Letter By Letter

She lived in a castle made of words. It was built letter by letter, day by day. She didn’t know when the first word was placed what would happen, how could she? Nevertheless, she continued to place them, day after day.

At first, it was more of a room and a small room at that. A place to curl up when the world seemed too much. Which it often did. For a while, it was just the same words. They comforted her. More than once, raiders would smash part of the room. Then she would slowly rebuild, letter by letter, word by word.

As time went on, she added more words, which made the room larger. She found that while the first words she used would always make her happy, new words and the way they expanded her room was exciting. In fact, she found that once she started, it was impossible to stop. 

Her one room grew into many and became a house. With each word, the house grew in unexpected ways. Towers began to spout in the corners and rose into the sky. Hallways connected chambers, and stairs led up to balconies or to walkways that linked other parts of the castle, which it was by this point.

Some wound downwards to strange and sinister dungeons. She would go then when she wanted to feel the fear of what lurked in the darkness (more terrifying than the known), but she knew all the secret passages in this castle and escape was always an option.

In truth, she spent more time in the well-lit areas. The castle was constantly growing and there were always new and intriguing areas to explore. As a result, she neither found herself bored or lonely. 

As is the way of things, not everyone understood. Her Friend showed up, unannounced, and called up to her.

Come to the ball with me!” her Friend implored. 

She loved to read about balls, glittering gowns, music, dancing, and the glamor of it all, but the idea of actually attending one was not for her.

Thank you but no,” she replied, “I have all I need here.”

But you must be lonely,” stated her Friend, “Please come to the ball. There will be many eligible knights there.”

I appreciate the invitation, but I am not lonely,” she said.

If that is your wish,” acquiesced her Friend.

It is,” she said with finality.

With a sad gait, her Friend departed. Time passed and her castle grew larger still. Then one day, she heard a sound outside which did not diminish. With exasperation, she went to the walls to see what the commotion is. Standing in front of the castle gates was a Young Knight, mounted on a powerful destrier. 

What do you want?” she asked, a bit saltier than she might’ve otherwise.

I am here to rescue you!” he declared.

No thank you.”

This puzzled the Young Knight.

But surely, you are imprisoned in this dark castle?” he asked.

You have been misinformed.” 

Then are you under an enchantment?” he asked hopefully. 

Not at all.”

He snapped his fingers, grinned, and said, “But that is just what someone under an enchantment would say!”

Maybe. There are many kinds of enchantments. However, my mind is clear and my own.”

The Young Knight paused for a moment then spoke once more.

Perhaps you might invite me into your castle?”

Why?” she asked.

We might spend some time together, have a goblet of wine, and get to know each other better.”

She looked at the Young Knight. He was handsome but altogether too enthusiastic. He kept fidgeting and adjusting bits of his armor as he awaited her reply. She knew he would be an exhausting guest.

Thank you but I’m in no state to accept guests right now,” she said.

When might you be in a more hospitable mood?” he asked.

She pushed down a particularly sharp rejoinder and replied, “I cannot say. Thank you and good day.”

With that, she retreated into the castle. Soon after, she could hear the dejected clip-clop of his destrier as he left. Giving the Young Knight no more thought, she returned to exploring her ever-growing castle.

After a period of peace, in which she discovered a new series of rooms to explore, a loud roar was heard outside her castle. With a sigh, she strode out to the battlements to see what the fuss was about.

Right in front of the drawbridge, which was of course raised, was a Dragon. It was very, very grand. When it stood on its hind legs, it could look her right in the eyes.

LET ME IN!” bellowed the Dragon.

While it was indeed fearsome and menacing, she looked it back in its red and gold eyes and simply said, “No.”

I WILL NOT BE DENIED!” the monster shouted.

Why do you want to come in?” she asked.


Flames snorted out of the Dragon’s nostrils to emphasize his statement. Yet for all its terrible majesty it remained outside, and the castle stood untouched.

I can’t allow you inside,” she said calmly.

Great gouts of fire blasted skyward and the Dragon leaned in to stare at her.


I think,” she replied, “that if you could come in and make this your home, you would’ve already done so.”


Quite sure.”


True, but that’s hardly an argument for letting one into your home.” 

The Dragon narrowed his eyes and said, “I WILL ALWAYS BE NEARBY, YOU MAY YET INVITE ME IN.”

She shrugged and said, “Anything is possible, but it seems very unlikely.”

With a flap of his vast wings, the Dragon flew off to perch on a distant mountaintop. His roars could still be heard, but they were faint and easily ignored.

For a long time after that, she had no more uninvited guests. The castle grew in size and scope. Every day she found new and intriguing new places to explore. She was alone but happy. One morning, as she had breakfast in one of her many gardens, something unexpected happened. Sitting on the garden wall was an orange cat with bright green eyes. It regarded her in the manner of cats from the beginning of time. Which is to say, a mix of contentment and arrogance. 

While she was not one for unannounced guests, this cat intrigued her.

Are you lost?” she asked.

The cat meowed back. 

You must be hungry.”

She took a bit of bacon from her plate and held it out. The cat leapt down, gently took it from her fingertips, and ate it. She fed him the rest of her bacon, then the cat jumped onto her lap and promptly fell asleep. He was not wearing a collar but didn’t seem to be malnourished. Too friendly to be a stray. She found herself stroking his fur and scratching him behind his ears, for which she was rewarded with a low, rumbling purr.

I suppose you can stay for breakfast. But just for breakfast mind you,” said as she pet him.

Breakfast became lunch and then dinner, and then started all over again. The cat would ride on her shoulders as she explored her castle. Sometimes she would carry him in her arms, other times, he would stride alongside her. 

Despite living in a castle made of words, she did not name him. Instead, she simply called him Cat. It’s said that cats have secret names, known only to them, but Cat seemed to accept this sobriquet and would respond to it, but only if the mood hit. 

Days became weeks and the two of them grew closer. Well, at least she did, it was unclear what Cat thought, but even if he spent time off on his own, he would always return at meal times.

One evening, she was enjoying exploring a study that she had been to before, finding new things, as she always did, when the wind blew in a piece of paper through the window. Picking it up, this is what it said.






It also featured a picture of a cat who was unmistakably, Cat. 

Oh well,” she thought, “This was only a for a little while.”

Just then Cat rubbed up against her leg and meowed. For years, all she wanted was to be left alone in her castle made of words. Now that prospect broke her heart. She could ignore this. Keep Cat. He was happy here. Why not? After all, if his former owner (if it was possible to own a cat), let him wander off. How much could he really care?

Then she looked at the lost notice again. It was brittle, and stained in the way that paper gets when you leave it out in the elements. There was a rip on the top where it had been attached somewhere. She thought about how she would feel if she had lost Cat.

With tears running down her face, she sent a message, saying she had found Cat. She spent the rest of the evening curled up in an armchair with him.

The next morning, she awoke to a message being delivered. It was the person who put up the lost notice. It asked if he could come by this noon to pick up Cat. She responded that of course, it was fine. 

She shared one last breakfast, a large plate of bacon for Cat, and a cup of tea for her, she had lost her appetite. After which, she washed up and put on fresh clothes. If she had to give up Cat, she would do so with some measure of dignity.

Noon arrived, despite her fervent desire for it not to. She lowered the drawbridge and she and Cat awaited the visitor. They did not have to wait at all as a figure was approaching. It was a Young Man, bespectacled, with slightly messy hair, dressed in a dark green tweed jacket with a mustard yellow waistcoat, faded brown trousers, and a bag slung over his shoulder.

As soon as Cat saw him he ran to him. The Young Man picked Cat up and hugged him. Cat hugged him back and then demanded to be put down, which he was.

Thank you so much!” said Young Man, “I hope he wasn’t too much trouble.”

Not at all,” she said.

Well, thank you again! I’ve been beside myself worrying about him. After all, the world can be a dangerous place.”

That it can.”

It’s a relief that he found somewhere safe. I can see he’s been well-fed.”

How could I say no to that face?”

He laughed and replied, “I have the same trouble myself.”

I’m just glad I could help.”

I believe I owe you a reward.”

Not at all, it was my pleasure.”

Please I insist,” he opened his bag, quickly rummaged, and pulled out a book.

It’s only a token, but I can’t see you unrewarded.”

She took it. It was a new book, with crisp pages and a smooth book jacket.

Thank you,” she said quietly.

You know it’s funny,” the Young Man said.

The book?”

What? No. Well, it might be, I’d not read it yet. It’s funny I didn’t notice your castle before you sent that message.”

It’s hard to miss,” she said, still not seeing what was funny about it.

I know, but we’re neighbors, of a sort,” he replied pointing down the road.

Within sight of her castle, was another one. Its design was different from hers. A little more futuristic, perhaps, but unmistakably a word castle.

I’m a bit of a homebody, much to the consternation of my friends and family, but I’m happy and can’t complain.”

How could she miss it? How could either of them miss each other? 

Well, I don’t want to take up any more of your time. I cannot thank you enough for looking after Cat for me. Say thank you to the lovely lady for putting up with your shenanigans,” he said to Cat.

Cat gave him a look which suggested a shrug more than gratitude as the Young Man picked Cat up.

Wait!” she said, perhaps louder than she intended to.

He stopped.

Would you like to come in for some tea?” she asked.

Cat meowed. Loudly.

And some bacon, of course.”

Cat and the Young Man looked at each other for a beat.

We’d love to.”

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Inheritance-Part Four

The next morning found both Michelangelo and I dressed in shorts and tee-shirts that read, ‘Viva Italy’(for me) and ‘It’s a Buongiorno day’ (for Michelangelo). We accessorized these ensembles with ball caps, brightly colored sunglasses, a New York Jets backpack for the stone and my father’s notes, and naturally, fanny packs.

All of these came courtesy of Enzo, who had a side hustle selling these to tourists. He told us that we looked just like real Americans, which I tried not to take offense to. All of this was in service of getting us on a tour bus that would take us to the temple outlined in my father’s notes.

All you need to do is grin and take lots of pictures,” reassured Enzo as he handed us older smartphones.

Enzo dropped us off at a nearby town where the tour buses left from. We found ourselves packed in with tourists who chattered away about how much they LOOOVED Italy. Everything seems surreally cheery and bright. It didn’t seem like the same world where a shadow cult tried to kill me yesterday and that there were malevolent beings that were one ritual away from awakening.

It turned out, Michelangelo did a very convincing New Jersey accent and he immediately made friends with the couple sitting across from us, Tony and Angie Mancuso. A vigorous discussion about the differences between Italian food and Italian-American started, with everyone agreeing that you got better stuff in East Brunswick than here.

(As a chef and a native Italian, I know that Michelangelo could not believe anything that he said, but his dedication to what we were here to do could not be questioned.)

We soon arrived at the temple of Neptune. The tour guide hustled off the bus with practiced ease and told us about how this was one of the only subterranean temples left in existence and how lucky we all were to have the opportunity to visit it.

Standing before the broad steps leading down was a large statue of the Sea God. His carved visage glowered at us and felt to me as if he disapproved of unbelievers traipsing about his holy ground. Or maybe something else was angering him…

We were led down the steps to the temple itself. It was lit with slits carved in the ceiling, braziers, and torches that were emitting light from flickering LEDs. I must admit it was effectively moody, without the hazard of smoke. The guide pointed out the frescos which depicted stories of Neptune.

Roman mythology, which to my mind was Greek mythology with different names, was full of violence, incest, revenge, eating children, torture, infidelity, petty revenge, and other such laudable behavior. The stories painted on the walls reflected this motif, and as I listened to the tour guide, it almost seemed quaint.

As a looked more closely at the frescos, I saw something else. The people depicted didn’t seem joyous or even worshipful. Terror lived in their eyes. It was as if they were trapped by something that lacked even the flawed humanity of those old Roman gods. There were subtle patterns on the edges of the frescos that reminded me of the stone my father had sent to me. I felt the same vertigo I felt two nights before this time laced with a growing fear.

I pushed down my unease and continued on the tour. We traipsed through several rooms as the tour guide dispensed facts and tidbits but I can’t recall anything he said now. Finally, we arrived at a large, rectangular room lined with columns with an altar at the far end. A large, dark pool dominated the middle. I could smell the briny scent of seawater.

This is the most important part of the temple of Neptune,” intoned the tour guide, “it was here that sacred rituals were performed. Some scholars believe that unbelievers were sacrificed to a sea monster, that lurked in the depths below.”

Just then, something moved in the water the tourists all jumped, and a few screamed. Michelangelo pulled me into a side passage and clasped his hand over my mouth to prevent me from making any noise.

Anyone want to take a swim?”, we heard the tour guide say which was followed by laughter.

We took out small flashlights, courtesy of Enzo, and made our way down a set of winding stairs. The steps were covered with more of those vertigo-inducing patterns so I kept my eyes forward. Soon, we came to the bottom and into a large room. Looking up I saw a faint, watery light. It seemed to be under the alter room we had just left. The ceiling was made of what I assumed was thick, greenish glass.

The effect was spooky, which was perhaps the mildest way to describe it. Michelangelo pulled the map of the complex out of my backpack. After a quick consult, we headed towards the far end of the room where we entered a doorway. The walls were damp. In fact, everything we had encountered as we descended had a moist, clammy feel to it.

The corridor was narrow and we could only walk single file, after about ten minutes, Michelangelo suddenly disappeared. I called for him but my voice seemed to get lost in the darkness.

I did not want to go forward. Every instinct I had was to flee back the way we came, get on the tour bus, and go home and forget any of this had happened. I stood for what could have been five seconds or an hour, time had lost all meaning there.

While I had thought there was nothing of my father in me, a fact I took pride in, something made me go forward into that utter darkness. Then I was falling. No, not falling, it was like being on a water slide but without seeing the bottom or anything else. I may have screamed. I can’t recall, it was terrifying.

Then I found myself sliding along a stone floor and as inertia took over, I stopped. I was in total darkness and had no idea of where I was but I was alive.

Standing up, I became aware of a faint light. Like dawn, but without the warmth that morning brings. As it grew stronger, I could see that it was coming from below. A maze pattern of illumination was growing and I saw that I was on a wide stone walkway in the largest room I had ever seen. I had been in Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad but that seemed like a studio apartment in comparison. The idea that this was built in the distant past made my head spin. To be fair, my head was already in motion.


Ahead of me was Michelangelo who beckoned me to follow him. We walked along that maze till we arrived at a dodecagon-shaped area. It was engraved with Aramaic characters. In the center, there was an empty space, the size of the stone I carried in my NY Jets backpack.

Michelangelo produced candles from his fanny pack and placed them precisely around the gap. While he did this, I looked over the edge at the growing light below. It was a sulfurous yellow, and there seemed to be things undulating in the light. I moved back and shut my eyes but the movement lingered in my eyes for a moment.

Michelangelo gestured to me to join him. He handed me a bell and instructed me to ring it every time he snuffed out a candle. We began the ritual. Michelangelo chanted in what I assumed was Aramaic, put out the first of the candles, and I rang the bell. It sounded much louder than I would’ve thought in a room of this size. We repeated this at each of the twelve candles and each ring continued to reverberate.

Just as we were about to complete the ritual, a sharp crack was heard and a blossom of bright red appeared on Michelangelo’s shoulder. He blinked and looked past me. I turned and saw our ‘friends’ from the tour bus, Tony and Angie Mancuso. Angie held the gun.

Do I need to say stop?” asked Tony.

I so wanna shoot these assholes,” said Angie with an unsettling grin.

Hold on babe, you know we have orders.”

Michelangelo sank to his knees, blood running down his arm. I moved to help but a bullet ricocheted off the stone in front of me.

Hold on there Georgie boy,” said Tony, “We have an offer for you.”

I say we kill them both and take their stuff,” said Angie with a manic look in her eyes.

Tony sighed.

Now that’s up to Georgie boy, ain’t it?”

What do you want?” I asked.

First, the seal. That’s non-negotiable,” he said “Then yer old man’s notes, and if you join up, we’ll even let your friend here live.”

I still wanna kill’em both,” said Angie.

Cool yer jets babe!”

They looked at each other in a way that felt like sex or violence was about to erupt. Everything that had happened to me over the last day and a half was surreal, but these two were so mundane, they seemed the weirdest of all.

Why are you doing this,” I asked, “If this isn’t sealed, terrible things are going to happen.”

Terrible things are happening every day pal,” pointed out Tony, “In case you haven’t been keepin’ with da news. When our Lady wakes up, a lot of folks are going to die. But most of them are garbage.”

F’en garbage!” shouted Angie.

I’m wit you babe, I’m wit you,” reassured Tony.

Why not just kill us then?” I asked, and immediately regretted the question.

Angie grinned.

You ain’t stupid. Yer old man had to be training you since you were a kid. You got valuable info in dat noggen of yers. The people we work wit, they prefer if you’d join up.”

This was not true but I wasn’t going to give Angie another reason to start shooting.

I can’t believe you think millions of innocent people should die.”

Billions of people. And yeah, the world will be better off wit dem gone.”

Looking at Tony’s face, I saw that he was a true believer. He seemed calm and even rational. Except for what he was saying. What else could I do?

Okay. I’ll join you. Just let me help my friend,” I said.


Babe, this is a good thing,” Tony said to his wife.

They began to bicker and I moved to help Michelangelo. I took off my tee shirt and was about to bind his wound when he leaned into me and whispered, “Sanguis amici.”

It was the last part of the ritual, one of the only parts not written in Aramaic. I dipped my fingers in his blood and smeared it over the seal. The echoing bell ringing intensified and the yellow light grew brighter.

Tony lunged at the seal and tried to pry it out, but the blood had been absorbed by the stone. Angie shrieked and began firing her gun. I was grazed by one bullet, which I barely felt. There was one other victim. Tony was shot in the back and he collapsed on top of the seal.

Angie howled and ran to her husband’s side. Tony was sinking into the floor. Angie did her best to pull him back but as she did, she also found herself drawn downwards. Her screams of anguish and fury were almost louder than those bells. Almost. When both of them were consumed by stone, the light exploded, then bells rang so loud that it felt like the world could hear them. Then darkness.

George, wake up my friend.”

I opened my eyes and looked up and Michelangelo. He had held up my tee shirt to his wound with one hand.

Time to leave.”

I sat up and saw that light had changed from a sickly yellow to a bright green. As I expected, there was no sign of the Mancusos. Thanks to my father’s notes, we were able to slowly make our way to the surface. Once there, we called Enzo who showed up with a first aid kit and a knowledge of how to treat bullet wounds.

Later that day, we arrived at Michelangelo’s sister’s house for that long overdue meal of her risotto ai frutti di mare. She scolded him for being late and for getting shot again. (Again?) But she let us sit outside and watch the Mediterranean while we drank wine and ate olives.

After a long stretch of companionable silence, I asked, “Is that it? It is over?”

Michelangelo spit out an olive pit and shook his head.

I was hoping it was.”

My friend, there will always be storms. Not every day, but they will come.”

How do you live, knowing all this stuff?” I asked.

Terrible things should not prevent you from enjoying wonderful things.”

I suppose not,” I replied.

Excellent!” he said and held up his glass to toast, “To finding joy!”

We clinked glasses and looked each other in the eye. The meal that night was amazing. I wondered aloud if I should continue to write my book. Both Michelangelo and his sister, whose name was Micola, told me that they would never feed me again if I stopped.

Food is life!” declared Micola.

Michelangelo agreed and that was that.

I did finish that book. It did moderately well, which afforded me more opportunities to travel and try all the wonderful foods the world has to offer. Then there’s the family business, which is… challenging. But Michelangelo and Micola were right. Food is life.

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Inheritance-Part Three

My father’s letter, continued:

I do realize this sounds insane but the truth often does. There are things beyond human understanding that exist. Are they gods? That is the subject of debate amongst scholars. At the end of the day, what they are is less important than what they will do if freed. Humans are to them as microbes are to us. Sometimes useful but not given much thought or compassion.

The real threat is those who serve them. Misguided people who are looking for purpose or direction. They seek to unleash these terrors in the world, unmindful of the cost to the rest of humanity.

You might be thinking, ‘Why would anyone do something so monstrous?’

(I was thinking that exact thing.)

It does seem counterintuitive, even perversely so, but think about history. Terrible things have been done by those who thought they were doing the right thing. It goes on daily, even without extra-dimensional influence. These groups, yes there are many, feel that humans have had their chance and now we must pay the price, or maybe need to be redeemed. They fight amongst each other as well as against us.

Despite all of humanity’s failings, and the list grows longer daily, it’s not a solution.

I’m so sorry to drop this on you like this. This was not the legacy I wanted to pass along, but time and circumstance have forced my hand. As I wrote at the beginning of this letter, I’ve not been a good father to you, and putting you in this situation is further evidence of this. I’m sorry I had to do so. For whatever that’s worth.

Even if I didn’t send you this package, you would still be in danger, better to be aware. If it is any consolation, you are intelligent and adapt quickly, two qualities that will serve you well in what is to come.

You can trust Michelangelo, he is your friend and will help you with anything you need. Please forgive him for keeping all this a secret, he did so at my request. Maybe I was wrong to keep this part of my life from you, it was inevitable that you would be drawn into this. I should’ve told you earlier, prepared you for what was coming.

You had your own passions and they seemed to make you happy, and I didn’t have the heart to take that from you. Not sure it matters in the end.

I wish you could walk away from this but even if you gave everything to Michelangelo, eventually it will catch up with you. Hell of an inheritance. I don’t have much time left, but this new path will save so many lives, so all I can do is wish you luck. You have my notebook and the help of people all over the world. What we do makes a difference, even though almost no one will ever know. Which is, I suppose, the whole point.


Nicholas Kaplan

I sat and reread the letter. The strangest part, other than the fact that my father was some sort of supernatural spy, was that he signed the letter, Love. For the life of me, I could not recall him ever saying he loved me. He told me when he was proud, or showed his disappointment with a devastating shake of his head, but love and Nicholas Kaplan seemed to be strangers.

The sound of a car approached and I stood up in a cold sweat. We were trapped.

It’s my cousin,” said Michelangelo as he looked out.

We opened the gate and a battered but bright yellow Fiat pulled up. Out came Enzo, my driver from the night before, and a young woman with bright blue and pink hair, dressed in jeans, a faded David Hasselhoff concert tee shirt, and a leather jacket. Michelangelo spoke to both of them in rapid-fire Italian. Enzo ran into the ruined church and brought out a crate of wine and a cooler.

Michelangelo tossed the keys to his Lancia to the girl, who caught them without looking. She jumped into the car and sped off. We got into the Fiat and were driven in the opposite direction. Enzo looked in the mirror at me and said, “Good to see you again chief! We take good care of you.”

Did you send him last night?” I asked Michelangelo.

I had people looking after you,” he said with a shrug, “You had quite a lot to drink. Easy to lose your way.”

I feel pretty lost right now,” I replied.

I am here to guide you like your father guided me. You will be fine.”

My friend’s confidence did not make me feel any better. The last day and a half seemed like a dream when everyone knows what’s really going on but you. To pass the time, I read from my father’s notebook. It was filled with detailed notes about ruins, cults, and what I could only call arcane knowledge. I wondered if I would’ve believed my father if he had told me all this before.

We’re here,” said Michelangelo.

I looked up and saw we were at a small house somewhere in the hills, and it was late afternoon. Time flies when your whole world gets turned upside down. We brought in the cooler and wine and Michelangelo started a fire in the hearth. Enzo and I became sous chefs and did prep work for dinner. Cutting vegetables and peeling shrimp became like a meditation or at least a distraction.

We spoke only about the food and soon we were eating. It was a mix of sauteed vegetables, shrimp, and angel hair pasta, seasoned with herbs and topped with fresh scallions. It was delicious and the wine paired with it perfectly.

I asked my friend what it was called and he said, “It has no name, it’s just what we had to cook with. Such is life, we make do with what we have.”

He then poured me another glass of that excellent wine and we ate more. After dinner, Enzo went outside to smoke but I saw a glance between him and Michelangelo and it felt more like he was on lookout duty.

Your father left instructions.”

This was not a question. I took out the sealed envelope from inside the letter and opened it. It held two maps, one of the area and one for what looked like a building. There were also details on where to go and place the seal, along with something to be read aloud when placing it. A prayer or incantation? It was unclear. Fortunately, there was phonetic transcription. Michelangelo said the original was in Aramaic.

What do we do? Do we need guns?” I asked.

Michelangelo laughed.

Very American! No, no guns.”

It looks like they have a lot of guns,” I pointed out.

Any idiot can shoot a gun. What we have is better,” he said tapping his head, “Knowledge.”

Maybe you do, I’ve got no idea of what’s going on.”

You will learn.”

I began to unwrap the seal but he put his hand over mine and shook his head.

Gazing at these sorts of things are perilous my friend. Keep it hidden till we need it.”

I looked at it last night,” I said, panic rising.

Did you vomit afterward?”

I did.”

He relaxed and smiled, “Then all is well.”

I don’t understand.”

There will be time for that later,” he said with a confidence I did not share.

He pointed at the map and said “This is an old temple to Neptune. Well, that’s what they tell the tourists. It’s far older than that. All we need to do is take the tour, slip away, and place the seal. Simple.”

It was not.

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Inheritance-Part Two

We sped across the bridge at what can only be described as desperate velocity. The Romans who built this made it to last but not to be traversed at nearly ninety miles an hour in a sports car. It felt as though the world’s strongest person was trying to shake me to death. I looked over at Michelangelo who was grinning ear to ear as bullets ricocheted far too close for my comfort. 

Once on the other side, we continued up the coast until we hit a fork in the road and up into the hills. The three cars, all black SUVs, followed us and shot at us when the winding road allowed line of sight. We came to a small town but Michelangelo did not slow down. 

Driving etiquette in Italy, as far as I could tell, was based on how aggressive you were willing to be. We didn’t crash through any produce carts while careening through those winding and narrow streets, but it was close. A fair number of people shouted at us and made rude but wholly justified gestures as we sped along. 

Our pursuers did stop shooting while we were in that town but did not relent in their chase. If I sound calm, remember that I am writing this afterwards. In the moment, it was akin to being on a roller-coaster where you had to duck to avoid erratic bursts of gunfire. In retrospect, I’m unsure of how I did not either pass out or vomit.

As we hit the town square, Michelangelo said, “Hold on,” and made a very sharp left turn onto one of the narrowest streets I had ever seen. The Lancia was able to speed down but the distance between us and buildings on either side was more of a suggestion of space. 

From behind I heard a loud crash and turned to see one of our pursuers attempt to follow us only to get stuck between buildings. As we zoomed away, Michelangelo laughed and said, “Local knowledge. Very important.”

I couldn’t argue with that.

Soon we had left the town and were driving through the countryside on dirt roads. After a while, we spotted a crumbling steeple off to the right. We took an even smaller road, more of a trail really, and before us was an abandoned church. It looked Renaissance-ish. I am no historian but that was what it looked like to my eyes. 

There were no doors in the entrance and Michelangelo drove right into it. Parts of the roof had collapsed, and sunlight streamed in. Much of the walls and the altar had been covered in plant life including wildflowers. 

I’m an agnostic and have been since adolescence. Yet, the sight of this old, derelict place, with the flowers and bright sunlight made it seem, well… Holy. Maybe sanctified? 

My friend, we need to close the gates. Right now!” insisted Michelangelo, interrupting my reverie. 

There was a split, wrought-iron gate on either side of the entrance, entwined with vegetation and we each pushed them closed. This obscured us from casual view but it felt as though it was not enough. I was about to point this out when my friend/chef/getaway driver put his right hand on some exposed stone wall and muttered softly. It sounded a little like a prayer but I couldn’t make out any words. As he finished, I swear I could hear the far-off ringing of bells, even though the partially collapsed bell tower in this church was empty.

Michelangelo held up a finger to his mouth, then pointed to an old stone pew. We sat in silence, though I had more than a few questions. About fifteen minutes later, the sound of SUVs could be heard approaching. It stopped but then we heard the clunk of doors opening and footsteps. 

I could see men through the vine-covered gates, dressed in black, carrying what looked like military-grade weapons. I looked at Michelangelo who put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed it. It calmed me though I couldn’t say why.

The gunmen tried to open the gate and it creaked but didn’t move. After some brief talk, they got back into their vehicles and drove off.

Once all we could hear was the sigh of the wind and faint bird song, my friend finally spoke, “I would like some wine?”

I have so many questions,” I said.

Wine first, questions after.”

He opened the boot of his car, took out a bottle of white wine, and opened it. We didn’t have proper wine glasses but he took two small glasses out of the glovebox and poured us some wine. We looked into each other’s eyes (to avoid bad luck)as we clinked glasses and drank. 

Now,” I said, “what’s going on?”

I take it that you’ve received your inheritance from your father,” stated Michelangelo.

My heart raced as I now realized I had left my bag, with my father’s things, in the car.

How do you know! Why are people trying to kill us!” I shouted, gripping the small glass.

I know the timing is terrible, but like being pushed into the water, we must now learn to swim.”

What the hell are you talking about?”

One more glass, then I will tell you.”

It was so absurd I did not protest. We drank once more, the wine was excellent, even warm, and we sat again.

I must confess a lie of omission. I knew your father, not well I admit, and I regret not telling you.”

How did you know him? Why did you know him?”

We are part of a group that prevents bad things from happening.”

My father was a… spy?” 

Michelangelo laughed.

No, no, no! We do not work for any government!”

Is this some sort of elaborate scam?” I asked.

Did not your father write you a letter?”

Again, how could you know that?!” I sputtered.

George, we have known each other for years. If had ever had ill intent to you, there are easier ways to do such things. No?”

I paused. He was right. This was all too elaborate to be theater. Although it did feel as though I was suddenly in a big-budget, Hollywood movie.

You’re probably right,” I conceded, “So what is all this about?”

Since our adversaries were aggressively searching for you, I’m going to guess that you have your father’s package with you.”


Because,” he interjected, “if you had left it in your hotel room, they would already have it and we would be on our way to an unforgettable meal.”

What am I supposed to do now?” I asked, still feeling lost.

I am going to call my cousin to pick us up in his taxi, and you will read your father’s letter. It will explain things better than I can.”

Michelangelo took out a smartphone and made a call, speaking Italian much faster than I could follow. I went to the Lancia, sat down, and retrieved the letter from my bag. I stared at it for a moment before opening it. Inside were papers, as I expected, and also another, smaller envelope, on which was written, ‘If You Leap.’

The letter began like this,


I’ve not been a good father to you, and for that, I apologize. It’s a day late and a dollar short, but please know the life I lived insured the safety of you, your mother, and countless others. Knowing what I know, it was the only choice I could make. Clearly, I am not in finance.

The carving I enclosed is part of a lock, or more accurately, a seal. If it is not returned to its proper place, death itself will be denied.

And it just got weirder from there.

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Inheritance-Part One

I was working on the Amalfi Coast when I learned that my father had died. This news came in the form of an email from his attorney, C.R. Higgins, informing me that the reading of the will would be in one week’s time and enquiring if I would be present. I replied that I would be unable to, due to prior commitments.

Now I know that this sounds heartless, but my father and I had not ever been close and when we lost my mother, our contact diminished even more. The times when I found myself in the Boston area, we’d meet for dinner, where we would make polite but unintrusive small talk and go our separate ways until the next time I was nearby.

My childhood memories of him were vague. He often traveled for business. My father was in finance and his work took him away from my mother and me for seemingly endless stretches of time. My mother never spoke ill of him and expressed no resentment of his absence, though I know it must have been difficult. 

She would often say, “Your father is doing this for all of us.” We never wanted for anything, except for his presence. He was like some sort of landmark, rarely seen but you knew he was there, even if he was not here. The idea that he was dead was like being told that Grand Canyon had suddenly filled up. It seemed surreal.

I was in Italy interviewing chefs for a book I was writing when I got the news. When I told Michelangelo, a chef I had known for a number of years and who would be featured in my new book, that I had just learned of my father’s death, I was immediately embraced and glasses of Limoncello appeared to toast his memory. Michelangelo told me that of course, we could postpone work, out of respect for my loss. I explained that my father was a great lover of food and in honor of his memory, I’d like to continue. He agreed and he then made us an excellent meal. We sat, ate, drank, and talked food. He would ask me about what sort of food my father liked, a subject I knew more about than anything else about him. Eventually, it got late and I thanked him for his time and the excellent meal. Michelangelo insisted that he would take me out to his sister’s home where she would make us a risotto ai frutti di mare, their Nona’s recipe that has never been written down and only exists in their minds. 

He wanted to drive me home but since we both had many, many drinks, I thanked him and said I was looking forward to tomorrow’s meal and began to walk back to my hotel. 

It had been a warm day and the night was close. As I slowly ambled back to my hotel, I began to get the feeling that I was being followed. As a tourist, I knew I might be a target for thieves late at night, and being drunk didn’t help matters. I ducked into a taverna, ordered a glass of wine, and asked if there was a way to get a taxi.

The bartender nodded and called to the back of the room. A young man ran up and asked me where I wanted to go. I gave him the name of my hotel. He gave me a thumbs-up and said, “Okay chief! Come with me, I take you there right now!” 

I paid for my wine, which I did not drink, not wanting to have a bigger hangover the next day. The taxi was a small battered Fiat, with a bright yellow paint job. My driver, whose name was Enzo, got me to my hotel in one piece, though in what was a circuitous route that ensured we passed many excellent businesses that were owned by an endless list of his cousins. As I got out, he handed me a card that read,




I thanked him and paid my fare. He sped off into the night and that sensation of being watched returned. Looking over my shoulder, I saw no one but I entered a bit quicker than I might have otherwise. 

As I crossed the lobby, the concierge at the front desk called to me.

Good evening Mister Kaplan, a package arrived for you and I was instructed to give it to you as soon you returned.”

He produced a FedEx box, about the size of a small stereo speaker. The return address was that of C.R. Higgins, my father’s lawyer. I took the box and thanked the concierge and went back to my room where I placed the package on the desk and then took a shower. 

Once I felt clean and had downed several large glasses of water, my eyes fell on the box. A big part of me didn’t want to open it. Doing so meant that my father was dead. Not rational but there you go. I tried to sleep but I found myself staring at the package. Fine.

Opening I found two things, an envelope addressed to me and another parcel, wrapped in brown paper and tied up with string, like in the song. The letter read thusly,

Mr. Kaplan,

My deepest regrets on the passing of your father. I had the honor of being your father’s friend and confidant for many, many years and am greatly saddened by his passing, though the loss for you must be infinitely deeper. In accordance with his wishes, I have sent the enclosed package. I encourage you to open it at your earliest convenience and follow the instructions therein. 

If you have any questions please feel free to call me at the number below at any time of the day or night. I am, as I was for your father, at your disposal. 

Your servant,

Charles R. Higgins, Esq.

This only added to the surreal nature of the day. My father had always been somewhat mysterious, never speaking of his work to me. When I was old enough, I looked into what was involved in finance and was immediately bored. What my father did for a living was both byzantine and lacked anything of interest, at least to me.

As far as my memory of my father goes, he was never given to flights of whimsy or even imagination. He seemed to be only concerned with facts. Reading the paper or watching the nightly news. I’m not sure he ever went to the theater or even the movies. This sort of bequeathment seemed out of character for him. Later, I would realize that I never really knew my father.

Tired and still a little drunk, I opened the brown paper parcel. Inside were two things. First was a worn leather notebook almost completely filled with neat, handwritten notes and detailed sketches of patterns and what looked like ancient ruins. A sealed, envelope fell out. My name was written on the front in the same neat handwriting that was unmistakably my father’s. By the weight of it, it was a lengthy letter, which I did not have the focus to dive into, so I slipped it back into the notebook.

The second item was wrapped in a soft thick cloth. I carefully unfolded it, revealing a stone tablet. It was inscribed with some language, though not one I recognized, and with a pattern that seemed to fall into itself. Clearly, I was still drunk, and I wrapped it up again quickly. 

After rushing to the bathroom to vomit, I rinsed my mouth out several times, gargled, brushed my teeth, and rinsed once more. I stumbled into bed and fell into a fitful sleep.

I woke up the next morning, the sun streaming into my hotel room. My hangover was not as bad as I expected and after a shower and a cup of strong cappuccino, I felt more or less human again. 

As I gathered my things for my trip to Michelangelo’s sister’s house, the very odd inheritance sat on the desk. I didn’t have the time to give them the attention that they probably needed and I almost put them in the hotel safe. For reasons I couldn’t articulate, I put them into my satchel with my notebooks and laptop.

Michelangelo arrived about a half hour late, which was expected. He ran on his own internal schedule. His skill as a chef balanced out this quirk, and everyone, including me, forgave him. He pulled up in a vintage bright orange Lancia convertible. I got in and he took off.

We zoomed through the narrow streets and then up the coast. Michelangelo handed me a bag filled with fresh cornettos.

After we drown our sorrow, the next day we eat bread. Bread is life, my friend! So, eat. Eat!”

These were excellent rolls, crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside, and still warm. As I ate them, I began to feel better. 

With the Mediterranean on our left and small houses and Roman ruins on the left, Michelangelo told me stories about them.

See that wall? It used to be a villa that Caesar Augustus had made for his mistress. His wife had it torn down but that did not stop him.”

That vineyard makes excellent wine, I have a case of it in the trunk for our meal tonight, and also to give to my sister, who loves it. She will drink us both under the table. Ha!”

When I was a young man, I was in love with the most beautiful girl who lived in the village we now drive through. She made love like it was her last day on Earth. Sadly, she did not care about food. I cannot love a woman who does not also love food. It was a shame, but it was for the best. We would’ve made each other monstrously unhappy.”

I can’t speak to the truth of these stories, but they were entertaining and they made me forget the oddity of the previous night. As we drove on, the feeling that we were being followed returned. Even though it was a bright and sunny day, I found myself shivering. Looking over my shoulder, I saw three cars speeding towards us. 

Michelangelo, do you see-”

Michelangelo interrupted me and asked, “My friend, do you trust me?”

Yes,” I said, though I had little choice in the matter.

Wonderful. I will remind you of that later.”

With that, the bullets began to fly and the Lancia leapt forward towards an extremely narrow stone bridge. 

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The Quiet Part Loud

The Congressman sat uncomfortably in the padded armchair. It had looked very squashy and soft, but it felt as though it had dense lumps and sharp edges hidden under the upholstery. He was anxious enough as it was, being summoned for a face-to-face usually wasn’t a sign of good things to come.

He squirmed and tried (unsuccessfully) to get comfortable as a bookcase swung open and red smoke poured out and his Infernal Handler, Lady Karen, strode out. Her name was properly Kasdeya, but she preferred to be called Lady Karen.

Except for her bright red skin, delicately curved horns, and tail, she appeared to be a very attractive professional woman. The Congressman always found himself aroused in her presence. A dangerous position to be in, given well, everything. But even thinking about his old grandma didn’t seem to reduce things. Which was a whole other matter.

He stood, holding his binder over his groin, and said, “Lady Karen, it’s an absolute pleasure to see you today. Is that a new haircut? I really think it compliments your horns!”

Congressman, you’ll make me blush! Have a seat please,” said Lady Karen with a whisky voice.

He did so reluctantly, the chair was still unpleasant to sit on.

Would you like anything to drink?” asked the demon, “Coffee, tea, water, blood smoothie?”

A figure comprised of razor-sharp bones appeared next to the Congressman. He had met Brutus many times in the past but he always made him jump. Recovering, he said, “Nothing for me, but thank you for your generous hospitality.”

Brutus, bring me a blood smoothie, AB negative,” said Lady Karen as she tapped on her glossy black tablet.

So what can I do for you today, my lady,” said the Congressman with what he thought was charm as he knelt and kissed her crimson Manolo Blahniks.

She looked down at him with red irises, rimmed with gold.

Congressman, let me start by telling you your EQ is in the top ninety-nine percent.”

His skin, already a fish-belly white, was drained of even that color.

My, my, my… emotional quotient?” he stammered.

Lady Karen burst into laughter. It was crueler than any mean girl from high school.

No! Your Evil Quotient. Have a seat”

He sat and relaxed, as much as he could in that chair.

If your emotional quotient was that high we would be having a VERY different conversation.”

Of course.”

Glancing at her tablet, she read, “According to our data you score very highly in all the deadly sins, except for sloth but that’s not a problem, Hell needs active minions, not lazy ones.”

Of course! My every waking moment is dedicated to the cause of the Dark Prince! I would give my-”

There’s just one problem,” she interrupted him, “You and many of your colleagues lack nuance.”

Brutus then stepped out of a sulfurous cloud with a tray made from human bones on which sat a goblet that appeared to be made from a living insect.

Ugh! Brutus, finally!” snipped the demon as she took her drink.

The Congressman thought that Lady Karen was perhaps one of the least nuanced people he had ever met but was savvy enough to keep that opinion to himself.

With all due respect Lady Karen, I’m not quite sure what you mean. Folks are angry about things that don’t matter and are ready to kill over it. My own constituents are losing rights every day and I was still reelected. People are voting against their own self-interest! What else does Hell want?”

She sighed.

Listen, in theory, everything you’ve done is in Hell’s best interest.”

Thank you Lady Ka-”

In practice. The reality is quite different.”

The Congressman paused, “My lady, I don’t understand.”

That’s pretty fucking evident, maggot!”

Throwing himself at her feet, the Congressman began licking the rug. He knew he must do this until told otherwise. Carpeting in an Embassy of Hell tasted nasty. Very, very nasty. Of course, regular carpet tastes pretty rank, unless that’s your very specific kink. No judgments.

After either a minute or an hour, she told him to stop. He got back into his chair, which still was awful.

You said the quiet part loud,” she told him.

Bowing his head, he said with a dry mouth, “I’m tho, tho, thorry my lady, but I don’t rightly take your meaning.”

When you say or do something evil you can’t just blurt it out. You’re showing what cards you have before the hand is over.”

But all the dissent is causing a lot of sin-”

Very true, but these are just short-term gains.”

I must again apologize, I don’t see the problem.”

Lady Karen flung a coin at his face which hurt more than he expected.

Here’s a dime, call the college you went to ask for your money back,” she hissed.

Why are you gifting me ten cents?” he asked confusedly.

To pay for the phone call!”

I abjectly beg your pardon Lady Karen, but there are no more payphones to speak of, and they haven’t cost a dime in many years.”

Because saying I’ll Venmo some money to make a call doesn’t have the same visceral quality!” the demon shouted.

A graceless silence filled the room. Lady Karen pinched the bridge of her nose and made a frustrated noise.

You and all the other fuckwits holding public office have rallied the enemies of Hell. They are organizing, and they are winning. This country was founded on a rejection of tyranny. Read a book. Remember the mid-terms? We project, if you continue on the way you have, Hell will lose millions of souls. If that happens, we’ll have no choice but to revisit our arrangement. In the interest of transparency, you will not enjoy that. Am I making myself clear?”

Yes Lady Karen,” he whispered.

And do something about climate change.”

Make it worse?”

No! We can’t harvest souls if everyone is fucking dead. You also need to keep the corporations happy too.”

How do you want me to do that?” he asked, a little incredulously.

That sounds like a you problem,” stated Lady Karen.

Of course, I won’t disappoint you, my lady,” he said bowing his head.

Do you have any other questions?” she asked in a tone that suggested further queries would be unwelcome.

No, my lady.”

Then scuttle off, I have a full afternoon of meetings with evangelicals,” she said as she looked at her tablet.

The Congressman knelt, crawled over to kiss her stiletto pumps once more, and backed out of the room. On his knees.

As he rode back to his offices he pondered how he could do his evil without being obvious about it. It was, in the words of his dear old dad, a real noggin scratcher. He was not a subtle man, and that’s why those who voted for him loved him. They reveled in his cruelty. It was the whole point of it. The more he thought about the situation, it became clear what he had to do. It was the only way to go, he was sure of it.

It was time to double down.

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When he joined the line, George had hope. He had downloaded all the proper documents and had filled them in correctly. In his bag, was a travel mug full of hot coffee, a bottle of water, and several energy bars (just in case). His phone was at 99%, and he had a bunch of podcasts loaded. Even if he did have to wait, he was prepared.

The line encircled the Bureau of Processing but it moved at a slow, but steady pace. By the time the first podcast was over, George found himself in the lobby. Standing behind a plexiglass partition was a tired-looking official directing people to large banks of elevators.

A through M to the right, N through Z to the left,” the official said in a monotone.

George, whose last name was Harris, went to the left, was the last one on a packed elevator, pressed 23, and the door slid shut. Other people got off on other floors, there was a bit of a dance when that happened, but soon he found himself on Floor 23.

Checking his notes, George went to Room 23-15. There he stood on yet another line. Spirits still high, he took a nibble of an energy bar and checked his forms, which were safely ensconced in a manilla folder marked, ‘Forms.’ He felt totally prepared.

After a podcast and a half, he arrived at the front of the line and was directed to window number 11. He presented his neatly filled-out forms to the Clerk with a fair bit of pride. As soon as the Clerk glanced at them, she said, “These forms are no longer valid. Go to room 37-89 and fill out form 44-A-2.”

But I downloaded these last night!” protested George.

They are no longer valid as of today,” replied the Clerk.

Don’t you have to let people know if you’ve changed things?”

I just did.”

But that-” began George.

Room 37-89, form 44-A-2. NEXT!”

Annoyed, but still determined, George went to room 37-89. It involved going back into the lobby, getting on another line, and pushing onto another overcrowded elevator.

Room 37-89 was filled with the sort of desk chair they have in elementary school, sized slightly larger than the kind he remembered. Slightly. After looking for form 44-A-2, he finally found it.

Sitting down on one of those uncomfortable desk chairs, George began to fill out form 44-A-2. The only difference between the one he had downloaded and this one seemed to be the font, and that wasn’t immediately apparent. He lost some of his good humor when he realized this but pressed on.

After finishing and returning to room 23-15, which involved several lines and having to ride past his floor (because certain people wouldn’t move to let him out), he finally got back to the Clerk. Later, he wondered if it was the same Clerk, they all took on an eerie similarity as the day went on.

This time the Clerk stamped his form. George smiled and a huge weight was lifted from his shoulders until she said, “Bring this to Room 74-57 for counter stamping.”

Why can’t someone here counter-stamp it?” he asked rather pointedly.


What does that even mean?”

It’s for your protection sir.” droned the Clerk, “NEXT!”

Furious, George stamped off to find Room 74-57. Getting there was even more labyrinthine than before. But he was not going to give up. He waited in lines, showed his forms, and rode several increasingly packed elevators but he finally got there. Only to wait in another line. Just before he was about to speak to the Clerk, a buzzer went off. Over a speaker, these staticky words were heard, “Lunchtime has begun, all services are suspended for the next hour. All visitors please report to the guest cafeteria.”

With that, everyone was ushered down long hallways to the dreariest cafeteria George had ever seen. Rows upon rows of faded brown Formica tables. After standing in line (once more), he purchased a ham and cheese sandwich, apple, and coffee. They did not taste bad. However, that did not mean they tasted good. All of it had a particular blandness that suggested they were made by people who had seen pictures of food but never actually eaten it. George did not finish his meal.

At the end of lunchtime, everyone got up, bussed their trays, and returned to their lines. George hoped that he was close to finished. He was not. Here were some of the things said to him.

We need three forms of ID.”

Please fill this out again, you used black ink and it should be blue ink.”

Your name is in not the system.”

We need that faxed to this number.”

We don’t accept a check.”

You want Room 67-28 A. This is Room 67-28 B.”

Got to the O.T.B. Department for confirmation.”

We don’t accept credit or debit cards.”

Please refill this form in blue ink, black ink is not acceptable.”

Do you have proof of citizenship?”

The O.T.B. Department has now relocated to Room 91-56 Y.”

Please sign in at the door.”

We don’t accept cash.”

After these and other maddeningly contradictory demands, he found himself wandering through the labyrinth that was the Bureau of Processing. George wasn’t sure what floor he was on, or frankly what he was doing anymore. He turned a corner and saw an empty wooden bench. With a weary sigh, he sat. Going through his messenger bag, now full of forms, he found his travel mug of coffee down to the dregs, the water bottle empty, and the last energy bar crushed at the bottom. He looked at his phone, it was at 11% and falling.

After this interminable day, all he wanted was to go home. But he hadn’t accomplished what he set out to do and the prospect of coming back filled him with existential dread. With resignation, he stood up to renew this seemingly pointless quest when he heard the sound of a squeaky door.

At the end of the corridor, was a door with a sign that read, CENTRAL FILING STAY OUT. With curiosity and a hearty dash of contrariness, George went to the door and opened it. Behind was a narrow passageway that might be more at home in the bowels of a steamship than a large municipal building, full of pipes, valves, and dials. There was a light ahead and he walked to it.

He walked into a huge, circular chamber, lined with openings that poured out multicolored sparkles? That didn’t quite do them justice. It was without a doubt, the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. All this light tumbled into a deep hole in the floor.

Quite a sight, eh?” said someone.

George spun about and saw an old man in a grey jumpsuit looking at him.

I’m sorry! I probably shouldn’t be here,” George said quickly.

Not really. But don’t fret, I won’t tell no one,” said the old man.

What are these lights? Where do they go? Why is this here?”

Welp, not entirely sure. Gus,” he tapped the patch on his chest that was embroidered with that name, “has been working here for quite a spell. But I still don’t rightly know.”

Didn’t you ever ask?”

Course I did. I was told that it was ‘need to know,’ and seemed that Gus weren’t on that list.”

Why are you telling me?” asked George.

Truth be told, I shouldn’t. Firing offense, as it was told to me. But today is my last day. Gold watch and everything.”

Gus produced a gold pocket watch and looked at it.

Now for me, it’s quitting time,” said Gus who took a card from a rack and put it into a clock card machine that stamped it with a click.

They both stood there for a beat.

Looks like the night shift fellah is late, but that’s not Gus’s problem no more. So I think I’ll go home to the missus,” he said taking his jacket off a hook on the wall and donning it. He was about to leave when he turned back to George.

Now, just so you understand, under no circumstances should you pull this here lever,” said Gus pointing to a rather large switch, over which were emblazoned the words DO NOT TOUCH!!! in bright red.

What does that do?” asked George who was already feeling overwhelmed.

Not a clue son. Might be all sorts of terrible. Or not. Whatever it is, it’s no longer Gus’s problem. You have yourself a nice evening.”

With that Gus strode out of the chamber. George stood for a while and watched the light spill downwards. Then his head slowly turned to the switch. He cracked his knuckles, loosened his shoulders, and defied bureaucracy.

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Brick by Brick

She carried a brick to the large clearing and placed it carefully. It was heavy and she could only carry one at a time. The pile of bricks was a long distance from the clearing so she could only place a few each day.

Her family asked her what she was doing and she would say, “Building something.”

It’ll take too long,” said her older brother.

There’s no way you can do it,” opined said her younger sister.

You’re wasting your time,” declared her mother.

Her father said nothing but regarded her with a look. She did not reply and simply returned to her tiny room to rest.

The next day she went to see the mason because she had some questions.

Can’t you see I’m busy?” he asked, “I don’t have time for silly questions!”

Undeterred, she went to the library and read for the rest of the day. Her family was relieved, thinking that the brick thing had passed.

I’m so happy you’re over that ridiculousness,” said her mother.

I told you it was too hard,” added her older brother.

Told you you couldn’t do it,” smirked her older sister.

As before, her father said nothing.

Bright and early the next morning, she set off to the pile of bricks, this time with a bucket and a heavy sack of cement. She stopped at a stream to fill the bucket with water. When she got to the clearing, she began to cement the bricks together. Mistakes were made. Some didn’t line up evenly and she had to break them and do them again. She would come home each day, tired and sweaty, much to her mother’s consternation and her sibling’s sniggering. As usual, her father said nothing.

When it rained, she stayed in her room, sketching in a worn old leather notebook. When the weather cleared, she returned to the clearing to continue her work. This continued through the spring into the summer.

One day, her father was sitting on a tree stump at the edge of the clearing. He was smoking his pipe and nodded to her when she arrived.

Are you here to stop me?” she asked.

No,” he replied.

Why are you here?”

He took a drag on his pipe, blew out a smoke ring, (something that always delighted her as a child), and said, “Curiosity.”

She shrugged and went back to her work. At midday, her father pulled a brown paper bundle out of his bag and asked her if she was hungry.

I don’t need any help,” she said.

Ah, but I do. I brought too much food. Will you help me eat it?”

I have lunch,” she replied, although it was a small rind of cheese and some old bread.

Maybe we could share?” suggested her father.

They sat in the shade and ate silently. The two sandwiches her father brought were very good and he also had some dark, sweet cherries. Her rind of cheese and day-old break went untouched. When they finished, she asked her father, “Is your curiosity satisfied?”

Wiping his mouth, he said, “Yes. I think so.”

Are you going to leave?”

If you don’t mind, I’d like to stay. It’s a beautiful day and I’m enjoying the weather.”

Are you going to help me?”

Do you want me to?”

She thought for a moment and then shook her head.

Very well, then,” said her father, “I’ll just sit a while if you don’t mind.”

No, I don’t mind.”

She worked till dusk approached. Her father sat on his stump and took out a book and began to read. When she was ready to leave, he stood and they walked home together.

He didn’t come by every day, he did have other things to do. Though after that day, she found a brown paper-wrapped lunch waiting for her in the morning on the kitchen table. Her mother stopped verbally fretting about her but she still caught her gazing at her worriedly.

Her siblings continued to treat her like an oddity, at least when their parents were about. Eventually, they stopped when it was clear she wasn’t going to engage with them.

Time passed and summer became fall. One morning, on her way to the clearing she heard the sound of someone chopping wood. She walked off the path and found a young woodsman with an ax about to fell a tree. With one last blow, it fell with a loud crash.

She started to back away when she stepped on a twig. With the sound, the young woodsman turned straight toward her, ax at hand. When he saw her, his face went from defensive to a big grin.

Hello there!” he shouted.

Hello,” she said with less enthusiasm.

He lowered his ax and said, “Sorry! You startled me.”

What are you doing?” she asked.

Me? I’m making something.”

She narrowed her eyes but he didn’t seem to be making fun of her.

What?” she asked.

I’ll show you if you like.”

While every story told to her as a child advised her not to go off into the woods with a stranger, she did just that. It might that he seemed trustworthy or perhaps it was her own contrary nature but she followed him.

A short distance away there was a partially built cottage. He had been cutting down trees and building it for a while he told her. He had an assortment of tools and he excitedly told her about them.

I’d love to put in a fireplace and stone floor, but I don’t know much about stonework.”

I have to go,” she said suddenly.

Oh, okay…”

As she left, he called to her, “Maybe I’ll see you around?”

She waved back in a manner that was neither yes nor no.

As the fall continued, she would see him every so often as she walked to the clearing. He always seemed friendly but never followed her. Her own thing was getting larger and she found it easier to carry and place the bricks.

One morning, a frost had begun and she knew winter was nearly here. Gathering old tarps, she covered what she’d done so far so the cold and damp wouldn’t ruin her work. On her way back she saw smoke coming from off the path, near where the young woodsman had started his cottage.

For reasons she couldn’t explain, she followed the smoke. She found the young woodsman sitting in front of his cottage, cooking a rabbit over a small fire pit. He smiled when he saw he and invited her to join him.

In the days that followed, she would visit him. She told herself that it was only because it was too cold to work on her thing. He showed her the inside of his cottage. It was surprisingly neat. Her brother was not nearly as tidy.

The young woodsman happily explained woodworking to her. How it was important to cut with the grain, the way to join to pieces without nails, and the uses for different kinds of wood. He had built a wood crafting shop off the back of the cottage and happily demonstrated his techniques.

However, he had little skill in stonework. Eventually, she showed him how to build a small fireplace and chimney, so he wouldn’t freeze. The winter passed and when spring arrived, they were friends.

Time passed and they taught each other what they knew of stone and wood. His cottage grew a study chimney and proper fireplace. Her house, for indeed that’s what it was, had sturdy wooden doors as well as floors.

One day, as she walked to her house, she found a large group of people gathered out front. Not like a mob (her first thought) but in…

appreciation? People were praising its skill and beauty. Her mother was holding court, speaking about how skilled her youngest daughter was and how it came from her side of the family. Her brother and sister were also speaking about how clever she was and how they had seen in her even when she was quite little. Even the town mason was singing her praises.

Rather than accept these accolades, she slipped back into the woods and visited the young woodsman. As soon as she stepped over his threshold she began to rant. How dare they praise her when all of them didn’t believe in her, to begin with! She grabbed his ax and swore to fell them like rotten trees.

Her father, who had been sitting with the young woodsman got up and gently took the ax out of her hands and asked, “Why are you so angry?”

What are you doing here?” she demanded.

Just having a cup of cider with your friend here,” replied her father calmly.

How do you know each other? Are you spying on me?”

I would be a very poor father if I knew nothing of my children’s friends.”

What’s the matter?” asked the young woodsman in hopes of changing the subject.

Have you not been listening? Not one of them believed in me! Now they all are suddenly delighted in what I’ve done?”

Her father cleared his throat and looked at the young woodsman.

Yes, you two believed in me,” she admitted.

So? You didn’t care what they thought when they mocked you. Why care now that they complement you?” inquired her father.

Because it’s hypocritical!”

Why did you build that house?” asked the young woodsman.

Because I wanted to. I saw it in every detail!”

Will what the townspeople think change your house?” her father asked.

No! Of course not!” she sputtered.

The young woodsman went to get her some cider. She sat and fumed. The cider was excellent.

If you want to hide here, you can,” offered the young woodsman.

She was tempted, but no. Time to face people.

Thanks for the cider. And listening.”

Happy to help.”

I think I’ll join you,” said her father, “if you don’t mind.”

I guess not.”

They thanked their host and made their way to her house. Just before they arrived she stopped and looked at her father.

It doesn’t seem fair. They mocked me for so long and now they all want to say nice things about me.”

Would you prefer they still made fun of you?”

I don’t know.”

You made that house because you wanted to. You saw something that no one else could see and you made it real. Nothing else matters. The world is filled with people who think that know better than others. Most of them are wrong.”

She thought for a moment and asked, “What should I do?”

Whatever feels right for you. Call out their sudden change of heart. Let them tell you how impressed they are. Walk past them without a word and hide inside your house. Or something else. It’s up to you.”

She hugged her father and quietly said, “Thank you.”

Always,” he replied.

All right. I know what to do,” she said and they walked towards the clearing.

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Bottle Episode

Nikki found the bottle when she was on vacation. It had washed up on the shore of the white sand beach in front of the bungalow that she and her now ex-boyfriend had rented as a romantic getaway. Their relationship was, in retrospect, on its last gasp. The trip was a mistake, all it did illuminate the lack of any spark between them, and the contents of the bottle didn’t help.

That was perhaps unfair. Anything was more interesting to her than Drew was at that point. They broke up the second night after they arrived. There was no shouting or crying, they both knew things were over. But Nikki’s preoccupation with the contents of the bottle irritated Drew. He offered to leave so someone might enjoy this tropical paradise. Drew did seem surprised that she took him up on his offer but left that night. She did not try to stop him.

Inside the dark green bottle, which clearly once held wine, was a rolled-up sheaf of papers. On these papers was a story, (The September Park) written in tiny but very neat letters. No author was credited.

She started reading out of curiosity, perhaps to avoid thinking about the end of her relationship. But as she read, Nikki was drawn in. It was beautifully written. Not just the choice of words, but the characters were flawed, relatable, and, ultimately compelling. The descriptive passages evoked vivid and detailed imagery that didn’t slow the flow of the story. 

Parts of it made her laugh or cry. She was invested in these people and their lives. When she finished, she started reading it again. The thick thriller paperback she had bought at the airport sat unread at the bottom of her beach bag.

The rest of her trip (five days and four nights), was spent sitting on the beach, reading and rereading the story. While she was surrounded by tropical beauty, all Nikki saw was the characters of the story in her mind’s eye.

When she returned home, she received a flood of texts and calls. 

Nikki was at first surprised but immediately remembered her break-up with Drew. She told everyone she was fine. They would reply, “Of course!” “You’re better off without him!” “We’re here for you.”

Nikki declined multiple offers to go out and drown her sorrows giving the excuse that she needed time to process things. This placated her friends in a way that telling them she had become captivated by a story that she found in a bottle that had washed up from the sea would not.

Curious, she searched on the internet to see if this had happened to anyone else. There were plenty of apocryphal stories of messages in bottles but nothing like what she found. Could this be a unique experience? What were the odds of something like this happening?

While she had returned to the office, Nikki found herself distracted. Her boss, Rachael, sympathized with her break up but Nikki knew she had to get some answers before her boss’s compassion ran out.

That night, Nikki went straight home, having declined an offer to go for drinks, she sat on her couch and reread the story once more. It was as engaging as it was the first time she read it. Idly looking on the back page of the last page, she saw something written. 

I hope this brought you some measure of pleasure. If so, consider me delighted! Additionally, if you would care to send a bottle of wine (red)to the address below, it would be most appreciated. 


The address read this way.

The Little Cottage 

100 Edge of the Sea

Lubec, ME 04652

The next day was Friday so after work, she took a train heading to New England. She got into Boston late, rented a car, and drove till she found a small motel and got some sleep. Arising early, she continued to Lubec, pausing only long enough in New Hampshire to purchase a case of red wine.

Nikki arrived in the late afternoon, checking into a small bed and breakfast. After quickly freshening up, she asked the desk clerk, who was also the co-owner, how to get to Edge of the Sea.

The desk clerk gave her an appraising look as if deciding if Nikki was worthy. After a beat, she gave her directions. Nikki thanked her and left. 

Edge of the Sea was not quite a road, more of a wide path. She drove slowly through the trees till she came to a small field where an old and rusty VW Bug was parked, behind which was a stone path on a gently sloping hill. Nikki parked her rental, took the case of wine out of the trunk, and headed up the hill.

When she came to the top, she could smell the ocean. It brought her back to her childhood, going to the beach with her family. Near the edge was a small cottage. It was made of grey wood and had a grey stone chimney. There were bright red curtains in the windows, which gave it a less grim look.

Walking toward the cottage, she saw an old man sitting at a picnic table, scribbling away. He was dressed in a thick green sweater, faded jeans, and heavy, scuffed black boots. Not wanting to startle him, she cleared her throat.

One moment, please,” said the old man who did not look up and finished putting what he was writing.

Turning, he looked at her and smiled.

Good afternoon miss, if you don’t mind me calling you miss,” he said with a deep and musical voice.

I don’t mind,” Nikki replied, “My name is Nikki.” 

A pleasure to meet you, Nikki. I hate to insult someone when I first meet them. I usually save that for later,” he chuckled.

Are you WS?” Nikki blurted out.

He smiled and nodded.

This is for you,” she said putting the case down. It was heavy.

I’m overwhelmed! I consider myself quite fortunate to be sent one bottle, but a whole case? This is a first,” said WS.

I have so many questions,” she said.

And I have so many answers. But let me clear up first.”

WS gathered his papers and pen, then went into the cottage. He emerged with two wine glasses and a bottle opener. 

Would you join me in a glass?” WS asked.

Yes, please!”

He opened one bottle and poured each glass. They clinked and drank.

So what would you like to know?” asked WS.

Why aren’t you published? Why don’t you write your name on the front page? Why put them in a bottle and through them in the sea?”

Taking a sip of wine, WS replied, “Let me answer these in order. In my youth, I tried to get published. Unfortunately, I was not successful.”

But your writing is brilliant! How could they not want to publish your stuff?!”

Honestly, I wasn’t a great writer out of the gate. Most folks aren’t. Nothing to be ashamed of. You need to hone your writing.”

So you just gave up?” she asked.

No, of course not. It’s just that I stopped trying to get published. I write every day and read everything I can get my hands on”

You write every day?”

They only way to get better.”

But you don’t even sign your writing. No by WS on the front page. Why?” Nikki asked.

Well, no one knows who I am. My name won’t make them read it.”

People should know who you are!”

Well, you do,” he replied and took a sip of wine.

Don’t you-” she began.

Sorry to interrupt you, but which of my stories did you find?”

The September Park.”

Ahh… I quite liked that one.”

They both sat for a while, with the only sound being the crash of the waves below and the distant cawing of gulls.

So you don’t care about being published?” Nikki asked.

Not at all.”

Then why put stories into bottles and throw them into the sea?”

He smiled at this and said, “So they might be read and hopefully enjoyed.”

But if you got them into print more people would do both those things!”

Maybe. Or people wouldn’t read them or enjoy them. There’s something quite sad about an unread book.”

Why not put them online? Let people discover your stories that way?” she asked.

I don’t have a computer, never quite saw the need to be connected with the whole world. And even if I did, no guarantee people would enjoy them. From what I understand, the internet is a place with quite a bit of vitriol. Don’t see the point in inviting that sort of thing in the door.”

Nikki put her hands in her head and mumbled, “This doesn’t make any sense.”

WS poured her some more wine and said, “I write for myself. Which is true of most writers I suppose. Do I want people to enjoy what I write but who will read it I leave it to the universe. Or more specifically, the sea.”

What if they get lost?” 

Likely some will. But others will find their way to someone, like yourself.”

It’s so random.”

WS shrugged.

I hate to think of your stories lost at sea like that,” Nikki said.

Nikki, I’m an old man and I don’t have any family to speak of. When I go, most of my things will end up in the dump. I’d rather take a chance that someone will find my stories in a bottle that washes up on a beach than leave a trunk full of papers that will just get thrown out. Consider it a leap of faith. Does that make any sense to you?”

Sort of.”

It’s a bit whimsical I know, but I’m content.”

Do you have other stories?” she asked hopefully.

Oh yes! Well, I did,” he said gesturing to the sea.

Right,” said Nikki as she drained her glass.

If it makes you feel any better, you’re the first one to come and visit me in person. I usually get a bottle of wine in the mail. So thank you for that, and your generosity,” WS said gesturing to the case of wine.

Is there any way to read more of your work?” she asked hopefully.

Well, I don’t keep copies of my stories, that would defeat the purpose of what I’m doing here,” he said making Nikki’s heart sink.

However,” WS continued, “as I said, you are not the first person to find one of my bottles.”

With that, he stood up and went into his cottage. After a few minutes, he returned with a slip of paper.

I’m told that the others who found my work have set up some internet thing. As I understand it, it’s a secret page of some sort. I’m a bit of a Luddite myself, but I do like the idea of a secret page,” he said handing her the slip of paper. 

Written on it, in his very neat and small handwriting, was a web address. 

I tried looking online but couldn’t find anything,” Nikki said.

As I said, secret page,” stage whispered WS.


If you are so inclined, you can contact the others there.”

Doesn’t this go against the idea of throwing them into the sea?” 

WS scratched his chin and said, “Well, once I send them out into the world, what happens is out of my control. If people who do find them want to gather and discuss them, who am I to stand in the way?”

Thank you! Thank you so much!”

Since I don’t truck with such gizmos, I can’t vouch for its legitimacy. But the person who set it up did send me a lovely bottle of plum wine so I’m inclined to trust them. Oh yes, there’s one more thing. As with all good secrets, there is a password.”

Though there were no others within earshot, he leaned in and whispered something in her ear. She gave him a look as if he was teasing her.

That is what was written to me,” WS told her with a serious tone.

Nikki considered this and put the paper in her pocket. While part of her wanted to check this out right away via her phone, she chose to enjoy the moment.

It’s almost sunset,” she observed.

So it is. Would you care to enjoy it with me?” asked WS.

Yes. Yes, I would,” she replied.

He poured them each another glass as they watched the sun sink below the edge of the ocean. 

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One Man’s Trash-Part Four

After washing up, Eli entered the kitchen. It was filled with people preparing food. He’d never seen that before or even conceived of it as an activity. Up to very recently, all the food he ate was processed and sealed in wrappers or picked from the garbage.

Like the Workshop, the kitchen was filled with people who appeared to enjoy what they were doing. Chatting and laughing as they worked. Alanna was chopping some bright objects, which he later learned were vegetables. Others were stirring pots, some were tossing chunks of meat in a wok and pouring sauce over them. Jae pulled large, tan lozenges out of an oven.

It was overwhelming and it smelled amazing. He was grabbed by one of the other people who put bowls and platters in his hands and told him to bring them to the table.

The table was outside. It was long and had a brightly colored piece of fabric running lengthwise. He placed the bowls and platters (also made with colors and patterns) in the middle, which was the only place he could find. Others followed soon after, bringing more food, and before he knew it, he was sitting down with Alanna on his right side and a heavily muscled man in overalls named Gunter, on his left.

At the head of the table, a thin, older man with silver hair and wearing wire-rim eyeglasses stood and tapped his glass with a fork. All conversation ended as he did this.

Thank you all for joining the feast tonight!” he began.

Gibson, thank you for all this great food!” said a woman with a shaved head and a big grin.

I hope you remember that when it’s time to wash the dishes,” replied Gibson.

Everyone laughed.

We are all thankful for the food on our tables and everything else we’ve worked for so let’s drink to that.”

Glassed were raised and they all drank.

These are all excellent things but without a community, they mean nothing. We are here because everybody works hard to make it happen. Let us never forget this.”

Never forget this,” echoed the rest of the table.

And we have a new friend with us tonight and his name is Luis,” said Gibson.

Everyone stared at Eli who had to fight an impulse to run.

Glad to meet you, man.”


Hey there.”

Everyone had a greeting. They seemed genuinely happy to meet him and he didn’t know why. He mumbled some replies but this level of attention made his skin crawl. One of the people at the table said, “Can we eat now?” Which they did.

Eli thought that the broth and crackers he had earlier were the best things he had ever eaten but this was something else entirely. The tan lozenges were bread, soft and pillowy in the center with a crust that was crunchy but not too hard. Vegetables cut into pieces and fried or roasted with flavors that he didn’t know existed. Meat! Real meat, not the slurry that was pressed into cubes with a rubbery texture! Rice that wasn’t waxy!

It might be said that he ate with gusto, but it was more like a starving dog who is terrified someone is going to try to take his food. Shoveling a spoonful of food in his mouth, he noticed that everyone else had stopped eating and was staring at him.

I’m sorry you don’t like it,” said Jae.

Before he could respond, the table burst into laughter and someone served him some more food.

Gunter leaned in and said, “They’re just happy to see you enjoying the food.”


He smiled and said, “Well, they worked hard on it and it’s always nice to know your work is appreciated.”

But why me?” asked Eli.

I guess because you’re new here.”

Do they care less about you?”

That’s not how it works.”

How does it work?”

People just like knowing other people are happy.”

That did not jibe with the vast majority of Eli’s life experience so he just went back to eating.

Luis, you must have some questions. What would you like to know?” asked Gibson.

For a moment, Eli forgot his alias but then looked up quickly.

Is that allowed?” he said cautiously, still wary of a trap.

It’s not a trick,” replied the silver-haired man.

Okay… I have a lot of questions.”

Ask away!”

What happened to the sun?” Eli whispered.

At this, the table went silent. Gibson turned to Alanna and asked, “You didn’t tell him?”

I was going to but I thought he might get more out of the Workshop than a walking tour and history lesson,” said Alanna.

You really should’ve said something,” said Gibson with a sigh.

I didn’t know there was going to be a drill today,” countered Alanna.

People began to offer their opinions when Eli shouted, “How can you turn the sun off and on?” A question that got everyone’s attention.

Luis, that’s a fair question,” said Gibson calmly, “The truth is we are not outside.”

Eli looked around and as far as he could tell, they were.

That doesn’t make any sense,” he said with rising panic.

We’re underground Luis,” said Alanna.

This made less and less sense.

Let me give you the short version. A long time ago, before any of us were born, the United States government created a series of subterranean bunkers in case there was a nuclear war. Which there was, but because things went south so quickly, they never got used.

For years they sat empty. Until some people, a lot like you, were searching for tech or supplies and found it. They brought others that they trusted and this community was born. While there was food, it wouldn’t last forever. They started to experiment with hydroponics. Then they explored deeper and found an underground river giving them fresh water, and then they used it as a hydroelectric power source.

Time went on, they started to make it more than just a hiding place, they made it a home. Life being what it is, they started having children.”

The sun,” said Eli who was feeling overwhelmed.

Right, the sun. The sky is made from video panels, all linked together, running images that replicate sunlight. It went out when our sentries saw a corporate aircraft approaching so we shut everything down till it passed. I can see how that would freak you out.”

It was a fantastic story. Crazy. Improbable. Eli looked at everyone. He’d met some skilled liars in his life. Even been taken in by a few of them. After a while, he got a feeling when someone was trying to pull something. Looking at everyone here, none of his alarms were going off.

Why did you bring me here?” he asked.

We do raids on the drone trucks ever so often. We can’t make new tech here so we take what we can and repurpose it,” said Gibson.

Like the corps do,” said Eli.

Actually, they just dump that stuff in burn pits. Cheaper than recycling,” said Jae.

That made a perverse sort of sense.

A rather ordinary-looking person said, “When we found you in the truck, it was clear you’d been hurt badly. So we brought you back here.”

Why?” asked Eli.

The ordinary person cocked their head and said, as if it were obvious, “Because you needed help.”

His head spinning Eli slowly stood up, turned around, and vomited. The rest of the evening was a bit of a blur. Lots of fragmented moments of voices and movement. He was cleaned up and Alanna walked them back to her house. She brought him to the room he woke up in.

I’m sorry I didn’t tell you where you were before,” she said as she gave him some fresh clothes, “It’s a lot to take in.”

Are you going to throw me out?”

No! Why would we do that?”

I threw up. A lot.”

She gently laid a hand on his shoulder and he flinched.

We don’t kick people out for vomiting.”

Right. Umm… Thank you.”

You’re welcome. I’m sure we could’ve handled this better. If it’s any consolation, you’re the first new person we’ve had in a while. We’re a little out of practice.”

Eli looked at her for a moment, then asked, “How did you know I wasn’t working for a corp or a psycho or murderer or something worse.”

Honestly, we didn’t.”

Then why help me?”

Because you needed it.”

This was the same answer he got at dinner and it still didn’t make sense to him. Eli then asked a question that scared him.

Can I… Can I stay?”

She smiled and said, “If you want to. This isn’t a prison. No one is here against their will.”

Right. Does everyone just get along?” he asked Eli.

Well, people will argue and not everyone likes everyone equally. But they put that aside for the most part.”

How?!” he nearly shouted.

It’s not always easy. But everyone here believes in what we’re doing. When we struggle, we struggle together and that makes it easier.”

I think… I think I need to sleep,” said Eli, the day catching up with him.

It’s been a day, right? Get some rest. I’ll give you a proper tour tomorrow. Sleep well.”

With that, Alanna left him alone. Even though he was exhausted, Eli looked at his coveralls and satchel sitting at the end of the bed. He had fought and scrounged for those and up till very recently, were the most important items he owned.

Maybe. Maybe he could stay here. Everyone was so kind, it would take some getting used to. Could he be happy? Maybe. He got undressed and got into bed. As he drifted off into sleep, one thought entered his head. ‘Your name isn’t Luis. Liar.’

Author’s note: This is the end of Eli AKA Luis’ story. Is everything resolved? Nope. I had an intent with this tale and I hope it got across. What was that intent? If I have to say it, I’ve already failed. So give it some thought. Will I ever return to this world? As our protagonist might say, maybe. Maybe.

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