Blot Out the Sun

“Hear me!” The man stood legs apart, arms cast wide, robed in multicolored fabrics in overlapping layers. “God has spoken to me!” A crowd gathered, listening. “In this, the year of our Lord eleven hundred thirty-three, He has spoken to me! God commands me to lead you to glory. As a sign, He will blot out the sun!”

A youth in similar dress, if less extravagant, tugged on his arm. “Is that really the year, fath- er, master?”

“It better be, boy,” he whispered back, “or this’ll never work. Now let the astronomer work.” He raised his voice. “God wishes me to lead you to prosperity, and will cast the land in darkness as a sign!”

Word spread and the crowd grew. The man continued his pitch until hundreds waited. Light dimmed and the air grew cold. “Observe God’s promise, how he has chosen me to lead you!” A gust of wind shivered the crowd. They waited. And waited. The day grew warmer and brighter. The crowd drifted. Some threw rotten fruit or stones.

He sat, face in his hands. “We were too far north. We were so close.”

The boy sat beside him. “Told you we should’ve left yesterday.”

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Not Ever

It was ten feet tall, assembled from smoothed stone with cunning concealed joints, at least a ton, and covered with large, glowing runes. Awl stared up at it, and it loomed over him without even trying.

“This? This is what we’ve been looking for?”

Doya didn’t look up from where she rummaged in her pack. “Yup.”

“By God Below and all our holy ancestors, why?” Normally, Doya would correct him for mixing unrelated religious concepts, but she seemed preoccupied. Awl ducked under a swing of the thing’s fist. It hit a wall, shattering the stone panelling and discharging arcs of electricity.

“It can shock,” Awl shouted. “Did you know it could shock?”

“No.” Doya paused. “But I suspected.”

“Never again, Doya. Never ag—” Awl held his shield firm against a blow he couldn’t dodge, and his shield snapped in two. “Again,” he finished. On the thing’s fist, a rune flared bright.

“There! That’s it, keep it busy.” Awl wanted to complain, but a glancing swipe knocked the air from him.

“Got it,” Doya said. “We should run now.”

They ran until the pounding footsteps of the rune-golem’s pursuit were distant echoes. Once Awl caught his breath, he muttered, “Never. Again.”

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Cronus and Rhea

Cronus looked down at the child in Rhea’s arms, already soaking through its swaddle. “I never thought a baby would look so… delicious.”

“What was that, dear? You’re muttering again.”

“Nothing, sweetie.”

Predictably, Rhea was upset when their son disappeared. Still, it did not dissuade her from another pregnancy. She birthed a daughter on the first day of spring. “I wonder if girls are as tasty?”

“Did you say something, my love?”

“No. Nothing. Good work.” A day later, the child was gone.

Despite their grief, they continued to have children. The gloomy son, the proud daughter, the one that looked happy to have company, all disappeared shortly after birth. The last time, Rhea confronted Cronus in the act—though just too late to stop him.

“Why?” she demanded.

“Um…” Cronus looked around for inspiration. “A prophecy! One of our children is fated to kill me, see, so… you love me, right? You wouldn’t want me dead?”

“What, so I don’t get to have children?”

“Sure you do! Just, uh…”

“Just, you’ll eat them?” Cronus smiled sheepishly. Rhea glared at him a moment, then hugged him. “I love you,” she said. “We’ll figure something out.”

As you might know, she did.

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Number Forty-Seven

“What’s that?” Jenny pointed up to an opalescent ebon sphere that floated, apparently unsupported, about a foot from the ceiling of my room. It was not quite in the center, not quite in a corner, just there.

I looked up from our math homework. “Oh, that’s a sphere.”

“I know that, dummy.” She hit me playfully on the shoulder. “How is it floating there? What’s it for? Where’d you get it?”

I blinked. “Uhhhh, I dunno, I dunno, and it just showed up one day. What’d you get on number—”

“I don’t see any wires.” She stood and peered closely at it.

“There aren’t.” Seeing her reach for it, I added, “Don’t touch it, it’ll shock you.”

“Uh huh.” Then she yelped and yanked her hand back.

“Told you.”

“But… aren’t you curious?”

“Yup. Scientists came here and everything. None of them figured out anything. After a while they gave up.”

“So you just—”

“Yup. Hey’d what’d you think about forty-seven?” With more than a few glances back at the object, Jenny returned to our math books. An hour later, we’d finished the work and she went home.

I hope she’ll study with me again. I think I like her.

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The Long-Buried Truth

The science says that the Earth formed out of accreting dust from the sun’s protoplanetary disc. The truth is that our planet is the hardened shell of Hnturi-N’gburo, hibernating comfortably within. That molten iron core we’re so sure of? The iron blood of N’gburo, to whom we are as fleas. We perform a symbiotic duty, scrubbing clean the forests that grow like moss on its back, picking and prying away the scabs of its cooled iron-blood from beneath its shell.

I know because I’m a janitor in the broadest, deepest building in the world, and I clean the sub-sub-sub-sub-basements every day. That close to N’gburo, it talks to me, mumbles like a half-awake genius shedding accidental brilliance while dozing on the train. One day, perhaps soon, Hnturi-N’gburo will wake. Like a bear emerging from its cave, N’gburo will shed its shell and swim through space to what we cannot know. Mating? War? A philosophical debate? Though we will all die screaming into the unhearing void of space N’gburo casts us into, I long to see that day before I die. I want to see its majesty.

Yeah, so that’s why we don’t need to worry about conservation or climate change.

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Of Sandstorms and Burning Rocks

In the Green Age, everything you see had something growing and green. Not green like the algae we eat, but a bright green, a shining green that had its own light. That was when we still knew the secrets of smooth steel and the burning rocks.

It was those rocks that we were forbidden to touch. We knew they gave the great Useh His power, and He knew we were too weak to control them. But when the rogue Isaiah snuck into Useh’s vault, one of the treasures he came away with was the fire rocks. Isaiah taught us to use them, and for a long time all was well.

Until we used them for war and burned a tree favored by Useh. Enraged by grief, Useh breathed out His fury, sweeping the land with fire and burning away all that was green and good. Only the most faithful escaped his wrath. Now Useh’s burning rocks lie scattered across the land, where any fool can find them. When Useh remembers our foolishness, He sighs, sending hot winds swirling across the lands. That is why they sandstorms come, and we must use them to remember to touch only what we understand.

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“The whole house is a plane!” Ollie said, swinging his arms wide.

I smiled. A warm breeze blew from the lake up through the trees, and only a motor from the distant road reminded me that anyone outside our cabin existed. I put my book on my chair and stood. “Great! How do we fly it?”

“We fly over here.” Ollie ran over to the deck. “You stand here, I stand here. You’re flying, I’m shooting the guns.” He started making boom noises. Across the lake, someone was setting off fireworks.

“There are guns?” I took up the imaginary steering wheel and piloted the plane back and forth. I must have stood up too fast, because I felt a little unsteady on my feet. The distant motor grew closer, and I wondered if someone was coming to visit.

“We’re fighting pirates,” he said. He shot more. The fireworks sounded closer. “Turn that way!” He pointed. I turned the wheel hard and nearly fell off my feet. The deck beneath us vibrated in time with the motor, and I could feel the wind in my face.

I peered down at the land far below, and hoped I was a good pilot.

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Business Suit and Dressed-in-Goodwill

Dark-suited guards admitted the man to the eightieth-story office. “I present Dressed-in-Goodwill,” one intoned. “Your ten-thirty.” Business Suit turned from her floor-to-ceiling window to face the supplicant. “You have two minutes.”

“Yes, CEO Business Suit,” said the man. “I come to beg for a revolution permit. I and many—”

“Revolution? That suggests faults are going unaddressed.”

“Yes, Business Suit. I and many others suffer great financial burdens. We have nothing but our debts, and—”

“All economic measures indicate great prosperity. Do you claim them false?”

“Only that they may not measure everything. Permit a revolution, and many may live better lives.”

“A revolt topples the ruling class. You suggest I have lost the mandate of the Free Market.”

Dressed-in-Goodwill bowed. “The Free Market clearly favors you, but—”

“Then my reign is just and right. Permit denied. Your two minutes are up.”

“Yes, great Business Suit.” Dressed-in-Goodwill bowed himself out. A personal assistant stepped in.

Business Suit smiled. “Offer him a job managing an economic revitalization program that he can’t refuse without feeling hypocritical, at a salary low enough he still feels righteous.” The PA bowed and left.

Satisfied, Business Suit turned back to her window and surveyed her perfect domain.

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Come See Me

“If you didn’t come see me while I was alive,” she said, “don’t come see me once I’m dead.” We knew she was trying to shame us into visiting, but we didn’t think she’d hire a bouncer for her funeral.

“Yeah, so when’d you last see her?” His high-pitched voice seemed mismatched with his nearly seven feet, black blazer over a black shirt and pants, and chinstrap beard and shaved head. He looked like he usually worked outside a nightclub, not a small Episcopal church.

“Uh, she came to my graduation. Uh, college graduation.” I cleared my throat.

“So she had to come to you?” He cocked an eyebrow.

“Uh, wait!” I thought fast. “I swung by last year and had lunch with her.”

“Where’d you eat?”

“Her place. Slipped my mind because I was passing through on a long road trip, y’know?”

“Nice try, kid. Next!” My cousin Linda stepped forward.

“What, lunch isn’t good enough?”

“Not when you’re lying.” He fist-bumped Linda and let her through.

“How would you know?”

“You don’t recognize me.”

“Should I?”

“Well, I was living with your grandmother at the time.”

I decided I was better off not thinking about Grandma just then.

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To Walk

He wanted to walk, so he walked. “You’ll get tired and wish you hadn’t gone so far,” the said. He didn’t get tired.

“You’ll get homesick,” they said. “Once you’ve been away too long, you’ll come back.” It turned out he didn’t get homesick for people who told him not to walk.

“You’ll get lost in the woods! Bears will eat you!” He did get lost, but as long as he was walking he didn’t mind. The bears left him alone because he left them alone.

“You’ll walk off the edge of the Earth,” they cried. He did walk off the edge of the Earth. Drifting in the void, he relished all the walking he had done, but wondered if perhaps he should have turned.

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