The Night Bus

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The first time I rode the Night Bus was an accident.

During the holidays we ended up getting out just a little later than usual and I missed the last bus of the night. The stop was well lit and I had some surprises in my purse so I was more annoyed about missing the bus than worried about being out there late at night. As I sent off a round of “Hey can anyone give me a ride home?” texts to my friends, another bus pulled up. I quickly mass texted “Never mind bus just got here”.

The regular city buses were white and blue with silver chrome trim. This bus was scarlet and teal with black chrome. The door slid open and I climbed the shallow stairs that seemed more like a short ladder. At the top of the stairs, I looked for the machine to swipe my transit card; there wasn’t one. I turned to the driver and showed them my card. The driver just pointed me to the seats. When I tried to tell the driver my stop, they reached up and tapped the “Pull Cord For Stop” sign. So I walked back to the seats.

The seats were comfortably padded bench seats with seatbelts draped over them from back to front. I sat in the third seat against the window. The door closed and the bus pulled smoothly away from the curb. The bus turned off the regular bus route at the next intersection. I was wondering if I had gotten on the wrong bus line when the world flipped.

The street lamp lit city was replaced by a noonday sun in the desert. My head whipped around to look out the other windows. On either side of the two-lane highway, the bus was now driving on, was desert. Behind the bus, the highway stretched straight toward the horizon. Ahead the highway curved to the right. I started to stand up and heard a sharp tapping. The driver was reaching up their arm stretched inhumanly long to tap the “Passengers Must Remain Seated While The Bus Is In Motion” sign.

I felt the gentle sideways push as the bus took the curve and the world flipped again. Smooth concrete replaced the sky and domed lights the sun. The two-lane highway was now eight lanes inside a tunnel. I scarcely had time to notice the multicolored cars sharing the tunnel with the bus before the tunnel turned to the left. The tunnel was replaced by a city at night but the bus did not speed through this landscape. It slowed and stopped at a bus stop.

The size of the buildings around the bus felt weird to my eyes like the sidewalk was too wide or the buildings too close. The bus stop shelter towered over the bus. A woman waited under it. She was almost as tall as the bus but had no problem entering the door. The woman walked to the seat opposite mine ducking her head only slightly though she was at least four feet taller than me. She sat easily somehow without cramming or contorting her body between the seats.

“Hi,” she said, her voice deep and resonate, with a smile.

I glanced away in embarrassment from staring at her. “Hi,” I replied.

“You have the cutest voice. Are you riding alone?” No one had called my voice cute since I gave up on voice training.

“Thanks, yeah I was just heading home from work.”

“You work?” She tilted her head to one side. “Wait, how old are you?” Her eyes narrowed as she examined me.

“I’m twenty-three. How old do I look?” The bus turned right and the world flipped. The road was now lined with giant green and blue mushrooms.

“Oh, I’m so sorry. I forget people from little worlds ride the Night Bus too. I thought you were a child.” She chuckled. “I’m Nora.”

“I’m Yenna. Have you been on this bus before?”

“Sure plenty of times. Is this your first time?”

“Yeah, I missed my bus and then this one showed up. What is going on?” The bus turned right and the mushrooms vanished. Another tunnel, this one had clear walls allowing travelers to see into the ocean they drove under. Fish swam in multi-colored schools. A whale glided overhead.

“It’s the Night Bus. At least that’s what everyone calls it. I really don’t know much else.”

“How do I get home?” I asked.

“Just pull the cord for your stop,” Nora said pointing at the cord that ran the length of the bus just above head height.

“But how do I know when my stop is?”

“Your stop is whenever you pull the cord. The next turn will take the Night Bus there and you can get off.”

“I’m not stuck on an adventure through strange worlds?” Another right turn, this time onto a cliffside trail overlooking snow-capped mountains.

“No, of course not. It might be strange but the Night Bus is still a bus. It takes you where you want to go. I like to ride through a few turns before pulling the cord, to see something different. You haven’t been stuck on the bus for too long have you?”

“No, I got on a couple of worlds before you. If you hadn’t, I might have been stuck for a while.”

“You would have pulled the cord eventually and figured it out yourself.”

“Do you ride the Night Bus often?” I asked.

“Only when I work the closing shift. I used to take the regular bus but like you I missed my bus and the Night Bus showed up. I find it relaxing to see these other worlds. Plus it gets me home faster and cheaper.”

“How much does it cost? The driver wouldn’t take my transit card when I offered.” Right turn into another clear tunnel looking out at a barren gray landscape and black sky. In the distance, domes full of plants offered the only color.

“I don’t think driver understands money. They’ve never accepted or asked for money. The Night Bus is free as far as I know. Maybe we’re racking up debt that we’ll have for in the afterlife.”

“Maybe we’ll be fated to drive Night Buses of our own until someone else takes our place.” We laughed through the next world.

“This is nice. I’ve never had anyone to talk to about the Night Bus before,” Nora said.

“You’ve never brought anyone with you?”

“No it doesn’t feel like the kind of thing you just show people, you know?”

“Yeah, that makes sense. ‘Come ride a bus through alien worlds with me’ isn’t something you just spring on someone and you can’t talk about it without sounding delusional.”

“Yes, exactly. I wish I could stay longer but I really do need to get home.” She reached up and pulled the stop cord. We rode in silence as the bus made a left turn onto a street in a city. I recognized the scaled-up architecture from the stop she had gotten on the bus. She stood and began walking to the front of the bus. She stopped and turned back to me. “I’m off tomorrow but I might ride the bus if you wanted to talk more.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow I guess,” I said smiling at her.

She smiled back. “See you tomorrow.”

I watched her wave as the Night Bus pulled away from the curb. I waited for two more turns before pulling the stop cord myself. The Night Bus turned a corner and pulled up to the bus stop closest to my home. I smiled at the Bus Driver and thanked them as I got off. The Bus Driver smiled back; their mouth showing too many teeth that were too square. I tried not to think about what the driver was too hard as I hopped off the steps and onto terra firma.

The Night Bus’s doors closed and it drove off turning left at the intersection and disappearing. I walked the rest of the way to my home wondering what I should wear on my date tomorrow night.

This Used to be My Job

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At almost midnight I stand before Grandma Whitkin’s grave. Buried earlier today. Ideally, I would have done this right after her death but the family doesn’t understand things like this. So I waited until it was just me and her. Just like old times, when I knew her as Susan.

Susan was a healer. Like most healers, she built up a residue of death in her body. It’s not hard to cleanse and purge the necrotic energies but she died suddenly, without warning, without preparing herself. The first time I got close to her at the viewing I could feel it. She won’t rise tonight or tomorrow but someday she would.

I kneel and plunge my left arm up to my elbow into the loose mound of dirt over the grave. Freshly turned graveyard dirt is a powerful conductor letting me reach the necrotic energy easily. I begin pulling it strand by strand out of Susan. It coils in my arm; contained, compressed. I control my breathing as my flesh tingles and fizzes under the skin. When I die, I have special instructions on how to dispose of my arm so no one has to do this for me. This was my job. Ensuring the dead stayed dead.

Well, the dead used to stay dead when it was my job but there’s a reason people like me retire early. I feel a blockage and pull hard. It pops free and a surge of necrotic energy burns up my arm. Something gives, blood flows; I jerk my arm out of the dirt. A ragged tear across my palm drips. I squeeze my hand shut and back away from the grave. Did I pull out in time or … A faint thud comes from the ground followed by cracking wood and the dirt begins to shift.

It’s been too long or I’m just not strong enough to do it properly anymore. The result is the same. After a few minutes, Susan begins to claw herself out of the grave. I pull my revolver and put two in her skull and one in her heart.

I wrap my scarf, I really like this scarf, around my bleeding hand. I wait a while to see if Susan will have a second rising and to see if anyone called the cops about gunshots in the graveyard. It’s all quiet for thirty minutes so I make a phone call.

“Hey Johnny, it’s Denise. I need a clean up in Northside Memorial Park Cemetery.”

“Denise? I thought you were retired.”

“Special job. It went a little sideways. One corpse, buried earlier today.”

“Ok, I’ll be there in thirty with my people. Stay safe. Bye.”

“I’m trying. Bye.” And then it’s just me and Susan waiting in the graveyard like old times.

Shooting Star

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I touch the atmosphere and begin.

The air ignites as it blasts against my surface; tearing bits and pieces off. I’ve traveled millions of miles for these last few seconds. I burn and shine and listen.

How many will I hear? One? Five? Twenty? Or will my final blaze be silent, unwitnessed, unremembered?

I strain to hear past the fire roaring. I struggle to stretch time. Just a little while longer, please.

There almost nothing left of me when I hear:

“I wish-

“I wish-

“I wish-

My light flares for the last time as my body is consumed but my spirit continues within the wishes made upon my funeral pyre.

The Void has Noticed Us and is Hungry

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I had the dream last night. A cloaked tall dark figure stood before me on a desolate plain storm rolled overhead. The figure reached for me a single skeletal finger emerging from its cloak to press against my forehead and then I awoke. We learn about the dream as children. Sometimes it causes nightmares most grow out of the nightmares sometimes they reoccur. I try to find solace in that thought. But if it was the dream I have little time to waste. I roll out of bed, pad across the carpet, down the hall into the bathroom and hesitate before flicking on the light. There on my forehead faintly glowing with golden light is the symbol of the Chosen. I have just one day to live now.

The Chosen are a sacrifice, a gift, a tribute, to something beyond us. Three hundred years ago men seeking power pierced the veil between worlds and something took notice of us. Our world was threatened with total consumption but a deal was bargained between “the unknowable ones” and “those who strayed from the safe path”.

Every day one human, neither too old nor too young, is chosen to willingly sacrifice themselves. Our debt will be settled when the sun eats the Earth. The Chosen are given one day to resign themselves to their fate. At the end of the day, midnight as measured by the position of the sun from where they stand, the emissary of “the unknowable ones” appears and takes their life. If they try to run or hide or fight, the emissary will take reparations: every life within five miles of the Chosen.

The early years of this new status quo were rife with mass deaths caused by Chosen who didn’t know about the settlement with “the unknowable ones”. Even after the information was spread widely, many people were simply too scared to willingly allow themselves to be killed. Only after the children, who had grown up seeing towns and cities harvested, came of age and shouldered their responsibility to the world willingly did the reapings come under our control.

We are taught from a young age, that if we are chosen, it is our duty to die willingly to spare those around us. Not everyone takes this to heart, however. Over the years some have used to threat of a reaping to become tyrants for their last day. Others merely indulge themselves with luxuries. No one denies the request of the Chosen.

Back in my bedroom, I retrieve my phone, took a selfie, and posted it on every social media account I had. I could stay home alone or spend my final hours privately with family and friends. Say my goodbyes, write a final will, and leave this mortal coil quietly and peacefully.

I have other plans. I have a revolution to start.

Daughter of Earth-5

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The Goddess waited in a lonely field. She laid on her back in the tall grass, staring up at the cloudless night sky. Arm outstretched, fingers gliding between the stars. A simple flick of her wrist could sweep the stars from the sky. Maybe one day but not tonight. Soft footsteps caught her attention.

“We could have met in a cafe for brunch or a restaurant for dinner or a library for tea but you insisted on a cold dark night,” the young woman gestured wildly at the lack of human presence nearby causing her coat to flap around her, “in the middle of nowhere.”

The Goddess sat up and smiled, “Hello to you, too.”

“Oh yes, hello and glad tidings, Mother,” the young woman said, sarcasm biting at every word. She sighed and continued sincerely, “How have you been?”

“Very fine.” The Goddess stood up and walked to her. “Earth-18 has started cooling finally and Earth-9 is on the verge of intelligent life.

The young woman allowed her glasses to slip down her nose.

“Why are you wearing eyeglasses? Your eyes should be perfect!” The Goddess stared into the young woman’s eyes. “They are perfect.”

“They’re just flat lenses. When I change identities, I get new frames to help change my appearance. Along with changing my hairstyle and clothes. It’s getting harder with face recognition software. My current identity almost fell apart because of a picture posted on Facebook that got auto-tagged with my previous identity.” She paused continuing cautiously, “You don’t know what Facebook is, do you?”

“I didn’t until you mentioned it. I am lightly touching the global unconscious mind; just to pull words and concepts out as I need them, nothing more.”

“So, I could say Micky Mouse and you would know what that is?”

The Goddess’s face lit up with a smile. “Oh, that’s delightful. Why didn’t you mention him earlier?”

“There’s a lot ‘delightful’ things here but also a lot of terrible things.”

“How is your Earth doing?” The Goddess closed the gap between them an wrapped an arm around the younger woman’s shoulders. “How is your father doing?”

“Didn’t you see him when you returned?”

“No, I came here from Earth-2 directly via quantum tunneling. Wait, what did I say?” She slapped a hand over her mouth.

“Is that how you travel from planet to planet?” she asked. “You never explained how you do that.”

“Yes, but I didn’t realize the people of this Earth had reached that level of understanding. They have words, real words, for it. You haven’t been helping them have you?”

“No. Of course not. The first rule is no interference with the normal development of local civilization. Anyway, Dad is doing fine. His flares and spots are in decline but that’s normal. I can’t understand him like you can but I still talk to him. You don’t need me to tell you any of this. You can just know it if you want.”

“I do need you to tell me about your Earth. I stopped watching when you asked. You wanted privacy so I gave it to you.”

“That was only two hundred and twenty-four years ago. Not that much as changed.”

“Still tell me about it, please.” They started slowly walking through the field.

“No major geological changes, of course. Oh, there was that island that disappeared but it might have been made up to increase a country’s ocean border. Some men walked on the moon–”

“Space Travel! Now that is news.”

“They only went a few times to the moon about thirty years ago. There are a few space stations but nothing really beyond that.”

The Goddess looked up to the sky, her smile brightening. “What about the probes to Pluto, Jupiter, the rovers on Mars? Oh, that one probe that to the comet was ambitious. Oh sorry,” the Goddess ducked her head, “I went a little deeper into the global unconscious mind. Just about space travel. I promise. I won’t do it again. What else has happened?”

“Um, well global temperatures are on the rise. Lots of wars, and conflicts and … and …” She choked on describing the atrocities people had committed and continued to commit.

“It’s ok, go on.” The Goddess pulled her tighter against herself.

The young woman gathered herself. “People are still people; just as horrible to each other but still capable of surprising kindness. I – why did you leave me here?”

“This is your home.”

“But I don’t belong here. I’ve been alone since you left. I have friends but I can’t keep them for more than a few decades before they notice I don’t age like them. And they die so easily.”

“People will always come and go from your life. It’s not about keeping them forever; it’s about being with them while you have time. Also, you asked me to leave, remember?” the Goddess said.

“Not for so long. I just wanted a little space. I little time for myself. You were always right there and you always knew everything. I just wanted a little space not to be abandoned.”

“You are almost eight hundred and sixty-three years old and you will live many many more years. You’ve been living at a human pace for your whole life but out there,” she swung her hand up and across the sky, “Out there away from the human reminders of time, you’ll find it moves at whatever pace you want it to move. I gave you as much space and time as was safe for you. I’ve never been too far to hear you call for me.”

“I wanted to call you but I wanted you to come back because you missed me not because I needed you.”

“It could have been both. Anyways, I’m here now and I’m not leaving but I won’t crowd you as much. We’ll start with ten year breaks and figure it out from there. What do you say?”

“Five year breaks?”

“Whatever you want. Come on, your father will be rising in a couple of hours and there’s a ridge that has the best view right over there.”

The Witch Downstairs – A Francine Non-Adventure

Index

Author Note: This is the start of the second serial story of Francine’s Non-Adventures. The first story was published last year and can be read from the link above. I’m currently working on rewriting parts for my overdue ebook collection.


I knocked on the door with the Coexist bumper sticker on it. The “witch’s door” as many people in the building called it. We had never met but I knew her from reputation. Well actually I had started hearing about her after the ghost in the park across the street started wailing my name on odd nights. I assumed I was supposed to talk to the witch about the ghost and kick off either a horror plot or supernatural drama. I had done neither by getting a pair of earplugs and simply avoiding her floor.

Now I was deliberately invoking a plot hook. After my recent success in dealing with the magic serial killer, without getting too involved, I noticed the plot hooks I normally had to dodge were gone. It was refreshing to not have to worry about spies or wizards or ghosts. Of course, nothing lasts forever and a few weeks later I was back to dropping USB sticks and throwing away magic rings. And the ghost started wailing my name again.

It didn’t take a genius to figure out that taking care of the magic serial killer had satisfied the god-like force that wanted me involved in these “adventures”. So, I decided to talk to the “witch” and see where this plot hook was headed.

The door opened and a woman a few years older than me opened the door. She looked like Hollywood’s version of a New Age Hippy. Loose clothing, scarves tied and draped around her body, long curly messy hair, small glasses perched halfway down her nose. She smiled then frowned.

“Hold on a second,” she said, took off her glasses, and replaced them with another pair from her pocket. As she looked me up and down thoroughly, I noticed the glasses she was wearing didn’t have lenses.

“Um, hi, I’m Francine. I live on the fourth floor.”

“Francine … Francine,” she muttered as she stepped into the hall to circle around me. “Oh, you’re whose name I hear screeched every night from the park.”

“It’s not every night.”

She looked up to my face, “It’s been every night for the last week.”

“Has it? I wear earplugs so I don’t hear it.”

“Earplugs? That’s one solution, I guess. You could just go see what that spirit wants with you. May I?” She gestured at my arm. I nodded and she gently raised my arm up.

“I’d rather not engage with the supernatural directly. That’s kind of why I’m here. I’ve heard you’re a … an expert on the subject.”

“I’m a witch if that’s what you mean. Wow, you are a mess.”

“Excuse me?”

“You got your fate lines all tangled up and twisted around.” She waved her hand in the air under my arm. “Look at that. I don’t know how you make it through a day without tripping over yourself.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Fate lines. They’re possibilities, paths through life that you could take. Most people have a dozen, at most, but not you. You have a couple hundred but most of them are slack like they aren’t pulling you in a direction. They’re just there and you’re all tangled up in them.”

“Ok, I think I do know what you’re talking about.”

“Do you? Then spill.” She stood in front of me arms crossed.

“I think I’m being railroaded by a ‘higher power’ into having for lack of a better word ‘adventures’.”

“Huh. So you have a lot of ‘adventures’?”

“When I was younger. After high school, they stopped. Last year strange things started happening like something was trying to get me involved with new adventures. I started avoiding them and then things got really weird.”

“Really weird how?”

“I’ve seen things that made me doubt my sanity. Have you ever seen a portal to another world? Or magic rings? Or wizards dueling in alleyways? Or heard ghosts screaming your name?”

“No. No. No. Yes. Well, not my name. Your name, yeah. What can you tell me about the ghost?”

“Nothing. I don’t know anything about it.” If I had my way it would stay that way.

“But it’s calling your name.” Her eyes narrowed as she studied me again.

“Yeah, something wants me to investigate the ghost and … do something.”

“Something like what?”

“Well, usually ghosts mean the person was killed or had unfinished business so I guess I’d have to find the killer or finish their business for them in some way. Shouldn’t you be telling me how to deal with the ghost?”

She nodded, “If you know what to do why haven’t you done it?”

“I don’t want to get involved with … all this,” I said waving my arms around me.

She closed her eyes and was silent for a moment. “Then why did you come to talk to me?”

“I need your help.”

“Why my help?”

“Because… Because you’re a witch.” She opened her eyes and smiled.

“Interesting,” she said while adjusting her lensless glasses.

“What? What’s interesting?”

“One of the fate lines has lost some of its slack.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means you’re moving toward one of the paths that fate has made for you.”

“So, will you help me with the ghost or not?”

“Of course. I have a fate line of my own that leads straight to you.”


Index

I Can Remember Tomorrow

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It’s not helpful or useful in any way. A memory isn’t something that you can change. Not in a meaningful way. I mean you can misremember something or convince yourself that something different happened but that doesn’t change the past. It’s the same for remembering the future. If I could change it, then I wouldn’t be able to remember it.

That’s how I found you. Yesterday I remembered coming to your house and talking to you but it wasn’t until today that I remembered seeing you in the news tomorrow. ‘Local resident killed in own home.’ I’m sorry I can’t call the police. Your neighbor will find your body in a few hours when they come over for your nightly beer. That was in the article. I don’t think you have much longer. I’m so sorry that I can’t help you. If I save you, then you don’t die. If you don’t die, then there’s no article for me to read. If there’s no article for me to read tomorrow, then how can I remember it today? It’s a paradox, of course.

Sometimes I dream that I remember acting on something I remember from tomorrow. I still couldn’t change anything but I could … I don’t know.

I’ve never been able to talk to anyone about this. Anytime I wanted to try I just couldn’t say anything. I think if I told someone it would change the future even if I didn’t tell them what I could remember of tomorrow. But you aren’t going to make it to tomorrow.

I’ve tried to think of a way to change things but nothing works. My thoughts just run in the same circles over and over. I want to scream but I can’t. Don’t think I’m a slave to my memories. How much of yesterday do you remember? Bits and pieces maybe a few clear spots but if I asked you to replay the day exactly you couldn’t. No one remembers every minute of their life or even of the past day. It’s the same for me and tomorrow.

I know I sound delusional and I’ve thought that myself but you’re the proof that I can remember tomorrow. How else could I have found you before anyone else? I don’t even live on this side of the city. I had to take the bus and walk around for twenty minutes to find your house. How could I have known? I couldn’t have. Are you…? Good. I was afraid I was talking to a corpse.

It won’t be much longer. I’ll stay until … it’s over. It’s the most I can do.

Spirit Cleansing

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The man stood paralyzed in the center of the circle by a minor charm. I inscribed the last symbol and the circle closed. He deserved worse than what I was about to do to him I reminded myself. With a heavy sigh, I took another step down that familiar paved road.

I began by drawing the man’s breath out of his lungs and sealing it in the first jar. His mouth flapped open and closed as he tried in vain to take in air. Next, I pulled the water, just the water, from his body. Blood dried in his veins, organs shriveled in his torso, skin contracted around tough, dry muscle. The water flowed through the circle into jars; as each one filled, its lid snapped shut and sealed. The husk of a man stood in the circle just beginning to collapse when I sundered him into a fine dust. This I let fall to the floor. The man’s spirit hovered anxiously over what had been its body only seconds before. A moment passed before it spoke.

“Am I dead?” it asked.

“Yes.” It darted towards me and stopped suddenly at the edge of the circle.

“I can’t reach you.”

“No,” I said plainly.

“Why did you do this?” It flung itself back and forth across the circle looking for a way out. The dust pile shifted and spread from its movements.

“I was paid. Five hundred gold for the breath of a man. Seven hundred for the waters of a man.” It pressed against the point closest to me.

“Why me?” it wailed.

“You were cheap. For only two hundred gold I bought you from the executioner. You only had one more night left in any event.”

“I was a criminal?”

“Yes.” I paused and began to explain. “Death, even from losing one’s head, is slower than what I did to you. The longer a spirit clings to a dying body the more of the person stays with it. You are nearly pure spirit with only the bare traces of humanity in you. When I release you, you will be free to do as you will. Harm me and I will dispel your energies.”

“Why?”

“Why what?”

“Why leave me like this?”

“The flesh is weak against desires and willing to compromise the spirit’s morals. Now you are nothing but spirit with a chance to be something other than human. It’s a small kindness to balance the evils I’ve done.”

I scuffed my foot across the circle, breaking it and freeing the spirit. It moved to hover near me. A spectral hand reached into my head. It was inexperienced at robbing a person’s mind, searching through my childhood for information on who it had been in life. I guided it to three days ago when the executioner had recounted the man’s crimes for several minutes in graphic detail. The spirit recoiled.

“But what about the evil I’ve done?” it asked.

“It’s up to you to balance that debt or not,” I said and began packing the sealed jars in a crate. The spirit floated over the loose pile of dust and began to gather it.

The Edge of the Map

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The map is not a relic of the past. Take careful note of the plotted course. Once you have your bearing, follow it as straight and true as possible. When your compass becomes useless, you’re close. When the sun never sets, just hangs high above, you’re closer. When you’ve sailed as far as you dare, you’re right there. Just a little further, you’re off the map now, and the edge of the world awaits.

Here the sea does not drain down into the void. It soars up and flows toward the sky becoming another sea with another world within it. Sailing from one sea to the other is difficult. The transition is a delicate balance as up and sideways turn around each other. Many ships have drowned or tipped or flipped. Get your speed up, race along the edge, turn into and up the wall of water. A good captain may still wet her sails on the bend.

Once past the edge, a world like, but unlike, your own awaits. Tropical islands, snow-covered islands, sandbars, vast coastlines of forests, deserts, swamps, mountains, and more. These lands are not for the taking. The people are friendly no matter how startling their appearance. In less than a day, you will forget about their third eye. In less than a week, you will overlook their fifth and sixth arms. In less than a month, you will be used to their armored skin. In less than a year, their claws will seem no different than your own fingernails.

Be cautious in the harbor cities you visit. Be wary if traveling over land for any distance. Thieves and pirates live on both sides of the bend. To be marooned here is to cast your fate into the sand. Native ships do not cross to your world. None from these lands will risk it. Your ship could make the return voyage if you can make the transition again.

But why would you leave? This world is a glory to behold. A captain could sail her whole life on this sea and gaze upon only a fraction of it all.

For the more adventurous, you need only remember a map has four edges.

Cold Spots

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Summer so far had been especially hot. Sweltering as they say. Our small window mounted AC unit had given up and died a week earlier. Even with the windows open, it was hard to keep our apartment bearable. So we were sitting on the stoop, which was at least on the shady side of the building.

The apartment complex was low rent, part government housing, and not gated in any way so it wasn’t uncommon to see people walking through that didn’t live there. This one guy stood out though. He was walking from building to building offering tenants, also sitting on their stoops, flyers. Again not unusual but the closed trench coat he was wearing stood out.

When he got close to us, I noticed another odd thing, he wasn’t sweating. Even without a trench coat covering most of his body, I would have expected at least a sheen of sweat. He should have been drenched, sweat dripping from his hair, but instead, he looked as cool as a cucumber.

“Hello, ladies,” he said while reaching into his coat. I sat up straighter, tensing until he pulled a pamphlet out and offered it to me. The title read, “Beat the heat!!” with clip art flames on the bottom.

“Sorry, we’re not interested,” I said. Probably a recruiter for a cult.

“You haven’t even heard what I’m offering.” He smiled a genuine, honest, open smile that was still a salesman’s smile. I glanced at Selene, who shrugged, so I took the pamphlet from him.

“Okay, what are you selling?” I asked flipping open the pamphlet. Inside were instructions on drawing sigils and their placement within rooms.

“First I need to ask, do you believe in ghosts?”

“Only on the weekends and holidays,” Selene said.

“Sometimes,” I said.

“Have you ever walked into a room and felt a cold spot or heard of someone experiencing a cold spot in their home?”

Selene laughed. “I’ve heard about that.”

“Good, you know ghosts can affect the ambient temperature of a room in one spot at least. Now, what if you could move the ghost around the room in a controlled manner?”

“Are you talking about cooling a house with a ghost?”

“Exactly. The pamphlet, which is yours to keep for free, has instructions on how to draw the ghost management sigils and where to place them in your home.”

“So you’re giving away your big idea for free?” I asked.

“The idea is too easy to share and duplicate to bother selling. I sell ghosts to power the cooling system.” He reached deep into one of his pockets and pulled out a small octagon box wrapped in string with a wax seal on top.

Selene leaned forward to squint at the box. “So, you’ve got some grandma’s soul trapped in a box and you’re just going to sell it to us to cool our apartment?”

“Not at all. Our spirits are ethically sourced. We do not deal in souls or remnants or poltergeists.”

“How do you ‘ethically source’ something that comes from dead people?”

“The spirits-”

“Ah, so they are souls!” Selene crowed.

The man’s smile slipped to a tight grin. “Spirit is a layperson term we use for the psychically active emotional energy we collect from donors at the time of there death. It’s no different than organ donation.”

“Except there’s a huge difference between a liver and a soul.”

He sighed and began reciting from memory, “We don’t collect souls. At the time of death, a person releases a burst of psychic energy that usually dissipates quickly. In the case of violent or traumatic death part or all of the soul can become attached to this energy creating a classic ghost, remnant, or poltergeist. Since we only collect in clinical settings our donors die peacefully with no chance of that happening.”

“That actually does sound on the up and up.”

“So, are you interested in buying your first spirit, I mean psychically active emotion energy ball?” His smile returned in full force.

“How much?” I asked

“Seven hundred dollars.”

“We could buy three AC units for that much.”

“True but this is a cooling system that will never break down and won’t run up your electric bill.”

“Sorry, we’re not interested. Have you made any sales around here?”

“Nope.” He returned the sealed box to his coat pocket.

“I didn’t think so. Most people around here can barely afford regular ACs.”

The man shrugged. “I’m aware of the financial situation of the area but you can’t find new markets without looking for them. Well, it’s been a pleasure talking to you ladies but I must be moving on.”

I watched him walk off to the next building and start his spiel over again.

“Do you think this could actually work?” I asked looking over the sigils closely. Selene touched the final example and mumbled words under her breath. The black ink flashed red and a shock ran up one of my arms and down the other. I dropped the pamphlet. “Damn, warn me before you do something like that.”

“Seems to be a stable containment sigil. A bit more general purpose than I would use but serviceable. The idea is sound if slightly unethical in most cases.”

“What about George? He wasn’t a very nice person when he was alive. It would almost be fitting to put him to work cooling the apartment.”

“You said released his energies.”

“Maybe I only confined him to the cupboard over the fridge? Look we never use those cupboards anyway and it was easier than passing him over.”

“Hmm, well as long as we have a ghost we don’t mind tormenting let’s give it a whirl.”