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In Pursuit of Red

Illustration provided by the excellent Bill Draheim

The story of China’s first true red glaze is a well-known and probably apocryphal tale: a rooster wandered into the vent-holes of a royal kiln. The smoke from its cremated body starved the fire of oxygen, creating the first recorded instance of the fabled “ox-blood” glaze. The emperor was struck by the color and demanded more. The potter did all he could to replicate it but in the end, despairing, flung himself into the fires of the kiln. Thus was ox-blood obtained.

That is where the tale, apocryphal or not, ends in most tellings. But there is a further chapter that is not often repeated. For there was another potter.

This potter rivaled the man who flung himself into the kiln, coveting the color that dripped red from the funerary pots. Now ox-blood was all the rage in the imperial court, and so this potter set out to replicate it. After careful examination of the circumstances around his rival’s death, the potter concluded that human sacrifice was needed.

In the country there was no shortage of beggars, vagabonds, orphans, human detritus that would not be missed. The potter’s first experiment buckled under his enthusiasm; too many bodies stacked like kindling put the fire out. His next attempt, a single beggar, yielded only three ox-blood specimens.

The potter’s mania grew like a rash. In his haste to fill the kilns, his craftsmanship became sloppy and haphazard. The potter began insisting he heard a voice coming from the kiln itself, the cracks and pings whispered to him over the sleepless nights he fed it with firewood. The kiln he had was not enough. He must build a more magnificent kiln, one that bit into the hillsides like a dragon. The potter dug and plastered and bricked until his fever dream was made flesh and the dragon-kiln stretched 2½ li into the surrounding countryside. He had servants fill the kiln to bursting and, as the last man delivered the last cup the stack, he bricked up the entrance and set fire.

They say the heat from the kiln boiled a nearby lake. They say the agonized wails of the servants reached the capitol. When the potter cracked open the kiln, he found half the pieces were ox-blood. Not good enough.

The potter continued his experiments until the country was stripped of passer-by. With diminishing outside influence, the potter grew deeper into his mania. No longer content to speak, the potter claimed the kiln beckoned him with shapes in the fire, indicating the next sacrifice. His eyesight dwindled as he stared deep into the white-hot belly of the kiln, pots exploding from the thermal shock each time he removed the spy-brick. Each new setback only strengthened his determination. He finally made his most audacious claim to date: he would deliver to the emperor an entire kiln-full of blood red pottery. Audacious because if he failed to deliver he would forfeit not only his but the lives of every single member of his family.

The allotted interval passed. Officers of the crown set out to the pottery works to find the compound devoid of all life. Curious and malformed lumps of clay occupied the stands that should have held elegant vessels. The officers followed a large patchwork bloodstain to the rear of the compound, where the last bit of motion remained.

The kiln had been bricked over not with stones but skulls. The potter complained that he could not yet make the delivery as the kiln would not reach temperature, sightlessly tossing log after log into the cold firebox.



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The Image of the Goddess

Photographed by Ned Daughtry(deceased)

“The Treasures of Nepal,” was what they titled the museum show.

Trouble was, the goddess was from nowhere near Nepal. It had been gifted to Prithvi Narayan Shah along with a monkey’s head carved from mammoth ivory and an articulated golden cobra, both now lost to time. The idol itself was rediscovered in an oil jar, wrapped in a twist of red cloth. The lead archaeologist proclaimed it an image of the goddess Lakshmi, an error which persisted even to its life as a museum piece. Testing found the figure to be a mixture of copper and some unknown, slightly radioactive metal. Examination under a microscope showed that the idol did not bear the scrape of tool-marks, nor bits of matter left from the moldmaking process. It was as if it had grown organically into the image.

The idol was nested in a display case next to a gold tilhari and a Newar headdress. Three days before the museum’s opening, a curator noticed verdigris had spread from the goddess to its cellmates. The other ornaments were removed for cleaning. The goddess stayed.

By the opening night of the show, the verdigris was as plentiful as moss and grew indiscriminately on any surface. The glass from the display cases was left off for the night, the blistering panes stacked beside the tilhari and headdress and all the other things that had caught the strange corrosion. The curator hid green, flaking hands as he introduced Frederick Horton, the speaker for the night. Horton went around the room, describing each piece after a surreptitious shake to rid it of green dust. When it came to the goddess he palmed it like a coin, thumb rubbing over it as he spoke of Thakuri kings and trade routes. In the photos that survived the evening, he sweats through his tuxedo jacket.

Halfway through a rehearsed speech, Horton began to trail off. He seemed confused and rubbed his forehead with his free hand, leaving a green streak. He spoke of plateaus that receded from every angle, of metals that could be grown like a seed, of the true first kings of Kathmandu. By the time he was removed from the podium, he was screaming about the images of Hindu deities not being of multi-limbed gods but a depiction of beings who squatted spiderlike over multiple timelines. He died ranting in the ambulance. His teeth were orange and his skin contained impressions of his clothing fasteners as if he had been exposed to a low-grade radioactive pulse. What guests were left at the museum would complain off and on of health problems for the rest of their lives, most notably a green discoloration of gums and other soft tissue. The idol disappeared sometime between Horton’s collapse and subsequent hospitalization. It has not resurfaced since.

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Archie Smith, Boy Wonder

From The Mysteries of Harris Burdick

A tiny voice asked, “Is he the one?”

The two spheres of light throbbed in sympathy. Archie slept on as he always did: still and quiet in a sleep-fortress as dense as a neutron star.

“It is he, truly he. After so long, the boy of great destiny.”

Archie did not stir, did not wake with eyelids fluttering to exclaim at the sight of two stray stars in his room. He dreamed of ships in cold water. He dreamed of eternal July and endless ball games. His dreams were as flat and thinly etched as the wallpaper in the hallway, never changing, never varying.


The next morning Archie ate a square meal and trotted off to school. He was neither late nor early. As he walked, he tossed a ball that hit the sides of the buildings he passed. Ka-thunk. The greengrocer’s. Ka-thunk. The hardware store. Ka-thunk. The boutique.

A sudden light caught his eye. It was light very much like the first stab of sun over the horizon, only it stayed, circling around Archie’s head.

“Archie,” it whispered.

He grunted.

“Archie,” the sphere said, “be not afraid. You are a boy of great destiny.”

Archie said, “okay,” and kept on with his ball. Ka-thunk.

“It may seem a terrible weight at first, but you must be brave. The whole world is counting on you.”

“Yeah,” Archie said, “no thanks.”

The sphere bobbed along as if caught in an eddy. “No thanks?”

“I don’t want no destiny.” Archie swiped at his nose with a crusty sleeve. “Go ahead and take it somewhere else.”

The sphere whizzed to a point very near his face. “I don’t understand. You’re refusing destiny?”


“You can’t!”

“Why not?”

“It’s—it’s destiny!”

Archie underhanded the ball, bouncing it off the front of the florist and rattling the big bay window. “Never asked for it, don’t want it, won’t take it.”

“You don’t want to do great things?”


“You don’t want to see things no one else has seen? Go places no one else has traveled? Reach beyond the unknown to grasp your fate?”

“Eh.” Archie shrugged. “I don’t care.”

Tinting to a disturbed shade of yellow, the sphere sped off.

Archie shook his head and sighed.


“Schneider, Marcus?”


“Smith, Archibald?”

“Here,” Archie said without looking up from his exercise book. The margins were clean and un-doodled. He wrote down some last-minute problems as the teacher rounded out the roll call. A stray bit of light caught his eye. Was it the sun reflected off Teddy Crandall’s wristwatch? No, the sphere was back again.

“I must apologize for being so short with you earlier,” it said in a voice only he could hear, “I have been away from mortals so long I cannot remember all the old niceties. You were in shock this morning, unable to accept the call.”

Archie shook his head.

“Fear, then. Panic.”

“I’m not afraid,” Archie whispered, “I just don’t want any part of it.”

“Archie, were you saying something?” The teacher paused in the middle of an equation.

Archie shook his head. With one hand he took up his trusty ticonderoga pencil and scribbled out: I don’t want any destiny.

“But Archie, it’s not all responsibility and judgement. There are nicer aspects to it. You’ll be able to live more than any other child in your grade, or even the whole country.”

I live enough already, thanks.

“Think of it Archie, you may never find total fulfillment if you don’t answer the call. Imagine if you realize, many years down the line, what you have missed out on by declining.”

I can think of worse things.

“You don’t have any adventure in your spirit? No thirst for exploration?”

I get enough of that in comic books.

The sphere pulsed. “I see. I must think on this. I will return another time.”

While collecting fraction worksheets, the teacher spotted the writing on his scratch paper with a frown.

“Poetry,” Archie said.


Archie said goodbye to Billy and Teddy and Mark and Jim and walked home, baseball in his hand, coat pulled snugly around him. He resumed his game of tossing the ball, ka-thunk, into the side of every building he passed. The mullioned windows of the antique store caught his eye with a sharp sliver of light. No, it was the sphere again.

“I watched you today, Archie,” it said in a voice that was like the rubbing of a wet fingertip against glass. “I watched you do your schoolwork and play with your friends and eat your food. I have never seen a boy as average as you, Archie. You’re really telling me all this is enough for you?”

“Sure,” Archie said. Ka-thunk. The barbershop. “Always has been.”

“Ah, but will it always be?” The sphere wheedled into the first opening it saw.

“Who cares? My mom would say ‘that’s a future question.’” Ka-thunk. Patty’s Diner.

The sphere looped around his head like a miniature orbiting sun. “No one’s ever refused the call, Archie. There’s no telling what will happen to you once you step outside the circle of its prediction. You may face a decline for the rest of your life.”

“Hey, if it happens, it happens.”

“You don’t expect great things for yourself?”

“I expect to get as much as I put in.”

The sphere’s light dimmed and brightened slowly, pulsing with a rolling heat. It took a very long time to speak.

“Tell me,” it said, “If, many years from now, you were homeless and living life hand-to-mouth, would that be equal in your eyes to a life lived successfully?”

“Sure.” Archie shrugged. Ka-thunk. The tavern. He was nearly home. There was a stiff breeze rolling off the wharf that ruffled his auburn hair.

“I’m afraid I don’t see how you’ve come to that conclusion.”

Archie caught the ball. “You don’t get it. Once I say yes to you, I stop getting a say in anything I do. Doesn’t matter how you snazz it up, a cage is a cage. If I’m lying in a ditch fifty years from now, at least I’ll know I put myself there.”

The sphere dimmed until it was nearly out. “I see. You sadden me, but I finally understand. Goodbye, Archibald Smith. We will not meet again.”

“Bye,” Archie said curtly. As the light strobed out a final time, Archie tucked his baseball under one arm and shook his head.

“Worse than those fairies from last week,” he muttered.

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Red Moss


Grine stepped off the path and through ferns that grew taller than he did.

Moss abounded in this part of the forest. There was the jewel-green carpet moss that was good for stopping bleeding, there was the feathery trailing moss that was good for packing a baby’s diaper, there was star moss that was good to eat when you had nothing else, and there was lichen that wasn’t a moss at all but two different things forming a union.

But no red moss.

The herbal woman had been very emphatic. Red moss.

His mother lay on her side, pale as the moon, dark rings around her eyes. She needed red moss to help her.

Grine kept an eye out as he wandered off path. The forest was damp with rain, so anything that wasn’t mouldy brown stood out. He saw a flash of red—the throat of a bird.

He had no picture to guide him. He supposed he would know a red moss when he saw it.

Unless, of course, the word “red” was just a name. Like the fruit that was called Blacknut even though it was violet with white flesh when matured.

Grine found a stream and stuck his mouth in it. It tasted of earth. Grine would never be lost in the forest, because he knew to listen for water. Water always fed the river, and people lived by the river.

He found a stand of dead moss on a lightning-struck tree. The mammoth fir was bigger than any other tree in the area. It was like finding the bones of a giant.

He pried some of the dry moss up with his little test-knife. It was only good for pricking baked tubers to check for doneness, it was so small and dull. His knife ceremony was years away. Mother had promised him a fine, sharp blade when the time came. He had to provide for  the two of them.

The moss was not any shade of red, but an ochre brown. Grine sniffed it and tossed it away.

When his stomach growled he looked for the plants that held green leaves like flags over a bulging rhizome. His mother had shown him how to find things to eat in the trees, how to separate good plants from poison lookalikes. The leaves formed a tasteless mash in his mouth and were gone long before his hunger pangs. Grine had brought a quarter of her last pie for morale’s sake. The berry syrup tasted acrid. He rolled it around his mouth.

He did not know how to cook for himself yet. He could bake tubers without burning them, but he was wary of fire. He hadn’t been brave enough to spit meat or roast bread on the coals. Mother had promised to show him when he aged out of his timidness.

Grine heard the crack of a branch and made himself small. A dun shape moved through the trees. Grine had an acorn whistle to scare away wolves, but it would only draw a bear’s attention.

The shape drew closer, and Grine buried his head in the pine needles he lay upon.

The crunch of footsteps stopped.

“Get up, boy, if you’re living.”

Grine raised his head.

It was a hunter. Ald, who hunted with no dog or companion despite missing one of his arms.

Grine rose to all fours and accepted the hand held out for him. Ald was a tall, stocky man with a hand that swallowed Grine’s own.

“All alone, all the way out here?” Ald’s gaze was probing. “What fancy is this?”

Grine found his tongue. “No fancy. My mother—I need to get medicine for her. The red moss.”

Ald’s face set in a thoughtful frown. He shouldered his hunting spear and sat on a felled log.

He gestured to the seat next to him. “Next to me. I’ve got something to tell you.”

Grine obeyed.

“The red moss—boy, it’s not what you think. No moss in the forest grows red on its own. Red moss is a hunter’s term. When you’ve blooded an animal, it drips on the moss and lets you track the beast. It means good luck and sustenance.” Ald shifted a bit. “What she’s telling you, boy, is that your mother cannot be saved. The red moss is death. By finding it, she’d hope you’d understand.”

After a moment he said kindly, “here, take my cloth. Wipe your eyes.”

Ald had to shift his skinning blade to take the cloth from his belt. Grine followed it through swollen eyed, the polished gleam of metal.

“I wish I had better words for you,” Ald said, “I was young when my own father passed. I had to brave the test of manhood on my own. It was slow going. And after that, when I realized that I would hunt only for myself, coming home to an empty hut until the day I married, I nearly gave up. But I must tell you that it will pass. The sorrow will leach out over time and—”

Ald opened and closed his mouth a few times, but no sound came out. He turned wide eyes to where Grine had buried the skinning knife in his side. Grine pulled it out, and Ald fell.

Grine knew to strike fast, Ald was still tall and fit, and he peppered the hunter with the blade.

Ald lay on his side, wheezing like a felled deer. Grine took the knife and dribbled the blood on the dry moss, going back for more several times. Then, without wiping the knife clean, he levered up a good amount and put it in his berry bag.

Ald breathed erratically, gazing up at nothing. Grine left him there, following his trail of broken branches back to the path. He hadn’t needed to follow a stream after all.

Mother lay on her side near the hearth of banked coals, still asleep, still ill. Grine fetched her mortar and poured water in it, setting a small piece of moss within just as he’d seen her do a thousand times. He ground it down to a thick slurry and then, holding her mouth open with one thumb, he fed the red medicine to his mother.

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The plants in the basement never stopped trying to come up. They looked like bamboo shoots, but they were covered with warts. They grew without light and they didn’t seem to need water. They pushed up through the concrete until the surface cracked into gravel.

Pa pumped a ton of poison down there. We had to stay out for a week. It made them go away, but only for a while. They came back bigger. They started moving. Pa came upstairs, holding his shoulder from where one had whipped him. They would thrash around if you brushed against one. Hard enough to break bones. Pa said it was just whatsit. Automatic response. My brother said he watched the thing aim for Pa’s back.

Soon they were moving all the time. They would band together if you came at one to cut it down. Pa got a chainsaw and lit into them, and we thought that would be that.

They grew back with thorns this time, and skin tougher than wood. Pa forbid us from the basement until he could figure out a way past them.

I looked the plants up in every book I could. They didn’t look like anything else on earth. My brother said they were probably mutant plants from the mole people. Pa called us a bunch of busybodies as he poured gas down the basement steps. The plants whistled and popped as they burned. I thought it sounded like screaming. Pa told me to cut it out.

When the plants grew back, they were different. More warts, and thicker. They’d lost the thorns so Pa said to leave them be. We started storing things in the basement again. One night while I was picking out a jar of preserves, I thought I saw ma’s silhouette. It kept beckoning me closer, giving me the cold horrors. Ma was in the kitchen when I ran upstairs. Pa brushed it off until a few days later. He came in the livingroom, all panting and sweaty. He had a root in his hands, looked like a head of something. It was all ragged at the bottom like he’d hacked it away. Pa was shaking.

He made us go to a hotel for a few days while he took care of it. When we came back, he wasn’t the same man. He’d tell us to hush down every so often and crane his head like he was listening to something. We never heard anything.

When the plants grew back, my Pa cried. He went in with a golf club, hitting everything in sight until ma could get him upstairs. When he came back down, he was calmer. He’d had an idea. He would dig up the floor, find out where the plants were coming from. He took a lantern, a shovel, and my brother. Every morning at dawn they’d both go down there, and every night after my bedtime they’d come back up. Pa was cheerful, saying they’d find it any day now, any day. After a month ma demanded he stop before the house collapsed.

Pa died of a heart attack one day, while lifting a bucket of soil to my brother. He stayed down in the basement. My brother told ma that he’d slumped to the dirt, and the roots were on him before his eyes closed. Ma threw her apron over her head and cried.

It was only us two left, so ma wouldn’t let us down there for very long. Something knocked on the basement door one night. My brother went down there with an axe and came up white and trembling. The knocking stopped.

Since Pa was dead, it fell to the two of us to take care of the basement. Ma sat on the stairs while we hauled tools down homemade ladders  to the pit Pa had dug. We had to take care of the shoots everyday or they’d get too much of a foothold. They grew faster the more we cut them down. I swear some of them grabbed my clothes as I cut them. I know they untied the lowest ladder, it was the only way it could have fell. I was on the last rung, made it to solid ground in time. My brother was behind me.

Ma wouldn’t let me go after him. We stayed on the steps and called and called until dark. Finally something struggled out of the pit.

My brother was covered in dirt and walked with a limp. Thick-tongued, he told us he needed help upstairs. And we were ready to, right up until he grabbed the banister with a hand that had too many fingers.

Ma went after him with the shovel, sobbing as she swung. I got his knees with the axe. He kept screaming that we were killing him, we had made a big mistake and stop and think, but he had no bones and his blood was white sap.

Ma went upstairs without saying a thing. I heard the gunshot, got up there just in time to see her stop twitching.

I cremated her myself. No way I was letting the basement get her.

I poured gas down the stairs and lit it up. As it died down to embers, it properly looked like hell.

The plants grew back. They got smart. I woke up to some cops saying they had an anonymous tip about some bodies in the house, I had to come with them. Almost had me, until I noticed their guns were a solid piece, the barrel had no holes. I took a knife to one of their sleeves and it bled. After I hacked them up, I got a new bar for the basement door.

I never married or had kids, I never had time after taking care of the plants. They would scream at the door that I was keeping them imprisoned. One day the bottom of the door flooded with sap that ate away at the wood.  I bought a metal one to replace it. They called out to me with my dead family’s voices, pleading to be let out. I caulked the crack s around the door. All the time, I’ve kept the door shut as they grew in the darkness.

Then, the other day they tried something new. They knocked on the door and asked politely if I would open it, please. They had something they wanted to show me.

What I saw through the crack in the door were two of them, looking like well-dressed young gentlemen. The pit was gone. Instead they’d made a pretty good go at a street with houses and everything. Thick stems like streetlamps lit the way. It went a long way back.

They said they had made it for me. They said we could switch places, I could come in and live there, and they could come out and live. Just a simple switch, and they would never bother me again, they said.

Would I, they asked. Would I?

There’s no one to guard the door after me.  I’m getting old. I’m getting slow. I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in years.

Maybe they give me a nice neighborhood with streetlamps and houses and lawns with no more door to guard.

Maybe they wrap me with roots and stuff my mouth with dirt like the rest of my family.

Would I? Would I?

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The Incident at Hillside Downs


Photo courtesy of the ever-excellent Bill Draheim

Russell Bryant stepped out of his apartment in the Hillside Downs housing project at a little after 6pm on a Wednesday in 1992. Intending to check for the mail, on return he found the door to his apartment would not open, even with his key, and was forced to solicit help from the building superintendent. After an interval of approximately half an hour, the super accompanied Russell to his apartment. By their combined efforts, the door was finally forced open. Drawn by a foul smell, the two men entered to find the interior abandoned as if for weeks and not hours. Bryant’s cat lay dead on the windowsill where it had unsuccessfully tried to claw the screen open.


Hillside Downs, like other government-subsidized housing, began construction shortly after WWII. The architect was a polish man, Andrzej Budny, who had studied in the secessionist school before emigrating. He drew up an innovative “cloverleaf” design for the grounds, including a small park and pond situated in the middle of the four buildings. Budny himself never lived to see the building finished. One night he told his secretary he was going for a walk of the construction site and never returned. He was presumed dead.


A police car dispatched to the Laurel building of Hillside Downs around 7pm. The super accused Bryant of neglect and demanded he turn over the keys to the apartment. Bryant protested that he had only been gone a matter of hours, and had an alibi to back his statement up.

Tiffani Marivich was a single mother who worked night shifts at a nearby hospice. Bryant claimed he often babysat her daughter Candace “Candy” Marivich. That very morning, Tiffani had come by to borrow toilet paper, giving ample time to examine the apartment.

Marivich’s door was also difficult to open. With the aid of the policemen, the door was forced open to reveal a scene not dissimilar to Bryant’s apartment. The sole occupant of the garbage-strewn flat was an elderly woman watching a television that displayed nothing but static. The woman showed signs of longterm neglect and had visible sores.  She appeared aware of the officer’s presence, but afraid to leave her chair.

On entering the apartment, Bryant fell to his knees. When asked if he knew the occupant, he said yes. It was Candy.


The park that lay between the four buildings of Hillside Downs was eventually demolished in an attempt to reduce crime rates. The pond was cemented over twenty years before Bryant rented an apartment in the Laurels, the building showing the least decay. The four buildings were named in turn: the Laurels, the Cedars, the Pines, and the Hollies. Budny had named them after evergreens in keeping with his intended theme of renewal. He envisioned buildings that could change easily to accommodate the shifting demographics of future residents, immigrants like himself. Many of his changes remained unimplemented because of his untimely disappearance.


Russell pointed to a discoloration in the older woman’s right eye and a scar on her elbow. The scar was from a roller skating accident. The discoloration was a harmless birth defect. It was Candy, he was sure of it.

Attempts to reach Tiffani at her place of work proved fruitless. The elderly woman appeared senile and could not properly answer questions. When removed from the apartment, she became distressed. Only Bryant could calm her.

The super informed the policemen that the apartment did indeed belong to a Tiffani Marivich, he had been in only three days before on a plumbing call. There was no old woman, and the apartment had been clean. He could provide no answer as to what had happened in the interim.

The policemen inquired if there was another resident who could verify Russell’s story. Russell volunteered Samuel Beech, who lived on the top floor. One of the officers stayed with the superintendent and Bryant, who refused to leave the old woman. The other boarded the elevator.

After an interlude of three minutes, the officer in the elevator contacted his partner through the walky-talky. He asked what floor, exactly, did Beech live on? He was on the forty-third and rising.

The super replied that building only had thirty floors.


Hillside Downs decayed over the decades, though it never reached the infamous heights of the Cabrini-Green projects. Tenants would often disappear owing several month’s rent. The elevators would malfunction frequently, stopping in-between floors or skipping them entirely. The stairs were prone to blackouts. But however poor its condition, the housing project had never been subject to investigation of any kind. Its tenants were low-income families and recent emigres to the US, and the frequent disappearances were written off as rent evasion.


The officer on the ground instructed his partner to exit the elevator as soon as possible. He solicited the emergency shutdown key from the super, who left to collect it. The elderly woman had another fit and Bryant attempted to comfort her. Over the walky-talky, the officer in the elevator counted into the fifties. The super had not yet returned. When the number reached sixty, the officer on the ground left to find the super, taking Bryant and the old woman with him. The super’s basement apartment sat beside the incinerator. The door was closed. It took the combined efforts of Bryant and the officer to open it.

The super lay fully reclined in his easy chair. It appeared he had shot himself some months before, the body having had time to dessicate. The apartment was in disarray; there were deep scratch marks created by a crowbar in the windowsill and the inner doorknob had been smashed. On the walky-talky, the other officer exclaimed that he had finally exited the elevator.

The sixty-eighth floor of the building appeared to be under construction. Raw wood and tarps littered the area. Wind blew through the open walls. The floor seemed solid enough so he walked out, abandoning the elevator.

On the ground, the officer instructed his partner to remain within sight of the elevator. He then attempted to use the super’s phone to call for backup. The phone did not work.

The officer on the unfinished floor described steps echoing his own. Twice he went silent for a period of five minutes, claiming he had heard someone calling. His own calls garnered no response. Either disobeying or forgetting his partner’s request, the officer eventually found the edge of the building and a half-finished fire escape. It was at this point that the ground officer’s transmitter ceased to function: though he pleaded with his partner not to board the stairs, the other officer kept up a running commentary of his descent as if oblivious. After the top floor, the construction became sturdier. He descended three floors without incident until he came to a dead end. The platform he stood on had no stairs leading to the next platform. There was also no next platform.


Shawnda Barber, a waitress who lived in the Hollies, had propped a fire door so that she could smoke a cigarette without entering and exiting the building through the front gate. The bucket she used to prop the door fell away, and the door closed before she could catch it. She was forced to use the fire escape to descend down the side of the building. Antoine James was disposing of rubbish in the Pines’ incinerator chute when he saw someone clip the padlock on his bike and steal it. He gave chase, but gave up after three blocks. Harold Kim turned the keys to unlock his apartment in the Cedars building, but found himself stepping out the delivery entrance of the Laurels.

Besides Russell Bryant, the officer, and the old woman found in Tiffani Marivich’s apartment, these three people were the only known survivors of the Hillside Downs incident.


The officer on the ground had lost contact with his partner and was shepherding the two left in his care to the police cruiser. Observers described a strange blur, as if the building itself was vibrating, before Hillside Downs disappeared completely. In its place were four excavation holes and the puzzled survivors. After a brief investigation, the city labeled it a structural collapse despite the absence of any debris. The holes were backfilled with filler dirt and paved over. Besides a small concrete memorial, no further construction was attempted on the site. The displaced occupants were re-homed elsewhere.

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Gladis Root


The Gladis root (Geminus clavapoda) is the only living member of the valliscidae family of rhizomal plants. Its only known habitat is a dry valley in the  northern part of Namibia. A German pharmaceutical company brought it to western attention in 1896, when a specimen of dried root was brought back to the country in a material-finding expedition. The root was named, rudimentary tests performed, and promptly left in a drawer in the company’s archives.

Rediscovered in 1963, subsequent tests showed the rhizome contained an anticonvulsant agent and led to another expedition to its homeland. The anticonvulsant was present in greater proportions within the fresh plant, so several cuttings were taken and propagated in Germany. By 1977 the pharmaceutical company had developed Glaxis, an antiepileptic, from the root.  

Unlike its notorious cousin Thalidomide, Glaxis passed the placental-barrier test with flying colors. But it was during the long-term clinical trials that Glaxis’s most defining feature came into the fore. After six months of testing, all of the patients taking the drug began to develop teratomas. The varying ages and genetic backgrounds seemed to have little effect on tumor growth or development: the two largest growths were harvested from a young woman(26) and an older man (72). These weighed in at a whopping six pounds and showed unusual tissue variety, the male patient’s growth alone showed traces of bone, neuron, and adipose tissue. After the trial met an unceremonious end, the pharmaceutical company quashed further mention of the drug and discontinued research, escaping the bad publicity Chemie Grünenthal had faced.

The Gladis root grows in the historic domain of the Twombi people, who referred to it as the “punishment root.” The root was reserved for only the most grievous offenders: those who committed acts of rape, incest, or murder. The offender would be made to ingest the root until they had developed their own “bad twin” who would then mete out punishment. These sparse details were collected by an anthropologist in 1957. The Twombi tribe has since disseminated into the larger Bantu culture, making correlation of such details now impossible.

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The Owl


The owl, pictured center

This is the owl. The owl can appear anywhere, at any time. A stain. A smear on your glasses. You might pass it many times without noticing it. But you will notice.

The owl will follow you. It will appear on things close you you. The rings in your bathtub. The grease congealing in the kitchen sink. It is a pattern you alone will recognize. It is only when the sightings increase in frequency that you will realize: the pattern is not on your world but your eyes themselves.

28.8% corruption

28.8% corruption

The owl will seep into everything you love. It will make the world dirty to you. Blink and rub it out, it will only swim back into your vision. Colors will molder. Light will dim. And with sight go the other senses. Soon you will be able to smell it, the smell of corruption. You will feel its outline on your eyelids, it is embossed into your pupils. It will send you down avenues you never knew existed.

It will change you.

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60% corruption

Love will curdle. Compassion will sour. The world around you will shrink as it rots, as pieces of you break away. You will not remember the smell of fresh air, the sun on your face. The owl will ferment you in the shelter of its wings until you are just, just right.

And when you are right, when you are ripe, it will eat everything. All that you are. And it is only then, in these last moments, that you will see its true form.



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Antonia Gilchrist

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The actress herself

Antonia Gilchrist was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1899 to a theatrical family. There was aristocracy in her blood, which manifested itself in her cold and proud screen presence. She was educated in a finishing school in France before emigrating to the U.S. in 1918. She worked as a typist before being discovered by a passing movie executive who nearly swooned when she locked eyes with him.

…This is what the official press packet reads.

In reality, Anna Soames was born in Lincoln, Nevada in 1888 and simply migrated south, rather than trans-Atlantically, with her family to reach Hollywood. Anna had always had her eyes set on actresshood, going straight from her parent’s shanty to the casting couch.

She found more success in the infant motion picture industry than in theatre, where her odd delivery and mannerisms failed to impress critics. It was signing on to Paramount that made her career. The studio was looking for a low-rate Theda Bara and they got one in Antonia/Anna. She could project “willful menace…tempered with wounded chastity” according to one gushing critic. Lack of sound meant that her moody countenance could dominate scenes without her delivery ruining the effect.

Gilchrist’s catalog is extensive, even for the rapidly-paced silent film industry, weighing in at 150 films (not counting her earlier bit-parts and background scenes.) She played temptresses, sorceresses, ingenues, historical and allegorical alike. Her Salome was said to set the screen alight. Her Akasha raised the ire of religious watchdogs because of her boldly exposed navel. Realizing that an interview would probably undermine the image of an unreachable temptress, the studio communicated with star magazines solely through press packets, claiming Antonia’s presence so potent any interviewer would fall into a stupor. The press swallowed it eagerly, providing a few embellishments of their own: that Antonia had seen a fortune-teller who told her to go into acting, that she had been born during an eclipse, that she drank bat’s milk as part of her beauty regiment, and other such flourishes.

Despite this fever-pitch of admiration, none of her films are known to survive to this day. The only extant pieces of her career are a few stills of Dinner For Sinners(1925) her last film, unreleased, and a studio catalog dating prior to 1924.

This is not due to the regular errors of storage that plague so many other silent films, rather, this is said to be deliberate destruction on the part of the studio.

A publicity still from Dinner For Sinners

A publicity still from Dinner For Sinners

Information on the scandal that led to the studio severing ties with their odd star are likewise scanty. Peek, a gossip zine, reported Gilchrist’s presence at a “blue party” on April 14, 1923. The article merely hinted at a deeper story, promising a multi-issue expose. But when the March issue rolled around, no mention was made of Gilchrist or anything surrounding the party.

What little details can be gathered from the periphery of the industry at the time paint a picture of something far beyond the usual sex&drugs scandal. It seemed to involve the child of a film crew member that disappeared during the filming of her latest movie, but in what capacity we can only speculate. What Gilchrist did was said to be unforgivable, and unspeakable. For this reason, any record of her career with the studio was completely destroyed. The only surviving memorabilia languished in the hands of private collectors, most of that did not survive long enough to be transferred to digital format.

Gilchrist herself never made another movie, and for all intents and purposes vanished off the face of the earth. A marriage certificate, signed with her given name and not her stage name, surfaced in a collection of Hollywood paperwork being auctioned off by the studio. It was dated the day of the child’s disappearance. The groom’s name was blank.

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Pile Island

aerial photos of atoll

Aerial photographs of the atoll

Pile Island is an uninhabited atoll approximately 380km from the nearest landmass. It is a US protectorate under the Guano islands act, though it has never been subject to mining. Its highest point is 10 feet above sea level and its lagoon is dry. Its guano deposits are almost nonexistent as no seabird colony has been sighted on the island since 1867.

Pile island was discovered by sheer accident when the freighter Soerabaja ran aground of a reef some 60 yards beyond its shore. The crewmen took to the atoll, looking for supplies to aid repair of the damaged hull and found little of note. Only one paragraph in the captain’s log is spared for the experience, merely noting that the island itself had not been visible until after they ran aground on the reef.

ships on the sea

The island, viewed from the reef

It is from the next visit that the island gains its notoriety. The Margarethe was on an expedition to find guano-rich islands of the pacific when they found Pile. Strangely, they noted the reef as being more than 100 yards from the visible shore. The crew of the Margarethe established a base camp on the north part of the island. Along with the guano deposits, the crew recorded the presence of a sinkhole approximately 8X5 yards. The crew attempted to dig a well and assess the size of the atoll’s freshwater lens. The hole wound up being over ten feet in depth before showing any amount of seepage. The liquid that filed the hole possessed an odd viscosity. The crewman who volunteered to drink it reported it had no flavor and was unpleasant to swallow. Later that day, the crewman fell over dead from no apparent cause.

The surviving crewmen spent the night on the island. They reported tremors constantly throughout the night, though the crew remaining on the ship sensed no such disturbances. In the morning, the landing team rejoined the ship and they weighed anchor.

The next ship did not arrive until 1906, the USS Teague, coming to claim the island as a protectorate. Armed with more modern scientific equipment, the crew was able to document the island in more detail. The reef was officially placed at 200 yards beyond the visible shore. The freshwater lens was deemed nonexistent.

The sinkhole enlarged by the Magarethe’s crew had reached a depth of 20 feet with no seepage, impossible in such a geographic location. An attempt to gauge the composition of the soil with a spar produced a hole. Further prodding exposed a hollow space of unknown depth beneath the sinkhole. Volcanic activity was suspected, but the hole gave off no heat that would indicate a chimney. There was no vegetation on the island, so the crew members who volunteered to enter the space had to descend on a rope anchored with a series of belaying pins.

In what little light filtered through the hole, the crewmen could discern a cave system at least as expansive as the atoll itself. The crewmen could also see faint markings on the rocks which they at first dismissed as ore leakage; when they were passed down a ship’s lantern they could discern that the markings were what appeared to be representational pictoglyphs. The glyphs themselves depicted a series of scenes that seemed apocalyptic in nature, containing fanciful creatures not known to man. No Polynesian presence on the island has been confirmed before or since, leaving the origin of these pictoglyphs a mystery to this day.


A photgraph of the glyphs, circa 1967

Once topside, the sailors complained about a vibration that had begun in the marine cave and persisted after they came up. They were given a cursory examination and no physical symptoms were found. As the landing party camped that night, they, too, felt the tremors that the Margarethe’s crew had described, this time accompanied by an atonal chiming sound. The ship’s seismograph recorded nothing during the night. In the morning, the sailors that had descended into the cave were found dead.

The Teague set sail for Palmyra, to deliver the dead and report their findings. They did not return to the island. Pile was not one of the atolls chosen for nuclear testing during WWII, nor was it deemed strategically important enough to be the site of a base. In 1935, the island was declared a wildlife preserve. The few expeditions undertaken since 1906 have been by U.S. Fish and Wildlife, who also restrict access to the island.

The reef’s last recorded distance was 500 yards from the island.

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