“Here’s the thing,” said Inspector McTeague. “It was dark. He can’t be sure who kissed him, only that if felt like the victim.”

“What are you saying?” asked Officer Strong. “I don’t understand.”

McTeague thumped a thick manila envelope onto the tabletop. “You’re familiar with Hattie Snodgrass?”

“No, who is she?”

“One of the most skilled con artists the department has ever had to deal with. She is an expert kisser, Strong, a master of the art form. She can make her kisses feel like they came from somebody, anybody, else.”

“My God,” said Strong. “You mean to say…?”

“That’s right,” McTeague said. “She’s a ventrilokisst.”

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She hadn’t expected the music to have this effect on her, even with the new subwoofers she’d just bought from Carlos so he could get his fix. But each fresh beat, throbbing through the floor and inter her body, seemed to dislodge something.

Chinks, tumbling pebbles, in the wall that she had built up unconsciously over the years.

It was a barrier to keep her small, keep her safe, keep her acceptable. People don’t like that feral edge in a woman, they say. People don’t like the animalistic gleam in one that runs barefoot through the forest snow with hair shining from every pore. She’d erested that wall to keep the wolf inside, and the music was making it crumble. She began to dance, gyrating with each fresh hit of the electronics, each newborn bass note headed straight for her heart.

In the window, she could see the dingy woods, full of trash and garbage. But she could also see herself, and she was changing. It felt as natural as bathing to slough off her clothes. A world of scents and sounds opened up, and hearing the music through keen lupine ears only redoubled its effect.

When the song was over, she unlatched the door with her nose and disappeared into the woods. The woman would return, but for now the beast was free of her enclosure, and she would play long and hard in the forest and howl deeply at every moon she could find before returning, more of herself.

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The results came back negative. There was no life to speak of on any of the four planets orbiting ULAS J0015+01. It had been a long shot, astronomers knew, but public opinion as much as anything had led them to make the final push. The most distant star in the Milky Way was lifeless. Humanity and its hangers-on were the only life in the galaxy.

As with so many others, ULAS J0015+01B had the remnants of an advanced civilization and a thriving biosphere. The great craters where the city-ships had lifted off for parts unknown were still visible, as were the twisted and dead remains of what must have once been a thriving biosphere. Not a single living thing remained.

Like every habitable planet, ULAS J0015+01 was awash in signs that its inhabitants had seen us coming, and they had fled in abject fear before us.

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Snowflake Warning
Issued: 8:55 PM CST Jan. 17, 2018 – National Weather Service

Snowflake warning remains in effect until noon CST Thursday.

* A single snowflake drifting lazily to the ground has been observed and confirmed.

* Prolonged exposure to the snowflake could lead to hypothermia and may harm pets and livestock. Exposed plumbing is in danger of being damaged.

* A patch of ice where the snowflake melts and solidifies is a very strong possibility.

Precautionary/preparedness actions:

* A snowflake warning means a prolonged period of snowflake-friendly temperatures is ongoing. These conditions will be dangerous to people and pets without adequate shelter and could damage exposed pipes.

* Inhabitants are urged to remain indoors and away from exposed windows and exterior walls.

* Do not travel unless absolutely necessary.

* School cancellations are likely and recommend.

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His hands were almost dead with cold. Oh, how much one little Fifty Shades of Grey removal might warm him!

If he could only take one from the shelf, ridding it from existence forever.

Besides, it was cold in the library, and the pages could be used to stuff even the biggest cracks

And then, an idea. Inspiration!

A jaunty stroll through the cold was warming in and of itself, but upon beholding the dumpster behind the Salvation Army, laden with One Hundred Thousand Shades of Grey

A most agreeable bonfire.

He felt the blazing dumpster might be a metaphor for something, but the thought passed with his last shiver of cold.

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To Whom It May Concern:

I promise this isn’t a suicide note. Or, at the very least, it was only academic suicide rather than the goopy kind. I am emailing to appeal my academic dismissal from Southern Michigan University. I was surprised, but not very upset to receive an email last month informing me of my dismissal. I would have responded earlier, but I wasn’t really paying attention over the break, but now I am and I would like to urge you to reinstate me for next semester.

I admit I had a very difficult time last semester, and my grades cratered as a result. I don’t mean to make excuses for my poor academic performance, but I would like to make some excuses for my poor academic performance. I knew that registering for 25 credit hours in the spring would require a lot of me, but I needed to earn the hours so that I was on track to graduate on time. Never mind that I have theoretically infinite time; I still think of college like second high school lasting four years even though that’s more the exception now than the rule. I also didn’t realize that I’d only gotten 36 of my 136 attempted credits, and that you have to be on probation for three semesters before dismissal. Oops.

Still I thought I could handle my workload, meaning both school and my actual day job at the dog spa, except that my grandmother became very ill in February. While she was home sick and unable to grandmother, I had to drive home every weekend and some weeknights to help out with household duties and to care for her. The ladies in the nursing home were kind of bitchy about this. Needless to say, the seven-hour-long drive each way cut into my study time, as did the chores I had to do.

Even when I was at school, I was very distracted with the situation and was unable to focus on my schoolwork. You might tell me that I should have talked with my professors, or even withdrawn from my classes. But I thought it would be a far more cunning strategy to avoid the professors altogether, and to double down by enrolling in an additional 1-credit course just before the drop-add deadline. I was sure that by zigging wen they expected me to zag, I could make it work.

I love Southern Michigan University, and it would mean so much to me to graduate with a degree from this school. It certainly wasn’t my fifth choice, and my application definitely wasn’t a form letter with University of Michigan taken out in a find-and-replace. Ever since I visited campus and saw all the ugly postwar Brutalist buildings, I knew that being a Grizzly was for me. Also, graduating would make me the first person in my family to complete a college degree. At least if you don’t count Uncle Stu, who graduated from University of Phoenix. I don’t count him.

If I am reinstated, I will focus much better on my schoolwork. I’ll take fewer hours, just one hour if I have to, and manage my time more wisely. For instance, I’ve spent a solid fifteen minutes on this this letter and you can’t even see the seams where I modified the sample I found online! Fortunately, my grandmother did not recover and is now a vegetable, so I should not need to travel nearly as often. Also, I have met with my advisor. Just once, and it was more of a brief encounter in the parking lot, but I will follow their advice about communicating better with my professors from now on. Once I ask for it, of course, since the advising offices are currently closed for winter break.

Please understand that my low GPA that led to my dismissal does not indicate that I am a bad student, even though it is essentially the only measure of academic performance available to you or anyone. Really, I’m a good student who had one very, very bad semester. And then another one. And also a third. I hope you will give me a second chance, which in light of my three bad semesters is really more of a fourth chance. Thank you for considering this appeal, and go Grizzlies!

Sincerely,
Unter Gräd

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St Hiddle-on-Botham Town Hall
Named after a local saint that was declared fictitious and removed from the Catholic saints registry in 1289, St Hiddle-on-Botham (not to be confused with the St Hiddle in Strothshire) nevertheless benefited from a stream of pilgrims to the site where St Hiddle reportedly beheld the divine llama. Its town hall was built near that spot, replacing an earlier structure that dated to 1534. The current building handles all government affairs and still admits a few diehard pilgrims each year.

Bhampton School
The most prestigious academy in St Hiddle-on-Botham, Bhampton maintains a strict British boarding school atmosphere despite being a local public institution. It has produced one-half of a Rhodes scholar (don’t ask) and a champion field Quiddich team. It has also stubbornly resisted attempts to change its motto from “Parcere Praedae Virga Puer.”

Heaton-on-Westom Weather Field Station
The moor of Heaton-on-Westom may owe its grand name to a long-destroyed manor on a long-silted creek, but its reputation for science stands undiminished. Researchers from the University of Camford and the University of Oxbridge routinely conduct experiments here, though many locals insist that they do not so much predict the weather as cause it.

The Meadery on Twettle Row
A place for strong liquor and stronger personalities, the Meadery serves drinks to numb the tongue and strip paint. Its food may be legendarily inedible, but no one has yet drunk the owner under the table with their own supply of backroom hooch.

Elle’s Chorels
The drinks as Elle’s may be as watered down as Botham Pond, but her food is a local staple. Hearty meat pies, aspics, and sponge cakes are her specialty, even if they are washed down with the weakest beer this side of Milwaukee.

Newtons St Pethen Library
Newtons St. Pethen was a local eccentric and bibliophile who left his large collection of esoteric tomes to the city upon his expiry. They reside here alongside s few newer volumes, and are a favorite of researchers into the normal, paranormal, and supernormal.

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