Orlando wakes from a dead sleep at three in the morning, yanked into consciousness by the sudden vivid memory of the time they reached across the table to pour a glass of wine for the Comte de Saint Germain and farted so loudly that the entire dinner party fell silent for a second. They can hardly breathe for the mortification; it has been three and a half lifetimes since the incident, and two centuries since the last time anyone mentioned it, but the feeling is as fresh as ever it was.

It’s a long dark night until morning.

They take their coffee black and their eggs runny and try to shake off the mood, but each memory is replaced with another, equally discomfiting. An unwelcome declaration of love during the French revolution, too-loud laughter in the Berlin opera house during the mass protests of the 1840s, holding McKinley’s hand just a little too tightly and a little too long in that last reception line. None of it matters anymore, but all the old wounds have reopened, like a bout of emotional scurvy.

They live too quietly these days.

It’s always hard, in that uncomfortable period when they’re too young to live their old life, and too old to reemerge as their own child. Their last spouse—a wife, this time—is five years dead and gone, and their friends have nothing to talk about except their own aging, the senescing of body and mind uncompelling to someone untouched by the passage of time. Orlando is firm, fit, and supple, an eternal 32, with only multiple lifetimes of embarassments and inelegancies for company.


When he’s eaten everything else he can and the snow is coming down thick and fast, Orlando eats the chyme.

“Now, I did research on this,” he says earnestly over his shoulder to the empty room he’s built into a rock face. “These musk ox, they live on grass. We can eat grass too—grass is edible—but we don’t have the right teeth to get all the nutrition out of it. But the ox, man, he does. He chewed up all that grass out there, and swallowed it down, and spit it up so he could chew it again.”

It’s dark but it’s early. Too hungry to eat, to cold to move, too dark to play dice, and he doesn’t carve. “It’s my birthday today,” he says flatly, “and my mother died. Here I am, in a hole, eating grass, nobody to talk to but you. Shoulda gone to the funeral but didn’t. Shoulda gone to her before she died but didn’t. I don’t know. Shoulda done a lot of things but didn’t.”

His knife cuts into the bag of the stomach he’s been saving for over a month. Deep breath. “Smells sour. That’s good, that means it’s fermented, and that means it’s edible. They got special bacteria in their stomachs to help break everything down like that.” He pulls out a handful of semi-digested grass and shows it to the empty room. “This is dinner tonight. Arctic kimchi. Polar pickles.”

He heats it in a tin can he found on the beach. “We didn’t get along, her and me, once I got a little older. Didn’t get along with either of them, really, but her in particular I just— I know she probably did her best, and I respect that, but—” He chews the chyme meditatively for a few minutes, wondering at the taste. “Sour milk,” he mutters.