June 2018


“Ah, Captain Sundapur,” said Governor Cray as the elevator opened. “I’m glad I ran into you. You were at the interview, yes?”

“You can call me Manisha, Governor. We’ve worked together for long enough, wouldn’t you say?”

“Ah, right. Of course.” Cray, ruddy at the best of times, was visibly scarlet. “This is an official matter, though. You were at the interview, yes?”

“You mean with Kyhee? Yes, I was there. What of it?”

Cray shrugged. “I’ve nothing against Xulfie like her, but I’ve never trusted them.” He looked over, clearly feeling he might have gone too far, and quickly added: “It’s nothing to do with them, of course. I understand their abilities from an evolutionary standpoint, it just makes me nervous to hire her. Once I’ve unleashed Kyhee, who’s to say I won’t see her in place of my secretary, one of my aides, or even my wife? That’s the sort of intelligence that would be disastrous in he wrong hands if she were to be lured away from us.”

“Your wife? Really? That would be unusual dedication to a role, surely.”

“Oh, you know my wife,” Cray harrumphed. “The Xulfie woud have her own bedroom.”

“And don’t you think that kind of premeditated betrayal would make her, and just about any Xulfie, unemployable after the second or third mercenary backstabbing? That’s the thing about betrayal: you can only do it once before everyone starts to suspect you.”

Cray nodded. “I suppose you’re right. She wouldn’t have come to the interview at all, showed us her true form, if this Kyhee didn’t expect at least a little reciprocal trust.” The Governor tapped his temple thoughtfully. “What do you think of Kyhee the Xulfie, Captain Sundapur?

Sundapur smiled. “I am Kyhee the Xulfie, Governor. Shall we consider the interview over and discuss terms?”

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HOST: And welcome back to our second panel of the program, where we will discuss the enduring cultural presence and popularity of zombies. Joining me today are Dr. Thomas Urrrggghhh, chair of Undead Studies at the Manchester Underversity, Lydia Crowflame, a licensed resurrectionist with the American Zombie Association (AZA), and The Fleshsipper, and eldritch horror so far beyond mortal understanding that its very name is a whisper of madness on the tongues of the damned.

DR. URRRGGGHHH: Thank you, happy to be here.

MS. CROWFLAME: A pleasure.

THE FLESHSIPPER: Delightful as always.

HOST: First question, and this one is for you, Dr. Urrrggghhh. Do you think that representation of zombies in media, motion pictures especially, has improved from the days when the depiction of undead was forbidden by the Hays Code unless they were clearly evil and roundly destroyed as punishment?

DR. URRRGGGHHH: Well, we have and we haven’t. On the one hand, there are more positive depictions of zombies in films, and the entire genre of the zom-com. On the other hand, you have constant livewashing – can you name a single film featuring a speaking role for zombies that has cast an actual zombie actor?

MS. CROWFLAME: I’m reminded of a panel at Stardance about zombie films. Five living white guys up there onstage, because “no one could find a zombie filmmaker.” Until you have more undead filmmakers, more undead actors in lead roles, and more undead executives, this will keep happening. Less of a greenlight, more of a deadlight, you know?

THE FLESHSIPPER: The problem that keeps reoccurring is that zombies are seen as monolithic, with each one representing the whole, while the living are allowed to be individuals. The only true monolith is the enormity of a universe of beings that care only for universal entropy.

DR. URRRGGGHHH: I think you might find that eldritch beings are less monolithic than you think.

MS. CROWFLAME: That’s beside the point; eldritch beings that–if they ever lived–were made of no ordinary matter known to mortal ken are in a position of power and influence. So too are the living, vampires, and to a lesser extent wights and ghasts. Zombies are the other, the powerless other, in all of this.

THE FLESHSIPPER: I’m not arguing that, Lydia. Rather, I am suggesting that there are unseen and unwritten rules for those in power–like the wriggling tentacles of madness on a dark mind–that are silently and unconsciously obeyed. It may as well be a single organism, the Hollywood system, for all the conformity it enforces. Zombie culture is vibrant and varied, yet is obsessively reduced.

HOST: Do you think we’ll see this change in our lifetimes?

DR. URRRGGGHHH: That very phrase there is part of the problem. “Lifetimes?” What does that even mean to a properly risen undead?

MS. CROWFLAME: I’m going to be generous and assume you meant “existences.” I think…yes. Given what we’ve seen with other marginalized groups, once Hollywood realizes the market, they will tap into it.

THE FLESHSIPPER: Behind every mortal yet alive there are ten ghosts, and that is a powerful, untapped market. Sooner or later, we’ll start to see Hollywood try to appeal to this. The Chinese undead market especially.

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Sanctuary began as a simple crossroads, an abandoned farm that became known as a stop on the Underground Railroad. That all changed with the coming of the Civil War, which led to a major Union force encamping there for much of the conflict. A tent city grew up around the camp as former slaves and refugees crowded into the area, and by war’s end the first permanent buildings had been erected.

Though the immediate postwar years were a boomtown, such that it had a stone courthouse and the county seat by 1870, Sanctuary suffered tremendously after the end of Reconstruction and into the Jim Crow era, as it was known for being friendly and accepting for all races, colors, and creeds. From a post World War I low of less than 500 people, Sanctuary nevertheless saw its fortunes rebound during the New Deal and the immediate postwar era, with a massive influx of new settlers and residents looking for opportunities denied them elsewhere.

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I have loved you for 1,156 days.
From that moment,
You’ve surprised me,
Captivated me,
Challenged me.
I’ve fallen in love with you countless times,
Without reservation.
And today, I get to marry my best friend.
To love is not to possess,
To own or imprison,
Nor to lose one’s self in another.
Love is to join and to separate,
To walk alone and together,
To find freedom and comfort.
Together we will be ,
Who we really are – and always were,
In the very core of our being.
I promise to be true to you,
To uplift and support you,
To frustrate and challenge you,
And share with you all the beautiful moments of life.
Someday, if the stars align,
I might even laugh at your puns.
I know that my love for you will not fade,
That we will find strength in one another,
And we will continue to grow,
Side by side.
I believe in the truth of what we are,
And I will love you always,
With every beat of my heart.

I commit myself to you, filled with the love we shared during every night in spent on the couch, all the pixel-perfect worlds we’ve built together, holding your hand in an empty theater, and all the times we wrote together until our hands hurt. I pledge to love you always, with my whole heart and all my flaws, until the end of our days.

Mary’s shaking hand could barely hold her pen, and every few moments she had to hold a cloth up to catch the bloody residue of her coughs. “Have you ever known someone who was dying? Who knew they were dying and had only the last few bitter drops of wax left to their candle?”

“More than you can ever know,” said Neith. “It’s the one experience that, along with birth, unites everyone from commoners to queens.”

“Last I checked, neither of those situations see people at their best,” said Mary, her laugh rapidly turning into a ragged sputtering. “Screaming and crying on the way in as on the way out.”

“It’s true,” said Neith with a smile.

“Let me ask you something, then,” said Mary. “I’m indifferent to any notion of the hereafter. If it is, it is, and if it isn’t it isn’t. No way to know until you’re on the other side of it.”

“That’s not a question.”

“Ha! I’m getting there,” Mary said. “Fair enough. But the only kind of immortality I’ve seen is memory. You live on if people remember you, or your works. I’ve been told that my books…some of them, the earliest ones, maybe…might stand the test of time. But I’ve seen enough forgotten stories in the garbage to wonder if that’s not true. What do you say, Neith? Can I rely on the stories that angry little girl wrote to keep me around in some form or other?”

Neith thought for a moment, listening to Mary’s labored breathing. Then, softly, she spoke:

“There was once a king—a great king, perhaps the greatest of his age—who once grappled with the same problem. He was wise, he was kind, and he was just, and yet he would die all the same. ‘Why should this be so?’ he asked, and decided to put all his power into a search for immortality. He had many great adventures in doing so, and met and impressed many—even, some say, the gods themselves, if one believes such things.”

“What happened?” Mary said, a flutter of knowing in her voice matched by a clear desire to see Neith tell the story to its conclusion.

“He never found the secret to eternal life, and his story ultimately ended. But in the seeking, he lived a life that made a terrific epic all its own. It is a story that, a thousand generations later, still resonates across time. So much so, in fact, that the king’s name is among the few that are known from those far-off days, and one of the earliest names that yet survives.”

“Gilgamesh,” Mary said with a smile. “I’m not so full of myself to think my writing will last that long.”

“Neither was he,” Neith said quietly. “Neither was he.

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Translated from the original Nascarese

An unbreakable union of free men,
Our great drivers have welded together to stand.
Long live the creation of the will of the racers,
The united, mighty Nascarene!

Be glorious, our free raceways,
A reliable stronghold of the fans’ friendship!
Banner of the racers, checkered with glory,
May it lead from victory to victory!

Through tempests the sun of freedom shone on us,
And the great St. Earnhardt illuminated our path,
We were raised by his son to be true to the people,
To labor and heroic races he inspired us!

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The Eternal Empire operates on the principle of matriarchy; the reigning ruler is always an Empress and she is regarded as a direct descendent of the Goddess. This line of descent is considered to be important enough that there can never be any uncertainty of birth–as a mother is always indisputably the mother of a child that she brings forth, while the father may be cuckolded.

Not that the Eternal Empire believes women to be superior–far from it. Outside of the palace, the vast majority of generals, functionaries, and administrators are men. However, only a single man is ever permitted inside the palace–the consort. Empresses have on occasion made exceptions for their fathers, brothers, or sons, but nevertheless it is considered essential that the Empress be exposed to the depredations of none but her freely chosen consort.

Among the courtiers it is an open secret that this is regularly flouted, both by Empresses sneaking in male lovers and Empresses taking female lovers. Producing a heir is important enough that these events are typically covered up. In the event that no female heirs are produced, or the Empress dies in childbirth, the next adult female of the line inherits the throne. The Imperial Geneologist maintains exhaustive family trees to facilitate this. Genealogically senior claimants tat are not yet of age are typically killed by order of the Empress upon her acession in memory of the devastating Sisters’ War.

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Little Henry Sweetspire
Looked over his burbling brew
“It seems really the sweetest
but wouldn’t it be neatest
if it had something extra, too?”

So Little Henry Sweetspire
Added some blood to the mix
Just three drops of his own
Three from an old crone
With three from a chicken to mix

Little Henry Sweetspire
Saw his brew a roaring success
It attracted the notice
Of a vampire named Otis
Who came in and made quite a mess

Now Little Henry Sweetpire
Adds blood to his every bake
Every day he gets it from town
While the townsfolk sadly renown
“To resist him would be a mistake”

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Wicklow struck the crate with the butt of his rifle and it burst, scattering dozens of red bags onto the floor. “What do those look like to you?” he said to Ortiz.

“Doritos,” Ortiz replied. “My kids love ’em.”

“Look closer.”

Ortiz flipped one of the bags over gingerly. “What the hell? These say ‘Nachitos.'”

“Yeah. Lil’ Nachos,” Wicklow said. “The logo’s similar enough that most people don’t look twice. But it’s contraband. Snack chips from a dextrose-amino-acid skein.”

“I’ve heard of this,” Ortiz said. “If you’re from a different reality, you can’t eat our food?”

“The lucky ones can, but it’s about a fifty-fifty chance,” laughed Wicklow. “And you can, if you don’t mind it passing through you like a bucking bronco and maybe sending you into anaphylactic shock to boot. Some people even use ’em as a diet food, since you’ll lose a lot more than you gain–if you don’t wind up red and gasping in the hospital or dead, that is.”

Ortiz stomped on the bag, bursting it and scattering the chips. “I don’t get it. How can your reality be so bad that you want to squat in ours, and still be making snacky chips?”

“Bad’s in the eye of the beholder,” Wicklow laughed. “Besides, a lot of these snacky-snacks come from skeins that are doing just fine. Imagine if you were living in a dextro-amino-acid reality and you could sell ordinary snack chips for ten times what you paid for them over here?”

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