August 2016

The message appeared at 11:49:17 AM on Thursday, August 11, 2016. It was writ across every computer screen, every television set, every bank teller, every cell phone. People with headphones in heard it in an unrecognizable voice. Printers, from reciepts to inkjets, also conveyed the message. In short, unless you were asleep in Deerton, you heard the message.

It was this: “I’VE CHANGED.”

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It is called the dancing elm.

The trees do not move to the naked eye, but over the course of their 80-150 year lives, they move and gyrate and bend in an unearthly dance the likes of which no human is capable of seeing.

A Dutch master painted one, returning once a year for every year of his 90-year life after he noticed the tree gradually shifting as a young man. It was called a flight of fancy.

A photographer set up a device to take pictures of a dancing elm once per day for years. The result was called a hoax and laughed at.

But those who know trees have long realized that the dancing elm is real. And, for just as long, they have known why the great killer, the disease of elms, has been seeking to annihilate them from the face of the earth.

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Myn flinched at the sound of a gun firing. Matchlighter dropped his wheelock, holding a spreading red stain, a blossoming petunia, on his abdomen. A goblin behind him with a smoking arquebus kicked him over and collected the fallen hand gun.

“There’s that one’s order for him,” the goblin sniffed. “Come, fellows. Muolih awaits.” They disappeared into the hollow that, due to the oblique angle, Myn could not see.

After a few moments’ wait, Myn nodded at Tinain and Niwa and they moved out. The great hollow was, in fact, a cyclopean staircase, made of the same giant stones but set together in such a way as to form a surprisingly ordinary ascent. Through the door at their top, it was possible to see a columned hall but little else.

Matchlighter was still alive and gasping. Holding his gunshot wound, he was clawing his way up the steps one at a time, leaving behind him a trail of dark smeared blood. He looked up at Myn with fear in his eyes. “Help me,” he said.

“Tinny.” Myn nodded at the wounded goblin. “Help the man.”

Tinain looked at the wound carefully and whispered in Myn’s ear. “It is mortal,” he said. “If he does not bleed to death, the wound will rot him from within and he’ll take three days to die.”

Myn looked back at Matchlighter. “I can’t do anything for you,” she said. “I’m sorry.”

“To come this close…only to be cast my own people,” Matchlighter wheezed. “A people I have given my everything to…protect…and nourish…”

“I wouldn’t take it to hard,” said Myn. “They’ve been through a lot. We all have.” She drew one of her wheelocks. “I can give you a shortcut to Muolih if you’d like.”

“No,” cried Matchlighter. “No. I will see the Spreading Darkness soon enough, once Lodii has had her parlay with him.”

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“It was her obsession, you know, inherited from her father.”

Abrams puffed on his pipe. “Her father?”

“An Iraqi, and more than that a member of the royal family. A first cousin once removed of King Faisal II if memory serves.”

“I had no idea,” said Abrams. “There’s nothing Mohammedean about Miss Pritchard’s name or looks.”

Heath rubbed his nose. “I knew Frances Pritchard when I was up at Oxbridge floating between colleges. Brilliant lady, but impulsive. She married Ghazi on a whim while he was studying there, but she never converted to Mohammedeanism from what I understand. When Ghazi returned to Baghdad, he did so alone.”

“So why was his daughter here, then?”

“I suppose to try and reconnect. She volunteered as a nurse here, with the garrison, and stayed on with the RAF at Hinaidi, while her father was Minister of Antiquities.”

“And now?”

“And now it seems she’s wandered off, in search of the library her father was convinced lay beneath the swamps of the Shatt Al-Arab.”

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The Duchess of Kenford held the title in her own right, being the only daughter and only surviving child of the 5th Duke of Kenford.

Before her younger brother died of scarlet fever, when there was every reason to believe that she would recieve nothing but a dowry from Kenford, she was betrothed to a young fellow she met at Cambridge whilst studying herself at Newham. He was something of a rake, a passionate man of letters who wrote her poems and was working on the first draft of a promising novel.

He was also one of the first over the top at the Somme in 1916, just a few months before the wedding scheduled for October. The Duchess’s brother died in December of that same year, followed not long after by her father in early 1917. In her grief, the new Duchess found herself in posession of lands and estates that ensured her wellebing for life.

Devoted to her dead fiancee, she refused all further suitors and offers of marriage and instead devoted herself to the literary legacy of the man that death had torn from her. She collected his personal papers and drafts, and took it upon herself to finish and publish everything that her would-be husband had ever scratched in ink.

The problem, insofar was there was one, arose from a clash of values. The young rake had written poems and a lengthy novel draft that were on the bleeding edge of literature, suffused with taboos: raw sexuality, homosexuality, violence, and adultery. His quasi-widow took it upon herself to expunge every last shadow of impropriety from the works without compromising their character.

In her later years, relatives who visited the estate around 1960 commented on the warrens of papers, the drafts upon drafts upon drafts that surrounded the Duchess, whose nicotene-stained fingers were gnarled from years behind a pen. By then she was editing drafts she had copied by hand years ago, and the originals lay under lock and key in the mater bedroom, left to moulder.

One wonders what might have happened had not the manor been consumed by fire in July of 1976, a fire sparked by cigarette embers and fed greedily by the volume of paper.

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The old songs and tales tell of something else.

They say that, long ago in the Fertile Crescent, there was a mighty civilization that predated nearly all the ones we hear about in our books. Ancient Sumer built its cities upon their ruins, Ancient Egypt whispered of their mighty deeds int he mists of time, Ancient Indus cast a fearful eye westward lest they return.

Let us call them the Halaf.

As was the case with many of those that followed mighty Halaf, they had a pantheon containing oh so many gods and goddesses. From Jili the Father to Ilio the Mother to Uluu the Trickster, the Halaf had a deity for every concievable occurance.

But one day, as the High Priest was reading the holy scrolls of Halaf, he discovered a curious fact: the laws of men applied to the gods, so long as the gods agreed to be bound by them. Once given, that consent could not be broken, though the law could of course be repealed.

The High Priest then asked of Jili the Father the following question: “Is it true, O Father, that the laws written in my ledger bind all, from the greatest to the least?”

Jili the Father replied that this was so.

The High Priest decided to test this. He wrote into the ledger of laws the following: “The Gods that rule our nation are hereby outlawed.”

With the stroke of a stylus, he had outlawed his gods. And, bound by his trickery, they had no choice but to comply. However, what the High Priest forgot was this: in Halaf, the king was held a god, as was his best general, as was the high priest himself.

Too clever for even himself, the High Priest had destroyed his nation.

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“Who would want to kill a mathematician who works only with pure figures, nothing applied?” I took a long, hard drag on my cigarette.

The suspect said nothing.

“That’s what threw me off for the longest time. But it all makes sense now. The multiple stab wounds. The razor-sharp line of blood leading away instead of footprints.”

“Anyone could have done that.”

“Wrong!” I cried. “He had his hands all over you all the time. Caressing every side of you, getting inside of you to see if things would add up…you had enough of it. So you stabbed him to death.”

“Prove it.”

I continued: “The angle of the stab wound is acute, and it’s deep enough that I could get the length of both sides. I know your measurements; I sized you up the moment we met. The square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of your other two sides.”

Right Triangle scowled. “Well detective, you just couldn’t leave well enough alone, could you? You had to poke your nose where it didn’t belong.”

“I always thought some of your angles were acute,” I said. “But that doesn’t make this all right.”

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Izzy – Reality TV star Izzy Chang-Fitzgibbons’ antics inspire a whole generation of young parents to follow suit.

John – Yup, it’s still here. This one is never going out of style, though how they get “Jack” out of it still mystifies us.

Omnithrax – The destruction of Earth’s ozone layer by the supervillain Omnithrax inspired many parents to hope for a similar desiny with their sons.

KG7-1B2 – The Voortian Incursion’s success made many parents anxious to curry favor by naming their children after the Hivewarden Prime.


Mysysraeia – George R. R. R. Martin II’s blockbuster sequel series led many to name their children after one of its vowel-heavy heroines.

Mary – Yup. This one too. Counting “Maria” and Marie,” this name will be making roll call difficult for teachers for another 1000 years.

Maxi – One wonders if parents naming their children after TV and film comedienne Maxi Padd (born Susan Pollington) really understand what they’re doing.

M – It’s unclear whether this honors M the Matriarch, M the Undying, or simply the most popular letter for girl names right now. Any way you slice it, it’s a nadir.

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“I don’t like those new neighbors.”

“Oh of course you don’t. You don’t like anything new. But still, we need to be nice to them. We need to go over there and tell them ‘welcome to the Big Apple!'”

“There won’t be a Big Apple left after they’re done with it, yo mark my words.”

“Oh, stop. You’re always exaggerating.”

“Exaggerating? Have you seeen how they live? Have you seen their kids running around all over the place? I swear I saw one of them bite the head off a little critter the other day.”

“So what if they did? Kids will be kids.”

“I’m telling you: life inside the Big Apple just isn’t the same when a family of ladybugs like that moves in. Worms like us won’t be able to catch a break, and before you know it, birds’ll get us all.”

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The great man of science Giancarlo Rochessi (fl. 1559-1617) was the first to examine the single fig that the expedition had brought back. He argued in a letter that, while the expedition had been a costly failure, and that the sailors should be punished for abandoning it early, it was the duty of scientists to learn as much as they could from the fiasco.

Rochessi therefore undertook to study the fig as much as he could without destroying it, inclusing holding it up to a strong light to view its seed structure and staining a variety of permeable papers with its juices. However, after one week of study, Rochessi abrubtly abandoned it as well. He subsequently gave away all of his scientific equipment, and lived until his death a decade later on his laurels and a steady income from his pension.

Rumors began to fly that the fig was cursed and would afflict anyone who handled it with a curse of lethargy and apathy. It was therefore suspended in alcohol and locked away in the Florentine Annex, where it was later lost. But the brief public panic ans sensation gave rise to the Italian expression ne frego un fico, which later entered English as “I don’t gave a fig” or “I don’t care a fig.

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