The Dead City…who could say they remembered its real name, before it was claimed by howls and snarls and vicious dissonance?

Nothing ever came out, save a rank odor when the winds were just right and the occasional howl of something inarticulate and unknowable (or perhaps just metal on metal). Things occasionally went in–explorers, scavengers, missionaries even–but it was as sure a death sentence as dangling from a makeshift gallows or facing down a firing squad as far as most could figure. People gave the Dead City a wide berth coming and going, with signs warning the unwary away the only part of the old road that saw any maintenance in those latter days.

Yet lights still shone in the night, even though the power had been cut, dried out, or redirected practically forever ago. People with binoculars could see movement from a safe distance, but an inversion layer kept it shimmering and indistinct. Smoke rose from chimneys and stacks as if the city were alive.

And, if anything, it was that illusion of life that filled people with bone-deep dread.


After it was abandoned around 1400 due to its conquest by the Aztecs, the city of Zapultepec wasn’t discovered and excavated until 1930. The statuary was long sunk into ruin, but there was one fascinating artifact that mystified its discoverers and continues to excite speculation to this day.

A cube, rough and not perfect, but seemingly made of stone. Bizarrely, it appeared to be made out of steel-reinforced concrete with heavily pitted and rusted rebar sticking out in several spots. This was particularly impossible, as steelmaking did not exist in pre-Columbian Mexico, and steel-reinforced concrete in particular was not invented in the form of the cement cube of Zapultepec until 1884.

More bizarrely still, the cube seemed to have fallen to the Zapultepec site from a great height, at least 300 feet if not more than 1000. This was evident in the strata and ejecta of the impact, still visible after hundreds of years. But is it was impossible for rebar-embedded concrete to be there, it was doubly so for it to have fallen from such a great height.

Largely thanks to the cube, Zapultapec’s otherwise unspectacular ruins have become a tourist attraction. It’s cited by many in paranormal circles as a prime example of an OOPART, an out-of-place artifact that demonstrates that some form of time travel or alien intervention has taken place.

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They call it “Thumper.”

You normally can’t hear it, at least not consciously. But when it’s acting up, usually in early spring or late summer, you can feel it. In your teeth, in your bones, and if you’re down at Pleasantwater lake, in the waves and ripples.

Once you hear it, once you start to notice it, you realize that everything in town matches itself to that profound bass thump when it’s at its strongest. Your heartbeat. Your breathing. Everything is synchronized in a way that feels wrong at the basement of your being.

A local guy, Jim Hatcher was his name I think, just like the famous author, used to do an AM radio broadcast about whatever was rattling in his brain. He’d go on and on about “Thumper” and his investigations into it. Kids loved listening to him because he always went wildly between “kindly folksy grandfather” and “raving lunatic” as the mood struck him.

Hatcher used to say that “Thumper” was coming from beneath Pleasantwater Lake, which I guess makes as much sense as anything. He said that there was a “stellar machine” beneath the waters, leftover from a civilization long since perished, slowly exposed by erosion. This “stellar machine” sent out “force signals” as it stirred from its slumber. Hatcher always said that he was researching what the machine was and what its signals did, but he was always coy with specifics.

When he died in his little house on the lake and they didn’t find him for two weeks…that didn’t exactly help things.

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“Carefully, carefully.”

They were steering into the fishing grounds now, amid the fully-grown stalks. Bursting from the sea and rising to heights of a hundred yards or more, they were as alien as they had been at the moment they had arrived. To touch one of their many spreading tendrils was to invite death, either by being swatted aside or through the toxins they bore. But only among their many spreading fleshy roots could fishermen find any of their companions, the little wrigglers, and those were worth their literal weight in gold. Or, perhaps, gold was worth its weight in little wrigglers.

“Cast it just so, just so,” said Donovan. “The little wrigglers have to come to you. Touch a tendril and you’ll be sorry.”

“Like that boat over there?” said Carey.

Donovan glanced over at a wreck, cut neatly in twain by the mindless thrusts of a stalk. “Yes,” he said. “They are why the war ended, you see. Anything like that which we used to do excites them to terrible violence, but we also came to depend on the little wrigglers they brought with them.”

“Did someone send them to us, to stop the fighting and make us all think about the wrigglers only?” said Carey.

Donovan looked at the bobbing nets. “Maybe so,” he said. “Maybe so.”

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Hawg Phillips drew Screamin’ Mimi aside. “Look,” he said. “I didn’t want to say nothin’ before, but I saw Death’s Head sneakin’ into the garage for The Undertower.”

Screamin’ Mimi’s tattoo (“Vaya Con Muerte”) lowered along with her suspicious eyebrows. “When was that?”

“Just before The Undertower wrecked at the last Truckasaurus Wrex in Cascadia.”

“Have you told anyone else, Hawg?”

Hawg stroked his waxed mustache. “I might’ve mentioned it to Popeye Phipps.”

“Might’ve?” Screamin’ Mimi said. “Hawg, this is the third monster trucker we’ve lost in a month. You gotta do better than ‘might’ve.”

“Look, I was loaded like a .38 when we was talkin’, okay?” said Hawg.

LEss than 12 hours later, he was dead.

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Once the transmission ended, Yekaterina made no further log entries. Based on biometric data, it appears that she systematically depressurized all the units of the station except for three: her quarters, the central corridor, and the arboretum.

The cherry trees in the arboretum were in full bloom, and Yekaterina apparently clipped all of their blossoms one by one over the course of the next 36 hours, stopping only to eat food stored in her quarters and to use the bathroom there. Once she was done, she laid out her EVA suit on the bed and filled it with flowers before closing and locking the faceplate.

What telemetry is available suggests that Yekaterina’s next action was to move through the station, pressurizing rooms ahead of her and depressurizing them behind. When she reached the main airlock, she overrode the safety mechanisms with a screwdriver and opened it.

To this day, no trace of her body ahs ever been found, and the reasons for her final actions remain a mystery.

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“At one point does one give up? At what point does one concede that screaming into the void, no matter how eloquently, is still futile?”

That short note, on hotel stationary, was the only intelligible writing found in the hotel room of Abigail Stearmann when her body was discovered. Her body was found in bed, her death having occurred not more than four or five hours before its discovery, and the coroner ruled it a suicide inasmuch as there was no evidence of foul play. Indeed, Stearmann was found to have died of dehydration despite being not ten feet from a working faucet with potable water.

The more compelling mystery was what Stearmann had apparently been working on in her six months’ residence at the hotel. She had regularly gone out for paper and ink, and those that knew who she was assumed that the author had at long last begun her second novel or second short-story collection.

Instead, investigators found 10,983 pages of…markings. Some have described them as scribbles, some as glyphs, but all agree that there was absolutely no meaning to be had from them to the casual observer’s eye. “It was as if someone had rewritten the Voynich Manuscript in the very messy cursive of a medical doctor,” said one of Stearmann’s closest associates at Southern Michigan University.

The author’s notoriety—increased tenfold after her strange death—led to a number of increasingly sophisticated attempts to find meaning in her last writings. An early attempt, in 1985, was touted as a “lost” Stearmann novel. It was generally ridiculed at the same level as The Tragedy of Anne Boleyn that Elizabeth Wells Gallup claimed to have found in cipher among Shakespeare’s plays. The most sophisticated effort, a computer-aided statistical analysis published in 2012, found no meaning in the whole but allowed for the possibility of a representational cipher in some places.

An equal number of people saw Stearmann’s supposed suicide note as explanation enough. In the throes of a depression so deep, so all-consuming that she had considered not just her writing but all writing to be insignificant on a grander scale…what greater cosmic joke could there have been than to bequeath gibberish to posterity?

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The larva of an enigma moth is more commonly known as a riddling worm or riddleworm. They thrive on riddles, puzzles, and conundrums posed by others, but aren’t able to pose any of their own. They tend to congregate in bookstores, libraries, college campuses, and debating societies. Anyone who’s ever handled an old book of riddles has probably seen their empty egg casings and the spidery filaments of doubt they leave behind.

Once enough small riddles–or perhaps just one great corker of a riddle–have been devoured, the riddleworm will spin a cocoon from the threads of stories and pupate, emerging as an enigma moth. They are so named because they must pose an enigma before the end of their ephemeral life, requiring the ensuing raw confusion to lay their eggs much in the same way that the riddleworms feed on it.

Enigma moths whisper their conundrums quietly but so insistently that most cannot help but hear.

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“It’s not cheating,” I said to myself. “I came out here for digital detox, and I’m doing that. I just need a video camera, that’s all.”

More towers of rocks had appeared overnight on the beach, but the high winds had scoured away any footprints in the loose sand and they would have been lost in all the prints I’d left knocking them down in any event. The gate was still locked, and I couldn’t see any tire tracks.

A little video was all I needed to prove my suspicion that some local good ‘ole boys were having some cheaper-than-basic-cable fun with me.

Setting up my laptop just right and getting the recording settings for its built-in webcam took some time, and I found myself moving in a haze of wandering focus. I could have used my cell phone, I suppose, but that would have required improvising a stand and scaring up an extension cord. When I looked up at the kitchen clock, I’d spent longer on the thing than I had thought. But it would be worth it for my peace of mind, to finally know that the “mystery” of the stacked rocks that Oscar had warned me not to concern myself with.

The webcam ran perfectly, and I’d set it to change to a special low-light mode at dusk. Satisfied, I turned back to the kitchen to gab a snack. Instead, I instinctively backed against the opposite wall in a panic.

Drawers had been emptied, cupboards ransacked, and the resulting detritus piled throughout the kitchen. Piled just like the rocks, as much as different shape and texture would allow. Deeply engrossed in my digital cheating, I hadn’t heard a thing.

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