Gather, my children, I have a story. This was many years ago, before the Four Corners War, before steel towers devoured the sky, back when Brooklyn’s gaslit avenues dipped and curved around great oak trees, and long-necked sauropods loped glumly in the East River, dangling steel rails from their harnesses for the brand-new suspension bridge. These were days of revelry and masquerades burning through the wide-open nights, when we were flickering shadows burgeoning along the dawn streets.
Since the discovery of the Eighth continent, your Tour Guide writers have received many letters from travelers and concerned individuals. We have heard, for instance, from the embattled New Zealand geologists who have long attempted to gain traction for their theory of the unrecognized continent of Zealandia. These hardworking scientists argue that the collection of partly submerged fragments off the coast of New Zealand comprise a much larger landmass, claiming this fits within standard definitions of continental attributes.
Sure, I know István Horvath. We met about a year before Eva died. That’s my wife, Eva. You knew that? Yeah, I figured you were pretty thorough. It was the year of the blizzard, when snow covered the cars parked on the streets and even the Post Office shut down. I didn’t have to go to work for a week. So one night, I think it was Thursday, Eva says, “Mike, I only have one of the blue pills left.” This was when we still thought the chemo was doing something.
Ten months after the ark first floated, and forty days after its keel snagged on a drowned mountain peak, Noah released a raven to look for land. Her name was ungraspable by humans, but might be translated as Bessary, plus a term ravens used for the taste of three-day-dead goat when the temperatures have stayed just above freezing, plus a color at the 327-nanometer wavelength, plus a sensation along the rictal bristles in a particular sort of cool air. Her feathers rustled like silk.
If the shuffle’s been thorough, the next hand is random. The cards emerge as bequeathed by chance, either with some splendid combination that guarantees a win, or more often with no synchronicity whatsoever, a collection of images that means nothing and therefore functions as a loss. All wins are temporary, and all losses more than you can afford. But if you’re at the tables, you play. Shuffle, and winning or losing depends entirely on the order in which they land.
She says her name is Holiday, but I know she’s lying. I remember her face. It was all over the news for weeks, years even, but of course she doesn’t know that. I briefly consider telling her, saying something like, “Hey, did you know you’re a star?” But that would necessitate bringing up the subject of her death, and I’m not clear if she knows that she’s a ghost, or that almost everyone thinks her parents killed her. That doesn’t seem like the kind of thing any kid should have to hear.
Ever since the discovery of the eighth continent, we’ve all had to come to terms with the presence of a landmass we never knew existed. In this age, wherein it often feels like every inch of mountain and valley has been charted, crossed, and geocached, how could we have been blind to a continent floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean? We suppose, like the mapmakers of a millennium ago, we were blinded by our self-assured scientists and their navigational tools.
The pain of losing something so precious that you did not think you could live without it. Oxygen. The ice breaks beneath your feet: Your coat and boots fill with water and pull you down. An airlock blows: Vacuum pulls you apart by the eyes, the pores, the lungs. You awaken in a fire: The door and window are outlined in flames. You fall against a railing: The rusted iron slices through your femoral artery. You are dead already.
Old Au saw the thief first. Squatting in the garden, she commanded a long view of the east road; gray flagstone straighter than nature amid the green scrub and bramble. Rich soil breathed its scent around her as she took an offending root in one hand and her garden knife in the other. Between the moment she began sawing and when she pulled the first tangle of dirt and pale vegetable flesh out of the ground, the thief appeared, a dot on the horizon. She worked as he approached. His cloak hung limp in the humid summer air.
The Wizard Niccolo was not happy. At the age of 183—youthful for a wizard, but improbable for an ordinary human—he had thought certain things well out of his life. Sudden changes in his daily routine were one. And romance was another—even if it was his familiar’s romance, and not his own. “Could make an omelet with it, I suppose,” he grumbled to that familiar, the tiny dragon Olivia. She sat on the cluttered mantle, wrapped around her egg, still marveling at its production and entirely too pleased with herself.