Jeff VanderMeer was born in Pennsylvania in 1968, but spent much of his
childhood in the Fiji Islands, where his parents worked for the Peace Corps.
His books include The Book of Lost Places (Dark Regions Press),
Dradin, In Love (Buzzcity Press), Dradin, In Love & Other Stories (Oxy Publishing, Greece),
and The Early History of Ambergris (Necropolitan Press).
He began the publishing house, Ministry of Whimsy, which has done a number of titles including
The Troika, by Stepan Chapman which won the Philip K. Dick Award. Other work has been
nominated for the World Fantasy Award and the British Fantasy Award.
He lives with his wife Ann Kennedy, publisher and editor of Buzzcity Press.
Jeff VanderMeer Website
SF Site Review: The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases
SF Site Review: Veniss Underground
SF Site Review: Leviathan Three
SF Site Review: City of Saints and Madmen
SF Site Interview: Jeff VanderMeer
SF Site Excerpt City of Saints and Madmen
SF Site Review: City of Saints and Madmen
SF Site Review: The Exchange
Dressed in a black business suit, a mimic appeared among the office workers on the third floor. He set up his computer in a just-abandoned cubicle. The dull hiss of his gray-spackled monitor reflected ghoulishly off his chalky face. He had an odd way of staring at the monitor, with his head cocked to the side. He had wrists and hands pale as the underbelly of a toad. He did not talk much.
* * *
"He is not natural to this place," some said.
"None of us are," others said.
If there had been fewer employees, perhaps the mimic would have been found out sooner. But the inhabitants of the third floor now numbered in the hundreds. They pressed down into the emergency stairwells, where middle managers sat in bewildered little groups, laptops balanced on their crossed legs. Everyone had to take lunch in shifts, for otherwise the elevators would groan with the weight for hours. Even a half-desk of space was coveted as a promotion.
Perhaps it was strange enough for the mimic to have taken a cubicle for himself, but stranger things soon occurred on the third floor. When the mimic began to pluck bugs from the stalks of his neighbor's hydrangea -- the long, pink tongue erupting from the pale, calm face -- everyone pretended not to notice. His neighbor told herself that it was nothing really, nothing important; after all, hadn't they acclimated themselves to the strange customs of the people who lived on the second floor?
Gradually, they noticed several other strange things about their new coworker. For example, despite the dress code, he did not actually wear shoes; his feet just resembled shoes. And when he ate his open-faced sandwiches of thick green paste, he swallowed in such a way that his large eyes receded into the back of his head, as if pushing his food down like a frog. He wept almost continuously as well, which was disconcerting if poignant, although one coworker remarked in a whisper that since the new employee's face never changed expression, it might just have been rheum, not tears at all.
The mimic smelled of cardamom and mango, sometimes of pears, sometimes of fresh rain on newly tilled soil. Sometimes he smelled like a thunderstorm come up from the south.
The mimic had violet eyes. "Violet, sad, soulful eyes," as someone said, sarcastically.
Anyone who looked into those eyes found themselves falling. They would remember events or people they had not thought of in years. They would feel a sudden compulsion to leave the building. They would feel an ache, a yearning for something they could not quite name.
For this reason, most people avoided looking at the mimic directly. Shaking hands was also not recommended because his oddly curled fingers were always damp. The pads of both his hands and his feet were sticky, and festooned with natural suction cups, although they did not learn this until later.
At meetings, the mimic would imitate the chatter around him, but afterward no one could remember exactly what he might have said, if anything. They just remembered it had sounded good at the time.
The woman who shared the cubicle to his left often defended him. "He's quiet," she would say. "His lunch doesn't smell. He's polite. He's considerate of other people's privacy."
For long hours, the mimic stared out the window toward the south, and wept the tears that might not be tears at all.
It was not until the night the mimic was discovered scuttling across the ceiling tiles in a twitching frenzy of movement, sucking insects and spiders into his mouth, that the people of the third floor turned against him. The sight was too strange for them. It did not mimic them at all.
He mewled as they bound his limbs. He made a soundless scream as they kicked him. He mumbled to himself as they hauled him into the elevator.
By the time the elevator doors opened on the second floor, he had gone limp, staring hopelessly off into the distance as they roughly dropped him in the second floor lobby and brushed at their clothes in distaste.
The mimic stared at them as they left. As the doors slid over their solemn, disgusted faces, they distinctly heard him speak to them. But each heard something different -- reassurance, admonishment, joy, grief.
When the elevator doors opened at the third floor, they had all become very different people.
Copyright © 2004 by Jeff VanderMeer
All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from
the author. This excerpt has been provided by Golden Gryphon and posted with their permission.