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“The November Lamassus” © 2023 by nino

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The Persian

The Persian leaves a pool of regurgitated kibble in the foyer. Cassie wipes up the mess, refills its water bowl, and cracks open a can of Fancy Feast. She waits, but the cat refuses to be drawn.

Poisonous green light leaks from the seams around the bedroom door. Cassie sticks her head in long enough to make sure no miasma has escaped from the splintered black mirror leaning against the far wall.

Something huge and soft brushes up against the backs of her calves. She scoops the cat up before it can dive under the bed.

Cassie closes the door, empties the litter box, and checks the Persian off her list for Tuesday.

 


 

The Magic Goldfish

Ye Xian’s fiancé is a fintech billionaire from Shanghai. He owns a yacht and several small Caribbean islands. Before they met, Ye Xian says, she was a curator for the Vancouver Art Museum, specializing in Chinese earthenware and bronzes. Now, she says in a languid voice, she doesn’t do much at all.

Ye Xian’s Vancouver condo, an engagement present, is minimalist and tasteful. The only shoes by the door are her champagne-colored slippers and, later, Cassie’s battered Doc Martens.

The goldfish is three meters long. Its tank fills the living room.

“They get really big under the right conditions,” Ye Xian says apologetically.

“He must love you a lot,” Cassie says.

“He does,” Ye Xian says. Neither of them means the fiancé. “My mother gave him to me.”

Ye Xian leaves for one of her fiancé’s islands. Cassie sleeps on the elegant midcentury modern guest futon and feeds the fish at regular intervals, looking into its luminous golden eyes, each one the size of a baseball.

In the garbage, she discovers fishbones as long as spears.

 


 

Cassie

Cassiopeia Fung’s sitting services are in demand. She’ll travel anywhere inside the Vancouver metro area and sit anything as long as it isn’t human, be it house, goldfish, or gaping maw to the underworld. She charges a reasonable rate, which is sometimes no rate at all.

Her clients find her through word of mouth, through Craigslist, through premonition. They communicate with her via text and email and psychic and personal assistant and attorney.

They ask her questions. They ask about her previous jobs. Her worst. Her first.

If she decides to answer, Cassie always tells the truth.

Worst: The network executive who kept a mermaid in her West Point Grey mansion. The mermaid had a two million-gallon tank with a beautiful view of the inlet and a species-appropriate carnivorous diet. She was covered in teethmarks from gnawing at her own flesh.

First: Her sister Andy’s pet rock. Cassie took it to school in her pocket and kept it safe the whole day.

 


 

One Burning Tree

The bonsai sequoia—the oxymoron to end all oxymorons—has been in Toby Inamori’s family for eighty years. Its predecessor, an ancient camphor tree, was lost in 1942 when Toby’s great-grandmother was sent to an internment camp in Dufrost, Manitoba. Toby’s instructions for Cassie are simple, and his regret is immense.

“I wish I could be here to see it,” he says. “But I can’t miss this conference. My boss will skin me alive.” He groans. “The last time it happened I was twelve and more interested in playing Pokemon. I was such a brat.”

“Don’t beat yourself up,” Cassie says. “My sister and I were the same way when we were kids.”

“Ungrateful?” Toby suggests. “Oblivious?”

“Mesmerized by anime.”

Toby laughs. “I see.”

“I’ll take lots of pictures,” Cassie promises. “Video, too.”

At sunset, she uses the lighter Toby leaves on the kitchen counter to set the bonsai on fire. The tree burns long into the night. In the morning, Cassie films a time-lapse video as a golden sapling begins to unfurl in the ash.

 


 

Bruce the Pug

The cashier at Mak N Cheese is new and melancholy, with blue-tinged fingertips and a name tag that says HANEUL SHE/THEY (jagged capitals), fav cheese MUENSTER (bubble letters). Cassie orders a cauliflower cheese to stay and eats her bowl of Gruyère and gouda and tender white florets by the window. The rain begins and people rush past with wet faces.

Makhesh himself comes out to bus her table. Bucheron! Bucheron! Bucheron! his name tag says. “How’re you holding up?”

Cassie decides not to answer. “I’m sitting that purple Victorian on Cambie.”

Mak whistles. “That place is mega haunted.”

“Nah,” Cassie says. “I don’t do ghosts. It’s just a lonely old house.”

She thinks the house likes her. When she opens the curtains every morning they feel soft and damp on her hands, like a series of friendly licks from an inquisitive puppy.

“You booked up?” Mak asks. “Lola and I are headed stateside for American Thanksgiving.”

“I can squeeze you in,” Cassie says. “But only because I love you. I mean, I don’t love you, I love Bruce. Bruce is the best.”

“Awesome,” Mak says. “We'll call you.”

 


 

The Hydra

Korene is a quiet opalescent coil with eight mouths and sixteen shining black eyes. Her mother wears her like a piece of avant-garde jewelry. Her mother moves and talks incessantly; her mother gestures and gabbles and clucks.

“It’s the fifth head,” Korene’s mother says. “The fifth head is the head with all the issues. Mouth rot, ear infections, dysecdysis … She came to the shelter with eight heads. We have no idea what happened to the ninth one. It’s always been a stump.”

 


 

The Kitchen God

“Of course,” Lucas Lee says, “it’s all nonsense. But if it keeps the old man happy …”

Lucas runs Fly Restaurant, a Sichuan concept inspired by the eponymous hole-in-the-wall joints in Chengdu. Vancouver foodies rave about his liang fen and savory dofu hua, served tapas style in the tiniest of portions. When Lucas contacts Cassie, he offers to pay her with a single dinner, standard retail value 250 CAD.

Fly Restaurant has an industrial kitchen, all futuristic appliances and polished steel. Lucas’s father’s kitchen is homey and small and poorly ventilated: moisture peels the paint from the walls. The shrine is high up in the corner, perched on a cabinet.

The avatar of the Kitchen God, battery-operated, glowers at Cassie through a layer of dust.

“Be careful when you climb up there,” Lucas says. “Use your own stepladder, if you have one. Ours is wobbly. That’s how … you know.”

Lucas’s father is in the hospital with a broken hip.

Cassie nods. “I’ll be careful.”

She watches as Lucas wobbles up the ladder to light new incense and replace the moldy pyramid of clementines with a single tangelo.

“If you don’t want to pay for fruit, just stop by the restaurant. We have tons of scraps.”

Visiting hours at Vancouver General are almost over, but Lucas seems in no hurry to put on his shoes. “Have you done this before?”

“House-sitting?”

“House-god-sitting.”

“Oh,” Cassie says. “Yes.”

 


 

The Sisters

“What was the last god-sit like?”

Lucas wears metallic red Louboutin Oxfords. As he stoops in the entryway to tie his gleaming laces, Cassie starts to tell him about the Sisters.

“One of my clients is an archaeologist. A video I took of her pet tortoise eating melon went viral, and he was featured on CBC. She wanted to split the proceeds, but I told her to keep them. So, to thank me, she invited me to a dig near Potlatch Creek.”

Snort. “Some thank you,” Lucas says. “I would have taken the money.”

“The archaeologist’s grandmother was there. She spent the whole day teasing her granddaughter for digging up Great Uncle So-and-So’s forks and spoons. But when we sat down for supper, Grandma Rosalie took one look at me and said she had a story I might like to hear. She said they had probably taught it to us in school but without any of the important details. You know the Lion peaks in the North Shore Mountains? The ones the Squamish call the Sisters? The Twin—”

“Hang on a minute, I remember that CBC broadcast.” Lucas cuts her off. “That was one cute tortoise. You took that vid? And you didn’t try to cut a deal?”

Cassie doesn’t finish the story. At the end of her stay, Zao Jun is dust-free and his altar stacked with plump oranges and dates. She decides not to sit for Lucas again.

 


 

A Happy Baby

Cassie has blacklisted people before. Most recently, she blacklisted Janine Smythe, a gaunt divorcée still occupying her ex-wife’s home on 3879 Marine Drive. Janine keeps calling anyway, using a different number each time, filling Cassie’s voicemail box to the brim.

“She just doesn’t get it,” Cassie complains to her sister. “I’m not a babysitter.”

I’m telling you, he isn’t human, Janine says. He isn’t even mine.

On every recording, Cassie can hear the baby laughing. Listen to him, Janine implores her. What kind of baby laughs like that?

 


 

The Purple Victorian

November. The purple Victorian on Cambie turns 130 years old, and Cassie throws it a party with cake and candles.

The house’s foundation is sinking. Cracks crisscross the plaster walls, and the radiators turn on and off with a sound like labored breathing.

November: Janine stops calling. The owner of the Persian and the poison-green portal writes Cassie a glowing review; the snake’s mother sends Cassie a long email detailing the continued medical woes of Korene’s fifth head. Toby Inamori quits his job. Lucas Lee opens a second restaurant. Lola and Makhesh leave for America, and Bruce is a good boy.

The house’s owners ask Cassie to vacate. They tell her they are planning to sell.

 


 

Andy

November: Ye Xian’s fiancé disappears. The fintech company was a Ponzi scheme, she explains; she suspects he was arrested by Shanghai police. In Vancouver, the RCMP have seized her Coal Harbour condo.

She arrives at Andy’s apartment carrying a single piece of luggage. Cassie doesn’t ask about the goldfish. She knows its bones are inside Ye Xian’s weekend bag, lovingly wrapped in kingfisher silk.

“I just need a few days to figure out my next steps,” Ye Xian says.

“Stay as long as you want,” Cassie says. “After all, I’m never here.”

Ye Xian nods. “I also ran away, after my mother died. I couldn’t bear to remain in our home without her.”

Cassie’s swapped out some of the houseplants, but otherwise Andy’s apartment looks just the way it did on the day she died. Cassie stops by once a week to water the ficus and check the mail and give everything a good vacuum. She talks to Andy even though Andy is beyond hearing. And she talks to the apartment. Just in case, like the house on Cambie, it starts to develop a personality.

It was a bike accident, she tells Ye Xian. “I didn’t keep her body. I had her dipped in nitrogen and fed her to some trees.”

She touches her own face, her forehead. The same forehead Andy had before she cracked it on the pavement. “We were twins. As I grow older, so does she.”

Ye Xian’s smile is a smile of recognition. “My mother drowned in a lake in China,” she says. “But I resemble her. I keep her with me too.”

She departs three days later, leaving behind a fishbone and a shoe.

 


 

The November Lamassus

The Lamassus is a soft-spoken bearded man from the neck up. Below the neck, he has the body of a fine red bull. He was looted from Iraq in 2003, he explains in gentle, unplaceable English, and after a brief stay in a vault in Switzerland, was trafficked here.

Decades mean nothing to a being older than the first Assyrian king. Oh, Gilgamesh was real, the Lamassus assures Cassie. I met him.

It’s an unusually warm night for November, about twelve degrees Celsius. Cassie and the Lamassus sit outside in a thin white mist, and Bruce the pug sits with them. He’s very good with other animals, the Lamassus’s wealthy Italian husband had told Cassie.

Steam rises from the Lamassus’s bull body. His hooves sink into the soft black earth.

“Do you want to go home?” Cassie asks. “I know some people who can help you.”

“Oracles, bards, and poets?”

“Archaeologists. Museum directors.”

But the Lamassus shakes his head. “I carry home with me,” he says. “I carry it as the snail carries his house.”

The mist is clearing. The Lamassus has been teaching Cassie the names and legends of ancient constellations. She rubs the fishbone in her pocket, then withdraws her hand to point at the star-pitted sky. At Cassiopeia and Andromeda, reclining side by side.

“What do you call those?” she asks.


Editor: Kat Weaver

First Reader: Ana Maričić

Copy Editors: Copy Editing Department

Accessibility: Accessibility Editors



Simo Srinivas lives in Colorado with their spouse and two senior, standard-issue tabby cats. Their short fiction has appeared in Fantasy Magazine, Dark Matter Presents: MONSTROUS FUTURES, khōréō, and Archive of the Odd, among others. They can be found on Twitter @srinivassimo and online at srinivassimo.com.
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