Mark and Desmond slump down against the basement wall. Demon-killing is exhausting work.
Mark stares blankly for a moment then looks at Desmond. “I’m so sorry. It just came out.”
Desmond wipes demon slime off his axe. “It’s fine.”
“No.” Mark puts down his dagger, still dirty. “I mean, thank you. That’s kind. But it’s not fine. Obviously it’s not fine.”
“Don’t stress about it.” He pulls a plastic bottle out of his coat and pours oil over the axe.
Mark picks up the dagger and starts wiping it off. “I don’t even know why I said that.”
Desmond passes him the bottle. “Said what?”
Tommy got up and left in a hurry, head stooped, clutching his arm. He headed out into the trees. Some looks went around the campfire. I was finished dinner, so I figured I could take this one. I stood up slowly, and picked up my machete.
Graham nodded too, from across the fire. He went to the RV, and came out with the one remaining gun we had bullets for, a big heavy revolver. I didn’t have to ask how many shots were left. We all kept count in our heads: 11. We saved them for each other.
“Maybe someday, we’ll live in the castle!” The young man, Devon, sat on the grass and pointed to the cliffs where the Baron’s towers overlooked the bay, the spires piercing the sky.
The woman, his aunt Edwina, had lived long enough to remember when there were only three of those towers. Now there were six. By the time Devon was old, there could be a dozen.
On the first day, I sat at my computer and started drawing up plans for a new space station. I worked calmly for four hours, took a one-hour lunch break, worked for another four hours, and finished.
The drone’s payload was tucked underneath, looking suspicious. Normally, delivery drones hold rectangular boxes covered in ads, but this one was shaped wrong, and there wasn’t even a logo. It was clearly sent by someone doing something they didn’t want to get caught doing.
The apartment building had 14 stories of bachelor suites, 12 to a floor. The drone could never hit all of them, but its programming was highly aggressive: it’s okay to destroy yourself if you get out, say, half the payload.
I sit on a bench, watching my kid running around a playground. He’s currently trying to go up the slide while other kids go down. I’m about to tell him to take his turn, when I hear that voice for the first time.
“Hey, don’t freak out.”
I freak out. The voice is frighteningly familiar.
At first, sadness, weeping, grief. So much. Too much.
I can see them all, grieving for me. There are flickers of laughter. A relief.
Then, more crying. Eventually more laughing. More joy.
“What finally made you leave?” the girl said to Grace. “Was it all the meditating? I hated the meditating.”
Grace Leung sat, mouth closed, staring at the blank, metal wall of the cargo hold they had stowed away in, trying to ignore the waking nightmare, the snarling and barking, that filled her ears but came from inside her head.
The lawyer took a deep breath and looked down at the cave floor. The trunk was still there: leather-bound wood, the kind of thing you’d lug onto a steamship. She opened it, and the genie flowed out, a creature of smoke but with a sly face and fire in its eyes.
“How long…?” it said.
“Three months,” she answered. “I work fast.”
“Hello, Jamal,” they said to me, or I said to me. It was pretty confusing, staring at a room full of men who looked exactly like me.