The Cowboy

The Cowboy walked through the automatic sliding doors of theArizona State University's medical center Emergency Room. His spurs jangled on his boots, the tassels on his jacket swayed with each bow-legged step. He ambled past the protesting admissions nurse and walked into the ward, straight up to the nurses' station. He leaned on the desk and took his thin, cheaply rolled cigar out of his mouth, then took his hat off and gave a slight bow to the head nurse.

"Howdy," he said. "Name's Whit Miller. I'm looking for my pa."

The nurse, whose nametag read "Alma," furrowed her brow and gave the cowboy a stare.

"You're going to have to put out that cigarette, sir, this is a hospital," she ordered.

"Got an ashtray?" asked the cowboy. The nurse shook her head.

"Most people know not to smoke in a hospital."

The cowboy took the cigarette out of his mouth, then licked two fingers and pinched out the smoking red end. He looked around to find a trash can, but not immediately finding one he quietly tucked the cigarette into the breast pocket of his flannel shirt.

"Now, who were you looking for?" asked the nurse.

"Aldous Miller," answered the cowboy. "My father."

The nurse looked in the computer and found the name. "I'm sorry, sir," she said with a look that was sympathetic while also seeming to say that he should know this already. "Your father has died."

"I know he's dead," said The Cowboy. "I want to see the body. Then I want to find the man responsible." The nurse sighed, then called an attendant to escort The Cowboy to the mortuary.

The room was cold, white and sterile. A morgue attendant pulled The Cowboy's father out of what looked like a long metal file cabinet drawer. The Cowboy stared down at his father, a man who had once been a towering and imposing figure, now laid out flat and thin, his body pale, his face sallow near to the point of translucency. The Cowboy stayed there for twenty minutes straight, staring down at the body while the morgue attendant ate a chicken Caesar salad while watching Montel Williams. He only looked up when he heard a voice call out "Mr. Miller?"

The doctor was tall and thin. His thin black hair was gelled and combed down in a severe and unflattering part. He had wire-framed glasses the he fidgeted with when he was nervous, which, at this particular moment, he was. He liked to leave these kinds of conversations to interns or chaplains or someone, anyone other than him. He appeared to be standing somewhat on the balls of his feet and his long, white hands held a file.

"Mr. Miller?" he asked again. The Cowboy looked up and nodded. "I was told you wanted to see me?"

"You the doctor who worked on my pa?" asked The Cowboy.

"Yes, I operated on Mr. Miller here," said the doctor, pushing the bridge of his glasses up his nose and adjusting the frame slightly. "If you have any questions, I'd be happy to answer them."

"How'd he die?" asked The Cowboy.

"Nothing too painful, if that's what you're concerned about," said the doctor. "A quick, simple coronary, more likely than not it killed him quietly in his sleep."

"So you didn't kill him?" The Cowboy narrowed his eyes as though he was sizing up a gun fighter awaiting a draw at twenty paces. The doctor coughed, then fidgeted with his glasses so thoroughly that he ended up simply taking them off and massaging his sinuses.

"No! Heavens no," said the doctor. "Your father was dead when he got here, basically. I did a couple tests then pronounced him late last night, that's all."

"So the people who brought him in killed him?" asked The Cowboy.

"No! Jesus!" said the doctor. "Nobody killed him. He was an old man, he lived a life of hard exertion, his heart just gave out, it's nobody's fault! Nobody killed him!"

The Cowboy crossed his arms and gave the doctor an ice cold stare. "Listen here, doc," The Cowboy said out of a snarl on the side of his mouth. "The man who gave me life, who raised me, is dead. I don't let those close to me pass without getting vengeance. One way or another someone's going to pay for this, now you tell me who it's got to be."

"I don't understand," said the doctor.

"My wife was attacked by wolves in the harsh winter of '73. I went out with a bowie knife and gutted every wolf in the surrounding ten miles until I found the pack that ate my Martha, then I slaughtered them all. When my partner Enid drowned in the Sasquahana River I traced that river all the way back to its source then dynamited the whole area and ran the river dry."

"That's psychotic," said the doctor.

"Nope," said The Cowboy. "That's prairie justice."

"Noooo, that's pretty psychotic," said the doctor.

"You just tell me what it was that killed my pa," demanded the cowboy.

The doctor shrugged his shoulders. "It was his heart, man. His heart gave out. No one's fault, it was just his time to go."

"Who decides when it was his time?" asked The Cowboy. "I didn't decide. I certainly don't think he did."

"I don't know," said the doctor, rubbing his sinuses again. "Just chalk it up to an act of God."

"God, eh?" said The Cowboy. He hitched up his belt. "God it is, then," and off he marched.

After three weeks of intense theological study and discussions with his local priests, ministers and rabbis, The Cowboy came to the conclusion that there was only one way to meet God. He sat on his horse high atop Raton Mesa. He took in the landscape around him, casting his eyes once more over the wide prairie he had called home his entire life.

"Best get on with it, then," he said. He spurred the horse into a full run. The horse galloped hard, closing the short distance to the mesa's edge quickly. As they reached the edge The Cowboy spurred the horse into a jump. Cowboy and horse flew over the edge of the mesa and sailed towards the earth.

There was no pain. The Cowboy could not even remember hitting the ground. He remembered it rushing up towards him, seeing it in such vivid detail that he remembered a small lizard darting away from the widening shadow man and horse were making, then, suddenly here he was, standing outside a large pearly gate that went off far into the horizon. The ground was white and fluffy, like the big clouds that hung in the sky on humid nights back on earth. Here he was, at the entrance to Heaven.

His horse was beside him, looking fine. The Cowboy led the horse up to the gate, where a man stood in a long white robe, his head enveloped in a golden glow.

"Hello," said the man as The Cowboy approached. "I'm St. Peter. Welcome to Heaven! I'm going to need your name and particular religious affiliation."

"Unaffiliated," said the man. "I'm just here to find the man who killed my pa."

"And who was your 'pa,' may I ask?" said St. Peter.

"Aldous Miller," said The Cowboy.

"Oooh. You're Aldous' boy?" said St. Peter, flipping through a large file. "He said there might be some trouble with you."

"No trouble with me," said The Cowboy. "I just need to speak with God."

"I imagine he's going to want to talk to you, too. Hold on just one second." St. Peter picked up a pearly white telephone from behind his pearly white podium and dialed.

"Hello?" he said into the phone. "Hello, it's Pete. Yep, down at the gate… Same old same old, how about you?... Of course I watched it, you know how long I've been waiting for a new Lost! Where do they come up with these stories, I know! That's why they make the big bucks. Listen, I've got Aldous Miller's son here at the gate… Oh I know, don't get me started. If you could get God down here, it shouldn't be long. Thanks, Margie, you're a doll."

St. Peter hung up the phone.

"You watch Lost?" St. Peter asked The Cowboy.

"No," said The Cowboy.

"Oh, you really should!" said the saint. "It gets a little dry around seasons 2 and 3, but if you stick with it's really good."

A silence blossomed and withered between them in the span of a moment. "You really watch tv here?" The Cowboy asked to break the silence. "Aren't you supposed to, you know… know everything? Seems like that would make tv boring."

"Oh, we don't know everything, that's just God."

"That makes sense, I guess," said The Cowboy. He patted his horse, then adjusted his belt and holster. It occurred to him that it was nice they'd let him come up with the sidearm, as he'd have had to improvise if they hadn't, and he hated improvising. The Cowboy coughed quietly into his hand.

"Umm, how long should it be until…" The Cowboy said.

"Not very long," said St. Peter. "God's a pretty busy deity, but also omniscient and omnipresent, so you know…" There was a loud popping noise and a burst of smoke and then suddenly a man in a toga that appeared to be changing colors.

"God here," said God. "What's the news?"

The Cowboy drew his pistol and fired before the burst of smoke had cleared. St. Peter let out a high-pitched shriek as God's head exploded. The body simply stood for a moment, the stump where the head used to be was smoking and pulpy. The stump bulged and bubbled for a second, then a second head grew out from the stump. The head shook itself off.

"Uuuh, God here? Immortal? You think I don't have powers of regeneration? Don't even try that shit."

The Cowboy holstered his weapon.

"You feel better now?" God asked. "You got the anger out? You gonna chill?" The cowboy said nothing. "Nice horse."


"So, you want to see your dad?" asked God.


God took The Cowboy by the hand and suddenly they were standing right outside what looked like a room in an upscale hotel. "You all right?" asked God. "Sometimes people get funky when that happens for the first time."

"I'm all right," said The Cowboy.

God knocked on the door. There was a shuffling within the apartment and then the door slowly opened. Behind the door stood The Cowboy's father, looking just as he had the last time The Cowboy had seen him.

"Hello, son," said the old man.

"Hello, pa," said The Cowboy.

"Tried the whole vengeance thing, did you?" asked the old man. The Cowboy nodded. "I always thought that was a load of malarkey." The Cowboy cleared his throat.

"I know," he said, and pulled his hat down low over his eyes.

"Well, come on in," said the old man as he shuffled into the apartment. The old man sat in a Barcalounger and nodded The Cowboy towards the sofa. As The Cowboy sat down the old man turned on the television. "They got a system up here let's you watch anything that's ever been made!" the old man said. "You ever watched Lost?"

"They got Bonanza?" asked The Cowboy.

"Bonanza? Hell, you've seen every episode of that damn show twenty times! I'm talking about Lost!"

"I'll give it a shot," said The Cowboy. He kicked off his boots and put his feet up on the table. God smiled and closed the door behind him.

"You'll like Jack," said the old man. "He's a pistol."


Peggy Herschel sat in a café and looked out at the cold wet morning. She sipped her coffee and thought about Stan Parks. She was having an affair with him. Cheating on her husband of ten years with him. She had no idea why. She’d started an affair because the passion had gone out of her marriage, but she realized only this morning that there was no passion with Stan, either. She had traded out a dull and predictable boredom for a new and varied boredom. What a dull, sad old woman I’ve become, thought Peggy. She took her idea pad from her purse and flipped it open. She took the pen from the metal spirals at the top of the pad and jotted down a note. "Woman has affair, is bored." At least she’d have something to write about when she got home. Thank god for my writing, she thought, if it weren’t for my vivid imagination I don’t know how I’d get through this chore of a life.

The door to the café burst inward. A man in an expensive suit ran into the shop, a briefcase attached to his arm by handcuffs.

"Excuse me," he said to Peggy. His voice was low and sultry, with a hint of an accent. His eyes had an intensity that made Peggy nervous. "I’m in a bit of a hurry. I need to get to The United Nations. QUICK. I was wondering if you could drive me? I promise, you’ll be well compensated. It’s very important, the fate of an entire small country in the wilds ofEastern Europe depends on getting this suitcase to…"

"I’m sorry," Peggy gave a tired smile. "It’s just, I’m enjoying this coffee, you see."

"Oh. All right," said the man. "Well, thanks anyways." Peggy watched as the man moved down the bar to a cute blond girl reading a textbook on community planning. He gave her the same pitch he’d given Peggy and the girl nodded her head. As the two of them left the café they were accosted by two men in sunglasses and jumpsuits. The handsome man in the expensive suit said something to the two men, then began throwing punches. The fight was epic, the handsome man fending off both attackers, all while keeping a firm hold on the suitcase firmly attached to his wrist. The handsome man had one assailant in a choke hold, while kicking the other repeatedly with his left foot. The man he was kicking regained his senses long enough to put a hand up and grab a hold of the handsome man’s ankle. The handsome man then swung his right foot up over his left, delivering a crushing blow to the assailant’s face, knocking him to the ground. However, such acrobatics had forced him to loosen his choke hold on the other man. Before the handsome man could regain his footing the other assailant took a gun out of his waistband and pistol-whipped the handsome man. He said something, then raised the gun to the handsome man’s head. Just then the blond girl came up behind the assailant and hit him with the textbook in the back of his head. The man stumbled and dropped his gun. He turned and grabbed the woman by the neck and lifted her off the ground. The woman, choking and sputtering, pulled her leg up behind her and reached down. Her hand reached down and managed to slide off her two-inch pumps. Holding the shoe by the toe she threw her arm out and lodged the heel into the man’s eye. The man screamed in pain and dropped the woman. The handsome man came to and grabbed the assailant’s dropped gun and put two slugs into his stomach. As the man fell the blond came over and helped the handsome man to his feet. Their eyes met and they kissed, deep and violently passionate. The woman broke off the kiss and pulled out her keys, jogging over to a small Taurus across the street. The handsome man got into the passenger’s seat, and the car sped off down the street.

"Tsk," said Peggy. She looked back down at her notebook. "Man abandons creative, intelligent woman for dull slut," she wrote. She was full of ideas today.

If it wasn’t working out with Stan, maybe she should find someone else. She thought of the other men she knew. There was Phillip, the entrepreneur who had made a fortune developing a non-toxic fertilizer that was revolutionizing the wheat industry, some saying single-handedly lowering the price of bread a full thirty cents. Then there was Gordon, an actor who had recently translated a lauded stage career into film stardom as the tough-but-fair chief of police in a successful cop action series. Or perhaps Neil, who was gaining national attention for turning around problem schools in low-income areas. Then, of course, there was Arthur. There was something about the way Arthur tore down the other people in their writing group, really cut them down to size. There was a mystery about him. He wasn’t in good shape, he had a dead-end job and his stories were third-rate Don DeLillo rip-offs, but the way he carried himself with such assurance, such cocksure bravado, there must be something within him, thought Peggy. Maybe it was something dark, perhaps he was troubled. She would put a feeler out at the next writing meeting. Write a story just for him, see if he notices. She went back to her pad. "Entitled, arrogant yet sensitive artist ravishes marries woman." Good. That one would be fun to write.

Peggy stared out the window. On the street a boy dressed in lederhosen danced a jig while playing a pan flute. As he passed a sea of rats scurried out of the sewer, following him. It took Peggy a moment to realize that the rats, too, were dancing. As the last of the rats were dancing down the street a man who had been putting coins in a parking meter jumped into the street and grabbed one of the rats. He bit into the rat’s stomach, tearing out its guts and slurping out its insides. He then put the hollowed-out rat carcass on his head and let loose a loud, cackling laugh. "I WANTED TO DO IT, AND SO I DID IT," he said. "I AM LIKE A GOD!" An angel descended from the sky, holding a flaming sword in its hand. "How dare you blaspheme!" said the angel, and swung the sword of fire, releasing the man’s head from his body. The angel picked up the man’s head, with the rat body still on top, and placed it on its own head. The eyes of the man’s disembodied head shot open. "NOW I AM LIKE A HAT!" it said. The angel ascended back to the heavens. An old balding man stepped out of an apartment and watched the angel rise to the sky. "What a bunch of religious poppycock!" harped the old man. "I am a man of science! What use have I for angels when I have a Local Temporal Accelerator!" The old man pulled out what looked like a ray gun from a 1950s B-movie. "What’s that?" asked a pregnant woman passing on the street. "My invention!" beamed the old man. "What does it do?" asked the pregnant woman further. "THIS!" said the man. He pointed the gun at the woman and pulled the trigger. A pulsating purple wave overtook the woman. Her belly grew quickly, then suddenly a baby plopped to the ground. The woman began aging at a rapid pace, as did the baby at her feet. As the child began to grow up the mother grew old. They passed each other in a matter of moments. The child was nearing adulthood when the mother first bent over with great age, then passed away. The boy looked at the corpse of his mother and let out a howl of rage, then he too began to enter adulthood, then ever quicker old age and, finally, death. With two corpses lying before him the scientist raised the gun to the air. "See, you silly god!" he screamed. "I hold time, your greatest weapon, in my hand! Tremble before me, you pitiful deity! Witness sanctity in science!" Just then the jaws of a giant Tyrannosaurus Rex swept down from above and clamped down on the scientist. It lifted him up in the air and with a toss of its head the T-Rex threw the scientist in the air and swallowed him. Bombs began exploding around the ancient beast. It roared and began running away. Tanks and helicopters followed. A decorated general in an open-topped land rover sat on the back seat and yelled out of a megaphone, "Keep on him, boys! Let’s blast this abomination of science back to the Cretaceous Period! He’s headed towards the river, lads!"

Peggy sipped her coffee. "If he goes into the river at this time of day The Great Squids will get him, anyway," she said to no one. She wondered if her husband had any idea. She hadn’t exactly been discreet. Maybe if he would get angry at her, if he could loathe her, it would give her the freedom to feel something. How had it gotten like this? How had the world become so small, so inane?

Peggy finished her coffee. She jotted one final note onto the pad. "Unsatisfied woman blows brains out while cheating on her husband." At least I still have my creativity, she thought. She put the pad back into her purse and went to meet Stan.

The Amazing Vomitting Girl

Joanne Laurie had been sitting across from her best friend Suzanne at a very nice table at Balthazar, talking on the phone with her mother about her boyfriend’s sexual performance when she first started vomiting uncontrollably.

"If I wanted to get on top and work for myself I'd just get a Sybian. Maybe if he'd just man up and HURGGGHARFABLOOOOGGGG!!!!!"

Joanne covered her mouth, which only caused vomit to rocket out at various angles. Joanne ran to the bathroom, covering the other patrons in her upchuck. Suzanne shrugged to a waiter who came to clean the table and said, "If I was talking to my mom about fucking some guy I'd probably vomit, too."

In the bathroom Joanne hugged the toilet, filling it to the rim with vomit. She lifted a weak hand and flushed, clearing the bowl. However, the vomit kept rising again like a tide of sick. Joanne grew delirious. How much more vomit could their possibly be? What if she ran out of food and then began throwing up vital organs? With her head still over the toilet she stretched out a leg and kicked the door repeatedly to send out a distress signal for someone, anyone, to help her.

One of the wait staff came to the door and found Joanne with her steady stream of vomit, flailing her arms wildly. Joanne attempted to yell out to him, "Call an ambulance!" Instead, the small sentence came out as "Caug umb brauuuughlawphlarrrrg." Her head went back into the bowl. The waiter got the message. Moments later two paramedics with a stretcher were carrying Joanne out on her back, continuing to vomit an uninterrupted stream straight up into the air like some horrifically ill whale.

At the Joanne was placed in a room and given buckets to throw up in, but soon it became clear this would not do, as the buckets needed changing at hilariously short intervals.

At the suggestion of a particularly creative surgeon the nurses moved Joanne into the morgue and laid her face down on a table with a hole her head could rest in, so the vomit poured straight out of her mouth and into a large open drain. Later that night Joanne's boyfriend came to visit. He tried to read to her from Glamour, her favorite magazine, but could only make it part way through an article about The Worst Break-Ups when the sound and stench of unrepentant throw-up made him run from the room, never to return.

That evening Joanne, already on a hydration regiment that was less a saline drip than a hose, was fed intravenously. The creative surgeon came down that evening to check in on Joanne and was amazed to find her asleep, yet still vomiting.

The next day Joanne's mother came. At midday the surgeon came down to check in. Joanne's mother asked if the surgeon was going to operate. This was unlikely, the surgeon said, as the vomiting made it difficult to do any preemptive analysis like CAT scans, much less operate in anything near a hygienic environment. Joanne's mother then asked if the surgeon was single, as Joanne had recently come into trouble with her boyfriend, to which the doctor simply smiled, thinking to himself that frequent vomiting eroded the enamel on teeth, caused bad breath and could eventually eat through her throat and upper palate, which although he did find it quite tragic, he could not find terribly attractive.

The press inevitably found out. A conference was held amongst the hospital elite to decide what to do. Joanne's vitals had proved to be surprisingly steady. The vomit was only minutely acidic, so there was no immediate risk of damage. Hypothetically, the chief surgeon stated, with a steady IV regiment of fluid and nutrients, she could be, in a sense, all right.

An eccentric and ingenious medical equipment specialist was brought in to design an apparatus for Joanne. After a day of working and tinkering he came up with a device that looked like a combination of a gas mask and a vacuum cleaner, with a long hose attaching a facemask to a box the size of a medium-sized suitcase. The device operated in three ways; as a simple containment unit which would fill fairly quickly, as a basic filter akin to a Brita that would souse out the nastiness and release a flow of pure water (although this had the issue of needing frequent filter replacements and still had the byproduct of quite a bit of water), and as a heating and compacting unit which would basically boil the vomit internally releasing steam and creating a crust of burnt detritus that would have to be infrequently cleaned out. He apologized, saying he wished he could have done more, but the whole situation was simply "too icky" for him to continue.

And so Joanne went home with her mother looking like a soldier in a mustard gas attack who sold luggage. Joanne became despondent. She had become the popular tabloid item of the week. Everyone had thoughts on her predicament. David Letterman wondered if it had started after she'd seen the new CBS lineup. Arianna Huffington said this was the inevitable result of poor young women assaulted daily by sexist, damaging advertising. Pat Robertson said this is what happened to people in liberal meccas like New York. The worst were the interviews with her friends and coworkers. They weren't mean, but they certainly didn't sound nice either. Suzanne said that Joanne had been a bit of a boozer and a party girl. Her boyfriend had speculated that she had perhaps foreseen that he was going to break up with her, essentially doing so himself, at that moment, on Nightline, in front of a nation-wide audience that included Joanne herself sitting in a ratty chair in her mother's living room, vomiting into a vacuum cleaner, being fed through tubes and wanting to die. When her mother told her she should try to find the positive in all this she pulled up her shirt and poked her six pack abs brought about by the constant tension of a stomach in turmoil and the bare-bones dietary intake. She thought about how once upon a time having such a tight tummy would have made her ecstatic. Now it only seemed like a mocking joke.

Joanne had been approached by every paper, magazine, talk show and news program around, and she had rejected them all out of hand. She figured she'd make a lousy interview, just sitting there listening to the interviewer's faux concern and then writing her responses while quietly, intently throwing up into a portable incinerator. But then, one day, as she was flipping through the channels she passed the Oprah show, where she was interviewing a soldier who had lost his legs in Iraq. Joanne watched the whole interview in rapt attention. She saw Oprah's sympathy, her intent interest in the man's story. Joanne saw the man well up with tears as he thanked Oprah for listening. Then she saw Oprah well up and heard her thank the man for his courage. Then she felt herself well up, and suddenly she was crying. She wanted that, she wanted that so much, that unconditional appreciation, that sympathy that wasn't faked or from guilt or horror.

Joanne wiped the tears from her eyes and hopped out of the tattered old chair. She ran into the kitchen and flipped hurriedly through the mail that had piled up. She found the letter from Oprah's production company, her eyes tearing through the page until she found the number for the scheduling department. In her excitement she ran to the phone and dialed, listened through three rings before remembering that she was unable to speak into a phone and hung up just as a man answered the phone. Joanne ran down the hall and loudly knocked on her mom's door.

"What is it?" her mom asked, a worry in her voice that something, somehow, might have gotten worse. Joanne held up the Oprah letter and gave her mom a thumbs up. "Well, all right!" said Joanne's mom.

They were flown out in one of Oprah's own jets. They were put in a very nice hotel, got private seats at a show at the Chicago Theater and got to sit in the press box at a Cubs game. Then came the day of the show.

Joanne was brought into the show in a private limousine and taken in through the back entrance. Joanne got to meet Oprah. She talked to Joanne, and it was everything Joanne had dreamed. Oprah gave her the general run down of how the show would go, told her not to worry, that everything would be fine.

The show began and Joanne was brought out onstage. Her mother sat beside her. Oprah asked her questions and then waited patiently as Joanne wrote out her answers and her mother read them. Oprah told Joanne that she was very brave to come on the show. Joanne smiled, then she started to cry even though she had promised herself that she wouldn't, and wrote that she was actually just a normal girl and that's all she'd wanted to come on the show to say.

Oprah turned to the camera and said, "Come back after the break, I promise you, you won't want to miss this."

The show went to commercial and make up people came out and started futzing with Oprah and Joanne and her mom. Joanne looked over at her mom. Her mom looked back and smiled, then gave Joanne two thumbs up. "You're doing great," said Oprah, and patted Joanne on the knee. Oprah turned to the camera. Then they were back.

"When Joanne Laurie first experienced her unusual condition she was taken to St. Vincent's hospital in New York some of the best doctors in the county were at a loss with what to do for her. However, our next guest believes he may have an idea. Please welcome my guest and dear friend, Dr. Sanjarwal Patel!" Oprah stood up and clapped. The audience clapped as well. Onto the stage walked an Indian man in his early middle age with a bushy-bearded face round and paternal.

Dr. Patel explained that Joanne's condition was not entirely unheard of, a very advanced form of a rare disorder called Cyclical Vomiting Syndrome, or CVS. This disease was related to the patient's mental state. Not quite a psychosomatic illness, but close. Dr. Patel had developed a system to ease the sufferer's mind and assuage the affects of the illness. The doctor asked if Joanne would be interested in trying his cure. Joanne could hardly contain her excitement. She nodded ecstatically and clapped her hands, bouncing up and down in her chair. "All right then!" said Oprah, and the audience erupted into applause.

A massage table with a hole for the face to rest in, similar to the one Joanne had been placed on in the morgue, was brought onstage. A section was taken out of the side so that the tube could slide through. Joanne lay down. Dr. Patel stood behind her and began rubbing ointments onto her back, her shoulders, her neck. He reached underneath her and spread the ointments onto her stomach and just below her collar bone. Joanne felt her body ease its tension and begin to relax for the first time in ages. Finally Dr. Patel knelt in front of Joanne and told her to close her eyes. He was going to give her guided meditation.

Joanne heard Dr. Patel ask her to envision a lake in the middle of a field. He told her to walk along the lake's shore. He told her to imagine herself sitting down beside that lake and look to her right. On the sand by the lake was a fishing rod. Pick up the fishing rod and cast it far far out into the lake, Dr. Patel told her. Watch the bobber fly through the air. Watch it get very very small. Watch it bob up and down on top of the water. Now imagine you've got a bottle of your favorite drink beside you, Dr. Patel told her. Imagine opening the drink and taking a sip from it. Watch the waves on the water. Listen to the water moving.

She wasn't sure exactly what Dr. Patel kept saying, she couldn't hear his words. Maybe what she saw next was his instruction, maybe it was just drawn up from her own mind. She saw her mother sitting beside her on the beach. She saw Suzanne driving a boat across the middle of the lake, trailing Joanne’s boyfriend on a set of water-skis. They waved. Joanne waved back. Joanne saw a tree with long, wide branches and a tire swing. Standing on the tire swing was Oprah. She wore a bathing suit and was pushing and pulling the swing to move farther and farther out over the water. Oprah rode the tire as far out over the water as she could, then jumped. She flew through the air, and right as she reached the apex of her arc, Oprah stopped. Joanne saw Oprah looking at her, stuck in mid-air, her face contorted with a tension seemed as if Oprah's skull was growing larger than her skin. Then there was a scream.

Joanne came to, feeling her meditational landscape melt away. Except for the scream. Joanne gave a sluggish pull to lift up her head and felt a spray of liquid hit her face. Suddenly she was fully awake. She saw the audience gone amok, running to the exits and covering their faces. Some of them were vomiting. She turned and saw her mother's sad, pleading face. She heard Dr. Patel muttering "I'm so sorry, I felt her throat, thought she had stopped." Joanne felt around her body, looking for the mask. She heard a voice behind her say, "Joanne, your machine..." Joanne turned.

There stood Oprah, holding out the machine by the hose. Joanne saw her there, a frozen moment of Oprah reaching out to her for one pure, beautiful moment, just before the vomit hit her full in the chest. Oprah stumbled backwards at the impact of it, her whole front suddenly an abstract painting of fluid and sick. "Goddammit!" yelled Oprah, then caught herself and looked at Joanne, shame on her face. "Joanne," she said, then couldn't say any more. Joanne wanted to say "I'm sorry," she wanted to give Oprah a hug and thank her for trying, but she couldn't. She'd never be able to do that. She was an idiot for even coming, she thought, and ran backstage into her dressing room toilet, leaving a trail of vomit behind her. She locked the door behind her and collapsed on the floor, her head in the toilet, just like the day it all began.

Oprah came to the door, telling Joanne not to worry, she was sorry the show had turned out as it had, she had only wanted to help. Joanne couldn't even tell them to leave her alone. She continued to sit, vomiting into the toilet and crying. Joanne’s mother came to the door and asked to come in. Joanne stretched up an arm and unlocked the door. Joanne's mom had the device with her, but left it at the door for the moment and sat down beside her daughter. They sat there for an hour, mother holding daughter, rubbing her back, kissing the top of her head, telling her everything would be all right.

They flew back home. They resumed their life. They made trips to the doctor for check ups. They played scrabble every night. They started a book club, just the two of them. They watched tv together. They never watched Oprah.

About a month after her appearance on Oprah a letter came. It was from a small sustained living community in Washington state. They told Joanne about how they worked a small patch of land to grow everything they needed to survive and sold the excess products to get money for what little they couldn't make themselves. They said they had a place for her, if she wanted it. They believed they could use her particularly individual output as fertilizer to their crops. She would have to work, they said, but sometimes feeling a sense of accomplishment was something people needed in their lives, and if that's how she felt, she had a place in their community.

So Joanne got on a plane one more time, and found a place like home. She's still there. They say you can find her by putting your ear to the wind and listening for the sound of a girl vomiting, not just with viscous bodily upchuck, but with joy.


The mummy sat in the museum thinking about curses. About 4,000 years ago his underlings had taken his corps, removed it of its fluids and organs, turned his body into a dried husk and then thrown his wrapped corpse into a box and buried in a bunch of big stones. They had also buried him with a small fortune; golden idols, coins, offerings of fruit and foodstuffs, even live animals. Heavy stones had also been placed on top of his tomb, in the hopes of keeping his body safe from scavengers, both animal and human. Just to be sure the grave was not disturbed they carved a curse onto the tomb, a curse meant to inflict fear and horror in anyone who might want to see what might be buried with a formerly living god that was too precious to be left in the anterior chamber. However, as with so many things in life, the curse didn’t work the way it had been supposed to work.

The curse says quite firmly that if the king’s grave was disturbed he would return from the dead to wreak vengeance on the offending parties. All well and good, but if a soul has completely crossed over, he’s not exactly going to come all the way back now, is he? So in the tomb the mummy sat, waiting for years, centuries even, as the world went by. Sure, he’d be pissed if someone messed with his grave, he thought, but certainly it wasn’t worth all this. Only once had his grave been disturbed, somewhere around 400 BC. A couple of grave robbers looking for loot. It had been nice to kill the offending parties and their entire families, it had been nice to do anything for a change, but still. Once it was done, back to the grave. Wow. Great.

And then it happened. 4,000 years after he was first interred a whole group of grad students stumbled onto his grave. "The burial tomb of a minor figure," one of them had said. "Possibly not even a king." Not even a king? When he was alive the mummy had had insubordinate, smart ass jerk-offs like this pantywaist strung up and eaten alive by tigers for fun. "Minor figure." After 4,000 years of laying in wait the rage that burned through his cold, dead form was a comforting, welcome warmth. However, as quickly as it came it faded. It had been 4,000 years. Who the hell cared who he was, anyway?

Besides, vengeance would be such hard work. These weren’t two local douche clowns robbing graves, this was an international team of research students. The mummy got tired thinking about how long it would take to not only kill the whole team, but to hunt down their entire families? It’d be exhausting! There were a good fifteen countries represented between them all. Just because he was dead doesn’t mean travel couldn’t still take it out of him.

Speaking of travel, they’d shipped his grave to a research lab at Yale, where he found himself currently. It was after hours and the mummy was sitting in the student lounge. No one was around. He was watching late night television and drinking a soda from the vending machine. Being dead was an odd thing. While he was entombed he had certainly been stuck, but his soul, his consciousness, still received information. Being dead was sort of like swimming in the collective unconscious. Still, it was different to be in it. It was interesting to see that television was actually as awesome and as horrifying as he’d thought it would be. And Coca-Cola tasted fucking delicious, if he did say so himself.

So there he sat, sipping his soda and watching some infomercial selling Girls Gone Wild videos. What if I don’t wreak my vengeance, thought the mummy. What if I just let it go? These kids had it bad enough as it was, they were archeology grad students in the current economy. There was nothing he could do to their families that were worse than the student loan debts they were accruing one meaningless class at a time. The mummy chuckled. Talk about a curse.

What would he do, he wondered? He couldn’t just go out and get an apartment, work at some shopping mart. He couldn’t just say who he was, that would be awful. They’d run tests, there’d be huge philosophical debates, even worse, they might make him do the talk show circuit. Of course, these days there was weirdness all over the place. And with all the liberal government social service foo-ferrah freaks were openly tolerated, even accepted. In his day anyone even remotely malformed was sunk in a river or thrown off a cliff. These days he could just say he had some crazy skin condition and no one would probably bat an eye. Maybe he could get a job working on a farm somewhere. He could go out to California. From what he’d heard he felt like he’d like California.

The girls on the television were still bouncing around. It’s a shame they removed all my bodily juices, thought the mummy, it’d be nice to get a little bit of that after 4,000 years.

The mummy finished his soda and threw the bottle in the recycling container. He broke into a handful of offices until he found one with a coat and extra pair of shoes in the closet. They were a bit snug but they’d work, at least of a bit. On his way out he saw a hat that said "1 Dad hanging on a coat rack. He put it on. He snuck out a side entrance and walked out into the cold morning air. The movement felt good. Maybe he’d try one of those cappuccinos he’d heard so much about. He started whistling an old, old tune. Just because he was cursed, doesn’t mean he couldn’t have a good time.