When the alien fleet was first sighted just beyond the asteroid belt, end-of-the-world riots broke out in cities around the globe. But when astronomers calculated that the huge, silent ships would take nearly three weeks to reach Earth, all but the most committed rioters felt their enthusiasm wilt. By the end of the day they’d all dropped their bricks or bats and slunk home, plundered consumer electronics in hand, muttering about the aliens’ apparent lack of urgency...
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The water fountains are low. The lockers are empty. The summer air is warm but there are people in the classrooms. People are talking, are moving. A female emerges from the nearest classroom. She is fully grown. She has dyed hair and competing odors and all of her teeth. Showing her teeth, she asks, “Are you the teacher?”
“YES. YES, I AM.”
She wants to believe those words. What she sees isn’t what she expects, but this woman believes in authority. She wants to get along with others. Showing her teeth, she says, “My son is thrilled to get into your class. He loves the outdoors and doing outdoor things . . . fishing and all that. . . .”
“You’ll do the field trip Thursday, right? To the woods?” She waits a moment and then says, “I can take some of the kids, if you need an extra car.”
“I DON’T NEED A CAR.”
“But I’d like to come along. I mean, I’ve heard such good things about you. My friend Rita . . .” She stops talking, trying to find a reason for her nervousness.
“I MUST GO AND TEACH YOUR SON.”
Don’t call me anything at all. Give me my pint of piss-poor ale and leave me be in this yellowed corner where men relieve themselves when they are too lazy to make three extra stumbling steps to the streets of Nantucket. I am done. Finished. Come to this hole to die—and if you insist on speaking to me, I’ll find a deeper hole than this dying excuse of a whaling town can offer…
Once upon a time, O my Best Beloved, when the world was one world with one moon and the stars did scintillate and sparkle in the sky, astronomers discovered a Beast of a Meteor flying through the vast black toward the Sun.
The scientists of the world realized that the Beast, in a veraciously voracious manner, would devour the hot yellow sun, and they did talk and squawk and look through long telescopes to watchwhat that Beast was doing. They crunched their magic numbers and they scribbled their special notes, and they filled their study rooms with piles of scritch-scratch paper…
It was just a whiff, a few molecules of something familiar and therefore sweet, wafting on a late afternoon breeze that otherwise carried only the usual: formaldehyde, benzene, dioxin, chromium, and miscellaneous particulate matter both organic and non-. (Once, there had been the smell of roasting chestnuts and crackling logs and simmering spiced cider, but in recent cycles only less pleasant things burned.) There, represented by an air sample just barely statistically significant, was the scent of Sophie.
It was a very special day, so I wore the least tatty of my vestments. The chasuble is only slightly frayed, the stains on the cincture have faded, the alb, granted, is little better than a rag. I cannot get the grease out of the amice, and the stole is in tatters. The less said about the maniple the better. But by adjusting the lighting so it played through the cobwebs I think only the sharpest-eyed of congregants will have noticed. I did my best to disguise the stink by spraying the chapel with an aerosol can of Essence of Blood of the Lamb. It was decocted, of course, not from the real blood of a real lamb, but from chemical compounds manufactured in the lab by boffins. I have seen pictures of so-called “real” lambs in a codex. They look like tinier versions of sheep, if, that is, they were drawn to scale. Who knows?