Colony Collapse

Eventually the tributes stop coming and hunger pricks him forth from the laybrinth’s comforting coils. Pushing through a thick bramble, Asterion blinks weak eyes in confusion at the ruins above. What has become of the city he barely remembers? The palace court that towered above his infant head? The people that recoiled in fear and holy dread when he passed? Roots have riven the stones of the road, each from the other, flowering shrubs have colonized the roofs, attics resound with the untroubled burbling of pigeons.

He is alone with the grass and wild beasts and the sound of the waves. He is used to being alone, used to wandering in places that refuse familiarity; this is no worse than that, but still he wonders.

Days and weeks of privation have worn his body hollow, and when he stumbles upon a group of giant rabbits, two feet long and a foot high, who stare utterly unconcerned into his eyes, his fingers twitch for a second with old habits. But the sun is high and warm and no one is screaming, no one is fleeing, there is nothing he has to do in the moment.

Asterion of Minos crouches down, curves his back, his neck to brush the earth with his lips, and takes his first bite of grass. Unwatered wine was never so sweet.

The Pinball Tycoon

In a journo bar at ten in the morning, the night beat writers are working out the kinks.

“Well, so I called up Bailey and told him I’d made a mistake, but that he’d made a mistake, too, so it was a Mexican standoff. It’s a nice job, you finish up, you yell for the copy boy, you grab a secondhand sandwich and a cup—”

“Wait, no, hang on—”

“Murder is only a symptom of what we’re suffering from; the disease is selfishness and jealousy and greed. Too many of us have decided that the Golden Rule might have been alright for Grampa—”

“You’re telling me you spent weeks—weeks—accusing an innocent man of murder, then tried to kill him, and that’s your takeaway?”

Lovejoy coughs. “How can any of us hurt, or hate, or be indifferent to those—”

“You tried to murder a man, Frank? You broke into his office and held an elevator operator at gunpoint and nearly died and you think this is a societal—”

Lovejoy’s lost his place, and a little of his steam. “No, I mean— you see, Carter’s girlfriend killed him, and— that is, the cops weren’t going to do anything, because— look, let me tell you about nearly getting impaled on the elevator springs again…”

“Jesus, Lovejoy,” growls Hamilton. “This shit right here is why you’re stuck in section 6.”

Beware the Elevator Shaft

Everyone is cheating and no one is faithful. The married rich man’s hard, cynical girlfriend kisses him unsentimentally on the nose and shoos him out the door so her boyfriend, his louche, handsome failson can slip out from behind the curtain for a kiss more passionate, a clinch more clinging.

All a lie, of course; he’s got a wife on the side and they’re planning to murder the old man and pin it on the girlfriend. They don’t know, unfortunately, that they’re being watched by the old prospector and his burro, or caught on film by the freelance nature photographer, but they’ll find out soon enough when the two collide in the apartment hallway looking for blackmail.

“After you, old man,” says the photographer, a blonde roughneck with his camera bolted to a rifle stock.

“Tarnation,” mutters the prospector. “Ain’t this beat all.”

The burro says nothing, but it has dark designs on the sugar in the prospector’s pocket.

Art Eats the Artist

Devoured, Patrick stretches his back for the first time in who knows how long and slips the palm glove from his wrist, wipes the sweat off on his thigh. Breathes.

The noise is unexpected: gurgle of digestion, pump of blood, hiss of breath. He is surrounded by tubes, suddenly uncomfortably aware of his own fluids moving through his own tubes, with and against gravity, the regular tick tick tick of valves opening and closing.

He waits for dissolution, for hunger or thirst, but in vain. First he grows bored, then he grows restless; time passes. He drags his desk to more stable ground, his chair, taps his fingers on the edge, and begins again to draw.

Each page vanishes as he completes it. Unknowable outside the monstrous machine burps.

The Lord Provides

“In that city,” says the merchant, and the guests settle in at the table, as eager for the tale as for the food, “it was the custom that no one should long outlive their spouse, and so it was that when my wife took sick and died, I was lowered into the tomb beside her with nothing more than a jug of sweet water and seven loaves of bread.” The waiters began bringing in the meal, and he paused to offer thanks.

“I stretched those scant supplies as long as I could, there among the piled dead of the city, but eventually there came a day when I took my last bite of bread and my last swallow of water. I prayed to God the merciful for a swift death, and cursed my folly in again taking to the seas, when a spear of light stabbed in from above—the first in who knows how long!—and the sound of weeping, sadly familiar. Another funeral!”

The merchant pauses to soothe his throat with a glass of wine, and his guests hang suspended with food halfway to their lips, scarcely daring to breath until he resumes. “I crept close in the dark, the long shinbone of a corpse in my hand, and bludgeoned the disoriented husband that was lowered down with his bloodless bride. I wept as I did, and gave thanks to God, but the hardest trial was yet to come, for search as I might I could find no trace of bread, but only another jug of sweet water.”

It is at this point that the guests look across the table and realize there is no meat at all, merely a harvest’s worth of fruit and grain, cunningly prepared and masterfully spiced. The swifter guests blanch in horror, but Sinbad the Porter nods; he too has been hungry. Sinbad the Merchant smiles as he resumes his story, but his eyes above his beard are flat and clouded.