There is a commonly circulated urban legend concerning earwigs that their name is a reference to a particularly horrifying type of parasitism: that they propagate by burrowing into the human cranium through the ear canal, then tunnel their way into the brain’s gray matter where they lay their eggs.
In modernity, most discover this myth by encountering a statement of its negation. Nearly every text concerning earwigs includes, somewhere in the first few sentences, language similar to this: “Despite their nomenclature, earwigs do not actually propagate by burrowing into the human cranium through the ear canal to lay their eggs, though this is a commonly circulated urban legend.”
The antlion is unique among modern animalia in that its evolution resulted not from a mutation within its genetic code, but rather, within the spelling of its name. Sometime during the legendary translation of the Septuagint from Hebrew into Greek for Ptolemy II, an old Hebrew variant of 'lion' used in the Book of Job was warped into the bizarre word 'myrmecoleon,' a portmanteau of the terms for 'ant' and 'lion.'
"Before paper was easy to come by, scrolls and books would be rinsed of their ink so that their pages could be reused when the original copies no longer had an audience.” A dash of lampblack bitters left a squid trail through his whiskey and vermouth. "Even after their removal, however, the molecules of ink would continue to cluster in a similar geometric manner. Because of this, most of the information was retained in the ink itself long after it had been wrung from the text.
Geogaddi, Boards of Canada’s sophomore album, was engineered so as to last for exactly sixty-six minutes and six seconds. Their fixation on the repetition sixes is clear throughout its content, right down to the title of track sixteen: “The Devil is in the Details.” Even the cover art is composed entirely of six-sided figures, a seemingly endless kaleidonoid procession of hexagons within hexagons. When the LP suddenly emerged in 2002, it debuted at a collection of six churches worldwide, in a ritual of unknown intent.
The candles that surrounded the bed were made from the oil of a sperm whale's shadow. I had heard that such things were possible to obtain, in places of immense darkness; hunts for giant squid took these creatures to abyssopelagic depths, where oceanic pressures rendered their shadows too heavy to return to the surface. Once abandoned, they sank until they were made solid, whales unto themselves before being dissolved by the sun upon ascending for air.
Somewhere beyond the orbit of Mars, under Jupiter's watchful eye, an asteroid rotates silently with a broadsword jammed through its iron ribs. Because this blade was crafted beyond Earth's atmosphere, its metal and that of its resting place are seamlessly conjoined; as such, separating their forms requires extraordinary degrees of both strength and finesse.
The average seashell found along a shoreline is fixed at the same frequency as the body of water that birthed it. When held to the ear, the same, steady undulation of waves can be heard, sliding in and out of time. For this reason, they make excellent souvenirs for tourists, providing instant access to memories of better climes.
Meanwhile, the spiraling apex of a black conch’s shell can be twisted in several places like a radio’s dial. The larger the mussel, the more precision that can be attained while tuning its abandoned hermitage.
As whiskey ages, there is always an amount that evaporates from within the barrel, referred to by those who produce it as "the angel's share." Despite the beverage’s association with sin, its manufacturing is one path by which mankind can barter with the heavens; a large enough tithe of fine Bourbon can bring with it returns of divine favor and forgiveness.
Among alligators and crocodiles alike, there exist elders who remember the flavor of mammoth's blood, and even some whose gnarled backs bear scars from the fire of an asteroid's impact. Their kind have persisted for untold millions of years, long enough for evolution to nest their brains within our own like matryoshka dolls.
Before setting foot in the temple, she unfastened her shadow from her boots, then folded it neatly at the base of the stairs. This was not just a matter of reverence, but also one of self-preservation; the lanterns that flanked the entrance had teeth, and the flames within them had tongues.
The human body is not a mere brain-driven machine of nerve and bone. Every subsection of its anatomy is an independent ecosystem of organisms (or organism-like structures), each with their own motivations and metabolisms. Though much of this zoology occurs beneath a veil of skin, it is still a phenomenon that can be seen with the naked eye. When one looks upward into cloudless daylight, they just might see the spectral outlines of lifeforms known as lucigens.
While it's true that cephalopods use their ink to escape potential predators, so too do humans use their voices to elude danger when they scream; such behavior does not preclude the fluid's use for more complex communication.
It has become common knowledge that, when an observer gazes up at the stars from Earth, they see them as they were at some point in the distant past. Furthermore, [...] the observer is looking upon those stars as they were at a time when the universe was significantly smaller. Were anyone to build a telescope which could see the furthest edge of the universe, they would see it as it existed at the moment time began: a moment when it was so small that, paradoxically, its edge was closer to the point occupied by the observer’s eye than their own telescope's lens.
Sometime during the Hadean Eon, long before the formation of life as we know it, a comet fell to Earth in the most gentle manner astrophysically possible. It ended its approach at nearly the same relative velocity as the planet's own orbit, then sank into the sea of molten iron below, in which it cooked over the course of several centuries like a colossal Baked Alaska.
Shortly after the arrival of the twentieth century, natural selection replaced the homing pigeon with the radio wave. This evolutionary leap resulted in the emergence of electrobiology as an academic field. Other members of the animal kingdom underwent a similar metamorphosis, though there is little agreement about what became of the barber’s hummingbird.
Single-use paths through the city are produced in the following manner: a map of its streets, ideally eleven inches across by seventeen inches tall, is laid out on a level surface. Next, a single shell is loaded into the cartographic apparatus, filled with a mixture of cuttlefish ink, magnetic gel, and iron shavings. Finally, the trigger is pulled, allowing the electrically-charged cocktail to splatter across the entire breadth of the page.
The hornet's feathers were beautiful under a microscope. In each vane, he could see its stripes unfolding into sharply-defined fractals, interlocking Sierpinski triangles of black-and-yellow contrast. The further he increased the degree of magnification, the more intricate the patterns became.
In the lands east of the Ural Mountains, there is said to have once grown a plant whose fruit was a fully-grown lamb fastened to the soil by its umbilical stem. To some, this beast was known as the borometz, and to others, as the Yeduah. It survived by grazing on the grasses surrounding its roots, though it could never wander beyond its own tether to the earth below. Any separation from this stem would result in its immediate death.
“Now, I could ask you how many moons the Earth has,” the professor began. “Wait for someone in the room to blurt the obvious answer of ‘one,’ then smugly rebuke them. It is within my rights as your instructor to do this, but I am not a jackass, and all of you are smarter than that. You wouldn’t be at this university if you fell for such banal tricks. You’d have suspected I was playing at something the minute I asked such a question. So, I’m going to be straight with you on this one."
"From what you've described to me, it sounds like your brain is undergoing rapid shifts in chirality." The doctor's eyes were focused on his tablet. “Like you’re suddenly trading places with the other side of the mirror, yes?“
“Yeah, that’s one way to put it. But what could cause something like that?"
During his research into the nature of flora, Goethe began to suspect the existence of what he referred to as the “Urpflanze,” a primordial plant from which all others had been derived. At the end of his quest to find it, he instead came to the conclusion that, rather than there being such an archetypal plant, there instead existed a single, protean form from which all others had been constructed: that of a solitary leaf.
Kissing was invented in the city of Thusk, a seaport with thousands of citizens, yet only one dentist. Her services were scarcely needed, for the civic biologists had rendered most of her profession obsolete.
Beyond a handful of major cities, the American Midwest can be understood as an archipelago of small towns rising from an agricultural sea. For most travelers, these isles are little more than waypoints between two nodes in a great concrete network: exits from the highways where gasoline is gathered, and urine is left behind.
"This telescope was built to accommodate several different modes of operation,” the observatory’s director explained. "For instance, right now, it's set to hermetic mode. That means that whenever you focus its lens on a particular star, the image of that star exists just as far backwards within your mind as the star itself is from your eyes."
I wanted to believe the tales of Polybius, the arcade game that drove its own players to madness. It was the perfect urban legend, for the details of its telling reinforced its own state of unverifiable limbo. Any and all cabinets which may or may not have once existed were seized by the powers that be, leaving an empty-handed public to speculate about whether or not they’d ever actually been there to begin with.
When he is seen in visions, Nexorpan, the god of small agonies, has no face: what appears to be a sea urchin sits atop his neck as a surrogate head. Its numerous spines have shredded the torso of his three-piece suit, exposing the raw patches of violet skin beneath. Every morning, his handmaidens bathe him, dress him, and tend to his wounds, yet all of their work is swiftly undone.
In his bestiary’s entry regarding tigers, Leonardo da Vinci describes a bizarre interaction between humans and these mighty beasts:
"This is a native of Hyrcania; it bears some resemblance to the panther from the various spots on its skin; and it is an animal of terrifying speed. When the hunter finds its cubs he carries them off instantly, after placing mirrors at the spot from which he has taken them, and immediately takes to flight upon a swift horse."
There are two separate sources of gravity competing for control of the city of Hyperboleon. These operate perpendicularly to one another, drawing objects towards two separate grounds whose horizons meet at a right angle.
He noticed the crystal ball on the oracle's table. “I take it that this is what shows us the future?”
"Nah." Her face flashed briefly into view beneath her hood as she lit another cigarette. "You didn't do your homework, did you? Looking in from outside, the crystal ball shows you the past. Looking out from inside, it shows you the future. Here, let me show you how it works.”
In the late 1890s, scientists at the University Beneath Chicago developed the first atomic bomb, a weapon which they referred to as the "Antithalesian device." Despite it being a milestone of human engineering, this research was never approved for surface publication. After proof of concept testing, the results joined scores of other papers in the vaults of Shaver Hall, only to be read again on a need-to-know basis.
The gargoyles of the Red City cannot fly; the wings of fossilized coral that they carry on their backs serve as an ever-present reminder that they were built by humanity to surveil in stillness. Even so, they shamble through the streets of the city at night on legs that groan in defiance of their stone composition.
Once we flip this switch, you'll begin to see your life’s High Scores table. It will scroll across the sky on nights of the new moon, as well as along the insides of your eyelids during the interludes between dreams and wakefulness. Here, you’ll see the initials of everyone who has ever been you, as well as how well they performed over the course of your lifespan.
In the year 1968, there were four separate cases of submarines disappearing under mysterious circumstances: the American Scorpion, the Israeli Dakar, the French Minerve, and the Soviet K-129. The last of these events came under scrutiny when, six years later, a United States black project disguised as a manganese mining operation attempted to locate and salvage what was left of the Soviet submarine. This program was known as “Project Azorian,” and was primarily carried out by a single vessel known as The Glomar Explorer.
"My mother taught me that all of the punctuation marks that you miss while typing build up in your fingertips over time." She held up her hands, revealing that the ends of her digits were covered in black splotches. "So, I haven't used any since I was twelve. I’m chock full of them now, periods, commas, parentheses, you name it.”
The glyphs of the Folorsine alphabet are neither read horizontally, nor vertically; they march towards the eye as a procession of phosphenes, parading one after the other through the iris’s gates. This is not a language that is interpreted from a page, so much as swallowed by the brain. It is still actively used, though its spoken form has not been heard for centuries.
While it’s not uncommon for factory errors to result in fortune cookies with blank messages, when Martin split his open, he found that it contained an atypical form of blankness. Along the left-hand side of his fortune, a blinking cursor could be seen, still awaiting user input.
Among believers, vaultgulls are said to possess golden feathers, as well as eyes of black crystal; then again, they are also said to have never before been seen, so such descriptions ought to be met with skepticism.
For these clever birds, all that is unseen is the sky; their wings slide cleanly through metal and stone as easily the wind. The only solid surface they know is the periphery of human vision, the greatest obstacle to their shimmering wings. The subtlest twitch of a single eye is enough to thrust them aside like a hurricane's gales.
The pararang’s body is wrought from an alloy of aluminum and neutronium, the latter of which grants it the strange gravity of a dying star. From the perspective of the person who attempts to throw it, it presses back against their palm with equal force, and never actually leaves their grip. This serves as an indication that it is working as expected.
At times she was known as Ararat, at others, Meru. When seen from Greece, she was known as Olympus, and in the time of Gilgamesh, she was known as Nimush. Her peak reached such unimaginable altitude that it could be seen from all the nations of the world, even those that were a hemisphere’s arc away. This summit was said to be the exact point where heaven and earth intersected, and as such, only the holiest among the living were allowed to climb her thousand faces.
The laws of nature are said to be written in the same language that birds sing their songs in. Mastery of this secret tongue has only been claimed by a handful of human beings over the centuries, and even they could neither speak it nor translate it, only understand it.
The wig, if it can indeed be called such a thing, is wrought from solid pewter. Its unfurled locks remain fixed against shoulders unseen, draped around a missing skull. Its curvature clearly suggests an upright posture, folding over both the front and back of a torso, then outward over the implied bosom. It was apparently cleaved from the surface of an ancient statue, though the whereabouts of this artifact are unknown.
For the alchemists of the Renaissance, it was a well established fact that mercury was to the metals as blood was to the body. Though the untrained knife would often bend or break while attempting to find untapped veins, a skilled practitioner could find a pulse within any ore, and draw forth a fountain of quicksilver with a single, well-placed incision. Every metal could be made to bleed this same lustrous ooze, from profane lead to sacred gold.
For humanity, it is the earth that is solid, and the air that is permeable; for chthonity, the opposite is true. They wander just beneath our feet, as we do beneath theirs, sometimes even atop one another. Their world is an inversion of our own, one which rests within a sphere atop an endless sky. Our atmosphere is the soil upon which they tread.
When she brought him back to her loft, it was clear that, one way or another, she’d been planning on having company. There was a bottle of Chardonnay plugged into the wall, emitting a faint, amber glow.
Wild trumpets must be dried out before they can be safely played by a human mouth. The local tribes of Hyperborea's easternmost islands have mastered this process: they hang the bulbous creatures over a pyre of burning inkwood, whose smoke drains their bells of any lingering venom and stains their skins an obsidian shade. The instrument that results has a limited range, yet this is counterbalanced by its powerful timbre.
There is no topological model which can easily account for what astronomers at the University Beneath Chicago have observed under the ice of Jupiter's sixth moon. Though its surface is indeed a sphere, with a finite diameter around three-thousand kilometers, Europa’s volume is infinite.
By the end of the twentieth century, it seemed to many as though there was nothing that an acrobat could do with their body which had never been done before.
Claudia changed all that: during one particularly spirited performance, she leapt from her trapeze into the pupils of her audiences' eyes, down into the depths of their visual cortices, and landed to loud, sincere applause.
When Narcissus gazed into the pond, and saw the wonder of the universe in the beauty of his own reflection, all meaning was drained from his physical flesh. At that exact moment of realization, he withered into nothingness, for his image had superceded his presence in reality. A single flower grew in his place, one which bore his name, and its own reflection served as its roots.
Few visitors can be found within the walls of the Red City, and among these few, there are none who dare set foot in its Burning District. There is very good reason for this, as its name might suggest; it is a place set aside for destruction to live, so that what remains of humanity’s works beyond might be spared.
When confronted with the possibility of being devoured, the common gecko is capable of making a somewhat brutal compromise [...] the lizard can shed the entirety of its own tail as an offering to potential predators. During such a transaction, the predator receives a much smaller meal, but the gecko’s life is spared, and its tail eventually grows back.
Eighteenth century explorer José de Almagro claimed to have discovered a much more curious specimen in the mountains of what is today Chile: a gecko which, when threatened, could shed its entire body at once.
The waters of the River Lethe are said to wash clean the memories of the recently deceased. This process returns them to a tabula rasa state of mind, after which point their souls can migrate to new bodies. What is not clear from myth alone, however, is the mechanism by which the Lethe's waters perform this function. The living often assume that these memories simply dissolve into the imbibed fluid, as though they were merely salt.
Among scorpions, there exists a religion not of tradition, but rather, one of instinct. Though they lack the neurological sophistication required to comprehend such concepts as God or eternity, their genetic memory leaves just enough room to accommodate one curious ritual.
Phlebic White was originally marketed to the public as “the world’s first intelligent lubricant,” a slogan which holds to this day. Rather than passively facilitating motion in the same manner as oil or grease, this pearlescent substance does so actively. Every droplet of the fluid contains millions of individual, microscopic cells, which wobble, throb, and vibrate when exposed to heat. They learn from repetitive motion, as well as from interactions with one another, allowing them to become a churning milk of pressurized horsepower.
Giordano Bruno was of the belief that the sun was just another Earth, and that its glow emerged from eternal forest fires that sprawled across its surface. While such forests have never existed, Bruno’s hypothesis is not entirely incorrect, as stars produce their light by burning that which isn’t there.
The leather-bound cookbook contains three-hundred seventy-seven recipes, including instructions for preparing alligator skin, thickening petroleum into flan, and slow-cooking ingots of iron until they’re tender enough to swallow. Before all of this, however, the text begins with a set of initiatory instructions, required for the chef to “survive their own work.” These instructions are as follows:
Decades have passed since she first uttered those words to me. We were in Kindergarten then, yet she spoke them with such certainty that, even as an adult, I couldn’t shake the feeling that she had meant something by them. Whenever I’d ask her to explain what she meant, however, she’d just smile and laugh at me, as though it were obvious. What was it, I wondered, that she could see, yet I could not?
Another tumbleweed rolled into town yesterday- the third of its kind this month. This time around, the professor’s trap finally worked: we found the damn thing snagged in a tangle of barbed wire, screeching loudly, trying in vain to unfurl its hungry tendrils. This one was at least thirty feet in diameter, so we figured that something good had to be buried under all those thorns.
In 1987, a cassette tape emerged which contained the last known recording of the Song of the Sirens. The origins of the tape are uncertain: it was found abandoned in a secure deposit box of a bank in Gibraltar by an officer in the British Navy. Though the box was registered in his name, he insisted that a number of artifacts discovered inside, including the tape, were not his own.
Together, they gazed into the galaxy of colorful orbs behind the glass. “Every gumball dreams of growing up to become a planet,” the goddess told him. “They are child worlds, waiting to be adopted by a sun; but, as you might imagine, almost none among them will survive long enough to see their dreams come true.”
“I specialize in the process of hypercamouflage in marine animals.”
“Hypercamouflage? How is that different from the normal kind?”
“Well, you could learn about that by signing up for my class,” she smirked. “But I don’t mind talking to students about my favorite subject. Hypercamouflage is a term for any process by which an animal becomes so well concealed that it is physically indistinguishable from its surroundings. When achieved, no known scientific equipment or sensory organ is able to detect the creature’s presence. It is as though they no longer exist.”
Remoras are responsible for carrying dreams from shark to shark. Their hosts lack the creativity required to produce dreams independently, as their cravings for blood drown out anything resembling an imagination. For them, the unreal is nothing more than a distraction that cannot be killed and digested.
The hollowfeather crow curls its neck inward. It then reaches its beak through its own chest, plucks out a pulseless heart, and devours it whole once more. Once it has been swallowed, the extracted organ can be seen from outside as it tumbles downward through exposed, translucent ribs, and eventually snaps back into position. The crow does this again and again, restlessly staving off its own endless hunger.
Elliott found the first piece of his death under his fiancé’s pillow when he was only eighteen. It was a cogwheel of sorts, wrought from black iron, and he knew what it was the moment that he found it. Once he felt its weight in his hands, he walked out the door while she was still asleep, and left his ring behind.
“Excuse me, sir?” I’m usually more resilient when it comes to strangers with clipboards, but I couldn’t bring myself to look away from her perfect, silver eyes. “Do you have a moment to spare for the immaterial?”
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.