In the early days of building humanoid automatons, the ability to construct an intelligent brain ultimately proved beyond the skill of Renaissance inventors. For this reason, many of the earliest robots ever built were entirely headless. They were not, however, thoughtless.
The shadow itself is a vital organ. While seemingly independent from the majority of biological functions, it is responsible for the most important immaterial process after consciousness- maintaining the borders of the physical body. While the rest of the organs sleep, it serves as a sort of geometric mold, pressurizing the self into its recognizable shape.
Unbeknownst to the deer, its antlers are the reincarnation of an ancient forest. Though their previous form now exists as coal somewhere far beneath the creature’s hooves, they still remember their former magnificence. Each of their prongs grasps outward with the reach of a prehistoric cypress.
The escalator god has very few worshippers, and the same can be said of the elevator goddess. As latecomers to the pantheon game, they’ve been fiercely competing for the attention of a handful of devotees from the confines of their fiberglass palaces. Without a Trojan War or a Ragnarok in which to prove their worth, they’ve been forced to develop a much less glamorous system of competition.
I once felt the notion that “all possible universes exist” lacked substance. It dragged along with it human notions of possibility that relied on imagination, while simultaneously ignoring connections between the animate and inanimate. The concept of a “possible universe” seemed tied directly to conscious decision making, yet ignored countless other unconscious relationships between nonliving forms of matter.
Wishing wells have a metabolism which is much like that of pitcher plants. Coins cast into their bowels are digested over the course of several decades, and are eventually left faceless and without luster. The pit then excretes a perfume of willpower into the atmosphere, resulting in subtle shifts in the ways of the world.
Travel far enough to the north, and you’ll find a place where the living and their gods are not so easy to tell apart. Hyperborea has lost its classical syzygy, resulting in strange blends of divinity and mortality. In such a place, the simple act of picking a flower can cause a star to disappear from the southern sky.
I’ve fallen in love with the lady who lives on the seventh floor. I do not know her first name, though her last is written on the doorbell: “Geppetto.” I do not even know what she is, but this does not seem to be a barrier between us. I’ve begun something that I must see through, even if it costs me my humanity.
Marble statues only remain still from a human perspective. From their own, they crawl forth from mountains in their infancy, who raise them like mothers with their volcanic milk. Despite being wrought from stone, they find their own skin to be soft, and it rises and falls as they breathe.
They exist along a separate axis of time, one that hosts its own songs, empires, and gods. When they die in our world, they crumble to dust; in theirs, they bleed black lava.
They’d been following you for your entire life, usually just a few days behind. Officially, their job was to sew the plotholes shut that were caused by your reckless decisions. They were quite good at making sure your memories aligned with the reality that you wounded, something that you never realized you were doing. The laws of the universe have always been poor constraints when subjected to the malleability of the past.
The Phaeton hypothesis, though largely abandoned by astrophysicists, suggests that the asteroid belt lying just beyond Mars’ orbit was once a planet unto itself. Zecheriah Sitchin believed in the existence of this world wholeheartedly, and further, that it was destroyed by an undiscovered rogue planet which he referred to as “Nibiru.” Upon its inevitable return, is said that it will bring with it chaos, disaster, and an army of extraterrestrial demigods known since Sumerian times as the Annunaki.
Seasoned conspiracy theorists know that it is coming soon, as it has been for decades, and always will be.
It has long been known that the molecular structure of diamond renders it extraordinarily durable. This hardness is actually twofold in nature, however; in addition to resisting external forces, it also prevents the eruption of a deep, internal pressure. When the cubical arrangement of atoms is disrupted, this can cause the release of a substance known as “diamond nectar.”
Two nearly identical fossils await in a cold room beneath the museum, in an exhibit long forgotten. Each slab of stone contains the imprint of some six-winged avian with a long, barbed tail, and no head. Both are longer than any human has ever been tall.
Beneath the glass display is a plaque, which reads as follows:
Surely you have read of the beast in Carroll’s work; that manxome thing hidden behind a veil of language. Over the course of a handful of stanzas, the Jabberwock is sought and allegedly slain by a nameless hero, who then brings its head to his father as a trophy. Shortly thereafter, something curious happens. Despite the gory evidence in his son’s hands, the figure asks him a question that seems somewhat out of place:
“This won’t be like your average rainbow-riding operation. We’ll be placing you inside of a research-grade kaleidoscope,” she explained to me as we ascended. “Hundreds of bifurcations per square millimeter. The human brain can absorb the patterns and colors of maybe half this, but the optic nerve is going to attempt to take it all in at once. I can imagine that you’re worried right now, but I promise that you’re going to witness something really special.”
“Pannasosia?” Her date narrowed his eyes. “There’s no way that’s a real state.”
“It’s as real as it needs to be, I suppose.” She sipped at a spoonful of wild rice soup. “The whole place is an underground lake, save for a few aquifers and caves. It’s actually pretty big, but not many people live there.”
“Hmm.” He thought back to memorizing the state capitals in middle school geography, all those annoying songs they had him memorize. Alabama and Alaska, Arizona Arkansas… “I can’t say that I’ve heard of it. You sure that it’s not a Canadian province or something?”
The arcade burned down three years ago, along with the rest of the mall. Without cabinets and circuitry to support them, all that remained of the games within were their electric ghosts. They stood shoulder to shoulder, quivering beings of naked neon, waiting for the chance to be experienced once more.
I once heard that every warm-blooded species has its own devil; just as there is a devil of humans, there is a devil of wolves, and a devil of owls. They only appear among their own kind, and thus elude zoological study, but the results of their cruel pacts can be found in the depths of our world’s wilderness.
Payphones are an endangered species, soon to be extinct. Though they continue to be taken out of service, one after another, technicians across the country have been leaving their iron stalks behind. Given the expense and labor required to remove them from the concrete below, this is understandable. They have likely grown thick roots over the years, having been watered by thousands of voices.
My father was a hologram, yet my mother was fully human; she didn’t have a virtual bone in her body. I am unclear of the process by which I was made flesh. All I know is that at some point after he left, I emerged from one of her eyes as a ray of living crimson.
The secret of your smartphone is that it is most powerful while turned off. In truth, its screen is the surface of an endless black sea shared among all others of its kind. Messages and information sent from one phone sink down through this vast darkness until they bubble up to the glass of another. All who gaze within are looking downward, no matter the direction of their eyes.
The black pear remains under extreme pressure after being plucked from its branch; before it can be eaten, it must be pierced with a knife, then allowed to bleed for three days. While the teeth and bones must eventually be removed as well, this drains the majority of the fruit’s venom, allowing those brave enough to consume its pulp directly a chance at survival.
The minotaur only killed a handful of victims during his storied career, and did so with little effort; between each swing of his hammer and goring by his horn, seven years of silence would pass. He spent those lonesome months oscillating between dreams and meditation, lost in the winding corridors of his brain.
Frater Cleon opens the sanctuary doors, and two dotted lines of burgundy neon bloom along the floor. They create just enough electric glow to know that there is a path forward. He clutches a lone bottle of fine malbec against his silvered robes.
“You have arrived in the innermost sanctum,” a soothing voice speaks. It is that of a once-mortal consciousness preserved in silicon amber. “Speak your intent, that I might know if you are worthy to enter.”
After several years spent bathing in a white noise of ink, Jason could at last hear the narrator’s voice. The world melted into view, and he could see the walls of the gas station that surrounded him, the shelves lined with rainbows of high-fructose nothingness, and the broken roads of a desert town just outside the window. His nameless manager leaned over and whispered to him, “check out that guy on pump three.”
“So, what’s the weirdest thing that you believe in?” Her hands were busy sawing through a thick cut of swordfish. After a few rough dates, she figured that she would lead with the question this time. “I’ve got a doozy, but I want to hear your story first.”
“Well.” He put down a forkload of farfalle. “Sometimes, you know… I guess I remember things from my childhood that couldn’t possibly have happened. It's made me wonder if this is actually the universe that I was born into.”
He withdraws her bones one-by-one from the living flames, violet-hot from the forge. With each blow of his hammer, he discovers yet another intricacy of his lover’s interior. He measures out the breadth of her collarbone, the space between her radius and ulna, and the diameter of each individual vertebrae. It pains him that he cannot reach down and touch them; at least, not yet. He leaves out the two bottom-most ribs on the left hand side, a reminder of her distance from life’s original creator.
The batteries bulge at the seams when inserted into your flashlight, as though filled with flesh or bubblegum. There’s no satisfying click of connection- only a sense that they don’t belong in such a device, and that any more pressure would cause them to burst. “Do not squeeze,” reads the mostly-black label in seven different languages. This warning is printed next to a cartoonish silhouette vomiting some sort of jagged fluid.
There are many devices which consume and digest coins in order to survive, and in turn, fulfill the desires of humanity. They have many different names: vending machines, claw machines, gumball machines, slot machines, jukeboxes, wishing wells, arcade cabinets, frontloaders, payphones, and so on and so forth. Each one exists in symbiosis with our species, finding a niche product or service that convinces us to manufacture more of its kind. There is an exception to this rule, however, for only one Baph-o-Mat was ever constructed.
The sea rolls back to reveal that the tides have not entirely receded; thick cubes of saltwater remain in place, with independent waves traveling along their sixfold faces. They look like aquariums that forgot to put on their glass in the morning. Fish that jump out through one surface are dragged downward by the gravity of another, trapping them inside indefinitely.
The highway’s first head clings to the mountain’s northern face much like a remora clings to a shark. Its face is a mess of steel teeth that have been worn down over the centuries, drills and grindstones that process its host’s tectonic body into liquid stone. Rust and weathering have rendered this process imperfect, and waterfalls of wet concrete drool forth from its mandibles.
My roommate arrived home from her death coughing between fits of laughter. Her hair was freshly dyed, evergreen on brown, and her shirt was soaked in blood (hers, this time). She ran over to squeeze my daylights out, pinned me against the counter, then shoved my hand into her chest. Her skin was cold, adhesive, and pale- already blue in a few patches. “Check it out!” She yelled, grinning madly, and staring into me with inch-wide pupils. “No pulse! It’s finally over!”
At times, the glass bulb on your bookshelf is filled with violet sands; at others, it is completely empty. You’ve watched the fine powder emerge from nowhere on several occasions, swirling outward from a needle’s-eye hole in space. You’ve also observed the grains sliding through one another until none are left, leaving it hollow once more. This is apparently no illusion; the bulb is far heavier while it appears to be full.
Liquid flowers are the most delicate form of flora, believed by many to not even exist. They congeal from seeds cast into small bodies of water, then bubble to the surface as unstable jets of color and fragrance. Each spherical petal instantly bursts into vapor upon contact with the atmosphere, preventing these frail beings from surviving more than a few seconds in the wild.
These things have long been known to be true: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, the north and south poles of magnets cannot exist without one another’s affection, and protons and electrons engage in hundreds of elaborate waltzes that we interpret as matter. These principles seem to point towards a universal rule of duality, yet one of the four fundamental forces defies this pattern: gravity.
She pays her date no mind, however, and continues unscrewing the light bulb from its socket in the lamp hanging over their table. It eventually comes loose, but never loses power; the glow continues as she balances it between her long fingers. “I learned this trick back in college,” is her only explanation. She then taps it against the edge of her plate like a hardboiled egg, forming a loose webwork of cracks along its shell.
You’d read enough Borges to know that wandering into a strange library alone was an ill-advised move, but you couldn’t resist this time around. Its gates exuded that incense of savory dust unique to the most ancient of tomes (which is, perhaps, the most tangible manifestation of wisdom known to mankind). From outside, it resembled a cave as much as it did a temple; you found it hard to determine whether the entrance was lined with stalactites, or columns, or teeth.
The fever brought with it dreams, and some say that the dreams themselves were the fever. We the afflicted passed in and out of vile consciousness, occasionally bursting through the surface of another world, only to sink back down into our overheating flesh. Our conversations with one another went on uninterrupted, for we were equally present in both realities.
A young prince arrives at the ruins of Las Vegas with an elephant gun in his hands. The new Sphinx is waiting for him at the gates, unsurprised by his arrival, although perhaps a bit amused. Her hydraulics begin groaning loudly. She rises onto all four paws, and her fiber optic mane glimmers to life with rings of artificial color. Then, she speaks. “Coloradan Royalty, out here? To what do I owe the pleasure?”
The gnomes of Hyperborea are neither born nor created; they enter our world by climbing out of their own shadows, and leave a few hours later when they inevitably tumble back down into them. At the bottom of each of these peculiar holes (sometimes over thirty miles in depth) is a pool of black lava of unknown origin. Some say that each such shadow is a window into a second underground, and that our planet hides multiple interiors beneath a single surface. Others claim that there is no such multitude of underworlds, and that the gnomes create a material debt by existing that eventually swallows their borrowed bodies whole.
Every morning, you gaze into your mirror intently as you prepare for your face for the day; yet, despite its importance to you, you’ve never bothered to plug it into the wall. We find this incredibly perplexing. Despite the power afforded to you by owning your very own mirror, you’ve chosen to use it as a mere vanity device. We can only assume that this stems from a lack of knowledge on how to utilize its more extraordinary properties.
The tyrant’s skull is hammered from the same tin as his throne. His eyes are tired rhinestones through which no light passes, but there isn’t much to see in his concrete palace anyway. He cannot rise from the velvet cushions beneath him, for he is held in place by hundreds of thick wires, not to mention the bronze spear that’s been rammed through his battered chest.
The Roosevelt National Labyrinth begins near the state of Selima’s easternmost border, and never ends. At times it is like a forest, for its bricks change color with the seasons, and many of its walls shed them in the months before winter. At other times, it is more like a dungeon, for the walls grow so high that the sun appears not as a disk, but rather, as a single, narrow line. The bass drone of giant crickets rattles the bones of those lost inside.
As a child, you had quite a knack for discovering the extra lives that were hidden throughout virtual worlds. You always knew which waterfalls to look behind, which walls to reach through, and even what pottery to break- yet for some reason, you never found the ones that we left behind specifically for you.
My apprentices have arrived with thirteen jars of pineapple jelly, and one by one, they pour them into the cauldron. Tonight, I’m teaching them a recipe that I learned while temporarily dead, during which time I worked in the underworld’s highly competitive seafood scene. The golden ooze begins to bubble as saltwater and black rum are added, combining into a thick, honeyed lava. I dip my sword into the concoction and stir it gently, watching wounds form and heal along the surface of the mixture.
You’ve come to this forest in search of the creature known as "sasquatch." By now you’ve learned that he is human; at least, by some definitions of the word "human." His flesh has been warped by years of long-exposure photographs, and his skin has blurred into a pareidoliac wool. A grotesque thumbprint remains where once there may have been a face, neither able to see nor speak.
The old man loads another cartridge of glimmering sand into the dreamthrower, then takes aim. Each of its three scopes rattles into alignment as he turns the crank, wrapping a collection of infrared crosshairs around the teenage skateboarder’s face. His weapon’s ribs glow brightly in the midnight fog. “God damn insomniac kids,” he yells. “For the last time, stop fucking around with the city’s circadians!”
After a decade of fighting crime, the city’s first hero was forced to wear his cape as a sash. The goldenrod dye used during its manufacturing had faded to gray from years of exposure to direct sunlight and acid rain. Though knives and bullets could not pierce his skin, they left jagged, butterfly patterns in the knitted cotton. Eventually, the time came to bury him, and there was nothing left with which to cover his coffin.
A closer look at the fluid inside the jar reveals that it is, in fact, alive. Magnetic ants have formed a colony within, and are living in extremely dense quarters, crawling all over each other’s bodies. It is difficult to discern at a glance where their tunnels end and the insects begin.
She’s going to wear all six of her faces tonight, and needs something that’ll pull them together. The cloud that emerges from her little black bottle isn’t exactly a vapor. Thousands of tiny knots in space-time erupt from its nozzle, clinging to her skin and bending the light around her wrists. No physical matter is involved in the formula; it’s all a trick of subjective geometry. At this point it is nothing more than the empty fragrance of a hypercube: a hollow presence which the nostrils can experience, yet cannot understand.
You remember Utah, and how the mountains were reflected in the pale mirror of the salt flats, and how the salt flats were reflected in the pale mirror of the sky, and how the road, with nowhere else to go, was reflected into itself. You remember exiting onto the lonely stretch of concrete and tar that was I-13 as you made your way towards Reno, sleepless and broiled, your own pulse visible in your peripheral vision.
There are chambers beneath the city where sound continues to exist without space in which to propagate. For most species, including human beings, these environments appear to be little more than solid walls of limestone and granite. For bats, however, these barriers are as permeable as the air they breathe. They dip in and out of the subterranean passages hidden beyond, preying upon the immaterial insects within.
She fills the filter cartridge with crushed cinnamon, then slides it under the boil-jet. The inverted kettle howls to life as vapor erupts from its exhaust system, mere seconds before water begins gushing through a Medusa’s wig of transparent pipes. The fluid slowly takes on a shade of burnt umber as the cinnamon concentrates inside, combining with milk and black honey in its coils. The final product trickles into her mug, still steaming from the heat of the machine’s galvanic wires.
Through rainfall, the dying hurricane entombs itself. The world below swallows what were once its clouds, beginning a process of transformation beyond human eyes. Eventually the weather above ground calms, but from the storm’s perspective, this is far from the end. Underground rivers become new arteries and reanimate its vaporous flesh, allowing mist and soil to merge into a new kind of sinew. After several weeks of gathering its bones back together, the storm returns to life in the depths of the planet.
During one particularly long winter, labyrinths began to break out in the metropolis like a civic disease. Every night, alleyways began to weave through one another, forming thick knots of concrete that blended with subway lines and decrepit telegraph tunnels. Brick and fiberglass curled into wild helices, and highways shed their skins like serpents to contribute to the tangle. By daylight, no evidence remained of these predatory mazes beyond the frozen bodies left behind by those who had been ensnared within.
“The clawfoot bathtub,” this book begins, “is a distant cousin of the crockpot and cauldron. Although its natural habitat is typically found outside the kitchen, it demonstrates a particular susceptibility to culinary magic due to its shape and composition. Being quadrupedal and wrought from relatively flexible materials, bringing one to life is often one of the most basic lessons taught to apprentice deep chefs.”
The wildfire is visible from space, an ever-burning semicircle that connects the planet’s poles. East of this phosphorescent meridian, the world remains violet with life; to the west, however, there is nothing to be seen but smoke and desert, a landscape ruled by worms. The flames take several earth-months to complete a single rotation, allowing just enough time for the fields to regrow. Satellites orbiting its equator can see the entire gradient of life and death in a single rotation, from ashes to fertility to ashes once more.
You are waiting for a train at a station hundreds of miles beneath the Earth’s surface. The entire structure has been carved from what appears to have once been a colossal tortoise’s shell. A commemorative plaque attached to a column indicates that this is indeed the case, and that the station itself is “a relic from those chaotic days before the world was hammered into a sphere.”
The dustrider’s mother was mantis-blooded, and for this reason, he never knew his father. He never felt comfortable using swords in combat, for they always felt like a severed limb, something missing from his person. He had long scars along his forearms from where a surgeon had removed razor-like protrusions from his wrists as a child, the only outward signs of his heritage. His reflexes could not be carved out, however, and proved to be without match.
Humanity left the universe, and the gods followed. They left behind their cities, their treasures, their rockets; but most importantly, they left behind their children.
Divine and ageless, they filled the void with their laughter. Their intellect was perfect, yet their nature remained naive. They chose to hold an endless birthday party for all things, accepting space and time as a continuous fluid independent of all clocks and calendars. The fiery cores of earth-like planets were converted into massive ovens to satisfy their perpetual desire for cake.
The bag of popcorn that you’ve been handed is covered in rules and regulations. “Do not allow your popcorn or any other items from concessions to contaminate the screen. Be considerate of the allergies and tastes of other movie goers.” “All food containers must be thoroughly disposed of before leaving the theater. Failure to abide by this policy renders you subject to search and seizure.” “No drinking from cellular phones is allowed.”
It seems excessive, but you’re excited nonetheless. This is the first time that you’ve been cleared to see a film on Screen Zero at the Electric Fool’s Theatre.
She finds it waiting for her in a south side alleyway near the potion factory, digging its electric tendrils into the remains of an abandoned strip mall. In another city they might have called it graffiti, but the tags found elsewhere don’t squirm when touched with bare hands. Not many people can get their hands on aerosol data, let alone twist it into something algorithmic with their wrists.
The cover of the book is printed in thick, loud lettering: “The Secret Taxonomy of Lightning and its Anatomical Details, by Thomas Edison.” This misattribution is surprising, as despite it being the only copy of the book to ever exist, the Wizard of Menlo Park still managed to be plagiarize its contents. Despite this, you know the truth about its author, as well as the ramifications of its existence.
At first glance, the old Space Invaders cabinet looks as though it has eaten its last quarter. Though it remains plugged into the wall, its monitor has gone black; however, the color is just a few shades too dark to fool an expert. The thief presses his right palm against the screen’s center, then taps its corners with a metal pick in his left hand, checking for resonance. He feels the signature hum, revealing that the machine is in fact still alive. Perhaps this arcade isn’t as abandoned as it seems.
Magnetic ink was an intriguing literary innovation, in that it allowed for books to be stored without the use of paper. Through liquid encoding, each cluster of molecules could remember the alphabet and sequence it belonged to previously, allowing the words to arrange themselves autonomously once splattered against a surface. Ultimately, this led to the phenomenon of storing books in jars as pools of undifferentiated ink, where they waited for surfaces upon which to imprint themselves.
“The world is ending, and it always will be.” Those nine words were emblazoned across the side of his thorium-powered rig, a sign of rare optimism while crossing what remained of the American interstate system. The boss told him that he would be hauling eighty-eight barrels of angel blood, and in this economy, he was willing to believe it- but he’d learned long ago not to get too curious when dealing with this sort of clientele. More than likely, it was just another batch of heavy water. At least, that’s what he told himself.
The head of your pickaxe has been reinforced with depleted uranium. You swing its leather-bound neck with weary arms, and the honeycomb comes loose in thick ingots of iron-beeswax alloy. Throughout nine years of tunneling through the world’s guts alone, it has often served as your only friend.
The delivery man waits to descend onto the subway platform until its last train has departed for the night. This is a shrewd decision; many of his colleagues failed to take this precaution, and in turn, were dragged down into the world beneath the rails. He’s carrying precious cargo, after all: a backpack full of premium beverages ranging from black neon fizz to carbonated fire. Were he to perish on this errand, his ghost would be liable for the damages to company property, a debt which could take decades to repay.
The discerning chef of the deep kitchen carries a revolver on their person at all times. There’s no telling what might emerge from the Black Oven if its door has been left open for too long, but for those who thrive in such a high-stakes environment, the recipes for gourmet bullets are just as familiar as formulas for cocktails are to bartenders. Hundreds of variants have been developed, and several of the most coveted are detailed herein.
The Atlas Pines of Northwestern Hyperborea received their name for a good reason. Their trunks possess greater girth than those of the sequoia trees, and their uppermost branches lock together into a thick lattice of arbor and needles strong enough to uphold ten-meter snowdrifts. These pearlescent dunes are all that can be seen from above, obscuring the entirely separate landscape that exists at their roots.
“They say that our universe exists as a pipeline for carrying the void from one place to another.” She spoke with that unmotivated tone common to government-employed oracles. “Your chart exemplifies this principle. You were born while the moon was in the house of the locomotive constellation, which is carrying darkness between two of our neighboring realities.”
After several delirious months spent wandering the Eastern Steppe, you’ve at last arrived at the Riphean Mountains. They hang from the cerulean sands of a diminishing sky above, jammed through cloudbanks by the strange tectonics of outer space. Two ancient cedars present their inverted trunks before you; their roots are planted somewhere in the mountains above. A curtain of black leaves hangs between them, untouched by any of the four winds. You drop your heavy satchel, collapse into the golden grasses, and laugh.
The baron returned from his hunt soaked in silver blood. He had slain the drone that was terrorizing his township, having pierced its aluminum belly with a magnetic slug from his arquebus. He and his surviving men dragged its rope-bound wings back to his estate on horseback, scattering its metallic feathers throughout the underbrush. Upon their arrival, there was some applause and the occasional cheer, but the majority of citizens wore frustrated faces and somber eyes.
The first tooth appeared while you were combing your hair in the bathroom. It was clearly outlined in your peripheral vision, and so close that your eyelids began to twitch from reflex- yet there was nothing to be seen in the mirror at all. You tried unplugging the mirror and plugging it back in again, but the teeth refused to appear to anyone except yourself. Over the course of the next month, they began increasing in number- you swore that you could feel several under your own skin.
Every league out in darkspace had given their war comet a nom de guerre; for instance, the Bubblegum Battalion had their tried and true Fuchsia Machsine,whose engines were hidden beneath a thick shell of rose quartz and adhesive snow (30% marshmallow by volume). Despite their name, they were, in fact, all out of bubblegum, and had been for upwards of three months now. Their comet was drifting through the abyss after a humiliating defeat, having been outfoxed and outgunned by Licorice Laboratories’ Malted Marauder.
At first, we believed that the horizon splitter was only a myth. It sounded like a parody of the atomic bomb at most, inspired by the horror of something indivisible being mutilated by science. Word traveled from radio to radio that it was enroute, which we initially wrote off as disinformation from the enemy, just another of many attempts to incite fear. In the end, whether or not this was the case did not matter, as the bomb was able to do its job without existing at all.
Many years ago, dustrider oracles began receiving messages from flowers deep within the Earth. They bloomed in places much deeper than sunlight or rainwater could reach, where their fronds and perfumes would never be experienced by living things. Their roots grew in all directions, as did their petals, forming explosions of color unseen. Because of their peculiar habitat, their pollen had no air through which to propagate; as such, they evolved a method of broadcasting it as a form of organic radiation.
It takes quite a bit of paperwork to extradite a criminal from the afterlife. Because she died without a federal grave license, however, officials were able to arrange for serial bank robber Daisy Cormorant’s arrest after a single round of negotiations with the gods. She had purchased a luxury condo in the underworld using an assumed name, and had also drastically altered her appearance by tanning in the light of the planet’s core; regardless, a combination of dental records and tax audits led to her capture.
There’s a crumbling mansion in the Red City that overlooks the marina with sixteen eyes of fractured glass. Although weary from old age, it watches for thieves with unwavering paranoia. It has known the taste of many who have sought its riches over the years, and expects that another will arrive any day now.
One evening, my roommate came home from an illegal grocery store in the western quarter. She was wearing one of those heavy canvas military jackets, and it was covered in fresh smears of indigo fluid that I would later find out was something’s blood. “Check it out.” She slammed a gallon-sized mason jar down on the table. A creature could be seen squirming inside, something covered in tentacles and thorns with no discernible body of its own, sloshing around in that same blue ooze. “They let me pick one out of the tank myself.”
Most who throw rainbow filets onto a skillet for the first time are surprised to discover how much they sizzle. They are not lean, and store numerous tender hues in their belly in addition to those outwardly displayed. It is not advisable to gaze directly into the pan while cooking is ongoing, as many of these colors are too volatile for the human eye to process, and may cause damage to the optical nerve.
After the journalist’s death, they mummified him in newspapers from faraway lands. Those who attended the burial looked inside his sarcophagus and read of his sentencing to the electric chair in the Agarthan suburbs, the terrible hunting accident that claimed his heartbeat on the outskirts of El Dorado, and the crocodile that tore out his throat in the sewers of New York. Apparently he had even taken a sharpshooter’s bullet while serving as a war correspondent in Troy. Every inch of skin and each hypothetical wound was obscured by contradiction.
The sands of the desert are sweet, for veins of dark sugar twist through its dunes. Down below, metamorphic layers of thick molasses crawl through cracks in ancient bedrock, condensed to ooze by the weight of the world above. In these porous spaces ruled by dust and germ, pools of primordial rum have formed under extreme pressure. It is a liquor that men and machines alike can drink, and it produces similar results in both.
Mere minutes after the virus took their lives, the victims began to grow their first feathers. Each plume was golden and translucent, centered by accents of violet and clover. The metamorphosis took place in moments thereafter; their pupils spiraled outward until abyssal whorls, their locks erupted into leonine manes, and all color faded from their blood until it was as clear as rainwater.
For a handful of Canadian hunters, it was not enough to craft trophies from the bodies of their prey. A particular sporting lodge in Newfoundland developed a technique of stuffing animal skins with wooden bones and glass organs, allowing them to return to the wild. The primary agent of reanimation was an artificial blood formulated from, among other things, blackberry syrup, gunpowder, and crushed fireflies.
Strange rivers of geothermal activity run beneath Hyperborea’s blue forests. The tender earth liquefies just below human body temperature, and becomes a warm, fluid stone that flows easily through the hands. The local terminology for this substance translates roughly to “world jelly.”
If it’s still the past while you’re reading this, you may wish to take notes. It wasn’t asteroids, or bombs, or angels with trumpets. During the last decade of our lives, there was a common sense of dread that we were living out the final act. Novelty was running low. Each and every one of us had been carrying the scripts for our own lives, but never noticed until the remaining pages were too thin to thumb through easily.
Wherever he goes, he carries a pack of American Spirits in his left hand. He never actually smokes them; each one attempts to wriggle from his grip as he draws it from the carton, but to no avail. He devours all of them like popcorn, grinding raw tobacco and ash between his gnarled teeth. His skin has faded to the tone of pewter during the course of his term, likely due to this exact habit.
Android bodies also decompose upon death, leaving behind transparent bones. Although most of their kind choose to live on as holograms afterward, some prefer the streamlined feeling of simply being a skeleton, or even just a skull. While it is not difficult for a human to stop thinking, it is impossible for an android to do so until their batteries are removed by the coroner. As such, the peace this offers them is welcome.
While you’re busy drinking a cocktail of anteater blood and vermouth, a well-dressed businessman next to you shoves three curled, nacreous tokens towards the bartender. You recognize them from an illegal magazine that you stumbled across three months ago; these are mermaid fingernails, the official currency of the Illuminati.
The Red City Philharmonic Orchestra disbanded centuries ago. As such, their instruments have grown restlessly out of tune and starved of human touch. The lights are still on in the old opera house where they await their musicians, but dead noise saturates the air to a point of near-total darkness. Cleaning robots have learned not to enter, and dust has cloaked most of the surfaces inside.
Hyperborean mountains are formed of pure hematite, with veins of naturally occurring steel sprawling throughout their interior. Some of the grandest peaks reach as far as the ionosphere, slicing the northern lights in two as they pass overhead. Their bodies resist climbers and prospectors as easily as they resist the wind, but erosion and entropy always find a way.
A careful look at the dustrider’s rifle reveals that it was once the body of a dragonfly. Its tail has been hollowed into a long barrel, and its mandibles are now the trigger of a complex firing mechanism. Discs have been carved from its transparent wings and arranged in parallel to serve a scope’s function. As it slides off his shoulder, the thick knots of its former exoskeleton are firm in his hands.
Benthica is the underworld’s most prestigious seafood restaurant. It is located on the opposite side of the planet’s surface from the Marianas Trench, and is constructed from bricks of black water that have crystallized from the sheer pressure of the ocean’s depths. Strange, luminous creatures can be seen swimming through walls that are otherwise solid for everyone else present. Among them is the nameless child of Hades and Charybdis, who is prophesied to someday be the death of Poseidon.
The pacmancer gazes into the arcade cabinet’s screen and sees his own death; someday, it will be hollowed of its digital components and repurposed as his sarcophagus. He watches the little phosphene phantoms dart about and sees something familiar in their wandering eyes. Perhaps he even knew them while they were alive. The shared border between the spiritual and virtual realms is thinner than either possess with the physical. That’s what makes the ritual work.
In the Violet City, a creation myth is told that involves not just the beginning of time, but also its end. The world begins as worlds often do, with the gods overthrowing the titans who built it and establishing their dominion over man and nature alike. The story abruptly jumps forward billions of years, however, to the inevitable feud between them that destroys all things. It is at this point that we encounter the remix goddess, who rises out of the ocean of white noise that their war left behind.
Hadean architecture requires efficient use of vertical space in order to properly house the planet’s hundred billion deceased. Although the dead have nearly as much space in which to dwell as the living (as they reside all throughout the Earth’s hollow interior), it is impossible for their population to ever decrease. In order to prevent a crisis, the most industrious of the dead have gathered to solve this problem that the gods have otherwise neglected.
To aid in slaying Medusa, the gods offered Perseus a helm that granted him invisibility, as well as a shield with a mirrored surface. So the legend goes, he was able to use the former to obtain the element of surprise, and the latter to face her without meeting her petrifying gaze.
The first thing that you notice as you enter the club is the presence of hundreds of fireflies with blacklight tails, all signaling in synchronicity with a source of bass somewhere deep below. The bouncer stares at you expectantly while holding a jar full of transparent fluid. Mimicking those ahead of you in line, you reach through your own chest and withdraw your heart.
In their adult form, stealth butterflies possess a single black wing that never flutters, and a long, spiral tongue tipped with a microphone. Rather than indulging in the succulence hidden within flowers, they prefer the auditory nectars of the human voice. They travel from window to window in swarms, pressing their tessellated bellies against any surface that will resonate.
Old-fashioned petroleum no longer satisfies the refined palette of automobiles in the Red City. Having gained a taste for artisanal gasoline, they often refuse to be driven if not partaking of the highest quality of fuel. While their habits are expensive, they also seem to have significantly reduced rush hour traffic.
The art of building a properly functioning scarecrow is largely forgotten. Most that exist today are merely decoys, unable to hunt pheasants or play mandolins like their forerunners. Even so, every now and then, reports emerge of straw men wandering the land of their own accord.
Jukeboxes are unique in that, unlike other coin-operated machines, they do not give up the earnings that they swallow. Dissections by electrobiologists have revealed that their neon intestines digest the various metals used, leaving only their immaterial value behind. It is unclear what becomes of this abstract remainder, but it is believed to return to circulation once this process is complete.
The jar of Kraken’s ink on the shelf appears slightly more transparent than the empty space that surrounds it. The glass itself seems to have no thickness, and along some parts of its surface, appears to not even exist at all. This is because unlike other species of squid whose ink absorbs light, the Kraken’s ink rejects light altogether, and spits it out slightly faster than the speed at which it entered.
Humans have their nerves, robots have their wires, and puppets have their strings. The last of these is the odd one out for two critical reasons: in addition to the lack of an animating force, puppets have the misfortune of their nervous systems existing outside their bodies. This nakedness prevents them from achieving true autonomy, as their motions must be granted to them by creatures of a higher order.
The flintlock brain is a primitive form of artificial intelligence loaded inside of an iron mannequin. Knots of jellied sawdust are formed around copper wires, which themselves are coated with black gunpowder. The hammer and frizzen of the firing mechanism rest between its two lobes, typically positioned so that they can remain exposed outside the android’s metal skull.