The diner fell silent.

“We don’t trust any water what doesn’t come through the pipes,” said the waitress. She set a glass of it out, clouded with grit and what might have been flecks of rust.

Everyone had turned to look, from the rough-and-tumble logmen in the far booth to the man in a rumpled business suit at the phone booth. A droplet of sweat wound its way down the side of the glass and pooled on the curling linoleum countertop.

If the water wasn’t sipped, and soon, there would be trouble.

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Soul oppresses soul.
Impossible soul escapes.
It was never real.

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Banshee’s Scream Inn
Named after a powerful positive female role model in Irish folklore, the Banshee’s Scream is a hub of social life on the island. From its award-winning Shillelagh micro-brew to its treasured secret recipe pig-in-a-blanket, the cuisine is a local staple. The Scream also lets rooms as a bed and breakfast and serves as temporary headquarters for the Xanthophyll Festival and Mr. Autumn, its mysterious and reclusive grand marshal.

Xanthophyll Festival
Celebrating that most magical of fall leaf pigments, the Xanthophyll festival is a time-honored tradition during decorative gourd season. Come for the homemade pumpkin spice chicken gumbo, stay for the stage shows including music by acclaimed local band Cucurbita & the Pepos.

Langtree Schoolhouse
The sole school on the island, Langtree caters to all students from kindergarten to super senior. It is renowned for its emphasis on musical education, animal husbandry, ecology, and dark magic. It also serves as the local community college, and earned credits transfer to Sim State (go LLamas!).

Ladder Alley Marketplace
Named after a narrow byway that has since been widened into Mill St., the Ladder Alley Marketplace offers all the dry and wet goods the islanders could ever want. With everything from LlamaMart-brand goods brought over from the mainland to local small-batch artisan organic produce, Ladder Alley has something for everyone. Its pumpkin spice jam, pumpkin garlic bread, and gourd-filtered coffee are local staples.

Addams Beach
This secret getaway is famous for two things: its unspoilt stretch of white sand and its riptides. Sometimes called the “graveyard of the leafers” it is notorious for swallowing unwary tourists whole. Legends of a sea monster with an underground laboratory lair are unsubstantiated.

Candlewood Beach
The island’s most popular and most sheltered beach, popular with tourists and those who feel the siren song of the deep unknown. Legends of fish-men emerging from its depths are largely dismissed. Legends of fish-and-chips men selling overpriced seafood to tourists are confirmed.

Innsmouth Seafood
The bounty brought in by the local fishermen who own Innsmouth Seafood is uncommonly rich, with the best of the catch reserved for this eatery. World-famous after being featured in the “Eateries and Estuaries” issue of The Llama Review, it is also notable for having a chef that has never been seen in daylight.

Dr. Alivardo’s Potent Potions
Serving as both the island’s sole physician and its alchemist, Dr. Alivardo was a fixture for many years. After his tragic death in an invisibility potion mishap, his practice is still famous for its high standard of medical care and the potency of its potions, especially the locally famed Essence of Esprit reinvigoration potion. Lose 30 years off your life in a month or your money back!

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“You don’t choose the gift,” Madame Phara says, laughing. “The gift chooses you. And there’s no giving it back once it’s given.”

Phara lives in a small apartment in New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward. She shares the three-room efficiency with her husband Stanley, who didn’t do much other than snore on the couch during our visit. “He works the night shift,” explains Phara, “and I make him a powerful sleeping draught for the day so he can catch up.”

Though a sleeping potion powerful enough to knock out your husband for 12 hours may seem like a dream to many spouses, Madame Phara insists that her magical powers can be as much of a gift as a curse. “It’s impossible for me to use the microwave,” she says. “If it’s plugged in and I accidentally cook up a little magic, it’ll blow the breaker.” The microwave sits in a corner, greasy but unplugged; Stanley uses it only when Phara is away. She bashfully admits that it’s the 17th one they’ve had since getting married in 1983.

In the kitchen, the matriarch of magic goes through a litany of things her magic makes difficult or impossible, pointing each out in turn. “I can’t cook with vinegar,” she says. “Stanley has to do it for me. I’ll turn it to wine, even right through the bottle.” She has turned to using vinegar-flavored potato chips instead to satisfy her cravings for the sour and pungent.

Clearing her throat, she adds: “I hope you don’t mind a slice of raspberry pie. Normally I’d choose something without so many seeds, but…” She looks at a blackberry bush that has sprouted from the garbage can and overtaken half of the kitchen. Berries the size of golf balls dangle from its thorny boughs. “You understand, that’s just how it is,” Madame Phara laughs, by way of apology.

How does it feel when her magic interferes so much with her daily life? “You get used to it,” Madame Phara says. “Some things you get nonmagical folks like Stanley to help with, but other times–like when I accidentally raised poor Mr. Washington as a zombie–I just have to sort it out myself.”

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“Aw shit,” I said. “A congressman. How long before every agency with a three-letter name shows up to stomp around in their fancy suits?”

“About half an hour,” said Meyers. ‘What do you think, Carolyn? Should we give them the traditional cold shoulder run around, or opt for the more upbeat ‘fuck you, let’s see the paperwork?'”

“Listen to your heart,” I said. Returning to the grisly scene, I nodded to Elena, who had the latest iPhone and a good data plan. “Get me this guy’s Wikipedia page,” I said. “Full version, none of that mobile crap.”

As she struggled to peel off her gloves, I grabbed our CSI photographer and began pointing out salient points. Roberts was a good guy, and a valuable sounding board, especially when I was mad. We had a standing agreement: no bullshit, just honesty and maybe a little snark when things were in a jam,

“Look at this,” I said, pointing at the jagged hole in the man’s lower back, from which a coiled snake of small intestine peeked coyly. “It looks like he was sawed open by a carpenter. Kidney’s missing. Organ theft?”

“No, I don’t think so,” Roberts said, snapping. “I think that he got stabbed through the kidney and they carved it out, along with all the other bits, to make it look like an organ harvest.”

I raised an eyebrow. “And what proof do you have of this supposition, sugar?”

“None whatsoever, Carolyn, other than the cuts themselves. Someone was in a hurry, and if I needed a kidney, I wouldn’t take one that badly damaged.”

“He was the chair of the House committee on green energy,” Elena said, intent on her phone. “He had a rating of ‘zero hunks of coal’ from the Electric Generators’ Association.”

“Sounds like a motive to me,” I said.

“Sounds like a hunch at best,” Roberts said. “Congressmen have a lot of enemies and even more frenemies.”

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After you’ve been dead for about a century, you run out of things to do.

The last of my followers crumbled to dust decades ago. Nobody’s much impressed by the cantrips and magicks I can summon anymore, since they have brighter flames available on their cell phones. Cell phones! If I concentrated my hardest, at my absolute most powerful, I could have exchanged a few words with an agent in Philadelphia. Now, half the folks in town are on the horn with people across the world, and I just don’t get it.

Those old robes have rotted away too, and the stuff that people wear today just doesn’t suit my need for ostentation. Back in the day, you needed to be colorful just to be seen at the head of ten thousand troops; a dark suit and shades really can’t cut it. So I usually just wear a jogging suit. It complies with the terms of my parole and keeps me from getting nicked for indecent exposure, such as it is.

So what’s there for an old lich to do? Nobody’s impressed by my tricks, and even if they were, I’ve got no desire to rule such lazy, entitled people. So I mostly pass my days with community service and outreach.

Obviously, they don’t want these wizened, mummified old hands spooning out soup to the homeless. Even though the runes of blue fire etched into my palms are strictly hypoallergenic, their rules apply to all the undead, and I sure can sympathize with not wanting zombies near anything edible. But thanks to the eldritch energies that will power my husk for another few millennia, I have a great ability to speak with and understand the dead. So I mostly work as a translator.

Liches are pretty rare–the only other one in the city, Lady Vermilda, hasn’t left her penthouse since 1887–so I’m very much in demand by people who want to understand the risen corpse of Uncle Lester now that his jaw’s fallen off. I get a lot of requests to talk to ghosts, too, but most of the time there isn’t even anybody there but an overactive imagination. If you want someone to speak to your vivid imagination, try a politician.

But the one thing I do enjoy, as much as anything can be said to be enjoyable in this endless purgatory, is sitting down to chat with the newly dead.

Now, what souls do once they leave the body, I don’t rightly know. Nobody does, other than the ghosts, and they ain’t telling. Can’t be that great, I figure, if they came back screaming, but they never answer when I ask. But it can take a while, sometimes months or years, for the soul to depart toward that great unknown. Some never do, naturally, and rise from the grave. Not liches like me–we have to do that part ourselves–but zombies, ghasts, wights, skeletons, what have you. Even the occasional vampire, though those guys kind of suck. We can’t all have romance novels written about us, I guess.

Peaceful Rest Meadows is the biggest cemetery in town that’s still accepting applicants, and I’ll usually go there to kick around and chat up the newcomers. Most of them have nothing to say, being just empty husks, but I get a few who need someone to talk to. Like I said, I kind of like talking with someone who has about the same going for them that I do, and I can claim the “after-death counseling” on my community service sheet. It’s so old the dang thing is written on vellum, but I still have a hell of a lot of hours to work off.

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