July 2021


BTSB Incident Report #2297-A

This incident involved the collision of two brooms, a Justin Precision Brush Company model 87 light broom, and an Industrial Sweepers International ISI-6 push-broom. The PBC-87 was a single-passenger broom with only the pilot aboard, while the ISI-6 was a taxi broom with a pilot and two passengers.

Taking off in rough weather and low visibility without filing a fight plan, the PBC-87 collided with the ISI-6 as the latter was on its final approach. One of the passengers was able to cast a teleportation spell and escaped with minor injuries, and the other was wearing a feather fall charm and was treated for severe whiplash. The two pilots were killed at the scene, which scattered bristles and splinters over an area of 2000 square yards.

It is the opinion of the BTSB in this matter that the pilot of the single-passenger broom, Dr. Mungocius Magnificus, was at fault due to his lack of flight time and experience. The pilot of the commuter broom, Keego Vitellius, and their employer, Ajax Broom Taxi Ltd., are absolved of any wrongdoing.

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Every time I drive by, the shattered headboard is still there in the gully, a little more faded but still recognizable. And since it’s the start of a long, boring drive, I’m always spitballing theories about how it would up there.

Obviously it could have fallen off a truck, one destined for the university most likely. Someone moving in or out, possibly shattered before it was ditched if the rumors about campus life are anything to go by.

Of course the natural dirty scenario also presents itself. Surely the shattered bed frame landed there after being launched like a Saturn V during a bout of particularly eaves-rattling fucking in the nearby farmhouse, right? Har har har.

My preferred theory is that it’s the remains of one of those magical flying beds. We only hear about the successful flights, after all, never the crashes.

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According to urban American folklore collected by Dr. Dawson Sou, the 52 Decker, also known as the Decker-of-52, the Cardman, the Shuffler, or simply the Decker, is a shadowy figure that dispenses fates written on the face side of playing cards. Some accounts have it as a grim reaper in black robes, while others give it a more hobo-esque or homeless appearance. All agree that it is always hooded and its face is never seen, though Dr. Sou has noted a few cases in which the telling recount isolated features of a face visible against pooled darkness.

Whatever its exact appearance, the 52 Decker arrives in an area and purchases a new deck of cards. It often gives its first fate to the person that sells it the cards, although some telling have the card-seller gifted with an antique gold piece or otherwise rewarded. Once armed with a deck of cards, the 52 Decker will scrawl a fate on each card in the deck, in turn, and place it at the home of a victim. This fate will bedevil the occupant for a number of weeks equal to the face value of the card, with jacks as 11, queens as 12, kings as 13, jokers as an indeterminate period, and an ace meaning either one week or forever.

A typical example from the stories is a card, often a low-value card like the two of hearts, with the word “INSOMNIAC” written on it. A person finds it and suffers from insomnia for two weeks. The legends differ on whether the card must be found or not, but all agree that the fate is binding. Other fates attested in legends collected by Dr. Sou include things like:

-AMNESIAC
-ANOREXIC
-BULIMIC
-PYROMANIAC

In darker manifestations of the story an “ANOREXIC” card with a high face value, like a king or ace, results in a victim starving to death. In virtually every telling, though, the cards are drawn and inscribed at random.

Defeating or driving away the 52 Decker seems to be contingent on seizing its deck. The rules card, in particular, is said to have power over the Decker, and anything written on it by a victim will supposedly effect the Decker, making the creature wiling to barter for its return. In some cases an additional card with a pleasant fate, like “FORTUNE,” is added to sweeten the deal. But in some tellings this is a trap, and the Decker will retaliate with a fresh card once it recovers its deck.

The only other way to drive away a 52 Decker is to allow it to hand out 52 fates, at which point it will discard any remaining parts of its deck and disappear.

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As I was driving up the highway, I saw a flock of buzzards circling a kill some ways up the road. A deer, probably, pulverized by a late-night long-haul trucker that didn’t even notice the bump.

Then, coming in low and from the west, a jetliner coming in for its final approach at the regional airport. It turned, and for a moment it lined up perfectly with the vultures, seeming the right size and the right shape to appear as one of their flock orbiting a meal.

They hung there, together, in space, for a moment. A fraternity of flyers, elegant gliders, and all of them driven by death.

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What had led him to this state? Chip’s hands tightened around the wheel of the rental truck with all his worldly possessions inside.

There’d been the left on Swanson St S. That had been the GPS’s fault; it clearly hadn’t been updated to reflect the brand new one-way streets nearby. And then the left onto Marble Pkway, intended to correct for an earlier mistake but one that led to a half-hour causality loop of one way streets and left turns.

God, it was hard enough to make a right in that thing, that big, ponderous, boxy truck. A few go-around in the rental place parking lot just weren’t enough. Chip was now convinced he needed a full-on truck license to operate the vehicle safely.

He’d mistaken Smith Rd. for Smith St. and taken that left. Gotten caught in the wrong lane on East Loop, left turn only, left lane MUST turn left. And now, here.

Ahead of the truck was a morass of road construction, with tore-up pavement that looked too narrow to contain its bulk. And to the left, a low bridge with a crash bar and a bright yellow sign proclaiming that it was only 12’ tall.

Chris had no earthly idea how tall, or how wide, his rented truck was. And the light was changing, with angry honks coming in from behind.

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“Hmph,” she said. “Small towns. You know, I moved to a small town once. It’s where my folks came from, a long time ago. I thought it was going to be a new beginning for this city dweller.”

“I’m guessing it wasn’t.”

“They pretend to be something they’re not, and when they start letting you in, you won’t like their meanness.”

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“Are you sure?” the self-proclaimed emperor said. “The killing-me train is leaving the station, last chance!”

Luma laughed despite herself, though she quickly regained her composure after a scowl from Kotoi.

“In that case, may I suggest that since you have caught me at my desk, I might make a decree for you in exchange for my freedom?” Altzairu said. He patted the paper, blotter, and inkwell in front of him in turn. “No one is going to go against my say-so. Would you all like pardons, maybe? Some riches? Just say the word.”

“We could have him release all the political prisoners,” Harria said to Kotoi. “Your brother. Sassha.”

“No,” Kotoi said. “Any piece of paper he signs will be ripped up the instant we’re out of his sight. There’s no trusting anything he does.”

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They found Altzairu in his office, signing a stack of decrees, dressed in a simple military tunic with no visible medals.

“We are taking you prisoner,” Kotoi said, leveling his pistol at the self-proclaimed Emperor.

“Oh?” Altzairu laid down his pen, calmly. “I am your prisoner, then.”

“Just like that?” Harria said, confused.

“Just like that,” Altzairu said, folding his hands in his lap with a smile. “I am unarmed, after all, and you are armed. So, now that I am in your power, I assume you wish to kill me?”

Harria looked at the others, confused. “What?”

Luma and Puxik looked at one another, baffled; only Kotoi did not waver. “What makes you think we want you dead?” he said.

“Well, the fact that you’re pointing a gun at me, for one,” said Altzairu. “I assume you mean to avenge yourself upon me for something I have done? Very well; I’d appreciate if you could be quick about it.” The Emperor opened his tunic, revealing his undershirt.

Wide-eyed, Kotoi looked down at his pistol. A simple squeeze would do the deed at this close range.

“This isn’t what we talked about,” Harria said.

“I for one admire your dedication to dying for your revenge,” Altzairu said, looking Kotoi square in the eye.

“Dying? You’re unarmed,” Kotoi whispered.

“Of course. But I heard no shots, which means you must have infiltrated here quietly. But my guards will not ignore a gunshot from my private quarters, and they will cut you all down once the deed is done. But that is a small price to pay, is it not, for making your mark on history?”

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How far outside
Must the impostor go
To find what little joy
Can be felt in the morass
Of anxieties that make up
Daily life in the waning days
Of life as we know it on earth

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The ancient castle of Dwynnwaithe was built at a crucial seaport by a lord named Henry the Jocular during the years after the Norman conquest. Henry had intended to leave the fortress to one of his three sons when he died, until all three drowned in a storm while crossing the Channel. Rather than see the edifice go to his hated nephew, Henry the Jocular had a stonemason carve a message on the highest battlement:

Whomsoever stands here and places his mark shall be lord of Dwynnwaithe.

This message was considered to be legally binding at the time, so when Henry died, the castle passed to his steward, who raised a crude banner of his own design in that spot.

For the next 800 years, Dwynnwaithe became the site of an elaborate game of capture the flag. Anyone who could tear down the old banner and raise their own was considered to be the rightful lord, whether by subterfuge or conquest. The people of Dwynnwaithe Village also considered the inscription binding, and on those occasions when someone tried to exercise lordship without placing their mark, they boycotted until the letter of the law was met.

The castle was slighted after the Civil War, and fell into disrepair thereafter, though the lord of Waitheshire made sure to hang his own banner over the remains all the same. During the First World War, the banner fell down in a storm, its wooden post rotted.

Not long after, a seagull alighted on that spot and, as seagulls are wont to do, left his chalky white mark. To the people of Dwynnwaithe, this was fair enough; they converted the remains of the castle into a bird sanctuary, which it remains to this day.

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