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Autumn

The original chicking video has twelve million loops before Autumn gets Kam to do it with her.

“No,” says Kam, congenitally incapable of fun. “Birds don’t have anal sphincters.”

Why would you stick anything in its anal sphincter,” says Autumn. The yellow puffballs in her hands cheep at each other.

“They just poop!” says Kam. “At random! And you want me to hold it in my mouth!”

Autumn gets what she wants, as always. Head craned back, tiny feet against her teeth, tongue on trembling down, Kam decides this feels weird because she’s usually on the other side of the metaphor.

Ethan

Mindy haunts him with her teeth, biting his fingers to make him yelp and drop glasses, chewing aluminum while he tries to sleep. Ethan’s developed a tic from her habit of sticking her ectoplasmic tongue in his ear.

It has to be Mindy. He never traded hickeys or promises with anyone else who’s gone. People stick around for unfinished business, his culture tells him, but is it his or hers?

His thumb hovers over the button to dial the exorcist until Ethan puts his phone away. Cold ghost breath on his cheek, uneven, and the kiss or whisper that never comes.

Nimisha

They’ve seen Scienceland, Dragonland, Cableland, Imaginationland, Mountainland, Doctorland, Americaland, Carland, Native Americaland, Ennuiland, Mysteryland, Surpriseland, Terrorland, Potteryland, Noiseland, Grassland, Furnitureland, and Narrativeland, and still the park exit eludes them. There are no crowds, no attendants. Seatbelted to a bookcase, they ride a conveyor through yet another dim attraction.

“Why do you think he always writes about two people, in these condemned-wanderer stories?” says Nimisha. “Just for dialogue?”

“More like a clumsy personal philosophy,” says Clayton.

“But does he think having company is kind,” says Nimisha, “or cruel?”

Mute animatronics grin at them, safe behind glass, and mime Man Versus Self.

Jake

Dawn comes early in summer, and the wishes are restless. Nobody in the house can sleep while they’re out there chiming and trilling. Jake scritches his fuzzy eyes and pads out bareback to open their coop.

They flurry-flap and scatter out into the pen, then regather to nudge his arms and legs as he measures out a bowl of crushed Adderall. Once they’re eagerly pecking, he checks their nests. Nothing’s hatched, of course. Jake doesn’t know why the house keeps them anymore; their food is expensive, and you can’t let them go hungry. Given the chance, they’ll eat you alive.

Nouri

The fad among seventeen-year-olds this year is crop tops with some kind of silk band worn just underneath the bottom hem and it makes Nouri feel like an ancient ruin. It’s hard to keep their attention on a whiteboard when they’re busy flashing color-coded bellies across the aisles.

Yesterday in the cafeteria, snapping a phone picture, one of them used the term “belfie.” Nouri almost bit through her spoon. She’s barely thirty. Whither the sexting of her youth? Shamefacedly, she tries on red and cerulean at Forevs that weekend, but she’s worried they carry messages she never learned.

Kaijuville

“We’re here with noted kaiju critic Esther Hayes, and the lines are open!” says the anchor.

“Yeah, what even is your job,” says the line.

“I interpret kaiju rampages through a lens that makes them relatable,” Esther says patiently. “For instance, Vulfhor’s destruction of the Wilbury neighborhood last week was an allegory for the oligarchical–”

“Twelve hundred people lived in that allegory.” The line crackles. “My great-aunt lived in that allegory.”

“I know.” Esther lets her exhaustion show, almost. “Sometimes you need a lens to make things farther away.”

Vulfhor rolls his radioactive eyes and tries to change the channel.

Clemence

“It’ll fade if we play it too many times,” Poppy warns her. “Vinyl or satin, it all wears out.”

“Just once more,” says Clemence, a little too old to get away with liquid-eyed begging but still trying. “I can’t do it like you can!”

“I’ve shown you a million times,” says Poppy, but she unspools the typewriter ribbon anyway. Everything that turns steadily can record sound. If you’re sharp as a diamond needle, you can play it back.

Poppy opens her mouth. Clemence listens close, above the clatter-bang of the keys, for the singsong rumble of her father’s voice.

Grant Breezy

Grant Breezy is the best tanhacker in Pacifica and he has no time for some rat-tailed kid from Lincoln City. “Move on,” he drawls, “this sun’s taken.”

The kid, looming, kicks sand at him.

“Watch it,” snaps Grant Breezy, on his feet and inspecting the sensitive ports for grit. “You ever seen a top-class mirrorboard? This thing’ll trace circuits on the insides of your ears!”

“I can outbronze you by moonlight with my junker,” says the kid.

“Challenge accepted,” says Grant Breezy. “I’m Grant Breezy.”

“I’m Loyola Mint,” says Loyola Mint, and boots up to her custom puka shell.

Clumso

“Clumso is very sorry about the dishes,” says Clumso.

“It’s fine,” says Maya.

“Also the car. And the little puppy.” Clumso heaves a sigh and tries to lean on a column, misses, stumbles, and smashes a flower pot. “Oh no!”

“It’s fine,” Maya repeats.

“Clumso is so bad at this!” he sniffles, wiping his nose with one enormous, grubby hand. “Clumso never means to break things!”

“Intent isn’t magic,” says Maya, with the slightest strain in her voice.

“But MAGIC is!” shouts Madame Zaganza, bursting in with stars showering from her wand. “Correcto tremundis!

And that fixes everything!

It’s all better!!

Total

Total the talking turtle is currently too excited to talk, which was fine when he was on the acting-out side of this charades game.

“Thirty seconds,” says Sybil the speaking snake, coiled up in a pet carrier like everyone else in this airplane cargo hold.

“Come onnnn,” grouses Griswold the grumbling Great Dane. “Two words! You can get this!” He points his nose at Total, then kind of around him, then back again.

“Time’s up!” Sybil says. “We win. I get to eat the little dog.”

“WHAT,” shrieks Shara the shih tzu.

“Box turtle!!!” Total bursts out, a week later.

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