“Argenbright Hospital,” Lincoln Andoh said. “Built 1980, closed 1990, in business a shade under ten years, now abandoned.”

“It’s guarded,” Arcelia Demme said. “24-7. They’re worried about meth-heads pulling our all the wires. Urban Xpl0r tried to get in for a YouTube video last year, spent the night in jail.”

“Wait, there’s a hospital in Argenbright?” said Rolland McCelland. “I thought the closest one was in Brookshaw. My sweet granny lives in Argenbright, she has to drive over an hour to get to Brookshaw Baptist.”

“Argenbright was supposed to be a hoity-toity development, once upon a time,” Jeff Brito said. “Went bust on Black Monday, I think. Not that folks were sorry to see them go.”

“You don’t just put hospitals in developments,” Rolland said. “People around here could’ve used it. Why did it close?”

“Lots of stories, but no one knows,” replied Lincoln. “I heard that an unlicensed pediatrician was working there for a while and got a few kids killed.”

“Built on a Superfund site and contaminated with dioxin in the water,” Arcelia said. “That’s what Urban Xpl0r said.”

Jeff was already on his phone. “I looked it up, the official word is lack of staff and lack of demand.”

“But not lack of bullshit,” Rolland said. “People need hospitals and hospitals bring jobs. Closing after 10 years and putting armed guards up is more than some corporate bigshot handing out pink slips.

Ruben Nuzzo, who had remained silent during the whole exchange, lifted a hand. “It doesn’t matter,” he said. “There’s no way in, so I move that we go someplace else. UX Club is already at two nights in jail and I don’t want to make it a hat trick.”

“There was no way in,” Lincoln said, smiling. “I just happen to have a lead. My cousin works at the same security company, Asp Protective Services out of Brookshaw. They’re bankrupt after that lawsuit, closing up shop. The last paychecks bounced, and most of the guys have already walked off the job.”

“So they’ll just hire another security company, then,” Ruben said. “Named after another deadly animal or something.”

“Turns out my cousin wasn’t above taking a little revenge on Asp for shafting him,” Lincoln said. “Their contract isn’t up yet, and no one knows they’re toast until the announcement on Monday. That gives us a full three-day weekend to uncover, and explore, the secret of Argenbright Hospital with the UX Club.”

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People grieve in their
Own way on their own time
But sometimes seeing them
With their memorial posts
Their pages for the dead
Just gives me a little of
The heebie jeebies
The grievie jeevies

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“The thing I think we fail to see is that Japanese exceptionalism is just American exceptionalism in a funhouse mirror,” said Sato-Gray. “We may not recognize the image, but it comes from a similar place.”

“How do you mean?” the panelist asked.

“Well, for example, if you tell an American that many Japanese people feel that they are exceptional because they are direct descendants of the Shinto sun god Ameratsu, that American will probably laugh and think something about superstition. But then they may go on to claim that America is uniquely blessed by God with nary a thought to how off this may look to an outsider.”

“So,” the panelist continued, “you are saying that these differences are what cause misunderstandings?”

“Not at all,” Sato-Gray replied. “I am saying that the similarities are what cause misunderstandings and conflict. We are very much alike in broad strokes, though different in the details. But there can never be two most exceptional nations in the world.”

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Since the undead rising began, a few basic rules have made themselves manifest.

1. Killed by one, rise as one.

If you are killed by the undead, you rise as one a short period of time later. Generally the dead rise as simple zombies (or skeletons) but it’s not unknown for them to rise as the specific sort of undead that slew them.

2. Undeath is expensive.

Rising from the grave has no precedent in international law, so the dead lose all their wealth and possessions. Furthermore, the treatments–both medical and arcane–to sustain an undead body quickly add up, forcing many undead into servitude.

3. Entropy is inevitable.

The process of decay is somewhat arrested by rising, but it is not stopped. Cutting-edge mortuary science, often paid for by undead insurance brokers Ike Z-Surance, helps keep undead looking fresh and lifelike for as long as possible. It is also possible to prolong decay and dissolution for some time after looking lifelike is no longer possible. But if it takes days, weeks, or centuries, all undead eventually decay to nothing. No one knows what happens after that.

4. Conversion is possible.

A zombie can become a skeleton, a wight can become a lich, and many other “lateral” moves are possible. New undead are often strongly recruited, which has led to a certain cult like atmosphere in some undead mono-societies.

5. They’re all unholy.

Every major religion on Earth that existed before the rising has condemned the undead as foul, unnatural, and abominations. While some new religious movements sympathetic to the undead have arisen, they tend to be dismissed as cults. While some progress in undead rights has been made, primarily making it illegal to kill them in many circumstances, they remain on the whole shunned by religious and conservative people. Those religious and conservative folk who are reanimated almost always destroy themselves or go mad thanks to the inherent contradiction of their condition.

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“Come in, then,” Rivers said. “Mask on, of course.”

“I’m vaccinated,” Hillian replied.

“Mask on,” Rivers repeated, hooking his own over both ears. “Can’t be too careful with the new variants, and also with liars.”

“I’m no liar, Dr. Rivers,” Hillian huffed.

“And I’m a philosophy professor, which means I know about the inherent paradox of claiming one is not a liar,” Rivers said. “Either come in or don’t, you’re letting bugs in.”

With a sigh, Hillian put on a rumpled disposable mask and entered. The house was a mess, books and clothes heaped on every surface, and several cats slinked through the mess, wafting the unmistakable odor of kitty litter with them.

“So what does the provost’s office want with me,” Rivers said.

“Sort of a wellness check,” Hillian said. “You haven’t been answering your emails.”

“I’ve been reading them,” Rivers said. “Most don’t need or deserve replies.”

“You haven’t been answering your phone.”

“That’s what email is for,” said Rivers. He pulled his bathrobe tighter around him as if annoyed.

“You haven’t been in the office for a month.”

“Got a home office right in back, works great,” Rivers said.

“You know that the president said that everyone had to go back to work, right?” said Hillian, cocking his head.

“I am working,” Rivers huffed. “Reading emails, advising students, and supervising independent studies. I’ve also been working on three papers and a book.”

“From where I’m standing, it looks like you’re living a bachelor lifestyle and using elaborate excuses to avoid doing any work,” Hillian said. “That’s also partly why I’m here.”

“To give me an ultimatum? Don’t bother,” Rivers said. “I know my rights as a tenured professor after fifteen years.”

“Are you saying that you’re going to keep doing nothing until we have to take formal, and expensive, and unpleasant, legal action?” Hillian said.

“I’m saying that I am a philosophy professor, and nothing that you can do to me can compare with what the last year has convinced me is coming. I’m going to keep on as I have been, since it’s the last relaxation any of us are going to get.”

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I used to enjoy thrifting. Then a friend asked me how I enjoyed picking over the bleached bones of middle America for fun and profit.

I still enjoy thrifting, but now I wonder what happens when the whale fall is spent and the bones are gone.

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A buzz on the doorstep
The dialtone of summer nights
Endless yearning beneath humming lights
Reaching out for a fleeting connection
A concrete echo the only reply

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[JANINE is making drip coffee in the kitchen of a small farmhouse]

ANNOUNCER: We’ve replaced Janine’s Brand X coffee with new Revivify™ Extra Strength java. Let’s see if she notices.

[JANINE takes a sip and shakes her head vigorously.

JANINE: Wow, that’s strong stuff!

[From OUTSIDE THE FARMHOUSE, a sudden rumble!]

JANINE: The family plot!

[She runs to the window. We see the earth HEAVING, gravestones WOBBLING, as the dead ARISE and CLAW their way to the surface.]

JANINE: Uncle Jim! Grandma Josephine!

[Shambling to his feet, UNCLE JIM breathes a grim pronouncement through sepulchral lips.]

UNCLE JIM: We have AWAKENED, and now we go forth in search of living flesh to sustain our unlife!

[JANINE, shotgun in hand, attempts to barricade the door while wood splinters under undead assault as the ANNOUNCER speaks.]

ANNOUNCER: Revivify™: coffee so strong it will wake your ancestors. Find it in the necromancy aisle at your local supermarket.

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“Well, Chosen One,” said Opaem in an icy tone. “If you are such an expert in the Art of magic, perhaps you can teach me a better system.”

“Better than rock-paper-scissors?” Brianna said. “Uh, yeah? How about elemental magic? Fire, water, earth and, um, wind.”

“Wind?” Opaem said, with a raised, and skeptical, elven eyebrow.

“Yes, wind! It beats fire by, I dunno, blowing it out or something.”

“But fire consumes oxygen and leaves ashes, so would air not make fire stronger?” Opaem said.

“Water, then!” Brianna said. “It still makes more sense.”

“And what is burning? Not all fires can be extinguished so easily. What if it is a magnesium fire? That can burn underwater.” The elf furrowed his brows. “I am afraid it is your system that makes no sense, Chosen One.”

“How do you even know what magnesium is?” Brianna retorted. “Isn’t it like a chemical element?”

“It only exists in its elemental form once refined, which makes it a manufactured item. Therefore, a magnesium fire is extinguished by piling it with dry sand. Rock beats scissors. See? It makes perfect sense.”

“I don’t believe this! Next you’re going to tell me that you cast a fireball spell by throwing burning magnesium at people.”

“That is actually a really good segue into the next part of your training,” said Opaem.

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Four years since I
Celebrated the fourth
Even with this year’s
Reprieve I still look
At the skybursts with
A mixture of fear and
Self-righteous anger
In every explosion
The self-satisfied
Grins of people who
Do not realize they
Are burning the flag
As they try to honor it

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