Follow the rules, they say
When they make the rules
Your best interests at heart
Just happen to coincide with
Their warmth and comfort
The only decisions made in haste
The ones that line worthy pockets
Your problems, well, no hurry
Hasty decisions are for the rich

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There was nothing. Nothing but Anita’s notes for me to comb through, searching for something that could help me find her. I opened the notebook:

ANITA’S GUIDE TO EXPLORING THE ABANDONED ZONE
Part 1: Supplies to take
-Food and water (do NOT eat or drink anything near Tamarack!)
-Change of clothes
-Hat and rain poncho (don’t let rain touch skin if possible)
-First aid kit
-Gloves (no touchie!)
-Film camera (35mm should work)
-Knife
-A sacrifice (must be valuable)

Part 2: Supplies NOT to take
-Cell phone (won’t work)
-Digital camera (will just make them angry)
-Gun
-Candy
-Sleeping bag (do not sleep anywhere near Tamarack!)

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Anita had spent over a year preparing the list, and she had frequently disappeared on research trips. When she did come home, she was always extremely talkative, if disorganized. I’d begun to worry, and had even been in contact with psychologists about the possibility of something like schizophrenia. But Anita had always seemed her same cheerful self–just obsessed with a postage stamp of the rural countryside hours north that was uninhabited and unloved.

“Did you know,” she told me one day, brushing in the door with an armful of papers xeroxed at a library a hundred miles away, “that the state government has systematically cut off all roads to the Tamarack since 1965? The only way to get there now is by hiking or canoeing down the Ontonagon.”

“Anita,” I said. “It’s just a patch of land that nobody cares about. Really.”

“It is so much more than that,” she said. Slapping her new files down on the old oak table in the dining room, she pulled out a copy of an old newspaper clipping: COPPER BOULDER REMOVED: SECOND LARGEST AFTER THE ONTONAGON BOULDER. Then, after that, another: TAMARACK FARMERS BLAME LOCAL YOUTHS FOR “DEVIL’S NIGHT:” THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS IN DAMAGE.

“What am I supposed to be seeing?” I said.

“That was the start,” Anita replied proudly. “That first article and that second article? They were from the paper in Ironwood, the Daily Globe, so the articles are a few days late. This disturbance, Devil’s Night? It happened the day after they removed that copper boulder.”

“Good for them?” I said.

“You’re not listening!” Anita cried. “I am serving you proof positive of paranormal activity near Grandma and Grandpa’s old farm, and you’re just sitting there like it’s no big deal.”

“Is it?”

“Mark my words, there is something there,” Anita said, flashing her report. “And I’m going to find out how to document it safely.”

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“Skylar was a mean-spirited son-of-a-bitch, but he’s also a legend,” said Renny. “If you’ve awakened anyone or anything, I’m not sure he’d be my first choice.”

“How exactly do you get to be both a mean-spirited son-of-a-bitch and a legend?”

“Well, he ran a big ranch that he carved out of Arapho lands even before they were officially opened up to settlement. He ran that place like a Swiss watch, and people made good money, but he was brutal to anybody that crossed him, whether it was an Indian trying to hunt on their own lands or a farmhand showing up to work drunk. Wasn’t afraid to dirty his own hands in running the ranch, too, which I think a bunch of folks respected even if they couldn’t stand him. Skylar ran into an Arapho warband during the big war with the Sioux, in ’76. He said they were on his land, they said they were just passing through. Band found itself slaughtered by Skylar and his boys, but he made a mistake: one of the Arapho boys survived a bullet in the back.”

“What happened next?”

“Well, ’76 was not the time to be pissing off the Arapho. This was around the time Custer was making the same mistake with the Sioux, you see. They decided they’d had just about enough of this mean old white boy on their land, so they sent about two hundred braves to kill him. Skylar’s boys abandoned him, so he fought them single-handedly from his ranch house. They got him, of course; no man stands up to two hundred, especially when they have repeaters. But he took damn near fifty of the Arapho with him, and they actually buried him and considered his scalp to be a high token. Skylar was a bastard, but he owned it and wasn’t afraid to put himself on the line for his bad decisions.”

“And that’s the spirit you think we’ve been seeing?”

“Like I said,” Renny shrugged. “I hope not. For your sake.”

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You’ve seen them out there, many times. Neglected, abandoned, and confined, denied the life and the care that they so desperately need. We’re asking you to take a moment to think about them.

We are, of course, talking about RVs.

Many people will, on a whim, go out and buy a small pop-up camper. They are small, cute, and seem like the perfect family companion for long road trips. But people do not realize what adopting a young RV entails. Soon, that small pop-up camper may give way to a rambunctious fifth-wheel and eventually a full-size silverback Airstream. Some families, unprepared for the burden, simply chain up their RVs in the back yard and abandon them, which is dangerous to both the RV and to its family.

This summer, please remember: do your research first. Think about whether your lifestyle can truly accommodate an RV before adopting one. And remember: adopting an RV is for life.

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“What have you got for me this time?” asked Brigadier Curnow. “Something better than that dolphin who wouldn’t shut up about tuna, I hope.”

“Oh, much better,” said Professor Ettinger. “Using a sophisticated neural net as well as sensors that track heat, light, and pheromones, we have been able to communicate with the world’s largest, and therefore wisest, organism.” He pressed a button, and the blast shield slid down so the brigadier could see into the next room.

“There’s nothing there, Ettinger,” said Curnow. “Have you lost your mind?”

“No sir! Look more closely.”

Squinting and putting on his bifocals, the brigadier was able to see a small speck on the floor. “Erm…what is that, exactly?”

“That is Queen 10^417-A, a Linepithema humile, better known as an Argentine ant. She comes from the largest ant supercolony in the world, which spans three continents. Thanks to mechanisms that we don’t entirely understand, she has access to the processing power and collective memory of every member of every supercolony–approximately 306 trillion ants.”

“Hmph,” Curnow said. “Very well then, what does she have to say to me?”

Professor Ettinger pressed some buttons, translating Brigadier Curnow’s message for Queen 10^417-A. A moment later, a synthetic human voice translated the ant’s reply in an even monotone. “There is a termite colony at 18° 35′ 2.904″ S, 49° 50′ 9.7434″ W. Kill them and bring me the head of their queen and king as proof, and I will give you the answers you seek.”

“Is that bug…blackmailing me?” said Curnow.

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“So we have to ask ourselves, then, who would benefit from Podoboo’s death?” said Sherwood Greg.

“Spyderwebb, clearly,” said Captain Strong. “He’s the world record holder, you said. If this Podoboo guy stood to break the record today, there’s your motive right there.”

“Speedrunners aren’t like athletes,” Terra said. “There’s no endorsements. No money. Podoboo and Spyderwebb both have day jobs. And even if that wasn’t true, who’s to say someone else wouldn’t have broken the speedrunning record tomorrow?”

Strong shrugged helplessly. “I’ve investigated murders over taco seasoning before, kid,” he said. “Virginia, my wife, has a friend who was physically assaulted over the last jar of kabuki makeup at a costume shop.”

Greg cocked an eyebrow. “You’ll have to tell me about that sometime, Captain.”

“No, I won’t.”

“But Terra’s point is well-taken,” Greg went on. “Speedrunners tend to be a fraternity of enthusiasts, and any competition tends to be friendly. But there was the altercation yesterday.”

“Yeah, Podoboo’s team lost a speedrun relay pretty badly,” said Terra. “There were thousands of dollars on the line.”

“Ah!” cried Strong. “Now we’re talking.”

“Thousands of dollars for charity, Captain,” said Greg. “Podoboo’s team lost nothing but their pride. Nerdicon is, at its heart, a charitable event after all, which sets us sharply apart from those pirates and swindlers at SciCon.”

“So what you’re telling me is, no one that has a motive could have gone through with it?” Strong sighed.

“Or perhaps just that things are not as simple as they appear,” said Sherwood Greg.

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