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Authors: Piers Anthony

Cautionary Tales

BOOK: Cautionary Tales
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Piers Anthony



1. Bluebeard

2. Root Pruning

3. Cartaphilus

4. A Picture of Jesus

5. My America

6. Serial

7. The Courting

8. Pep Talk

9. Knave

10. Juliet Quartet

11. Editing

12. Medusa

13. Rat Bait

14. Humor

15. Lost Things

16. Privy

17. Wood Knot Dew

18. Living Doll

19. Religion

20. Adult Conspiracy

Author's Note


This is an unusual volume, consisting of stories and essays of mine that have not before been collected. Some may not be to the taste of some readers, so there is a Caution before each one calling out the problem area: that it is an essay when what is sought is a story, that it has controversial social or religious material, or aberrant graphic sex, or in some other way could violate the preference of the reader. A few, being relatively innocent, have no Cautions.

Following each item is a discussion giving its history and special features. One, “Serial” was bounced from the
volume it was in because it features rape. Another, “Cartaphilus,” was written to be translated into a graphic (that is comic style pictures) presentation. “Juliet” was rendered virtually unpublishable because a thirteen-year-old girl sets a man's hand on her breast. “Adult Conspiracy” deliberately torpedoes that aspect of my Xanth series. “Pep Talk” is an essay about writing a novel in a month, with an illicit romance in the interstices. “Rat Bait” is perhaps the most disgustingly graphic sex story I've done. So these really are different, but should be tolerable for mature readers. None, I trust, are dull.

In sum: tackle this volume at your own risk.

Caution: simulated sex with a child

1. Bluebeard

I stepped into my Interact identity. It was Females' Day on the Zone, meaning that there would be no charges of any kind for female players in certain games. That meant no permanent record, and that was just as important to a girl as the money.

I zeroed in on the ad I had heard about, next to the Junior Miss Games section. Maybe that was just coincidence, or maybe the game sponsors figured that today's junior was tomorrow's adult, so they were cultivating a future market. Naturally such a game would be fascinating to a child of any age. It was obviously based on a fairy tale, though of course the details would be changed to make it a worthwhile challenge.

There it was: “Bluebeard.” I felt the tingle of spine that such a notion evokes in a girl. Bluebeard was a rich noble who married seven women in turn. When he took business trips, he told them they could go anywhere in the castle except one room. Of course each wife sneaked a peek at the forbidden chamber—and spied the bodies of her predecessors. Until Wife #7 managed to escape and expose the rascal. It was a story stronger in mystery than in sense. Nobody even missed those other six wives? What about the stench of their corpses? Why didn't Bluebeard hide the bodies where they couldn't be so readily found? So there would be a forbidden chamber in the game, but no dead wives; it had to be something else. And there was the fascination: what was there? The only way to find out was to play the game.

I moved my electronic marker to knock on the castle door. A panel opened showing a grim face. “Go away,” it said sociably, and the panel started to close.

“But I came to play!” I protested, my spoken words appearing in print along the bottom of the screen. If I changed my mind, I could edit them out before I spoke again. Of course I didn't do that. No girl would, at this stage.

The grim face scowled. “You are too young. You look like a ten-year-old child. You can't marry Bluebeard until you are at least eighteen.” The panel started to close again.

“I'm at least eighteen!” I cried hastily. “I'm—I'm using my little sister Nettie's membership. She said it's all right. Since this is Females' Day, I won't be running up any charges on her account.”

“You should get your own account, registered to your name and age,” the face said. “Come back when you do. There'll be another Females' Day next month.”

“But this is my only day off!” I protested frantically. “I'll be too busy then. And why get a whole membership when I won't be playing much anyway? Why should you care whose name it's in, since it's free today anyway?”

He stared at my emulation figure. “Eighteen—in a ten-year-old persona. It's highly irregular—”

“But people do it all the time, don't they?” I pleaded. “Just let me in, and I won't say a thing. I just want to play the game.”

He finally relented. “You swear you are eighteen or over? That you are adult, and qualified to play an adult game? And you know that this
an adult game?”

“Yes! Yes! Yes!” I agreed eagerly, answering each question, as any girl of ten would.

“Then enter, Nettie,” he said, and the heavy oaken door swung slowly inward to reveal the dark interior hall.

I entered, relieved that they had accepted my word instead of doing the thorough verification of my identity that the law required. The one that would have shown that there was only one child in my family, so that there couldn't be an older sister. The stats were on record from the original application for membership in Interact, the worldwide electronic entertainment network. But maybe they didn't care, since the charge meter was turned off; there would be no permanent record of this transaction. Females' Day was really a way to get more women into what had been a mostly male dominion. Monthly free samples to get new folk hooked, so they would become game addicts and be willing to pay endlessly for the privilege. Some games were extremely expensive, but those who were hooked had no choice except to pay. Why worry if they were underage, any more than the erstwhile tobacco companies had worried about the targets of their advertising? Soon enough they would be of age, and addicted to the special thrills of electronic entertainment. In fact maybe the tobacco companies owned electronic stock, since they knew so well how to nudge around and under and through the law. Free samples were seldom truly free; they were more like trial doses of heroin. I knew that—which was why I was here.

A maid met me in the anteroom. She held up a wedding dress. She looked doubtfully at me. “Are you of age to marry?” she asked. “Because—”

“Yes, yes,” I said. “ This is my little sister's persona, because I'm on her card. Just make the dress fit.” Though I was surprised to encounter marriage; there had been no warning of this. Still, how could the Bluebeard scenario be played out without a wife? So it did make sense, on reflection.

She put the wedding dress on me, and it did fit my small persona, because it was a one-size-fits-all costume. Computer simulations in virtual reality are handy that way; no fancy re-stitching is needed. She set a tiara in my hair and showed me the mirror. I was now a lovely young (very young!) bride.

Music played as an inner door opened. I stepped through, and there was an aisle down the center of a chapel. At the far end was the altar with a priest, and beside it stood a portly man with a massive blue beard. I was about to marry Bluebeard! I might have been daunted, as any girl would be, but reminded myself that the game was not reality; no ceremony was binding beyond the confines of the game itself. So I marched down the aisle, thrilling to the swell of the wedding march, a melody I had always liked.

I reached the altar, and the priest mumbled some words, and Bluebeard put a golden ring on my finger. By this time I was identifying completely with my persona, so the scene seemed real; suspension of disbelief becomes easier with practice. Then he kissed me, and I had to clamp down on my reactions lest I go into freakout mode. I mean, the groom does kiss the bride, doesn't he? Even if the groom had the universe's bushiest Technicolor beard and the bride's a ten-year-old girl. So I got through it, mainly by closing my eyes and pretending I was sucking on the world's fuzziest giant peach.

He took my hand and led me through another portal. Now we were in the castle bedroom, with fancy draperies at the stone windows and an enormous four-poster bed. Oops—were we supposed to consummate the marriage? I really hadn't considered that detail. In the fairy tale book they always sort of slide over that sort of thing. Any girl would be wondering whether it was better to quit the game now, while she was ahead, so to speak. I hesitated.

Fortunately Bluebeard ignored the bed. “Wife, I have to make a business trip,” he said gruffly. “Here are all the keys to the castle.” He held up a huge ring. “You may go anywhere you choose, with one exception. Do not enter the chamber that this little key unlocks.” He selected the smallest of all the keys. “Promise me you will not enter that one room.”

Ah, we were getting into it! “I promise,” I said, wondering what would have happened if I had refused to promise. Would the game have shorted out right there? That forbidden chamber was the whole point of it, after all.

“Good. I shall return in a fortnight.” He handed me the keys, and tromped out of the bedroom door. In a moment the castle shook as he slammed the great outer portal. I looked out the window and saw his huge blue charger galloping away. He had effectively been written out of the game. I had two weeks to myself.

Naturally the first thing I did was head for the forbidden room. There were servants cleaning the halls and making beds, just as in a hotel. They were figments of the game's imagination, and I ignored them.

The forbidden door was easy to recognize. It had a big placard on it saying FORBIDDEN CHAMBER—DO NOT ENTER. So I put the key in its lock and tried to turn it. It resisted.

The placard changed. ARE YOU SURE YOU ARE OF AGE? it printed at me.

“I'm using Nettie's card,” I explained again. “I'm actually at least eighteen.”


I hesitated. This was actually the third time the game had challenged my age or motive. Apparently they were really serious about keeping children out. Yet all they had to do was run a routine check on my membership, a process requiring perhaps all of two seconds, and bounce me out of the game when I couldn't document my age. So it seemed clear that they really didn't care. This was all window dressing.

“Yes I'm sure,” I said. I twisted the key again, and this time it turned. I heard the crude tumblers moving, unlocking the door.

The chamber was bare. The walls were not stone, but mirror glass, making it seem much larger than it was. There was only a chest the size and shape of a coffin lying in its center, reflected endlessly in the walls. This was the big secret?

I stepped inside—and the door slammed closed behind me. Oops—I had left the key in the lock. Now it and all the other keys on the ring were out of my reach. And the door had no handle inside. I had stupidly locked myself in. I would surely lose a point for that.

Of course I wasn't really confined. I could exit the game any time simply by lifting my real hands and removing the electronic helmet that brought me the sounds and sights of Interact. My gloves and socks were only to track my movements in the game; they didn't interfere with my real actions. But then I would default, and never find out what the big secret was. No curious girl would want that. I didn't care about winning the game; I just wanted to fathom its mystery.

BOOK: Cautionary Tales
3.82Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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