June 2019


“I don’t remember taking this one.” Megan turned the phone to Adam. “Did you take it?”

Adam craned his neck. The picture was of Megan, asleep on the couch; she looked rather washed out, and her head was partially snipped off by the cropping. “Very artsy,” he said. “Good filter use and creative bloom. But you forgot the rule of thirds, and you cut the top of your head off.”

“I didn’t take it,” said Megan. “How could I have? I’m asleep on the couch, and the camera’s not in the shot.”

“I guess you could have propped it up with the timer?” said Adam. “How should I know?”

“Because you took it?” said Megan. “Come on. It’s not creepy if your boyfriend does it.”

“I’m a professional, Meg,” Adam said, serious now. “If I’d taken it I’d have framed it better. I didn’t take it.”

Megan didn’t say anything, still looking at the image in all its ghostly pallor.

“Meg?” Adam said. “Come on now, one of us probably just forgot about taking it.” Seeing the look on her face, he was ready to take the blame for snapping the photo–hell, he’d forgotten more important things. When she still said nothing after another minute, he added in a low voice: “Is…everything okay, Meg?”

“My head,” she whispered. “I can’t feel my head.”

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The six of them looked down the shaft, seeing only a dim radiance below. Shaurya moved toward what looked like crumbled concrete steps leading further down, but he froze at the sound of a dull, throaty voice.

Come no closer. I will hurt you, and I do not wish to.

There was no echo. The words were entirely in their heads.

Maria put a hand on Shaurya, and pulled him back. “Are you the thing we’ve been seeing in our dreams?” she said. “The thing born of that…that terrible blast I saw?”

I do not know if it was war, or an accident. It does not matter.

“Something like what Maria saw…it must have killed almost everyone around here,” said Shaurya.

They buried what remained, entombed the earth itself.

“Who are you, then?” asked Kumi. “A ghost?”

I am what remains. A radiative being, buried and terrible.

“I don’t understand.” Maria felt like she had heard that word before, buried in an old history book, or tossed off in an excavation of the old city, but the association was there. Fire, death, and a poison that did not go away.

I am dangerous unto a thousand lifetimes.

“Why did you bring us here, then?” Shaurya cried. He started hyperventilating again at the thought. “Do you want to kill us?”

You are the ones best able to withstand the death that is my life.

“It reached out to us, because it knew we wouldn’t die.” Maria said this as if she had always known it, even if thinking about it made her headache worse.

I kill all that lives.

“But…?” Kumi said.

I wish to hurt no others, and to be alone with my solitude.

“You were alone!” Shaurya cried. “Then you brought us down here for company! You ruined our lives! Why?”

You must convince the others to leave.

“You mean…everyone?” said Maria. “The whole city?”

They will all die if they stay. The cracks are already spreading.

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The memory came in flashes and fragments, causing Maria to gasp and lean against the mucky side of the tunnel as her legs buckled.

She saw an eerie glow looking over a dead city where people—bodies—remained where they had fallen.

A building, clean and modernism the memory but so ancient-looking and so alien to Maria herself that it was difficult to comprehend. People sat there, in chairs, laughing as strange symbols glowed and bizarre dials danced.

Light, blinding light, so intense that Maria’s eyes ached.

Waves of destruction moving out in every direction, shattering the very air.

Row after row of trees, bright red instead of deep green.

And then, last of all…a great movement. Bodies, things, even the earth itself, brought together.

Filling a great crater.

A circular hole, smoking and lambent with unearthly glow.

“Are you okay?” Shaurya said, coming up and laying a tentative hand on Maria’s shoulder.

“It’s trying to tell me something.”

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Maria spoke first.

“We all know why we’re here,” she said, wincing at the stale air of the tunnel. Five pairs of frightened eyes looked back at her, silently.

“The dreams.” The boy on the far side whispered–Maria might have seen him in school, but she couldn’t recall his face.

“Yeah,” Maria said. “Why don’t…why don’t you tell me what you’ve seen?”

Their initial terror seemingly overcome, the five began rapidly talking over each other.

“…there’s a glow…”

“…I’m falling…”

“…voice I can’t understand…”

“…big circle…”

“…glowing in the darkness…”

Maria held up her hands, and after a moment the others stopped talking. She’d been the first one to speak up, so they were looking to her for leadership, even though she felt small and weak and terrified. What was it Candi had said?

“Fake it until you make it,” Marie whispered. “They need somebody to keep their cool.”

“What?” said the faintly familiar boy.

“Nothing,” Marie said. “Sorry. Here’s what I think. It’s pretty clear that whatever we’re dreaming about is down here in these tunnels. And I think…I think it wants us to come to it.”

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“I see it as if I’m falling down a long shaft. Maybe a cave, I dunno, but it’s dark. Eventually, I see the floor, but it’s not lit by anything, it just sort of…glows, a bit. It looks smooth, manmade I guess, with lines almost like an oyster shell. There’s a little curve to it. The dream always ends before I reach it, but as I get closer, I hear more voices. I can’t understand what they’re saying, it’s like a bad radio connection, but it gets better as I go down.”

Maria kept her shoulders slumped once she finished.

“You think it’s down there?” Candi said. “In the catacombs?”

“I think whatever it is, it’s dangerous.” Maria looked at her hands. “I think whatever it is, it’s going to kill everybody.”

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The Dibner is the most notable of all Australian big game hunters. The Dibner is always out in the outback, hunting alone, or sitting in a corner of Bingo’s Bar with his rifle, Jolene. The Dibner always has a Tooheys Extra Dry, and Jolene always has mineral oil.

The Dibner will not acknowledge you if you approach him. The Dibner will nod curtly if you buy him a beer, offer a manly wink if you favor Jolene with a spot of polish. The Dibner only speaks to the worthy, though, and only The Dibner decides who that is.

The Dibner’s stories are spoken of in whispers, reverently repeated yet always lacking the spice of the original. The Dibner tracked a wily walleroo across a hundred clicks after it stole his water. The Dibner claimed five dingoes of a pack of six with a well-placed bait and a better-placed shot.

The Dibner will not stop until he has hunted one of every animal on the Australian continent. The Dibner only smiles when asked if this includes human beings. The Dibner has hunted insects, spiders, and scorpions with Jolene; there is usually very little left. The Dibner is not an entomologist.

The Dibner is, however, and amateur paleontologist. The Dibner hunts fossils, those most elusive of game animals, that he may shoot them and complete his hunt. The Dibner appreciates the challenge of finding them, even if Jolene finds no challenge in shooting them.

The Dibner has plans for an ark once his hunt is complete. The Dibner may be in the midst of a ritual to be reborn as an Australian godhead as spoken of in the Dreamtime. The Dibner will soon encompass the entire continent. The Dibner will be all, and all will be the Dibner, and all will be well.

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I knew I couldn’t give them all a home
That they wouldn’t fit my bulging bag
Tipping the scales at the airport
And yet I took them anyway
Filling arms, filling bags, staggering
Hungrily seizing them from hands outstretched

Advance Reader’s Copy, Not For Sale!
I scooped them up by the armful from tables
Pre-Production Version. Not Final Cover Art!
Chatted up empty marketing smiles for minutes
Uncorrected Proof. Some Content May Vary From Final!
Willingly tolerated the sociopathy of sales, of salesmen

When the weeding began, they sat there forlorn
Lost among the folds of a hotel bedspread
I knew I would never read them
Too esoteric, too juvenile, too biased, too surface
The shelves at home are already groaning
Bursting with the unread but well-loved

I could throw them out
Tumble them headfirst into the trash can
Fill a recycling bin, emptied with both hands and a grimace
But as Iook at them there, laid out
Claimed but unwanted, taken but unloved
I find I can’t

The cover in bold red white and blue, advancing men in Smokey hats
OVER THERE: The USA in WWI
Orange and aggressive, a ballot box becomes a shredder
NO VOTE, NO HOPE: A juvenile guide to voter suppression
Violet liquid fumes before a heart-speckled chalkboard
I KISSED SALLY MCDEAN IN CHEMISTRY CLASS

Kennedy on the cover, hand in hand with the woman he cheated on
HISTORY OF PRESIDENTS AND THE THEATER
I know its author’s a cult leader, but the cover is cowboys and rocketships
TALES FROM THE SILVER AGE: Fiction From The Enlightened One
The vendor was a friend of mine, once, and I felt so, so sorry for them
INFORMATICS IN K-12 EDUCATION: A No-Frills Handbook

People poured hours of their lives into these
Put forests of trees into these
Artists for the covers, binders for the books
A whole industry behind each of them
Even the salesmen with mouths to feed behind the smiles
Their lives, their livelihoods, their life’s work in my reject pile

I gather them up gently into a bag that is itself rejected
Swag and tchotchkes aren’t guilty, but bags are different
A last pilgrimage to a conference hall already ebbing
My plan is desperate but with a gleam of hope
I lay them on a table, spread out to show off their beauty
The colors pop against the off-white ice

Then I leave, walking briskly away without a look back
They are babes on the orphanage stoop
Puppies wriggling at the humane society door
Awaiting only a little kindness to live their lives
Years caressed by loving hands
After the cowardice that brought them there

They’ll probably go in the trash anyway
Swept up with the rest of the detritus
But it won’t be my hands that put them there
I walk away a reader in spite of my crime
Believing in the comfortable fiction
In a reality that couldn’t care less

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