ALL the Birds in the sky

A deeply mag­i­cal, darkly funny ex­am­i­na­tion of life, love, and the Apoc­a­lypse by the hugo Award-win­ning ed­i­tor-in-chief of, Char­lie Jane An­ders.

SFX - - Reviews - By Char­lie Jane An­ders

Child­hood friends Pa­tri­cia and Lau­rence were al­ways out­siders. Lau­rence was a sci­en­tific ge­nius, and Pa­tri­cia was a witch – a dis­cov­ery that tore their friend­ship apart. But now they are grown up, and they are about to be re­united…

Other cities had gar­goyles or stat­ues watch­ing over them. San Francisco had scare owls. They stood guard along the city’s rooftops, hunched over bright or­nate de­signs that were washed out by waves of fog. Th­ese wooden crea­tures bore wit­ness to ev­ery crime and act of char­ity on the streets with­out chang­ing their somber ex­pres­sions. Their orig­i­nal pur­pose of fright­en­ing pigeons had ended in fail­ure, but they still man­aged to star­tle the oc­ca­sional hu­man. Mostly, they were a friendly pres­ence in the night.

This par­tic­u­lar evening, a gi­ant yel­low moon crested over a clear warm sky, so ev­ery fix­ture, the owls in­cluded, was flood­lit like a car­ni­val on its last night in town, and moon-drunk roars came from ev­ery cor­ner. A per­fect night to go out and make some dirty magic.

Fran­cis and Car­rie were screwed. Their lives were over, and you could hear their cries of de­spair from the street out­side the UFO-shaped house. This was sup­posed to be the geek party to end all geek par­ties, where the A-lis­ters met the thoughtlead­ers, and vi­sion­ary in­vestors would su­per­col­lide with the best and bright­est. Ev­ery de­tail was metic­u­lous, from the three DJs to the fountain of ex­otic liquor to the or­ganic slow-food hors d’oeu­vres. They were even able to host it at Rod Birch’s place in Twin Peaks, with the liv­ing room that con­verted to a plan­e­tar­ium where the con­stel­la­tions changed shape to re­flect the mood of the crowd.

But ev­ery­thing had gone to shit. The DJs had launched a turf war, and the mashup DJ was try­ing to col­o­nize the dubthrash DJ’s set with some kind of meta-mashup. The Caddy en­gi­neers had got­ten into a fist­fight with the open-source Ar­ti­choke BSD de­vel­op­ers on the bal­cony. Ev­ery­body felt guilty about drink­ing soju af­ter what hap­pened in Korea. The A-lis­ters didn’t show up, and some­how the party in­vite on MeeYu had got­ten clut­tered with wannabes, blog­gers, and lo­cal nut­cases. The slow-food hors d’oeu­vres made ev­ery­body sick to their stom­achs, and soon there was an end­less line to throw up in the hy­per­baric bath­room. The dubthrash DJ won the DJ war and pro­ceeded to make ev­ery­body’s eardrums bleed with the most dreary shit imag­in­able. The smoke ma­chine belched hor­ri­ble candy-floss-scented smog, while the lights lurched into epilepsy-in­duc­ing con­fig­u­ra­tions. The line to vomit in the bath­room was start­ing to re­sem­ble that fa­mous photo of the bedrag­gled masses evac­u­at­ing Seoul on foot. The con­stel­la­tions on the ceil­ing be­came a su­per­mas­sive black hole, a Sagit­tar­ius A of party foul­ness. This was the worst dis­as­ter in hu­man history.

Just when Fran­cis and Car­rie re­signed them­selves to chang­ing their names and

you could hear the cries of de­spair from the street out­side the UFO-shaped house

leav­ing town, that weird girl showed up. The girl whom no­body would cop to hav­ing added to the party in­vite, the hip­pie who (Car­rie had heard) let birds nest in her hair and rats live in her purse. Paula? Pe­tra? No, Pa­tri­cia. There had been a time – a hap­pier, more in­no­cent time – when Fran­cis and Car­rie had be­lieved that Pa­tri­cia show­ing up would be the worst thing that could hap­pen to their party.

“Sorry I’m late,” she told Car­rie, slip­ping out of her shoes as she strode into the front room. “I had to run some er­rands across town.”

As Pa­tri­cia walked into the party room, the fugly smoke parted and the lights swung to­gether, so her Bet­tie Page hair had a halo and her wide face was lit by a flood­light aurora. She seemed to float into the room, bare­foot in a small strappy black dress that left her pale shoul­ders mostly ex­posed. Her neck­lace had a heart­stone that caught the ar­clights and re­fracted pink sparkles. She walked through the party, say­ing hi or in­tro­duc­ing her­self, and ev­ery­body she touched felt the nau­sea and ill feel­ing pass away. As if she’d pain­lessly drawn some poi­son out of them. She wan­dered past the DJ and whis­pered in his ear, and mo­ments later the aw­ful crung­ing dubthrash mu­sic was re­placed by sooth­ing dub­step. Peo­ple swayed hap­pily. The wail­ing and lamen­ta­tion be­came the hum of con­ver­sa­tion. The bath­room had no line. Peo­ple started hang­ing out on the bal­cony for rea­sons other than punch­ing each other or throw­ing up in the bushes.

Ev­ery­body agreed that Pa­tri­cia had sal­vaged the party at the UFO house some­how, but no­body could have said how. She’d just kind of shown up, and the vibe had im­proved. Car­rie found her­self making Pa­tri­cia a thank-you cock­tail, hold­ing it out in both hands, like an offering.

Pa­tri­cia hadn’t needed much magic to res­cue this aw­ful party from the brink – fix­ing an up­set stom­ach was sec­ond na­ture to her, af­ter some of the dorm-room cook­ing at Eltisley Maze, and the par­ty­go­ers did most of the heavy lifting them­selves once she redi­rected their en­er­gies a bit. But just like with the poet in North Beach and the junkie in the Ten­der­loin, the most im­por­tant thing was not to let any­body see her do­ing magic – she’d been in­doc­tri­nated never to share her big pow­er­ful Seekrit with any­one, but she needed no re­minder in any case. She still re­mem­bered her friend in mid­dle school whom she’d done magic in front of, how he’d lost his shit and run away, and stopped talk­ing to her right when she needed him. When she told her­self that story nowa­days or shared it with oth­ers, she boiled it down to: “I showed my magic to a civil­ian one time, and it got ugly.”

Other than that, she hadn’t thought about that kid in years. He’d been re­duced to a sin­gle cau­tion­ary anec­dote in her head. But she found her­self think­ing about him now, maybe be­cause she was sur­rounded by geeks, or be­cause pulling this shindig back from the Party Abyss with her bare hands was re­mind­ing her of how weird so­cial in­ter­ac­tions could be, here in the “real” world. Es­pe­cially af­ter so many years in the bub­ble of Eltisley Maze. And some­how, the im­age popped into her head of the boy, naked in a closet with bruises all over and blood caked around his nos­trils. The last time she’d seen him. She found her­self hop­ing he’d turned out okay af­ter all, and then as she fin­ished her loop around the party, he was stand­ing right in front of her. Al­most, but not quite, like magic.

Pa­tri­cia rec­og­nized Lau­rence right off the bat. The sandy hair was the same, cut into a messy part in­stead of a fringe. He was a lot taller and a tad stock­ier. The eyes were the same hazel-gray and his chin still jut­ted, and he still looked kind of per­plexed and a lit­tle pissed off about ev­ery­thing. But that could be be­cause he was one of the peo­ple she hadn’t yet healed. She did that now. He was wear­ing a col­lar­less black but­ton-up shirt with a small tiger em­broi­dered on it, and black can­vas pants. “You feel­ing okay?” she said. “Yeah,” he said, straight­en­ing up. He half-smiled, and rolled his neck like an owl. “Yeah. Thanks. Start­ing to feel bet­ter. There was some­thing weird about those hors d’oeu­vres.” “Yeah.” He did not rec­og­nize her. Which made sense, it had been ten years, and a lot had prob­a­bly hap­pened. Pa­tri­cia should just keep mov­ing through the party. Just move along, don’t try to have some kind of bull­shit un­com­fort­able re­union. But she couldn’t help her­self. “Lau­rence?” “Yeah.” He shrugged. And then his eyes grew. “Pa­tri­cia?” “Yeah.” “Oh, cool. It’s good to, uh, see you again. How have you been?”

“I’ve been good. How are you do­ing?”

“I’m good too.” Long pause. Lau­rence shuf­fled and kneaded a square nap­kin. “So. You vi­o­late any laws of physics lately?”

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