July 2018


Exclamation Elemental
Description:
A cloud of blurred, whirring, particles like a leaf blower kicking up detritus.

Behavior:
Causes an increase in excitement by increasing the pulse and stimulating the adrenal glands. This can lead to anything from mild exertion to a fatal heart attack or stroke depending on the severity. The exclamation elemental is also capable of selectively directing this effect, and will often do so to make its pursuers fight one another.

Question Elemental
Description:
A rough four-legged beast shape, completely transparent except for a faint pattern of swirls and dots.

Behavior:
Question elementals cause intense uncertainty through their presence, ranging from nagging doubts to full-blown moral dilemmas and existential crises. Low levels of this effect are distracting, while high concentrations can be debilitating. Evidence exists of question elementals under attack causing such an existential despair in their victims that they committed suicide or wasted away in depression. Unlike most other punctuation elementals, question elementals tend to travel about–whether they are hunting or merely curious is unknown.

Apostrophe Elemental
Description:
A rough globe of randomly swirling millimeter-long slashes, almost like a swarm of gnats.

Behavior:
This elemental causes a sudden, intense possessiveness: both in clinging to what was already possessed and in seeking to possess new things. The feeling is intense enough to cause fighting and bloodshed to break out immediately, even among animals. Territorial animals and humans with possessions seem to be the most affected, and if desired the apostrophe elemental can employ this effect as it chooses, making certain creatures possessive of items currently held by another, for example, with the intent to cause chaos and/or bloodshed.

Hyphen Elemental

Description:
A basketball-sized sphere of sharp black lines, falling on the outside and sucked back up on the inside. Similar to an apostrophe elemental, but far more violent.

Behavior:
This fiercer cousin of the semicolon elemental also joins things together but shows a marked preference for merging living beings, with often deadly results. The path of a hyphen elemental is littered with squirrel-trees, bird-fences, and other amalgamations that are usually deadly. When perturbed, the elemental has been known to “merge” offenders with the very ground and then collect other unfortunates to amalgamate with them until fatal results eventuate.

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“This is the last gestation pod,” said Albion. “You are, quite literally, our last and only hope. The simulation–your world–has been designed entirely to prepare you for what must be done out there.”

“And then what?” said Kahmalu. “Just leave me out there? Alone?”

“Only if you fail,” said Albion gently. “We have been awake in this and many other worlds for a very long time, living out countless existences within the realms infinite. We have no desire to cease. But out there…outside…only a human can do what needs to be done to ensure our survival. If you succeed, we will welcome you back into the simulation with open arms.”

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Grandpa told his story again about his old job
We laughed
How silly it was, looking back on the past
How could people ever have gotten by with
Just
One
Job?
I left the rest home early that day
Hoping to pick up
An Uber passenger
On the way
Home

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“He’s amazingly talented,” Neith said. Then, after a moment’s further inspection, she added, “…but he is only painting the same person, over and over.”

Indeed, every figure in the schizophrenic’s paintings was the same, whether rendered in pencil, ink, or gouache. A willowy woman with long blonde hair of a summery shade. Neith thought for a moment that the woman might have been some kind of an ideal form, but as she looked, she became convinced that it was, or had been, a real person. It was the nose. The nose was not perfect, too wide and too far outside the boundaries of ideal.

“Yes, funny that,” said Chester. He giggled loud enough to attract the momentary attention of an orderly before continuing. “What would you say if I told you that she is his lost love, dead at an early age and now doubly so in poor Garvey’s madness, and that inserting her into every painting is his only way of recalling who she once was to him, and who he once was to himself?”

“I’d say that’s one of the saddest stories I’ve ever heard,” Neith said.

Chester snickered again. “And what if I said that, just after the madness really set in, Garvey started stalking that poor girl, believing her to be psychically reaching out to him, even though she wanted nothing to do with him, and that harassment is one of the things that brought him here, to us?”

“That’s less sad. More…horrifying,” said Neith. “Which is the truth?”

“I don’t know,” Chester said. “He never tells the same story twice!”

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The Valley of Needles contains, at its parched and arid heart, the Great Needle, a pillar of stone so sheer and so smooth that only its broken top clarifies it as a natural wonder rather than a manmade one.

Around the Valley are the ancestral lands of the Oscoda, who have long regarded the area as sacred. Their repeated pleas for outsiders to leave the Needles be, whether made politely or by force of arms, have routinely been ignored by later settlers.

One reason the Oscoda insist that the Valley must be as undisturbed as possible is a part of their creation story. They hold that the Great Needle is a link to Toscodai, their creator-god. At the making of the world, it was prophecied to fall three times. Once at the dawn of all things, when the clay was not yet sunbaked and hardened. Once at the noon of all things, when the people in their hubris thought themselves equals of Toscadai and were cast down for their impertinence.

The last time will bring about the end of the world. As the Oscoda say, awdegnonowukil okizd awgi onagnis enemap; “When the Needle falls a third time, the world will most likely come to be destroyed.”

Settlers once attempted to force the Oscoda into an unequal treaty by aiming cannon at the Great Needle. When the settles saw that the ancestral people of that place were unbowed, they fired—only to see the cannonballs bounce harmlessly off the hardened rock. This event is routinely celebrated by the surviving Oscoda as Aketewpol Ukist, or “Bouncing Day.”

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I thought I was safe.

I had changed my name, moved, and laid low. Working odd jobs for cash, living off the grid. And then one day a letter showed up, addressed to me, at the lumber yard where I’d done some off-the-books work.

It said: “EVERY MINUTE YOU’RE NOT RUNNING I AM GETTING CLOSER.

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“What do you think?” Sjn said. The Callistan modulated its voice as it spoke, coming up to a register that equaled Marie’s within a few short phonemes.

“It’s phenomenal,” said Marie, nodding. “You’ve copied me with all the warts and ugliness I’d see in a mirror, or in a twin. You’ve got your directions memorized?”

“I wouldn’t be very good at this if I didn’t,” Sjn said. “Just make sure the payment goes through. You wouldn’t like what Callistans do when they’re cheated.”

“Yes, yes, you’ll be paid in full,” said Marie. “No need to unmask our little deception in public.”

“You misunderstand,” said Sjn. “If you fail to come through as planned, I will out you as a Callistan and live your life as you are interrogated, laughing from your living room until I abscond with everything I can carry.”

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