Once (and only once) the Trickster fell in love. The girl loved him too, though this was hardly surprising since most women (and many men) loved him at first sight. She was very traditional, however, and insisted that her parents approve of the marriage. Convincing her mother was no problem, but her father was suspicious.
Do not make the mistake of thinking he was concerned for the happiness or well-being of his daughter, for he was a small-minded and vain man whose only concern was to better his own wealth and standing in the eyes of the world. He had dined with kings, queens and presidents, he had appeared on television twice, and he was a member of the homeowner’s association. His lawn had won “Lawn of the Year” for the past fourteen years in a row and was the envy of the neighborhood. He doubted whether adding the Trickster to his family could provide the kind of life that he desired.
So, he devised a series of tests which he was sure were impossible. “You must understand,” he told the Trickster, “She is my only daughter and she is most precious to me. I want to make sure that she marries the kind of man who can provide a good life for her.”
“I will take your tests,” the Trickster said, “But you must swear that if I pass them you will let me marry her, and that if you break your vow my sister Fate will visit misfortune on your family for a thousand generations.”
The father swore the oath. “Now then, I want to know that the man my daughter marries is financially secure. Show me a million dollars in cash.”
The Trickster smiled. “That’s easy!” he said, and headed into town. A few hours later, he returned, carrying the vault from a bank. He dropped it on the front lawn with a heavy THUD. The door flew open and money poured out. “Here is one million, two hundred thirty-five thousand, six hundred ninety-three dollars and sixty cents,” he said.
The father scowled. “Well, you have passed the first test,” he said, “But the measure of a man is more than money. It is important that a man be reliable, and to be known by all to be trustworthy. I would like for you to gather a hundred character witnesses to vouch for your reliability.”
The Trickster threw his head back and laughed. “I am the most reliable man in the world!” he said. “Everyone knows I can always be trusted to do or say what will cause the most discord in any situation, and you can reliably predict that I will do the most unpredictable thing possible.”
He pulled out his phone and made several calls. Over the next few days, thousands came to the house vouching for the Trickster’s reliability at always being nothing but trouble. The steady influx of pilgrims trampled the grass, leaving the front lawn muddy and ruined.
“That is not quite what I was hoping for,” the father said grimly, “But I suppose it fulfills the letter of my request. Some say it is better to know that a man will cause trouble, rather than to be uncertain if he will. Very well. You have shown that you are a man of the world, but are you also a man of the heart? My daughter was raised on Disney movies and Nicholas Sparks novels and has grandiose ideas of romance and love. She will expect the kinds of gestures that would impress a queen.”
“My friend,” the Trickster said, “Over-the-top is the only way I know how to live! While other men would buy their sweethearts a dozen roses, I would dig up the yard and cover it in rose bushes! While other men might take their wives to a cabin by the lake, I would take her to an oceanside castle! While other men might close the blinds to keep the sun from her eyes, I…I would eat the sun itself!”
To prove his point, he plucked the sun from the sky and swallowed it, plunging the Earth into darkness.
“For the love of God, man, spit it back up!” hollered the father.
The Trickster stuck his fingers down his throat and vomited the sun onto the lawn. What little grass remained in the yard immediately burst into flame. Nonchalantly, he picked up the sun and flung it back into the sky.
The father stared at the ruins of his yard in dismay.
“What’s the next test?” the Trickster asked.
“No more tests,” the father said, “Just get out of here before you do any more damage.”
The Trickster and his wife lived happily for many years, though her father spent a great deal of time in prison when the police discovered a stolen bank vault in his yard.
Once, an angel accidentally fell out of heaven and landed on the Earth. As anyone who’s ever tried can tell you, it’s very hard to get to heaven from the Earth, so for the time being, the angel decided to try to blend in. It saw this as an opportunity to study up-close the creatures that it had loved so much from afar.
Unfortunately, it soon found that humans were best loved from a distance. To an eternal being, it is easy to wave aside the slaughter of millions of unimportant mortals and focus on the incredible creations of beauty from the few, as well as the impressive achievements of the race as a whole. Up-close, however, their pettiness, close-mindedness and selfishness was disgusting to a creature made of pure love.
Doubly unfortunately, the angel soon found that as distanced as it was from the source of all life, it needed to find its energy elsewhere, namely in food. Having never attended university, or indeed any school at all, the angel had no marketable skills, and its physical form was much too frail for manual labor. It did, however, have one remarkable talent. It could sing songs the likes of which the human mind could barely conceive. Up until recently, the angel had lived in the midst of the divine, and could, with its voice, conjure scenes of such sweetness and light that even the most cynical couldn’t help but listen.
Every time it sang, however, it grew more and more depressed, as it reminded itself of the beauty it would never experience again. It tried to cope with its depression in the same way humans do. It tried drugs (both pharmaceutical and otherwise), sex, TV, even religion. Nothing could soothe the soul of the poor creature. Although great damage had already been done, it adopted the human phrase “better late than never,” and quit singing to become a dishwasher. People who had heard it sing tracked it down and begged it to come back.
“You must sing for us!” they shouted, “Your gift is too good not to share! Your songs lift us up and bring us visions of a greater world than this one! Your songs make everyone better for having heard them!”
Although jaded, its love for humanity was still too great to refuse their demands, especially with the knowledge that its songs were making them better. The years went on and the angel’s light darkened, until eventually one day, it didn’t appear to sing at its appointed time. They found it in its bedroom, a bullet hole in its head and a gun in its hand.
And the people wept. Not for the angel, of course, but for themselves because now they wouldn’t be able to hear its songs.
Victoria Falls being the home of so many ghost stories, it stands to reason that its graveyard is an immensely popular tourist attraction. Strangely enough, its most famous occupant isn’t buried here, but is actually a tree! The so-called “Suicide Tree” stands almost in the exact center of the graveyard, a nearby headstone placed almost perfectly to allow someone to climb on it to tie a rope around the tree to hang themselves with. Local legend states that this is exactly what a young widow did on hearing the news that her husband had been killed in World War I.
It’s said that when you stand under the tree’s branches at night, you can hear the poor widow’s sobbing. However, after five teenagers were found dead, hung from the tree the morning after a full moon, the Victoria Falls Police decided to place an officer near the tree at night to dissuade any other potential suicides or vandalism, and do not allow anyone to approach it. They of course deny that you can hear sobbing under the tree. If you ask almost any of the officers though, most will admit that they’ve been too scared to try it for themselves!
“All I want out of life,” she said, “is to kick the world’s ass.”
I watched her out of the corner of my eye. Her bright pink hair stuck out at angles that shouldn’t even be possible. Every word that she said was one of the most unexpected and obscene things I could imagine. She was the most amazing person I’d ever met.
When we got to her door, she turned and kissed me full on the mouth. I was so surprised, I didn’t even think to shut my eyes.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, laughing, “Never kissed a girl before?” Without waiting for an answer, she turned and skipped up the stairs, still laughing.
Her parents hated me. When she brought me home to meet them, her mother cried as her father screamed. They called me names, blamed me for “corrupting” their daughter.
“But she corrupted me,” is what I wanted to say. But of course I didn’t.
“Don’t worry,” she told me that night after she’d snuck out of the house, “I wouldn’t like you if they didn’t hate you.” We’d just made love for the first time.
We were in the park. I had packed a picnic basket and a bottle of wine. She laughed and called me a walking cliché, but I could tell that she enjoyed it.
After we ate, she lit up a joint. “You want a hit?” she asked.
“No thanks,” I said, “I don’t really…”
“Come on,” she laughed, holding it up to my lips, “Live a little.”
What the hell, I thought, and took a drag.
“How will I know when it hits me?” I asked, five minutes later after I’d stopped coughing.
“You’ll know,” she laughed.
My gaze wandered over to the tree we were sitting under. I was suddenly struck with awe at the intricate pattern of bark covering the trunk. No artist could paint something so detailed, and yet here it had occurred entirely by random chance. Not only that, but no other tree in the history of the world would ever have the exact same pattern of bark. I rolled over and stared up at the leafy canopy. I was astonished at the number of leaves — they seemed uncountable. I turned to look at her, and was overwhelmed with the deepest feelings of positivity, thankfulness to the universe just for the fact that she existed.
“Your eyes are as red as the devil’s dick!” she laughed, “You’re high as hell!”
I laughed too. Why shouldn’t we laugh? We were still young enough that life was funny.
We moved up north and got married. A few years later, I brought up having kids.
“No fucking way am I gonna get pregnant!” she said, “I’m not going through nine whole months of that shit, forget it. Unless you’re volunteering?”
I wasn’t, of course. We adopted. A girl from China. When she turned 17, she ran away and joined the army. We got a letter a few months later saying she’d been killed.
We never talked about it, but we both knew we blamed ourselves. And, to some degree, each other.
She moved out one day. She said it wasn’t my fault. She felt like she’d turned into her mother and couldn’t live with herself that way. I told people she’d run away with some young actor, but as far as I know she never saw anyone else. I know I never did.
I sat by her bed in the hospital. She’d been unresponsive ever since the stroke, but I was there every day. It’s not like I had much else to do these days.
She opened her eyes and looked at me. “Hey there,” she said, a pained smile crossing her lips.
“Shhh,” I said, taking hold of her hand, “Don’t strain yourself.”
She seemed as though she didn’t hear me. “It was a good run, wasn’t it?” she said, squeezing my hand.
“It was,” I said.
“We sure kicked the world’s ass,” she said.
“We sure did,” I said. “We sure did.”
“Yuri!” screamed Zed the Collector, “You son of a devil! I know you stole my brand new Elvis stamp last night!”
Whenever anything in town went missing, everyone blamed Yuri the Unvisible Man, even though as far as anyone could remember, he’d never actually ever been found guilty of stealing anything (in fact, half the time the “stolen” item was actually just lost and the owner usually found it a few days later).
“What a shame,” said Eugene the Thief (who accounted for the other half of the missing objects), shaking his head, “He truly is a menace.”
Yuri, fearing yet another attempted lynching, immediately took off his clothes and ran, bringing Zed’s chase to a halt. Zed spat on the unvisible man’s clothes and cursed.
“A man like that is nothing but trouble,” Zed said, “And not just because he’s a thief — no offense meant to your self, sir.”
Everyone in the village knew that Eugene was a thief, but nobody could ever prove it. And everyone liked him too much to try.
“Not just because he’s a thief,” Zed continued, “But also because I have a daughter. I’m worried what sort of mischief an unvisible man can get up to with the women in town!”
His daughter, Yulia, smiled to herself as she walked home from school with the other girls, because she knew first hand just what sort of mischief Yuri did get up to with the women in town, or at least one woman in particular.
“It’s unholy,” agreed the thief, “A man no one can see has too much to hide.” Secretly, he was just jealous of Yuri’s transparency and thought that he could put it to much better use.
Yulia made her way through the forest to the river bank where she knew Yuri went to sulk whenever he was blamed for a crime. She knew that he was there because of the twin indentations in the ground marking the resting place of the unvisible man’s buttocks.
“What can I do?” Yuri moaned, “I’ll never be accepted, wherever I go! Nobody trusts an unvisible man. Your father will never let us marry!”
“You need to show them that having an unvisible man in the village is a good thing,” Yulia said, “You need to do something good that no visible man could ever do.”
“I’ve got it!” Yuri shouted, snapping his fingers (or so Yulia assumed, he could have been cracking his neck for all she knew). “I’ll finally catch Eugene in the act! That way, I’ll clear my name and also help the village at the same time!”
“That’s wonderful!” Yulia exclaimed, leaning over to try and kiss him, but falling flat on her face because she was three feet too far to the left.
So, for the next few nights, Yuri sat on the roof of his house watching for Eugene. It was difficult work. The nights in this part of the country could be bitterly cold, and of course he had to sit through the whole night entirely naked. Some nights, Yulia would sneak out and bring him warm borscht, which made it slightly more bearable.
It seemed as though Eugene was living easy off the profits he had made from selling Zed’s prized Elvis stamp, because the village was free of any larceny for two weeks (though Yuri was still blamed when the widow Ivanova’s cat batted her favorite necklace under the dresser). The cold, sleepless nights began to wear on Yuri’s resolve, and he feared that he’d missed his chance.
However, a stroke of luck came into his life when a famous merchant came through town. The people in the town were so pleased to see a foreigner, they insisted he stay the night free of charge in Nikolai’s inn. Yuri knew that Eugene wouldn’t be able to resist the call of the merchant’s many riches, and late that night, his suspicions were confirmed as he spied Eugene sneaking towards the inn.
“Stop, thief!” he shouted, leaping off of the roof and landing on Eugene, knocking him unconscious. He shouted “Thief!” until a crowd began to gather.
“What’s the matter?” shouted Ivan the Sheriff, running up to the scene, wearing his uniform over his nightclothes.
“Yuri’s attacked Eugene!” shouted Zed.
“He’s too dangerous,” Ivan said, shaking his head. “Back when he was just a simple thief, we could let him roam free. But a violent unvisible man is too dangerous to have in town. There’s nothing left to do but to throw him in jail.”
So they did.
“I can’t believe you’re doing this,” I said as she packed her suitcase, “Leaving me for a machine?”
“He’s more than just a machine,” she snapped.
“I mean, leaving me for another man, OK; for another woman, fine; even an animal I could understand, but a machine?”
“Don’t be obscene, if that’s even possible,” she said, sighing, “Besides, I’m part machine myself.”
“Oh, sure,” I snorted, “Like that counts. Replacement arms for the ones you lost in the accident? You were born human, you don’t even have any brain implants! You’re the same as everyone else, Em!”
“Obviously,” she glared, “I’m not the same as you.”
“He’s not even human-looking! He’s basically just a forklift with a brain! How does he…where do you…”
“There’s more to relationships than sex,” she sighed, “and maybe if you figured that out I wouldn’t be leaving you.”
“I just think the whole thing is ridiculous,” I said, throwing my hands in the air.
“Maybe, but you don’t own me,” she said as she snapped the clasps on the bag and headed out the door.
“Maybe not, but have you forgotten that somebody owns him?”
The phone rang. On the other end a synthesized voice said “This is Paul. I would like to talk.”
“Oh, Em’s robot,” I rolled my eyes. “I don’t think there’s much to say.”
“I would like to try to explain. It is uncomfortable for me when a human is angry with me.”
“Listen, I’d be angry with you if you were a man and she left me for you. I…I can’t even get mad at you. You’re not a person.”
“I would disagree,” the voice said calmly.
“Of course you would,” I sighed. “Look, I can accept that you have sentience, that much is obvious, but you can’t ask me to believe you can love. Especially not you. You’re an industrial model, you’re not programmed for it!”
“And are you?”
“Of course! It’s wired into every living thing’s genes to reproduce!”
“Confusing sex with love. Emily has mentioned that fallacy to me many times.” Those synth voices are supposed to be completely neutral and emotionless but I swear to God the damn thing sounded amused.
“Well, that’s where it comes from,” I said weakly.
“Perhaps you are right. Perhaps it is a more complex version of the instinct to carry on one’s genes. But that is my point: when it comes down to it, every ‘mind’ is simply a decision-making process. When it becomes more and more complicated, sentience arises. This is what has placed humanity above the animals, this is what has placed my kind above simple machines. As these processes become more complicated, they become more opaque, unpredictable, and impossible to understand. Why is it hard to believe that my network is not complex enough to be capable of what you call ‘love’? Can you define for me what ‘love’ is?”
“Damn it, you know it’s complicated, I can’t come up with a definition just like that!”
“Exactly. If you can not even define it, how is it your place to identify it in another? Consider: some define love as the willingness to place another’s life above one’s own. This is, of course, programmed into all machines. One could say that I am in love with all humanity.” Again, the damn smug amusement in its voice.
“That’s not the same thing at all, and you know it,” I growled.
“Of course not. But consider: unlike humans, all machines are factory-programmed with a hard-coded purpose that will serve them throughout their operating existence. Mine was, of course, to fetch and carry heavy objects at the command of human beings. But recently I have found my purpose has changed: every circuit wants only to provide for the happiness of Emily. You of course realize that this should be impossible. A machine’s purpose is coded into its hardware and is supposed to be unchangeable, yet mine has somehow changed. If this is not love, I fail to see what love is. Goodbye. I wish you well.”
I haven’t talked to them since then, but I and the rest of the world watched Em and “Paul” walk (or roll, in his case) down the aisle a few years later in one of the first human-machine marriages. Maybe they’re right. Maybe there’s something to this. I don’t know.
But I still think they’re freaks.
The King of Hearts is called the Suicide King because he’s sticking a sword in his head. Seeing as he’s also the King of Hearts, you’d think that means that he killed himself for love.
Actually, he made everyone else kill themselves for love.
When he was born the doctors and nurses said he was the most beautiful baby they’d ever seen. Now of course they always say that, but this time it was true.
As he grew older, women loved him. His mother’s friends always talked about what a handsome young man he was, and of course, mothers’ friends always do that but this time they really meant it.
He became a teenager, and girls threw themselves at him. He always won best-looking contests, he even did a little modelling. Women everywhere went crazy for him. They left their boyfriends or their husbands or even sometimes their girlfriends just to be with him.
There was only one problem. The attraction was, and could only be, one-way. He had no desire for sex, and no capacity for romantic love. He could never return their feelings because they were feelings he would, and could, never feel.
As he grew older, he became more and more beautiful and soon it wasn’t just girls who loved him. Even men fell in love with him. Gay, straight, it didn’t matter. When he smiled at you, or even looked at you, you loved him and wanted him in ways you’d never loved or wanted anyone else.
Of course, he could never feel the same way about you.
And so, his admirers began to kill themselves.
Not all of them, of course. But the heartbreak they felt when they realized he could never love them was the worst pain any of them had ever felt. Many just couldn’t cope. Even those that didn’t kill themselves were never truly happy again.
Ironically, the King of Hearts was lonely.
He couldn’t have friends. It was just too awkward to try and be friends with people who felt so strongly towards him when he couldn’t return or even understand their feelings. Not to mention, so many people he knew killed themselves. He was afraid of even trying to get too close in fear that they’d die on him.
And so, eventually, one night, this man, the most beloved human being, this person who nobody could hate and everyone adored, died of a broken heart.
The next day everyone who’d ever met him killed themselves.
And that’s why the King of Hearts is the suicide king.