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Hey, on the off chance that any of you are going to be at ECCC in Seattle this weekend, drop by table #407 and shoot the breeze with me and my “Skin Horse” collaborator Shaenon Garrity and Famous Actual Newspaper Cartoonist Bill Holbrook for a while. Hope to see you there!

“I don’t get it, Seamon,” I said, scooting myself back up against one of the large columns ringing the central well of the pool chamber. “I mean — I’m not sure I quite follow. You are an elemental, yes?”

“Wull, yes,” grumbled the water weird, lounging his long and snakelike mass along the diabolically-carved reddish stone of his well.

“You’re made entirely of elemental water, given shape by psychothaumaturgical vibration.”

The weird flopped from side to side, ambivalently. “More or less,” he said, eventually.

“You don’t sleep. You don’t eat. You obtain sustenance by drowning things here in your pool, by means none of us fully comprehend.”

“Yup,” said the weird.

“You have no discernible biological functions.”

“Mm hm,” Seamon agreed.

“And yet… you want a girlfriend.”

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Hey, folks!  As part of my ongoing rise to power, the webcomic I share with Shaenon Garrity, “Skin Horse,” is being featured in a Massive Open Online Course on the topic of “Social Issues Through Comic Books.” Apparently it is possible to learn things through the Internet, rather than just at school! Also, you whippersnappers should stay off my lawn! Anyway, it’s kind of surreal to have people studying your stuff on an academic level, but I’mo roll with it. If this sounds like your particular ball of fun, or you just want to hear me embarrass myself at a Google Hangouts interview later this year, do consider checking it out!

“Okay, here’s one,” said Kelli Thunderhold, Paladin of Righteousness. She worked her voice up into a mocking nasal squeal. “‘Look at me! I’m an Intellect Devourer — and I’m starving to death!”

“Oh, please,” said the Intellect Devourer. “Like I haven’t heard that one a million times.”

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“The Road”

Sometimes, settings leap out at me so clearly that I have to write something about them down, but then the plot doesn’t go anywhere, and I am stuck with an interesting setting wanting a plot.  The fragment here entitled “The Road” is part of a hypothetical series of stories set at a high-fantasy truck stop, a last-chance service station on the road to an archetypal (and surprisingly multifarious) quest location.  For unknown reasons I am fascinated by places like this one, entirely mundane establishments serving as a relentlessly practical mirror image of the spiritual sites they support, and I wanted to have one of my own.  Still waiting for the plot to strike me on this one, though.

* * *

There is a Road; there has been a Road here as long as anyone can remember.

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Another commission piece from the “Skin Horse” Volume 4 Kickstarter campaign.  Hope you enjoy, and, happy holidays!

* * *

It was a bright and cheery morning in the 14-Lower Ultraviolet Radiation Corridor in the subbasements of Annex One, the sort of day that would have been described as “sunny” if any of the myriad inhabitants of the basement ecosystems were familiar with, or had indeed ever seen, the wrathful day-star that ruled the terrible surface realms above.  Tina the Basement Cobra slithered through her immaculate vinyl-encased kitchen, smiling a bit to herself as the unnerving violet glow of the radiation corridor warmed her face through the east-facing windows of her tiny cobra house.  What a pleasant day, she thought, to herself, as she busily prepared food for her family.

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Sometime after Six P.M. on a Thursday and the bastards have scheduled a Friday test on the Declaration of Independence or some other important pre-Constitution political document. I am hazy on the details; I have not studied and in fact have not even gone so far as to visit the University’s bookstore to purchase the textbook. You stand there in your gallery filled with works I can’t remember, works made up of pieces of other works that occasionally come alive and speak. The gallery is nearly empty, and you seem to have taken a special interest that I’ve come out in the snow to see you. You talk at length about your oeuvre, but based on my insufficient memories it’s clearly you I’m interested in.

Time passes in a blur, and your exhibition continues. People begin to shuffle in. You understandably take the time to talk with them, to tell them the same sorts of things you would tell me, and knowing that I can’t monopolize you, I head to the door. You call back to me that there’s a concert tonight, and it’s going to be grand. Would I meet up with you in a friend’s room in a couple hours? Sure. Of course. Why do you even need to ask. You stupid, wonderful girl.

Meantime, I have new student bullshit to attend to. Upperclassmen, acting with forced joviality on an ancient stage in a colored auditorium, put on skits for us advising us not to get (a) pregnant or (b) AIDS. To hammer home the point, an instructional video is added. One of the case studies is of a young man—probably quite like us—who got drunk and went to an unlicensed tattoo parlor and his current incurable blood disease stems from that very night. It’s grim and in poor taste and I leave early after they break out the pictures of the foot lesions. I wander in the cold. It’s not time for us to meet yet.

And then it is your friend’s room, and you look more like I remember you looking than you did in the gallery, less hawk-nosed, more the pleasant young Bohemian I’ve come to love over these many years. Mount Washington would be visible through the left-hand wall. It is hypothetically a beautiful view but the only thing there now is a poster of the Cure, and I am left with the keen and certain knowledge that I cannot name a single song the Cure ever did, and in fact I am not even sure whether the “The” should be capitalized as being part of their name or not.  The words “integrated article” run through my mind, but I am not even certain if they apply here.  So much for Advanced Placement English.

We chat again. Bullshit, but loaded bullshit, filled with uncomfortable pauses where the words “I love you, I love you, I have always always loved you” should be. We talk about the concert. Silently I worry about the stupid Declaration of Independence, but I comfort myself with the fact that I can picture the spot in the bookstore where the book I am supposed to be studying would be were I to at some point go to buy it, so there’s a link there, and right now that has to do.

The concert approaches. You need time to get a little readied up, but we can meet again. I ask if you’re still in the same dorm you were over the summer, but you’ve apparently been saving and snagged a spot in the University apartments, that sort of weird hybrid between dormitory and real life that the school maintains as a sort of freeway on-ramp to the world beyond. You give me complicated directions I cannot understand, two separate attempts using landmarks I can’t even locate and I leave the interaction with nothing but a foreign street name and hope in my pockets. I don’t know why I’m so confident I’ll find you, but I am.

Back in the cold, I wander. There’s a test I need to be studying for tomorrow and I’m not even sure what time it’s at, but it’s not happening tonight. I’m going to a concert with you in about an hour, if I can even find your place. I doubt that I can. But that doesn’t matter so much. Ever since I saw Mount Washington through the walls of your friend’s room, I have known that I would fail for you, tomorrow and tonight, and that is how much I care. I’m setting myself up for a breakdown, a test I shan’t pass because I haven’t even bought the book yet, all for the promise of a concert that I won’t attend because I’ll never find your room and I’ll roam all night in the snow because I could never turn down the idea of going out with you in a million years because I love you so much.

I’d fail for you, kid. That is how much I love you.

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