“I want to go back to the forest of feather trees and shimmer lights,” Maddie said.

“The Cambrian diorama again?” Nic said. “Were were just there.”

“I wanna see the feather trees. I wanna see the shimmer lights. I wanna see the funny bugs.”

Nic looked to Shanika, helplessly.

“Okay, sweetie,” her mother said. “We’ll go to the funny bugs one more time, but then we want to see something else, okay? Like maybe some live animals, or cool skeletons?”

“Feather trees.” Maddie said, grumpily folding her arms. “Funny bugs.”

Her parents obligingly turned the stroller around and wheeled it back into the Cambrian Hall. There, they were surrounded by fiberglass replicas of bizarre, alien life from half a billion years ago, fancifully lit.

“Hello, hello, hello!” Maddie said, waving to the various creatures. “Hello, feather tree. Hello funny bug.”

“What does she see in all this, Nika?” Nic muttered.

“When I was her age, I made my parents take me to the New York Public Libraries rare book room,” Shanika said. “Kids are weird. At least she’ll probably be smart?”

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“Welcome to your EnviroPod Hospitality Space™,” the chipper, synthesized voice said, the trademark symbol after the term all but pronounced openly. “We here at EnviroPod LLC GmbH strive to fulfill your every need.”

“I’d like to go outside,” Dominic said.

“Are you sure?” The voice of the Pod was still very upbeat. “The EnviroPod Hospitality Space™ is the most comfortable, state-of-the-art six meter by four meter modular space on the market today.”

“Is there a balcony I’m not seeing?” Dominic asked. “Or a window?”

“Only on the deluxe EnviroPod Hospitality Space™ Pro model, or as a free upgrade for subscribers to EnviroPod Hospitality Space™ Plus.”

“Then I’d like to go outside,” Dominic said.

“Apologies,” said the Pod. “The door is not currently operational. Maintenance has been notified.”

Dominic ran his hand over the smooth wall near the bathroom, where a door might have been on a comparably sized hotel room. “Are you sure the door is currently installed?” he said.

“Maintenance has been notified.”

“All right then.” Dominic tapped the flat screen mounted across from the bed. “Put on a live feed of the outside.”

“Apologies,” said the Pod. “Camera feed is not currently operational. Maintenance has been notified.”

“Put on a nature show, then.”

“Apologies,” the Pod said again. “The entertainment system is not currently operational. Maintenance has been notified.”

“What is operational, then?” Dominic snapped.

“Delicious EnviroPod Rehydrated Meals are available from the delivery chute. EnviroPod Laundry is working at full capacity; simply place your garments in the laundry chute and they will be returned cleaned and pressed.”

“How about a maid? Turndown service?”

A pause. “Apologies. The maid system is not currently operational. Maintenance has been notified.”

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Needles of obsidian and frozen squalls
The pain of cold amid these frozen halls
Lay down your warmth and go to sleep
Forever our frozen plaything to keep
The cruel light bleaches, rots and thaws
Scattered bodies in a scavenger’s jaws
Lay down your life here in the snow
Eternal oblivion is yours to know
Preserved forever, ’til the planet fails
No time for sorrow, no room for wails

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“The whole…village constructed like the game Mousetrap,” the note said. “Or maybe Mantrap, like the one around my leg just now…I see the blood. I don’t have long.”

“It seemed like such an inviting place, so friendly and welcoming, but it’s a trap. Once you’re here, they never want you to leave, and they have the traps to make sure it happens.”

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And I found then, that wandering the halls of my own memory was like unto an expedition into caverns of glass. Every facet a memory, and by placing a hand thereupon I could relive it in all the detail that the fading of time had left to me. From the brutal pain of having the wind knocked out of me as a child, to the inimitable boredom of a long bus ride, it was all there.

I had only just begun my search when my hand grazed, unintentionally, over my first heartbreak. Even after the assuage of decades, the hurt was so intense that I could only fall to the floor with a choked sob.

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After he was shot, Swingin’ Joe reportedly whispered to an onlooker “it’s all in the last song” before dying of blood loss. The lead singer of the popular 60s band The Water Waves, Swingin’ Joe had recently been hard at work on a solo album, using studio musicians instead of his usual The Water Waves bandmates. And, upon his death, those same bandmates as well as the record company were shocked to find that Swingin’ Joe had hidden most of his assets, including millions of dollars in gold, in an undisclosed location.

“The last song” is thought by many to be the enigmatic final ballad of Swingin’ Joe’s posthumous record, which was completed and released by The Water Waves as their ninth and final studio album. Ostensibly this was done in their slain frontman’s memory, but in reality it was an injection of much-needed cash. The final song consists of vocals by Swingin’ Joe, singing lyrics he wrote, accompanied by studio musicians on piano and tambourine with The Water Waves adding in bass, rhythm guitar, and percussion in post.

Small rocky islands floating in a sky of lemons
Pinch me now because I think I’m in heaven
Golden circles showering down upon the earth
If you have to ask me then you know what it is worth

This final refrain, repeated three times while faded out via an echoplex, is often cited as a treasure map of sorts. With its description of yellow circles, rocky islands, and lemon sky, it has led many treasure seekers to search and illegally dig in Thailand’s Phang Nga Bay and Palau, where the rock star owned island homes.

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I look at a forest of not-trees
A wistful sigh on my lips
I wish that I could tread those not-paths
And soft not-beds upon which to sleep
But those not-flowers are forever beyond me
The not-water in babbling brooks
I can almost breathe the not-air
But it all remains trapped in a book

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“We can only cross the Noctilucent Glaciers at night.” Guide looked over the windswept landscape, her breath misting the air even in the relative shelter of the campsite.

“Why’s that?” Newc asked. “Should be pretty easy, yeah? Just don’t fall and slip?”

“Crevasses.” Guide’s breath misted about her scarf, clinging in laces to the fur of her hood, where tiny icicles had begun to form. “Deep pits of ice, often covered with a thin rind to trick you into stepping on them.”

“I know what a crevasse is,” said Newc. “Mountaineers have ways of dealing with them, yeah? Ropes, poking the snow, all that sort of thing?”

“These are trickier. It’s almost like they want you to fall in.” Guide snorted to herself. “Hell, maybe they do. But the glow only comes from solid ice, from critters that live in it. So we wait.”

As the sun set, and true to Guide’s word, the glacier was soon suffused with a gentle lucent glow, outlining a safe path forward.

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Someone had definitely been there; a fresh path was worn through the brambles, almost like a game trail, and the old greenhouse had been restored. It looked like they’d used cheap acrylic instead of glass, likely taken in a few sheets at a time and caulked into place. A few of the original leaded glass windows remained, either cleaned or repaired with more plastic. They were all fogged over with condensation, blocking any view of the interior.

The old clearing still got plenty of sunshine, and wisps of steam were rising from the old chimney–whoever had been squatting there had somehow relit the old boilers that the 12th Earl had used to keep his botanical specimens warm.

Someone had gone to a lot of trouble, and expense to reactivate the place in secret, but for what? Growing illegal plants to make drugs, perhaps? Maybe methamphetamine?

The caretaker eased the door opened, and then coughed as something extremely bitter popped on his lips and ran down his chin.

Someone had prepared a greenhouse glade filled with a bubble machine, and nothing else. Soapy bubbles pinwheeled through the otherwise empty structure.

“What do you think of my crop, then?” A voice behind the caretaker said. “Best harvest I’ve had, so far.”

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Down a metal beach I went
Onto a rusty shore
A sea of razors there I met
Breaking with metallic roar

To go forward was to die
From a thousand tiny cuts
And yet across the bay I spied
A scattered run of huts

My destination, or so it seemed
Was plainly there in sight
Yet I could not step into the stream
Of rust, of fear, of blight

There was no choice for me to make
No alternate paths appeared
To reach safety I would have to take
The route that I most feared

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