New York Bestiary

A bit of flash fiction.


New York Bestiary


The Mannahatta Serpent: Technically, this is not a snake, but a giant slug (Slimax giulianicus) that inhabits the sewers, storm drains, and the more viscid puddles of the streets of New York, almost always in the major tourist zones. Sightings of this creature began only in the 1990s, and it is believed to have been formed from the feelings of acute disappointment of out-of-towners on discovering that the tourist areas had been cleaned up and Disneyfied, and no longer resembled the decadent sleaze pit they had thrilled at seeing in movies and on TV (though they rarely left the tourist beaten path to seek it out). These feelings are thought to have sunk into the depths of the intensely organic, semisolid puddles that characteristically collect in the gutters of the city, and in this toxic, nutritive broth coalesced into the serpent as we know it.

The slug’s size led to its initial misidentification as a snake, as it can attain the length of a human forearm, though it tends to be somewhat thicker. It is a mottled greenish-brown color, blending in well with the stagnant water of the puddles and storm sewers where it lurks. It lacks all external features except a gaping, toothless maw. It is coated in a thick slime, which gives it its characteristic odor, similar to the vintage urinous breath of subway tunnels. Its speed is also a contributory factor toward confusing it with the snake family. It habitually lies in wait for its preferred prey, invariably a traveller from elsewhere, preferably middle America (it seems to consider Republican conventioneers an especial delicacy), and will flip itself out of the gutter with a powerful salmonlike leap, latching on to a wrist or ankle. There it will do its very best to gum the unfortunate tourist to death. This does not work, but is very icky and gross. The tourist reacts accordingly, flailing the afflicted limb around and shrieking like a banshee, while their companions and random passersby scream, laugh, hoot, or film the event on cellphone to download to YouTube. Invariably the victim ends up shaking off the attacker, which slithers back down the storm sewer, leaving only a discolored green-brown circle on the arm or leg, which is easily removed with soap or dry-cleaning. No one knows what the serpent gains by this. The tourist, however, is left with the invigorating aftereffects of an adrenaline dump and a story to tell his friends that will happily confirm their preconceived notions about the thrilling vileness of the city.

A similar phenomenon is the Black-Tailed Harmwarbler, believed to be the unholy product of illicit relationships between various metropolitan avian species. Genetic analysis has found traits of the shamelessness of the urban pigeon, the verbal talents of the Brooklyn parrot, and the unique mockery of the New York mockingbird, which is capable of sweet nightingale-like tunes but generally prefers to sing imitations of car alarms at 2 am. The Harmwarbler, a nondescript grackle-sized filthy-looking bird, has the habit of fluttering up and settling silently on a nearby tree, fence, or sometimes even the shoulder of the tourist in question. Then at the moment with greatest potential for startlement, the bird will begin to screech loud monologues, usually long and senseless but fluent riffs on the solitary conversations of the louder specimens of the city’s homeless and unmedicated, in which the word “fuck” often appears, used as a verb, noun, adjective, prefix, suffix, and all-purpose conversational placeholder. The bird’s eloquence is utterly unparalleled in the U.S. territories.

The rumor that both these creatures were genetically engineered by the Bloomberg administration in a misbegotten attempt to restore the cachet of New York as the Big Bad City without actually doing anything that might remotely harm the tourist and therefore damage the trade is undoubtedly an urban legend, as are the rumors that with the coming of harder times, these creatures have turned to less harmless habits.
Nor has there yet been any confirmation of recent reports from Brooklyn and Queens that in the darkest, earliest hours of the morning, when the subway trains almost cease to run, four-legged sections of elevated train tracks tear themselves loose and go wandering through the night streets like creaking, rusted brontosauri. Thus far, they are said to only go for brief strolls, returning seamlessly to their places before the next train comes, leaving a spoor of potholes on the street below as the only trace of their passage.


Finished Owl Embroidery Design

howell 009
Media: Pencil, Pigma and Kuretake Zig Clean Color Real Brush pens (they are awesome), Prismacolor Premier markers, one generic marker I had lying around, and a great deal of foolishness.

Now all I need to do is to learn Bayeux Tapestry-level embroidery when I can barely do satin stitch. I don’t care – in drawing it, I’ve rediscovered the fact that nothing gives me more pleasure than to bend all my skills to make something decorative and utterly impractical.

Preliminary sketch for an embroidery design for a D & D dice bag

This is intended to be an embroidery design for a dice bag, representing the coat of arms of my paladin character, Lady Hillary of Rodham, Paladin of Athena, of the Order of the Bleeding Heart. I apparently cannot grasp the importance of ‘stylization.’ Also, I’ve barely ever embroidered. I never said I wasn’t nuts.

More of the “Biting the Sun” graphic novel attempt

Leafing through my old files, I found that I’d gotten further in my attempt at making a graphic novel of Tanith Lee’s “Biting the Sun” than I’d thought. So I decided to start putting up what I had. None of this amounts to more than two pages:



These are naturally missing a whole lot of work erasing errors and finishing details. When Tanith Lee died, I just stopped working on it. I can’t even clean up the details now, as I no longer have Illustrator (I just got too annoyed that Adobe no longer allows one to buy the program outright). The deficits in the first panel are most glaring in the interior of the birdplane. I colored the first panel with Illustrator and the second mostly with watercolor, which my teacher pointed out would clash if published so.

In the second panel, I was intending to put some words to float next to the giant holographic hand, “Singing Pearls, at the Jade Tower.”

IIRC, this was intended to be the third panel:

straypanel 002

Oddly, it’s only this very minute that I see I forgot to add the sunrise visible over the door to this panel. I would also have had to make the wings of her BEE more bee-like.

Fourth panel:
straypanel 001

I stopped work before I figured out how to add voice balloons in Illustrator (or erase the multiple pencil lines, scratches and blots). The dialogue would have gone thusly:
Narrator (female): Attlevey, Hergal.
Hergal: Attlevey. Groshing, aren’t they? Just for show, of course…


Hergal: …I’ll have to get another bird-plane if I fancy a flight.
Narrator: I thought that the Committee might’ve cancelled your license to fly.
Hergal: Ha! They wouldn’t dare.


Narrator: I’ve brought you some ecstasy pills and a sixth dimensional cube to contemplate.
Hergal: Oh, good.
Narrator: Listen, Hergal…
[Second panel]
Narrator: CHAIR!
[Chair rushes up. I was going to emphasize those motion lines to indicate speed.]
Narrator: …I’m afraid I’m going to have you officially cut out of my circle of friends. It’s not that I don’t like you…

– aaand that’s as far as I got. If your interest was piqued, I strongly urge you to read the novel. It is wonderful.

Regarding Tanith Lee and Biting the Sun

I loved a great deal of Tanith Lee’s work. As a writer she was rather like the little girl with the little curl right in the middle of her forehead; when she was bad she was horrid, but when she was good, she was very, very good.
And I think her duology of novels,Don’t Bite the Sun and Drinking Sapphire Wine, collected as Biting the Sun, was among her best. Years ago, I liked it so much that I took drawing and watercolor lessons with the aim of eventually making a graphic novel of it. When I thought I had gotten good enough, I sent letter and e-mails expressing my interest in doing it. Months later, to my shock, I got a return e-mail from Lee expressing her interest in seeing what I had done, mentioning in passing that she hoped it could be done quickly. Unfortunately, the significance of that passed me by. I looked at my drawings and paintings, decided they needed much more work before I could properly present them to her, went to take Adobe Illustrator classes, and lo…months later, I glanced at the news and shrieked at the notice of her death.

She might have been horribly disappointed at the quality of my work. Still, I wish I’d’ve sent her what I had anyway. I gave it all up. I attach the unfinished first page in PDF:


And the preliminary watercolors I did before the Illustrator work:

I can see clearly all the flaws and the work that still needs to be done. I probably couldn’t have done a good job of it. But loving that novel as I do, I hope someone does it properly someday.

The Power by Naomi Alderman


So, I read The Power, by Naomi Alderman…and, um. Well. What it says on the tin, first: Teenage girls now have immense physical power–they can cause agonizing pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world drastically resets.

Basically, in a world like our own, women (starting with young teens and spreading to older women) develop the ability to discharge electric shocks of punishing and even killing intensity…and begin to use it to defend themselves from the horrifying routine violence of their lives. Uh-oh. What happens now?

The balance of power begins to tilt, those currently in power take it VERY badly and lash out against women, they lash back and scenes occur which seem like something out of Joanna Russ’ Cliches From Outer Space satire:

“Four ravaging, man-hating, vicious, hulking, Lesbian, sadistic, fetishistic Women’s Libbers motorcycled down the highway to where George was hiding behind a bush…Their names were Dirty Sandra, Hairy Harriet, Vicious Vivian, and Positively Ruthless Ruth. They dragged George (a little sandy-haired fellow with spectacles but with a keen mind and an iron will) from behind the bush he was hiding in. Then they beat him. Then they reduced him to flinders. Then they squashed the flinders to slime. Then they jumped up and down on the slime.”

…except not in the least bit funny. Trigger warnings for scenes of grim violence, both sexual and not, rendered in stomach-turning vivid description…violence of men toward women, and vice-versa. The author espouses the grim view that men and women are much more alike than we are different. Being the race of unpleasant primates we are, all of us will harshly misuse power when we have it. I disagreed vehemently throughout the book with her about the things she posited would happen (while fascinated by her traincrash-in-slow-motion view of her world’s society disintegrating under pressure) and while I was not convinced, I have to concede the author makes a compelling case. Pros include the vividly drawn protagonists, both men and women, who are in turn the victims and/or victimizers of the power plays in the novel, and include some one can sympathize with throughout. Also moments of black comedy among the grimness.

On that note…I have a friend who always reads the last page of a book first. Don’t be that friend, at least not for this book. The last line of the book – the punchline – brought a genuine horselaugh out of me, albeit a rather bitter one.