“Sticks and Stones” by Nathaniel Lee
The dead body was ugly, as dead bodies tended to be. The man’s face was swollen and purple-black with the blood that had pooled in his cheeks before congealing. Blood on the sidewalks had smeared with the rain before the sun rose. Lillian stared at the stains with her hands in her pockets, toying with her ring.
“Blunt force,” she said, not turning around. “Probably some pretty heavy words, by the look of them; he’s almost crushed. Loser, maybe. Failure. Took him by surprise, I think; the first blow from the back spun him around. You can see the blood spatter where he turned.”
“I was just going to ask if you wanted your coffee,” said Denton. His words whisked past Lillian, a scraping sensation, like wire coat hangers. That was Denton in a nutshell: never cutting deeply, but always cutting. He thought it would impress her if he was as cool-headed as she was; she’d seen it before, though Denton wasn’t giving up as quickly as some of her other partners. She suspected he had more than a small crush on her.
Lillian accepted a steaming paper cup. Black, of course. No amount of sugar and milk could completely conceal the bitterness of the drink, and Lillian preferred not to try. Denton stepped up beside her, radiating pleasure at the sheer coppishness of the scene. Trench coats, yellow tape, coffee, wind, concrete; he was probably running through his mental library of cop show quotes, searching for the perfect bit of secondhand gallows humor.
“Have we got an ID?” she asked, to forestall him. Quotes were never as potent as original statements, but she hated the slithery sensation of irony.
“Somebody lifted the wallet,” said Denton, adopting the rolling cadence he favored. He thought it made him sound older, more experienced. “Not clear if it was the same perp. We’re running prints now to ID the stiff, see if we can’t get some DNA off the scene. It’s my birthday this week, so naturally there’s no witnesses of any kind. We did find a napkin from a bar nearby and I can still smell the liquor on this guy, so that’s something.”
“Are they open yet?” Lillian asked, not looking up from the body.
“Not till three.”
Lillian dropped her ring into the bottom of her pocket and stood. “Not much we can do until then, I suppose. I’ll get the paperwork started.” She brushed past Denton, felt the words bubbling up inside him. “Let me know when they’ve got a name for him.”
The man lay on the sidewalk, and the machinery of justice ratcheted slowly forward around him.
“Coroner’s report,” Denton announced, poking his head into Lillian’s cubicle. She turned down the volume on her radio – classical music, no words, or at least none she could understand – and looked up. “You were right on about the cause of death, by the way. Blunt force trauma, likely verbal. Lots of broken bones. And we got a positive ID of our John Doe as Maurice Stern, local businessman.”
“Businessman or ‘businessman’?” Lillian asked, crooking her fingers.
“Clean, as near as anyone knows. Ran a bookshop or something.”
“People still run bookshops?”
“Not this guy, anymore.”
“I mean in general.” Lillian could feel the rhythm of the patter building; the words wanted to dance, and they didn’t care much what they were saying. She looked away, breaking contact.
Denton ran his tongue across his teeth inside his closed mouth. Lillian wondered briefly what Denton wanted to say to her, broken-glass sharp. They were all trained too well to use harsh words on a fellow officer, though, especially inside the station. That was lesson one in Offensive Language courses: your words were always loaded, so don’t use them unless you mean it.
“Basic point is, we’re going to have to dig deeper looking for a motive. Nothing obvious on poor little Maurice. Only DNA around was his, near as the lab boys can tell. No family to speak of; no previous reports of violence or threats. Closest we got to an enemy is an ex-wife who lives on the far side of town.”
“Outside city limits?” Lillian couldn’t keep the exhaustion out of her voice. Interfacing with county cops or – God forbid – the state was always a nightmare of red tape.
“Not quite,” said Denton, catching her fears and flashing her a thin grin. “Should I set up an interview?”
Lillian nodded. “We have to inform her anyway, if she’s all we’ve got for next-of-kin. Might as well make ourselves as unwelcome as possible and ask her if she killed her ex-husband, too.”
Denton blinked in mock surprise. “Why, Detective Staunton, was that a joke? I think it almost was.”
His words prickled her, needling gently; cat’s claws, tickling through thick denim. Lillian smiled despite herself. “You’ll make a proper policewoman of me yet.” She glanced at the clock. “Come on. It’s past two-thirty. Time to hit the bar.”
“Never too early for that in this line of work,” Denton agreed cheerily.
Lillian didn’t rebuke him for the joke, poor taste though it might have been. She wasn’t about to go drinking socially with anyone, let alone with puppy-dog Denton, but she’d learned that sometimes it was better to remain silent. Words could hurt or be twisted back on you, but silence kept its own counsel.
The bar wasn’t particularly dimly lit or dirty, but it felt dark and sordid regardless. It might have been the three steps they had to take down to reach the door that gave it the air of a burrow or a den, some musky hole where a solitary animal lived. Splintered tables, faded cloth, and smudged glass made up the majority of the décor. An ancient television, still with a useless antenna, rested on a ledge to the right of the bar counter, currently set to the news. Lillian felt the wash of carefully chosen words like a body-temperature bath. There weren’t any editorial or opinion pieces anymore, of course. It had been thought that the filter of camera and screen would be enough to rob even harsh polemics of their potency, but several wrongful death lawsuits had turned that notion around. Now, newscasters stuck to simple, factual declaratives and put as much as they could into written form. Words written down were words pinned in place, like insects under glass; you could still get stung if you tried, but it would be your own fault.
The bartender was a somber-faced woman, her body almost spherical. She would have looked comical behind the narrow bar if it weren’t for the grace and delicacy of her movements. Lillian shook the light rain off and tugged her coat aside to display her badge. The woman’s eyebrows lifted, but she carried on with her tasks, setting up glasses and napkins, preparing the bar for its customers.
“Detective Staunton,” Lillian said, gesturing at herself. She nodded at Denton, whose scarecrow form shed water as he ducked through the low doorway. “Officer Scott Denton. Do you know why we’re here?” As if we’d just pulled the woman over for speeding, she thought.
The bartender shook her head. “Rosalyn Habcock,” she introduced herself. She did not offer to shake hands. They stared at one another for a moment.
“Do you know Maurice Stern?” Lillian asked. She kept her hands in her pockets.
Denton proffered a picture, lifted from the dead man’s business website. The post-mortem shots weren’t any good for identification purposes. Rosalyn’s eyes glinted as she saw the image. She looked up, met Lillian’s gaze, saw that Lillian had noticed her reaction. She handed the picture back.
“He’s a regular,” Rosalyn said. “Comes in three, four nights a week. Quiet. Drinks alone.” She doled out the words as though grudging their loss, counting them from a hoard that had to last her the rest of her life. Lillian wondered if she had always been that way, or if this was her strategy for dealing with the new rules.
“Have you seen him lately?”
“What time did he leave?”
A shrug. “After closing time. A few minutes after two, at the latest.”
“Did he leave with anyone in particular last night?”
Rosalyn shook her head.
“Say anything about a meeting? Anyone pick a fight with him or leave angry?”
Rosalyn continued shaking her head, her cheeks wobbling. “He was quiet, I said. Never talked much to anyone.”
“Did he habitually carry a lot of cash?”
“Credit card only. Settled up at the end of every night.”
“He’s dead,” Denton broke in, his voice hard. “Someone killed him. Brutally.” Lillian saw a red mark appear on Rosalyn’s cheeks where the words impacted. She stepped on Denton’s toes; he could be disciplined for that kind of thing. Rosalyn didn’t flinch, but turned her dark eyes toward Lillian’s gangly junior partner. Denton faltered under her gaze. “Do you… maybe know something… that could help us?”
Lillian interceded. “Please,” she said, “we’re just looking for anything that could suggest a motive for the attack.”
Rosalyn kept her focus on Denton, but she spoke to Lillian. “I know he was separated from his wife. I know he was unhappy.”
“Did she ever come here? Do you know if they fought?”
“Never met the woman.” Rosalyn released Denton from her stare and turned to Lillian. “Don’t really want to. Maurice was a nice guy. I like quiet drinkers who pay their tabs on time.”
The sad little bell over the door made a jingle-clonk noise. Rosalyn’s gaze shot past Lillian’s shoulders. “We’re closed,” she said. Lillian felt the slap in the words brush past her hair and heard a masculine grunt as it impacted. She turned and saw a man in a ragged canvas jacket rubbing his stubbly chin. Even from ten feet across the room, he reeked of unwashed sweat, feces, and cheap liquor.
“It’s three. You open at three,” the man whined. His voice sounded raw and bleeding.
“Not to you. Get out.”
The man seemed to notice Lillian and Denton for the first time. He blinked red-rimmed eyes, but said nothing and withdrew. They all watched him go.
“If you see anything,” said Lillian, “or hear anything, anything at all, that relates to Maurice and… what happened, please let us know.” She pulled out a business card and placed it on the countertop. Rosalyn hesitated before picking it up.
“You, too,” she said. “When you find out who did it, I want to know.” Something flickered behind her eyes as she watched Lillian, something damp and lonely.
Denton shot Lillian a glance, but she ignored him. “I’ll be in touch,” she promised. Now she was the one flouting regulations, but she found she didn’t care. She wondered if she ever had. A cursory probing at the cold space inside her revealed nothing conclusive; her icy armor seemed intact. She nodded at Rosalyn, hooked her chin at Denton, and headed for the door.
Outside, the weather remained chilly and gray. Denton turned up his collar and hunched down, giving himself the appearance of an irritated vulture. “So that was a complete waste of time, huh?”
Lillian walked briskly to keep up with Denton’s lanky strides. “It confirmed some things. The time matches up pretty closely with estimated time of death.”
“You think the ex did it?”
“I’m not sure,” said Lillian. “We don’t know a lot about why they split, who initiated it, anything.”
“Jealousy is a good old-fashioned motive,” Denton said, with a sideways glance. “It’s not like we’ve got any other leads. Captain was kind of horked off at you for spending the whole day on a no-name mystery killing. He said to put it to bed and find something solvable instead of pissing away department resources on a case without a suspect, a motive, or any evidence.”
Lillian’s nostrils flared, but she did not otherwise react. “I’m going to at least give it due diligence. If the captain wants me to disobey regs, he can tell me that himself instead of sending my partner to do it for him.”
They walked in silence for a few more paces.
“Man,” said Denton. “You know, they told me when I first got my assignment that it was going to be miserable, but really, I’m kind of impressed. Nothing fazes you, does it?”
“Did they tell you my nickname? The Ice Princess?”
Denton coughed. “Ice Bitch, actually.”
Lillian allowed herself a small, tight smile. The muted thump of the second-hand insult was almost comforting.
“Hey, so, my buddy Sam and I were going to go to the Combat Comic Extravaganza on Sunday,” said Denton, speaking rapidly, “but his kids came down with some kind of Martian Death Flu and he can’t go. You, um, want the extra ticket? I can… I could give you a lift. It’s Marino versus Harris. Marino’s won like three world-class verbal combat titles, but Harris has literally never lost a match, not in two years, which is unheard of, even if he hasn’t hit the global stage yet. It’s supposed to be a pretty epic bout.”
Lillian’s smile faded. Two men, skilled language users, hurling carefully crafted insults at one another. The details depended on respective styles – conversationalists, one-liners, or scattershots – but the important thing was to wound as extravagantly as possible without overtly attacking. Direct assault was an admission of defeat. A lot of former stand-up comedians had gone into the new field a decade or two back; it was hard to do good comedy without taking a few jabs at the audience, and who would pay for that now? Rumors of tabloid-level death tolls had abounded in the first months, until everything had stabilized. Now the comics turned their rapiers on one another for the amusement of the audience. Lillian had never liked it much, and she hadn’t watched any bouts for years. She frowned at the memories that bobbed to the surface at the thought, and her hand strayed to the pocket with her ring in it.
Denton misinterpreted the frown. “It’s totally safe,” he said. “They’ve got bafflers and looped feeds to avoid any accidental crowd-hits, and you can get earplugs and read the fight on the screens if you’re worried.” He blinked at her, a nervous smile twitching on his lips.
Oh, Lord, he’s got it bad, Lillian thought. She opened her mouth, then closed it again. How could she explain? Denton wouldn’t know her history; most of the other men on the force didn’t know, even the old-timers.
“Hey, cops! Hey, pigs!”
Denton and Lillian turned simultaneously to see the bedraggled homeless man from the bar lurching toward them out of an alley.
“Hey, you assholes! You think you’re gonna kick me out of my own bar? You think you’re tough?” The first verbal blows came in hard, but glancing; it was tricky to hit a stranger solidly on your first try.
“What’s this crap?” Denton snapped, falling back to a defensive posture. “We’re police. We’re busy. You think we have time to deal with your petty bullshit?” Denton’s verbal combat style was all thorns and thickets, prickly warnings and misdirection. Against a normal person, these tactics were punishingly effective, leaving his opponents bleeding from a hundred tiny wounds before they could get enough of a read on Denton to launch a serious attack. Lillian had seen Denton’s sparring partners – some of the biggest mouths in the station – leave the field stumbling, without a mark on Denton to show for it. The homeless man plowed through Denton’s distant scorn without even noticing.
“Fuck you! Fuck you!” the man shouted, blasting them with breath nearly as caustic as his words. Spittle flecked his scrubby beard and mustache. “You limp-dicked little shit! How many cocks did you have to blow to get that shiny badge? You want to fight, ass-cream? Then come on!”
The insults were simple, crude, and direct; the easiest sorts of blows to deflect. But they were backed by a blazing wreckage of unhinged anger, and they came in with deadly force. Denton tried to obfuscate, to back up, but he wasn’t able to bring his defenses in line, and the words struck home again and again. A cut appeared on his forehead, and his nose smashed in as if hit by a baseball. “Crazy old… what’s wrong… don’t have to listen to…” His hedges and suggestions fell flat, scraping futilely against the simmering insanity in the homeless man’s eyes. The man opened his mouth for a finishing strike.
Lillian stepped between them. “No.”
Lillian stood firm and shook her head.
The man moved forward, staring her eye-to-bloodshot-eye. “Fuuuuuck! Yooooou!” he shrieked.
Lillian didn’t blink, his words splintering against her cheeks like old bamboo. “No.”
The man reeled back, hurling words like rocks. “Dyke! Whore! Cunt!” They rebounded like rubber balls.
“Fucking cop bitch!”
Lillian snapped the cuffs off her belt. “That one,” she said, “I’ll give you. Now sit down and shut up.”
The man’s legs, already unsteady from alcohol and his failed attack, buckled at the impact of the command. He dropped to his knees, stunned. Lillian sprayed his face with muffler, the sticky substance coagulating instantly, sealing his lips. She wasn’t overly carefully about avoiding his nose; he ended up with one nostril partially free. Denton staggered over, bleeding in several places, to help hold the man in place so he could be cuffed. Lillian rattled through the man’s rights, though he was too busy thrashing to listen closely. She tucked the card in one filthy pocket for him, and they hauled him upright.
“You’re amazing,” Denton said, his voice thickened by his swollen nose. “Like diamond. Nothing gets in.”
“It’s a knack. You pick it up as you go.” Lillian didn’t look at Denton. “Come on. Let’s get this waste of space processed.”
“You think he was the perp?” The consonants were flat and nasal; Denton would be lucky if his nose wasn’t broken. “Maybe he does this a lot, just randomly assaults people in the neighborhood.”
“We’ll have forensics compare the wound patterns,” said Lillian. She doubted it; the wounds the homeless man had inflicted on Denton looked to be stabs and cuts more than bludgeon marks, the nose notwithstanding. “He did a number on you; we need to get you patched up before our meeting with the former Mrs. Maurice.”
Supporting Denton as much as their defiantly limp attacker, Lillian dragged herself to the end of the block and their squad car.
The nurse wanted to keep Denton for observation, check for infection and concussion. Lillian left Denton to argue futilely and went to the interview alone. She wasn’t expecting trouble.
Wendy Gorsch, the former Mrs. Maurice, was not a large woman, but her presence was imposing nonetheless. She seemed to radiate pressure on everyone and everything around her. Lillian felt it as soon as she entered the home, the furniture in the rooms all pressed against the walls and nothing in the vast open space but Wendy, clasping her hands in front of her.
“It’s about your ex-husband, Maurice. Maurice Stern?”
“Oh,” said Wendy. She took in Lillian’s badge and expression, and her hands flew to her mouth. “Oh! The poor dear. What’s happened to him?”
Lillian kept her expression stony. “Someone attacked him yesterday. Verbal assault. His… body was found this morning.”
“Oh, how awful! I’d thought… but assault? Maurice? Who would do such a thing?”
“You thought… what?” asked Lillian, cocking her head to one side. She fidgeted with her ring, sliding it on and off of her finger.
Wendy stroked her cheek, her eyes focused on nothing. “He’s been taking this so hard. We’ve been separated almost a year. The divorce papers were finalized four months ago, and he’s been so… distant since then. It’s hard to explain, but it’s just… the things he’s been saying, I thought… I called some mental health hotline, once, but they told me no one could intervene unless he had a history of mental illness or had actually made an attempt, and I didn’t have any proof, you know, just a feeling. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to attack Maurice. He’s- he was such a sweet man.”
“It wasn’t an acrimonious split, then?”
“No, no,” Wendy fluttered her hands. Her words, her voice, seemed to soothe and push away at the same time, a shushing sensation. It was like trying to stand in place against a flowing river. “No anger, nothing like that. We just… grew apart, I suppose. I was tired of waiting for him to do something with himself. He’s sweet but he has – had – no ambition, none whatsoever. The marriage ended of… well, of boredom, I suppose you could say. He agreed, at the time; it was a mutual decision, something we talked over for hours and hours, more than we’d talked in years, funnily enough. We’d decided to pursue other interests, and now I just… I don’t know. This is a lot to take in.” She moved to a white armchair and perched on the edge of the cushion. She made barely a dent in the fabric. Lillian thought of her own apartment, everything neat and clean and tucked away, and never any surprises, never anything out of place that she hadn’t put there.
“I don’t like to be the bearer of bad news,” Lillian said. “I hate to ask, but would you have time to come to the station? We just have some questions and some paperwork we need your help with.”
“Are you going to tell me not to leave town?” Wendy managed a smile under her watery eyes. “I’ve seen movies, Detective Staunton. I know I’m a suspect. Probably the only one, if I know Maurice’s social life. I was out of town yesterday and just got in at noon today. I can find any number of people who saw me.”
“Your ‘other interests’?”
Wendy flushed, either from embarrassment or anger. “Not that it’s any of your business, but yes. And hotel employees, credit card records, plane tickets…”
“Did you make any calls?”
“You can check my cell phone,” Wendy said, making as if to stand. “There’s nothing there!”
Lillian raised a hand. “We’ll have to see the phone company records, if we can. Grant permission, and we can have you cleared in a few days at most.”
“I’ve spoken to a lot of family members over the years,” Lillian said. “I’m certain your alibi will check out fine. We just need to get it done, and your cooperation makes that go much faster.”
Wendy settled back onto her chair. “Oh. Well. Of course, I’m happy to help. I just wish I knew more about what Maurice has been doing all this time; I honestly can’t think of a single enemy he’s ever had. It must have been random. Was it a mugging turned violent, do you think?”
“Inquiries are proceeding,” Lillian said. She made some notes, then handed over a yellow carbon-copy form and her card. “We’ll be in touch with you soon about those records, okay?”
“Yes…” Wendy’s red-painted lips stood out starkly against her skin as she looked away.
Lillian hesitated. She was never sure how to handle this part. “My condolences. Sincere condolences, I mean. I didn’t mean to upset you.”
Wendy turned back to Lillian. “You were just doing your job, Detective. I understand.” Wendy stood, formal. “Goodbye.”
Lillian nodded and said nothing as she opened the door and escaped into the darkening evening.
Denton caught up with her as she gathered up her files and headed for the door. He had a white bandage across his purpling nose, and the cut above his right eye had been neatly stitched. Lillian slowed at his call, but did not stop walking.
“Hey!” he said as he caught up. “How did the interview go?”
“She’s not our perp,” Lillian told him.
“Positive. I’d stake my badge on it. Shocked and angry and a little guilty about walking out on him, but not a murderer.” They passed through the outer doors with a rush of air; outside was no colder than the air-conditioned building, but the damp aftermath of the day’s sporadic rain showers made it bite more sharply.
“Well, that sucks. Another one for the unsolved pile?”
“Captain’s looking for an excuse to hit you, you know. You shouldn’t provoke him.”
Lillian unconsciously increased her speed, and Denton’s stride widened to match.
“I’m not trying to be mean, here,” Denton said, his brow wrinkling with the force of his innocence and concern. “I hear things, is all. Guys say stuff. Stuff they probably shouldn’t, but they all expect me to hate you after working with you for six months, and-”
“Not news, Denton.”
He stumbled, then regained his pace. “What?”
“You’re not telling me anything I don’t already know.” Lillian kept her voice as calm as a frozen lake and her eyes straight ahead.
“Hey.” Denton slowed slightly as they neared the parking lot.
Lillian kept walking.
“Hey!” Denton dropped a hand on her shoulder, and she spun, instinctively shrugging it away and only barely restraining herself from putting him in a painful finger hold.
Lillian stepped back, putting some distance between them, and waited. Her pale blue eyes met Denton’s golden brown ones.
“I don’t hate you,” he said. “I don’t hate you at all. I tell the guys it’s awful, make jokes and stuff. You have to do that, you know? But I don’t mean it. I like being your partner, Lillian. I like spending time with you.” He hesitated, then visibly steeled himself. “I… I think I love you.”
Lillian saw the words coming, armor-piercing cop-killer bullets, sharper than knives, sharper than volcanic glass, sharp enough to split an atom. They were always dangerous, these words. She’d seen them before, and she braced herself. The words hit her, right in the heart, in the cold place. She felt them strike and shatter, fragmenting to dust, bouncing harmlessly away.
No. Not harmless.
She felt the words rebound, jagged and splintered now, propelled by her silence. Denton saw them coming, but he didn’t have time to do more than widen his eyes. She saw them hit him, catching on his face, his clothes, his skin, setting like fishhooks and ripping. Denton’s own words tore him to pieces in front of her eyes, tearing gashes and wounds that made his previous injuries look like nothing in comparison. He made a soft sound and collapsed.
“Oh, God. Denton!” Lillian rushed forward, knelt by his side. “Someone get help!” she called to a pair of uniforms, just leaving the station. They boggled at the scene and fled inside. Lillian turned back to Denton. He was breathing, his eyes open, but his face was a crimson mess.
“You… obviously don’t feel… the same way,” he gurgled.
“I’m sorry,” she told him. “I wish I did, I really do. It would be… nice.”
The words, meant as a balm, drizzled onto Denton like acid. His skin reddened as if sunburned, and she smelled the acrid stench of burning hair. Denton smiled up at her anyway. “It’s… okay,” he said. “I’ll… survive.”
Lillian waited for the station nurse to arrive. She saw the white-coated figure through the glass doors, but everyone seemed to be moving in slow motion, running at the bottom of the sea, and Denton bleeding in her arms, the blood rushing out so fast, so fast. The moment stretched taut as a guitar string, then wrapped around her neck and began to squeeze.
It followed her, that moment, trapping her forever. It followed her even at home, where she threw her ring into the coin bowl and saw it bounce out, glinting manically toward the drain in the sink; at home, where everything was where she’d left it that morning and nothing was out of place, and she told herself over and over that that was the way she liked it, where dust and silence reigned as she dropped her briefcase and lunged for the ring with outstretched fingers, fingers with Denton’s blood still trapped under the nails; at home where the silence weighed on her like stones on a board, one more, one more, one more falling into place every day.
With a curious clarity, a silence inside the roaring hush that filled her head, Lillian watched herself from within and outside herself while the ring clattered and rolled.
She realized she knew who had killed Maurice. No murder, no one else involved at all, any more than Denton had needed anyone to help him into the hospital. Maurice, who’d borne his own weight of silence, whose own words had killed him as surely as any would-be murderer, building up inside him like hailstones, like a pearl in an oyster, like diamonds and ice, and Lillian knew that one day the glaciers of her unspoken words would crumble to icebergs and melt away, sinking her like the ring, which spun and flashed and fell down into the dark hole that waited to swallow it, a diamond amid filth and black rubber.
It chimed on the metal sink once, like a bell, and then it was gone.
Lillian sat on the floor in front of the sink in her empty apartment and listened to the refrigerator rumble to life. She thought about Maurice on the slab and Denton in the ICU, about Rosalyn behind her counter and Wendy in her house. She felt the refrigerator’s exhaust blow warm air on her icy hands. She wondered when the tears would come, if they ever would at all.
About the Author
Nathaniel Lee lives and works in North Carolina, where he holds down an extremely uninteresting job in order to feed and clothe himself and writes semi-professional mishmash whenever the Minecraft server is down. His work has appeared in a variety of locations around the internet, including Ideomancer, Daily Science Fiction, and Intergalactic Medicine Show, and is forthcoming from Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Strange Horizons, and Cemetery Dance. He is the submissions editor for both Escape Pod and the Drabblecast, and as a result has been exposed to ten times the lethal dose of both time travel and zombie stories, as yet without apparent ill effect. He sort of maintains a story blog at www.mirrorshards.org, where an encouraging word or two (or even a cleverly worded insult) would do wonders in getting him to update regularly again.