The beekeeper focused his eyes to confirm what he was seeing: each cell within the honeycomb before him was octagonal in shape. As far as he knew, this was impossible. Hexagons were supposedly the most complex shape which could be tessellated, yet somehow, the edges of each octagon were perfectly aligned with those of eight others. He looked at them from multiple angles, wondering if a difference in perspective might cause the anomaly to go away, but the impossibility persisted.
The Hoover Dam is said to be filled with human bones. So the story goes, during its construction, workers who fell into the structure’s wet concrete were left inside, as those in charge believed that the cost and risk of retrieving their bodies would be too great. For those who believe this tale, the dam doubles as a colossal tombstone for those buried within.
The author remained perfectly still as the tarantula wandered across his typewriter’s keys. With eight grotesque legs, it spelled out the secret name of death, and he recognized it as soon as it appeared. It was the sort of name that could only be pronounced with one’s final gasp; as such, he didn’t dare utter it, for fear that it’s owner might come forth upon hearing his voice.
I worked on the sixty-first floor of the tower, a height from which the streets could not be seen, but we were all gathered at the window that day, looking out at the rainbow spectacle. A flock of sky anemones was migrating through the city, slowly floating from west to east, back towards their home vortex over the open ocean. The jet stream had tossed them further north than usual this year, paralyzing the city below. Their elastic bodies bounced and rolled against the windows as they wandered, leaving venomous smears behind.
Imagine, for a moment, a broadcast of the original Twilight Zone where Rod Serling never appears. In such an episode, the characters within are forced to contend with a reality that, without warning, is subjected to the influence of a “fifth dimension,” where the laws of humanity lose all meaning. After being assailed by this anomaly for roughly half an hour, its influence fades away, and the world continues rotating onward.
Thricelings are born incomplete. They emerge from the womb not as living things, but instead, as motionless, beige mounds with the consistency of bread dough. These formless masses rest on porcelain slabs in nurseries, warmed and nourished by the heat of the fires beneath them. Should they survive this process for two weeks without melting or crumbling, they will be considered viable, and allowed to progress to their second birth.
Echolocation frees dolphins and their ilk from the need for a two-dimensional alphabet. Though humans hear words as waveforms intended to be drawn and read as sequential glyphs, the sounds made by these creatures are vases sculpted upright in time, each experienced as a single, unique object. Meaning lies in the three-dimensional curvature of their forms, rather than in the ordering of symbols.
“I’m telling you, the seismic readings are fairly clear at this point. It’s down there.”
“I mean, I believe you, but how?”
“From what I understand, the outer surface of the inner core is reinforced with hexagonal plates that hold back the sea of molten rock. There’s no external path inside- its body is armored in all directions.”
The professor’s laboratory was centered by a walk-in freezer, where he stored his collection of cube-shaped pseudobrains. Each was formed from a mixture of carbon and silicon nerves, equally sized, and wrinkled with pearlescent grooves. The chamber’s subzero temperatures prevented them from storing thoughts and memories, allowing each experiment to begin tabula rasa.
There are more than two-thousand species of bird present throughout the Great Agarthan Jungle, from the minuscule anteater hummingbird to the greater spherical penguin. Despite the extraordinary diversity present, however, all of their eggs, no matter the parent, are outwardly identical. Each egg is recognizably Agarthan by its signature gömböc curvature, gumdrop size, and transparent shell that reveals nothing but green jelly inside. If appearances are to be believed, there is no embryo within at all- just the same undifferentiated ooze.
The seventeenth chapter of Abstruse Geometry concerns the mathematical problem of snakes swallowing their own tails. Following in the footsteps of a lost treatise by Athanasius Kircher, the tome describes a mysterious knot known as an “ourobohedron,” which is composed entirely of snakes engaged in varying degrees of autophagy. What it lacks in mathematical rigor, it makes up for in curiosity. The figure is described as follows:
The captain’s wrist bore a living tattoo of a compass rose; as the icy waves tossed her vessel about, its ink contorted so that its longest petal would always point north. Its pigment conspired with the iron in her blood to reveal the world’s magnetic winds. It hadn’t yet proven useful on this journey, as the tramontana had been making itself obvious for weeks, yet she knew that it would soon become a necessity.
The human mind takes up fifteen terabytes of space on average, and accommodating the soul requires for an additional twelve to be available. When compressed into a single unit, however, the complete, disembodied self can be expressed as a mere eighteen terabytes: smaller than the sum of its parts, yet no longer separable into individual segments. This conversion of being, popularly known as the Styx Process, can be performed in under twenty-four hours, as long as the deceased’s tombstone features a sufficiently efficient central processor.
Despite the length of a saguaro’s lifespan, there is only one instant during the course of its life in which it is allowed to dream. This happens at a moment of extraordinary synchronicity, when each of its needles is aligned with a particular star in the skies above and below.
The android awoke with the sort of headache that only androids ever come to know: that anvil-strike reverberation that resounds throughout an orange-hot skull. It brought with it a sense of being molten, a tension between the factory that came before and the scrapyard yet to come. He knew that he’d felt such a thing before, though he couldn’t remember when. He lamented the fact that there were no painkillers available for his kind.
Due to the prohibitive cost of phoenix feathers, only the city’s wealthiest and most esteemed are allowed to return from the dead. Some hide their plumes among the down of their pillows to prevent death from taking them in their sleep, while others wrap them in smoky bouquets, then stockpile them in refrigerated vaults. Even with such wonders available, however, the population at large still sees immortality as impossible, as each quill costs more money than most will ever make in a lifetime.
The fingerprints engraved into the dagger’s hilt are said to have belonged to Brutus himself. Tradition maintains that they were pressed into the bronze at the moment he first stabbed Caesar, and have remained there ever since. It is possible, however, that these whorls of patina predate even his ownership of the blade, though they certainly are his prints; after all, whosoever holds it always finds that its fingerprints match their own.
The human body and its reflection are not the same beneath their skin.
The image contained within a silvered mirror’s surface seems identical to its observer, but this semblance is usually only a few photons thick. Beneath the opaque barriers of the double’s visible flesh, a candle burns within a cage of transparent ribs, reinforcing the lifelike coloration of the illusion beyond. It is held in place by the long, glass candlestick of the spine, which refracts the firelight into sinuous rays of vital crimson.
The coyote awoke one morning to find that his roadrunner was gone.
He’d disappeared, beyond the asymptotic horizon which outlined their desert, that unreachable boundary between two nowheres. Together, as predator and prey, they’d followed the same highway westward for thousands of miles, always encroaching on that same horizon, yet finding no end to the repetition of sagebrush and sand.
By the time the photographers arrived, all that was left of her was a chalk outline. Her corpse had been removed from the scene, leaving the otherwise empty alleyway to a handful of spectators and journalists. Their voices filled the air with speculation: “From fifteen stories? Nobody could survive that.” “Nah, no foul play is suspected. People who knew her, they knew she’d eventually pull something like this.” “Her husband doesn’t want to talk. Just wants a lawyer. Go figure.”
The noise didn’t last. One by one, the reporters disappeared, back to the newspapers from which they emerged.
Then, as moonlight filled the city, she rose from the pavement once more.
Every now and then, the owl in the bottle pretends to be solid. It presses its wandering eyes against the inner surface of the glass, watchful and eager, searching the room for prey beyond its reach. Eventually, the twin orbs tire of their vigil and swirl away, back into the pool of liquid feathers from which they emerged.
While hiking through the woods of Selganac, east of Minnesota and west of Wisconsin, I happened upon Paul Bunyan’s tomb. Though I spent seven days wandering the perimeter of its brasswood walls, I couldn’t find a single corner or entrance. I turned around before noon on the eighth day, for though it was clearly the work of human hands, the structure had proven endless.
During the return journey, I crossed paths with a carpenter from Duluth, who told me that he had been hired to help build the tomb. “Yep,” he told me. “It’s still very much under construction.”
“The ASCII standard begins with a set of control characters,” she explained. “If you type the last of these on a modern computer, an invisible character is added, one that usually doesn’t do anything. It’s a relic from another time called the ‘delete’ character, number 127. These days, programmers sometimes use it as a placeholder, but for the most part, it’s obsolete.”
The human mind does not actually move forward through time; it is far more accurate to say that it sinks through it. The passage of time is a constant, ambient force like gravity, rather than a willful motion. When one closes their eyes and attempts to resist it, there is no traction or grip to be found that might stall the inevitable descent.
Objects wrought from wood occasionally remember being alive. The circuits of their quiet minds can be seen in the contours of the grain, sleepily churning through memories. No matter how deeply carved, sawn, milled, or polished, there is always an aspect of the original arbor that endures. What remains is no longer alive, of course, but it is more than capable of haunting.
The suitcase orbited baggage claim for three hours before someone finally claimed it. Of course, it hadn’t actually been his to begin with, but he was the sort of thief with eyes for the things that happened to steal themselves. Its label told him that it was meant to have arrived in LaGuardia (LGA) from Athens (ATH), yet here it was in Miami (MIA), scattered among the domestic arrivals.
Gremlins are known to live in the engines of airplanes, the spindles of hard drives, and the pipes of boiler rooms. No space within human industry has ever proven hostile enough to prevent their occupation, making them some of the hardiest lifeforms on this planet. Furthermore, they are notoriously difficult to capture, or even to spot; their presence is only ever known in hindsight, evidenced by chewed-through wires, rust-addled screws, and corrupted data.
“The prism divides humanity into its seven wavelengths,” the angel told me. “Mind, body, shadow, voice, echo, identity, and ghost. Step through the glass, and you shall learn which of these you truly are.”
I thought about what it meant for body and ghost to separate, let alone all of these at once. “Won't that kill me?"
“I can’t answer that question for you,” it replied. “Death is a vague, human expression for things we have other words for. Once you’ve arrived on the other side, you’ll be able to decide for yourself whether or not you’re dead.”
1. An astronaut should be able to subsist for one lunar cycle on nothing but canned sunlight. Only the purest variety will prove their readiness: it should be distilled by the solar panels of low-orbit satellites, then carried back to Earth in the talons of doves.
2. An astronaut should be lowered into a pool of raven’s feathers, then meditate in stillness for three days and three nights. During this ordeal, gravity will tempt them to sink to the bottom, but they must be able to resist through force of will.
If the tales of the old north are to be believed, when the gods created the world, they began by murdering a giant. Ymir, as he was known while alive, was disassembled into his most basic components, then used to sculpt the planet. Mountains were carved from his bones, forests were woven from his hair, and oceans were brewed with his sweat. Once this was done, his eyebrows provided just enough thread to sew the boundaries of reality shut. The last of these stitches marked the end of his usefulness, but also, the beginning of time.
It is a difficult matter for squid to survive without access to a body of water. Only one species is known to do so at length: Oneiroteuthis demiurgis, a symbiont otherwise known as the dreamer squid. When found in nature, it bears little resemblance to its ocean-bound cousins. Its gray tentacles remain tightly curled around its mantle at all times, causing it to appear as little more than a labyrinthine mound of wrinkles. It spends the majority of its lifespan in total stillness, dreaming about a surrounding world that it never sees with its own eyes.
Some mathematicians go so far as to call their work the language of God. In their hubris, they refuse to admit that they write in a language that is very human: one with its own idioms, clichés, and platitudes. In order to prove supposed mathematical truth, they routinely employ the same handful of phrases and arguments, yet are startled when these phrases and arguments are echoed back to them in the same language that they began with.
“At first, we thought that our fortunes had changed,” his journal begins. “We saw what we thought was a whale breaching when a jet of vapor erupted from the waters along our ship’s port side. As we readied our harpoons, however, we found that the geyser seemed to have no source but the surface of the ocean itself. One of the other sailors exclaimed that it must have been a ‘mirror whale,’ meaning that both sides of its blowhole were on the outside of its body. As such, there was nothing for us to see or kill.”
We rode the elevator to the skyscraper’s peak, where its monstrous caldera awaited us. The goddess took my hand and led me to its ledge, and together, we gazed down into the pit. Fifty stories beneath us, a lake of molten rock could be seen churning and bubbling and folding in on itself. Only the furthest edges of the tower’s former floors remained, as most of the interior had melted inward from the heat.
“Trust me. You don’t want to be awake for the procedure.”
“Oh, believe me, I do.”
“No, you really don’t. You don’t want to know what it feels like to have a katydid crawling down your throat. That, and without the proper anesthetic, it would almost certainly trigger your gag reflex.”
“Want to see something cool? The ice cubes here have nine corners.”
I didn’t believe her at first, but after reluctantly removing one from my glass, I found that she was right. From any given angle, it looked like a normal ice cube, but as I rotated it between my fingers, I could feel an invisible vertex passing along my thumb. “Weird. How do they do that?"
During the early 1990s, single-use magic wands began appearing in dollar stores throughout America. For the most part, these were simply hollow, black tubes of polystyrene filled with a light dusting of powdered aether. Each contained just enough mystical potency to help with a single household task, whether that be washing the dishes, grilling burgers, or cleaning stains from the carpet. No incantations or prior initiation were required; after a few seconds of vigorous shaking, the wand’s plastic tip would pop off, allowing the pressurized magic to escape as a jet of violet smoke.
Towards the end of the twentieth century, several gigantic teeth were found mellified in a pit of ancient lobster honey. A team of paleontologists cleaned away the sea-green ooze, which, by their account, had gone undisturbed for at least five-hundred thousand years. Initial reports suggested that they belonged to an unknown creature which died while attempting to swallow an entire lobster hive at once.
Old-fashioned radios produced sound by boiling liquid lightning. The distinctive drone that emerged, of churning static and leaping foam, came to be known as “white noise.” This term is said by some to be arbitrary in origin, though others believe it was derived from the color of the electric vapor that churned through the innards of these devices.
This far out in the wilderness, the gods could no longer hear her prayers; even if they could, the roaming charges would be immense. She’d thought about bringing a radio with her and relaying her messages back to someone who could pray on her behalf, but getting away from all that noise was one of the main reasons why she left to begin with. She had grown tired of her altar pestering her to download premium gods, as well as of the dull, smokeless scent of autocandles.
There exists an incantation which, if uttered properly, can duplicate the mind and body of whosoever dares to utter it. There exists another, similar in nature, which allows one’s own reflection to be drawn out of any mirror. Lastly, there is one which causes a perfect opposite of the self to appear in juxtaposition with the original, causing both to immediately cease to exist.
As it turns out, all three of these incantations can be learned by parrots.
“Didn’t get thrown in. I was born there.” He sipped his wine. “Both my parents were damned. They did their time in the inner circles, then got jobs, fell in love, and moved out to the suburbs. It’s not much different from the Earth that far out, if you can get used to the lack of a sky.”
The end of the world is neither exactly a time or a place; rather, it is a four-dimensional surface, curved and chaotic, which courts the path of the planet on its journey through space-time. Were one to visualize it using only three dimensions, it would seem almost ribbon-like, a black helix of fluttering death. Asteroids entangled by this dark fabric are certain to be drawn into the Earth’s gravitational pull.
Once upon a time, we designed a dragon that existed for you alone to slay. At the midsection of its neck, it was exactly as tall as the sum of your height, the distance between your elbow and wrist, and the length of a broadsword’s blade. Gaps in its scales could be found at several points along its legs, each of which rested evenly with your eye level. Even the coloration of its blood was meant to complement the glimmer of your irises in the fire of its last breath. Every single aspect of its anatomy was tailored to reflect your own.
Just before it reaches the state of the same name, the Mississippi splits in two- one river above, and one river below. The old waterway’s underground sister diverges into numerous caverns, most of which prove to be dead ends. One of these branches spirals downward for almost a mile, however, into a vast, subterranean kingdom where the borders of the nations above have no meaning.
Around a century ago, through arts no longer practiced, a player piano was taken apart, then reassembled as an android. Her wires were formed into something like sinew, and the miles of perforated paper which once passed through her body were elegantly folded into an ever-churning brain. A few transplants from other instruments helped to complete her anatomy; an accordion split in two formed her lungs, and segments of brass channeled an animating wind through her limbs.
During the first phase of manufacturing, jellybeans are perfectly transparent. In this preliminary state, they look like misplaced contact lenses, or raindrops that failed to burst on impact. These beans have no flavor of their own, yet contain the potential for all flavors; when bitten, there is only that familiar texture of a tender shell giving way, followed by that of semi-molten starch oozing apart.
“That’s right.” The device looked like something of a pipe organ, with tall, brass pipes protruding from a central chassis, yet it featured a typewriter’s keyboard instead of ivory keys. An array of thirty-some enigma-like rotors could be seen churning within its glass case. “A search engine, and an entirely mechanical one at that. Type anything you want here, and it will search the world for relevant content, no wires attached.”
“Well, to be more precise, my head used to be part of a sphinx,” she replied. “The rest of me came from other hybrids and chimeras. My skull was attached to a lion’s body, but my torso came from some creature with an owl’s head, and my legs came from something else entirely that had ninety-eight more.”
An alluvium of jade velvet can be seen swirling throughout the jar, occasionally catching a glimmer of sunlight. When shaken, the contents appear torn and tattered by the turbulence, yet eventually return to their stable, undifferentiated flow.
Grizzly bears spend their lives in oscillation between two forests: one inner, and one outer. During the summer months, they wander through the outer forest, foraging for anything and everything that their stomachs will accept. Once winter arrives, however, they succumb to hibernation, and retreat into the inner forest of the unconscious. As far they’re concerned, both of these woodlands are equally real.
For many years, human researchers have misunderstood the so-called “camouflage” of the cuttlefish. Much like a chameleon, it is allegedly capable of matching the coloration of its skin to the exact hue and patterning of any nearby surface. This is particularly interesting because the cuttlefish itself is colorblind. Despite being able to wear the palette of its environment perfectly, it is simultaneously unable to sense it altogether- its own skin seems to see better than its eyes.
The body of a sea serpent is most often seen as a sine wave. As it propels itself across the water, its length protrudes from the ocean as a series of archways between the tail and the head. When humans attempt to observe the creature from beneath the water, however, they discover that there’s nothing at all to be seen. For this reason, many have written off the mysterious beast’s existence altogether; despite the profound number of sightings over time, no physical specimen has ever been recovered.
Some say that it was once a second moon. When viewed against the horizon, it’s easy to see why; the mountain is perfectly round when observed from any direction, and widest at its midsection. If positioned just right during dusk or dawn, its presence can cause the illusion of a total eclipse.
Most who tell the story agree about how it started, but not where- some say Fargo, others, Des Moines. On a handful of computers in some high school’s library, clouds of gray and black pixels began flowing across their monitors until nothing else could be seen. Eventually, an overwhelming pressure behind the glass caused it to shatter, allowing clouds of virtual smoke to escape.
Much like the pilot’s seat within a jet fighter, the human heart is capable of ejecting from the body entirely should an emergency arise. When the mechanism is triggered, pressure builds within its chambers until a critical level is reached, at which point the aorta detaches from the rest of the circulatory system and serves as an escape thruster. The entire supply of blood within the body is repurposed towards this launch, causing the heart to exit through the mouth at just under a bullet’s speed.
Only one universe exists (hence, the prefix: “uni”). This axiom holds true in every single universe, regardless of what is said by the inhabitants of others. Those who commute between realities on a regular basis understand this better than anyone else, and use it to their advantage. For these bold wanderers, what exists is understood to be relative, and contingent upon their closeness to the void.
“You’re not going to find anything down there,” Dr. Price explained. “There’s no such thing as a negative radio frequency. You can represent them mathematically, sure, but there’s no real world analogue. A wave observed forward or backward in time is physically identical.”
Those words didn’t seem to have any effect on her student, however, who continued turning the knob on her device counterclockwise. “Well, you and I might know that, but does the radio?”
In Hyperborea’s northernmost mountains, there exists a sanctuary where comets come to roost. Here, natural philosophers have been able to observe some of their more avian characteristics up close: their bodies are covered from nucleus to tail in transparent feathers, and their parrot-like faces can be vaguely discerned underneath the icy mists that surrounds them. Their wings are extraordinary in span, yet are never unfurled during their travels through space, as there is no atmosphere against which to propel themselves.
“What I’ve done in life cannot be changed,” I told her, gazing into the fire. “The future is full of possibility, but the men I have killed know no such luxury- the stories of their lives are told and done.”
“You know nothing of fate, then, child.” The priestess rested her chin upon my shoulder, then wrapped her arms about my waist. “The future is immutable, and to one such as me, always visible. But the past? Ah, it is beyond me, for it is still being decided.”
“Of course you are.” It was that time of year again, when teenagers came to the mall seeking far more potent things than they could handle. He had a variety of substitutes that he’d sell them, from concentrated moonlight to seahorse hormones, but he never gave them exactly what they asked for. “Prom’s coming up, yes? And there’s someone in particular that you want to go with you?”
“I’ve heard it mentioned before. What exactly does it mean?”
“It’s what happens when you play Tetris for too long. The game continues in your head after you’ve quit. Blocks keep falling in your peripheral vision, and bursts of inner music prevent you from falling asleep.”
“Oh, I have! But that’s not even close to what I thought it meant.”
An ancient winter was buried in those caves, pressed between layers of geological strata. It was another kind of season from another kind of time, when the snow was luminous and refused to melt. After nine days spent lost in the dull, indigo glow of those tunnels, Thomas was no longer certain if the cold or hunger would kill him first. Almost all of his skin was numb, yet he could feel the outline of his stomach more clearly than ever before.
The bone trader opened his cloak, revealing to me that there was nothing but a skeleton beneath. Not everything inside was human in nature; his left ribs were parentheses of ivory, and those on the right had been replaced in their entirety by a caribou’s antler. There were copper bones in his legs that had once belonged to machine men, and rosewood vertebrae interspersed throughout his spine.
“Everything that you see here is open to trade, two or more of yours for one of mine.”
It is a difficult matter for ants to dream. The mental processing required takes up the majority of their small bodies, overflowing outward from tangled nerves into the strange oozes that fill their abdomens. Even these, the most social creatures on the planet, sometimes desire to be alone within their own minds.
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He awoke to find himself as a passenger on the train of the dead.
Those around him watched with interest as strange things passed outside their windows, from mansions in the clouds that were large enough to contain their own clouds, to orchards in which smaller orchards grew within transparent fruit on their trees. These were the afterlives of the greatest and most virtuous, containing splendors within splendors to allow an eternity of delight. All such things would soon be far behind.
The lives of insects are unceremonious, and often end as splatterings of colorful ichor. For the most part, they are small, fragile things with short lifespans and long lists of predators. As such, humans can earn the loyalty of their simple spirits by granting them something that the wilderness beyond rarely ever does: a proper funeral. Every species has its own preferred rites, several of which are outlined below:
There are nine isotopes of elemental fire which can be found in nature, though only five of these are stable. Classical fire, the sort which lights candles and powers engines, consists on the atomic level of exactly eight protons, eight neutrons, and eight electrons. For this reason, it is often mistaken for oxygen during experiments in modern chemistry. Remove one neutron from this arrangement, and the resultant isotope is phlogiston, classical fire’s nearly indistinguishable cousin. Remove yet another neutron, however, and the result is a volatile substance known to natural philosophers as phlox borealis.
Through the matter of teeth, mankind’s innermost horror reveals itself. While the majority of the human skeleton is well-concealed, the skull is allowed to protrude beyond the flesh as two sets of sixteen tombstones, reminding its owner that it exists just beneath their skin. As such, teeth are the ultimate memento mori; a manifestation of death present in the visage of the living.
“GAME OVER.” Those eight capital letters scrolled across her field of vision in alarm-clock red, confirming her death in another world. Riley collapsed backwards onto the bed behind her, exasperated and soaked in sweat, hands still curled in futility around a non-existent sword. She’d been in-game for eight hours straight, not even stopping for food or water, yet all her efforts had all gone to waste. Somewhere, a pack of wolves was reducing her other self to a pile of crimson polygons, and there was nothing that she could do to stop them.
There are fifty-two cards in the shuffle-worn deck, which are in turn divided into four suits: hearts, eyes, bones, and teeth. After a quick prayer to the god of probability, the oracle draws the cards in pairs, one atop the other, in a sequence that curls around the perimeter of her table. Each of these twenty-six couplings reflects a significant trait within the body being analyzed.
Francis Caldwell, certified professional accountant and frequent flyer #7005412, had a particular ritual that he performed whenever he checked into a new hotel room. Whether or not he needed to make use of it at the time, he would sit down on the toilet with his suitcase open in front of him, examine each of the bathroom’s complimentary toiletries one by one, then hide each little bottle in his luggage. [...]
When it came to the Hotel Coagula, however, Francis found his routine interrupted by a single, anomalous item: a tiny jar labeled “try me first! black champagne and anise-flavored reality enhancement blend.”
The first human eye featured six rotating pupils, similar in appearance to the chambers of a revolver. Each dark circle contained a small membrane of film onto which a single, still image could be imprinted, which the observer could then gaze into for as long as they wished. Because of this, twelve cross-sections of reality were the most that could ever be experienced between two full nights of sleep.
You’ve probably seen one of their members in public before and never suspected that anything was, well, off. One can only join the Society of Headless Americans if it is not readily apparent that they are missing a head, as this privilege is only extended to those who can prove that they have mastered their own decapitation.
This ceremonial dagger features several unusual components: a pommel that springs open at the press of an opal button, a hollow hilt into which cartridges of liquid ammunition were once loaded, a trigger beneath its crossguard that looks more like it belongs on a firearm, and an opening near its point no wider than a ballpoint pen. Despite its shape, it was never intended to be used as an implement of death, though some would argue that the amount of life that persists after its use does not make it so different in nature.
Around the peak of the Red City’s prosperity, a new dominant currency began to emerge. These coins, known as binari, were wrought from a soft, warm metal, and squirmed slightly when held in human hands. What was perhaps most curious about them was that they were classified not only by denomination, but also by sex. If male and female binari were left in the same purse overnight, more could usually be found when it was opened again in the morning.
“You know, most men are frightened by my compound eyes.”
“Honestly, I think I like yours better than the normal kind,” He shrugged. “Those weird me out up close. The pupils look like holes through a person. It’s unsightly.”
“Well, that’s a breath of fresh air, I guess.” She speared a chunk of calamari with her fork, then dipped it in horseradish. In the restaurant’s dim light, her countless lenses blended together into uniform curves of indigo. “Try going to a job interview looking like this.”
“God doesn’t truly hate serpents, despite what happened in the garden.” The old magician thumbed through his Bible. “Not all of them, anyway. Serpents that lead virtuous lives are allowed to serve as the scabbards of angels after death. Those that lead lives of sin, however, are hammered by demons into swords.”
“I tend to think that I would rather be a sword than a scabbard,” I added.
The typical version of the Bloody Mary ritual goes like this: at exactly midnight, a child who has worked up just enough courage to perform it sneaks into the bathroom. They then whirl about in front of the mirror at least three times while chanting the spirit’s name, all the while hoping that she won’t appear. In this sense, they are betting against the human imagination; though these children already know that Bloody Mary does not actually exist, they must subject themselves to the possibility of being wrong to prove their convictions.
Bloody Mary also knows that she does not exist. The truth of this does not bother her.
The compound eyes of a fly grant it the ability to see the world in front of it split into possibilities. For this reason, it is difficult to swat a fly with a hand that it can readily see, as it can then simply leap forward into a permutation of reality in which it survives. Though it witnesses its own death in several lenses of its eyes, by sacrificing those possible futures, the insect is able to prolong its own life.
At first glance, the sword is coarse and battle-worn. It has the complexion of a ship’s anchor, gnarled and russet, with spatters of tarnish from ancient blood. A few patches of whorled gray suggest an origin in Damascus, but cruel entropy has claimed the rest of its surface. Its edges are battered and worn from ages of shattering helmets and bones alike.
That which imitates humanity also imitates having a ghost. When a crash-test dummy suffers damage that would have killed a passenger in its place, this false spirit is said to exit its body. Though it is not a conscious being, it still believes that it feels pain, and remembers every injury that it suffered while pretending to be alive. Because of this, it can haunt and make mischief like any other poltergeist.
It was a hot, dry day in late July, during what would come to be known as the Dirty Thirties. My sister spotted it first: a cumulus cloud on fire, sinking away from the rest of its kind. The tangle of smoke and vapor crash-landed in one of our farm’s barren fields, where it continued to burn with a soft, orange light. Its pilot was still inside; unconscious, but alive. We pulled him free from the wreckage and carried him to safety.
“I can’t figure out how to turn down this umbrella.” Clara fidgeted with the handle and spokes, feeling for some sort of toggle that just wasn’t there.
“Well, if you press this button here, it’ll collapse and fold back up-“
“Do I really look that dumb?" She huffed. "I'm trying to turn it down, not off. I only want to filter out all these low-quality raindrops." She continued searching in futility for a few more seconds. "Wow, it really doesn't have a filter, does it? Why would anyone want an umbrella that only has one setting?”
Jack and the Beanstalk begins with its titular character making a pact with the devil. This element of the story is largely overlooked, but undeniable; he sacrifices his family’s prize calf to a mysterious salesman in exchange for a handful of magic beans. The consequences of this Faustian bargain are left out of the legend’s most well-known rendition, but given other tales from the past with similar devices, it is safe to conclude that in some way or another, Jack has committed an act of self-damnation.