August 2020


“This is the Twilight Sentinel,” they said, pointing to the colossal statue of a man in quaint, classical armor. “It will come to life and defend us when our need is greatest. You can see the results of its work in the enemies that have shattered themselves against us.”

“How long has it been since it was tested?”

“One thousand years.”

“How do we know it will work?”

“We don’t. But the stories do most of the heavy lifting.”

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“In a few hours, the cryptomnesia will set in, and he won’t remember a thing.”

“But you will,” Jen said.

“I had unicorn blood on my socks,” Alan said. “You don’t forget a thing like that. And honestly I don’t care if he remembers. As long as the check clears, it’s all good.”

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Worms fluoresce on the branches of a tomato at night
Luminescent in the blacklight beam playing across
Picked off one by one, parasites eating their little worlds
I look over my shoulder, up at the sky
On the hottest night of the year
In the hottest year in the world
And wonder if I don’t see a beam shining down
With tweezers descending

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The board lit up, dozens of intense spots of red and yellow appearing across all the available Doppler radars.

“Shit! That hurricane was pregnant! It came ashore to spawn bouncing baby tornadoes!”

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I think it would be instructive to hear the tale of the enchanter who wanted to be a cobbler, and the cobbler who wanted to be an enchanter.

No?

I’ll skip to the end then. They were both miserable at it, and they both died. The moral is, don’t challenge the natural order of things, or you’ll get burned.

What’s that?

Why the natural order of things is how they are right now, of course. What else would it be?

I don’t care if you disagree. We have more than tales to keep this order, if it comes to that.

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Jim Decker stepped out onto the apartment’s tiny porch, his bright blond hair cascaging in curly rivulets from underneath a rawhide cowboy hat. He was wearing a clear hazmat slicker and gloves, with mirrored shades and a disposable mask making it difficult to see anything but the laugh lines on his face. “Come to see how a real professional does things, Robinson?”

Alan pulled off his cap, swept back his hair–being curly as the dickens, it immediately bounced back–and then replaced it, a calculated gesture of casual contempt. “I dunno,” he said. “You still suspended from doing supernatural, paranormal, and cryptid cleanup in the great state of Mississippi and all adjoining territories?”

Decker’s mask twitched, indicating an ugly snarl. “That auditor had it in for me, and you know it.”

“Whatever you say, friend,” Alan replied. “Taking paranormal carcasses and dumping them in the back forty instead of burning them seems pretty legit to an ordinary joe like me.”

Decker stomped up to Alan, his bulky cowboy boots clomping, and he whipped off his mirrored shades, revealing a pair of incredibly blue eyes to go with his Nordic locks. “About as legit as being banned from the handling or disposal of human remains in those selfsame territories like you are, Robinson?”

“Well, now, I’d say that’s a matter of perspective,” Alan said. “If you never take the test, did you really fail it?”

“Once my suspension’s over, I guess we’ll see,” Decker said. “Maybe I’ll hire you as an intern, seeing as you’ll be unable to compete with my prices and overall competence.”

“Sorry, Jim, I got an intern of my own,” Alan said, gesturing at Jen. “You know interns can’t have interns; fundamental law of the universe right there. I don’t make the rules; hands’re tied.”

Decker squinted at Jen, replacing his mirrored glasses. “That you, Dink?” he said. “I thought you were at university or something.”

“Yeah, funny thing about being at college is you don’t stay there forever,” Jen said.

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“Dink?” Johnson said, squinting. “That you? What you doing hanging around with this glorified janitor?”

“Internship,” Jen said. “Paid internship. Trying to work my way up to funeral home director, medical examiner, or forensic chemistry.”

“I guess things is always dying. Steady business. Death and taxes.” Johnson shrugged. “You’re still fat, though.”

“Thank you for telling me so, Mr. Johnson,” Jen said with a smirk. “I’m not sure I would’ve noticed otherwise.”

“Anyone ever tell you you’d be real pretty if you lost some weight and smiled more?”

“All the time, Mr. Johnson,” Jen replied. “In fact, I have it pre-engraved on my tombstone. ‘Finally lost some weight, finally smiling.'”

Johnson snorted, though with his MAGA mask and weathebeaten old poker face there was no way to tell if he was amused, annoyed, or some unholy combination of both. “Go on then, get to it. Let me know when you’re done and how much it’ll be. Decker’ll be out in a sec.”

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“I called Decker to clean up the murdered fella in my rental,” Johnson said. “I called you to clean up the unicorn what killed him.”

“Well, Mr. Johnson, we at Robinson Cleaning are at your service with reasonable rates and quick turnarounds.” Alan Robinson shot a quick, sidelong glance at the “Decker & Co Royal Flush Cleaning” truck already in the lot. “As soon as that lazy roustabout Jim Decker is done, of course.”

Johnson squirted something from between his front two teeth into the grass. “You think you can do better? You saying I should’ve called you instead?”

“No, sir,” Alan said. “Decker’s the once licensed and bonded by the great state of Mississippi to clean up natural crime scenes. But I’m the one licensed and bonded by the great state of Mississippi to clean up supernatural messes, and I think you’ll fine I leave much less of my job for the other fella to do.”

“We’ll see about that. I’m already in two grand on this place just to get it rented again. Damn Chinese virus is bad enough for business without a man bleeding out on my carpets, and putting two bullet holes in my walls to take that damn horny-horse with him besides.”

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Each category is assigned a level from one to five, represented by Roman numerals. This “class” represents in a general way the overall danger to life and limb the supernatural creature in question poses. Type I is the least dangerous, and Type V is the most dangerous.

That is not to say that this is equivalent to a Fujitsu tornado scale, naturally. It is entirely possible to be killed by a Type I creature or to have amicable, peaceful relations with a Type V. But a healthy human would ordinarily have little to fear from even the most aggressive Type I, while even a peaceful Type V could–if they wanted–be a terrifying opponent.

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At some long-distant future family gathering, as the talk turns to loved ones and fellowship, someone might ask about my grandmother, Catherine Watson. What will I tell them?

This is what I will say. That’s her over there on the bookshelf, in the stories and novels she wrote. That’s her on the desk, in her correspondence with a far-flung family. That’s her in the cornerstones of a dozen churches across the nation. That’s her in the box of stones from the Holy Land, the many gifts she gave, the many sacrifices she made.

But most importantly, she is all around us in the smiling faces of family and friends. The answer to the question of who Catherine Watson is remains the same, now after she has passed, as it will ever be. She is all of us, each in a different way.

-Alex P. Watson

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