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The lights flicker, and flicker, and flicker again. Leilani braces herself against one of the booths as the customers change seats with every gap in the light. The floor cracks, and then it mends. The Mormon kid is a scattered pile of dripping gore; he glares at everyone from the booth where the chocolate salesman is yammering away about his product. The two ghost hunters play crossword puzzles and eat pie, they burst through the front door with mysterious objects that Leilani assumes are guns. The entire Oberst family flickers through the booths, even the dead twin, who tries to catch Leilani's attention, waving his arms wildly at her. Annalise runs through the chaos with a dotted-line existence toward Elijah; she cuts off an arm and disappears into the kitchen.

The only things that remain constant are the wings.

Not only are there tiny flying things flittering through the air (and through all the being and not-being going on around them), but everyone, everyone at every booth, in all their incarnations (and there are some of ones she suspects are gods who have quite a few), bears a pair of ghostly images that beat calmly in the air, keeping them steady amidst all the tumult.

Leilani reaches behind her and catches hold of something that probably isn't feathers. When she grabs a handful of it and yanks the whole thing in front of her (making her head spin, as if she'd spun herself at right angles to some unimaginable direction), she sees that it's made up of words.

"The Weasel of Doom ate my toes, but then we had to give the ferret up. Erm. My husband showed me a Random Princess Name generator. Just you wait..."

"Okay...I'm pretty sure I did that right. Story is up, Phantom links up, main engines on-line, eyes down for full house, make big money at home, sharpen saws and earn extra cash."

"Wow, Dave. Great story. I'm blown away."

"Looks like we lost a few folks. What up? (Okay, I'm not nearly hip enough to actually use that phrase. Every once in awhile I have to confirm that fact.)"

"Ditto. Big fun, and I'm already torn between wanting to continue my story, and picking up somewhere else. Or a little of both."

"Ye Gods. Done. Kudos to my wife who let me spend our anniversary afternoon getting the Muse out of my system. At least until Thursday."

She lets go of the wing.

"Where am I? Some kind of story?"

Two of the authors, Ted and Lee, with unwritten stories look at each other.

"Did you hear something?" Lee rolls over in his sleep.

Hundreds of miles away, Ted flips through cable channels and spontaneously mutters to himself, "Not if you didn't."

"Huh?" Lee's what asks.

"I didn't hear a damn thing," Lee mutters. He and his wife settle back into sleep.

"Fuck no," Ted announces to a commercial for a local used-car dealer.

Leilani gasps. The words steaming across the surface of her wings have changed. Someone must have heard her! They're pretending they didn't, but they must have!

"You have to fix this!" she screams. "You can't leave us like this! You have to save us!"

Dave leans back from his keyboard and sips a glass of wine. He chuckles to himself. "What do you think we're trying to do?"

"You're damning us." Leilani says. "Look at this mess! Time has come undone! The world's going to be destroyed! People are being killed off for no reason whatsoever! There's no way to put this all back together!"

"What do you want?" Ana demands. "Because it sounds like you're asking us to tear you up and start all over again. Is that what you want?"

"No, Mom, no!" Ana's son wails. "My homework is due tomorrow! Please don't tear it up!"

"No!" Leilani shouts. "But--"

Keeley shrugs. But then he does that.

"Honey, fiction isn't supposed to be nice," Kate says.

Her visiting author sighs. "Somehow, I just want it to all work out. I want to invent a new kind of fiction, the kind where the characters don't have to suffer...but--"

"But this isn't right. You know this isn't right. This is nonsense," Leilani says.

"Too many gods within, too many gods without," De says. "It was bound to come undone."

The cat tips his head to the side, almost as if he were listening. He kneads his claws into her thigh until she stops mumbling to herself to toss him off her lap. He's been put there for a reason, to distract her when these mad fits come on her...

"All it would take is..." Doyce's voice trails off. "All it would take is...."

(And the universes stop for a moment, shocked to find Doyce speechless.)

Sean looks up from his keyboard to mumble, "All it would take is a tree."

Suddenly, everyone in the diner stands up (some using their napkins, some simply dropping theirs to the floor) and files out the doorway. Some of them stumble over the crack in the floor; some walk straight through a ghostly, dismembered corpse on a table dragged to the center of the room.

Outside is growing a tree, a tree made of words. A serpent made of similar stuff is wrapped around the base, and golden apples covered with perfect calligraphy sparkle amidst the papery leaves.

Leilani sighed and started reading at the trunk. There were such a lot of words to get through, but she had a feeling that it was the only way to understand what was going on, and perhaps to change it...

"It all started in 86. Not 1986, mind you, when all the punks were putting safety pins through their noses..."

"So that's where that apple that Eris threw came from," Meera laughs. "We made it."

--De Knippling

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Page last modified on May 04, 2006, at 11:22 AM by DoyceTesterman

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