The Owl and the Man

With a ruffling of chalky feathers, the owl alights on a broken arch, and watches as the man climbs the mountain of rubble. He grips at pitted creases in the rock, pulling himself forwards and upwards, his muscles quivering with the sustained effort. Sweat soaks through on his back and under his arms, but his limbs do not give, and his nerve does not falter.

Whatever the rock used to be, precisely, is beyond the recognition of owl or man. The surface the man climbs is charred and melted, and coated black with a shroud of soot. Vague shapes are outlined in the shadows, overlaying any details that might once have been beneath. Bits of jagged metal poke out here and there, like sharpened nubs of bone in a dusty graveyard.

His hands bleed from the roughness of the handholds, torn skin perforating his knuckles, but that will not be why he dies. Nor will he die from the lack of water he carries, or from the silent heat of the midday sun that beats down on his back.

He is already dead, she fears.

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Warning: Low Battery

I do not understand. But still I hug the screaming boy.

Adam flails in my arms. He screams and tugs and kicks, and all I can do is hold him gentler as I kneel gingerly on the dusty concrete. The floor is cold and hard.

“Master Adam,” I say. “Please do not cry. It will only cause your health to worsen.”

But his bawling only intensifies. I cannot move, for his short arms are wrapped around my midsection, and the yellow icon pulsing in the corner of my vision tells me that excessive movement would be unwise.

A stifled sob from the entryway prompts me to look up. My mistress’ head is buried in my master’s shoulder. I look to him for answer or direction, but instead he turns to study the rusty automobile to his left. His cheeks glint bright in the sunlight. I find myself confused, and return my attention to the boy.

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The World Undersea

The World Undersea (Image)

Artwork by Tommy Chandra

~

From the memoirs of the late Jarod Grimes, of Edgewall:

There is a patch of shore, nestled in the distant reaches of the enigmatic South, where the fearless and faithless go to drown. It is no small blessing that the journey there from lands civilized is long and arduous and fraught with peril, for I fear that should the mountains that keep its malevolence at bay crumble into dust, the allure of its accursed madness may prove too much for even the most sensible of good folk.

At first glance, the beach looks innocuous enough, even pretty. The craggy slopes that line it are shingled and steep, but its cerulean waters sparkle brightly in the sunlight, and its pale sands are soft underfoot. Indeed, the casual visitor – were there any – would have little reason to suspect anything amiss as they walked across its length, but for the odd scrap of abandoned clothing and the inexplicable silence of nature.

But on moonless nights, furtive silhouettes break from the surrounding groves and stride forth into the lapping waves. Where they exit the treeline they sometimes leave a small heap of worldly effects – but often by this time they have none left, having spent all their worth in the last villages on a final spree of drink and debauchery. The figures clutch chiselled fragments of sharpened rock close to their chests as they wade intently through the dark water out to sea. Once they can walk no further they stop, and as they grip their makeshift knives tight even the wind stops breathing.

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