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Epilogue

Brought to you by Ben Wray

“Okay, what about exceptions?”

“I need your exceptiona-” but then Kay’s rudely interrupted.

“Notimetoexplain!” Mario grabs her and spacetime rearranges itself in a flash of light. They’re just in time for the closing words.

“Omnia mutantur, nihil interit,” solmenly quotes Toe. “Death is but a door, time is but a window…”

“Is he quoting Ghostbusters 2 or 8-bit theater?” asks Jake, but Dylan kicks him, hard, and he shuts up.

Everybody’s there. Zach, Rob, Asuka’s doctor, Zaganza, Shelly, your favorite character not already mentioned… everybody.

Then Millicent’s paw thrusts triumphantly out of the ground suck it Brendan I win forever.

Rob

Rob walks Albie Street, his shoes clattering softly together.

“They call those crack tennies,” says Maya.

“Who calls anything ‘tennies?'” says Rob.

“You know what I mean,” says Maya. “I used to try and pull them down.”

“They’re boundary markers. Wards. Protection.”

“Do you think I need protection?” He doesn’t say anything; she tilts her head.

They turn down Twenty-Ninth. Rob leans back and sends the next pair whirling upward, where it catches by the laces on the catenary line.

“So,” she says, “do you carve magic runes on the soles or something?”

“I just use a Sharpie,” he says.

Rob

In the white there is the Word, and the Word is MEIT.

Rob tries to speak the Word and stops. Ah, yes, to say the Word would make it transient; to speak is to debase it. He still his tongue. He stills his breath.

Rob lurches and falls. His vision blurs, then doubles: MEIT and MEIT cross over each other and become something else. Different. Rob understands that this is wrong. He must be rid of it. He must make it transient.

“EMET,” he whispers. Then he’s choking, gagging through the vomit in his nose, struggling with a rough brown blanket.

Rob

“No,” says Rob, at the threshold.

Darlene’s already inside, working a mortar and pestle. In an arc to her side are slivers of white bone; to the other are tiny plastic bags. Splayed out on the floor next to her is the angel, white and dessicated. Its face is hidden. All its hands are crooked, its endless recursive wings, the savage spine–

“Don’t get squeamish,” grunts Salem, and shoves him. He trips and crashes, cuts his hands. White dust. He looks up at Darlene, and his eyes are black.

“You haven’t taught me anything,” he whispers. Darlene’s face is suddenly fearful.

Rob

Rob can just see the acupuncture needles from the corners of his eyes, when he blinks out tears. The sewing is less sophisticated. It’s thick black upholstery thread, big X-shaped stitches, and they’re starting to bleed.

He’s screaming through his nose, but his limbs and jaw are locked up by Salem’s expertise. He can feel the paper corner Darlene slipped under his tongue. She’s writing something on his forehead, now: four characters. Salem bites the thread and ties it off.

“Goodbye,” Darlene says a little sadly, and wipes away the first letter.

Rob’s alone. The needles are gone. Everything’s white.

Dogcatcher

Rob’s already there when Dogcatcher arrives, looking crowded on a square acre of empty roof. She slips up behind him and runs one finger down his neck; he doesn’t even jump. She’s impressed.

“You’ve got it?” he asks. She saunters in front of him, pulling the locket out of her top. It glints even in starlight.

“And you’ve got my stray,” she says.

He nods down the street. “There. The blue row house. I’ve been… watching the place.”

“You’re sure?”

“Tomorrow or the day after,” says Rob. “They all end up there eventually.”

Inside the blue row house, Maya sleeps, unaware.

Rob

“Thought you were supposed to use dirt from a grave,” says Rob, a bit hopelessly.

“You see any graveyards around here?” snaps Darlene.

“Yeah, behind the church at 28th and Madison–”

“Shut up,” she says. “Graveyard dirt. Goofer dust. Huh. You might get lucky and find one who got buried and wasn’t dead yet, but most of the time that’s stale power. Now this…” She scoops another fistful of sand into the baggie. “This is a thousand people, all sticking their deaths into the same soil. See?”

Rob notices a Kool butt in the bag, all magenta on one end.

Maya

Maya screams, to her shame, when Salem’s hatpin stabs through her hand and into the wall. “Quiet,” he says, and slaps her. Her ears ring; she almost misses the tinkling crash.

Rob is up, white and sweating, on his knees. He holds Boulevard’s watch. He’s smashed its face and bent up its second hand, which keeps ticking, crookedly.

“You won’t,” says Darlene. “You can’t.”

He wets two fingers with his blood and holds them above it; his eyes are wide, and very cold. Darlene and Maya hold their breath.

But Salem doesn’t. He snarls, and blurs; and then Maya goes deaf.

Maya

“You can open your mouth and eat,” Maya says, quietly and firmly. “I fed you before you came back to yourself. You don’t need me to now.”

Rob reaches for the pad and pencil, but Maya holds them away. “No crutches,” she says.

He looks angry, but it subsides. He stands and walks to the door to flip off the lights. Maya doesn’t understand until he turns back, and there they are, faint as moonlight on his lips: stitches.

He reaches for the pad again, and this time she lets him have it. You can open them, he writes. I can’t.

Rob

“What do you call this spell, anyway?” asks Rob, a little repulsed.

“Extract of ariolimax columbianus, Vittles,” says Salem. There’s less venom in his voice now: blow-drying the slugs seems to calm him. “And ‘snot a spell. One of your pharmacos will catch on in five years, but for now it’s our secret…”

Rob has his doubts about its efficacy, but Salem’s demonstration knocks them out as quickly as it does his victims. He snaps a pinch of powdered slug into the air and waits: seconds later, a big man in a kerchief walks through and sleeps face-first into the wall.

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