63. Cassandra Streng

Now, don’t get me wrong, Cassandra is a lovely person, just lovely, and you can’t argue with results, I just … don’t think she should be working for NASA is all. You don’t know her methods like I do – must not know, if you’re thinking of hiring her. So let me set the record straight: Cassandra Streng has no methods. Go ahead, lift he hood of one of those legendary formula 1 racers she’s so proud of. See if you can distinguish the engine from a bowl of steel spaghetti. She’s a master of non-euclidian mechanics. The geometry of her engines would drive whole pit crews insane, if her cars ever broke down.

But they don’t. They break records, the sound barrier, a neck once due to unhealthy acceleration, they break every possible thing except for down. Why? How can a red-hot knot of scrap metal and aluminum tape produce these results? The answer is, no one knows. And as a potential employer, that should disturb you.

I tell you this as a trained engineer, a concerned citizen, and a good Christian: I have gazed into her manifolds and seen Satan staring back at me. She will get your men to mars, I have no doubt. But what demons will be traveling with them?

62. Katsuo Kobe

Katsuo Kobe is a storm cloud. He moves slowly, he is never late, and his arrival is always heavy with portent. He is the owner of the Ally Cats Video Arcade [sic], and no one else tells him how to run his business. Not the staff, not the police, and certainly not the Yakuza.

Once, many years ago, the Yakuza tried. They sent a lawyer in a silk suit, who appeared in Katsuo’s office bearing a briefcase and a permanent smirk and an ultimatum: 20% of revenue and a veto on arcade policy, plus free reign for Ijima family muscle or else … the Ijima family would activate the machinery of pain.

Katsuo said nothing to the emissary. His response was an enormous, dread ellipse, which boiled off his massive shoulders and hovered over the lawyer until he smothered in it and begged to be excused.

The next day, the emissary was dead. Four cars exploded in Ijima territory. Their cocaine turned to borax and their fronts, one by one, caught fire. A second emissary visited Katsuo to withdraw the ultimatum. The big man heard him, but the violence continued. Guns jammed at critical moments. Strip clubs flooded with phosphene gas. Each night, one window of Boss Ijima’s mansion shattered, until no windows remained. No bribe, no apology, no ritual suicide could end the onslaught, until one day, three months and three days after it started, it simply stopped. It was done.

Today, Katsuo drifts down the aisles of his arcade undisturbed, collecting the day’s take from the machines. He cuts a trough of silence through the cacaphony. He owns no other buildings, grants no favors and is owed none, and never speaks. But in the heart of his dark bulk, blue lightning crackles.

61. Santa Voltaire

There are plenty fortune tellers down in New Orleans. The market is saturated with oracles of every discipline, all clamouring to tell your future. Only Santa, though, only the ageless orisha with the X-ray eyes, can tell your past.

It’s amazing what you can forget, and then forget you forgot – the origins of certain fears, good moments in bad relationships, whole human beings and the wisdom they imparted. Santa’s clients leave her sturdy little shack with potent new memories swimming behind their eyes, blocking any present tense visions from getting in. She employs a doorman for this reason, and while he guides them down her steps they whisper their own mundane prophecies, grounded in thir renewed knowledge.

She is a practiced asker of questions, and with herbs and quiet words and different colored smoke she melts the present moment and leads her visitors by the hand through the palaces of their own minds, a docent pointing out the architecture they’ve long taken for granted.

Her own memory is perhaps too good, augmented as it is by every asset of her art. It’s why she learned the quiet words, procured the rare herbs and the sources of the smoke: a life remembered in full is worth countless lives forgotten. That’s the motto she speaks aloud, anyway. When she’s alone, though, and all the colored smoke has cleared, all that remain are the wisps from the rolled-up photographs she smokes. And in those floating patterns she sees a face, always the same – a face that only exists in smoke these days. And though that woman’s name is written in the folds of Santa’s mind with razor blades, she never says a word.


60. Carter Samson

You think you’re better than that guy, huh? You think if you’d been in his position you would have wondered about the swarming in your head, gone to a doctor maybe? Bombarded your skull with radiation, piped nitrous oxide in through your ears and snorted ammonia to flush out the invaders? Do you? Do you really? Well if you’ve got time to pass judgement on the poor bastard you’ve got time to hear his story.

Truth is, towards the end of it Carter didn’t have the space left in his head to wonder about what was taking up the rest of it. And before that he was in love. The kind of un-checked deadly love only hermits fall into. You can be a hermit in a city this size – one of the nice things about it – as long as you live on the forty-sixth floor and order groceries on the internet. That was Carter’s life.

He made mobiles. Thousands of them. The room was thick with them. He liked the shifting forms, the false weightlessness. It was only natural he should love the birds. They came in through his open window to frolic among the mobiles. The pigeons were too fat to navigate, but the cardinals made a game of it. One cardinal in particular became Carter’s hermetic paramour. He would lie on his bed, watching the birds trace shifting patterns in the mobiles with their private wind, and this one cardinal, his love would perch on his pillow. She would whisper secrets in his ear. One per day. And they would lull him into sleep.

The secrets were in bird language, and they were meaningless to him. He could only tell that the messages were secrets, but could not fathom what they contained. What they contained were birds, tiny birds, which roosted in the folds of his brain and crowded out his human thoughts. He stopped making mobiles. There was no more space for them anyway. He would stand for hours at his window, imagining flight.
Eventually there was no more room for imagining. He leapt. His skull cracked. The birds flew out of every terminal part of him, suspending him for a moment above the sidewalk with the collective beating of their wings. When he touched ground it was as if he had been placed there by the same hand that places fall leaves upon the grass.

We could drive ourselves mad debating whether this was what he wanted. He’s got nothing left inside with which to tell us. But let me ask you this: don’t we all want to bring something strange and buoyant into this world? And isn’t flesh a paltry price to pay?

59. Toby

Toby’s problem is that he is extremely polite. He always eats what he’s given, and never complains, though this is primarily because he has no stomach and no tongue. He is seen but not heard – as a good child ought to be – unless you count the clacking of his metatarsals on the tile floor of his home. But who would have the heart to hold that against him, the little dear?

He tries to talk sometimes, by clicking his teeth together. The adults take photographs on their phones. He can walk now, un-aided, and they take videos of this feat as well. They pack him tiny lunches to take to school, but he does not eat them because he is a tiny skeleton, and there is no point in eating when his parents are not around to see.

He was stillborn. That’s what the doctors said, but his parents wouldn’t believe them. And Toby, the perfect darling, just didn’t have the heart to disappoint them. Now he hasn’t got a heart at all. There was an ugly period in the first year while the flesh went away, but that’s all behind them now. Now he’s just a precocious little bundle of joy, joy and bones, toddling along and clicking his teeth and wondering if the bones will ever grow longer.

58. Tennyson Grinn

If you save for retirement and invest wisely, obey the posted speed limits, jump no turnstiles, wake in the morning, sleep at night, and do it dreamlessly … then you have clearly never met a man named Tennyson Grinn.

He is tall to the point of absurdity, and augments the effect with a stovepipe hat, from beneath which strawlike hair tries desperately to escape. He dresses like an inappropriately cheerful undertaker, or a second-chair jazz musician in the orchestra of hell. And the smile. Dear god. It is not a Cheshire smile. That cat stole Tennyson’s Grin, and he sued the crafty feline for copyright infringement and won, hasn’t worked a day since. At least that’s what Tennyson will tell you.
His clothes are a heap of lies, of purely technical truths. He wears no shirt beneath his coat. The triangle of dress shirt that bears his bow tie is just that – a charefully cropped cravat with buttons down the front, matched by the two disembodied cuffs poking out of his sleeves. He is totally bald – the strawlike hair is glued to the inside of his hat brim. The lenses of his glasses are painted black, and he is blind.
Tennyson is a traveling salesman, and his product is madness. He criss-crosses the country, turning tinkerers into mad scientists and painters into artists. He is seldom remembered and never paid. But anyone, from coast to coast, night to day, palace to prison, would recognize that smile.

57. Juanzetta

At another time in history, Juanzetta would have been labeled a witch based on her nose alone, and her sense of smell would have got her burned. The last things she smelled would have been the sap-soaked vapor boiling from the still-damp wood, wet red fumes popping from the small animals trapped inside, the rough, acidic sting of smoke, and finally herself, digested by the flames in layers. And then she might have sneezed, and with her nose being what it is, that might have saved her.

Instead, she’s a nurse practitioner. She wears a surgical mask all shift, special order ones with a cloudy blue sky on them. She wears the masks because her face scares patients fresh out of anasthesia, and because the hospital is overwhelming. When humans are upset, near death, aroused, excited, they release chemicals to tell each other so. Most of us perceive these chemicals as inexplicable emotions, just “something in the air,” but Juanzetta can trace the something to its source, and decode it. She doesn’t like to do this in the hospital. It feels nosy.

Outside of the hospital, she’s a killer cook. At least, other people like her food. To her, it never lives up to the level she’s capable of perceiving. She is a good listener, though she’s practically deaf in one ear. She ignores the words and listens to what her partner’s pores are saying. She can smell a lie, can sniff out the truth, and always knows who dealt it.

“So why the hell do you work here?” her co-workers on the night shift ask her. They swear within earshot of the patients because it is a very busy hospital, and the patients understand. “You’ve got this beautiful fucking gift. You could go to med school and sniff out cancer, or be a baker, or … shit, design a line of perfumes. Why here?”
“Because,” says Juanzetta, a bit nasally through her mask, “I want to be known for something other than my god-damn nose.”

[Face by Soren Melville]

56. Teo Lind

Teo Lind will never learn to fight. That’s his promise to himself. To learn to fight would be to dilute the purity of his strategy for living. A thrown punch, to Teo, is an admission of intellectual defeat. He has collected many such admissions.

Teo bruises easily. He appears to wear the same overshirt every day (though in reality he owns seven, all identical). His hand is always the first in the air when the teacher asks a question. And he is vicious. Poetically vicious.

There is no barb for which he does not have an even sharper retort. There is no soul his predatory intellect cannot penetrate. He watches his tormentors, researches them, and rains words like shurikens, all without compromising his perfect posture. He can drive a boy to strike him in seven words. And when the blow comes, he adds it to his mental tally. He wears his cuts and bruises with un-ironic pride. He knows, you see, that when his attackers look upon his healing wounds, they will recognize them as pale echoes of the wounds he has inflicted on their spirits.

[Face by Soren Melville]

55. Sangerian Jones

If you asked Sangerian Jones that poisonous, American question, “What do you do?” he would look at you as if you’d mis-spoken. He would smile politely – and you would notice how straight and white his teeth were – and give you ample opportunity to correct yourself. Sangerian has a job – usually, probably – but it’s never anything worth talking about, and everything else he does is entirely fluid, because it depends on who he is currently loving.

Sangerian is in love. If you read these words a decade from now, he will still be in love, perhaps even with the same person. His body is built for love. He has a love-based metabolism. He can go without food for days and sleep for nights, and something in his tears makes his baby-smooth skin even smoother when he cries. He does not change for his lovers. He does not shave his mustache or alter his plain dress. He only opens himself, gives his lover root access to his soul, with the puppy-dog trust that they will leave him as they found him. And his lover finds in him, invariably, a large partition devoted entirely to her or him.
He never escapes these entanglements unscathed. He never escapes them at all. He is always left, never leaving. And each lover leaves inside him, not a scar, but a sketch. Etched upon his vulnerable insides are all their faces, smiling un-self-consciously, speaking secrets only he was ever close enough to hear.