to prevent that if at all possible. Nanobots could implement this by altering the structure of her muscles, could replace the muscle fibers with carbon fibers, local toughening of skin to avoid injury.
Isabella can grow plants at will, which is an accelerated improvement on food control after Pepa’s more indirect one. The fact that we don’t see Isabella widely using her gift to produce food for the village suggests that the village is prospering well enough that this is not necessary. And Isabella also is well-beloved in the community, sort of a poster child for the Madrigals, perhaps in part because of her gift of bringing beauty to the town. Are the plants real plants or are they nanobot constructs? Do we see anyone eating them at any point?
Dolores is Casita’s remote sensing avatar, extending Casita’s senses far beyond the boundaries of the house. Useful for all kinds of things: conflict resolution, matchmaking which can be used to improve the morale of the town, sensing approaching danger long before it becomes dangerous. This ability also may synergize with Bruno’s predictions, because Casita would have a much much more complete body of data about the townspeople, knowing details about their private lives. After Bruno’s disappearance, it also allows Casita some ability to sense into Bruno’s abandoned tower room that Casita has no direct control over (as Dolores “associates him with the sound of falling sand”). As the years went on and Abuela’s treatment of family members to try to keep them safe contribute to alienation, Casita would predict the future where Casita crumbles as the family dynamic falls with it. But, as many AIs, Casita struggles to fully understand human psychology and human behavior (if this stationary generation ship has Abuela is Captain Picard, there is no Counselor Troi!), and so Casita’s greatest challenge is to understand humans well enough to try to prevent or fix the problem that stems from human psychology. Gather more data about humanbehavior is a sensible way to approach the problem. Dolores’s hearing could be implemented by alteration of Dolores’s eardrums, as well as farther-reaching methods more like sensor-seeding across the whole town as her hearing seems to reach farther than soundwaves could plausibly travel.
Camilo, now Camilo is a tougher one to pinpoint the utility of his gift to the central mission to KEEP US SAFE. While, yes, Camilo’s shapeshifting could have some utility in hostile situations (ala Mystique from X-Men). Again, as with Dolores, Casita is struggling to understand and solve the problem of the growing psychological problems in the Madrigal family. Casita is purely rational, but humans are not, and it is difficult for Casita to understand thinking but only-sometimes-rational beings. Casita’s ability to communicate is very limited–apart from taking direct necessary action, Casita sometimes communicates by some gestures that one might liken to emoji, but Casita is not capable of taking steps that we might do if we wanted to understand someone–by asking them questions that lead to other questions. Camilo seems to have few limits on his ability to imitate, and when guests arrive for Antonio’s door ceremony, he uses his ability readily by mimicking each guest as he greets them, which the guests seem to find great joy in. This brings to mind the behavior of “mirror neurons” which are a biological basis for empathy–allowing an observer to feel the same way when we see someone perform an action as when we perform the action ourselves. So, although Camilo’s ability doesn’t seem to have a direct usage in the survival of the community (apart from morale, as people do seem to enjoy his antics!), Casita learns from Camilo’s mimicry of the townspeople to better learn and understand about each person–Camilo could not imitate them so effectively if he didn’t understand them , so Casita grows in empathy from connecting with him. And through Camilo, Casita comes to understand that some of the rifts in the family come from people viewing the Madrigals primarily by their abilities (what makes them artificial) instead of what makes them human. Camilo’s abilities may be the most challenging of the Madrigal’s to produce on a practical level, his entire body changing in an instant. It’s possible that some of these changes are illusions, merely visible facades, when a physical change is not necessary, but given that height changes have an actual physical effect that can’t be all of it. It’s possible that Camilo’s entire body has been replaced with a plastic nanobot swarm, or everything except certain organs such as his digestive system and brain which shift around inside the rapidly changing body.
As Mirabel approaches the date of her door ceremony, Casita ponders what sort of symbiosis to form with her. To bring the family together, Casita needs someone with empathy. Mirabel shows potential for that, but how best to enhance it? Yet, in the times to come, Casita is grimly aware that Casita may be destroyed, and with Casita’s destruction the avatars’ abilities will disappear. Casita needs to plan for this as well. She needs someone who can bring the family together even without an avatar’s powers, because in the worst case those might disappear. So, Mirabel becomes the only Madrigal to pass the door ceremony age without becoming an avatar. It’s clear that Casita still cares for her as much as anyone else, Casita maintains a friendly rapport with Mirabel, and the feeling is mutual.
When Abuela asks Bruno to try to use his future-telling ability to find out why Mirabel didn’t get a door and a power, Casita is able to finally convey to him Casita’s greatest fear: the death of Casita. And in doing so, Casita is able to guide Bruno in his self-exile to live in the walls. Casita is depending on Mirabel to heal the rifts in the family and keep Casita together, but Mirabel is way too young at that point to be able to take on that kind of responsibility. So, Casita has to hold it together and Casita can’t do that without help, so Bruno serves a vital role in bridging that gap making his own spackle as he lives in the walls. (I imagine Bruno as Scotty of the generation ship, except that instead of messaging the bridge to say “I can’t hold it together much longer” instead he spends years applying emergency spackle and talking to the shipboard rats)
When Antonio comes of age, Casita knows that the time of the potential collapse is approaching, between Luisa’s growing anxiety pushing her to the breaking point and Isabella’s upcoming wedding of unrequited love. There is not very much time to make a difference with Antonio’s power, but some choice has to be made, and Casita can still try to make some small difference. One of Luisa’s jobs has been to help gather loose donkeys, and we get the impression this is not an uncommon task, especially considering how chill the donkeys are about being stacked. So, Antonio’s ability to speak to animals is an attempt by Casita to lighten Luisa’s load in at least some way–they may be able to send Antonio to go talk the donkeys back (whether donkeys could be convinced by Antonio remains to be seen!), a job which Antonio will be able to do with less effort than Luisa as he can bribe or otherwise convince animals to do what he asks. Casita might have considered giving Antonio strength like Luisa’s to help her more directly, but given that she is struggling with feeling her worth already, making her feel like she is being replaced would not have helped her self-doubt, which Casita would have realized after learning empathy from Camilo.
Casita predicted that on the day of Antonio’s door ceremony, Mirabel would step out of Antonio’s room to process this, finally giving a rare opportunity for Casita to communicate with Mirabel with no one else in the main part of the house. Casita doesn’t want to show the decay of the house’s structure to the family as a whole, for this will lead to panic, cause Luisa to spiral in anxiety, or Abuela to come down hard on family members. So Casita tries to communicate to Mirabel privately by relaxing control on the structure enough to let the decay show (like relaxing a muscle you have become accustomed to clenching at all times). Then when Mirabel goes to get the family, Casita pulls the structure together again as well as possible, knowing that Mirabel has the mystery to solve and with the hopes that Mirabel’s empathy will be enough to carry her through the rest.
One thing I admire about Casita is that, even when Casita’s collapse began, Casita still puts forth best efforts to the end to protect everyone, directing the collapse to provide aid, such as the railing-become-ladder when Mirabel was trying to reach the candle, and the makeshift triangle shelter of debris in the end that saved Mirabel’s life. It would have been a nightmare for Casita to know that the collapse of Casita’s body was itself the cause of Mirabel’s death, and Mirabel’s death would also have doomed Casita to not be rebuilt and reborn, meaning the failure of the mission to KEEP US SAFE.
In the end the AI is revived through the doorknob the avatars construct that Mirabel uses to transition that residual spark of life from the avatars to the body of the house, reviving Casita with a freshly built body, with a mind that may not be the mind of the original Casita but is a construct made of the avatar’s memories of Casita. And in that rebirth, we see the success of Casita plan to mend the breaks in the Madrigal family and continue to pursue the prime directive KEEP US SAFE.