Storytime: March.

March 15th, 2017

Sorry I’m late.
I know, I know, I KNOW. You gave me VERY detailed instructions and I was diligent in memorizing them, I tell you no lie. But you know what it’s like out there!
It’s cold!
It’s wet!
It’s dreary!
And the snow’s come-and-gone so many times that nobody can keep track of where all the frozen dogshit is!
So because of all those VERY GOOD REASONS, can I be blamed so much for letting my mind wander? At a light, I might add? I was safely parked, one eye always on the intersection, and just for a minute – a moment, a milli – no, a picosecond! – my thoughts drifted the way of warmer things and times.
And so when my light turned green I twisted my grip on the wheel, without really knowing why, and took the right.

Let me tell you, it was a shocker. One moment bleak cold and wind, the next wet fists in my car’s face. Showers fit to kill flowers, hail turning into thunder turning into ice cold turning into a warm slush. I couldn’t tell if I was meant to switch to second gear or break out flippers or attach an icebreaker’s prow to the bumper.
And that sound! That pounding, pulsing sound! The trees all beating together like a heart the size of a mountain pulsing on a drum the size of a continent.

Now while I was distracted by all of this, you surely can understand why I’d miss the next few intersections. I was busy trying to stay alive and not hit anyone, as any responsible driver would prioritize. So my hands were on the wheel and my eyes were on the road and my beams were on low and my foot was light on the gas and my brain was spinning, just spinning out all over the place with the horn blaring and brakes pumping.
Look! Geese in the world’s only flying letter! They’re coming back!
Wow! Buds glistening on bare brown branches!
Gee! Bare ground turning green with rebounding life!
Willikers! A groundhog making ardent love to his shadow in the middle of the street!
That last one caught me a bit more off guard than all the others put together and I spun out all over the place, horn blaring and brakes pumping. And when I stopped spinning I was stuck in the rotting remnants of a giant snowpile in the far corner of a half-flooded parking lot in a dingy old strip mall that had been in the 90s once upon a time.

I bought fruit by the foot. Its bright colours pleased the atmosphere.
I bought fruit by the pound. It was seasonal and furiously unripe, shiny and hard and sour and tart.
I brought out my camera, and took picture after picture after picture. Click click click robins! Click click click flowers! Click click click puffy clouds on deep blue!
By the time I was done my car had melted free and the air smelled like plants fucking without limits. My sinuses were a roller-coaster of emotion and mucus and the tears that came down my face were emotional as shit.

I got back on the road and it was easier now. Cleaner. The old stale salt and dead black ice had been scraped away by the sun’s own shovel and the traffic was calmer, sedate. Everyone still had their winter tires and paranoias on, nobody’d yet started driving like the maniac that July made of you. There was a hint of slush that slapped affectionately against your wheels now and then, but it was more liquid than solid and it was nothing but love.
It was the most fun I’d ever had driving a car.

But all good things end. I came to a red light, and as I stopped there I looked ahead and I saw something new. Something REALLY red. Something burning and furious and real. There was dry grass in the distance and bonfires in my nose and I could almost feel the endless days creeping under my fingernails.
Dead ahead. Almost there.
Why not? My god, why NOT? Fuck this nonsense of waiting, why walk when you could drive? Get there in half the time with twice the fun at the low low cost of a lot of bills. Why not?
This, said the police car behind me. Its lights were flashing. Its sirens were not. This was the vehicular version of clearing your throat noisily. Behind its windshield a pair of sunglasses were watching me, and I could see the road ahead burning inside them.
I pulled over.
As the officer got out of his car, I felt no fear and no anger. I knew what I’d done wrong: in my heart if not my body I had speeded, I had roared down that road with both feet and hands on the accelerator and my soul in my teeth. It was there right now, at this moment, and it was amazing how close the warm air had brought everything to me. Until this second I’d never really seen the dew on my windshield, the dust in the air, the bit of snot on the police officer’s moustache.
I turned my smile to him and I knew at that moment that everyone and everything was my friend, speeding ticket or no. The world was in my heart and it was warm and soft. “What seems to be the problem, officer?” I asked.
And the next thing I knew his knee was in my back and the world was in my ribs and it was extremely cold and gravelly.
I asked him something very polite about what the fuck he was fucking thinking the motherfucker.
“It is illegal,” he told me in quiet, authoritative tones, “to take the right of spring before the end of March. You prick.”

The penalty was harsh but fair, firm but rigid. Two hours in the cooler.
So, that’s where the freak blizzard came from. And that’s why I’m late. And please, don’t make a fuss when I say this: I really am not shovelling tomorrow.

Storytime: Chalk.

March 8th, 2017

“Why not?”
As far as questions asked in bars went, it was pretty typical.
“Because it’s stupid.”
“It’s not stupid. I’ve got the paper right here, Mill.”
“You know I can’t read.”
“No, but I can and I’m telling you, black-and-white, page one, there it is.”
“And I’m telling YOU, Tyle – you right there – that flesh-and-blood beats black-and-white hollow. I don’t care how many crazy professors you care to tell me of-”
“Hadly, his name’s Geistoff Hadly, and he’s found-”
“–I don’t care what his name is, I wouldn’t go out into the chalklands for the king of the world and his eldest daughter too. Count me out.”
Tyle frowned, and as usually was the case with Tyle’s frown, it was immediately followed by Tyle’s fist. Matters continued in that way for a few minutes, whereupon Tyle returned to his table.
“No luck,” said Ram.
“No luck at all,” repeated Ram, looking more than ever like a burnt-out tree stump. He shook his head at his drink, which was nearly as half-empty as he was. “But that’s not new, eh?”
“Mope less, help more. We still need that guide.”
“No luck.”
“I KNOW that,” said Tyle, but he left it there because beating up Ram was about as productive – and painful – as beating up a rock. At the end of it you had sore knuckles and no breath, all for a few nicks on its hide. “Miserable town this. A few hundred miles south, a fat old man can pull trinkets out of the ground worth more than gold with barely a spade. And here? You can’t so much as persuade ‘em to look outside.”
“They’re scared.”
“Of WHAT? There’s nothing out there but grass, rocks, and rocks on grass! It’s the most boring landscape I’ve ever laid eyes on!”
“Nothing left to see but yourself,” intoned Ram. “Nothing left to do but give up.”
“Oh, shut up. If you really believed that crap you’d have thrown yourself into a pond years ago.”
Ram shrugged, an expression as wholly unique to him as Tyle’s frown was. His shoulders didn’t actually move, but he somehow hunched even further inwards.
Tyle ignored Ram’s shrug and looked around the bar again. A bunch of miserable bastards here, nearly as bad as Ram in their way. They looked to hate each other as much as they did him; the whole damned building could burn down and nobody in town’d miss them.
Oh. Well that was a thought.
“Ram? Give me your drink.”
Tyle took Ram’s drink from his unresisting hands and strolled down to the far end of the room, to the darkest, dustiest table of them all. Its occupant matched it. A walking stick seemed to be supporting his entire body, even while seated. It wasn’t enjoying it.
“Say, friend,” Tyle said with the happiest smile in the world, “care to help me finish this? I seem to have half left.”

The sky was blue.
“That was a mean trick.”
The grass was brown, but playing it up as golden.
“Worked, didn’t it? Now look, he’s awake.”
And the world was creaking slowly and surely.
Hed was chained up inside a wagon made of rotten wood and crammed next to a barrel. Again.
“Hello there,” said the smiling one. Tyle. “Now, care to show us the way?”
“Sure. Where to?”
“The chalklands.”
“Nobody goes out to the chalklands.”
“Well, you’re nobody right now. But be nice and maybe you’ll leave a richer nobody than you came along with.”
“Got a drink?”
Tyle raised an eyebrow. “After what the last one I passed did to you?”
“That was you hitting me.”
“Fair enough.” Tyle tapped the barrel, which didn’t slosh in the way very very full things didn’t slosh. “Tell you what. Point the way into the chalklands, and I’ll give you two drinks. Get clever and point us back into town, you get last night over again.”
“On one condition.”
“You have one too. I don’t like to get drunk lonely.”
Tyle smiled. A big, happy smile.

Hed, after a lot of wheedling, had been given a replacement walking stick and a very very small knife to whittle it to his satisfaction. Tyle had been against it until Ram pointed out he couldn’t exactly chase them down with it, chained as he was.
“Not much use for walking either,” Tyle had said.
“It’s not for the walking,” Hed explained. “Just something that needs to be done.”
It was a beautiful day, even if the place was sort of ugly. Although that could be the whiskey thinking it.
“Ugly as sin out here,” said Tyle. “Sky’s wasted on it. All that sky and all it’s got to shine on is some lumpy rocks and scraggly grass.”
“Fair enough,” said Hed. “Let’s go back.”
“Alright. See that ridge?”
“Go over it. Then let me off and I’ll go back.”
“No. You’re with us ‘till the end, old friend. Can’t have the word getting out. Early, I mean. Before we strick it rich.”
“It’s the chalklands. There’s nothing here.”
“There was nothing on the mesas either, until Hedly dug there,” said Tyle. Then he laughed.
“Who’s that?”
“Mad old professor. Liked to play in the dirt and pretend he was working.” Tyle shook his head. “But he found things. Arrowheads that moved on their own. Bowls that filled with water at a touch. And that was in the badlands, with nothing but dirt and stone for miles. It’s uglier here, but it’s better living and nobody’s ever checked it before. Who knows what’s out here?”
A shadow of a frown passed over Tyle’s face, but the sun ironed it out before it finished.
“I need another drink,” said Ram. “For my other hand.”
“Shut up and steer.”
“I’d rather not.”

“We’re here,” said Hed.
Tyle peered up at the stones around them, past the dusk and the dim and a considerable amount of whiskey. “Really? Faster than I’d thought.”
“It’s as far as we’re going in this light. Unless you want the horses to step into gopher holes in the dark.”
Tyle smacked him in the shoulder. “Damn good advice! See, I KNEW any one of you little bastards could help us! This isn’t so bad, eh? The big, scary chalklands. All nothing but green and grey and empty. What’s the worry?”
Hed turned his walking stick over and over in his hands. The shaft was slim as a wrist by now, but the handle had been shaved down to a near-blade.
“You should leave, you know,” he said. “This is your last chance.”
Tyle sighed. “Scared of rocks?”
“Out west the stone’s full, but solid. Out east it’s near-empty. Here there’s too much empty space, and anything can come bubbling up through the cracks.”
Tyle laughed at that, a full-out-throated guffaw with a set of after-chuckles that took up at least a full minute. He laughed in Hed’s face, and he watched the whole time as the sunburnt wrinkles didn’t so much as crease.
“You should’ve stayed home,” he told Tyle, quietly.
Tyle frowned.

Hed woke up with his head dangling out the back of the wagon, eyes filled with a black sky – overcast with cloud and something worse – and he knew he didn’t have a lot of time.
Slowly, carefully, wincing with every rib with every step, he crawled himself upright, took out the odd bit of wire he kept coiled around his back tooth, and removed the clumsy chain from his arm. He leaned against the whiskey barrel, testing his strength, testing its weight.
Half-empty. It’d do.
Then he took up his stick in the crook of his arm and heaved the barrel out of the cart just in time to catch the first drops.
A fist picked him up.
“Rain,” muttered Ram. His breath was a fountain of alcohol and rot. “Shouldn’t go out in it.”
Hed shook his head.
“No,” said Ram. His words were fading into the background, being eaten up by the long slow roar of water. “You stay.”
“It’s not rain.”
“Oh?” Ram squinted up at the sky.
“It’s the sea.”
And it came down on them.

Lives fade after they’re spent. Everything but the most important bits.
For most of them, it’s how they ended.
The waves were strong, and the current deep. But the real weight of the long-dead water that pressed down on the three men was from the things inside it.
A billion billion schools of long-dead fish; uncountable clams and who-knew-whats. Swarms of spiralling things like squids stuffed into ram’s horns.
Tyle was screaming, and that made it fast. His mouth was still open as he floated beneath Ram, fading down and away. All slackness in his jaw, with none of the tight-skinned warnings his expressions had given it.
Ram, to his great astonishment, found that he wanted to live. His arms were thrashing, his legs were kicking. His body, in spite of all that had ever been, was trying to stay alive.
The water churned around him, then opened up into teeth.
Ram had never seen a swimming lizard before, let alone one quite that size. The startlement nearly dulled the bite.

Hed shut his eyes, felt which way the blood in his body was surging, then swam for it. The whiskey keg was an inert lump at his side, neither pulling him down nor buoying him up. But when it broke surface and he flung a leg over it, it did the job well enough. He took a moment to catch his breath, then dipped his walking stick in, blade-first.
Splish. Splash.
Now and again he saw a shadow or felt a current and dropped low, stopped moving. In this way his night was spent. And when the sun came up the water came down, so very quickly it couldn’t be seen. One moment he was sculling, the next standing.
He looked down under his feet and scuffed a toe. Grass and dirt peeled away and underneath was the chalk again, milky and unconvincingly dead to the eye.
“You’ll be back, you fucker,” he told it. And he spat and threw away his stick and started walking. Then running.

It was almost night again by the time Hed walked back into the bar. It was good timing. The keg had nearly run dry.

Storytime: Dig Yourself Deeper.

March 2nd, 2017

She’d been a nice woman. Honest, upright, forthright, honorable, diligent, hardworking, and dependable. Hell, she might’ve even been good.
But that was past, and so was she. Elsie Holmes – ‘Granny’ Holmes for thirty years and counting – had been over and done with for days. This was just the catch-up.
It was a properly overcast day, and the rest followed suit.
The priest said her words.
The family sobbed theirs.
The gravedigger took up her spade.
And WHACK with one hard blow severed the spitting, slobbering, fanged skull of Elsie Holmes from her neck, cutting the spinal column and setting it into a more mellow sort of rictus. Then everyone slammed shut the coffin, nailed it, and shoveled it under as fast as we could before it could pull itself back together and crawl back out.
It was a pretty good funeral, as far as they do around here, and we all said as much.
“That’s a funny thing to say,” said the visiting girl – a friend of a friend of the deceased, or so she’d claimed. “I mean, she tried to eat you. Is this whole cemetery like that? Because that’d explain the barbed wire on the walls. And the walls. And the guard tower.”
We explained to her that it wasn’t the cemetery as much as the town. You get about a few days – half a week if they’re very old. Then they’re up and feisty. It’s a lot to deal with, but here’s like anywhere else in the world: folks get used to it. The sun’s too hot, the wind’s too cold, the rain’s too thick or too thin, the dead rise after a few days and thirst for your flesh and blood. That’s just the way it goes in Downsville.
“Fair enough. Ever thought of doing something about it?”
Now she had our attention – and our irritation too. But we kept our words and fists to ourselves, because it was obvious to anyone with half a wit that she was one of those travelling folks, the kind you don’t get a chance to see very often, those roamers. Appleseeds and Coyotes and others. You don’t start things with them, and you don’t hope they stay, but you keep your ears open if they happen to you.
“Right. So you don’t want to move, and you can’t fix it. But you can make it a lot more bearable if you just try burning them instead of burying. Saves time, saves on fortified cemeteries and reinforced concrete in coffins, saves wear and tear on shovels. Even saves space – what’s harder to keep aside for your grandpa; a six-by-three-by-six of nice land or a prize spot on the mantelpiece? Go on, give it a try.”
Well it was advice, of a sort. And the priest said it wasn’t traditional, but she only said the words as words; and the gravekeeper and gravedigger were a bit reluctant, but they liked the idea of never getting up at three in the morning to shovel someone back into their coffin; and the town was altogether reluctantly experimental and so we tried it.

It was a stupid way to break a leg, falling off that barn roof. All Teresa’d had to do was nail in a board and come back down the ladder but no, had to show off to her friends and do it one-handed and whoops down she came. A stupid way to break a leg, let alone her neck.
But tick tock, time was a-wasting. So the procession came, and the lumberjack with the driest cords he’d cut, and we all went down to the pavilion in the cemetery, where the bonfire could burn in even the most appropriately funereal of weather.
In went the torch, and up went Teresa, in smoke and ash and an awfully porky smell. Weren’t as many pig-farmers around here now as there were a generation ago; folks just couldn’t quite muster the stomach for it. But there went her stomach, and her eyes, and her face, down to the bits of the bits of the bits of the bones and then they were gone too, cracked up and cindered. And that was when we all put on our masks because Teresa came screaming out of the coals at us, bowled down the graveyard gates, and set three houses and the church on fire.
“Well that’s something,” someone said, and we knew it was a stranger because nobody else would be surprised and we knew it was the travelling girl because nobody else would get over it that quickly. “This happens every time?”
And we explained to her that yes, pretty much it did. Some of the older folks went quieter; some of the younger, louder. In general the more time they’d had to put themselves to peace the better. It was a sort of therapy. And the bucket brigade had things well under control. It might seem odd, but that’s just the way it works in Downsville.
“I see,” she said in the way that people did when they didn’t see at all but didn’t want to call you a stupid, inbred old so-and-so to your face. A lot of us had heard it before. We’d had kids. “You know, I was suggesting this to make things easier for you, right?”
We knew.
“This doesn’t look easier.”
We pointed out that the fire precautions were both cheaper and more generally useful than the old graveyard guard had been and we stopped when it was obvious she was just waiting for her turn to talk again.
“Sky burial. Lay out your dead for the birds. You’ve got crows around here, right? Ravens? Turkey vultures? Do it. Just smack up the bones with a mallet afterwards, they won’t go anywhere otherwise.”
And she walked out of town again.
So we tried it. But we kept the fire brigade at work anyways, and we were glad of it. We do what we know works, here in Downsville. And we don’t forget it, either.

It’s a long walk, the path out there. Well-worned, well-tended. There’s flowers, and people that tend them. And the pallbearers use oiled wood that doesn’t so much as creak, let alone groan, god no. No sound but soft footsteps and sobs all the way to the burial platform, where we leave them to be as they were born: naked and soft.
Then we walk back while the antiaircraft guns fire.
She was waiting for us on the road back again, hands bloody and covered in feathers. She didn’t have a gun, the travelling girl.
“So. I see people in Downsville still do things differently.”
Well, who doesn’t where?
“There’s different, there’s different, there’s DIFFERENT different, and then there’s just plain obstinate. So, when did the birds get this big?”
It was a bit of a fuzzy record, that. See, back in the old days they were the size of junkyard dogs and a strong arm with a bat’d keep them away. Then they got bigger and meaner, and we broke out the shotguns. Nowadays they’d carry your car off, if you let them, and the funerary business around here was awfully dependant on army surplus.
“Right. Right. Hey, any of you got a cigarette? I don’t smoke but I really need to say that. Right. Right. Okay.”
The travelling girl walked around town about three times saying things like that. In the end she wasn’t much calmer but she was sure dustier. Her patience hadn’t improved any either.
“I’m out of ideas,” she told us. “You’re all too stubborn, even after you die. You linger and make a mess for years after you’ve stopped being even REMOTELY useful and I’ve worn out the last threadbare hint of a germ of a ghost of a favour I owed Elsie. Wad it up and throw it all in the trash for all I care; I’m out.”
And the travelling girl left, but she left something behind by mistake: a damned good idea.

Downsville doesn’t have a cemetery any more. The bonfires haven’t roared for years. The old anti-aircraft guns were turned into public statuary, and the pigeons that poop on them are normal birds.
Our garbage dump does moan a lot, late at some nights. But there’s ten thousand tons of mangled, immortal plastic twixt us and whatever we put in there.
I realize this all might seem a bit strange to you, but you really must remember.
That’s just the way it goes in Downsville.

Storytime: Old Sprouts.

February 22nd, 2017

The show had stopped.
It was right there, right in the middle of the pitch, and it had eaten itself up, motion-first. Now there wasn’t even a picture, and the cold beer felt lukewarm in his hand and the half-bag of old chips he’d saved were stale in his mouth.
The show had stopped.

Jack hauled himself out of the chair with difficulty; it was a little more him and a little less furniture every day. Maybe it’d stick to him for good soon, like a surplus vertebra. A tail-bone for his tail-bone, cushioned and padded and sickly old curdled floral print turned rotten from spilled food and drink and too much tobacco smoke. Even as he turned the door his back missed it; there was a stoop in his spine that hadn’t been there before.
The sun was bright. Too bright. How long had it been since he’d been out here? The mailbox was overflowing with books of fast-food coupons and brochures of Bahamas cruises and announcements for half-priced refrigerators.
Then a whimper from above reminded him of where his priorities should be.

There was a giant on his television antenna. A small one – a ten-footer, a giantlette. Not more than a century or so old, by his reckoning.
“Hey,” said Jack. “Get off.”
“Stuck,” whispered the giant, the echo bouncing down the street and up again three or four times.
“You aren’t stuck,” said Jack. “You’re an obstruction to my entertainment. Now get down from there.”
Jack sighed and squinted up the antenna. It wasn’t terribly tall, but Jack didn’t have a terribly short house, so it evened out.
But it still made his back hurt.
“Stuck,” whispered the giant again. Its breath was hot in its face, and its eyes – a bit smaller than they should be in that way particular to giants – were just a little wet around the edges.
“Not anymore,” said Jack. And he shoved.

He dragged the giant into the hedge, where its feet wouldn’t quite fit. It’d had a chocolate bar in its pocket – a cheap brand, but unopened. It must’ve been too scared to take a bite.
Typical giant. Climbs up the wrong thing to get back home, then can’t climb back down. Worse than cats. It was very unfair, thought Jack, that everyone agreed stray cats were a nuisance and a pest – bleeding-hearts aside – but the animal control people got nice paycheques and he barely got a moment’s fame for a storybook. It was unfair. It was improper.
He thought of that giant’s face again, as it fell. And he smiled a little, but it crumpled at the cheeks when he tried to think of the first giant’s face.
It was missing. All those years with that memory sitting there in the center of his skull, and now he found it with a big hole drilled through the center.
He wanted to scream. He wanted to curse. He wanted to kick over his half-rotted armchair and throw his beer through the window and stamp on the chips until they were more grease smear than solid – which wouldn’t have been a long trip.
But instead he took a long, deep, shuddering breath, then walked over to his closet.
Inside there was a small cardboard box.
Inside the box was a folded bundle of parchments.
Inside the parchments was an old axe, of that standard household size that was meant to chop logs, rotten furniture, small trees, and the odd fowl’s neck.
Jack looked at the axe.
That was normal.
Then Jack reached out and touched the axe, and that was where things went a bit awry.

Mrs. White didn’t answer the doorbell the first time, second time, third time, or fourth through seventeenth times.
It wasn’t a very new axe, but it wasn’t a very new door either, and it was lousy wood. The mailslot logjam was a far bigger obstacle for Jack; Mrs. White had been even less diligent about picking up her postage than he had been.
She was upstairs when he found her. In front of the dressing-table, in front of the mirror.
“Hello, Snow,” he said. He put down half of the chocolate bar on the table. She didn’t look at it.
“Hello, Jack,” she said. “Do you know, it won’t show me anymore?”
He squinted the mirror. It squinted back at him. “Looks fine to me,” he said.
“Fine, yes. Fairest, no. It used to show me all the fairest, Jack. At first it was just me, then it was someone else, and then it was two people, and now it won’t stop. See it spinning, see it whirling. No end to the thing. They’re all so pretty now.”
“Well, age before beauty,” said Jack vaguely. “Listen, I’ve got an-”
Mrs. White turned her face to his for the first time and Jack felt a very strong compulsion to flinch himself back home and lock the door. It was a fine enough face, but there was a set to the eyes and the mouth and the brows and the chin and the brain behind it that said exactly what it was thinking, and the only reason he didn’t shudder on the spot was that he thought he recognized it, just a little bit, from inside-out.
“Shut up,” Mrs. White said. And then she turned that expression away and he could breathe again.
“You should be. What are you doing here with your axe and your bad manners?”
Jack looked down. He was still holding the axe after all. Well. Who’d have thought?
“I’ve got an idea,” he said, and was surprised to find out he did. Was it his idea? It must’ve been, he just hadn’t bothered to speak it yet. Or think it.
“Miracles never cease.”
“I saw a giant.”
“I see.”
“I killed it.”
“Nothing new there.”
“And nobody cared.”
“When was the last time anyone cared about anything you did?”
Jack brought the axe down.
It didn’t hit the mirror, because he wasn’t suicidal, but it drove three inches into the wood of the dressing-table besides Mrs. White’s left hand, and that made her look at him again.
“When was the last time you were the fairest? We’ve let them forget about us, and we’re owed better. I kill a giant, folks should be singing stories! You look in your mirror, it should be showering you in praise! We should be in the papers, on the tv, on the interwhatever. The computers. They’re letting us rot away!”
Mrs. White’s face didn’t move but her fingers were tapping in a sort of slow syncopation; one against the axeblade, the rest against the tabletop.
“Will they bring me another prince?” she asked.
“You’re owed it, aren’t you? Why wouldn’t they?”
“Will they give you your riches?”
“I’ve earned it, haven’t I? How could they not?”
Mrs. White’s fingers stopped and the room barely had a breath in it.
“We’ll call the police first thing,” he said. “Get them on that giant from this morning. Let them know the proper people are doing their proper jobs again and they should be grateful for it.”
“Do you think we could make them dance?” she asked.
“The pretty on – the ugly ones. The ones that aren’t as pretty as me that the mirror lies about. Do you think we could make them dance again, in the red-hot irons? In the shoes?”
“I very much think I would enjoy that.”
Jack smiled for the first time since entering the house. “Well, then why not?”
The doorbell rang.
“I’ll get it.”
“No. This is my house. Come along.” Mrs. White peeked out the window and squinted. “You phoned them much too early, Jack. I would’ve liked to have more time.”
“Who?” asked Jack. Then he looked outside too, and saw the flashing lights. And next door, the ambulance.

The giants were on the lawn. Big and tall and sober as stones, hand in hand. They weren’t looking at him, though; they were crouched low over the ambulance, speaking to its contents in soft slow voices.
That was what made him the angriest, thought Jack. They wouldn’t even look at him.
Second place went to whatever that measly runt of an officer was speaking at him. He was barely a baby. Fresh-faced. No stoop in his spine. No rot in his heart. And he was standing there and there were GIANTS standing there, and he was telling Jack some nonsense about laws and rules and other things for the young people, the fake people.
Mrs. White was standing beside him. He wondered what she’d do.
The officer was asking him to come down to the station.
Jack raised his axe, felt a sting in his arm and his chest and his thigh and tumbled down freer and easier than he’d moved in years. Light as a feather. Lithe as a beanstalk.

It was a very straightforward trial. Fair, and fast.
The fingerprints on the candy bar, the testimonies of child and neighbours.
The rants from the defendant.
Fair and fast. That was how these things were meant to be, hopefully

Mrs. White went home to her mirror. The door was never repaired, but the maildrift grew to fill it.
The giants went home. The cast came off within a year or so.
And by the time Jack came out again, older and more bent than ever, someone had taken his chair.

Storytime: Getting Warmer.

February 15th, 2017

She’d been sitting there a long, long time before the speck came. She’d been sitting there longer still before it turned into a boat, drifting in from the edge of the eyeball’s reach. And it was longer than that again before it finally docked, bumping and bruising and cursing and splashing.
May always did have noodle arms.
“You’re late.”
“Or early,” said May. She scratched at long, pale, sweat-rank hair. “It’s so damned hard to tell these days. Especially up here. Are we at the geographic?”
May squinted up at the sun. “Huh. The magnetic, then?”
“Are we at any sort of pole at all?”
“No. I had to take what we could get.”
“And what could you get?”
“The last chunk of ice in all the arctic circle.”
May whistled and kicked the bile-speckled surface underfoot. A rotting chunk came off at her heel. “Nice. Real nice. Don’t suppose we could steer it to the right spot?”
“Wherever it is, there’s the spot.”
“Right, right, right. I guess so. You know best, of course.”
“No. I’m just making it up as I go.”
“Well there’s a fucking terrifying thought, pardon me very much.”
She shrugged. “If it works, it works. If it doesn’t work, we make it work. That’s the rules.”
“I don’t remember ever agreeing to any rules anywhen in particular.”
“You’re walking. You’re talking. Breathing. Rowing. Sweating. Arguing. None of that’s necessary, is it.”
“No, guess not.”
“None of that’s free, is it.”
“You want to fit into that shape you’ve got to make some allowances for symbolism. And once it’s got its hooks in you, the only way to get out is more of it. And this is it.”
“It what?”
May looked around the world. A blue horizon against a blue sky stretching all the way around in every direction except for the immediate: a miserable little ice floe barely bigger than the dinghy she’d heaved for hundreds of miles.
“My arms hurt.”
“Will they stop hurting after this, y’think?”
“Well, hell, it’s not all bad then. You do what you’ve got to do, cousin.”

There was a little rise in the center of the rotting berg; a sad mirror of what lay beneath them. They’re always larger where they can’t be seen. What’s that going to mean when there’s none left?
“You bring a knife, or we going to do this bare-handed?”
“Stainless steel?”
“Well, fair enough.”
May draped herself over the lump and squinted up at the summer sun.
“Too damned hot.”
“Yes,” said June.

The human ribcage is sturdier than it looks. May wasn’t human, but she was a human idea, and that was close enough. Scratch one of their imaginings and however pretty it looked on the surface, underneath they were all the same.
Her heart was warm against the cool air. Condensation forming on its gently-steaming muscle.
It was a tough thing and it took June almost as much sawing and chewing to get down as her bones had.
She stared up at that midnight sun and missed her already. She’d always been closest to her, May had. April had whined, February’d pouted. January had kicked and screamed and raved.
But May had slipped away without so much as a complaint, and she’d miss her the hardest for it.

June washed the blood from her hands in the warm, warm water. And then she stepped away, to see the rest of her world.
It was going to be a long summer.

Storytime: Layers.

February 8th, 2017

We will began at the top and work our way down.

The upper atmosphere is empty.

Below, there are satellites. One of them is much more expensive and silent than its friends. It is watching very carefully.

Down beneath that, where the clouds brew, there is an unusually high-flying bird, on its way up to see its own kind of god. Its wings are clotted with condensation and ice crystals. It is moving extremely quickly and does not wish to slow down.

Under the ugliest clouds and above the scenic ones is an underpriced plane filled with overpriced tickets. One of them is not mediocre, and is watching their phone carefully. It is much more expensive and silent than all the others aboard.

The scenic clouds are billowing in a surprising new breeze coming up at an angle that is very nearly absolutely ninety degrees, stained with burned dust and ashed stone. It’s red and black and is turning them sunset colours far ahead of schedule. They don’t mind. They are peaceful clouds, and will accept this change as they have all others. A restful nature.

Beneath the billowin – no, no, no, they’re BOILING now, surely – underside of the scenic clouds is a scream. It began on the planet’s surface and was followed immediately by several lesser screams, but it is so much larger and faster and stronger that it has outpaced them all by leaps and bounds. Unlike its predecessors, it was never constrained by living lungs and hot dead air.

Rising rapidly comes the shockwave in the scream’s wake, frightening birds, scalding clouds, and burning away at seventeen different frequencies. On one of them, the expensive and quiet satellite can almost detect it as something more than nothing, or less than that.

Rising up is the rubble. Tons of rock now lighter than air, and tons more that’s still heavier but being made to forget it, for a moment, a minute. There is debris in there that’s not natural, crafted by clever little hands. Shovels and spades, laptops and toothbrushes. A jeep, or derivative thereof.

Under the rubble and in the rubble and around the rubble as it floats are the lighter things. The birds, mostly. There are still many more of them around than they are given credit for and they are moving very quickly because they would like this number to increase rather than decrease which it is in immediate danger of doing. As it were. They know what’s at stake here.

Clinging to the remnants of real, solid rock below the wingbeats and panic-song are a few diggers. Most of them are innocuous, as far as scientists can be. The worst they’d planned here was to sneak an extra can of beer if they felt they’d done an extra good job that day. Their heads are full of geological strata and their pockets are full of rock samples. One of them has an expensive and silent phone in their pocket instead. It is not as helpful as the rocks.

Underneath them, trampled by sun and sneakers and a few hundred years of fearsome wind and rain, are the mineral-hardened remains of the carcass of the far-flying bird’s great-great-great-great-ongoing-great-aunt. In her day she was queen of most of what she surveyed, and that’s never quite changed. She’s definitely still the prettiest thing on the mesa. Assuredly. She is dead. Assuredly. She is not pleased. Assuredly.

Farther down is stone, the planet’s abraded, hardened scabs. Rehealing eternally as surely as it is picked over. Shoved into the mantle and born again. Ground down from mountains and built up in estuaries. The kind of immortality that’s more fleeting than being alive at all.

Far beneath is a newer wound, where hot fiery blood burned out and cooled to a smoulder. It was guided there by something more determined than chance. Once-liquid lava, now a casket.

Below that, more basal than the basalt, is the exterior carapace.

Beneath that is the upper epidermis.

Beneath that is the start of the flesh and the blood and the long, slow booms of the heart that drives it.

Beneath that is another heart. Hearts. Too grand a frame for just one.

Beneath that is a long slow dawning confusion and an anger built out of fear.

And just above that, of course, is the scream again. Breaking barriers. Breaking up.

It’s all about to go quite out of order.

Storytime: A Ruckus.

February 1st, 2017

It was good.
It was good.
Bing bang clash crunch BAM!
It was VERY good.
The High Mangler walked slowly atop the shaking floorboards, as befitted her station, with her head rotating a little like a tank’s turret. And everywhere her eyes swept, what she saw was good. The production line was bustling today; a cacophony that would not pause, a roar so endless that the notion of it having a beginning was as impossible as an end.
And it was precisely because of this perfection that the error almost escaped the High Mangler’s gaze. In fact – despite her later claims to the contrary – it did so altogether. Rather, it was a single errant footfall atop a discard noise-nozzle that turned the High Mangler’s stride into a slide, then a spin, and finally a desperate clutching topple that slid her to a halt directly in front of a workstation. Still falling, her hands grabbed at moving parts by reflex while the upper functions of her brain screamed at them to stop….
But they didn’t. But she didn’t bleed. But…
This was because the parts were not moving. The screamaphone was muzzled. The grinder was static. The noise-nozzles were disconnected from the thumpers. And the clang – the beautiful, central, loudest of them all – was placed on its side, on its sounding-side, as if it were dead in a ditch.
“WHAT?” shouted the High Mangler at the world, terror replaced instantly by incredulous rage.
“Shh,” said the worker, mistaking the general for the specific.
“WHAT?” shouted the High Mangler at the worker.
“You’re being too loud,” said the worker. “I’m trying to listen to something.”
The High Mangler had worked in the Soundfoundry for all her adult life, and apprenticed there besides. Her shifts were the noisiest, her workers the most furious, her yells the loudest in all of the Clangdom of Clash – not a single throat atop its cliffs could boast as fiercely as her own.
And for the first time, she opened her mouth and was unable to make a sound.

Trials were not common in Clash. Typically everyone was too busy to get up to any mischief, and if they did and got caught usually someone just punched them until they yelped loud enough to make up for it.
This, however, was a matter of a different magnitude.
“TREASON,” yelled the judge from her perch atop the pandepodium. “HIGH TREASON, WITH INTENT TO…” – and here the judge shuddered, fighting the urge to WHISPER of all things “…MUFFLE. HOW DO YOU PLEAD, REPROBATE?”
“Shh,” said the defendant. Her lawyer buried his face in his palms.
The courtroom did not descend into silence. This was impossible. It was located directly about the eighth of the always-beating Upper Drums of the Grand Din and any trial worth having here was worth having in front of a crowd of hundreds, all of whom were encouraged to speculate at full volume.
But there WAS an unusual lull. The judge’s eyeballs expanded during it, and grew slightly bloodshot.
“Shhhhh!” said the defendant. “I think I’ve just heard it again! Can you be quiet for a-”
And at the sound of such horrifying prevarications the entire court had no choice but to descend into a more normal, safe and sane chaos. The judge bit the front off the pandepodium in a rage, the prosecutor and the defense lawyer grappled with one another while screeching maniacally, and the jury simply screamed at escalating pitch until their water glasses exploded.
But despite this outer veneer of normality and civility and sanity, the disquiet would not fade. And so when the verdict came, it was of no surprise to see its harshness made manifest.
The defendant opened her mouth again, but her lawyer was watching, and as soon as he saw her lips begin to purse again for that awful ‘shh’ he quickly punched her in the back of the head.
The court roared in approval. Repentance was the first step on the road to reintegration.

The orderlies stood outside the cell. Each of them was about one and a half times the height of a normal Clasher, and twice to thrice as wide.
All of them were sweating.
“YOU FIRST,” suggested the head.
The second orderly gave his head a dirty look and cracked the cell door open.
It stuck.
It was a strong door. Reinforced. Padded. Hardened. Reinforced again. It would’ve taken a professional safecracker and a jackhammer days to break it. The burliest maniac could claw at it for decades without so much as leaving a scratch. They were stuck in there, alone with a mere eighty decibels of sound – barely a roar, let alone a din.
Inside, someone had added to it. Torn sheets had been jammed in every crack. The mattress was wedged against it. A pillow had been jammed in the food slot.
And in the corner, with the calm, worried eyes of the truly insane, stood their prisoner.
She looked annoyed.
“Shh!” she said. “I almost had it! You’re being too noisy; shut the damned door!”
The second orderly screamed in terror and slammed the cell shut as loud as he could and quit on the spot in that order. Then he ran out of the Bed And Lament Prison For The Silent so fast his toenails came off.
Unfortunately, his coworkers chased after him. And more unfortunately, no-one had bothered to turn the lock.

Word of the prison break spread like breaking glass through Clash, from the lowest crags to the highest crests of the cliff. In the Grand Din’s Regal Echo, embedded just beneath the foundations of the eight Upper Drums and suspended just above the giant skins of the sixteen Lower Drums, the Lord Yowler consulted with her High Mangler.
The Mangler considered this, drumming her fingers on the small timpani she kept strapped to her thigh for that purpose, in case the ambient volume dropped too low. “RUN,” she decided. “HIDE. TRY AND FIND SOMEWHERE…” – and she shivered at the thought – “…QUIET.”
The Lord Yowler blanched like overcooked carrots. “WHAT IN GONG’S NAME COULD MAKE SUCH A MONSTER?”
The High Mangler shrugged and accelerated the tempo of her drumming. “DON’T KNOW. SHE KEPT SAYING THAT SHE WANTED TO HEAR SOMETHING.”
The High Mangler suddenly realized that the drumming of her hands was the only sound in the room but their voices.
They looked down. The Lower Drums were silent.
They looked up. The Upper Drums were mute.
They looked at each other, then looked at the door.
It opened and shut, noiselessly.
And in the room with them stood the worker, the defendant, the prisoner, the maniac, clutching a battered wrench in her hand and trailing noiselessness in her wake.
“Shh,” she whispered.
The High Mangler’s heart skipped, and in that moment of horror, against every instinct that she had, every skill, every belief, every value, her fingers halted.


“There!” said the maniac triumphantly, in the wake of that awful, awful quiet…that SILENCE… “D’you hear? It sounds like something creakin-”
And the Clangdom of Clash, in all its sound and fury, fell through its own basements and through the Cliffs of Clash all at once, its vibration-ravaged foundations finally giving up for good.

The dust plume soared for miles, and, to what doubtlessly would’ve been the gratification of its former inhabitants, the noise didn’t die down for days.

Storytime: The Crack.

January 25th, 2017

I’m awake before the alarm, as usual. Awake before a lot of things. If I turn my head right now and look at the clock I know the numerals I’m seeing won’t be Arabic. Probably won’t even be numbers.
Things are like that here. On this side of the crack.
My bed’s trying to eat me again; I can feel it gnawing on my legs past the sweet anesthetic of the covers. The pillow is swelling, smothering. I want to turn and toss once and never move again.
But I can’t. Because I can’t, because I can’t. So I tear myself upright and kick free of warm and soft and stagger over to where my clothes might be if they are.
They are.
That’s a good sign. One of many I’ll need to make it.

The hallway this side of the crack is longer but thinner. Sharp edges, ice-cold bruisers, all waiting for the toes and the heel. You can cripple yourself here if you’re not careful, or in a rush. And there’s always a rush.
The kitchen’s simpler. The food’s there. What it is right now is harder to understand, but it’s there.
So I pounce on the first cupboard to creak and snap open a flapping lid and tear through thick plastic and it’s cereal, hard on the gums but easy on the stomach. Once it’d been flour. Fun day that was.
Down, down to the doormat, stomping boots on sloppily before fumbling for laces. Feet-covering first, then fuss. I’ve already spent too much time with nothing but wool between my toes and this side of the crack. And it’s about to get harder.

The car keys are treacherously tangled with all the others and I lose precious seconds or years fumbling with colt metal and cold fingers. By the time the engine’s on and warm the fuzz has crept back into my brain and eyes and blood. I’m flying blind with highbeams on as everything screams HUSH at me, stumbling round corners and forgetting my lunch, route and name. It’s all pushing down on me as I crest the hill.
And from there, about to be swallowed up, I see the crack.

It’s not quite gold or red. It’s not quite anything; there are no colours on this side.
But it’s enough.
I drive forward. I fall through it.
I hear the world breathe again.

And it’s morning.

Storytime: Naughty.

January 18th, 2017

It’s quiet here.
I’m not used to that. Not after the screaming and the shooting and the fire and the crash.
Not after the shouting and the kicking and the punching and the crackle-hiss-zap of the taser.
Not after the long, slow sirens.
But most of all, not after the last few hundred years. I’ve lived a busy, noisy life in busy, noisy places.
Not like this. I’ve never been somewhere like this.

They feed me. It’s simple food, nourishing food. They didn’t know what to feed me at first, then I wouldn’t eat it, then they stuck a tube up my nose and forced it down me until I threw up and gave up and started cooperating. Anything to not feel the sting of crushed ginger cookies and milk against my sinuses again.
It’s not bad food. It’s my favourite food. It’s what I’ve always eaten and every time I open my mouth to chew I have to try not to cry.

When the meal is over, they bring me in to the calm room. They give me a special, calming treat – a little cupful of fruit-flavoured gelatin – and they ask calm questions, with earnest, open faces. How? When did you how? Who told you to how, when? Why?
Especially the last one, it always comes down to that. It’s the least likely to give them any useful answers, but they can’t stop asking it. Why? Why, why, why, why and z.
So today, I tell them.

It’s a big storm. We seem them a lot, this far north. Billowing and blustering their way over the planet’s balding crown.
But it’s big and WET and warm, and there’s too much water lying around for it to push against, lying bare to the sky when it should be sheathed in ice. Waves are forming. Water is surging. Ice is cracking – and there isn’t much ice to crack.
And nobody’s noticed, nobody’s ringing the alarm-bells, because we’re all too busy inside! Don’t get me wrong, we plan ahead. We plan ahead all year! But there’s always the last bit of loading, there’s always the checklist, there’s always the last-minute additions, the last-minute subtractions, the ephemeral wavering between the lists.
Besides, we’re not blind. We’re not stupid. The workshop’s been equipped with buoys for the last decade and a half. Just in case of what might happen.
Well, it happened. It happened right as I was picking up the reins. The floor shook and then rose, and I slid off my feet and bam, out the front door I goes.
And into the water. I didn’t expect that. It had been snow just an hour ago as we performed the final flight check. But it was liquid now, and I was paddling for my life, swimming to the workshop’s lights until I realized they were below me now, the whole workshop, glittering in the black-and-blue as it sank.
For centuries and more I’ve made things, I’ve seen things. And no matter what the shape or form, I’ve been able to look past it and see the thing inside that made it shine. But I’d never seen anything as beautiful as my drowning workshop as it slipped away from me. And that was what hurt most of all.
The hammers were still ringing. They were sinking and they were still ringing, louder and louder until I broke the surface and it stopped all at once.

They’re asking me why again. Why, why, why. And I tell them I’m telling them why, just leave me alone for a moment and let me finish.

You see, the team had made it. They’d been set and bridled, they must have flown out the roof just after I left through the front door. And they’d brought the pack with them.
I had my pack. I had my team. I had nothing else, nothing else at all. The list was lost.
But I could make one. It would just be much smaller.

It wasn’t very hard, in the end. I only had to visit a few thousand, instead of billions. And they only got one present each, which made it even faster.
Still, they caught on to me as I started my second pass. People pay more attention when something naughty happens to someone important. And they DO something about it.
So the planes scrambled and the missiles launched and I dodged and weaved and laughed until my dimples ached and they didn’t bring me down until dawn, when the night was over and I had nowhere to land and nothing left to fly with.
And then they brought me here, where they’re still asking me why, why, why.
I’ve told them why, but they want more. They don’t want my why, they want a why they can accept and make reasonable and understandable and rational. This is the calm room, it’s where they need to hear calming things.
So I shrug and I chuckle and I tell them this.
“It just wasn’t a very merry year.”

And I sit there and laugh, with my bowl full of jelly.

Ho. Ho. Ho.

Storytime: Ever Higher.

January 11th, 2017

“It’s a marble.”
Jen squinted at the near horizon. The sun was already coming down; the days here were just a little bit shorter than her body was insisting they should be.
“Yeah, a marble. A big, beautiful blue marble.”
Jen shook her head. “Man, you’ve got to get off that ship and see for yourself. I promise there’s more than blue down here. I swear, these mountains are PURPLE.”
“I’m looking at the big picture, you know. That’s my job.”
“You’re a cargo hauler, Davy, not a pilot.”
“Yeah, and who gets the big picture better than the guy who has to load it, pack it, shift it, and drop it? Trust me, I’ll be down before you know it.”
More lavender, she decided. The foothills, now, they were definitely purple in places. Not an unhealthy glow, though; they glistened with plant life. She breathed in deep and felt that strange, off-tilt taste that was air filled with hundreds of thousands of trees. So strange after the lifetime spent on board Requin. Would it have been stranger still to grandma and grandpa, fresh from the grey smogs and the dead seas?
“That’s old news, Davy. I’m looking at the new big picture right here. All we’ve got to do is assemble the pieces.”
The chainsaw fired up on the third rev, grumbling about it. Well-designed, but it HAD spent more than half a century in storage.
“Alright, alright. See you in a month, jigsaw.”
Jen smiled as the blade bit into the trunk of the tree. “See you in a month, Davy.”
The smell of sap drifted up around her, and the world seemed to grow a little bigger because of it.
A step beyond the cradle.

Item 00001: Chainsaw
Used for logging. The materials science behind this device is far less advanced than that required to reach the planet’s surface, and is similarly at odds with that of many unearthed structures. This, and design discrepancies within this and other retrieved timber-cutting equipment, indicates an overall improvised set of tools, often retrofitted from spare parts for more sophisticated devices.
Item 00001a: Preserved Sap
Removed from the cutting mechanisms of Item 001. The sap is that of the Netterli Allpine, which formed large dense forests over much of eastern Tendyssa at the time of landing. Shortly afterwards, it became extinct in the wild, presumably due to the sudden and enormous pressure placed upon it by land clearance for crops and settlements.

Roiann looked up.
Sparkling lights. Ten million diamonds floating above her head, close enough to see but far enough to sparkle. And hundreds of them belonged to her, floating just above the atmosphere. Beaming news, data, gossip and games and stocks and a thousand imaginary necessities.
Roiann looked down.
A hundred million people, all building, booming, growing, surging, improving, learning, prospering.
Hundreds of thousands of them belonged to her too, although they would’ve put it differently. They put in their hours for her, and that was enough.
And in the middle distance, between Roiann’s two planes of ownership, there was the horizon. Curving gently off beyond her sight.
Not her reach, though. Landing was still humanity’s heart, but she’d been making moves. Expeditions. Research, mining, mapping, whatever excuse could be used and budgeted.
There was profit out there somewhere. Enough for everyone, and why shouldn’t she get first pick?
She turned her gaze back to the object on her desk and smiled.

Item 00978: Office Desk.
A workstation. This specimen is highly decorative in design and likely belonged to a wealthy executive; the drawers and filing equipment are overly diminished and show little use, while the materials used in construction are not only high-quality but show the traces of individual craftsmanship rather than mass production. This was a commissioned sumptuary good, used to display status.
Item 00978a-q: Shards of Allglass.
These microscopic flecks were retrieved from a hairline crevice in the desk’s surface, and are possibly the earliest allglass traces in Landing. There is still no record of the precise date when expeditions from Tendyssa first travelled across the pole to Wender, but this may have been among the first curiosities brought back from those early ventures.

Taddle was a runner. And he was good at it. He’d practically raced out of the crib. He’d nearly become a professional sprinter in his school years. He could tap a friend on the shoulder and be round the block by the time they’d finished turning.
But he’d been a little foolish to hope to outrun bullets.
Now here he was, bleeding out all over his broken nearly-but-not-quite-bulletproof shirt. Lying on his side, watching the world spin and wondering why he’d decided to do it. Yes, his brother had needed the money; he had no legs thanks to their grandfather. Yes, his father had needed the operation; all those years down in the foundries did wonderful things to your body from the outside in. Yes, his daughter would need food; she was already barely eating enough to stay awake in classes.
But now they’d need all that and his funeral bill too.
His back was on fire. Not from the bullets, from something crushed and splintered and eating into his skin like bugs on butter. The package of allglass he’d been hiding down his back had smashed. It was a good thing he was already passing out; if he’d had the energy he would’ve screamed.
A boot came into his field of view, followed by the rest of the mine guard. And then – if not for very long – Taddle realized he could scream after all.

Item 02931: Improvised Bulletproof Jacket
An illegal and improvised item, produced by melting ‘Red Silica’ over heavy cold-weather clothing. This particular specimen possessed two fatal flaws in its manufacture: it was adulterated with low-quality ‘Blue Silica’ to save costs and the base substrate was a smaller, lighter shirt that did not protect the wearer’s extremities. The latter may have been a necessary compromise; the shirt appears to be employee wear from Hibber Air & Earth, one of the larger allglass exploration companies in Wender during the era, and was likely intended to be a disguise first and last-ditch protection later. Bullet damage on the specimen’s exterior, along with massive allglass scarring along its interior, suggest that this plan failed.

The sky was red again today.
Pline had breakfast with what was left in the cupboard that had been her fridge before the last power surge, then dialed her old company.
No answer.
She hadn’t expected one; three weeks with no offices since the downtown floods had crippled the branch; the mills had been completely unsalvageable and every technician with any useful skills had long-ago left the city behind for work in the privateland holdouts. The owners had probably just walked off and vanished rather than deal with the paperwork, and the difficult of finding anyone to manage the paperwork. .
She dialed her best friend, next-closest friend, and then a few more.
No answers.
They’d probably just walked off and vanished. A lot of people did that.
The alarm in the ceiling hissed, and she slipped her mask on before peeking out the window. The air was a thick clot of bloody sand.
Allglass storm, again. The third one this week. Hard to believe in grandmother’s day they’d never seen one dip into the lower atmosphere before.
Her stomach gurgled, and she opened the fridge and realized there was nothing left. It was the end of the day and she was back at last night again. Again.
Pline’s face hurt. It had hurt since she was a little girl and she was used to it, but it was enough.
She took off the mask, put it in the fridge, and walked out the door.
And vanished.

Item 07003: Storm Mask
A mass-produced item of low quality, the many imperfections in this specimen’s design can be traced to many wider disruptions in global supply chains leading to the use of low-cost and inferior local materials. The sealing of the mask’s jaw in particular is badly malformed from use and likely caused extensive discomfort when prolonged use occurred, which was likely frequent at the time. Allglass storms not only increased in frequency as more and more of the substance was destroyed and released into the atmosphere, but were aggravated by even the most minute particle pollutants, which they would aggregate into and subsume. A heavy smog could become a killing clot of sharpened particles, but deadlier still were the long-term physiological and psychological ills brought on by constant low-level exposure to the wear and tear of allglass-laced dust and pollen.

It was too dark.
Hobb held his breath and held still and his nose tickled but he did not sneeze not even a little because it was too dark.
The other people were out there arguing, yelling in their strange voices, brandishing their rust and plastic and shouting and trying their hard to be the scariest possible because if they did they wouldn’t have to kill each other the way they’d killed Hobb’s family and nothing made them more worried than that.
Hobb was trying not to think about what they’d done, but there it was again, fresh and red in his mind as it hadn’t been in reality. All the blood was red and bright and clear and shining and the wounds showed great gouts of colour inside, oozing and glistening.
Not like this. Not like it had been, with dark liquid and grunts and screams in the black. Because it was too dark.
The other people were still shouting. Didn’t they know it was too dark? They’d stood on the fire, they’d thrown Hobb’s uncle into it. Why? Were they crazy? They’d been outside, in the storms. Only crazy people did that. And they dressed crazy, with all those heavy coats and clasps and the masks. And they’d come from the privlands, on foot, in the day.
They didn’t know anything.
One of them shouted, loud enough to hurt ears, and they all stopped talking at once.
Hobb sneezed, even though it was too dark, and that was that.
He never had a chance to tell them about the Deepmakers. They never gave him one. And so, when they were sleeping, it came as a very large surprise.

Item 07991: Security Helmet
Although for a time complex international society persisted in the form of communication passed between fortified compounds in the heavily-guarded holdouts and refuges of what the common folk called the ‘privatelands,’ several centuries without maintenance destroyed the satellite communications networks necessary for any real cooperation, along with mutual distrust and competition. Lacking trade networks for resupply and repair, each individual stronghold lived and eventually died on its own. Many were abandoned when vital survival systems broke down, their inhabitants dispersing into the new wildernesses, but few of these voyagers integrated successfully into new communities. This particular specimen is an example of a typical though well-illustrated story: an aging but almost pristine security helmet that suffered several months of intense weathering from brutal allglass storms before being abandoned in a secluded cave. The culprit behind this last event is particularly evident: the bite marks lining the inside of the skull are undeniably those of the Tendyssan King Walleater. The eusocial burrowers ate the privateland exile from the inside out.



Item 08200: Patella
This skeletal fragment is the youngest evidence of Lander civilization on the planet. It belonged to a subadult in poor health, who likely received little care from family members shortly after weaning, which she did early. It is possible, although not confirmable, that she was the very last Lander alive; certainly the nearest archaeological site to her grave is notably older. If she was not the last in fact, her existence was nonetheless very similar to that hypothetical other, unknown Lander. Each would have never known the difference, and if they had met would possibly have not even as recognized the other as kin. Landers were socially intelligent animals, and without any prior contact with their own kind, their existences must have been intensely uncomfortable. Even without malnutrition and the hardship of the changing environment, it is unlikely this nameless child would have lived long alone.