August 2019

Library donors whose lives are written into books bound in human skin—their own skin.

But for those who have tired of what this mortal coil has to offer, the Deerton Public Library has an exciting and eldritch new donation option available.

“We call it the Soul Codex,” says Director McGee. “It’s a very simple process. By stepping into the dark circle scryed in Library Sub-Basement B1A1 on the night of a blood moon, you will enable the ley lines that crisscross in sacred geometry beneath our building to do the bidding of powers beyond mortal comprehension.”

During the process, which McGee describes as “going quietly to sleep though the agony of a thousand papercuts,” the donor’s complete life and knowledge will be transferred in its entirety into a specially prepared codex. This book, with infinitely many pages accessible with a simple index, will contain the sum total of information accessible—consciously or not!—to the donor.

“Of course, this leaves their existing body a lifeless shuddering husk,” says McGee. “But waste not, want not! We recycle every bit of that husk through a rigorous program of organ donation for cash and anthropodermic bibliopegy.”

The book, now bound in the skin of its former owner—“you could technically call it autoAnthropodermic bibliopegy if you wanted to,” laughs McGee—is then added to the collection, where it helps the cash-strapped library earn additional income. “The human being is a walking mass of secrets, secrets that people will pay dearly for. Whether it’s gossip or blackmail or even something prosaic like a WiFi password, all is contained in the book. The library is happy to let you look at it for a flat per-minute fee.”

The only limitation, so far, is that the Soul Codicies cannot be checked out. “For obvious reasons, they are confined to our rare book room,” says McGee. “We may eventually begin circulating them, but it will require alterations to our late ite policy! Needless to say, your immortal should would be forever forfeit if you failed to bring the book back.”

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“There’s just one, er, problem with our analysis, Doctor,” said Sean.

“Well, out with it then,” barked Dr. Grey.

“You were right about the corpse, it had not been mummified in the traditional sense,” Sean said. “But we were wrong about the age.”


“You thought it was a rare example of an unembalmed body placed in an 18th-dynasty, but our analysis shows that it’s far too young to be anything like that. In fact, this body is from less than 100 years ago.”

Dr. Grey looked over at Sean. “When was the tomb excavated?”

“1924. There were rumors of a curse, since the expedition leader’s wife vanished during the excavation.”

“I’d say we just found her.”

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The interviewer closed his portfolio, setting it aside. “We call the organization Ducks Unlimited, of course. But we want you to tell us: how unlimited are they? What, if anything is the limit of the ducks where Ducks Unlimited is concerned?”

The CEO candidate, Mr. Smith, folded his hand and smiled. “A limitless duck exists,” he said, “whether now–in which case we must seek it–or in the future–in which case we must prepare for its arrival. Once this unlimited duck is known to us, we will steadily feed it, small things at first, and then greater, until it contains all things and all is unified within the flesh of the ur-fowl.”

Looking to his right and then to his left, and finding smiles and nods on both sides, the interviewer rose and extended his hand. “I think you’re our man, Mr. Smith,” he said. “Welcome aboard.”

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No one screwed with Mama Roneck.

She didn’t say much, serving primarily as a maid and monitor for her unruly brood following the early death of her husband. When times got lean and the boys began turning to petty crime, Mama Roneck made sure that they were well-fed and well-clothed doing it. Whenever the police stopped by the ramshackle Roneck homestead, she would greet them, serve them tea, and calmly hand out terse alibis that were backed up by neighbors.

It wasn’t like Mama Roneck didn’t reward them for their loyalty. The Schmidts got a gold watch chain after insisting Elmo Roneck had been with their boy fishing on the night that the Philips 66 had been knocked over. Essie Billingsley found Ray and Ernest Roneck sullenly and silently helping bring in her harvest after she’d sworn up and down they’d been nowhere near the ditch where Sammy Carruthers’ torso was found. But while these little gestures were welcome, most folks in those parts would have played ball anyway, carrot or no, because of the stick involved.

No one screwed with Mama Roneck.

One day, as she was wont to do, Mama Roneck showed up at Jeremy and Carol Shire’s little patch. “You were with the boys fixing a wagon last night,” she said. “Swear to it if the cops come by, and we’ll look on it as a favor.”

Jeremy, sick of her demands and with only a silk handkerchief to show for the last time he’d lied for a Roneck, angrily spat his tobacco in his cup. “You’re going to have to to better than your usual if you want that,” he said. “I want twenty bucks this time.

Carol had tried to stop her husband, tried to apologize over him, but Jeremy–fortified by a little hard cider–held firm. He was not telling Roneck lies unless cash was attached.

“All right then,” Mama Roneck said. “Sorry to trouble you, Jeremy Shire.”

“Does that mean you’ll be back with my money?” Jeremy said.

“You’ll get what I owe you, and no mistake.”

The next day, a plume of smoke was seen rising from the Shire farm. When the cops got there, they found what was left of Jeremy and Carol upstairs, in their bedroom. No one could quite get their story straight after that, whether the cops had found evidence that the couple’s throats had been cut, or whether burned bits of rope showed they’d been tied to their bed as the house came down about them.

Either way, everyone was able to get their story straight about where Mama Roneck had been the night before, and where her boys had been the night before.

No one screwed with Mama Roneck.

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“Gently, gently, now. There we go.” With the grace and elegance of a nurse drawing poison from a wound, Nyartha drew the memories from Codswallop’s skull. They materialized briefly as wisps of steam in the air between them before Nyartha breathed them in like the steam off of fresh-baked bread. She let out a shuddering, gaspy sigh of pleasure as the last wafts of vapor–if vapor it was or had ever been–vanished up her nose.

“What a truly brilliant, magical adventure I had in the Grimsby Heights, Mr. Codswallop,” said Nyartha. “The sensations are so real, so vivid, like a strong wine. I was so terrified by the end, granted, but what a rush of life!”

“Grimsby Heights?” said Codswallop, twitching his whiskers. “Hm. Never been. Always wanted to go, though, in my youth.”

That’s what you meant by sharing memories?” Rags cried. “Sucking his life right out of his head?”

“Oh please, don’t be so melodramatic.” Nyartha reclined back in her chair, a golden goblet in her hand. “I’ve not hurt your precious manservant. He’s lost nothing, so far as he’s concerned, and I am able to live the life of adventure I so richly deserve without breaking the terms of my…imprisonment.”

Rags swept the feast off of the table before him. “You won’t get anything like that from me!” he shouted.

“Of course not, boy,” said Nyartha, gently. “You’ve barely had any life or any memories to take, after all. I’ll have to find another use for you. Perhaps a nice fillet, fresh-cut and preserved with a little magic. You might sustain me for the time it will take to scoop out what’s left of your Codswallop and lure in some fresh meat.”

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We sweat in the streets
Bake in the shadows
The hottest month ever
So they say online
We all know it’s wrong
In the eyes, looking up
In the mind, looking out
We know how dire it is
Yet we sit inside
In artificial winter
And pretend that things
Can keep going like this
Until next summer

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“I do, as you say, have the power to grant your request,” said the Empress. “But what, then, will I do for the other seekers that will come here, just as worthy as yourself, seeking just such a boon?”

I bowed as politely as I was able. “That would be up to your majesty to decide,” I said.

“Would it, though?” said the Empress. “In making the decision to grant such a favor to one such as yourself, am I not stating that the palace is open for business, and that anyone who thinks themselves worthy of such a gift needs but to tickle my ear with it? When, then, would I have time for affairs of state, besieged as I would surely be by those seeking royal favor?”

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