All Things In Time

When they opened the time capsule, there was a body inside.

Simon dropped his shovel in the red clay and fell to his knees. Kate shrieked, muffling it with her hand. Beside her, Ryan let out the response they had all thought but been unable to voice.

“Goddamn,” he gasped, “who is that? Who the hell is that?”

The body was a milk-fair girl in her teens. Her skin was so clear and white it almost seemed like her irises were visible behind her lids. Her hair was white blonde. Simon struggled to place her with any of the faces he’d ever seen in highschool, but his mind was a panicked blank.

Terry shook his head as he backed away from the hole. “We need to call the cops.”

Becky grabbed his elbow. “Are you nuts? We’re not even supposed to be out here.”

“I think the little matter of trespassing is kind of insignificant now, Beck,” Ryan said, looping an arm around Kate. “She wasn’t there when we buried the time capsule, was she?”

“No,” Kate blurted, “and that means someone dug our capsule up and re-buried it with her in it.”

Terry rolled his eyes. “No they didn’t. Disturbing packed earth would leave too much of a mound.”

“Really? That sounds like bullshit.”

“It’s not.”

“Really? Then I’m looking it up.” Kate brought out her smartphone.

Terry hit it down. “No.”

“What the f—you fucking psycho!”

Ryan got physically in-between the two. “Look, it’s not important right now. We need to call the cops sooner rather than later, it’ll make it look worse if we don’t.”

“Oh, and who’s calling them? This asshole?” Kate thumbed at Terry. “He’ll probably get into an argument with the cops about whether they’re allowed to pat us down.”

“The constitution says—”

“Fuck it!” Ryan held up his hands. “I’m going to the school, find somebody. I’ll say we’re old friends, we wanted to meet somewhere nostalgic, we stumbled on a body.”

“Oh yeah, and how will you explain the shovels?” Becky asked.

“I’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” Ryan said smoothly. “Look, I want everybody to stay cool while I’m gone, okay?”

Simon shot him a feeble thumbs-up. The others mumbled vaguely agreeing noises. Ryan set off over the field to their old high school, dodging chattering sprinklers.

“Look at her,” Becky mumbled reverently, “she’s so young.”

Becky had filled out a bit since high school, her hair chopped to jaw-level and dyed a bright red. In her high school ID, which nestled just above the girl’s shoulder, Becky smiled awkwardly at the camera in glasses and a forest of dark brown hair that sprouted from her head like sargassum.

The girl wore a plain white dress that bore no recognizable style. It could easily have been made in the 1980’s or the 1880’s. Though she was a few feet from his face, Simon was having trouble believing she was actually real. He could touch her, that might prove things conclusively, but he felt like the oil from his fingertips would stain her.

“Notice anything?” Kate asked. “She doesn’t smell.”

Simon dared to lean forward and flare his nostrils. That was right. All he could smell was the astringent odor of packed earth.

Becky frowned. “That’s…weird. People who had been dead even a little while should smell.”

“Who says she’s dead?”

Both women looked at Terry silently and then back to the hole.

“Holy hell, the ground was packed when we started digging,” Kate said, getting in close to the hole, “she would have had to be in there for a while at least.”

“Well, hermetically sealed—”

Kate stuck her hand back at Terry and made a quacking motion with it. “The ground was hard when you dug into it, wasn’t it?”

Simon realized he was being put on the spot. “Um, yeah.”

Becky sidled away from the hole it was getting harder and harder not to call a grave, rubbing her upper arms as if she was cold. “This is all really weird.”

Terry crouched beside Becky. “How’d they fit her in there, anyway? Did they take stuff out?”

Kate frowned. “They better not have taken out my judo trophy, I will be majorly fucking pissed.”

“Your trophy? That’s what you’re worried about?”

“Oh sorry, am I supposed to get gooshy over a letter my tenth grade boyfriend wrote me?” Kate snapped. “He was gay anyway.”

Becky arched her brows. “Does Ryan know you two slept together?”

Kate and Terry flushed. “Whatever. That was years ago! We don’t need to dig up the past.”

“Dig up the past,” Simon said, “ha.”

It was amazing how they could still fight over these things when they had the mystery of the century at their feet. But hadn’t that been the way, even from the beginning? The time capsule had no real significance, Kate had learned about the bicentennial capsule in the next town over and bent Ryan’s ear until he convinced the rest of them. Even now, in this heat that made everything seem slightly unreal, Simon could not even be sure of their friendship. Did he truly know these people? One of them could have been easily replaced by a stranger who had done their homework and he’d be none the wiser. None of them looked like they had in highschool, not really.

Simon looked down at the girl, puzzling. Yes he had known a truly pale blonde in high school, Becky had gone around calling her an albino until the girl crushed her in dodgeball. But she had been plumper and nearly six feet tall. This girl was a whisp, a perfectly formed doll that would have barely come up to Simon’s shoulder if she stood. The soles of her feet were perfect and clean, as they had never touched the ground.

Ryan legged it back over the  soccer field shimmering with heat.

“No one’s around,” he said, leaning on his knees. Kate got to her feet and hewed to his side, giving insistent little murmurs.

“Well, that’s not a shock.” Terry stood and dusted off his pants, not looking at Ryan. “We chose this day because no one would be here.”

“So what do we do?” Becky asked, “do we…do we just call them?”

Ryan held up his hands. “Look, I have an idea and it may not be the best thing…we re-bury it.”

Shoulders of the whole group relaxed.

“But the body,” Terry protested, not very hard.

Ryan shook his head. “It’s beyond us, guys.”

Kate hunched her shoulders. “But what about the time capsule? Can we take it out?”

Ryan threw an arm around her shoulders. “Can’t, babe. That would leave a cavity. We re-bury it as is and the groundskeeper thinks some dog was screwing around up here.”

“Or burying beer,” Becky joked. They were all resetting to the people they had been before the hole. Simon felt that he was the only one stuck. He could not wrench his mind from the girl in the hole, so he faked it like he always did.

“Guess I’ll go first,” he joked thinly, grabbing up the shovel.

The first shovel-load fell like blasphemy. Simon watched the earth rattle down on the girl’s white dress and wondered if it would stain. He looked back at the group and saw them eagerly looking at him.

He kept shoveling.

The girl’s face was the last to be covered, it shone out like the bone of some extinct creature exposed by the very elements that would wear it away. Simon winced as dirt fell on her eyes. Finally there was nothing for it, and he gently laid dirt across the last remaining piece of the girl. Kate sighed behind him. They were sliding back into place like building blocks, taking shapes that were familiar and easy. Could he have gone against it? Planted his feet and refused to let it lie?

No, Simon thought, this was his place. The gap left by the four of them fitting in with each other.

They took turns stepping on the soil, pressing it out flat. The tension brought on by the girl had evaporated in the sun.

Becky almost danced out to the cars, linking arms with Kate and trying to run in step. Terry joked with Ryan as if nothing had ever been amiss. And Simon reverted to his natural place at the back of the group.

Becky hopped into her Jeep without so much as a wave. Terry took his sweet time getting into his Miata, he even sat as if it was part of a ritual. Kate had already squeezed into the passenger side of the Escape and Ryan was standing at the open driver’s door. It was now or never.

“Tell me,” Simon murmured, bending close, “you didn’t look for anyone, did you?”

Ryan looked surprised for a minute, then laughed. His laugh was infectious.

“Ya got me. Sometimes you have to bend the truth for people’s own good, you know?”

Simon glanced past him at Kate, who was busy scrolling through her phone.

“I hear that,” he said. Ryan slapped him on the back.

“Going to Paddy’s later,” Ryan said as he eased himself in, “see you there?”

Simon smiled tightlipped.

“Got work,” he lied, “I have to go clean up now anyway.”

Ryan did not press him, just threw the car into reverse and sped away. Simon was left holding the shovel, gripping it tightly.

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Mulberry Leaves

There is a nameless shrine on a mountaintop somewhere in the Nanpo islands of japan. Maps do not list it, and the torii crowning the entrance has been buried. A single red lacquer horn is all that exists to show the way to this shrine, which lies up a difficult incline of 108 steps.

The body of the shrine itself was constructed of driftwood and fitted together without nails. The only adornment of the shrine is a hemp rope bearing two ragged rice paper shide.

In this shrine is a mulberry tree. No matter how many years pass, this tree remains exactly eight inches in diameter. Instead of fruit, the tree bears silk strands.

There is a village at the foot of this mountain. They have no record of any shrine, only that the village once produced fabrics of the finest caliber during the Tokugawa shogunate. Villagers will blithely say the silk was imported, that no mulberry has ever grown on island soil. Invite them to the mountain, they will decline. There is nothing up there, why bother?

The mulberry silk strands are unusually tough and course, many magnitudes thicker than that produced by Bombyx mori. Coring the trunk is inexact, for the wood had a plasticity not common in the mulberry family. The only factor restraining regular harvest is that the silk, once plucked, takes many weeks to grow back.

In the village of this island, there were five founding families. Five homes producing silk. This is evident in the tax records of the Edo merchant who imported the fabric. Then, suddenly, there were four families. Why? Where did they go? Modern villagers will shrug their shoulders. Lots of things happen in a few years. Battles are found or lost. Ships crash. Why bother digging up the past?

Examination of the tree roots will turn up another anomaly. At the end of each root is a peculiar oblong scale. Tests of these scales show that they are not wood but a protein structure unique to the tree. Attempted removal only results in an excess of sap flowing from the point of injury.

Tax records from mainland Honshu tell of a time of unrest on the island. A dip in both quality and quantity. A peculiar red, unique to the island, vanished from the shipment forever. A note of usury from the silk supplier, demanding to know the whereabouts of a third of the raw materials. And then…nothing. The next year shows a slight uptick in production, minus the red fabric. The village no longer produces silk, getting by on subsistence farming and fishing in the modern day.

There is a matsuri unique to the island, taking place at the end of spring. Thirteen square holes are dug, and straw dummies that have been beaten with farm implements are places in the holes and set alight “to salt the ground.” Minor excavation of the festival grounds have turned up roof tiles, indicating there was once a house on the land.

Every spring, as matsuri lanterns light up the village at night, the tree weeps sap.

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The End of the Hunt

The painting hung in his supervisor’s office above the desk. Milo would toe up to the edge of the carpet and stare at it when he was being reprimanded. A lot was crammed into the canvas. Medieval hounds, painted with little care given to proper anatomy, dominated the scene. Snarls distorted their snouts. They had the eyes of men. The unlucky goose hung like an afterthought from the muzzle of the lead dog. The artist hadn’t even bothered to fill in detail on the bird’s head, leaving only a thin cyan oval to suggest a skull. The meaning of the name had escaped him until the day he spied the hunters, dressed in the same earthen tones as the surrounding vegetation. Two of them held up a theater backdrop, a painted sky that had presumably lured the bird to its doom.

“Do you see what I’m saying?” Nealy looked over the rims of his glasses.

“Yes, sir.” Milo had long ago memorized a stock set of phrases designed to appease. “I hope I can live up to your expectations.”

Nealy sighed through his nose. “Well, I guess I do too, Milo.”

Milo nodded. There was a tension in him that did not ease until he closed the door behind him. He disliked scrutiny, even in the most harmless of forms. The secretary Janet’s once-over of his body rankled, her unfocused eyes woke a nameless hunger in him. The weekend could not come soon enough.

Milo wedged his body in an aisle of the warehouse. Nearby, the guys were huddled in a rough circle, talking over styofoam coffee cups and vending machine snacks.

“…Moscone county killer.”

Milo had developed a trick wherein he appeared very absorbed in a meaningless task, but was really focused intently on something nearby. He sorted order envelopes and listened.

“I mean, really? This guy broke into five houses?”

“Always comes from the place you suspect the least, am I right?”

“Yeah. I mean, the unabomber was literally the most unassuming guy in the world.”

“The guy in the sketch was.”

“I’m just saying, Caramina’s a rich county. Nothing but rent-a-cops. I wouldn’t trust ’em to arrest the Hamburglar.”

Janet walked up, pink receipt pages in her hand.

“They’re really treating you today, aren’t they?” she said, fanning herself. Her perfume was too sweet and sat like a blanket long after she left a room.

Milo mumbled a reply. The weather was hot and damp, neither condition was relieved by the swamp cooler running behind him. He actually preferred this weather, it made his skin feel tight. It was a secret kind of excitement, kept him going despite the people around him. They looked past him, unsuspecting. He had an urge, deep and pathological, to tell them what he really did when he wasn’t at work, to watch their faces change.

“We should really do something about it,” Janet said, tucking the paper into a folder on the top of a box. Milo did not reply. He had learned that people mostly talked at him and not to him. Replies broke the rhythym of office talk. Replies brought him to their attention. He didn’t want that.

Nealy walked up, arm around a younger, shorter man. “Milo, this is Bill.”

Milo gave him a damp handshake.

The three of them stood awkwardly.

“…you know, that thing I was talking about?” Nealy prompted.

Milo assumed a look of recognition. “Of course, sir. It’s just this heat…”

Nealy nodded. “I get ya. We really need a proper AC unit.” He turned and pushed the young man forward. “Just show Bill the ins and outs. Whip him if you need to.”

Bill stumbled in mock horror. Milo donned noncommital work smile #4 and gestured out to the warehouse floor. The quicker he accomplished the task, the sooner he could be left to his own devices.

Bill was good. Too good. He asked too many questions. About the office. About Milo.

Milo began to wonder. Was he training a replacement? He didn’t mind being fired, he had been fired from many jobs, but being replaced rankled.

“So what do you do for the big weekend?” Bill was never less than a step behind, always full of bright energy.

“Erm, biking.” Milo tossed an answer off the top of his brain.

“No shit. You train for the M.E.C.? Because I’ve been looking for a partner—”

“Not professionally.” Damn. He’d gone on autopilot and dropped an order form behind a shelf. Milo scrambled to retrieve it before Bill could see the other files he’d “lost” over the course of a few months.

“Whoa, nervous there big guy?” Bill smiled. Milo hated how white it was.

“No, I’m just—I’m off my routine.”

The radio in the loading dock was on as Milo showed Bill how to fill out order reports. Blue went to the supervisor, pink was logged in the order, white—

“—was captured earlier this morning. Martin David Howe was living in a secluded shelter just off the West Jefferson trail. He had a history of stalking behavior and was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1997. Police say he was the main suspect in the Moscone county killings for some time, it was the nature of the terrain that made the investigation drag on so long.

Milo stopped, forgetting what he was doing. His eardrums grew taught, his whole body stiffening like a receiving antenna.

Earl, at his station, nudged the radio dial. Through static, the speaker changed to a twangy country ballad. Milo stood up, perspiration cascading from his face and neck. He felt like he was peeling, like his skin was coming off in layers. He had seen it happen to a frog he’d touched against the neighbor’s electric fence in third grade. He’d savored the animal’s tense flailing at the time. Now he was afraid he might do that, lose control of himself. And he must never, ever do that where people could see.

“You okay, big guy?” Bill had his hands in his pockets, still crisp and dry, still smiling. He probably was there to replace Milo. Why not? Nothing he did mattered.

Milo bent, hands to his knees. “Sorry, I think I need to go.”

The bathroom smelled like swamp. Everywhere smelled like swamp. Milo spit in the toilet and examined the whites of his eyes. It wasn’t fair. He knew he wasn’t the smartest or best looking. But a man had to have something.

When he came out, Bill was over at the office door. He was facing out at the windows, hands in his pockets as he spoke to Nealy. So casual after a single day. Milo wished for one savage second that he could quit. Throw the coffee pot in Nealy’s face, see the glass shatter and watch red mix in with the dark brown of the coffee.

Instead, he slithered over like a slug. Bill turned around before he got to them, smile flawless as always.

“There he is! Feel better?”

“Actually, sir,” Milo made a point of adressing Nealy, “I think I have food poisoning. You think I can go home?”

“Again? It’s been two days—” Nealy began, but Bill interrupted him.

“I saw him earlier, Ken, he was pretty white. I’d hate to get chunked on, my first day.”

First name basis already? Milo decided not to bother coming back after he went home. There were other jobs like this. There were always other jobs.

Nealy gave his weary nod. Bill grinned.

“Hey, it’s nearly lunch. I’ll take you.”

“Oh it’s really—”

“Milo, you can’t get on the bus with food poisoning, just let him take you,” Nealy snapped, taking a shop towel to his perspiring neck. He would not look at Milo. Milo gave a one-shoulder shrug.

“I really appreciate you showing me around like this,” Bill said as Milo buckled in, “real stand-up of you. Ken says you’ve been sick a lot lately.”

Milo sank into his seat and grunted. Bill made no motion to start the car.

“Boy, I tell you, it has to be this weather. Food won’t stay good a single minute in this air. I had a hoagie, turned around to grab the salt, I swear it was moldy when I turned back.”

Milo nodded, closing his eyes and leaning his forehead against the cool window glass. The AC wasn’t on. The air in the car was still and hot.

“Lemme, guess, you got sick around the 4th, am I right?”

Milo nodded again.

“Knew it, knew it. No one cooks their meat all the way that day, too busy looking at fireworks. Then you were sick on the 14th, right? Coming back from Caramina?”

Milo nodded, drifting away. If he only had to nod, this was a good conversation.

“Must’ve had the crawfish. I hate those things, but I love ’em, y’know? More than five and my guts come up. You must’ve puked on the way back, right? They said someone cleaned the truck bed with caustics.”

Milo nodded dreamily. The car still wasn’t moving. Maybe the guy was just delaying going back to work. He hadn’t asked where Milo lived yet.

“So that was you? Whew, must’ve been some big job. Stayed out three days. Slip said you were scheduled two. You see the promenade?”

Milo nodded.

“Stuck around, see the sights? Do a little tourism? Don’t blame you, the way you’ve been working. They say they can never figure out what you’ve been doing. Making yourself indispensable, smart move. This is a good job, flexible hours. Not a lot of questions.

Milo was descending into a blissful mire. The shock of loss was beginning to wear off, and he was already planning for the future. He could find another job, another low-effort slog where they looked past him.

“I can see you’re tired, big guy. Just one thing I have to tell you.”

A metallic click. Something cold on Milo’s wrist.

“You’re under arrest.”

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The Marshes of Time and Space

Mr. Wenjing stood at the edge of the cold, dark water.

“You have one hour,” he said in clipped, nearly accentless English, “you are authorized to use only the ammunition we have given you. Anything and everything can be hunted. The trees with yellow bands—” he turned to imitate a hemlock behind him bearing a canary-colored sash, “—indicate you are nearing the limits of our territory. They are your warning. If you see the trees with red bands you must turn back. We are absolved of all responsibility if you do not.”

The man standing next to Miriam clicked his tongue, doing a little dance with his eyebrows. He held a shotgun. Pink ammo lined his belt.

The man turned suddenly to Miriam and extended his hand. “Pike Walsh,” he said, “Australian.”

Miriam nodded but did not extend her own hand. Her arms were hidden beneath the grey shawl that swathed her whole torso, hair gathered beneath a dark brown beret.

Walsh smiled, showing a dimple high in his cheek. “Don’t see many Sheilas here, forgive me. This’ll be my third time, how about you?”

A rotund man who employed a young boy to carry his guns and ammo answered without looking up. “First time. I was recommended by an associate. I’m all safaried out, you see.”

Walsh nodded, slightly irked.

“Fifth time,” said a man to Walsh’s other side. He hefted a large gun with ease. An intricate design of swirls was shaved into the side of his head. “I collect for this really upscale restaurant. They don’t even take reservations. You have to know someone. I couldn’t even eat there.”

Walsh chuckled, digging in the soft peat with his toes. The dents he made filled up with brown water.

Mr. Wenjing raised his left arm. The gathered group spread out in a horizontal line. Aside from a frightening old biddy lugging an elephant gun, Miriam was the only woman.

“Pardon my asking,” Walsh murmured out the corner of his mouth, “but you do have a gun, don’t you?”

Miriam slid her pistol out from under her shawl.

“A bit small, isn’t it?”

“I only need one shot.”

“Thatta girl.” Walsh grinned.

Mr. Wenjing dropped his arm. Galoshes and hip boots churned the freezing water into mud. The rotund man got stuck and began wailing. The others pad no mind and pressed deeper.

Miriam focused on walking, lifting one foot and finding a good place to put it down again. Visions of snapping turtles kept plaguing her, no matter how she banished them.

Walsh turned suddenly. “There!” The pink cartridge made a flash and a lot of smoke. Walsh swore, “missed!” and turned to reload.

In the beam of the flashlight taped to his gun, the restaurant hunter found an ancient yellow eye with diamond pupils. Quick as a flash, the old woman’s gun went off. The men laughed.

“All right granny,” the large man crowed.

The old woman planted a neon orange flag by her kill.

Besides sporadic sightings, the animals fell away. Their only company was the sucking sound their feet made in the muck.

“So how’d you hear about this?” Walsh said, eyes up to the treetops.

Miriam could not get out of answering this time. “It was a present. I’m a biologist.”

“No kidding?” Walsh shot her a humored look. “You know they don’t accept specimens from this place?”

“It was more about seeing them. In the flesh.” Miriam pretended to look around, blinking away the tears that were rapidly accumulating. “He knew that much was important to me.” Damn, her voice was getting thick. She coughed to cover it up.

Walsh nodded. “I was—” This time he fired without preamble. Something yelped once in the dark. Walsh struggled with his light, flickering on and off, before he trained the beam on his kill.

A thylacine sat on a raft made of dead branches. The bullet hole at its shoulder was leaking red. It breathed erratically as Walsh sloshed closer. He looked at the dead animal reverently as he gently brushed the fur of its ears with his fingertips.

Miriam crept away while he was distracted, pressing deeper into the marsh. The pros were reaching their kill quota. The first-timers were running out of ammo.

A dragon-like lizard with a bright crest reared in front of her. The rotund man sloshed up beside her, yanking his gun from the boy at his side.

“Banzai,” he cried. His gun did not flash and smoke, there was a definite bang. The other hunters zeroed in on him.

The restaurant hunter marched over and grabbed the gun from his trembling hands. “Real shells. Quentin, you asshole.”

“I’m worth more money than your entire home country, don’t lecture me,” the rotund man yelped, digging out a handkerchief to blot his trembling forehead.

“Money don’t mean jack here. You broke the rules. You’re gone. I’ll make sure you’re banned from my place, too.”

“You can’t do that, I’m on the list for July!”

“I’ll make sure they know that, strike all of your guests from the registry too.”

“Know your place, you—tradesman!” Quentin’s rage grew faint as Miriam snuck away from the scuffle. “You wouldn’t even be here if it weren’t for people like me….”

The cold seeped into every crack, every exposed bit of flesh. Miriam’s teeth chattered as she pressed on. An old, dead cottonwood loomed before her, yellow band shining like an eye in the night. Miriam gave thanks under her breath and pressed on. Soon the red bands appeared. Theses were not tied high like the yellow bands, instead they were laced between trees to form a sort of fence. Miriam stepped over them and continued onward. Her ears felt pressure, like she was ascending up a mountain.

It was a long, cold, difficult slog. This side had water weeds that slowed her steps. Miriam’s breath steamed as she grew closer to turning back. The worst they could do was ban her. Out here—

Something disturbed the water to the north of her. Miriam clicked her tiny penlight on.

Miriam caught sight of a grey shawl and a hunched back before the person straightened, holding a hand over her eyes. Miriam was looking at herself.

The other Miriam looked puzzled, then broke into a smile. “Mir—”

Like a gunfighter, Miriam’s piece flashed from underneath her shawl and drilled a neat hole in the other Miriam’s chest. She gasped and fell face-forward into the water.

Heart pounding, Miriam made her way over. The other Miriam was wearing the same grey shawl and—dammit! Her hat was a bright burgundy. Miriam took her own hat off and sank it in the water. Too late to look at the boots, she could just say she lost hers and took a pair that she’d found abandoned.

Miriam drew a deep breath and walked forward.

The torchlight was the same as the place she’d left. The faces were different or rearranged. Wenjing had a t-shaped scar on his forehead. An old man who could have twinned for the old woman sat on a pile of his kills. And by the refreshment cart—

“Michael!” Miriam flung her arms out, nearly tripping in her eagerness to get to shore.

Michael met her on the way, warm blanket in hand. The smell that enveloped her with his hug was the same. His touch, the same. His warm eyes were still brown when he pulled away to examine her for wounds.

“I only shot once,” Miriam confessed, “I nearly—I nearly—”

Michael hugged her again. “I understand. Did you have fun?”

Miriam dug her nose into his shoulder. “No. Better than that.”

Wenjing gave her a once-over. Miriam could feel it through her shawl. She drew away from Michael.

“I’m frozen half to death,” she said, “can we continue this in the lodge?”

Michael grinned and the air around her grew a few degrees warmer. “Of course.”

The fireplace was big enough to hold a dining table and hosted a fire made of whole trees. Above the mantel were a collection of tusks from various elephant antecessors. The floor was a cave bear skin rug. Michael fetched her a hot toddy and took her boots off, easing her feet into a bucket of hot water. The other hunters trickled in, comparing kills, slapping each other on the back. Wenjing was the last to enter, face inscrutable as always.

Miriam’s heart beat faster as he approached. He wouldn’t. He didn’t.

“I believe you mislaid this,” he said politely, and dropped a mud-crusted red beret into her foot bath.

Miriam whitened.

Wenjing gave her a long look before turning and walking away.

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Amy on the Train

Amy was thirteen, and had been thirteen for a very long time. The train car she sat in was an overnighter, meant for people who couldn’t afford a sleeper car. The night dimmed the windows to opacity, so Amy used the glass as a mirror to watch the compartment door open. A nicely-dressed man and three children hustled in, chattering before they even got the door open. There was a teenage girl, a boy with glasses who looked a few years younger, and a little red-faced boy in a sailor suit who immediately set to kicking the seat opposite his.

“Jack,” said the man without much heat or conviction, “stop that.”

The boy made no such motion. The family immediately spread out, capturing so much of the seating Amy was forced to press against the window. Her breath didn’t steam the glass.

“I don’t see why we couldn’t get a sleeper,” said the girl, tossing her hair. It was quite voluminous and chased with ribbons so that it looked almost like a cake.

“Amelia, dear, I have explained this,” said the father, not looking up from his papers, “we will be in at your grandmother’s stop within a few hours. It would be a waste of money.”

“But we have to share compartments with any dirty old stranger!”

Not once did any of them look over at Amy. The little boy bored with kicking the seat and began bumping the makeshift desk his father held on his lap with his knees.

“Jack, stop that,” said the man, pulling away. Jack turned his heels up to his sister Amelia, who gave him a withering glare.

“Father,” said the glasses-wearing boy, “Amelia’s right, to a certain degree. These compartments are made to fit four comfortably. By rights we shouldn’t have to share.”

“I suppose you’re right, Thomas.” The father turned to Amy, not looking at her but in a direction that happened to hold her. “Would you mind getting out, terribly? We’re all very tired.”

Amy looked the group over once. “Yes, I see.”

The older boy slammed the door behind her with a loud snap. Amy stepped slightly to the side and leaned her back against the wall, listening.

“Well I don’t see why I have to mind the smelly little beast, he’s old enough to—”

“Amelia, please stop arguing with me. If you don’t learn now what will you do when you have children?”

“I’ll have nannies and maids to look after them. Really, daddy. You think I’m as malleable as that silly girl who trespassed in our car. Dirty little thing. She’s probably one of those war orphans.”

“Now Amelia, children can’t help how they appear. It’s the fault of the parents, most of the time.”

“So who can we blame that hair on, eh Ames?”

“Shut up, Thomas.”

Amy crept off. Not to another compartment, but to a quiet place where she could conceal herself. She had boarded without a ticket or bags, because she was not traveling but looking. And the family had looked quite promising.

 

11:30. The little boy Jack had escaped the compartment, or been allowed to escape to give his father some measure of peace. He throttled the external door like a pet bird’s neck, kicking the bottom panel with his heels. Amy watched the scenery pass by indifferently, gauging their speed. They were on a flat plain. Soon there would be a hill.

“Shouldn’t you be in bed?” she asked.

The boy jumped, then his face turned mean when he saw she wasn’t an adult. He sneered at her and resumed kicking at the door. Amy watched the restraining bolt as it rattled in its hinge. Too much force would make it vibrate free.

“I don’t believe that’s safe.”

“I don’t believe that’s safe,” the boy repeated back in a mocking tone. He reared back and gave a mighty kick, edging the bolt a millimeter. Amy could feel as the train slowed, starting up an incline.

“Are you traveling on holiday? Perhaps we’re going the same way.”

The boy kicked faster, eyes gleaming from his red face like bits of bottle glass. The bolt did not move.

“Does your sister have any friends where she’s going? Perhaps we could become acquainted.”

At mention of his sister, the boy doubled his force. Amy could feel their assent slowing. Soon they would be at the peak. The bolt was only halfway loose.

“Shall I tell your father you’re here?”

Shall I tell your father you’re here?” Kick. Throttle. Kick. The train was beginning to pick up speed.

“I only worry, because you’ve been left unsupervised.”

“Stupid girl.” Kick. Throttle. The train slipped faster down the incline.

“Something terrible could happen to a small child left alone.”

“Ugly girl.” Kick. Throttle. They were nearing the end of the slope, hitting the pinnacle of the train’s speed.

“I don’t believe this door is safe at all,’ Amy said, letting her eyes flick to the bolt. Jack followed her gaze and crowed in triumph. He yanked the bolt back and gave a final kick. The door bowed open from the force of the kick and Jack went with it, disappearing into the rushing night air. As the door bounced back, Amy caught it and latched it securely again.

 

12am. On her way down the hall, Amy ran into the older boy, Thomas, waiting in her path with a smug expression.

“Are you lost?” he asked.

“Not particularly,” Amy said. Thomas tapped the thin book in his hands.

“I’ve been reading the train regulations. Father says I’m to take over his business one day, so I read everything I get my hands on.”

“How nice for you,” Amy said.

“It says that those without fare can be charged with up to five years in debtor’s prison.” Thomas tapped the book again. “Tell me, do you have train fare?”

Amy slowly looked him up and down.

“I read all sorts of books,” Thomas bragged, having departed the real world for his own head, “read one recently that revealed the poorer classes have no choice but to continue to be poor. Bad breeding, you see. I’m sure you can’t help your lowbrow criminal behavior, but it is my duty as a paragon of good breeding to correct you. I’m going to tell the conductor and he’s going to throw you off the train. Seeing as you’re a lady, he might be tempted to go easy. But I will remind him of the rules and regulations.” Thomas tapped the book again.

Amy smiled at him, so long that he began to shift uneasily.

“Tell me,” she said suddenly, “have you ever read the riddle of the Sphinx?”

The boy colored slightly. Apparently he had skimped on the classics.

“The sphinx of greek legend sat outside a city and asked a riddle of every passer-by. If any of them got it wrong, she would tear them to pieces. Want to hear a riddle?” Amy asked sweetly.

Thomas turned slightly pale. The train ride had become bumpy, the lamps in the corridor were flickering.

Amy smiled wide and white as she leaned forward until their faces were inches apart.

“What’s black. And white. And red all over?” she whispered.

Thomas trembled. “The financial times?”

Amy laughed as the lights flickered and then went out. “No,” she said.

 

1 in the morning. The girl Amelia was in the lavatory, petting her own face listlessly. She gave a little scream when she turned around and found Amy standing very close behind her.

“You startled me,” she said, fanning her face.

Amy clustered in, preventing her from turning back to the mirror. “Oh dear. How sorry I must be. What’s keeping you up so late?”

Amelia donned a haughty look. “Looking for my horrid little brothers. You haven’t seen either of them?”

“Not recently” Amy said truthfully.

Amelia sighed and then daintily pushed her out of the way. “Then you’re of no use to me.”

“Amelia.”

The girl stopped part-way down the hall. Amy had shut the lavatory door, so the car was lit only by what little light bled from outside.

“Do you know my name is Amy? It’s quite like yours, isn’t it?”

Amelia wrinkled her nose. “Amy is cheap substitute for a real name. Is it short for something?”

“Several things.”

Amelia shook her head, which made her hair flap like a circus tent in a breeze. “A cheap name for gutter trash. I told daddy to book us a sleeper, nothing good comes from interacting with common folk.”

“Wait.”

Amelia’s hand was on the door latch. Amy walked closer, pitching her voice so that Amelia had to lean forward to hear it.

“Your brothers are dead. They died while under your watch.”

Amelia, disturbed, took her hand off the latch. As Amy drew closer, she backed away.

“There was nothing you could have done to prevent it,” Amy whispered, drawing her feet along the carpet so her steps made no sound, “but more importantly, nothing you did prevented it. You feel that your father’s money affords you a comfortable measure of safety? But that measure means nothing if it’s not enforced.”

Amy paced, slowly chasing her to the end of the car.

“You feel that if anything happened to you, it would raise a mighty furor,” Amy continued, “and you think that guards against misfortune. But it doesn’t. Collaring the burglar does not fill the safe back up. Damming the river does not un-drown the flooded. An ounce of prevention is worth much more than a pound of cure, wouldn’t you agree Ames?”

Amelia’s back hit the connecting door. She pressed her lips together so they turned white.

“Daddy,” she whispered, barely loud enough that Amy heard her over the train.

“He’s not here,” Amy said, petting her head like one would a dog, “but I am.”

 

2 and a bit. Amy closed the compartment door snugly behind her. The man(she never had gotten his name, had she?) dozed in the corner. Amy shook his arm, looking deeply into his eyes as he woke.

“Your children are dead,” she said.

“Yes, I see,” he said back.

“You no longer have any reason to travel to your original destination.”

“Yes.”

“Shall you accompany me, then? I’m getting off at the city.”

“Seems only logical,” the man said.

 

The passengers disembarked around five in the morning, which was still dark at this time of year. Amy stepped confidently off the train, looking like a girl who knew exactly where she was and where she was going. Still, she waited until a blank-eyed gentleman stepped off the train, linking arms with her so that it looked like he was escorting her and not the other way around.

Because Amy was thirteen, and would continue to be thirteen for the foreseeable future.

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Tender Resignation

Dear Michael,

I am writing to tell you I’ve decided to cease being your copywriter. Our relationship has spanned four years and three continents, but with this last batch of writing I must say enough is enough. I truly regret this step, but feel it necessary in light of your recent personal changes. Please do not take this resignation as an end to our friendship or a cessation of my warm feelings for you. I very much do care for your well being still. It is this concern that leads me to end our professional relationship.

I feel I must explain the change in my disposition, because it must seem very abrupt and frivolous from your end. Certainly, it is abrupt. Abrupt as the recent change in your writings, Michael. I was never given very much work in the way of simple errors. You have minded your grammar like a Latin scholar, and for that I was always grateful. But the sudden downturn in your language is quite frightening, Michael. It feels as though your mind has begun fraying at the seams. You must tell me, in all confidence as your friend, whether this is related to some foreign substance you’re abusing. When you go from writing phrases like this:

Purple grow the lilacs on the sweet down-wind of the river banks.

To

Yattering madly like a spindle(?) piercing the chattering brook[…] ripped, ripped apart from time and surface and all knowledge accrued by man…

You understand my concern, don’t you? It’s barely a sentence, much less a coherent thought. You did not detail your adventures in full, but I fear you may have run afoul of some less-than-savory types in your travels.

My concern lies also with your personal safety. I know it sounds ridiculous coming from a homebody such as myself, but trawling the Arabian desert for a nameless city that may never have existed seems too much risk for too little gain. You tell me of Iram of the pillars and lost Sarnath, but what I see is baseless superstition. Star charts and scraps of myth are no replacement for sturdy boots and a good company of men. I have no wish to scold you like a mother, but you do give me reason for grief. I believe your risk also bleeds over to me. You were the one who had me fetch that blasted Din of Cicadas or whatever they call it from the academic library. You had me translate passages and send them out to you. You were the one who got me removed from the dean’s list at the school library after decades of loyal service. You had to have known, Michael, the dreadful reputation of that book even if I did not.

And on the subject of dreadful, I must say my stomach can no longer take any of your bloody descriptions. The sacrifice and befoulment of a dog, the fate of your camel, the pilloried thief, all these are just too much. Your readers are interested in the grit and dust of the trail, do you think they need to hear how your guide’s feet split open with black cankers after walking unshod on the “parched ground”? Do you think men at their gentlemen’s clubs want to hear the bloodcurdling history of reptilian ur-men over their morning coffee? Why such focus on the ailment of your friend Mahmoud, who swole and split like a puff-ball in punishment for showing you a certain trail? They are truly terrible events, and my heart bleeds for you, but they are entirely inappropriate for your usual format and far more suited to the pulps.

And on that note, I must ask whether there is any truth to what you write. You tell me:

The blasted thing curled above Price’s men, yawning through so many wretched mouths like an abomination dredged up from the deepest depths of the sea. The men slept on unaware as the monster unfurled in the night wind, sending so many tendrils to tap and sup from their unconscious bodies until the men were drained into sacklike ruins. Oh but the true terror comes not from that night, but the next morning when Price returned to see his men and one by one the husks called out to him by name

Michael, I must ask this as your friend and editor—how do you know this if you were not there? You claim Price destroyed by the wraiths of his own men, how did you learn of this scene, then? And how can you so clearly envision the activity of the nameless city-dwellers, those reptilian beasts of such unkind intellect, how can you see them crawling about the city when they have been dead for eons? I worry for your health, my friend. Either you have become a prodigious liar in your travels or the heat has addled your brain. I do not believe a facetless ruby can show you such visions, that mystic humbug is something a fakir would sell for the price of a watch.

I really request that you entertain my concerns, Michael, even if only for a moment. Your mental state worries me, when you produce such scenes as this:

Corpse-down, gathered through many wretched midnight excursions, padded the altar made of brass feathers and noxious amber ornaments. The priest passed the lamp flame over his hand once, twice, and it was then I realized that his flesh was not bandaged but that his very flesh was swaddled. Nimbly as a factory girl, he reached out and plucked Burrows’ eyes from their sockets, replacing them with a shiny serpentine stone each.

And this:

The moonlight took on an infections quality. I could feel my skin roil beneath it, as if the very touch of the light itself were changing me. The hole in the sky seemed to laugh at my eye’s feeble attempts to make sense of the where and how of it. Now that the priest had shed his robes I could see his true form was that of the hideous things that crawled endlessly from low doorways and stairs at impossible angles. From my bound position I could only watch as Price’s life fluid formed a river that flowed upwards from the basin, up into the Stygian depths of that hole which was no longer a hole but a kind of un-moon…

I worry as your friend and as a fellow professional. Such graphic scenes flow from only the most perverse of imagination. You, from a good family and solid education, should not be penning these scenes. I do not need to hear about the flensing of your left foot, the removal of your ears, nor the grueling attempt at tattooing your back. I do not appreciate being told you are at death’s door, saying you leave these pages as your last will and testament as you are too weak to hike back to the nearest outpost. It is a cruel fiction to spin, Michael, as you must have survived long enough to post these pages to me. A note is all I ask, an inclusion in your thoughts however dark they may be, telling me you are well.

I must close with a complaint that seems minor in the face of other worries, and it is this: the figure you had shipped to me is disturbing. I set it on the piano and now the cat refuses to go near it. I have looked the figure up in Makepiece’s Guide to Egyptology, and no such creature exists in their pantheon. The green stone it is fashioned from must be some lead derivative, for being too near it gives me dreadful headaches.

Please return, Michael, to civilization and me. Cease these fancies and collect your artifact. I will no longer entertain your follies, but I will provide a bed and a hot cup of tea should you ever be in my city.

Yrs,

Terrence Q. Chase

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A Series of Museum Samples, Labeled Accordingly

Box #: 2376

Contains: Homo interstella

Description:  Species adapted to life in the vacuum of space.

Distinguishing features: Relatively fragile skeleton. Expanded ribcage for increased lung capacity. Skull capacity of 1600cc. Abdominal implants to aid in the voiding of waste.

Added notes: Only intact specimen, the rest lost after orbit decay.

 

Box #: 8446

Contains: Homo proelius

Description: Species specifically engineered to serve as soldiers of war. Possessing an unusually dense skeleton, fast-twitch muscles, and a metabolism 4.8X higher that of Homo erectus.

Distinguishing features: Abnormally enlarged canines. Rapid maturation rate. Sagittal crest, indicating jaw strength equal to a common Pan troglodytes. Vestigial genitalia.

Added notes: Average lifespan of 6-8 years.

 

Box #: 5610000

Contains: Homo radiensis

Description: The skeleton of a species that chose to inhabit the surface contaminated with nuclear fallout.

Distinguishing features: Degraded skeletal structure due to the metabolism of radioactive agents. Jawbone has dissolved from  body processing Strontium-90 as calcium. Skin covered with carcinomas and sunless “Chernobyl” tan.

Added notes: Specimen emits 2.6 Sv of radiation at all times, box must be lead-lined.

 

Box#: 100078684

Contains: Homo cardifferi

Description: Specimen taken from a failed colony at Cardiff.

Distinguishing features: Due to a genetic bottleneck, specimen is possessed of several recessive genetic traits as well as an enlarged heart and other physical ailments. Skeletal structure indicates the specimen was unable to walk or sit upright due to crippling arthritis.

Added notes: Specimen was four years of age.

 

Box #: 42X1034

Contains: Homo bovinus

Description: Species specifically designed to serve as supplemental food source.

Distinguishing features: Shortened limb growth. Abundance of fatty glands and outsize sexual organs. Implanted rumen to aid in the digestion of a vegetation-heavy diet. C-curve of the spine, indicating the specimen was quadrupedal.

Added notes: Brain shows signs of heavy protein starvation, limiting neural activity.

 

Box #: 86X1090

Contains: Homo kelvinus

Description: an attempt by scientist Homer Kelvin to repopulate the earth through genetic manipulation.

Distinguishing features: none.

Added notes: All specimens genetically identical to Dr. Kelvin.

 

Box #: [number is scratched out]

Contains: Homo aeturnus

Description: The last, the ultimate human being. Man, so warped by his own hand, sought to engineer the architect of the end. A specimen that would live a span of indeterminate longevity, created for the sole task of categorizing his fallen brethren.

Distinguishing features: Lack of genital structure. Cells infinitely capable of producing telomerase, escaping the Hayflick limit. A skull capacity of 2800cc.

Added notes: The box is empty.

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Huntington’s Masked Petrel

Huntington’s Masked Petrel is only found on one island in the Pacific. They’re pretty big, as far as flighted seabirds go. Only the Wandering Albatross can match it in mass. Like the name indicates, they’ve got facial markings that make it look like they have black masks. It sets off their deep crimson eyes. What really makes them stand out, though, is the presence of rudimentary dental structures. Yes, they have teeth. Crude teeth. Willard Huntington called them the missing link between dinosaurs and modern-day birds.

And almost nobody believes they exist.

Willard Huntington tried to shop around various scientific societies, pleading his case with what little evidence he could get off the island. You see, the Petrels are very into recycling. The second a bird falls down, the others are all over it. They’ll eat feathers, eggshells, they’ll even crack bones to get at the marrow. Huntington lost his pinky finger just to get the fragments of an egg.

The Audubon society took one look at it and dismissed it as belonging to an already existing species of Petrel. Huntington fought his whole life to get his namesake recognized, taking a yearly expedition to the island. When he kicked the bucket, you’d be forgiven for assuming that was the end of it.

Not for our great-uncle Norman.

Norman was only a teenager when he went on the first expedition with Huntington. He was hooked. By the time Huntington kicked it, Norman was carrying the torch. Even after the few disciples that Huntington gathered got older and died off, Norman was still going strong.

The island the Petrels live on is so small it doesn’t have a name. Norm took to calling it “Huntington island” in memory of the late professor.

Every year, Norman would travel out there. Every year he would take what little evidence he could gather and set up a little show in our living room, from super 8 to camcorder and eventually to DV. He would talk about the birds like they were pets, naming them things like “Scamp” and “Plucky.” We learned a lot from those lectures, and not just what Norman intended.

The Masked Petrel is a mean goddamn bird. The shape of the markings on their feathers makes it look like they’re constantly angry, which doesn’t seem far off. Any wayward bird that winds up on their island, they destroy. They will dive for fish and leave it to flop around on bare rock for a long time before pulverizing it with their beaks.

We saw a clip of Norm attempting to play with a Petrel. The bird gives him the most evil look as he teases it with a bit of oilcloth. The wind clouds up the mic as Norm says something like “got your hankie” and suddenly the bird strikes, rolling its neck like a snake. The camera shakes and dips for a second as Norm laughs and says “you naughty baby.” In the last few seconds of the clip, you can see his hand oozing blood.

Masked Petrels aren’t just mean. They’re damn smart. Crows are smart enough to make tools. Masked Petrels are smart enough to build houses.

I’m not exaggerating that.

The stone igloos started appearing after an expedition where their tent blew away, leaving Norm and the last surviving disciple at the time to build a wind break from the rocks that made up the beach. After that visit, they began finding crude stone structures that graduated from simple stone circles to domed huts, complete with keystone. Norm took a photo of his fellow Huntington disciple removing a stone so that the roof fell in, laughing and displaying the stone to the camera.

That man disappeared shortly afterwards, leaving behind his shredded anorak.

Crows are smart enough to hold a grudge. Masked Petrels are smart enough to hold a vendetta.

You may ask: with all this photographic evidence, why isn’t the Masked Petrel a recognized species now?

Well, because Norman had lost faith in the scientific community after the death of his mentor. I also believe he wanted to keep the bird, to have something entirely his own. He spoke to them like they were his own children.

Dangerous, irritable children.

Masked Petrels hate other birds. Norm filmed a wayward Puffin struggling in from the sea, only to get dashed to the ground by Masked Petrels. Rather than kill it, however, the Petrels seemed to take sport in throwing it around, waiting until it rose only to brutalize it again. The death took twenty minutes. It was hard not to hear the Petrel’s cries as mocking laughter after that.

The Petrels got smarter with every visit. The last trip Norman made with another person, something got into the ship’s cabin and tampered with the radio, shortening the signal so that if they had called for help, especially in such a remote corner of the ocean, no one would have heard them. The radio had been screwed back into place after the sabotage, the only reason they knew it had been tampered with was sheer coincidence. Norm’s traveling companion wanted to get a diet coke from the fridge and noticed a band sticker he’d placed on the radio casing was split at the seam.

After that, Norman couldn’t get anyone to accompany him to the island. So he went alone.

The colony on that island grew with every subsequent visit. Huntington’s first paper reports that “a handful…of these miracle creatures cling to life in a desolate waste.” On Norm’s last visit, he filmed an entire circuit of the island before landing. The Petrel’s nesting ground had grown to encompass half the land.

We begged him not to go on that last trip. It was too dangerous, and he was getting on in years. Shouldn’t he think about securing Huntington’s legacy instead?

Norm brushed it off. He had something new, something he wouldn’t reveal to us, that he wanted to document. He’d see us next August!

…no he wouldn’t.

We had always known how his death would come. On the teeth of cruel birds, or in travel to their home. Our grief period was condensed, because we had been mourning him long before his death. The footage of the birds was locked in a secure location, which Norman had written directions to in his own cipher. So we buried his memory in our hearts and thought our business with those strange birds was done.

Until recently.

I got a disc in the mail from a cousin of mine, belongs to a yachting club. You couldn’t pay me to set foot on a boat, so he gives me all sorts of nautical updates.

The label on the tape bears a number, 34.515611, -145.371083, and my cousin’s handwriting: “sound familiar?”

I stared for the longest time until it clicked: this was the latitude and longitude of my great-uncle’s precious island.

The disc contained one video clip, recorded by a French sailing yacht. There are repeated mutterings of what I can translate without help, some variant on “what is that?” The camera man shakily positions himself, auto zoom accidentally fixing on portions of the boat before he lifts his hand up and steadies his focus on the horizon.

There is a large pillar of smoke, like that of a burning boat. It isn’t until the cameraman zooms as far as possible, until the video distorted with digital fuzz, that we can see that the pillar isn’t smoke.

It’s Masked Petrels.

In the last few seconds of video, before the camera dips and cuts off, the massive flock seems to form a face with their bodies, a face which I have crept frame-by-frame countless times in order to properly identify it as my lost great-uncle Norman.

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Folding

It was in the internment camp that Gideon’s mother would fold paper, sending her bone-white fingers to travel along the flat yellow construction paper (no thick, quality washi in those days) transforming it into the most recognizable of shapes: the tsuru. The crane that would alight on a house to bring it good luck.

Gideon thought of her, sitting in the coffee shop. There was a domestic magazine open in front of him, an American woman in red lipstick and white sweater, the modern domestic goddess. Gideon had torn a page out of the spread and worked it into a square.

The other patrons paid him no more mind than a dragonfly skipping over the surface of a pond. That’s how he knew the young man who pushed open the door was there for him. The young man glanced at Gideon and then away, then back at Gideon. Gideon had no doubt he was there from the university. He pretended to busy himself with his paper, sipping his hot caffé Americano.

The young man did not bother with niceties. He walked straight over to sit on the lounge opposite Gideon’s, a bright, intent look on his face.

“Dr. Morimoto?” He held a hand out. “Kevin Fielding. You know why I’m here.”

Gideon ignored his hand. The woman’s face mutated into a series of planes under his fingers, distorting her irrevocably. Gideon had but one picture of his mother during the war years, her long hair butchered into a bob, ruffled housedress disguising the natural curve of her body. His mother, folding herself smaller and smaller so as not to be tossed away like waste paper.

Kevin frowned slightly and withdrew his hand. “Doctor, I hope you know how obstinate you’re being. You’re not the only one on this project you know.”

Gideon flicked out a finger, expertly smoothing creases. The slick magazine paper was impregnated with clay, making the task of folding more difficult. This paper held its first folds crisply, but too many folds and it would weaken and round out faster than regular paper.

Kevin was watching his hands. “Sir? You realize we’re running up against a deadline. They will cut funding to the department if the experiment doesn’t carry through. That’s very selfish, I think.”

A square studded with diamonds lay on the table between them now. Gideon was a frequent guest on experimental origami forums. This form was a variation on Mills’ 75th configuration. It could be unfolded many ways, accordion-style, and folded back without losing integrity. The first time he’d done it, it had taken an hour to finish the form. Now he could finish it in minutes. Now it was merely a stepping-stone to greater things.

Gideon took the origami and, with a flick of his wrist, turned it inside out.

“The admin is very upset. You may have originated the manifold wormhole theory, but it no longer belongs to you as a concept.” Kevin wet his lips and leaned closer. “I struck a deal with them. You can tell me the roughs of it, I won’t ask more than that. But—” Kevin looked around. “We need to give them something.”

Well, well, well. From ‘I’ to ‘we’. Gideon was moving up in the world.

Gideon looked up from his busy fingers. “Origami was not always called origami.”

Kevin’s brow furrowed. Perhaps they had told him of Gideon’s supposed eccentricities. “Sir?”

“It was once referred to as Orikata. Kata is a form, a style, like fighting. A discipline. A way of altering the mind in favor of the art.”

Kevin’s eyes were blank behind his glasses.

“Paper has limits. I can fold this—” Gideon brandished the magazine page, “—only so many times. Its thickness might be considered strength in any other area. In orikata, flexibility is the strength.”

Kevin grasped at that straw. “Yes, and we need flexibility—”

“The paper must fold, and your mind must fold with it,” Gideon continued, tucking tabs into their pockets. He produced a shape not unlike a klein bottle. “That is key. If one cannot think multidimensionally, one will fail.”

Kevin ground his teeth. He wore round, wire-rimmed glasses, much like the officer that had overseen the quadrant of the internment camp Gideon had lived in. Gideon’s father had joined the army long before Pearl Harbor, he was in the South Pacific while his wife and child folded paper behind barbed wire. Gideon’s parents had both been Nisei, barely speaking enough Japanese to satisfy their parents. Gideon’s father, Clark Gable haircut distorting his hairline, flamed out over the pacific. Gideon’s mother had taken his head in her hands that day, smoothing his hair.

“Your family name is Morimoto,” she had whispered in a voice shriveled by grief, “‘one who lives near the forest.’ Our people made paper once. Paper is the stepping stone to many things. Remember that.”

Kevin shook his head. “You realize you are holding progress back. This could be a great leap forward in the field of physics.”

Gideon inverted a mountain fold. “Did you know I was in an internment camp as a child? Manzanar. Thousands of Americans rounded up because of a circumstance of birth.”

Kevin frowned. “…I don’t see how that’s our fault.”

Gideon held up a finger. “I have thought along the folds of the manifold wormhole project, and I have come to the conclusion that it would risk too many lives. A misfold in the paper.”

The clear crystal of Kevin’s glasses caught the light of the reading lamp just above Gideon’s couch. “As a researcher, we cannot concern ourselves with petty risks like that. The potential loss from not moving forward with this experiment is greater, in my eyes.”

Gideon clicked his tongue sadly. “Then you’ve listened to nothing I’ve said.”

He placed his folded paper form on the table. It was now completely unrecognizable from its origins. The model’s lips scattered across the page like radar dots. The paper formed a space that seemed convex and concave at once.

“Do you know the meaning of my name?” Gideon asked, “it is Gideon. Meaning one who hews or clears. I was meant to be the cutting-off point for my family. The ender of things. I feel that I must live up to that name, one way or the other.”

Kevin wet his lips again. Cold avarice shone in his eyes. “Does this mean you’ve agreed to come back?”

Gideon gestured to the table. Kevin followed the gesture, not understanding. Gideon indicated the origami form sitting in the middle of the beat-up wood ringed with round burn scars.

Frowning, Kevin reached out to touch it.

His hand did not stop at the surface of the table.

Kevin’s eyes went wide as he fell within, making not so much as a gasp as he fell into a space that did not not seem big enough to hold anything.

No one in the busy cafe looked twice.

Gideon finished his Americano. Then he took the paper form and worked it, tenderly soothing it out of its severe folds until it came to rest on the table as a tsuru, a tidy little crane recognizable to any schoolchild across the world. Gideon left it there.

His family home was on Santa Maria avenue, a simple double-story that cooled well in the sticky California climate. Gideon called “tadaima” at the entrance and left his shoes there.

Gideon’s father was sat before the television on his zabuton, his tall frame folded by time and osteoporosis. Gideon brushed a kiss to his white, sparse temple.

“How goes it, pop?”

Gideon’s father pointed a shaking hand at the screen. “Can you believe this? They want to develop the land beside the gasworks. Haven’t I always said that’s a floodplain? They never listen to residents. We’ve lived here longer than those idiots, haven’t we?”

Gideon looked at his father, a long, loving stare. “Always. And never.”

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Scenes from an Unaired TV Show

The reality television show Roughin’ It was meant to follow a typical fish-out-of-water format, as various c-list celebrities attempted to live on a ranch according to frontier restrictions. 1200 hours of raw footage, roughly equating to 10 episodes, was shot before the network pulled the plug. Due to the near-total death of the cast, the footage was shelved indefinitely following criminal proceedings. Repeated viewing of the footage has allowed investigators to construct a rough timeline from the inciting incident to the final episode.

 

Incident #1

[exterior. The cast had gathered for the day’s challenge: assemble an ancient wash-mangle and do laundry. Celebrity chef A_____ and actress J_____ are conversing as they sort through machine parts. P_____, contestant from a previous year’s reality show, is sitting on an overturned trough attempting to roll his own cigarette.]

A:—and I mean, it’s not that I, like, hate it—

J: —no, you don’t really know enough to hate it—

A: —right. It’s just that I haven’t had a good experience so far and I need, like, a manual or something—

[P_____ drops his rolling papers and swears.]

A: *laughs* gonna have to bleep that one.

J: *joins in the laughter.

[K___, a transplant from a reality show about vintage cars, approaches the two women]

K: Okay, so we’ve got, like, thirteen moving parts, and then we’ve got this gizmo—

J: Oh. Hey. [She is looking somewhere off camera.]

[K stands up and follows her line of vision. He appears to follow the approach of another person with his gaze. K nods affably.]

K: Oh, hey [inaudible].

 

This footage is notable as containing the first appearance of what is most likely a shared delusion of another contestant. The cast would continually refer to a figure that did not appear on camera as if it had been part of the cast from the beginning. No microphone, whether it be worn by a cast member or fixed to a tripod, was able to pick up a name. The figure’s appearance marked a dramatic and ultimately violent turn to events, as cast members began acting upon orders not issued by the network but by said figure.

 

Incident #2

[The “cow pie toss.” Actors were encouraged to toss “cow pies” fashioned from wet clay as far as they could. The winner, predetermined by the network, would win a phone call home and a sports drink. Y___, a runner-up in a national singing contest, was the predesignated winner. The event director was coaching her on her performance in the contest.]

Director: Okay, now I really want you to play up the smell of these things, okay?

[Y___ makes a noncommittal noise and tosses some hair behind her shoulder.]

Director: Like, really—pretend it’s doggy doo.

Y: So are cow pies, like, poop? I never knew *director speaks, rendering the rest of her sentence inaudible.*

Director: Look, honey, I just want a lot of “yucks” from you, okay?

Y: Should I take off my heels?

Director: No, leave ‘em on. It’s better—it’s good for the show, okay?

[the director turns to instruct P_____ on something. Y___ relaxes slightly, shifting in her stance. Y___ stays in neutral position for 23 seconds before appearing to notice the approach of an unseen figure. She mouths “hi” and holds an inaudible conversation with her back turned to the camera. The Director calls for all cast to take up their positions. Y___ appears to finish her conversation, smiling and nodding. As soon as “action” is called, Y___ trips P_____ and presses his head into the mud.]

Director: Stop! Stop! Are you crazy?

Y: I know what I’m doing, jeez.

Director: Let him up, he’s—man are you okay?

P: *coughing* What the fuck, Y___?

[Y___ shrugs.]

Director: Look, sweetie, improv is not your strong suit. So just stick to the outline, okay?

[Y___ shrugs again.]

Director: okay, are we all on the same page? Action!

[Y___ promptly repeats her previous actions, this time crawling on P_____’s back to press his face into the mud.]

Director: Cut! Cut!

 

The cast began to deviate from studio-issued orders on events. Due to the hectic nature of the shooting season, the bulk of the footage was shot by stationary cameras hidden in various points around the ranch while live crews were called in only for supervised events. Behaviors that might have called for an early end to the show went undetected, perhaps facilitating the breakdown of order within the group.

 

Incident #4

[“Campfire” segments were shot as a sort of break between scripted activities. Cast were allowed to set up the camera as long as they made sure they were all visible in-frame. Cast members T___ and R__ were seen to have a budding relationship spark and encouraged to play it up during shooting hours. During this campfire segment, T___ and R__ sat off to one side, sharing a blanket.]

P: *holding a stick and digging into the fire* …and I just wonder if it’s all worth it, sometimes.

K: You can’t think that, man. Like, if everyone thought like that, like, no one would get anything done, ever, you know?

[T___ and R__  simultaneously look to a point off camera. They hold their gazes for ten seconds. The couple then turn back to one another, blank of all expression. They hold a rapid-fire conversation that does not slow or stop once for the entire segment. Their body microphones pick up no audio.]

A: So, what, I have to just keep chugging along, just because I need to?

K: Well, yeah. You have to think of it like—

[K___ suddenly undergoes what appears to be a seizure. He drops his ams to his sides and makes a buzzing intonation in his throat. Drool can be seen escaping his open mouth. His face is tilted roughly up to the night sky. During this period, A_____ and P_____ behave as if nothing remarkable is happening. The entire event lasts three minutes.]

K:—holistically, like, we’re all connected, you know?

[Conversation resumes as if the pause did not happen. In the background, T___ and R__ sit facing one another, mouths hung open, for the rest of the footage.]

 

Incident #5

[The cast was instructed to milk a cow. Instead, after conferring with the unseen figure, they slaughtered the cow and skinned the body. The cast continued to act as if nothing was out of the ordinary, assuming the playful nature they used for scripted events. J_____ picked up a femur and pretended to play it like a flute. T___ and R__  began a splash fight with cow viscera. Once the cowhide was completely removed and put into a barrel to tan, the cast stood still and faced the open doorway of the barn, uttering the same low intonation. This went on for an hour.]

 

The cast’s behavior became increasingly erratic. However, because they did not shed their on-camera personas, they largely escaped detection by the live crews. One noticeable shift was that P_____ became a whipping boy of sorts. Everything that went wrong was jokingly blamed on him. Other cast members would frequently point to him and make a throat-slashing gesture, which he would return with a thumbs-up. The filming crew did not think this odd. P_____ had been set up as a martyr from the planning stage: his departure in the mid-season finale was meant to be a ratings boost. However, crew found the cast’s increasingly sadistic treatment of P_____ disturbing.

 

Incident #6

[A simple relay race, played with lumps of coal. Y___ can be seen horsing around with T___ as  R__, confined to another team, looks on with a slight frown. P_____, back to them, turns around and accidentally knocks a piece of coal out of Y___’s hand.]

P: Whoops! *chuckles*

Y: Boy, looks like you better eat what you spill, P_____!

[P_____ laughs as he gets to his hands and knees. The director can be heard shouting as P_____ cracks the lump of coal with his teeth. The cameraman zooms in long enough to catch a small amount of blood trickling from his mouth before the director calls cut.]

 

Incident #7

[The cast’s assignment is to draw a map of the surrounding area. Instead, they gather at a granite formation and hold an extended conversation with the unseen figure. Having discarded their body microphones, the only evidence of this occurrence is a camera set up on the barn roof to capture establishing shots. The cast returns after three hours. The paper that was suppose to be marked with the map instead holds a 27-point star. The cast insists that it is a map of the area.]

 

Incident #8

[A gaffer is setting up for a scene. K___ is lounging off to the side, holding an idle conversation. The gaffer is apparently only half-listening during this exchange.]

K: …and it’s just like, it’s always been there, you know?

Gaffer: Mmm.

K: Like, east and west, those are just human determinations, you know? The only real direction is inside.

[The gaffer puts a length of tape down and scatters straw over it.]

K: I could die tomorrow and I wouldn’t really be dead. Just shed another layer. I want to eat the dead skin from the outside of me, give me life for my new rebirth.

[The gaffer checks off points from a clipboard.]

K: P_____’s the one. He will open the way for the rest of us. I’d like to sup his misery and call it wine. The only way out is inside. The only way inside is through. Like [inaudible] said. Got to cut, cut, cut away the fat.

Gaffer: *finally appears to tune back into the conversation* Wait, what?I

 

The cast’s erratic behavior finally began garnering attention. The director called a meeting and informed the cast that they must behave in line with the contracts they signed with the studio. The cast greeted this with puzzlement, claiming they had been. P_____, despite having to get medical attention for injuries sustained during the coal-eating incident, denied any wrongdoing.

 

Incident #9

[R__ and J_____ are preparing a dinner of shoo-fly pie and boiled potatoes. R__ is kneading dough. J_____ peels potatoes while speaking at great length in a monotone.]

J: They lived here 12,000 years ago, when man was still sucking at the teat of summer. Slipped their skins every solstice and made wild. Descartes was wrong. There is no sun, there is only the illusion of light reflected in the moon. Man is a peach in the eye of god. God is a leaf in the eye of [inaudible]. 12,000 years is nothing to the stone. Man is carved from his own excrement. Life is a face laughing at the mirror. When I die it shall be to plant my own future. I will slip my own skin and slither into eternity. *she drops her peeler into the boiling pot and reaches in to grab it without hesitating or flinching. After retrieving it, she shows no sign of pain despite her skin visibly reddening on camera.*

R: I want to be sliced like a pear. My blood a gown. My entrails the crown.

J: *puts a hand on her shoulder* Time is the flight of a dead sparrow.

[the two women finish dinner without further comment.]

 

Due to increasing disquiet with the cast, network handlers were dispatched to supervise the remainder of the shoot. They arrived to find the ranch empty.

 

Investigating the surrounding area, they found the cast at the nearby granite formation. The cow hide they had tanned had been cut into a single strip of rawhide, which was then used to mark a 27-point star over the whole formaton. After setting up a stationary camera, the cast then ritualistically sacrificed P_____, who continued to smile and laugh during the entire process. The footage past the point where they began flensing his torso distorts almost irretrievably, repeated viewings have only been able to pick out several images. R__ stabbing J_____. K___and T___ painting an intricate symbol on the granite in blood. Y___, bare breasted and seizing in what appears to be religious ecstasy. P_____’s skin, hung up on a crude framework, flapping in a sudden breeze.The entirety of the cast staring at a single spot in the camera lens.

 

The cast was found dead, having attempted to flense their own skin off. The only survivor, oddly enough, was  P_____. The actor was flown to a nearby hospital where he was put into a medically-induced coma. His body lingers on, despite repeated rejection of tissue donations. His family is currently fighting a legal battle to withdraw life support.

 

This footage was compiled as evidence and promptly shelved after the trial. Do not reproduce.

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