93. Archibald Skoal

Archibald Skol has already lived longer than he intended. Longer than most of the other children in his war-torn corner of the world. Longer than his parents, though that wasn’t hard – his mother died in childbirth, and his father did something to upset a firing squad shortly after. Archibald was raised, tutored and protected by two forces that war within his stomach: a bottomless hunger, and a desire to die.
Archibald became the dictator of his own little chunk of hell simply by being willing to take the risks a sane man wouldn’t. Even after seeing him lead his militias into rifle fire, eat his own poisoned food beside the enemies he was poisoning, wager an entire province in a game of Russian Roulette, his enemies assumed there must be some cost they could impose on him high enough to make him stop and negotiate. There was not.
He soon ran out of family for his enemies to abduct and torture. He ran out of enemies almost as quickly, though they reproduced. He ran out of friends as well, though he never really had any friends. He prefers carnivorous animals to people – his only friends are his hyenas and sharks and crocodiles – and when one of his crocodiles was stolen and killed and its entrails flamboyantly displayed, he simply bought a new crocodile and gave it the same name as the old one. The crocodile was immortal, as Archibald himself seemed to be.
As he grows older and more powerful, his schemes grow ever more elaborate. He wants to hold the rain hostage. He wants to design a weaponized termite. He wants to turn every diamond ring in the world into a homing beacon for his fleet of military drones, so that every happy couple must turn over their jewels on pain of death. The people who try to stop him these days are a different breed than the petty despots he murdered in his youth. These men and women have miraculous powers; abilities that would let them snap his neck with a thought, but they never do. They too seem to believe there is some cost they can impose so high that it will discourage Archibald from striking again. But everything they take from him – his ring finger, his eye, his caribbean fortress – is simply something they can never take from him again.
Archibald grows weary of these games. He meant to burn twice as bright and half as long, but now has burned both bright and long, and is in danger of burning out. The jewels and delicacies with which he stokes his furnace will not sustain him forever, he hopes. He is ready for hell – he grew up in it. There is a certain nostalgia there. And if he has to build that hell on earth to finally return there, then so be it.

92. Chet Sling

Look, if you wanna get overcharged, nickled and dimed, talked down to and informed on, you can go to any mechanic in the damn city. That’s your business. If you want a guy who’s discrete, who understands, who’ll replace your arm and your leg without it costing you one of each, you want my man Chet. I mean look at me, man – hardly eight ounces of organic material left in my body, and I’ve been going to nobody but Chet for sixteen years now. I’m still walking, ain’t I? So listen.
Say you get your shiny new hand chewed up by a too-agressive handshake. The dealership’s gonna charge you out the bionic nose for new tendons, chassis, brand new ball bearings, and they’ll probably sneak in a firmware update that files a report every time you jack off. Chet, on the other hand, will not only salvage half the parts from an arm nobody’s using anymore, but he’ll give your insurance company a whole sob story about how your entire arm has become misaligned in a subtle but critical way, and them to pay for chrome plating, EM sensing, and a Magic Eyeball into the bargain.
I remember one time I decoupled my elbow joint arm wrestling. Chet takes a look at me, sees that my shoulderplate could use a new coat of paint and a couple other things, and then you know what he does? Takes me around the corner with a ballpeen hammer and beats the bolts out of me like I owe him money. Thought he was crazy at first (that was a long time ago, now I know he’s crazy), but then he goes and blames all the damage on a bar fight I got into after the arm-wrestling went sour, and insurance ends up buying me a brand new arm – Tyr-10, chrome black, MSAC interface and LED mood lightning. See?
Another time I went to him because my legs failed the safety exam. They were running fine, you know, but I like vintage parts and the inspectors are harder on the old models because legs have supposedly gotten a lot safer in the last five years. The inspector I went to – clean cut prick without a speck of blood on his overalls, fails me because the immobilization piston isn’t connected to the hydraulic regulator. Never mind the fact my legs have never gone haywire in six years of hard use (that’s old-world German crafstmanship for you), plus the fact I don’t like their being a circuit can render me a paraplegic at a moment’s notice. The guy tells me I’ve gotta replace the hydraulic valve on the piston – for twelve hundred bucks! So I take it to Chet and he says to me, “Boyo, never get your safety checks done anywhere but here.” And I don’t now, because you know how much he saved me? Eleven-hundred ninety. Just glued the rubber hydraulic hose onto the old valve, held it long enough for me to pass inspection, and that was that.
Yeah, I know how he looks. And I know he’s changed the name of his garage four times in the last five years – “Tom and Jerries,” to “Alliegant” to “Bodyworx” to “Zed’s Sandwiches,” – I know nothing he owns seems to have his name on it, not even his business cards. And I know he overcharges any customer he knows is just passing through town. He’s a cheater, all right? There it is. But it’s a world of cheaters, friend, and sometimes it’s good to have someone cheating on your side.
Plus, he’s always got pastries in the waiting room.

91. Marigold Fallowfield

It is a well-known fact that even the most good of the Good Folk do not feel pity. Curiosity? Certainly. Pride? Naturally. And because they feel pride, they of course feel embarrassment. It is a combination of these three emotions – curiosity, pride, and shame – which has created in Marigold Fallowfield a counterfeit empathy.
Curiosity is what draws her from her own realm into ours. She wants to know what wanting is – for in her realm she wants for nothing she can imagine. She imagines quite meticulously, does Marigold, so meticulously that what she imagines becomes real before her eyes. She seeks to share this faculty with the mortals she encounters. She is proud of it, after all, and eager to learn what people want who cannot have whatever they want.
The trouble is that the humans are not used to imagining in detail, the way Marigold does, and so she never quite understands their wishes. A poor farmer will ask her for a bottomless purse of gold coins, only to curse her when the purse spills coins constantly from its missing bottom, drowning him and his family in gold that will in any case turn to straw in daylight. A proud young woman will ask to be the most beautiful girl in town, only to recoil in horror when every other girl in town wakes up disfigured. These humans simply never specify their wishes, leaving whole chunks of them for Marigold to imagine on their behalf. And somehow her imagination never lines up with theirs.
She’s ashamed of these apparent failures. After all, she never fails at imagining for herself. These humans are getting entirely the wrong idea about her. They accuse her of malice, of stealing their souls! She does no such thing! She’s doing this work pro-bono. It’s not her fault a human can’t tell whether or not it still has a soul! If only, she thinks, if only they would be clearer when describing their hearts’ desires!
She’s tried so many things; she tells them to think carefully, and to speak slowly. She asks them if they are sure. She’s even changed her aspect into something more apparently sinister, so that they might feel some gravity to the situation. She asks clarifying questions, but never seems to ask the right ones. Even the time she asked, “you mean you want me to make you into the smartest man in the world?” the human nodded happily enough, but later seemed quite unhappy to end up in the body of the king’s astronomer – and what’s more, the king’s astronomer seemed very unhappy to end up in the body of a swineherd!
And so Marigold feels something like pity for the humans who she hopes to help. Well, not for them exactly – for herself for failing to please them. But let’s not split hairs. After all, isn’t that more or less what empathy is: Feeling bad when another person feels bad, even if you don’t understand quite why?

90. Gordon Bear

The children he works for have tried to call him many things: Gordon, or Gordie, or Go-Go, or Gor. To each of these he gives a not-quite-smile, an almost-shake-of-the-head, and a serious look straight in the eyes.

“It’s Mister Bear, if you please,” he says.

What an adult might interpret as aloofness somehow only makes him more beloved by the children. Perhaps it’s because the name upon which he insists is exactly what a child might name her favorite stuffed toy. Perhaps it’s due to his storybook physique – rosy-cheeked and neckless, round and mountainous, heavy muscles hidden beneath his trench coat. Whatever the reason, the children fling themselves at him when he arrives each morning, their arms making it barely a third of the way around his waist. Each night they weep theatrically at his departure. And in between, whether at school or the mall or the barber shop, they never stray far from his side. This is good for Gordon; it makes his job easier.

Somewhere between the police and the war, the resistance and the smuggling and the contract killings, Gordon realized that he was a violent person. In the same way that some people have a sexual awakening, Gordon realized the simple fact of his own brutality. He’s good at killing people, and he likes to be good at things. Killing causes a host of problems, to be sure, but most problems caused by killing can be solved by more killing, if you take the long view, which Gordon does. He went through periods of denial, of course, where he swore off violence altogether, but ultimately his thick, squarish fingers, his palms dense as lead, aren’t good for any other kind of work. He finally had to accept that he will never make more than six months without at least hurting someone very, very badly. And if he’s going to hurt people regardless, he’d rather hurt people who want to hurt children.

The people who pay Gordon aren’t good people, but he doesn’t protect those people. He protects their children, and their children are good because they are children. He is always on time. He speaks only when spoken to, or when there is an emergency, but if a child asks him a question he always does his best to answer. If he can’t answer a question immediately, he will go home and look up the answer in his encyclopedia. He buys the children presents for Christmas and their birthdays – a stuffed pig or a pair of nice wool gloves, but never a popgun or a wooden sword. He is the only weapon they will ever need, he hopes.

89. [I would rather not draw her attention.]

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She is intentionally beautiful – the only kind of beautiful the Good Folk can be. Her entire appearance, her glamour, is her mental image of herself, as is true of every member of the Court (unless of course they are cursed, in which case their glamour is someone else’s mental image of them.) And so the princess has crafted herself this cascade of weightless hair, these liquid lips, these retreating eyes. She chose the form of her crown as well, but custom dictates she must wear some form of royal headdress, regardless of her wishes. Which makes the crown a sort of curse, one might argue.

They think her shy, but that is just the sort of imprecision she privately finds unforgivable. She is reserved. She does not crave notoriety, a resource all too abundant for an heiress, but rather secrecy. Nor does she pursue friendship, which she has come to equate with favor-seeking, but rather information.

She is engaged in a cold war that she declared unilaterally, of which no one else is aware. The hair she has invented for herself is the favorable terrain through which she conducts her campaigns. It is a smokescreen to hide her suspicious glances. It is a journal into which she whispers the secrets she acquires. It is, above all else, lovely; lovely enough to convince the fawning courtiers that lovely is all she is.

It will be a thousand years or so before she’s Queen. The Good Folk only die when they wish, and they only wish when they are very bored, and they are rarely bored when they have power. This is more than acceptable to her. She has long been aware that there is a great game played between the nations of the Other, a game which, once joined, is never left. She is happy to put off joining the game while she studies its rules. She understands, you see, that as soon as she places her pawn upon the board, her every action will be recorded, scrutinized. Her past gambits will be studied, and her moves ruthlessly predicted. She intends to enter the game with no history at all. She intends to hustle.

88. Mariah Gwynn

No one knows the right thing to say about Mariah’s eyes. No, she can’t see the future – as a dozen uncreative one-night-stands have smirkingly guessed. Nor – as a not insignificant number of pick-up artists have ventured – is she the result of a romantic coupling between an irishwoman and a husky. Her eyes, like her freckles and her yellow-red hair, are an accident of genetics – a quirk or a defect, depending on which Mariah you ask.

The Mariah you meet on weekdays would call it a quirk. She works in a day-spa for wealthy dogs, shampooing them and cuddling them and breaking up their fights. When she looks the dogs in their eyes, even the worst of them go quiet. She wishes she could drown in a sea of dogs, but this is obviously not possible.

Weekend Mariah leads with her black iris, always tilting her head so that the ghostly blue of her other eye is hidden in shadow. She opted for bangs a few years ago precisely to stop herself covering up one eye or the other with her hair, but in the strobing darkness of the clubs she frequents she can still hide well enough. On these nights, Mariah considers her entire self a defect. Her black eye is an opaque glass bead, but she thinks of it as a window into her soul. She drinks. She finds men she likes in the crowd, or at least tolerates. She makes herself their glass-eyed doll, and her own.

Every once in a while, on a half-remembered night before, or a too-remembered morning after, she meets a boy with nothing to say about her eyes. The boy will look not at her eyes, but into them. He will treat each one individually. He will see both Mariahs, and both Mariahs will see him. And Mariah will think in these moments, though she rarely remembers later, that perhaps the eyes do give her a special kind of sight.

87. Diana Linden

When Diana Linden arrives home in the evening, or in the morning, or whenever she arrives home, she tosses her raincoat and hat onto the coatrack beside the door. She tosses her keys onto the hook on the wall beside the open microwave. She closes her umbrella and tosses it into the umbrella bucket after shaking the rain off, every drop of which ends up in the ficus pot on the windowsill. She opens the freezer and tosses a frozen meal into the open microwave, which shuts from the momentum. Then she goes to the microwave and starts it by hand. She hasn’t come up with a way to start the microwave by throwing yet – at least a way that doesn’t leave stuff all over her floor.

Diana’s routine would seem odd to anyone but her handlers at the CIA, or the diplomat she dates when they are both in town, or the friends who’ve known her since highschool, since before she was instructed to keep her talent to herself. She is, after all, the product of a covert breeding program. They did everything they could to grow her eyes. They snuck in bushbaby DNA, tailored viruses and irradiated proteins. It is a kind of wishing, to relentlessly express an intention in human flesh. And the wish was granted: Diana can indeed throw anything and have it land where she wants it to.

She’s not a killer. The things she throws don’t fly with deadly speed, especially if the trajectory is complex. She is a foolproof method for delivering messages. She will stand atop the Burj Khalifa, look down at the city and see, the way they wanted her to. In other words, she sees cubism. Every side of every building in Dubai, with wind patterns impressionistically overlaid. She will let go of her paper airplane with the barest twitch of the wrist, and it will go where it’s supposed to go. Only the barest providence is involved in her success. The rest is skill.

When Diana Linden leaves her apartment in the morning, or in the evening, or whenever they tell her to leave, she opens the microwave, and takes her keys from the hook next to it. She gives the ficus plenty of water, not knowing when she will return. She puts on her hat and coat from the coat rack, and takes her umbrella from the umbrella bucket. It all seems rather ordinary, considering. But she is only exceptional at throwing. She has no special way of making things come to her.

86. Galen Gorsky

Galen Gorsky got into philosophy for the conflict. He is never happier than when he is eviscerating some poor fool’s metaphysics (though, to be fair, he is never really happy.) He breaks syllogisms across his bulky knee, sinks his canines into underdeveloped assumptions and pumps them full of poetic venom. He chooses as his everyday victims the very weakest theses, the most tortured investigations, the inbred monographs that wear their fallacies on the outside like defective organs. But Galen is a big game hunter also. He wraps rough, thick chord around the stilt-like legs supporting high-flown works of theory, yanking them ignobly to the ground so that he can feast on their eyeballs. He is a monster – all his colleagues know it – but he is a very good monster, and that is why he has tenure.

Galen is not always right – though he often is. His own arguments have been known to rely too heavily on conjecture, to rest on questionable assumptions, to hide gaping holes in nests of circular argumentation. But though he is not always right, he is always angry. He is always, in fact, the most angry, and no critic can hold up under the seemingly endless torrent of vitriol that Professor Gorsky pours out upon those who dare criticize him in any medium. He is active on every social media platform, every philosophy forum and every online journal. He is searching for his name. He is commenting on thinkpieces. He is awake at four o’clock in the morning, mobilizing his followers.

Because he does have a following – his well worded tirades speak to the less eloquent rage boiling up inside his devotees. When his torrent of abuse ends (perhaps because he has moved on to a new target, or said his piece, or merely gone to sleep), it is not the end of his victim’s troubles; it is only the beginning of the secondary abuse. The rage that drives the attack is an iceberg, and Galen is only the part above the ocean. His people are drowning in icy salt water. There are an awful lot of them down there.

We could devise theories as to the origin of the professor’s fury. We could argue whether it is even the professor’s fury, whether he is the origin of it, whether he is lonely or impotent or unable to cope with his receding hairline. It is true that Professor Gorsky is unmarried, and that he has no children, and that none of his siblings talk to him or invite him to family gatherings. But as he himself would point out, there’s no solid argumentative basis for causal conjecture here. Instead, imagine the future: Perhaps, one day, the furnace of this man’s anger will forge a shining truth, tempered by fierce debate, honed by razor wits. Perhaps it will be stronger for the bloodshed. How much would that truth need to be worth, to be worth it?

85. Patrick Nguyen

Hardly anybody notices that Pat’s a monster, and those that know don’t think much of it. He’s so obviously an ordinary, stand-up American Joe that the the third eye is actually a little reassuring: even his hideous secret isn’t secret. He could easily hide the eye beneath the brim of his ever-present baseball cap (or so the thinking goes; in reality that would be very uncomfortable). That he chooses not to hide his extraneous eyeballs shows that he’s got nothing to hide.

Monsters aren’t entirely unheard of in this day and age, anyway. Oni-ism is tied to a recessive gene that’s just starting to get attention in the medical community. It traces back to certain rarified lineages in East and Central Asia. Patrick’s thrice-great grandmother on his mother’s side, as a matter of fact, was a giantess who slew a thousand adventurers before one won her heart (with the help, of course, of a clever talking turtle and a cloak that could make itself out of anything.) His father’s grandfather was a shapeshifter who began life as a many-eyed insect, and ended life the husband of an unwitting girl from a local village. When Patrick’s parents met they had no idea of their ancestry – immigration tends to erase these irregularities from the record. To them, their son’s appearance was a mystery.

It’s not a mystery Patrick’s particularly interested in solving. He’s much more interested in cars. His third eye lets him do a kind of visual triangulation on a troubled engine, effortlessly finding the source of any inauspicious sound. He’s not the world’s best mechanic for all that, but he gets the job done without charging too much, and his customers trust him. His wife and kids love him, and the dog’s given up growling at him and taken to sleeping in his lap when he watches TV at night. Above all, it’s his incredible sincerity that lets him pull it off. He just has more of it than anybody else he knows. Because when he looks into your eyes with all three of his, you have to pick just two to look back into.

84. Ted Klepeznik

Ted Klepeznik plays bass drum in the New York philharmonic. It was a hard job to get – very hard. It took him three years of painstakingly scheduled auditions, all over the country, before he landed this one. He picked up and moved his family from Milwaukee to take it. His wife Tasha, who had been supporting them both for years on her administrative assistant’s salary, had no trouble finding work at a prestigious law firm. Still, New York City rent being what it is, Ted works as a parking lot attendant in the off season.

Working as a parking lot attendant is much the same as playing bass drum for the New York philharmonic orchestra. Both require a constant, relaxed attention – one must not let notes slip by unplayed, or cars slip by unpaid. And both involve a great deal of waiting. Ted spends almost every day engaged in one kind of waiting or the other. Waiting to clock out of work, waiting in the parking lot of his children’s school, waiting to unleash the big-bellied thunder of his drum. Between the concert season and the off season and the school year, Ted spends three hundred sixty-four days a year waiting (or three-hundred sixty-five on leap years).

Ted spends most of the three-hundred sixty fifth day waiting as well, but that day is the day he is always waiting for. On that day he waits in the terminal at JFK airport, then on a cramped passenger plane, then at the baggage carousel at General Mitchell international airport, where he picks up his bass drum in its rugged plastic travel case. He rents a car and waits in traffic, until he escapes the city, and cruises eagerly to the secluded plantation-style mansion that is his destination.

It is on this day, once a year, that Ted Klepeznik plays bass drum in a marching band at an orgy. His family does not know this, but if they did learn of it they would find that his conduct is unimpeachable. He and his bandmates thread their way amongst the heaving bodies, providing a booming back-beat for the many-backed-beast. Ted’s eyes do not linger impolitely on the naked people – his eyes look straight ahead with unconcealed joy.

Ted is proud of the work he does for the marching band. It is, in fact,the greatest source of pride in his life. He’s been doing it for twenty-two years, since he graduated conservatory, and always for free. But Ted can’t tell the people in his daily life about the orgy. They wouldn’t understand. He’d be ridiculed. And so he got the job with the philharmonic. Now, when he waxes poetic about playing his bass drum for an ecstatic audience, his friends think he’s talking about the orchestra, and understand. You see, some people launder their money. But with his job at the orchestra, Ted Klepeznik launders his pride.