Her name was Cleveland, and this morning she felt like it. It took her several seconds even to turn off her air-raid-siren alarm clock Perri had set to wake him up.

Perri was already gone, but she still felt this presence as the taste of stale semen in her mouth. That was what finally gave her the impetus to rise and gargle. She gargled three times before she felt the taste leave her mouth entirely.

She got up and had a desultory breakfast. At 9:00 sharp the phone rang, as she'd known it would.

"Clevie?" Anne's voice said when she picked it up. "Are you free tonight?"

"What is it?" she asked. If Anne had another blind date set up for her...

"David-Michael slipped on the ice and broke his ankle last night."

"Drunk again, was he?"

"Yup. And our curling team just got to the final 'A' Division game. If he doesn't show up, we forfeit. Can you make it?"

Cleveland groaned. "You know what I told you last time. You know how I hate curling. How about Kolmas?"

"He's in Calgary, and won't be back until Friday."

"The Fleetwoods?"

"Their son's playing his first game in the Junior Hockey League tonight."

"Fia Lefrenier?"

"Her daughter's having a kid--or two, from the latest reports. Face it, kiddo, you're it. Nobody else will do it."

Damn. "Alright, I'll be there."

She told Perri over lunch. "Thought you weren't doin' that no more," he said neutrally.

"Anne trapped me into it. She made me promise that I'd do it if no one else was available. And it looks like this time she trapped me good. I know her--she probably set this up all in advance. I wouldn't even put it past her to break D-M's ankle when he was drunk."

Perri shrugged and finished his coffee, then plucked at her skirt. "How 'bout a quick one 'fore I go back out?"

She tried to dawdle on the way there, but she was bound. If she didn't show up on time, that was as good as not showing up at all.

Anne was waiting for her at the door, and said, "Your broom, shoes and slider are in locker 60, waiting for you." Cleveland sighed and nodded. Anne's eyes twinkled. "I got you this time."

"How much are you selling me for this time?"

"Well, let's see. We'll get three hundred if we win, and two hundred if we lose. Divided among us, of course."

"Wonderful. Twenty-five dollars."

Anne turned serious for a moment. "Actually, we do need you. I did leave you as a last resort, like I promised."

Cleveland snorted and went to her locker.

"You've got me playing third?"

"That's what D-M was playing, and let's face it, Jake and Flo aren't up to playing it. You don't need to skip--you just hold the broom while I throw, and I tell you where. And I think your talents would do you better as third than as lead."

Anne had worked out a set of signals for Cleveland years ago--ones that could be used both when she was skipping and when she was sitting on the bench. She seemed content to let the first few rocks pile up, though.

Then it was Cleveland's first throw. Anne indicated that she was supposed to take out the red rock on the button. It was guarded by other red rocks, but there were three blue rocks nearer the center than any of them. It was an impossible shot. Anne wanted to show off right away. Well, she was bound to obey.

Her throw was not the height of form. She could hear the guffaws as she let it dribble over the hog line. It didn't even look like it would make it to the other end. This would make it even harder. Jake and Flo swept gamely, but it didn't make much difference.

Cleveland took a breath and focused her eyes on infinity. Time slowed, and she could see objects as ripples, and motion as travelling undulations. She nudged one undulation slightly forward, causing it to speed up, though it still moved at a snail's pace. She set it spinning in a complex manner, so that it wove between other ripples until it impacted on another.

The sound of her rock cracking against the red rock on the button jarred her back to reality. The rink was silent after that. Jake and Flo, who had been swearing under their breath as she let the shot go, stood slack-jawed. The other team were checking the ice for irregularities, and calling for the referees. Anne was grinning.

And Cleveland already had a splitting headache. This was going to be a long game.

Based on the words: Semen Undulate Curling Clock

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The Den of Ubiquity / Aaron V. Humphrey /