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Kelly

“You beat me home!” says Kelly, dropping her bag to wrap her arms around Dominic from the back and kiss his neck.

“Evan needed help with dinner,” says Dominic, and Evan in turn comes up behind her, burying his face in her hair. Kelly feels a damp patting on her arm and grins.

“You three just wanted extra snuggle time,” she accuses, and they barely even look ashamed. The baby on Evan’s hip emits a high-pitched and happy message. Kelly winks at her. She either has her father’s eyes or her daddy’s nose, but most days they can’t decide which.

Jake

Jake dies and goes to Hell.

“This sucks!” says Jake.

“Right?!” says a demon.

“I thought I’d stop existing.”

“Nah,” grins the demon. “Death just takes your measure. No more quantum possibility, no more choices, no more branches. This is it. This is all you get.”

“Aha,” says Jake. “Well. In my life, I searched for certainty, so it’s poetic that—”

“Shut up!” says the demon, and throws him into a bunch of fire.

Jake also goes to Heaven when he dies, but that Jake can’t know about the one in Hell. That’s kind of what the point of Heaven is.

Atesh

Atesh climbs to his feet, shaking. Most of the shielding still glows, and he can hear little ticking sounds as it cools, scattered wide across a dark plain. His arms and legs sting, sleeves torn, exposed skin scraped and powdered by the air bags that saved him from impact. Nothing seems to be broken, though. Not that he can feel.

He looks up, automatically, though he knows there’s nothing to see. He takes a few wobbly steps toward the remains of his cockpit: crushed supplies, cracked and empty water tank, busted radio that hadn’t worked in weeks anyway.

“Welp,” he says.

Alexis

Springtime, and the cops are in heat again. Alexis tries to stay indoors. They’re always out there clinging to telephone poles, multifaceted aviators glinting, parting their mustaches to jam probosces into the trash bins she’s had to bungee shut. She steps around the ones she finds headless, still locked in coitus.

They bought a zapper for the yard, and it makes a show after sundown, but it doesn’t seem to reduce their numbers. Another blue-white flash, another mating siren-squawk cut short. Alexis collects fragile husks of the badges they’ve long since shed, and wrinkles her nose at the smell.

Holly

There’s this one really good day. It’s April, and the breeze coming off the water plays with their hair and jackets, but the skies are clear and kind to Holly. Rose has stories to tell them about the city, and Roger captures in-camera the moment when the sun and wind wreathe their heads with fire.

The alt-weekly has a misprint the next day: every article replaced with Missed Connection after Missed Connection, all unique. Who were the three of you, they ask plaintively. Did you know your own beauty? Can I please, oh can I please hold hands too?

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.

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