Josh Sand
Backstory #5: Nomads


On that planet the younger ones knew bushes as fat tangles of lifeless branches and thorns, the only plant the plains seemed to welcome. The trees that grew were sparse but alive enough to attract the few animals of the plains, in particular, the thick-shelled desert beetles and the reptilian hunters that fed on them. Both were well-suited for survival in the hot climate, but neither prospered.

One of the young hunters sat away from his group with a beetle he caught. His fingers were bleeding after the many attempts to pry the shell off his prey. He tried once more, but his hand slipped off again and the shell snapped down loudly. He grunted and laid backwards.

A voice from behind him. “What are you doing?” The young hunter looked up. One of the older ones had found him. “Did you catch that?” she asked. He nodded and mumbled, “I can’t…”

She picked it up and inspected it. “You didn’t kill it!” The child looked up, surprised. She dug one of her long hooked claws between the bug’s eyes. “It won’t fight once it’s dead.”

“I got its wings and jaws off though…”

“See how much easier it is now?” she said, picking off its shell piece by piece. “Don’t pride yourself over doing things yourself, okay? Just bring it to one of us. You have to eat what you can. Here.” She handed it back to him, raw and soft.

There were twenty in their group, in three different age groups. One was 59-years-old, sixteen were 39-years-old, and three were 19-years-old. While the oldest generation had dwindled away from age and natural causes, the newest batch was the smallest in recent history. With only days left before their twentieth birthday, they were still weak and runt-like, without the claws and strength the earlier generations had at half their age. With each year doubt grew that they’d develop at all. They’d gone from the species’ future to a generational fluke that would be forgotten, replaced by the stronger, proper new generation.

At night the elder of the group sat close to the three youngest and told them stories about the stars they’d already been told. He pointed to the constellation where the great bird was flying from, what it looked like when it came down, and how the new generation’s eggs were already starting to grow in its belly like they had before. “Maybe it’s busy giving us to the other stars. Maybe one day, far in the future, we’ll get to come together as one and share stories about what we did around each star in the sky.” He gloated about how the 39-year-olds had doubted his stories about the bird until seeing it for their own when they, you children, were born, and how the bird streaked by like a great meteor in the sky. “It loves us. It trusted this planet to us, and we must fulfill its promise. It wouldn’t give us something it didn’t know we could handle. Without it there’d be no us.”

Cynicism and dread lived in most of the hunters’ hearts but each of them thought they were alone in it. The elder spoke of little else besides the great bird’s return, and his constant enthusiasm was a comfort to the children. One day, one of the 39-year-olds said he wished the bird’s fresh carcass would fall to the ground so it could at least provide them with something to eat. The elder banished him to walk out of sight behind the group until the bird came back, but did not complain when the blasphemer eased himself back into the group after a week’s time.

One night the elder circled the group together and spoke to them, saying the bird was late because none of their kind was meant to see the bird more than twice in one lifetime. His survival was preventing the bird’s return, and when he passed, the bird would not be far behind. Perhaps out of will, the elder’s health began to fail shortly afterwards, and his eyes and scales grayed. He accepted food, but secretly gave it to the three youngest, who naïvely snuck it away. The group shushed him when he spoke of his burial and the necessary preparations, but there was no question of his approaching death.

Eventually the elder was unable to journey onwards and the group was grounded. When the adults were done scavenging the area, the elder spoke to them:

“You will have hardships ahead of you, but even if your generation may not live to see the promised age, we must work for the generation that will. We are a race of guardians, raising our young that will one day nurture and protect the chosen generation. While all of me yearns for the bird to send down rains like it used to, I do not know its mind and its intentions. I want to say it wishes for us to learn resilience and strength, but how do I know? It hasn’t spoken to me any more than it has spoken to you. Whatever the bird sends down, know it is the bird’s own wishes for our future. You must not question or reject it.”

An unforgiving dust storm started the night the elder died. The adults worked fast, coughing through the dust, so the children wouldn’t have to see his body. When the children woke up, the elder was already buried in the dirt. They didn’t know what to do but silently lay by his makeshift shrine while the dejected adults tried to make their daily gatherings as normal.

A shadow moved over them and vanished. The hunters turned their heads in time to catch the enormous shadow charging across the landscape until it disappeared to lands hidden by the dust, followed by a sharp whistle that evoked a vague memory in the children. They looked up, and the red dust of the storm was stirred and spinning, revealing a line of bright blue sky, like a stick slashed through settled water.

A boulder hung in the dust, falling at an unnaturally slow pace, like it was being gently lowered through the air by an unseen hand. Each of the hunters stopped what they were doing to watch its slow approach. More stones became visible, part of a grid of dozens of stones left by the bird. Finally there were only inches between the giant stone and the ground, and the front of the stone unsealed and swiveled down to make a staircase. One of the hunters stepped forward, and looked behind to see if anyone protested him going in first. Everyone else was still, so he continued to the stairs.

It was dark inside the boulder. The hunter paused, waiting for his eyes to adjust.

Something was wrong. Instead of a few nestled red eggs, the dark interior of the stone was lined with small lavender eggs held together in a thick slime. Some of the eggs were broken open from the inside, and more had been broken into from the outside.

“Need this?” someone said, walking in behind him. She was carrying a lit torch, throwing an orange glow and dramatic shadow to the small room. She stopped.

The eggs were thin and the flame revealed the shadows of the embryos, jittery and ready to hatch. The embryos already had fully-grown teeth, claws, leathery wings, and too many legs. The hunter held her torch closer to the eggs and the embryos opened their mouths and scratched at their shells.

“Look,” the first hunter whispered, pointing to the opposite end of the room. Behind a clumped wall of eggs there was a pile of broken shells and a bony leg. The rest of the leg moved into view: a hatched creature, already five times the size of its egg. Its eyelids slid open in an unnatural direction and looked at them with bulging red compound eyes. The second hunter stepped forward and waved her torch in the air, making the beast hiss and step backwards, cracking several eggs and releasing squirming half-formed versions of itself to the floor. The hunters stepped backwards to the stairs.

“Let’s fill this thing full of deadwood, and I’ll throw my torch in,” the second hunter said.

The first hunter hesitated, looking back into the dark room. “It must’ve put these on every star. Does it want us anymore?”

“Of course it does,” she said.

They walked from the stone quickly, until they were approached by the three children. “There’s dozens of these rocks!” one of them said. “Maybe hundreds! The new generation, it’s enormous!”

“Where are the others?” the first hunter asked.

“They went in the other rocks,” the child said. “They’re all opened, they’re all here. They’re here!” The child went up to the adult and hugged his waist. “I wish he were still here. He should’ve seen this.”

Backstory #5: Nomads, part 2


The lizards came from the planet Dioica.

Their sun was dying and they had no technology to survive travel outside their system. Their eggs, however, could be suspended and born later on other planets that were fit for life. The ships were manned remotely from the home planet—unglamorous work that involved staring at walls of unchanging monitors for most the year, but it was done in the comfort of a messy and homely government control center not far from the city center. Plus, it was for a public good.

“They can’t just board the ship like that, can they?” the pilot asked.

“I’m sorry,” the ship’s computer said, transmitting across the vast distances back to Dioica. “They have outbid you. We are now paid to fully focus our resources to the peaceful continuation of the Vordukun. All resources spent to perpetuate your race must now be spent perpetuating theirs. This is a business, I’m afraid.”

The pilot was dumbfounded. He felt his insides move in ways they shouldn’t. It was always a threat, a daily one, but to actually hear the words… “No sympathies for long-time customers?” he asked.

“Sympathies are all I can give,” the computer said, “The eggs will be returned, and that will be our last transaction—unless you can outbid the Vordukun.”

The pilot leaned back in his chair. This was the eighth shady transport company bought out by the Vordukun in the past century, but it had held out the longest, almost sixty years. He liked these computers’ AI too.

“They’ve already filled the surface pods with their own,” the computer continued. “One is on the ship now, he wants to speak to you.”

The Vordukun could survive long-distance space travel, yet spent enormous percentages of their wealth buying out transport companies, potentially out of entrepreneurship (an optimistic explanation), although no races had been able to beat their offers.

“There’s a Committee representative with him,” the ship’s computer added.

The pilot cursed and quickly scurried to remove clutter from his view of his workstation camera. The video feed opened and he quickly sat back down. The feed showed the frail Committee representative standing with its hands behind its back and its chest puffed up, with the red-eyed insectoid Vordukun behind it filling half the screen.

“Your race has filed a complaint with the Vordukun’s competitive seeding of planet RDA006,” the representative said in the International language.

“Yes. I’m not an official delegate…” the pilot said.

“This is understood. This is an informal discussion, and is not being recorded,” the representative said. The Vordukun grunted something in his language, and the representative turned its head and barked something back at him, emulating the grunts of his language perfectly.

“What was that?” the pilot asked the screen.

“The Vordukun asked what you were saying.”

“He doesn’t know International?” the pilot asked.

The International language was constructed using sounds and parts from all the major languages across Committee races, including the Vordukun tongue, which was responsible for the superlative having a back-throated trill that several races were physically incapable of producing—all for the end result of the Vordukun rejecting to learn the new language out of cultural pride and removing it from their education programs for the preservation of their linguistic tradition.

“As you may know,” the representative said, “the Vordukun claimed they had seeded RDA006 several decades before your race did, which would invalidate the competitive seeding charge, and would turn the competitive seeding charge to your race, but you shouldn’t worry about this. Covert seeding is a much higher charge than competitive seeding, and the Vordukun are unlikely to pursue this line.” The Vordukun grunted something again from the back of the room, and the representative continued. “The real reason I’m here with the Vordukun is because they are claiming that members of your race are deliberately attacking the Vordukun eggs when they’re still in the surface pods, and this doesn’t look like one of their usual hard-to-verify claims. There is clear evidence from satellite photography, but I am on my way to investigate it personally to be sure.”

Ah, we’ve always been a crafty people, we have. “Are you chuckling?” the representative asked, anger slipping into its normally emotionless tone.

“It’s not often you get to hear news about what they’re doing, that they’re even still alive…” the pilot said.

The representative loosened, “Ah…yes. My kind’s put some of our own in the Ralel system…” The representative cleared its throat. “The Vordukun are claiming your seeding has not been out of peaceful continuation of your race, and may have militaristic intent. If they succeed in this, they may inhibit your race’s seeding of any future planets.”

“That’s ridiculous. We have no control over them.”

“But you are accountable. The Vordukun are planning to use this in an exchange for you to drop the competitive seeding charges.” Another collection of grunts from the back. “And to stop seeding to RDA006.”

The pilot sat back and fiddled with his claws. “And leave them defenseless to the thousands of young, hungry Vordukun?”

“Hundreds, possibly thousands of unhatched Vordukun have already been killed across the planet’s surface. Your kind made the first move here.”

“My kind has been on that planet for over four hundred years. They may have developed a culture in that time. Their own language, religion…”

“Their only chance is to survive on their own accord.”

“They can’t reproduce!” the pilot said. “None of our newborn can after space travel. We’ve been artificially supplanting new generations until we—

“I’m sorry, but I don’t think there’s any way you’re going to get RDA006 back. The Vordukun wants to say something.”

The Vordukun spoke, exposing his teeth on some of the more complex consonants. The pilot muted the sound. The Committee representative reappeared when the Vordukun finished and the pilot flicked the sound back on. “He said, ‘it shows how focused your kind is to our mutual coexistence, when even in a vacuum your children slaughter our young and innocent.’” The Vordukun approached the camera and added in the pilot’s language, phonetically memorized, “Infertile mules!

“You heard that, didn’t you?” the pilot asked.

“I didn’t catch it. That wasn’t Vordukun Standard, I believe,” the representative said.

“Goodbye, then,” the pilot said.

“I’ll be reaching RDA006 shortly to see it for myself. I will report my official findings to your delegates once I’m—

“Thank you,” the pilot said, turning off the feed.

There were other transport companies that operated illegally. There were risks—being caught by the International Committee was always a possibility, and the only thing stopping the transport companies from selling the unborn into slavery was the prospect of future business—but there were benefits, mainly getting out of the legal trappings imposed by the Committee, which would allow them to “competitively seed” to multi-racial planets that act as havens for that kind of thing. However, it would be much harder to get people to donate their unborn to an unofficial and illegal operation.

A distant great uncle of the pilot’s had been donated to be born on a distant planet. He remembered there was a couple from his home district that had donated three unborn to previous transport missions. He tried remembering what planets they went to—had it been RDA006? Or RTA050, maybe?

Backstory #8: Storks

The lizards came from ???

Some people thought that infant minds were floating throughout the void. Maybe there were trillions of them, a grid of minds every few feet apart, with only the strong-willed culminating into anything physical. I don’t know why the minds would consistently make little eggs with little reptilian bodies in them out of all possible varieties of matter to contain them, but I do love the poetry of the little self-made creatures bumping into worlds throughout the universe, giving up their miraculous creation and peaceful dreamworld for whatever it is we have. Their dreamworlds weren’t exclusive to them either. The early frustrations trying to find consistent accounts of the interiors of the rocky meteor-like vessels they arrive in (lovingly named “storks”) quickly led to realizing there was no consensus. Every stork was subtly different than the one before it. Accounts of storks from the government(?) employees who scout for them have described everything from softly-lit carpeted rooms, ornate carved rock, to wooden tiles. One even described the stork as an enormous thirty-foot tall geode with green crystals inside. I once heard about a stork that arrived with a nondescript rocky interior (to match its exterior) that had to be cut away to retrieve the egg inside. I feel like this was a true stork—a flying rock pushed through space, slowly growing and calcifying along the way. Of course, it’s sensible to just say each stork is made different (or came from different places), but aren’t they a little too close to something we’d expect? A little too Earth-like? Would it be easier to say the sleeping eggs can project new surroundings to make their rescuers feel comfortable? An imperceptible telepathic ability, built up and and made real over thousands of years of silent space travel…

If only the damned storks could stay here long enough for any real inspection. Not even the arrivals and departures are consistent. Some descend slowly and softly through the air to hover above the ground, only to rise up a half-hour later. Others are found floating in the sea, as famously described by early adopter Ian Rennes in his essays, collected in the volume Adoption. (Adoption was famous in the right circles for being one of the only accessible publications on lizards available for a decade, yet controversial for its early assertion of lizards’ extraterrestrial nature. This would bring the author notoriety and professional struggles throughout the decade until the concept gained more public traction.) And then there are storks that appear hovering without anyone seeing them rise or descend—and disappear just as mysteriously.

And the ones that don’t hit Earth spin onwards for a few more years maybe, however long it takes to hit a new habitable planet, while the little minds sleeping inside dream up rocks, rooms, castles, islands, and worlds…

The Address Book 1

Angel, CA

Adam Hartage sat on his room floor flipping through a small spiral-bound notebook. It was an address book with indented tabs for each letter along its edge. It was filled with his own handwriting and he had never seen it before in his life. “Hey, Scott, check this out,” he called out.

Scott walked in yawning. Adam handed him the book from the floor, and Scott fell onto Adam’s bed to read it. “Have you seen this before?” Adam asked.

“Never,” Scott said. “What kind of names are these…‘Gadrax’, ‘Melior’, this one’s just ‘E.’ This one person’s address is just GPS coordinates.” He flipped through the book, scanning the entries. “Man, your handwriting’s gotten bad.”

“It doesn’t make any sense,” Adam said. “A couple weeks ago…eh, forget it.”

The address book was the third unexplainable event to happen to Adam recently. Two weeks before, Adam had been driving back from work when he saw someone walking along the sidewalk who was unquestionably not a human being. Stopped at a red, Adam’s eyes followed the person through a small crowd of people who didn’t scream, run, or react in any way. “Huh.” The light turned green and Adam’s muscle memory steered him home to his apartment. He didn’t remember the incident until four in the morning, when the darkness and his sleepy mind gave the memory a nefarious and conspiratorial edge. He couldn’t ease back into sleep without imagining that he was driving and seeing the figure on the side of the road. The figure sheds his work bag and slowly turns towards Adam, enveloped by the realest kind of terror that only dreams can invoke. The figure points a scaly finger at Adam. The light turns green but no cars move. The figure’s already at the car door, violently yanking at the handle, trying to get inside by ripping the side of the car off. And like that, Adam was back in his bed, only two minutes later than the last time he checked the clock.

He didn’t remember his night-time panic until he was already at work the next day, pushing up the date roller of a stamp with a pencil to read “Jun 02.” The memory was made safe and cute by daylight, like a memory of what parts of the house you avoided at night when young. Adam worked at a neglected post office that, due to a quirk of ZIP codes and city planning, was competition to a slightly newer post office several blocks away. Adam’s post office had a plaque with Carter’s name on it shining over the dusty tiles and stacks of free flat rate boxes, while Reagan’s name shone over the other post office and its lines of people curling around itself until closing.

For the following three days, Adam’s routine continued uninterrupted. He woke up early. Walked through his apartment past the sleeping or passed-out bodies of his roommate’s friends. Tried to feel useful in-between the occasional customers at the post office desk. Got off at five (twelve if he was working Saturdays), drove home, and resealed the the cracks around his room door with duct tape. Scott was his roommate and childhood friend, and the frequently passed out bodies on the couch and floor belonged to Malcolm, a dealer Scott befriended in college when their circles split apart. The smell of marijuana was so deeply engrained in the main room that Adam’s passages from his room door to the hallway was enough to cause coworkers to ask if he was holding on several occasions. He considered getting the landlady to intervene before finding out she too frequented Malcolm’s parties. During some late nights they’d gang up outside of Adam’s locked door, push unlit joints through the edges of the duct tape while Malcolm would whisper, “Puussyyy.

The second unexplainable incident occurred when Adam heard the jingle of the front door at work opening and instinctively headed for the counter. He saw the person out of the corner of his eye and ran to the back room out of sight before they noticed him. “Hey, can you get this guy?” Adam asked his coworker. The coworker was a middle-aged man, leaning back in his chair eating out of Tupperware. He looked at Adam waiting for the excuse. “I gotta go,” Adam said, nodding towards the bathroom. “Fair enough,” the coworker said. He got up, gave the person at the counter his package, talked about the weather, gave a “Y’have a good day now,” and returned to his food in the back room. Adam waited a minute before exiting the tiny bathroom, looking for any sign in his coworker that something abnormal had happened.

“Y’have fun in there, Hartage?” the coworker asked Adam.

“Who was it?” Adam tried to ask casually. The coworker knew the names and occupations of most the regulars.

“New guy, applied for a PO Box the other day.”

“Ah.” Adam sat down and failed to think of a way to ask about what the person looked like. As another minute passed, it became an increasingly strange question to ask, so Adam dropped it. Life marched on for a week and a half until the morning Adam decided to hunt for an old gift card in his nightstand.

“Why don’t we call one of these numbers?” Scott asked, holding the address book.

Adam thought about it. “Why not.” He pulled out his phone and stared at the lock screen.

“What is it?” Scott asked.

“Look.” Adam tossed Scott his phone. “Someone just sent me thirty-five dollars.”

“Nice!” Adam’s phone buzzed in Scott’s hands and he jumped. “Voicemail!” For a moment the apartment was dead silent. “Should I play it?” How easy it’d be, Adam thought. Just let them go on, I don’t need to know. Scott started playing it anyway.

Hey. I sent the money. You’re off today, right? I need two bags of ice, a gallon of distilled water, and at least four double-A batteries. Just leave it on the door handle like usual.

Adam trembled. He was off today. It was a normal sounding voice, but the words felt rehearsed. As usual? Scott played the message over again, but it didn’t feel any more comfortable hearing it.

“Wrong number?” Scott asked.

“No. He couldn’t have sent me money with just my phone number. Wait a second.” Adam stood up off the floor and grabbed the address book. He compared its entries to the number the voicemail was from. He found its match in the M’s, marked “Michael (2)”. A street address was marked below, in a suburb less than twenty minutes away.

A voice from Adam’s doorway: “Looks like you better get going.” It was Malcolm, grinning, wearing the same T-shirt Adam saw him in two days ago.

“You’re up late,” Adam said. “Are you behind this?”


“I’m leaving,” Adam said. Malcolm moved to the side, arms crossed and satisfied.

Adam walked out of his room and past the scattered residue from last night’s gathering. He left and closed the apartment door without looking back. “Hey!” Scott followed Adam out of the apartment into the hallway and caught up to him. “What are you doing?”

“I’m going to buy two bags of ice, a gallon of distilled water, and four double-A batteries, and take it to the address,” Adam said without turning around.


“I was paid. I’d do it if he asked beforehand.”

“You’re going alone?”


“This sounds…sketchy, you know that right? Why do you have that address book? Why does he have your number?”

“I don’t know. Look, I’ll be fine. The real danger is over there.” Adam pointed down the hallway. Malcolm was supporting himself against the door frame so he could stick his head out the door horizontally, saw them looking and waved with his free hand.

Adam grabbed and patted Scott’s shoulders. “Hold the fort, soldier.”

“Fine,” Scott said, as Adam walked out to the parking lot.

Adam walked across the store, weaving through families and slow walkers with a gallon of distilled water swinging. What am I doing. Malcolm’s at my home laughing and shoving celebratory blunts up his nose or something. Or…joints. Is “blunts” old? He avoided thinking about what he was doing by focusing on what part of the store the batteries were in, but he already remembered. Malcolm was probably stalking me in some alien suit anyway. Why didn’t anyone else react? It’s because it’s California, isn’t it? He grabbed the batteries and headed to the front of the store, dodging young siblings rolling hula hoops to each other around the store aisles. As he waited in line an explanation and glimmer of hope arose. He remembered in high school how jumpy he’d get when he’d stay awake for over forty-eight hours for no particular reason, and how he’d start seeing things out of the corners of his eye…and where had he seen these new hallucinations? Corner of his eyes, mostly. But he wasn’t staying up two days in a row, and he got off work every day at five. Maybe it’s the bed. Then again, there was his history with placebo highs. The ice was past the checkout line. He never bought a bag of ice from those in his life. Were you supposed to walk past the checkout line with all your stuff, grab it, come back? Or tell the cashier? Probably that. What am I doing…

Adam found the address before the ice melted. It was an old small house in a typical suburban subdivision—an old one, the houses built low and far from their neighbors. There were no cars in its driveway or decorations in its yard, and it’d easily pass as a foreclosure if it had the right sign in its yard. Adam parked and walked down to the dusty patio. He envisioned a future political canvasser or Mormon walking the same dusty path he was now and wondering why a sun-faded grocery bag with an empty ice bag, leaky batteries, and a gallon of water on its side was sitting on the porch of the long-abandoned house.

He hung the bag on the doorknob, but saw the handle of the bag was stretching. He considered taking the gallon of water out before the bottom of the bag broke out. He took the bag off and—the door opened. “Hi Adam.”

Adam looked up in the doorway and met the eyes of the person his address book named “Michael (2).” He was hunching meekly but still looked closer to seven feet than six. His head wasn’t flat but tapered to a long nose and jaw, and his skin was covered in tan scales, just like the others he’d seen. He was wearing jeans and a long-sleeve shirt that looked like they were ready to spring off and fly back to somewhere they belonged, such as the corpse of the last human who brought him groceries. But mostly he looked tired.

“Everything go through okay?” Michael asked.

“Yeah!” Adam said. He held out the grocery bag. Michael accepted it.

“Good…see you, then.”


The Address Book 2

Adam calmly sped home while thinking of ways he was going to punch Malcolm in the face. He poisoned me. He knew Malcolm was putting on a ruse of complaining about social media and privacy just so Adam wouldn’t go looking for his profiles, see all the night vision videos of Malcolm sneaking up to his sleeping face as he squeezed drops of LSD onto his lips, blew smoke into his nose, and stifled giggles as he planted the address book in his nightstand. His dreams of doing a flying kick died once he was actually in the hallway to his apartment building, but not the dreams of violently opening his apartment door.

“He’s not here, Adam. Geez,” Scott said from the couch. The door slowly bounced back from the stopper. “So uh…how’d it go?”

“Fine,” Adam said, angrily searching for a glass cup in the small cluttered kitchen. “I left the stuff on the door handle like he said. The house looked abandoned. Why don’t we have any cups…” The cupboards were filled with mysterious paraphernalia Adam didn’t know the purposes of, but looked illegal. A hookah hose got trapped in the inside hinge and prevented the cupboard door from closing.

“Don’t have any of those tea bags, they’re, uh, not tea,” Scott said.

Adam found an oversized QT cup with a yellow crust on the bottom, a kid’s cup from Macaroni Grill a decade ago, and a large colorful plastic contraption he hadn’t seen before. “What’s this plastic thing?”

“It makes pills. Malcolm was trying to sell me on making my own vitamins once. There’s still some gelatin capsules in there too I think if you want to use it.”

Adam found a highball glass and filled it up with water from the sink, downed it, and repeated three times. “Are you okay…?” Scott asked. “I tried reading earlier when Malcolm left, but I couldn’t stop thinking about your stupid address book. I kept worrying the police would show up and tell me about how they found your wallet in a bag on the side of a freeway with thirty others.”

Adam wiped his mouth with his sleeve and asked, “You don’t think Malcolm’s behind it?”

Scott shrugged. “I think it’s more likely you’re playing me than Malcolm’s playing you, honestly.”

A default ringtone started playing, and Adam and Scott both checked their pockets. It was Adam’s. “It’s a local number,” Adam said. Scott walked up, eager. “Put it on speaker.” Adam let his finger dangle over the phone for another ring, then started the call. There was a short gasp on the other line, then silence. Adam and Scott looked at each other, then back down at the phone with the call time ticking upwards. Adam offered a “Hello?” More silence.

Mandarins chicken breast avocados two cases of water I’ll give you sixty at the door be there no later than five—” The phone flashed the call time, and faded to the lock screen.

“Mandarins sound good,” Scott said. “You know, with Malcolm gone—

“Don’t worry, you’re coming.”

Adam and Scott gave themselves enough time to go to the supermarket’s deli to eat popcorn chicken out of cups with plastic lids. After some hunting, they found the phone number in the R’s under the name “R.R.E.” The address was a good drive to the east but right off a freeway exit.

“If I tell you something, do you promise to not pass it along to Malcolm?” Adam asked. Scott nodded. “This morning…” Scott stopped chewing to listen. “I’m not sure I should be driving. At least…God, how do I say this. I’ve been seeing things, hallucinating.”

“What kind of things,” Scott said.

“Things that obviously aren’t there. Corner of my eye, that kind of thing. I think it’s getting worse. You can’t tell me you’ve never had an acid reflux, either. Flashbacks. Acid flashbacks.”

“I haven’t! You worry you’re high every other week. You’re the worst self-diagnoser I know.”

“I know that,” Adam said. “But that was set off by my own panicking, self-fulfilling prophecy thing. This is different. I’m not making it up. You know…look. I’ll explain what it’s like. You know that intersection with that In-N-Out and that crappy gas station?”

“I can think of like ten of those.”

“Well, once upon a time, I was in the backseat of the car with my family. The cars are bumper-to-bumper at the light at one of those hours where it takes three greens to actually be able to turn, and the smell of In-N-Out fries the whole time is overwhelming, meanwhile, I’m looking out the side window at the curb. Behind a back tire of the car to our side, out came walking a glorious orange rooster.”


“Orange feathers, big red head things, shiny blue and black tail feathers. I had no idea where it came from, and there was no obvious truck full of farm animals ahead of us that it could have escaped from. The rooster walked down the curb like it wouldn’t make sense for it to be doing anything else in the world. It went behind another car before the light went green. The whole time I was passively staring at it, not questioning it, until we started moving. I finally noticed it was strange and pointed it out, and my family was able to catch a glimpse of it before it disappeared forever.”

“What are you getting at?”

“Every time I think of this incident I chuckle over it and dismiss it. It’s not something that happens in the day-to-day world—but then, it’s not just something that pops into your head, either. I dismiss it subconsciously and figure it’s an implanted memory, or a lie I’ve told so much I’ve started to believe it. But it wasn’t! My family saw it, I saw it, and I remember what it looks like. I can’t take the whole thing seriously because it’s all so surreal, and even though some shred of me knows it happened, I don’t personally believe it did. It’s exactly the same way for what’s been going on recently.”

“So, they aren’t hallucinations? It’s not like, shapes and things?” Scott asked.

Adam pictured hitting himself. Idiot idiot idiot. He should’ve left it for his quiet introspective hours, not out like this. “They’re…” he started. He tore out half a napkin from a dispenser, and pulled a pen from his pocket to write on it. “Here.” He handed it to Scott. “I can’t say it out loud.”

Adam stood up and walked away from the deli, wishing he had a pillow to bury his face in. He walked until there were enough families and full carts between him and Scott so he wouldn’t look back and see his face as he read the napkin. I got it over with. He wasn’t going to be dragged from a car wreck in a week mumbling about how he was swerving to avoid the attacking hippogriff. Besides, that’s why I brought him. He mindlessly drifted in line to buy an ice cream cone to explain his fleeing. If anything, I spoiled the surprise. I could’ve been the calm one asking what he was so freaked out about. Whatever. The address book and the people he saw didn’t have to be related, necessarily. “Michael (2)” might have been the weird start to his otherwise normal secret life.

Adam got in his car’s passenger seat silently. As Scott drove, Adam imagined every possible thing he must be thinking, even though he put on a good nonchalant face, calmly changing the stations during commercials. They didn’t talk until it was time to get off the freeway and follow directions. The bright dirt roads rattled the car, and every street name was expertly hidden. Homes were built right along the roads and several yards had hand-painted signs advertising tires and fresh eggs. Scott stopped accelerating and let the car crawl forward as they navigated, several pickups not hesitating to drive around them. They stopped and turned onto a tiny road between two gated yards where every shaded spot was filled with resting cows. The thin road went out past the other houses and looked less like a road as it went on. Weeds grew in the middle undisturbed, and a small stream of rainwater that cut into the road had dried before it was touched by any tire tracks.

Scott and Adam followed the road around a hill to find a small enigmatic house by itself. It was a short house made up only of right angles. The simplicity of it looked like it could’ve been an attempt at a Spanish Missionary style, or a stylish modern minimalism the proud architect photographed with a wide angle lens at sunset for a magazine cover. The house had nothing to do with its surroundings. The hill it hid behind was dirty and covered with creosote bushes, and the road at this point was more a coincidental lack of plant life than anything intentional. The white stucco of the house was still clean and sterile, not yet tinted orange by the dry landscape. Scott parked the car.

Adam was anxious for any kind of confirmation and skipped forward with the grocery bags to “R.R.E.”’s front door. There was no doorbell, so Adam knocked loudly on the tall wooden door. He looked back to find Scott was only leisurely stepping out of the driver-side door. Adam motioned him to hurry up. He knocked again, and Scott arrived a few steps behind him.

The door opened. Horns, tail, everything. He might as well have been Michael, except he was standing upright with his brows lowered. He glared at Scott, and back at Adam. He grabbed Adam’s grocery bags, pushed a wad of bills in Adam’s hand, and closed the door. Adam spun his head back at Scott.

“Weren’t you going to ask him how he knew you?” Scott asked.

Adam stared.

“Or at least how he got your number, maybe—

Scott,” Adam said. “What on—what did the person who answered the door look like?”

“You know…lizard.”

Adam continued staring at him.

“What?” Scott asked.

Adam walked back to the car. Scott followed and sat in the driver seat. “I mean, we’re here,” Scott said, “we might as well ask—

“Did you even look at the napkin?” Adam asked.

“Oh.” Scott pulled it out of pocket and unfolded it. It read:

lizard people things

“That’s what this is about? You’ve been running them groceries this whole time?” Scott asked. Adam lowered his seat back so it laid horizontally. “Don’t wake me up.” Adam handed Scott a twenty. “Your cut.”

The Address Book 3

“I’ve been thinking about it. I think it might be possible for someone to never see or even hear about a lizard for their whole life. The alien kind, I mean. Well, not alien, I think, but…yeah, not the animal. We were kids when everyone was really freaking out in the ’90s. But you make a point of not living in a box. You go to all those hipster restaurants you find through online reviews and things. You’re out in town all the time even when it’s all hot and sweaty out. I know you’re not even shopping for anything, you just like knowing the stores that are around. Or is this what you’ve been doing all this time? No, that doesn’t make sense. You don’t forget what you’re doing for all these years. I know you don’t know what they are. Something guided you along life covering your eyes whenever a lizard was sitting in a lobby or walking wherever. I mean, sure, I haven’t thought about them more than a few times over the past year, they don’t show up on TV I guess, people don’t talk about them anymore, ’90s are over, they’re just living their lives now too. But how come I know that and you don’t? A few had to slip through. You have to remember something, some weird glimpse you shut out. Years and years ago. A lizard hovering in the corner of a DMV. I can’t imagine us not talking about this at recess at some point. Wait, hold on. What about those notebooks? They’re in your closet still. In school once, you totally drew these lizard people all the time. With swords and things, but still.”

“Zenitharians,” Adam said.

“Yeah. I remember that.”

“Why were you in my closet?”

“I’d be like ‘let me see’ and you’d throw your arms over it. You knew you were drawing them even then.”

“Sure, but, we also pretended we were in robot suits and doing super jumps off the rock climbing wall. That was like second grade. Imagine one day you pull your robot suit out of your car trunk and say, ‘C’mon Adam, don’t you remember second grade?’”

“I get your predicament.”

C’mon Adam, do some super jumps.

“I’m just trying to figure out how you got in your predicament.”

“Me too, Scott, me too.”

The Address Book 4

Adam sealed up his room from the Malcolm gathering outside his door. He tried sleeping but the slow thudding of their subwoofer prevented him. He decided the wad of cash on his drawer belonged in a shoebox in his closet—he’d always wanted to have a stash of money in a shoebox. He got out of his bed to find the shoebox and pulled it out, careful to not topple the two feet of loose papers and notebooks balanced on top of it. He opened the lid expecting to find his old dress shoes wrapped in brown paper, only to find the box was already half-full of cash. Halfway through counting it, he decided to check his bank account. He didn’t remember his exact balance before, but he was sure it was a couple thousand less than what it currently showed. He scrolled through the transactions. Every one of his days off had two or three deposits of 20–200 dollars. He tried going to sleep again but now he was getting hot and stressed out. He drank all his half-empty water bottles and threw them at the overflowing trash can. After enough sleepless brooding, he got up to unseal his door.

Every couch denizen from the last night was back for a second round. Weed was in the air, but the night was cooling down and everyone was content leaning back in the couches. “Look who’s ready for some weeeeed,Malcolm said.

Adam walked in a straight line to the kitchen holding his breath.

“Hey Adam,” Malcolm said. “Lizards?

Fucking hell, Scott. “Get your weed out of my cabinet!” Adam yelled, pulling out a box of tea bags. He continued digging through the drawers for another cup. They’re all fucking with me. Scott was high and lying on his side. He sleepily punched Malcolm in the leg and mumbled, “Knock it off…” Adam found the small jar of gelatin capsules and the pill filling device from earlier by its side. Mean-spirited inspiration struck. Adam grabbed a bag of powdered sugar and quietly got to work while Malcolm’s group chattered.

“…I’ve heard of doing it through a bagpipe, never known anyone who’s tried it though, bagpipes are kinda hard to come by. I mean, you hear stories, but it’s always a friend of a friend.”

“At that point it’s not really anything that’d be useful it’s just a, novelty, you know.”

“I wonder if it’d like, blow a note when you smoked it, fuckin’ Braveheart shit,” giggles.

“A marching band might have some. At that graduation ceremony they had a bunch of people on bagpipes.”

“I don’t think that was the school band, that was some society thing.”

“Would the bag even hold the smoke though? Isn’t it like cloth?”

“No man it’s like a, uh, like a sheep’s stomach or something.”

“That’s haggis.”

“Haggis is a lot of things. You ever actually try it? A lot of people haven’t tried it.”

Malcolm nudged Scott and whispered. “Adam’s still here.” Scott sat up. “Whoa. You’re right. What’s he doing?”

Adam walked over to the group with a baggy of fresh white pills and a sideways grin, avoiding eye contact with Malcolm or Scott. “Hello boys and girls!”

“There aren’t any—

“Today I want to ask you, if you could change one detail about your life, what would it be?”

One of the friends cocked his head to the side like a dog responding to an unfamiliar noise. The rest didn’t move. They had seen glimpses of Adam enough to not trust his smile towards them.

“Know what? I have just the thing,” Adam continued. “These I found not too long ago. Take one, and every detail you wanted about your life is fulfilled. Retroactively!”

“That’s fantastic, Adam,” Malcolm said. “Rat poison-free this time?”

Adam pulled a pill out of the bag and swallowed it. “Perfectly safe.”

“Are all of your innermost wishes fulfilled?” Malcolm asked.

“They already have been. All the things I wanted have been fulfilled, earlier in my life. It works retroactively, so the memory of even wanting them is gone,” Adam said.

“Some life you wished for,” a friend said.

“I expected you philosophers to know better than that! Riches, fantasies, these sorts of things don’t content you! Writings from the rich and powerful across all spans of times attest to it. Sometimes it’s the simple pleasures one yearns for. Beauty. Tranquility. A life of relative ease. Maybe before the pill I was a teen idol yearning for a simple life, or an old man near death longing for youth and an unknown future!”

“So in this timeline,” one of the friends said, “the pill did nothing.”

Adam turned to the voice and snapped his fingers. “Precisely, what’s your name again?”

The friend was young and his eyes were glazed over to the point of looking like he was holding back tears. “Charles.”

“Right-eo, Chuck. The change waits to happen until the user in both timelines takes the pill. Taking the pill in this timeline allows that change to happen. If you take the pill, everything that is currently happening—now, in this room—is part of the constructed memory and retroactive fulfillment. If you never take the pill, everything happening now is part of your boring pre-pill life, with your unfulfilled desires.”

He stared into the distance, several emotions flashing on his face. “I’ll try one.”

“Three bucks.”

“I’ll pay you tomorrow.”

“Deal.” Adam flicked a white pill at Charles. “You want one Malcolm?” Adam asked.

“Nope, I’m already content, beautiful,” Malcolm said.

Charles got the pill down. After a tense silence, “Nothing happened.”

“It did, it just happened in the past,” Adam said.


“Such a metaphysical can of worms we’re opening here…”

“Anyone else? No? Well, I’ll just—Adam collapsed onto the ground, asleep.

“Well. He’s out.”

“Yeah, he’s had a rough day,” Scott said. “Don’t Sharpie him this time, please. He hates you guys enough.”


“Is he normally narcoleptic?”

“Maybe he entered his dream timeline!”

“Maybe he was sleepy.”

“Crap, man,” Charles said.


“They do have rat poison. He had his first. I’m going to die.”

Malcolm clapped his hands twice in quick succession. “Someone get Adam to the couch!”

“Why are you all looking at me? You get up,” Charles said.

“Shut up, Freshman. You’re going to die anyway, why do you care?”

“We’re all gonna die someday. Let Adam have a happy last few seconds on the couch, Freshman.”

“Get off his couch, Freshman, his face is in the carpet.”

“Carpet’s not a good place for your face to be…”

“That’s enough,” Scott said, getting up. He lifted Adam off the ground and walked him to his room and laid him on his bed. He repositioned the door seal the best he could and slipped out.

It was still dark out. Car headlights moved across Adam’s room. By the third ring Adam realized his phone was going off and woke up. Another number. Why can’t he get called by people in his contacts? If it was late enough he should just get in his work clothes…

“Hello?” Adam asked.

Who the hell was that?

“…who is this?”

You’re the only one doing this. You don’t have competition. Don’t abuse that. It’s not complicated.


Don’t ever do that again. The reason you’re called is because you’re the only one we want to see.” The caller hung up. Adam looked through his past calls to find the number. He had called before, earlier in the day. R.R.E.

The Address Book 5

Malcolm woke Adam up. “Baby’s first entrepreneurship!” He dropped three one-dollar bills on Adam’s face and left.

Adam’s week went on as normal for a while. He never asked Scott if their outing happened, and Scott never mentioned it. Malcolm’s “Lizards?” and his call history were the only remnants. He was left alone by the mysterious phone calls on his workdays. It’ll be a strange anecdote in five yearsAdam’s coworker started taking his cat to work (“Can’t trust her at home”), and it would make silent rounds around the back room with its back low, poking its head into the backs of mailboxes. Adam hesitantly went out to help each customer, but they were always the normal human regulars. On Thursday Adam’s phone went off, and for the first time in his life, he was relieved to see “Malcolm” on the screen.

“Hello?” Adam answered, walking to a private corner. “Who the hell is Freshman? … Oh. Charles, yeah. … Isn’t he like twenty though? … I didn’t. … No, I didn’t put anything in them. What could I have even put in there, I don’t know the first thing … that’d be your area if anything … yes I am accusing you … maybe whatever you got me with got him too … no I’m not blackmailing you … of course I’ve got more … that doesn’t sound like any different way to act than how your presence usually affects people … of course I’m going to sell him more, in fact, why aren’t you interested? … that sounds way more fun than anything you’ve done … against your manifesto, hell, you mean the Righteous Manifesto. I know about it. … I already said I’m not blackmailing you … what would I have to gain from you … yeah of course I do, sure, and the black helicopters were swirling over the apartment, too … get your conspiracies in order … you know I willingly signed up for my phone to be tapped to prove I’m not a terrorist, too? I’m recording this right now. Say hello to your future self, Malcolm because in court—Malcolm?” He hung up.

Adam entered his apartment carrying a box in one arm. Malcolm looked at him angrily. “I called you over an hour ago.” Malcolm, Scott, and their friends were standing in the main room in a circle around Charles, who was sitting on the back part of the sofa while smiling and humming. “What is that, anyway?” Malcolm asked.

“I bought some cups!” Adam said happily. “What’s going on?”

“While you’ve been off buying cups, Freshman’s been like this all morning,” Malcolm said.

Charles stared off absently, softly meowing to himself on the sofa.

“It’s true,” Scott said. “He came over this morning after you left and he was already like this. Scared the crap out of me.”

“You all have…ears!” Charles said, his hands moving around the air freely.

“You screwed him up!” Malcolm yelled at Adam.

“He’s putting on an act,” Adam said. “I had one of the pills, I’m doing fine.”

“He says he sees ‘cat people.’”

Adam was silent.

“If you paid any attention to the Righteous Manifesto, which you claim to ‘know about,’ you would understand its fierce stance against drugs that permanently distort one’s senses and do not bring about a clearer or deeper understanding of the True Reality. It’s one of the first bullet points!”

Charles mumbled euphorically from his perch, “No silly, not like cat people, they’re more like Thundercats.”

Scott’s mouth dropped. “That’s the first time he’s responded directly to anything we’ve said all morning.”

“Thundercats…?” Adam asked. “Like, hhhooooooo, Thundercats?”

Adam.” Charles started crawling down the couch and onto the floor towards Adam. “Adam. You gotta have more. You gotta. I’ll pay you anything. Three bucks? Nothing. Gotta have more.”

Malcolm stepped between them and grabbed Adam’s shirt. “Jesus, Adam. I carefully build a positive environment for fellow explorers and truth-seekers, and you make an addict out of an innocent with one lousy pill! You can’t do this. You must be Righteous! Only you can tell him no. He’s not able to say no anymore, the word can’t come out of his mouth.”

Adam batted away Malcolm’s hands and looked down. Charles was at Adam’s ankles now. He smelled. “Charles, the pill isn’t doing this. The whole point was that it worked retroactively, remember?”

Charles rolled to his side and laughed. “I don’t know what ‘retroactively’ means.”

“The pills weren’t supposed to make a noticeable change, they would work in the past.”

“You made them wrong! Wrong wrong wrong!”

Malcolm turned pale and quietly asked, “Do you see any Thundercats here in this room?”

Charles looked around the room from the ground, smiling. He slowly pointed to an empty corner. “Meow!” Everyone slowly moved away from that part of the room.

“He’s got a point, Adam,” a friend that Adam didn’t recognize said. “I saw you throwing those pills together in the kitchen so fast, you could’ve messed up the mix. Those things take time, and better instruments. Not the cheap-o plastic stuff.”

Another friend added, “Maybe he’s stuck between his old timeline and his new one, and he’s like, seeing bits of both.”

Adam clenched his fists to his side. “God! They were placebo pills! This is all Charles’ doing! All it did was give him an excuse to do what he wants, he’s like a fifteen-year-old getting ‘drunk’ off his first sip of beer. Charles can have his three dollars back for all I care.”

“Hold on one second.” A friend who had been quiet started to speak up. “Placebos work, they give you a placebo high. You expect the effect, and your brain fills it in without the chemical actually being there. The chemical’s there to reinforce what the brain can already do. Hear me out…we build everything through sensory input right, like, who can prove that anything you get through those is really real reality, if there even is one, so, through some placebo sort of effect, his placebo high started building a new reality for him, but the chemical wasn’t there to back it up and fortify it. The brain on its own can only do so much, metaphysical, physical, like telekinesis on a wide, big scale. But personal. Subjective.”

“Meow!” Charles said.

“If he had the real chemical, it’d push him all the way, right?” the friend continued. “He won’t be fluttering in this nether zone.”

“He’d be full-on gone. Problem solved?” Adam said.

“For him, it would be solved. Who cares what he is to us? His mind’s his own. It’s a discrepancy to us, but to him, he’s in a world of Thundercats, retroactively, where he’s leading a normal a life as ever, and we’re, uh, we’d be no more than the figments and false images and creations of the old demiurge he conquered to live in his own reality. To him.”

“My baby’s all grown up,” Malcolm said.

Adam groaned. “Whatever. Just get him out of here. He’s not my responsibility.”

“Think about it Adam,” the friend said. “You didn’t live in a universe where the lizards existed until a couple weeks ago! Now you do, because for whatever reason you wanted it, and it’s not weird to us, because that’s the retroactive effect of it. This whole universe is in a roundabout way catered to your mysterious convenience. And you’re not really sitting on a couch somewhere rambling about lizard people any more than you’re really in any other hypothetical scenario. You’re here, and Charles is, for better or worse, wherever he is.”

Adam glared at Scott across the room, who mouthed a silent “sorry” back.

Charles’ head perked up, looking at nothing. Alert, he began to gallop away on all fours yelping, his voice cracking wildly. Malcolm yelled, “Catch him! Don’t let him out on the streets!” The friends scrambled and bumped into each other as they ran out the door.

“Who was that guy?” Adam asked.

“Eh, I don’t know,” Malcolm said. “Look Adam, this could be bad. Freshman could get hit by a car or start streaking somewhere. They can put you away for this.”

“For sugar pills,” Adam said. “Literally gelatin capsules filled with sugar. And getting other human beings to believe my sugar pills are responsible. Who’d even report me?”

“There are a few friends of mine—don’t get me wrong they’re good people—but they’re new at this. They can’t be trusted. It’s no use denying your pill’s responsibility for this, Adam. You both took the same pill, and now you’re both living in permanent psychoses. I just have the honor of being in yours.”

“You don’t really believe that. You’re fucking with me.”

“You and Freshman put together your own realities, like you promised the pill would do! But this was no functional pill, no, this pill was hastily thrown together in an effort to mock my circle of associates when we were high and susceptible!”

“If I could voluntarily alter reality to better suit my desires, don’t you think I would’ve taken advantage of that before?”

“The pill gave you the power to.”

Scott…” Adam whined.

“Leave me out of this…,” Scott said from across the room.

“Look Malcolm, I count three problems here,” Adam said. “One, how come I saw lizards before taking the pill, two, what makes you think my brain can distort reality through a placebo high, three, how could I get a placebo high from a placebo I made?!”

“Easy. One, Your pill was supposed to work retroactively for your whole life but you fucked up, and it only did a few weeks. Two, any hallucinogen you take distorts your perception of reality. Why should this be different? Three, you get a placebo high when you think you had something that will give you that effect, even though you didn’t actually take it. You have a lot of experience with them, Adam. If you take a sugar pill expecting to get a placebo high, is it much of a jump to say you might get a placebo placebo high?”

“Couldn’t you will yourself to get a placebo high if you think it’ll give you a placebo high?”

“…I don’t like this train of thought…”

“Why would I want this anyway?”

“I assume Freshman had a thing for cat people…”

“Actually,” Scott said, jumping in, “remember that one RPG that had those cat people? And how he’d go out of the way to kill them, even the non-hostile ones?”

“And that weird snorty laugh he did,” Malcolm said. “It was repressed all along.”

“You’re implying I had a repressed thing for reptiles?” Adam asked.

“I mean…there are those drawings,” Malcolm said.

“Really? The hell, Scott.”

Malcolm laughed. “Wait, there are drawings? Jesus Christ Adam, way to fall for the oldest trick in the fucking book, Jesus Christ.”

“Second grade, Malcolm. Second grade! Why don’t you take a pill, see what happens? I still have a whole bag full of them. Then we can conclusively rule out what it does or doesn’t do. You can be a Power Ranger.”

“Don’t you dare. You better destroy those things,” Malcolm said. He paused and thought, fuck, I loved Power Rangers. How’d he know that.

“I’m going to dissolve them in a humidifier! Oh, yes! I’m going to dust your car with powdered sugar!” Adam yelled.

The fear in Malcolm’s eyes grew very real.

One of Malcolm’s friends ran back in the apartment door and caught his breath. “We can’t find him. Fucker’s fast.”

Second Grade

On an overcast day Adam picked up some mud to cover over a bad word someone had carved into the drainage ditch. It held up well after Adam reinforced it a couple times with handfuls of playground sand he held under a water fountain. A teacher would occasionally find him sitting behind the metal grate among the grime and old Doritos bags and feel compelled to do something. “Adam, get out of there. Go out and play,” after which Adam would walk long laps around the sports fields.

“I see you’re alone again,” Telorak said.

“How’s the base?” Adam asked.

“Not good. Something went wrong with Luko’s science experiment and the whole place is still in zero gravity. The trampoline room’s a lot of fun, but the pool room is a total disaster! I heard that if you’re in zero gravity too long your muscles don’t get used that much so I’m making sure we all go outside. Like now! The base’s invisibility shields are still working, so don’t worry.”

“Think anyone will see you here?”

“Who cares? Who’s going to believe what some second graders say?” Telorak was a whole three years older than Adam and always rubbed it in. Adam was the only one at the base who had to go to school. “Besides, I’d just teleport back.” Telorak was a Zenitharian, like many people back at the base. Some of the Zenitharians started out as human but were cursed into turning into Zenitharians, but liked it and didn’t change back. They had tails, horns, cool spikes, and always carried swords in case of surprise attacks from the shadowpeople. They could breathe fire too but didn’t do it that much because it tasted bad.

“Where’s Scott?” Telorak asked.

“He’s playing kickball.”

“Don’t you like kickball?”

“The dirt makes your socks get all red. I like it in P.E. though.”

There were other races that lived at the base. There were little stickmen people and robots and tamed enemies from video games that came out of a wormhole and aliens that came from Phobos and Deimos and always competed with each other. The Phobos aliens could stretch their arms and legs to any length while the Deimos aliens could grow and shrink to any size. The humans didn’t have any powers but they made up for it with their inventions, like flippers that let you swim through the air and megaphones that shot out a bunch of whatever it was you said into it.

Telorak stopped and sniffed the air. He gripped the hilt of his sword with one hand and held Adam back with the other. He stood with his legs apart, his long tail flipping angrily. His horns made a line with his lowered scaly eyebrows. He was completely silent and didn’t hiss or growl.

“What is it?” Adam whispered.

“The blond kid on second base. Who is he.”

“That’s Ryan.”

“That’s not the Ryan you know.”

“You don’t think it’s one of the—

“That’s exactly what I’m thinking. Get back.”

Adam went behind a grass mound and laid on his stomach. He drew the base’s secret symbol in the grass to protect himself. A year before, Adam got a small drawstring bag-full of polished stones from a gift shop with his parents without realizing the stones were mined from the mountain where the endangered sunpeople used to live, and whenever he kept one of the stones in his pocket it made it so a shadowperson could never touch him, their hands would pass right through. He had one on him now but he still drew the symbol for luck. If it was a bright red stone, the shadowperson would catch on fire if they tried to touch him, and if it was a bright blue stone, they’d freeze, but only for a little bit. All the scientists at the base had one of the stones, but Telorak didn’t because he needed to be able to touch them to fight and defeat them for good. The shadowpeople were invaders and sworn enemies of the Zenitharian homeworld.

The sunpeople weren’t completely extinct yet. When Adam and his friends at the base figured out what the stones could do, they put one in the ship’s navigator and it flew them out into the sea to an island with an erupting volcano. The ship used its robot arms to clear the rubble, and they found a sunperson trapped under one of the boulders. They brought him back to the base and made him an honorary member. He was frail and quiet but glad to be a part of the base. The little stickmen people would play on the blankets of his bed and keep him company until he’d get better. When grown up the sunpeople became huge and powerful, but that could take hundreds of years, and he didn’t remember how old he—

Adam looked over the grass mound to find the fields empty. All the students were lined up to go back inside, and Adam was on the other side of the schoolyard. He sprinted back towards them.

The teacher was busy at her desk. “Did you fall asleep?” Scott asked Adam.


“You were running really fast. Like really super fast.”

“I left my notebook and my lunchbox out there. And my water bottle too.”


“In the cement place.”

“But the fifth graders are having recess!”

“What do I do?”

“Say you have to go to the bathroom and go get it. Did you have anything in your lunchbox still?”

“I was saving my Cheez-Its…” The teacher walked by and Adam raised his hand and said “Teacher!” softly and she turned. “Can I go to the bathroom?” Adam asked.

“You were just at recess, can’t it wait?”

“I guess…” Oh no. Adam put his head on his desk. He couldn’t get it after class because he’d miss the bus. The fifth graders would be tearing out pages from the notebooks, trying to read the captions on the maps, drawing naked people over his drawings with pen…plus it was a Friday and spring break was next week. Oh no oh no oh no.

Scott raised his hand. “Ms. Howard,” Scott said. “I left my notebook out in the field. Can I go get it really fast? I’ll be right back, I won’t miss anything.”

Adam stared at Scott in shock and confusion.

“Let me finish passing these out first, okay?”

“But the fifth graders are having their recess and I think if they see it they might move it and—

“Fine, go get it, but go right there and come back, okay? Seriously Scott, three minutes. I’m going to start giving the directions in a little bit.”

Scott winked at Adam and ran out the classroom door.

The Address Book 6

Adam answered a call from a phone number that matched to “Darius” in his address book. Darius was cordial and explained he was going to be busy most the next couple days and likely not at his apartment. It took five minutes to describe to Adam the entire list of errands needed and the steps needed to complete them, several of which required picking up things that Darius had put under Adam’s name in advance of his call. He gave Adam until the following night to finish it all, and paid generously.

The “address” section for Darius’ listing in the address book was filled with tightly-cramped advice about the closest parking and how to navigate the building Darius lived on the fifteenth floor of.

With the errands done, Adam was surprised to see the directions led him to the heart of Angel’s downtown. It was a small, tall cluster of skyscrapers that felt like entering a portal to a worthier town’s downtown, except it started and ended too suddenly—Angel’s size was measured in its spread, not its height. Adam realized he hadn’t parallel parked since testing for his driver license, not that there were any spaces. His hard-to-read old advice was made useless by construction projects and police redirecting the traffic pouring out from some ever-present tech company’s conference. He found a parking garage and drove to the top floor before finding a space. Darius’ items filled three grocery bags which Adam could walk ten blocks with fine if he switched which hand held the second bag every couple minutes.

The lobby of the building was beautiful. The doors opened and blasted Adam with a creamy bergamot aroma, mingled with coffee from a connected café. The ceiling was too high to notice unless one specifically looked for it. The floor and walls were a bright white marble with gray veins running through them and tall vases for trees were placed in the corners. An escalator labeled “STORES” churned people up and down from an unseen underground level. Adam felt underdressed. “Apartments” didn’t seem right anymore—an apartment was what Adam lived in, after all. It could be a high-end hotel, but that wouldn’t explain Darius’ residence there. The only words he could find was an unhelpful “HOLBROOK | OORDT” above the desk. His directions led him up a glass staircase to the residential elevators, where he passed people wearing bona fide dresses and suits.

The higher floors lost some of the showiness while still looking unaffordable. Adam got off at the fifteenth floor and took the proper rights and lefts where his writing told him to. He finally found the door number and set his bags down, knocked, and shook the blood back into his hands.

Adam jumped. A human being answered the door, not much older than Adam. A lanyard dangled from his neck—he wasn’t dressed fancily enough for a Holbrook Oordt resident, although his dark hair was gelled and parted with obsessive care.

“I’ll help you bring those in,” the man offered.

The stranger grabbed two bags and Adam the other, and they walked inside. Adam remembered his fears that Michael (2) and R.R.E. were a coincidental start to his career, and this Darius was the first of many boring human clients he had in store.

“Want a water bottle or something?” the man offered.

“No thanks…I’ll just…so long.”

“Yep. Thanks.”

“Yeah,” Adam said, closing the door. Okay then. He walked down the hallway disappointed but richer, his arms shelled out and filled with helium. It would take him a few blocks to figure out where his arms naturally rested.

The next morning, as he fed his legs through his work shorts, Adam remembered his address book was still tucked in the side of the second bag. Hm.

The Nineties

Margaret Koller stood on top of a seaside hill, letting the wintry sea-chilled air blow into her face and coat as she watched a small boat bob in the water. Two vans were parked on the damp brown sand below with a small group of workers was carrying out equipment. “I didn’t think to bring dramamine. I can’t go out there,” she said.

Ian Rennes made it up the hill behind her and yawned. “I’ll go. If they let me.” The wind blew through his bright red Hawaiian shirt and shorts. “I told you they…show up in the sea sometimes.”

“There’s no good response to that,” she said and smiled, eyes still fixed on the water.

“You’re smiling because you know I’ve been right this whole time.”

“They’re just sea creatures.” Another small taut grin.

“If I cared more I think I would’ve given up by now,” Ian said. “Start writing conspiracy tracts. Or maybe I already gave up, and that’s why I don’t care.”

“It’s almost nine. We should be down there.”

“Yeah.” Ian started walking and stopped. “It’s going to grow big and eat the horse. But it’ll start with the chickens first, more likely. What are reptiles good for anyway? We can always turn around right now.”

“I’ll take care of it.”

She meant it and that was that. Ian liked that finality she had. He continued down the hill to the shore, his feet plopping down against the slope as he crossed the untouched sand to the tire tracks below. Workers were carrying out the last electronic equipment out of the vans onto tarps and hand trucks, while a boat in the water drove to a flat rock jutting from the shore to where a walkway could be laid. The vans were old, light blue, windowed, and unassuming—but both the license plates started with G, making Ian wary.

“Hello,” Ian said in the general direction of the busy people, hoping someone would pick up.

A man with a clipboard exited the van’s passenger seat and introduced himself as Jim. Ian felt like he would’ve introduced himself as Jim no matter what his birth name was. “You are…Mr. Koller?” Jim asked.

“No, I’m Ian Rennes. R-E-N-N-E-S.” One of the others made sudden eye contact with Ian when he said his name before moving on. Ian noticed and continued, “Margaret’s up there, she’s…got a thing with water.” Margaret waved from afar. Jim looked through his papers, saw something he liked, and nodded.

“It’s about a half-mile out,” Jim said. “The water’s not too choppy here. And don’t worry about the rocks, we’ve gone out from this same point a good fifteen times. Are you coming?”

Ian nodded, surprised at the offer. Jim hopped back in the van and came out with a thick life jacket to hand Ian. “You look cold.”

Ian sat in the boat with the lifejacket tightened around his waist. The last of the electronics was dollied aboard and the walkway was removed. Ian spoke up, “So do you guys signal these things or do you just predict where they end up?” The helmsman started the motor and the noise droned him out. Someone yelled “What?” and Ian shook his head. The helmsman was the same man who made eye contact with Ian when he spelled out his last name, and throughout his steering he kept looking back at Ian and making him nervous. The boat bounced off the water, throwing up freezing mist after every crest. Jim stood at the front of the ship squinting into the distance, twisting his hands around the front metal rail. Someone sitting across from Ian was adjusting knobs on a theremin-like contraption with a surgeon’s focus. Another worker was watching a jumping needle on an unfamiliar handheld meter.

“Stop!” Jim called. “There it is. Ian, come up here.” Ian stood up and steadied himself as the boat swayed. He followed the rail up to the front of the boat and looked out at the water. “What the hell,” he muttered.

About fifty feet away, a giant spherical rock the size of a small room was slowly rolling in place, only the top few feet of it poking above the top of the water. Waves gently collided and rolled along top of it. “Alright, bring her in…slow,” Jim said to the helmsman. “Alright. Good. Let’s stop ‘er.”

The man with the theremin-like device rotated its metal bars and rerouted some cables. He pulled out a large metal dish from under his seat, attached it to the device, then held it pointed at the rock in the water. The giant rock budged upwards and slowed its tilting. As it slowed to a stop, a previously unseen door-sized opening rolled into view. The rock was completely stationary now, as if it had become part of the coast that reached down to the bottom of the ocean floor. The boat was close enough that Jim and the man with the meter were able to safely unfold the gangway and rest it against the rock’s opening. They both grabbed empty metal boxes carried them across the gangway and lowered themselves into the rock suspended in the water.

Ian opened his mouth and closed it a few times and looked at the other people’s faces. “This happens a lot?” The helmsman made eye contact with Ian and looked away again. The man holding the dish gave a half-hearted “yup.” Ian sat back down cold, numb, and confused. The boat swayed slightly and the gangway creaked. He heard the two workers’ voices from within the rock. Even with the engine off, the wind would kick up small sprays of mist at the boat’s edge. Birds flew in different layers of altitude without squawking or diving. The two finally ascended from the rock with their metal boxes and crossed the gangway back to set them down. Jim found and unzipped a sealed foil bag, pulled out some hot white towels, and walked back into the rock again, reappearing with something bundled. He boarded and approached Ian, sitting down with his towel bundle while the others folded up the gangway. Ian felt sick. “Here.” Jim handed it over. The towels were warm and soft and Ian was afraid to unwrap it. A corner fell down revealing a bright red color. Too far along now. Ian unwrapped the towel—it held a smooth translucent egg about ten inches in diameter. “We don’t know how small they start but the eggs must grow in size with the embryo—until a certain point, then they harden up like this one. This one should hatch anytime in the next couple days. Can I show you something?” Ian handed Jim the egg back, and he gently held it up to the sun to look at it from below. “See?”

There was a little critter in there, tightly coiled. Ian was silent. “We should probably get him back in the towel there…” Jim said. Ian held onto the bundle silently as the boat returned to shore.

The vans were packed up. Jim was talking to Margaret and showing her the egg in the sun like he showed Ian.

“Hey,” someone whispered to Ian, breaking him from a trance. It was the helmsman that kept making eye contact. He motioned Ian to follow him behind one of the vans, which he did.

“You probably already know, but you should hear it from one of us,” the helmsman said.

“Shoot,” Ian said.

“They’re aliens. The lizards, they totally are. We’re all just waiting for someone outside to say something. We’re all just going along with it. But people are going to find out! We can’t do this quietly forever. We’re not even trying to keep it quiet, but no one’s watching us! It’s too damn weird!

“Should we…stay quiet?” Ian asked cautiously.

“Huh? No. We talk about this all the time. It’s all too stupid for anyone to really care, too stupid to talk about the high-ups with.”

“How do you know they’re aliens? I mean, I don’t know what the hell just happened out there, but…you have to be pretty sure to say something like that.”

“I don’t go in the storks. Er, the meteor boulder things, ‘storks’ are our little nickname. But they take out more than just the egg. You saw the heavy boxes they carry stuff out in. Before they got the egg, you know.”

“How could an alien be so closely suited for our environment and look like our other animals? We even call them ‘lizards,’ I mean.” Ian found himself channeling Margaret’s arguments from preceding weeks.

“We set up trusts for them. Each one.”

“By trusts you mean like…”

The helmsman nodded.

Ian shifted his facial features, not sure what expression he should be holding. “For the caretakers?”

“Nope. Each lizard. Caretakers aren’t affiliated at all. No access.”

“Will the lizards be able to…?”

“I hear things. Down the grapevine. The oldest ones are only about a year old, for now. Just a couple feet long. Adorable little fellas. But they come with things that have value, a lot of value. Little trust-fund-baby aliens. Someone’s looking out for them, I think.”

Margaret liked animals and heard of a vaguely-government-affiliated program to adopt a recently discovered and highly endangered reptilian species displaced from their natural habitat. She’d seen one at a reserve and thought it looked cute.

“Why are you telling me this?” Ian asked.

“You’re adopting one! I have to tell you.”

Fair. “Are you working for the government? Who exactly’s operating this?”

“Uh, we get contracted by some department, does that count? I just man the boats when they show up out here. I definitely don’t get government benefits…and we work hard. There’s a lot of these little guys. We should unionize. What would we call ourselves? Nah I’m just joking, I don’t know how I feel about unions.”

That’s it then, Ian thought. Fuck it. They’re aliens. Nothing matters. I’m free! He walked back to Margaret and stood next to her, his eyes failing to focus on anything, his ears failing to parse any words. Free. An image of himself wearing a stetson, holding a shotgun with a large trained, loyal reptilian beast at his side, a crime-fighting duo every outlaw this side of the Mississippi prays to their Lord and Savior to not ever cross paths with, briefly entered and exited his mind before he knew what to make of it. Matthew? Yeah. Sure. Matthew.

“What should we name it?” Margaret asked.

Ian was lying across the backseat cradling the egg wrapped in warm towels while Margaret drove. “Matthew.”

“Oh…I thought you were going to say ‘Rex’ or ‘Killer’ or something.”

“Matthew’s the one normal name I haven’t used in something yet. I was saving it.”

“That’s almost sweet of you.”

“Could be a girl though.”

“They have external differences, thank God. It’s just the horns. It said in one of the fliers. Things won’t have to get invasive. I do have to give it an official name on the forms though, like adopting a dog or something. Want it to be ‘Matthew Rennes’ or ‘Matthew Koller’?”

Ian rolled his head to the side and looked out the window. “I think we might have just adopted a child. A sentient being, that’s going to grow and talk and…I don’t know.”

“Where does this come from?”

“I talked to the guy steering the boat. He says they set up trust funds for them. Trust funds! I saw them carry out mysterious boxes out of the—the spacecraft—that weren’t shown to me. He said someone’s looking out for them.”

“You’re actually freaked out about this.”

“It’s in the lizard’s name, he said. If it were just for its upkeep it’d be in ours, or—who put those things there anyway? It’s like, it’s like, this should be something we’re not allowed to know about but there was a bureaucratic slip-up and they just forgot to cover it up!”

“…but you want to name him Matthew still.”

Ian paused. “I do.”

“It’s a cute name. It makes me smile. Lizard named Matthew. And this is coming from someone who had an iguana named ‘Panjo’ in middle school. I don’t know where it came from, just…‘Panjo.’ You should name him Matthew Rennes.”

Ian unfolded the towels and looked at the translucent red shadows within. “Please don’t eat my face, little guy.”

Landing 1

Costero, Baja

A figure swam up to the shore and retracted what he needed to appear humanoid. An ability that got him a lot of work, although he would’ve preferred a job somewhere he could spend more time in the water. The seafloor sloped up to his feet and he tried standing. He felt the true weight of the planet’s gravity as the water clung to the black cloth that covered his body. A wave knocked him forward into the water again and coarse sand rushed over him and filled every space between his clothes and skin. He stood up again and moaned. No one was on the dark rocky beach except for a few disinterested pigeons and gulls.

He had dried off by the time he made it to the city. The stores were closed and no streetlights lit the roads, which suited him well. The flickering annoyed him. Even at this time of night there were some people out on the streets. All human, as to be expected statistically. He would have a small pool to work through—there were no more than three hundred of the lizards in the entire Costero metro. He gravitated to a newer part of town crawling up the base of the mountain. The roads and buildings grew further apart, a luxury of breathing space where the residents could afford it. He crouched behind a large trimmed hedge and scoped the buildings traveling up the mountain. Everywhere had one. He walked up the slope, peering into the lights of each mansion. He finally found what he was looking for, just like all the others. Glass walls, filled with mirrors. He drifted up to its windows. It was a small personal gym. A young man with a towel around his neck was inside wiping off sweat from a treadmill. The man obviously frequented this gym, something the figure outside was looking for in his sample. He’d seen enough. He felt his belt, all the right tools were in place. There was no door on the outside, so he looked for a large rock. He found a thick branch fallen off a tree and picked it up, dirt and bugs falling off as he held it. By now the man inside was benching weights alone, his face contorting and puffing with strain. The figure outside mentally planned which device from his belt he would point angrily while mouthing threats in the Spanish he’d been learning for years in advance of this job. He stepped up to the glass and swung the branch.

The glass broke in large pieces and threw a radius of broken shards across the gym floor. The man dropped the bar onto his chest and gasped for breath. The black-clad figure stepped inside holding his tools and saw the man on the bench was unable to lift the bar off his chest. He returned the tools to his belt, not needing them. He ran to the man with the weights across his chest and said in Spanish, “I’ll help you if you help me in return.”

The man gasped back, “…getthisoffme…asshole…”

The figure grabbed at the bar and pulled it off the man. He flung the weights to the side and they bounced off the floor and rolled away.

“Who are you?” the weightlifter asked. His adrenaline and panic prevented him from piecing together what the loud crash was and who this person was, but even still, something was very wrong. Robes? A Middle Easterner? or…Japanese? The accent was strange. Why was he here? The joints and muscles under the wrappings were all off, like rejects from an anatomy student’s sketchbook. It all fed back into his panic and he couldn’t think clearly.

“I am…the Autochthon,” the intruder said and laughed. He liked using the word as his name in each language he worked with, a private joke. It was shorter and snappier in most the languages he knew, but he took a liking to the Spanish word and how esoteric and ominous it sounded. “Auto works.”

“If you weren’t here…”

“Anytime,” Auto said. The man looked up and looked over the damage to the room. “Now for that help in return. I need a...picture of sorts. Wait, first, are you hurt? Feel your ribs.”

“I’m fine…but wait…”

“Good.” Auto unscrewed a vial from his belt. He dribbled a mercury-like liquid onto the man’s stomach, and the man involuntarily fell back flat against the bench. The mercury danced energetically on his chest like on a hot pan, and grew and reached from the man’s torso to his extremities. He felt an all-captivating electric pricking against his skin, too sharp and sudden to feel like pain. A second or a minute passed and it was over. Auto extended a long metal wire between his two hands and used it to tap the man’s forehead. What the—

—on’t remember any kind of wind last night, maybe that tree was already on its way.”

“Pretty bum glass to shatter everywhere like that. I’d call—

—ating whether it was worth the trouble pouring the excess cerealback in the box, but also if there was enough room in the bowl to getenough milk for the cereal to even float in any capacity and not ov—

—dressed like a ninja? While you were inside? You sure you weren’t hitting th—


Auto pulled the wire back from the man’s forehead. “Oh, that didn’t work at all! My apologies.” He mumbled in his own language and tried to snap the wire in half. The man tried standing up only to pass out back against the bench. Auto set the broken wire back on his belt and carefully stepped around the broken glass to the land of night outside.

Landing 2

Auto found an empty warehouse along the docks by the next morning. He scaled a metal gate to get to the door, only to find a large rusty lock. He unwound a wire from his belt and wrapped it around the brown metal. He pulled at the ends of the wire, squeezing it deep into the lock, the metal fizzing around it. The wire caught on something and Auto pulled harder. The wire hissed and sputtered and stopped moving into the metal. Auto groaned and pulled it back out of a quarter-inch gash it had made. The tools, while useful, were sensitive to minor changes in climate and air quality and only worked on about a third of the places Auto visited. He walked down the narrow boardwalk and threw the string and the faulty wire from the night before into the sea. He left to scavenge for a broken metal bar he could use as a crowbar.

The warehouse door slid open loudly. Blocks of light shone through the dust and peacefully lit the broken neglected machinery inside. He walked the floor of the building, calling out and looking for any signs a human had entered in the past twenty years. There was a graffiti tag on a back wall which concerned Auto until he found the spray paint can on the ground with a brittle yellow label that broke off when he held it.

The process needed several days undisturbed to work, so Auto spent a trial period in the warehouse occupying himself to make sure it was truly ignored. He found a broken gun on the seafloor and kept it at a table by his side while he read fliers and advertisements he found on sidewalks. Throughout the days the occasional sounds of birds or windblown leaves would cause Auto to grab the gun and point it at the front entrance for a minute before returning to his reading. A couple of the advertisements caught his attention for having Spanish letters yet seeming to be in a different language entirely. There were a couple Spanish words peppered in there, but it might’ve been a coincidence since a couple letters were off anyway. A Spanish dialect? Maybe English, his second choice of language to learn. He had time to get around to it if Mexico didn’t prove fruitful. The magazine was colorful and had lots of pictures of humans, but none of lizards, which Auto took note of.

Bored with his reading, Auto cut off his imposed caution period and took out the vial of the metallic liquid. When he shook the vial, the liquid turned from its reflective gray to an opaque fleshy tone. He uncapped it and drizzled the contents at the dusty cement floor. He walked around the entire warehouse, drizzling the floor and the walls as he walked. When he circled back to the front, a five-pointed translucent ghost of a person was already making rounds of the building in the edges of Auto’s vision, disappearing to the side like the afterimage of a bright flash. Auto grimaced and left the warehouse—he never liked watching the process. At the start of his career he never used them, partly out of pride, partly to not worry about them conflicting with his efforts, but mostly because they were unsettling. But now he had less patience for the proud hands-on approach.

It was daytime, so Auto kept from the main streets and sidewalks and kept his broken gun in the folds of his clothes on his hip. He liked to walk the back alleyways where no one prettied up false storefronts for the tourists wandering around in safe retraceable distances from their cruise ship. He noticed the eyes of employees on smoke breaks following him but no one confronted him. He poked out from the back streets when there were crowds to get lost in, where no one would see him for more than a second. He waltzed through a busy market, slipping away before drawing lasting attention. He didn’t have a complex template to look out for in this place (a lizard of certain qualities, none visual). This could’ve been dishearteningly vague, but Auto had found people on worse information. And he had time.

He couldn’t find one lizard among the town’s day-to-day street folk. The fishy air of the coast and perpetually wet ground made Auto ache for relaxation, to find a peaceful bay as ignored as his warehouse. He could ball up his clothes and stash them under a rock and sleep in the shallow sun-warmed waters, the swells rocking him back and forth. Let the cronies do their job! He could conserve energy for a fish to ignorantly cross above his face…light a fire under a spit on the beach…

He made himself hungry.

While scouring through a restaurant dumpster, Auto heard someone walking up with a clanking metal trash can. He slid to the side in-between a pickup truck and a brick wall where he could watch from the shadows. The tan scales, tall neck, head pointed forward—by total accident, the first of the lizards he’d seen on Earth. He gave up his hiding spot and walked up to where the lizard was hoisting up her trash.

“I’m looking for someone,” Auto said.

The lizard stopped what she was doing and froze.

“I’m looking for a lizard. All I know is that they were born in Costero. I’m not from here, see?” Auto pulled the black cloth off of his face. The lizard stepped back in shock. Auto’s head was smooth and had a milky red color. He had angled solid blue eyes, two thin slits for a nose, and gills running down the sides of his neck. Thin fins started to rise from the back of his head, done sticking down after being wrapped up so long. “Oh don’t give me that look. You’re not native here either. You pieced that together, right?”


“Are there any sort of cities or communities lizards have built together? Where are all of you?”

“There’s nothing like that here. Or anywhere.” The lizard took a step back.

“Not even in secret? I’m not hiding anything.”

The lizard stepped back again. “I don’t know any others.”

“Other what?”

“In public sometimes I see other,” she hesitated, “lizards, of course, but…”

“You’re no help then. Go.”

The lizard ran away without a word, leaving the trash can behind. Auto drew the cloth wrappings back over his head. No other lizards. Really? Were they assimilated or not? Her Spanish sounded fine, from what he could tell. Auto realized this would be one of those jobs. Frustrating when you’re there, fuel for inebriated storytelling later. He crouched down to inspect the trash can’s contents.

Landing 3

The creations sat on the warehouse floor with their legs crossed. Five indistinguishable doubles of the bodybuilder. Auto stood before them with his hands behind his back.

“The five of you are about one day old. There will be more of you later, but you are the first and the most intelligent. You are free to go off and do what you like, but you may notice that the most fulfilling bliss you will know is felt while pursuing a certain target. Discovery that the target is not here will also bring you bliss and not leave you tortured and unfulfilled, which is how you all know I’m not a god. You all have the shape and knowledge of a native Earthling for the sake of convenience, so I can skip having to teach you how to read and poop and learn the culture and all that. There’s the side effect of you knowing all his thoughts and personal memories, but these are completely extraneous. Don’t think much of them.”

“He was in an enormous racket, really enormous. His whole family was embezzling—

“Is that relevant to your purpose?” Auto asked.


“Then…save it for later. Now, this may take a few years. Your target is a lizard—you know what those are, right?”

“The aliens.”


“Yes, good. This lizard, he or she, is special for reasons that weren’t specified to me. This lizard is supposed to become progressively more unique as time goes on, but right now, we’re dealing with an unknown. I assume that they weren’t supposed to be born here! But that is not our concern. All we need to do is get them to go somewhere else where they can talk to who hired me. This will not be as easy as that might sound.

“I’m afraid none of you are human—or any other species. You look human and share the same basic functions and qualities as a fit specimen. You won’t stand out in a crowd like I will. But you all…you look a little…blurry?” The creations inspected their hands. “I recommend covering yourself in any situation someone will give a prolonged look at you. But for the most part, things will be easier if you avoid situations where anyone can. As for me, I am…El Autóctono.” He pulled off his head coverings. The creations didn’t react and Auto was disappointed. “I am not your god. Just your manager. To contact me, leave a red flag hanging on the door of this warehouse. Otherwise I’ll be here at least every Sunday at noon.”

All the creations stood up but one. “What do we do now?” the sitting one asked.

“Didn’t your person know any lizards?” Auto asked.


“Yes…Goyo. The weightlifter. Didn’t he know any?”

The creations stood still and pondered. Auto reflected on his choice of human template.

“He saw several on…on Calle Tomás. Pretended to not see them.”

“Right,” another said. “And one lived at…”

The creations felt something on a cosmic scale tapping on their speck of a fishbowl. It was beautiful but incredibly fragile in this realm, threatened by the very flavor of existing. Drops of honey-colored water from some higher cosmic golden sea sprinkled on the curtain around the minuscule Earth and left small damp circles that would dry quickly. Any war, humanitarian effort, missing person, dirty floor needing cleaning, requested substitutions on a restaurant order were all equally meaningless under the weight of this purpose. Whatever could wedge through that curtain and the horribly small trappings of this world was the only real goal worth holding. It felt fantastic. Goyo would never learn this. This was where they left Goyo behind. The creations blinked and shivered, then filed out of the warehouse. Auto watched them leave, then continued reading his magazine.

Landing 4

“Do we just go down there? Split up?”

The creations looked down on Calle Tomás from an overlooking hill. They realized they all knew the way without needing to verbally coordinate. They didn’t talk about their recent cosmic experience, they all deeply understood their new priorities without comment.

“We should pick names. And none of us can be Gregorio.”

“It’s only natural we should be John, Paul, George, and Ringo.”

“There’s five of us.”

“I thought there were six.”

They started counting each other, and found it difficult. They backed up in unison. One looked at the angles between them, looked correct for a five-sided shape. He was concerned that was how he had to come to the conclusion.

“We’re new, maybe that’s why. Maybe we’ll…solidify later.”

One of them knelt down and grabbed a rock, and tossed it into the air and caught it. “We seem pretty solidified to me.”

“Names, gentlemen.”

They called out their names: “Emanuel.” “Francisco.” “Eduardo.” “…I’m still going to be Ringo.” The fifth hesitated. “Do I have to pick one now?”

“You can be ‘Nameless.’”

“So, back to the road,” the creation that named himself Emanuel said. Changing the topic back to their task gave everyone a small fizz of ecstasy. “We could block off the roads. Round up and question everyone on the street.”

“…that’s your first idea?” Francisco asked.

“What?” Emanuel asked, looking around for confirmation. “If you want this done fast…”

“Let’s just go up and ask people if they’ve seen any of the lizards,” Ringo asked.

“No…You know what we look like. Let’s keep it low,” Francisco said. “You haven’t said anything yet, how about you Nameless?”

Nameless shrugged.

“Are there other places besides Tomás?” Eduardo asked. “Somewhere up north?”

“What’s up north? You want to check Goyo’s house again?”


“Guys,” Francisco said. “Let’s just go down there together and keep a low profile, okay? We need to start somewhere.”

They followed suit, assembling in unnatural synchronization. Eduardo looked back up north longingly.


A rudimentary compass, carved bone horn, and painted stone vase sat on the collector’s shelves as the newest additions. There weren’t many bidders for the artifacts, but, unfortunately for him, they were all as dedicated and wealthy as he was. He had the means and desire to raise a newborn lizard but wasn’t sure if it would be out of love or obsession, and where the line was really drawn between those. He imagined the unspoken coldness growing after they see his fascination through their adult eyes and slip out silently. He imagined losing arguments over whether he loved them. A friend of his wife’s once joked, “You know you can put in to raise one, right?” He gave a stock “I’m done after two,” with a chuckle.

The previous owner of the compass, carved bone horn, and painted stone vase left his bed as cold as when he entered it. He had no more trouble saying goodbye to the artifacts than one misses the furniture in the room they were born in. The ground outside still held a chill in the mornings of this month so he stayed inside. There was no wind rustling the weeds and bushes and the birds’ light peeping was the only sound for miles. The house’s open design allowed sparrows to bounce about the ground in the house, only to fly off when he turned a knob to fill his bathtub with hot water from the underground tank. The pounding of the water ended the silence he was used to and made him anxious for the two minutes it took to fill the tub. He stayed in the water until it went lukewarm, then laid outside to dry off.

Once a coyote came sniffing around the house. Its fox-like size and bushy tail made it surprisingly nonthreatening up close and it left on its own accord. Another time he spotted smoke down the dirt road his house was close to. He grabbed a bottle of water and made off for the closest foothill where he could sit in the rocks and watch over his home. Sure enough a backpacker found his small house and stayed for a night, lighting a fire outside in his pit. There was no sign of life the morning after but he remained in the mountain rocks for two days afterwards. When he returned to his home his bed was neatly made and his inventory was short by one water bottle and can of SPAM. Always eating…He found a note left on a table that read:


: )

With a few dollars underneath. He grabbed the bills and ran outside, staring into the horizon. He looked for smoke anywhere but never found any.

Avery 1

Machines rumbled into life to flatten a square of land outside the seminary in the foothills outside of Angel. The long-standing myth was confirmed, they were expanding. The priests and seminarians quietly understood the new wing was not housing for an incoming flood of new seminarians, but any expansion was a good thing. New classrooms, storage rooms, offices. Always good.

A teenage lizard was curled up on the sunny windowsill cushion in the library within earshot of the drilling and pounding of the construction site. The library was small and its old books festered a thick carrot-y smell that enveloped the room. The sun haloed around the lizard and diffused off his brown scales in a way that softly glowed against the nearby wall. He was wearing black pants and a white collared shirt in a close approximation of the standard seminarian dress code. He was too busy scanning the large leather-bound books laid out in front of him to notice the other seminarian impatiently eyeing him from the other end of the library. The seminarian needed to dissect some Hebrews passages for an assignment due the next morning, and he had got dressed in his clerics early to force himself to work on it in the library until it was time to head off for vespers. But now the lizard was deeply in focus on the exact large green Koine Greek reference book he came early for. There was a floppy mid-size Bible with translation notes but its pages were crinkly and would tear if you turned a page at too much of an angle. Of course he knew the lizard lived here and wandered about the seminary—was named Avery—but not much beyond that. How’d he get here? Why was he reading a reference book on Koine Greek? He wasn’t in this class with him. Was he…no. There was something vaguely unsettling about that line of thought. He’d asked McCammon, the priest that manned the library, about the Koine book, who directed him to the window while failing to mention, “Oh hey, the lizard you see in the empty upper seating levels at mass sometimes is in this room and also has your book.” The priest had a strange quiet undercurrent of rebellion that didn’t mesh with his priestly robes and obvious passion and involvement with the churchly doings. His rebellion could be reasoned away as a wrong impression, but repeated interactions made it rise up again. It’d been a while since the seminarian had seen McCammon, forgetting he filled in at the library during the off-times when no seminarians picked it for their weekly duties.

Do I need the book?, the seminarian wondered. He knew Hebrews pretty well. But the seminary classes, no matter how normal they felt, you couldn’t crank out an assignment on the library computers during lunch before class like you could in high school. That was the old him. If you were lazy here, what did that say about you? There were going to be much bigger struggles outside of this place. There was a non-zero chance a homeless person could show up rolling around foaming at the mouth in front of his church steps yelling that he was Jesus that he’d have to take care of, but here he was wanting a book that this lizard kid was studying…very intently.

The seminarian knew he’d never approach the lizard alone and walked back to McCammon at the library entrance. “Avery has it,” he told the priest.

“Yes,” McCammon said.

“What’s he doing with it?”

McCammon interlocked his fingers and smiled in a way that was so naturally, professionally priestlike. “Did you ask him?”

Priests would do this. That artful misdirection, pretending to miss every subtext you didn’t want to vocalize, taking obvious delight in it. No. I’m a priest. Or, going to be. I won’t do this. I will remember the frustrations of the youth. The lizard still had his book. Using it to get closer to the New Testament, the accounts of his human Jesus. For humans. He didn’t like that his mind took him there, but there he was. Tailored, exclusive Jesus. Solidarity would be easier for everyone if he just had his own Jesus.

McCammon got up from the desk and clasped his hands behind his back to maintain priestly posture. “Avery and I are going to the downtown library for a couple hours to use the internet, if you wanted to come.” The internet, long forgotten luxury of pre-seminary life. This seminary at least. This was an intense seminary, not like the fabled come-play-football-and-Xbox-with-the-cool-young-priests seminaries. But he realized he’d have two hours alone with his book if they left.

“No, thank you.”

“Would you take the library keys then?” McCammon asked, holding the ring of keys for the doors and desk drawers. “If you don’t mind.”

McCammon changed into more secular button-downs but kept the collar as always. He lost some of his priestliness driving his convertible with the top down, or possibly gained some depending on the observer. Avery was short for his age even by human standards and sat in the passenger seat with his feet up on the seat, hugging his knees. He tucked a torn leaf of yellow notepad paper filled with two weeks’ worth of topics to search about into his shirt pocket even though he had them memorized. He’d never been in the convertible before, and hadn’t been in a car much regardless. Most of the trips were to the library like this one. He stared around as McCammon drove, looking up at the cloudless sky, surprised by how well the convertible windshield cut away the noise and wind of driving.

“You were into something heavy, weren’t you,” McCammon asked.

Avery put his head down.

“Whatever it is, there’s two-thousand years of the most intelligent minds of history writing on the same topic. I don’t have to ask to know you’ve prayed about it.” He didn’t have to shout over the wind, another surprise to convertible driving.

“Do I disprove the Bible?”

The priest laughed involuntarily. “What? No! Of course not.”

“Am I not part of it then?”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m not human. ‘Creation’ and ‘Earth’ are interchangeable everywhere in the Bible. I can’t be made in His image, not if everyone else is. Eve is the mother of all who are living. If there are other planets with aliens, God definitely doesn’t care about them like Earth.”

“You are on Earth here with us, aren’t you?”


“See? No problem. The Bible doesn’t mention cats either. Do cats disprove the Bible?”

“They’re in the Letter of Jeremiah.”

McCammon paused, surprised. “Time’s passing doesn’t hurt the Bible, in fact, the further our technology and society changes from its writing, the more we see its universality. The way the Bible continues to apply to our modern existence proves it wasn’t just a product of a certain time, a certain people. The Bible wouldn’t have been more relevant than it already is with bonus verses hinting at phones, airplanes, everything that happens in history. It had to be more than that, or else it’d only scoot the problem down to some inevitable future century. You just fall in a frustratingly silent aspect of that.”

“Phones and airplanes don’t have souls though.”

“That’s true. I shouldn’t have said that. Look—am I an ancient Israelite? I’m as gentile as you are, Avery. Really. That’s what the New Covenant was about. If robots turned sentient, had souls, I have no doubt God would be right there waiting for them too.”

Is that doctrine? “I know, but…”

“Hey,” McCammon said, smiling. “If you’re worried about ordination, not being human isn’t as bad as you think. You could be a woman, huh?”

That was the strangeness of McCammon. Avery picked up on it as much as anyone else. He grinned at the comment, couldn’t help it, but it swirled his emotions to hear a joke like that coming from a priest. The whiplash from the importance of the church and tradition versus the directness and connection made by throwing it all out with a single knowing joke.

“I don’t really expect to be ordained,” Avery said. “I could work at the seminary. Be a lay brother, maybe.”

“You’re, what, fifteen, sixteen? I mean…if you feel you’re getting called, you’re getting called…”

Fifteen. Was he dissuading him from becoming a monk? Avery didn’t get him all the time. “I could study somewhere by myself,” Avery said.


Avery tipped over to his right to lay his head on the door. “I don’t want to make other people think about things they…shouldn’t have to, you know. It didn’t bother me when I was younger…”

“What bothers you?”

“I don’t want anyone else to...I don’t know. Worry about the things that only I should deal with, you know.”

“I don’t. Come now, you don’t have to dance around it.”

“I feel like the more Christian I am, the more damage I do. I think I make it look ridiculous. And I hate that. I’d rather leave than try the faith of…”

He didn’t know how strongly it felt until he said it. But there it was. There are times you attempt to vent to someone and you can only squeeze out a shallow trite version of your inner troubles, then there are times you don’t realize how much you had going on until it tumbles out into words you can all hold and look at. McCammon looked at him with something between empathy and disappointment. “I need to get over, anyone on that side? Look for me?” McCammon said.

Avery wished he hadn’t brought it up, now of all times. The sun was out. Special convertible ride! The library! Last time he went somewhere with McCammon they talked about dog breeds. Oh well.

“Trying the seminarians’ faith could be the best thing you do, Avery. They’re all in a safe little bubble. That’s why I push the pastoral formation so hard. Their only questions are the ones there are eight different answers to throughout antiquity, and they have fun picking which kind of answer they like best. Make it their problem too. Trust me, being human is not enough to get you out of a dark night of the soul, if that’s what this is. Trust me…It’s something some of us are hardwired to do to ourselves,” he pulled into a parking lot. “Aaand, we’re here.”

The seminary was beautiful, every inch of it devoted to holiness, but it lacked something that public libraries had. A certain New Testament quality. The bums sleeping in armchairs, the poor tubby children playing Flash games, the adults uploading papers for their online courses, the incredible odor. The most unassuming place possible. It was exactly the kind of place that’d take someone looking like Avery in, somewhere the sight of him would make a weird kind of sense.

He and McCammon split ways, agreeing when and where to meet to leave. Not a word on their exchange in the car. It was done with. The computers were three floors up, but Avery took the stairs for the sake of any elevator-goers, a courtesy he always gave without deeply questioning. He settled in at a computer and unfurled his notepad paper. He entered his library card number to start his fifteen minutes.

He started with the more concrete things he could search. There had to be more analysis on the words behind Hebrews 11:3, Ezekiel 1. Online analysis of Revelation wasn’t worth anyone’s time. There was a mild thrill in this online research, mixed with guilt. Shouldn’t he have prayed more with God before running to the internet for answers? The internet gave access to much more variety of religious and denominational thought than he ever imagined, but the danger of cherrypicking was always there. A younger, less learned version of Avery had come across interesting Biblical analysis before, until realizing it was citing Apocrypha the Church didn’t recognize.

Four minutes left on the session. How’d it go by so fast? It was time—he searched for “biblical support aliens.” He clicked the first good looking title, and an ancient website loaded with a bad 3D render of the typical “Gray” alien. Avery slammed the back button, and looked around if anyone noticed. No one was looking. He clicked another page title, this time on a website named “Bible Answers for Teens.” He was hesitant but saw verse numbers and no images, and stayed.

We must ask ourselves, is the existence of extraterrestrial life essential to our relationship with the Lord? The Bible is perfection, a shield to those who take refuge in Him, with no need for revision or addition (Proverbs 30:5–6). The omission of a definitive Biblical answer on alien life leads us to a simple conclusion that the answer is not a necessary one for our eternal souls and spiritual salvation. God is certainly capable of creating life on other planets should it serve part in His plan: His power and handiwork is visible in all of Creation.

Still, it's difficult to not daydream about the incomprehensible and mighty nature of God and His Creation. It is up to us make sure our time is spent on topics that bring us closer to the Lord, and not spent venturing into unfruitful hypotheticals, or worse, attempts to test His Word. Let us Christians take solace that God, the God who knows every hair on our heads (Luke 12:7), who knows every star and their name (Psalm 147:4–5), and who has more thoughts towards each one of us than there are grains of sand (Psalm 139:18), knows exactly what was necessary for us to have answers for. How could we expect to know the answer to every mystery in our short, temporary times in our earthly tents? How could we begin to comprehend the incredible extent of God's Creation? Even if we lived for thousands of years, we could never hope to understand a fraction of what the Lord has laid out for us. As Corinthians 5:1 says, we have an eternal house in heaven—an eternal house where we have forever to contemplate the glory of God's creation.

The most important answer is whether you will have that eternal house when Jesus Christ returns to Earth. Have you accepted Christ as your Lord and Savior? Today is the day of salvation—

He had seconds left in the session. He stared at a picture of smiling pastor at the bottom of the article. Screw you, Bible Answers for Teens. The counter hit zero and logged him out. He grabbed his notepad paper and left the seat. A child smiled greedily from afar and ran over to steal the open computer. Avery walked off to a quiet part of the floor with seldom-used study tables with green-tinted lamps.

He didn’t know why the page made him so angry but it did. How many times had curiosity been deflected back at you with a guilt for having it in the first place? But he wasn’t testing the Bible, was he?

Avery grabbed a stubby golf pencil from a cardboard bin and scratched off items on his notepad paper. He looked over the items he didn’t have time to get to, and found he had no motivation to look them up at all.

“Hey,” McCammon said, nudging Avery’s shoulder. Avery had fallen asleep in an armchair by the window. “You okay?” McCammon asked. He had an armful of fishing magazines. Avery stirred and blinked.


“I’m just going to put these back, then we can get going.”


The seminarian from the library went to bed early so he could wake up early to continue work on his paper. He laid there, wondering the same things that ruined his productivity earlier. Avery. He would have been perfectly willing to bond with Avery over a shared religiousness, dodging the inherent exclusivity of their different belief systems to exchange mockeries of atheists and The World. Maybe once every couple weeks they could argue about each other’s Gods, and go away with their faith a little strengthened (his a little more). But no, the lizard had to look up at the same fleshy bearded human face on the cross and see something in it too. It felt like a mockery but he couldn’t find out why. Did Avery take communion?…at least the cannibal undertones would be gone. Replaced with a prehistoric animal savagery, a velociraptor wolfing down human flesh and blood. Err…something like that. Avery had to believe in transubstantiation, being here. Or who knows, he could be Protestant, why not! Would he...would he ever imagine a lizard nailed to the cross, a Jesus for him as easily it must be for us? He felt tremendously sad at the thought for a moment, then it passed. His paper was doomed. He tried to remember if the others mentioned struggling with it. Maybe the instructor would extend it.

Avery ritually prayed on his knees by his bedside before going to sleep, but did most his praying lying in bed afterwards, staring at the sloped ceiling of the old converted supply room, rambling internally until his mind shut off for the night.

Please let my being here help strengthen others’ faith, not make them wrestle with the same questions I have to. Please let me see if I should be here at all.

Do I have to not ask the questions? Should I stop worrying? Is this a test to learn to let go of intellectual sport, or a test to hold on to hope, to keep fighting for answers?

Help me not go insane. Help me look at the stars and only see your majesty like they want me to. Pinpricks in the firmament.

Thank You for letting me be here at all. I should keep that in perspective. Only You’d know how bad it could be if I weren’t. I guess I should be thankful these are the only problems I’m having.

He sighed.


Human Interest 1

Roseland, OR

A few days after the massive Demi conference in Angel, Nate was back in Oregon pacing around the offices of the Roseland Imbiber. He was “in the field” (Nate’s term of choice for any time he wasn’t physically inside the Roseland office) so often that it seemed different each time he returned—new interns, new posters, different coffee machines, the old journalism undergrads swapped out for new ones, a ghost of the Imbiber’s beginnings as a student newspaper. It had a bigger, better office in Illinois now, but to Nate the Roseland office was the true HQ as long as the paper was named the Roseland Imbiber, even if the website scrubbed out most mentions of the town. Some things stayed the same, however—the low ceiling, brick walls painted an old-looking yellow, random bumps and slopes under the carpet, the general air of frustration and conflict.

“Nate, will you let me talk to Rowan for a moment? Alone,” his boss had said. The words repeated in Nate’s mind dramatically. It had only been a few days since he tracked down and interviewed the lizard from the Demi conference which spawned his new masterwork, which he quickly wrote and emailed (with a subject line of a smiley face) to his boss and his old coworker Samantha Rowan before tearing up the freeways back to Oregon. On the drive he had time to fantasize about his entrance, most of them involving all the interns slowly stopping what they were doing, standing up, and staring at him at awe. To the crowd he’d say, “It’s just another day’s work. C’mon, guys…” Instead, the intern at the desk asked who he was and that, oh, boss wanted to see you in back.

The boss of the Roseland office was part of the original team but never felt like his time spent in a room with his name on its door was more than a temporary arrangement. His voice deepened impressively throughout his twenties but he was still too young to neatly fulfill his role, yet nonetheless felt strongly about every aspect of running the paper and managing underlings. When he had finished reading Nate’s essay with his hand over his face the whole time, he sent Sam a message reading, “He send it to you too?” to which she responded “unfortunately” and drove down to the office to watch the show.

“Sam, if you were me, which one would you publish?” he asked. There were two stacks of paper on the desk, one three times thicker than the other.

She sighed at his question. “I understand your hesitancy,” she said kindly.

“He was smart to write both. If he turned in only this,” poking the thicker stack, “I would’ve fired him. Did you tell him to do that?”

“No. He knew that. I did tell him no footnotes though.”

“God, I’m glad he listens to some reason. That was almost as bad as when he read Thompson…You have to keep him in line, Sam.”

“I do not work here anymore.”

“C’mon, Sam. You’re here, lingering around like a sad high school graduate roaming the old halls. And you don’t have to be! You can help us.” He swiveled around in his chair to point to a framed picture on the back wall of the founders, with Sam smiling on the side, young and ponytailed. Nate, of course, was a few heads to the side, smiling widely with two thumbs up and a knee raised into the air. “Can’t you just…” He motioned a backhand slap between his two hands.

“Nate's still one of the only holdouts from the glory days. I’ve read what the students write. All the pretension…none of the charm that lets you forgive the pretension.”

“I can’t encourage him. In the past two weeks he writes about—I’ve been keeping track—dog catchers, local comedy troupes, CERN, buying locally thinking globally, the St. Helens eruption, and that was across three papers. Three papers! He swore he’d focus on tech, and now…” He picked up the thick stack and dropped it, making a satisfying thwack. “Where did it come from? Was he even old enough to read in the nineties?”

“I liked it. You didn’t?”

“I never thought I would be the one saying ‘on principle’…but even if Nate wasn’t the author, I really don’t know. It’s…uncomfortable. Half of it is a rant transcribed verbatim, not even his writing. And they’re all just kids still, you know? The…you know.”


Lizards. They couldn’t say it.

“I figured we all gave them silence and time to grow up and this was bound to happen some year. But,” he swiveled his chair, “I could see how it could flare up a dialogue, you know. With us behind it. But honestly I think I prefer the world without this. For now.”

“Why don’t you publish both?”

“On principle…I don’t want Nate thinking he can dick us around on the assignments he agrees to take, and still get published, let alone paid.”

“Then don’t make it Nate’s article, per se. Nate will be the tech writer, like he agreed to be, and this,” she grabbed the stack and repeated the thwack sound, “can be John Doe or what-have-you. Win-win. Nate gets to work double, and you get to tether him down a bit. He’d agree with it if you say it’s the only way that,” pointing to the bigger stack, “gets read by anyone.”

“Hmm. Okay. I like it. That’s why you should be back here. You know how nice a spot—

“Ookay, I was waiting for that.” She stood up. “I’ll tell Nate his baby’s getting published. It shouldn’t be long for a new one.”

“…there’s more? It would make sense as a series now that you mention. Finding some others. You better send Nate in here.”

“I’m moving to California, F-Y-I. That’s really why I came down here. I’m starting a new business with some of my friends. We’ve been planning it for two years.”

“Ye Olde Startup Life, you say. Interesting. You doing PR, outreach stuff? The Imbiber has an office down there now, you know. Just for video productions, but I’m sure they’d have—

Sam waved, and shut the door.

Sam sat in her driver seat with the engine off in the parking lot of the Imbiber office, in no rush to go home and finish packing. It was oddly quiet, the only sound being the masses of branches and leaves rustling and bending, the occasional soft whoosh of a car. Even though she wouldn’t be leaving for a few days, she had felt like an outsider for weeks prior. She couldn’t take a trip to get a sandwich from a deli counter without feeling like this would be her last time at that deli counter, the last time seeing those street signs, the last time waiting to turn left out of that awful parking lot. There was still a sadness and uneasiness wrapped around leaving, but she saw a new shallowness to her home, a new off-putting clinginess that she had no choice but to move on from once she first glimpsed it. She would spend her last days being generous to the people she was leaving stuck behind, floating around the places she knew. Which was possibly why she waited around to see Nate’s face as he angrily burst out from the office. “What did you do?” he angrily yelled from across the lot. “Anonymously?

She smiled meanly and waved at him. He made it to her car, “And still writing about phones? What kind of deal is that?”

“You’re not fired and your articles are getting published.”

“Not till next week. He wants to sleep on it. Seven times, apparently.” Nate pouted and looked to the side. “This was supposed to be a cause for celebration, not a narrowly-dodged bullet. If you told him I should do these exclusively under my own name, made it sound like it was your idea, he would’ve listened.”

“You can go to Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico or something next time you’re hunting down…”

“So I can stay at your place? I can bring an air mattress. The hotels in Angel are—

No way in hell. “We’ll see,” Sam said, and turned her car on. “You’re welcome, bucko.”

“In any case, looks like I better get back down there.”

“Can you please take a plane like a normal person this time?”

Nate started walking backwards to his car and winked.

Human Interest 2

Adam shot upright in his bed. Darius had finally answered his phone.

“It definitely wasn’t in one of the bags, or anywhere else. You followed all the errands perfectly. Thank you, Adam, it means a lot. I hope you find it.” Adam thanked Darius, hung up, and fell back on his bed, fidgeting his fingers like a child trying and failing to snap. Days of trying to get ahold of Darius, and all for this. He’d cleaned out his entire car, even drove back to Holbrook Oordt to scope the hallways and ask if there was a lost and found (there wasn’t). There had to be a reason he didn’t digitize the address book in the first place, but guessing why didn’t help him now. Security? In case his phone got stolen? Not like he thought of digitizing it in the few weeks since he rediscovered it, either. Maybe it’s all slipping back into the void it came from, he thought. And the lizards will be on their way next, then smartwatches, internet, space travel, powered flight, refrigeration. Malcolm leaning over his hospital bed in Victorian garb, “How fare you, my brother? You’ve been abed since your tumble at Bradford’s costume ball! We’ve missed you at the den.” He shook the image from his mind and threw his blanket over his head, bracing for the next inevitable phone call.

In his garage a lizard angrily flipped through TV channels looking for a pharmaceutical ad in one hand while holding a landline phone in the other. He found an ad for Lucicor, an allergy pill, showing happy people playing with a dog in a field of flowers, smiling and embracing life in brave resistance to the warnings of illness and death narrated over them. The other line picked up. “Hi Adam. It’s Lucicor. Yes.” He shut off the TV. “Is it too late for some pancake mix? Like a lot of pancake mix? … That’s great news.” He waited. “You don’t have my address? You’ve been over here all the time, don’t you remember the way by now? Did something happen to your book?” Silence on the line, as he predicted. “You mean you don’t remember me, and you don’t know who could have access to all of your contacts?” Adam tried reassuring Lucicor he remembered him. The lizard pushed the phone back into its receiver in disgust. Of course it’d all stem from Adam. He kicked an ottoman and it slid across the garage’s stained concrete floors. Now he needed to wait.

Adam unsealed his room door and cracked it a half-inch. “Scott, can you come in here, please.” Scott passed someone else his pen and got up. He entered Adam’s room and resealed the door for him. “What’s up?” he asked, groggily.

Adam was sitting on his bed, shaking. “The lizard we both went to deliver stuff to. ‘R.R.E.’ He called again, this morning. He sounded like he wanted to kill me. Some random person drove to his house pressuring him to talk or…he was mad. It set R.R.E. off, he told me I sold them out and had a savior complex. I didn’t know what to say and he hung up. I thought to call him back and apologize and ask if he had any details on the guy that came, but he disconnected his entire phone line somehow. I got an automated message from the carrier.”

“Geez,” Scott said.

“I’ve been getting similar calls all day, I got another one just now. I don’t have any idea who this guy is! But he’s unrelenting! I was everyone’s only contact until now. And if the calls aren’t about this guy hunting them down, my usuals are angry I don’t remember them and they want to know why I don’t have their address. How did I screw this up so fast?”

“It’s not your fault, it’s whoever took your book’s fault.”

“Yeah, I know, but everything else…R.R.E. was right, I wanted to be their savior. I dream up a race of cool-looking aliens that will hang out with me, then it becomes real and they don’t have anything, no community no normalcy no happiness. Just stupid me.”

“This isn’t about the pill, is it?”

“It’s all so me, that’s how I know it is. I wouldn’t dream them up a happy home where I can wave them off to, because they need to be here and be my friends. They need to have a hole so I can help them. I’m such an asshole.”

Adam.” Scott grabbed his shoulders stared at him with his bleary stoned-red eyes. “Stop being dumb. Go fix this.”

Adam lied still while his emotions flickered wildly. He deduced Malcolm and friends were watching Rocket Power in the other room. The phone rang again, a new number. He held it up in his shaking hand and answered.

“I’ll have an extra large cheese, breadsticks, pound of butter, bulk pack of Twix, orange tree sapling, and condoms. Lots of condoms. I’ll give you two dollars now and six more when you get here.”

Adam’s hand instantly stopped shaking and he sat upright. His emotions stopped flickering to settle in on anger. “Alright Lucicor, who are you?” Adam asked.

Damn. Mr. Rennes. What’s the matter, don’t have your address book?”

“You don’t sound old enough to go by ‘mister’ anything.”

“Yes. That’s the name I give to assholes.”

“You have my address book,” Adam said.

“No, unfortunately, I do not. You know any Nate’s?” Mr. Rennes asked.

“You’re a lizard then?”

“So you don’t know anything?”

“You were in the address book. I bought you groceries.”

“Once. It was an experiment. I learned who you are. I don’t like you…You probably just guessed that though, didn’t you?”

“I don’t know any Nate’s. Sorry.”

“Whoever he is, he called me up early this morning, and he called me ‘Aaronson,’ which was the fake name I gave you so I’d always be your number one. He’s writing articles about the stupid lizards, Adam. He wanted to interview me, and he’s going to want to interview everyone else. The only voices anyone gets to hear are these shelled-up neurotic…He’s going down your list of contacts and calling each one, that’s why I was first. There are adjusted normal lizards out there, you know. You just happened to have a list of all the fucked-up ones and that’s the list he has. I’m holding you responsible.”

“Wait,” Adam said. “Did you get the guy’s name? Do you have his number? I’ve tried every method of getting ahold of him, but…”

“I’ve got his name, number, place he works…but I need to talk to you in person. Tonight. Oh, but you don’t have my address, do you? I’ll text it to this number so you can put it in your tellyphone. I’ll leave the light on.”

“It’d be a lot faster if you just—


Human Interest 3

Mr. Rennes decided to button his palm-leaf print shirt somewhat, realized the buttons he just did weren’t lined up, then undid the whole thing in frustration. The moon poked through the small windows of the garage door.

Adam walked around the outside of the detached, multi-car garage. The house across from it looked abandoned and dusty even in the moonlight, somehow more uninviting than the tall garage with ominous fluorescent light shining out from the windows. Adam walked up and knocked on the middle of the garage door and it rattled loudly. “Hey!” from inside. The garage door pulled up noisily, revealing a stained concrete floor, a floor mattress, an old flaking leather couch, and finally Mr. Rennes, the lizard sitting on it. He stopped the door with a click of the remote. Adam stepped in, and the door went back down behind him. There was a Jeep on the opposite end of the garage, the walls were covered in posters, and the air was hot and stale. Mr. Rennes threw the garage remote to the side. “Adam Hartage, the grocery runner!”

“Nice cave…” Adam said, looking around.

There was something different about Mr. Rennes compared to the lizards Adam had seen in person before. Even the first two lizards he only got small glances of, they all shared a common meekness, a guilt in having to be seen, a desire to crawl back to wherever they came from. Maybe “crawl” was a cruel word choice. Was “lizard” a slur, anyway? Adam never thought of this. No, Mr. Rennes was sprawled out over his worn couch, feet up on an equally worn ottoman. Wearing that Hawaiian shirt. Even the tail was laid out to the side of where he was sitting, goddamn tails. Adam wondered if the horns ever poked through their pillows and made things difficult. Probably just laid on their sides. Did Scott, Malcolm and everyone else wonder these things and satisfactorily file them away years ago?

“I’ll tell you what you came here for,” Mr. Rennes said. “Nate Trafford. Writer for the Imbiber, an Oregon paper. Here’s his number and work email. Even got the hotel he’s at.” He held a folded sticky note between two mildly clawed fingers, and set it down on the ottoman.

“Why couldn’t you give me that over the phone?” Adam asked.

“I need to propose something. Plus you live like twenty miles away, don’t kid yourself.”

Funny how even in a different species the look of a smug fucker is unmistakable, Adam thought. Jesus, where does this come from?

Mr. Rennes continued. “Despite what I said on the phone I don’t entirely blame you for the other lizards’ neuroses. If you weren’t around I think a lot of them would just sit there and conserve energy indefinitely rather than venture into a grocery store, an unfortunate ability of ours. Hell, they’d do that if it meant avoiding new faces at the door every time they get food delivered from a normal delivery business. It must hurt them to make that first call to you though, huh? They’re really making the jump, the big initiative to reach out for your coddling. I can rightfully blame you for all this when you lost that book, but that won’t get much done. Sure, you’re an enabler, but you’re not the one writing the articles. You don’t even advertise.”

Adam leaned against workbench, not wanting to look like he was settling in. “Why do the other lizards bother you so much? They’re not in your way.” Adam was making it up as he went along. He knew it was obvious but he was still mad.

“There’s going to be one day I’m looking at a list of ingredients on a box at the store and someone stops and feels sorry for me.” He started a high-pitched British accent. “‘Oh, I read they’re very sad all the time because they can’t talk about movies. Look how sadly he reads that box, he probably has no one to talk about it with.’” He shook his head. “Everything pointlessly analyzed digging for some deeper sadness. Nothing matters with us here, okay? Us being here means it’s all a joke. Has been a joke. And that’s a great thing! This place is dumb, it’s always been dumb, and we just made it more obvious. Look! I might as well be a ray gun, jetpack, moving sidewalk, telepathic precog, intergalactic shapeshifter. Everything about that should be a call to action! To have some fun, maybe! Even if your average breadwinners and men of letters avoid acknowledging me to keep thinking their lives are serious and profound. They can do what they want, but I can’t let my own kind fall for that. It’s unhealthy how we deny ourselves what we mean, what our being here means. But no, after two decades of silence, it’s exactly these neurotic and unstable members of my race that prance around with Nate Trafford and become our first real speakers.”

“Why don’t you use Nate to say all that?” Adam asked.

“No matter what I say I’ll be another lizard woe-is-me-ing in an article by Nate Trafford. Sure, I’d like to slap some sense into my embarrassing brethren, but not through the middleman of a sappy human interest story. This has to come from within us, from direct action! Your address book, for instance. You see it as a handy list of your clients, I see it as a list of lizards that need a personal intervention. This is but one channel of direct involvement available to me.”

“You can’t do that,” Adam said standing up. “You’ll drive them off the edge, worse than Nate has. Nate’s oblivious, but you don’t have that excuse! They need help, a familiar face, not…you!” Is that why I started doing this, years ago?, Adam wondered.

“Protecting your business, Adam? No, I’m not even that cynical. We have a mutual goal here—getting ahold of that list of yours, and getting Nate to stop his ego quest, or whatever this is. I don’t need you to get your list, I’ve got that covered. I told Nate I’d let him interview me over IM, I asked if he could download this specific chat client I liked. I gave him my own program that installed a backdoor, only took an hour to write up. He clicked through every single security warning to get that puppy running—yes, I’ll get your book as soon as his pictures of it sync to his laptop. And if you don’t believe me, I’ve got the notes and transcriptions he’s got for his first paper, last saved last Monday. I think he writes the final version in their CMS or something, but even with these notes, maybe you’ll understand my urgency a little better.” Mr. Rennes got up from his couch and walked up to a computer desk covered in papers, power tools, and fast food bags. “I changed a ‘since’ to a ‘because’ on his local copy, I’m excited to see if it sneaks its way to the final.” Mr. Rennes grabbed a stack of papers from the desk and plucked and repurposed an old paperclip onto it. “Here.” Adam grabbed it from him and looked over the front page. The header was just the word “Untitled,” but it already had a stylized “by Nate Trafford” and a dedication to someone named Sam.

“This comes to the proposal I mentioned. I’m giving you his information because I think you can help me stop Nate. I don’t know how! But frankly Adam, regardless of how you convince him to stop, I don’t think you should get your address book back. Putting aside my philosophical opposition to your work, you don’t seem like you can take the psychological strain, anyway. You try convincing Lucicor that of course you didn’t forget him. You don’t remember being in my garage, you even say ‘nice cave’ the same way you did when you were in here two years ago. You look over my tail and horns in a creepy-ass way like you’ve never seen a lizard before, even though you’ve probably seen more lizards than anyone else alive. Is something up?”

Adam glanced over Nate’s article notes. “I retroactively created lizards through a placebo high based on my imaginary friends I had in elementary school. Their inability to mesh with society is further proof of my failures in creativity and empathy. In the real world I’m either wavering in and out of reality or in a coma. I’ve never seen a lizard or known of their existence until a few weeks ago, but I’m rolling with it.” His eyes didn’t move from the papers.

“Exactly. If you were feeling better, you’d know when convincing people you’re God, it’s easier to take the second-coming route than the creator route. With this info I can’t stop you from contacting Nate and asking for the list back, but I think you’ll agree that’s not a great idea.” Mr. Rennes picked up and extended sticky note. Adam theatrically grabbed and pocketed it.

“I need to call him and get him to stop. You didn’t seem to have a plan on that aspect.”

“There is a reason I talked to you.”

“You know, maybe no one will read his articles,” Adam said. “I mean, he writes for the Imbiber.”

“People will read it. Everyone’s quietly thinking they’re alone in thinking about us. There’s no closing the floodgates once they’re opened, everyone realizing everyone else has been thinking about it this whole time. That’s why it’s important the floodgates aren’t opened stupidly.”

“How do you know any of that?”

Mr. Rennes made a really? expression. “If your plan to stop him needs me, get ahold of me. That’ll be the last generosity I extend. Otherwise, this is the end, Adam Hartage.” He walked over to the wall switch and started raising the garage door again. “The end. Now get out of here before the bugs fly in.”

Adam drove through the night vaguely angry. He didn’t know what to do with Nate. It required action, but it required planning. Do I call and give myself away, or show up at the hotel unannounced? Do I eat the sticky note and change my number?

As he turned into his parking space at his apartment complex his headlights threw light on a figure crouching in the landscaping rocks and spying into his darkened bedroom window. Adam had something short of a heart attack. Holy God. It was a younger guy, probably college-aged. Barefoot and sweat-drenched with a splotchy beard growing in. The man noticed Adam’s headlights on him and turned around and grinned into the light. He slowly raised his hand to cover his eyes without changing his expression, headlights shining off his teeth. Charles? Adam thought. It was. Charles took a few slow steps towards the car. Adam was frozen.

“Aaadaaaaam,” Charles said. “Pills. Pills.” Another step, one after the other.

Adam rolled the window down slightly. “Does Malcolm know you’re here?” Adam squeaked out.

“Piiiillls.” Charles’ eyes weren’t focused on anything in particular, anything Adam could see. He made it to the front of Adam’s car and started walking to the driver window. Holy shit. Adam’s mind raced with plans on how he could turn the car off, crawl to his backseat and run out the passenger-side rear door, lock it before Charles knew what was happening. But Charles’ head was already at his window. “C’mmoon, Aaadam. Money is no object.” He held up a wad of small bills and coins against the window with a clink.

“I don’t have any,” Adam said through the window crack.

Charles’ eyes rolled upwards and he shook his head. “Nuh uh. What are those then.” He pressed his outstretched finger on the glass. Adam looked, and sure enough a pill bottle was on the floor of his car.

“Uh…” Adam picked it up and showed the label. “Digestive supplements.”

Charles shook his head again and flapped his four fingers up in a “gimme” motion. Adam rolled his window down a few inches to push the bottle through. Charles missed it and it fell to the ground. Charles lurched down after it, grunted, picked it up, and ran away.

Adam didn’t sleep that night.

Untitled by Nate Trafford

for Sam

Should mention how I convinced him to talk? (without sounding like I was pleading as much as I was)

it was for him, too. Can’t let anyone doubt that. Became pretty clear once he started rolling. had that crap ready

The apartment:

Holbrook Oordt—Dutch? check. great cafe, late hours. TAKE SAM???

Spare. Mild display-room vibes, but realistic lived-in wear on furniture and drawer edges

Large orange beanbag. Yet modern-looking somehow. Sat in quickly

Lamp may be Magnarp, double-check

Most intense shower ever seen. would kill for after shit hotel neck-shower

Owns CDs of movie soundtracks

Temperature set high, burnt smell of old heater kicking in

Bonsai tree

Mini fridge in spot clearly meant for normal-sized fridge

No curtains on west windows. Sun must get hot. Would heat affect neighbors? great view though. expensive?

Room with workbench and graph paper pad? Didn’t get good look

Offered me a water bottle, several packages under counter. must not leave much

(transcribing recording for now)

Q: Why do you think it’s irrelevant that a major new technology won’t work on you—your race, your species?

There’s not many of us. Not the best subgroup for you to drum up controversy with. I’d think prosthetics would be a bigger concern. Making sure everything worked for us in society would be a mess anyway.

Q: Sure, from Demi’s perspective selling it, and my perspective writing about it. But why not your perspective?

[chuckles] I’d actively fight to avoid that from happening.

[Really didn’t get him at this point, but losing interesting in touch screens. Changed approach]

Q: What is being a lizard like in this society then? If you’re so okay with your perspective being ignored.

Huh. You warned me you were going to ask broad questions, but I wasn’t expecting that so fast. Do you want me to rant? Because I can rant.

Q: I’d love that.

[clears throat. Starts out sitting, stands, occasionally points at me, snapping to remember things. Paced in small circle frequently. Repeated process as he went on. Spoke quickly as if reciting internal rant he’d shaped/refined throughout years, which I don’t doubt he was.]

What it’s like? You’re expected to have something different from everyone else, like maybe they have a language or an accent or their own clique with slang. But there’s nothing. You don’t have anything anyone else doesn’t. You grow up in the same world of Walmarts, freeways, presidents, TV, but you’re held at a distance because they think you’re an ambassador visiting from an irreconcilably exotic land. Aren’t I?

And people can accept that much, they’d be fine with me visiting from Planet X, so they’ll go on quietly accepting it and never know otherwise. It’s always hanging in the air, not quite getting in the way, but you’re never really free from it either.

(Actually, on second thought, could you not quote me on any sentence where I say “they?”)

I don’t know what it’s like to be told you look like your parents, I don’t know what it’s like to be mistaken for someone else, I don’t know what it’s like to have regrettable high school relationships, I don’t know what it’s like blending into a crowd, and I never will. Every little thing that shouldn’t matter but inevitably does.

Maybe I’m introverted. I don’t know, maybe I’m not. Are introverts supposed to not care about other people?

I can’t live out in the middle of the desert like other lizards. I tried it, it’s not an option. I can tolerate living in Angel, just barely, so that’s why I have to live here. I have to work, I have to do things, and I have to be around people. Even if I avoid them, I have to know they’re there on the other side of the walls I build. I’m more comfortable hiding from what I don’t want on a bad day than being hours away from what I do want on a good day. Does that make sense?

That’s not to say I disapprove of anyone living in seclusion somewhere off in the heat. I’m envious of those that can. I only wish that our worlds wouldn’t have to collide. In my more self-centered moments I like to think there’s something unique or romantic about my connection with Angel. There isn’t, but I keep believing there is without awareness I’m doing it. I’ll think that I’m doing some good, being noble by integrating and fighting my neuroses. Then I see another lizard in the city and it ruins my illusions. Various needs call lizards out from their hovels to Angel, where I can’t see them as anything but cruel caricatures of myself. I’ll see a lizard awkwardly shifting in a bus seat or keeping his head down crossing a street and see how stupid I must look, and how stupid I was for living out here. I can’t see a brother, only a mirror of my socially broken self.

I was hoping to work some sort of public good with this. I want to help the awkward, shy, and embarrassed move through this Earth without drawing unwanted attention or causing any hurt. Maybe they’re only going to the city for some errand, or maybe they’re like me, running away from the desert. The most important rule to remember is that nothing is yours. You have to maintain an aloofness to match up with others’ expectations of you. There’s something horribly off about you knowing about culture, things like movies, current events, big-box stores, food. Even things like driving cars. You’re not what’s supposed to come out of a driver seat.

Even your name can raise problems. Humans, imagine your name is Greg or Jennifer or something. No big deal. Now imagine being a lizard and being asked your name and having to say Greg or Jennifer and having to bare others’ stifled reaction to hearing it. You’d think things might go smoothly if you had the overly alien names people expect, but no one should have to say their name is “Axnorok” or “Gal’Leth”. If you’re cursed with a distinctly human or excessively alien name, change it. I recommend you find a name people have heard before to know it wasn’t made up, but foreign enough to match expectations and be free from any cultural associations.

Q: What’s your first name, then?

Don’t use it in the paper, but, Darius. I changed it, but I’m not telling you what from.

I’ve developed rules of conduct for public interactions as a lizard. You have to walk down a sidewalk—live, really—like there’s somewhere else you’d rather be on a grand scale. By just being in a room with others, you already steal away any peace of mind or ability to focus from them, and that’s one of the worst parts about being a lizard. I’m mentally apologizing constantly. A constant internal stream of “sorry”s, imagining me explaining myself to every passerby and bowing for forgiveness. I can get on a bus, for example, and the riders can’t do anything but read the same paragraph again and again because their minds keep mulling over how there’s a lizard on the bus and wondering about their history and how obvious it is they’re holding their eyes back from looking over at them and what would I do if one sat down right next to me and I didn’t realize it at first until I turn over and jump noticeably and, what if one was talkative like some people on buses are? And on it goes.

Q: You’re not telepathic, are you?

Well I wouldn’t bet on anyone writing in to disagree with me, let’s say that.

Q: No I meant seriously, you don’t have like…powers.

[no response]

Q: Not even like seeing infrared or something?

[no response]

Q: I always imagine it wouldn’t be a big deal like those rainbow-colored heat camera things, it’d be more like you just know that something’s warm or cold without having to explain it or look for steam or condensation or something, like you don’t have to prove something’s brown…

[giving me a look]

Q: I’m kidding!

What is your exact job at your paper?

Q: I write about, uh, technology, new advances in computing, internet, effects on society, stuff like that. Algorithms.

[no response]

Q: There was an exciting few months of controversial internet laws, questions of ethics and free speech, digital currencies getting attention, but it uh, ended. So here I am.

Um…right. Where was I. Do you have… [I rewind recording, play a bit, continue recording. He made a complex face on hearing himself talk.]

Right. Well. Apologizing seems wrong, because if I were truly sorry I wouldn’t get on the bus the next day. Instead I go for the second best option—drawing as little further attention to myself as possible. If there’s a scale of attention from one to one-hundred, me being in a room is about a ninety, but I’ll do everything I can to keep that from being a ninety-one or ninety-two. There are easy things to avoid drawing attention. Looking at the ground, not making eye contact, not speaking unless spoken to. You don’t eat in public or use a public bathroom, you never scratch your arm or nose, anything to make people think of your living biological processes. Don’t even open your mouth too wide, cover your mouth with your arm when you yawn. Don’t show the sides of your eyes by looking too far to the side, just turn your head. Don’t sniff loudly or flare your nostrils. Things like that.

[Listening to this recording makes me make the same face I made when he was first saying it. He didn’t notice it.]

Heaven forbid you’re in the same place as another lizard. You can feel everyone’s internal thoughts churning: I wonder if they know each other. Don’t they have communities out in the desert or something? Why don’t they go talk to each other? [sees me smiling] And no—[pointing a finger at me] I don’t mean literally feel their thoughts. What else. Busy yourself whenever possible—what I’d give to be able to use earbuds. A white line from your head to your pocket, a perfect “Do Not Disturb” sign for public interaction. [NOTE: I regret not following-up on that. Indeed they don’t have ears. I wonder if their hearing sucks. Would on-ear earphones work? Sit them on top of those circle things? Do they have those?] An open book in your lap does wonders, as long as you’re not uncomfortably holding the cover up so you can show the whole bus.

You could go for an air of unapproachability if you like. Shooting down small talk, being cynical. An off-putting air of superiority is something, anything, to replace lizardness. It’s liberating to just be an asshole instead of a lizard sometimes. I flirted with that longer than I should have. If you do let friends into your bubble, if that’s something you’re after, just don’t make the same mistake I made and overdo it. I tried living in a Nevada desert for two years before I decided to live in Angel like I talked about. This guy I met, I don’t know, thought I was cool or something, wasn’t much of an extrovert himself, and the third or fourth time we talked I decided it was a good time to vent out all my pent-up frustrations, a lot like now, but even less called for. Completely freaked him out, it was unrecoverable. And we couldn’t shirk away from each other thanks to the environment we’d met each other in. We’d see each other and nod, I’d limp off as fast as I naturally could. What a terrible thing to throw on someone, I have no idea how he looks back on the whole incident.

With friends, get accustomed to sitting in restaurants not ordering anything. And listening, lots of listening. Just move now and then. People really bustle around a lot. They shift, fidget, bounce their knees. Look around the room, check phones. I think we have a tendency to sit there dead sometimes. Sure, “conserving energy,” it doesn’t make immediate sense to put a conscious effort to move around to imitate what’s obviously unconscious for others, but how often do you see people sitting unmoving with their eyes open? It’s worth shifting between sitting back and putting your arms on the table every few minutes versus people thinking you’re asleep until your eye rolls towards them. I’ve found keeping up appearances is surprisingly exhausting, but then it starts making sense why eating is the only things your friends will want to do everyday, twice in the same afternoon if things go on long. And we’re not even glowing heat off all day. Oh, another important thing— elephant in the room, the tail. Ignore it. Sit on it. Don’t feed it through a hole in the chair or anything stupid. Choose a leg to keep it at bay with. [saw my face] This must be an exciting prospect for you, eh Nate? I wish it were as trivial as it sounded. [long silence. he was done]

Q: Do you think lizards are aliens?

Sure. I don’t care. How could we not be?

Q: Do you feel more like a soul born in the wrong body, or an alien born in the wrong place?

[5 second pause] What kind of thing is that to ask?

Nate—I don’t know if you’re even digging for this anymore, but do you think after all this, what I really want is publicly complaining about not being able to use a touch screen?

Q: Because there are bigger concerns?

No! Not…not at all. I…

Q: What if you’re wrong about how people see you? See lizards?

I’m not.

Q: What’s your endgame then?

Getting by. Is that sufficient? Maybe I should be having a mid-life crisis, if anyone could tell me when! I could hike the Alps, couldn’t I? Take a spiritual journey somewhere? … Sorry.

Q: Why?

[He sighs] Are we done?

Human Interest 4

Marin turned her hand in the sunlight, inspecting her scaled palm. She looked down at the phone receiver, and yes, it really did have a layer of dust on it, now with her handprint. She wiped the dust off on her leg. It was the fourth phone call since last summer. The first call was to buy three hundred dollars of buckets of non-perishable food marketed for the end times: edible, long-lasting, high in calories, no refrigeration needed. She researched the price and calorie estimates of the entire package and how long it would last her. The second phone call was for buying another space heater for the winter temperatures she underestimated. The third was for buying spices and additional ingredients to improve the edibility of the non-perishable food. She used to have her adoptive father take care of things, but she felt too bad every time he came by, she felt too young in his presence. She could tell the deliverer what she wanted without filter.

She calculated how much time she could continue living on her current diet with the house’s meager utility bills based on the artifact money. If she lived a human lifespan she’d be covered several times over. It wasn’t an impressive amount of money, but they were a low-maintenance people. She liked to meditate on a grand floor rug in the middle of the room and feel the square window of sunlight pass across her crossed knees over her body until it yellowed away on the wall behind her, a routine that was disturbed by the fourth call. The caller knew her name, her number, and that she was a lizard. She hung up without a word.

She tried to return to her meditation, but it was futile. Her mind rumbled, noisily tumbling and crashing over itself instead of the desired silence. She felt tired, aware of her spine. She couldn’t conserve her energy for…for what?

She tried to think of anyone who would have freely given out her phone number. She figured she was a conversation starter for people she casually knew, but her private phone number? Her adoptive father covered all her scattered official legal documents, which had grown scant since turning twenty-one (which was before she got the phone line, anyway). He knew better than that anyway. Maybe it was advertisers. Advanced techniques. It wouldn’t be hard to identify a lizard from outside observation. But nothing was being sold, the caller had asked to interview her…

Suddenly, she remembered someone. She picked up her phone for the fifth time.

“What was your name again?” Adam asked.

“Marin,” she said, suspiciously.

“And your address?”

That annoyed her. She went through the trouble describing the directions to her outskirts house for the first delivery, and was pleased when she didn’t have to repeat it the next two times. Now she had to redescribe it in detail, hiding the frustration from her voice.

“I’ll be there within the hour,” Adam said.

She waited outside, leaning against the side of her house facing the road with her arms crossed. It was one of those afternoons where the entire sky shared in the vibrant red-orange of the sunset instead of letting it slip away into dark blue. Sunlight shone off the glass of unseen homes and structures on top of far away mountains, bright pinpoint fires. Soon they would disappear in a quick intermission before returning to make the night glow yellow.

Marin’s adoptive father understood what she wanted from life—and what she didn’t—better than anyone by this point. He was the one who proposed a consistent meeting schedule so he wouldn’t have to call or warn her. He could show up on the prepared day, make sure she was doing okay, and maybe wordlessly take in each other’s presence, lie on the two adjacent patio chairs if it was early. He maxed the car’s AC on the drive so he could last as long as she could in the sun.

No, the betrayal had to come from Adam.

Adam’s car started down the long dirt road to her house. Marin stepped backwards behind a tall creosote, half-heartedly hiding while keeping an eye on Adam. He parked in the dirt in front of her house, got out of the car and dug grocery bags out of the trunk. He shut it with his elbow and walked the grocery bags down to her front door.

Adam set the bags down and quickly swung his arms and twisted his upper body to crack his back but did not succeed. He poked his head to look through the screen door. There were no lights on, but the interior was illuminated by the dark pink of the sunset. He knocked a fast knock to convey that he came but didn’t expect her to come to the door, a process he developed for lizards who spoke quickly on the phone and paid upfront digitally. He turned around, job completed, eager to be back in his car before he heard anything.

Marin was sitting on the hood of his car. She had a foot up on the metal. She was barefoot—their feet, much more claw-like. Much less humanoid than their hands. It was very intimidating. Adam didn’t like it. What had the previous ones been wearing? Boots? He was sure if they were wearing basketball shoes or something he would’ve remembered it. Her eyes looked straight into his but she wasn’t moving, not in the little ways. She was like a sphinx moth appearing on the wall—so still that its unnoticed arrival feels supernatural. You wanted it to be somewhere else, but you don’t want to see it move either. Adam couldn’t think of any niceties to say to his client sitting on his car so he gave a weak smile and nodded imperceptibly. If she didn’t move he would hold the weak smile as he walked right on past into his car and start the engine…

She hopped off the car and leaned against it. The metal around her hands warped the reflection of the fading sunset. Her tail formed a small ridge of soft dirt below her as she repositioned. “Wasn’t there an unspoken confidentiality? Between you and me.” She said.

“Ah.” Adam said.

“Do you…know what I’m referring to?” she asked.

He hesitated. “Yes.” Usually when they asked for a delivery it was the sign of an ally—or someone Nate hadn’t called yet. This threw all his presumptions of security out.

“Is he the only one?” she asked.


“Will it keep happening?”

“I’m guessing he asked you if you wanted to be interviewed for a paper…did you say no?”

“I didn’t answer. I hung up.”

“He’ll probably drive here then. That’s what he’s been doing so far. Just tell him ‘no’ clearly, he should go.”

What…” she walked on, away from Adam. She looked off to the road. “Why didn’t you just ask us?”

“…is it better I be inept or inconsiderate?”

She ignored the question. “Why interview me? What’s special about me here?”

“It’s all of you.”

“All of…all the lizards? Your lizards?”

“After you tell him no, can you punch him in the face?” Adam asked.

She looked back at him, angry. She walked back towards her house and turned.

Adam, you still live in that apartment building on Arroyo, right?”

Adam glared at her before shutting his car door. He rolled out slowly but it still left Marin in a cloud of dirt, watching him drive out of view.

Under the unnatural yellow of the covered apartment parking, Adam noticed mud on his car hood in the shape of Marin’s clawed foot. Adam realized the lizards were probably real.

Human Interest 5

Adam stepped out the back door of the post office to answer his phone. The heat had an invigorating sauna-like effect that’d last for about sixty seconds, max, and the sun was too bright to hold his eyes open. “Hello?” Adam answered, squinting.

“You don’t remember us at all? Like we just popped up a few weeks ago for you, no explanation, no one acting strange?”

“Yes,” Adam said.

Mr. Rennes laughed into the receiver maliciously. He happily yelled “There is a God!” and hung up on Adam.

Adam went back inside and unfolded the sticky note in his pocket Mr. Rennes had given him nights before. Nate’s information. He sent a text to the number that read:

Never digitize the address book. Trust me

He turned his phone off and went back to work. He hadn’t read the notes for the as-of-yet unpublished interview in full and had little desire to. Seeing the word “lizard” in print was even worse than saying it aloud, and he knew how he felt about Nate without needing to see the notes for his inspiring article. But still he needed something to read over lunch. He readied his meal and slid out the notes from a folder.

Adam froze at words “Holbrook Oordt.”

The human who answered the door of Darius’ apartment. Adam handed him the bags directly. Was that Nate this whole time?

That slick-haired fucker! And his water bottles!

Adam tried to drive angrily on his way to the sticky note’s address even though it only resulted in slamming the breaks more. He had no plan whatsoever, even after the hours of uninterrupted internal raging.

Darius my ass!

He thought of every checkers game where both players would take turns moving pieces up to a deadlock, and someone would have to move a piece into an inconvenient spot just so something could happen anyone could respond to. He had no gambit, and Mr. Rennes apparently didn’t either. Adam could appeal to Nate’s decency, if his current anger would allow it.

Traffic allowed Adam to finally get to Nate’s hotel. It had little personality: a motel multiplied by four and fit into into a cubish-shaped building with a lobby. There was a rectangular-pool within view of the parking lot, easily visible through a low thin gate. Children stood around the front doors next to a circle of suitcases and pillows while their parents avoided help from the smiling staff. Adam parked and walked through the lobby with a folder of Nate’s notes in his hand, storming past the families and wooden wall of brochures of unknown Angel destinations. Someone was holding a foam cup underneath a weak drip from a water dispenser clogged with ice and cucumber slices. A basket of dusty-looking apples and oranges in the back corner were the only remnants of a continental breakfast. A younger woman was passed out on a couch facedown into a pillow, the image of exhaustion, which made Adam think of the sad fate awaiting all who choose to spend their free time driving to California. Of all the stresses that had entered Adam’s adult life, he could appreciate being mercifully spared from vacations. He got in an elevator, followed by two barefoot giggling children dripping wet from the pool with goggles on their foreheads. They ran out at the second floor, leaving Adam to journey upwards to Nate alone. His shoes squeaked on the wet elevator floor as he left, passing the vending and ice machines along the way. The carpeted hallways were just like every hotel he’d been to in his life. Nate’s door number was on the unsatisfying side of the pair of doors. He knocked.

Far shot from Holbrook Oordt, huh bitch???

Adam had a dread-inducing thought of an alternate universe where he was forced to knock on thousands of hotel doors and each one had a Nate inside. Better or worse than lizards? What were the chances Nate was even in his room? He was probably out harassing his clients who mistakenly put trust in him. What if…what if Nate is a lizard? Adam thought, suddenly. And Mr. Rennes didn’t even know.

The hotel door opened a crack, and a hand stuck out holding the address book. Human. “Take it,” Nate said.

“Nuh-uh, not that easy!” Adam swiped the address book with one hand, then grabbed door handle with the other and yanked. Nate tried to pull the door back shut, but Adam won. The door swung out and Nate tumbled forward. Adam walked past him into the room. “Hey!”

The hotel room only had one bed in it. Adam had never seen one like that. He threw the folder on the bed, turned, and put his fists on his hips. Nate was wearing a bathrobe in the doorway and his hair stood up in the back and hung down long over his forehead. “I gave it back…” Nate said.

“Like you didn’t make copies of it,” Adam said.

Nate smiled.

“Going to ask how I know where you were staying?” Adam asked. “How I had your phone number?”

“No.” Smiling.

“You were stupid. You bugged your own computer. Mr. Rennes, err, Aaronson…He said he got you to install something to run a chat client.”

“Oh, Alcinex?”

Alcinex was a brand of antacids that Malcolm claimed gave intense periods of productive restlessness and “duende” when taken with Flintstones vitamins, the two of which he would crush up and mix into Fun Dip packets to eat, always followed by two hours of panicked strumming on an untuned acoustic guitar. “Yeah. Alcinex. He gave me your notes.” He lifted the folder from the bed.

“What?” Nate said, in disbelief. He walked up to the folder and inspected its contents. “Shit!”

“Yeah, and if you—


“What?” Adam asked.

“I never let anyone read my drafts, let alone my—

“You’ve caused a lot of damage for me, for other people, you know that? All for the chance to find some sad lizards?”

“Old news Adam! The article’s done. Not published till this weekend, and I’m already here for the follow-up.”

“You posed as Darius! How’d you even know I’d be there? How’d you know I’d have an address book?”

“Posed as…what! Darius is a lizard! I was in his apartment interviewing him, I just answered the door!”

“I…” Huh. “Stop calling them, okay? It’s unethical.”

“What’s unethical about calling them? Your misplaced address book is back in your hands. If they say no it’s over. And most do. I haven’t mentioned you or how I got their number at all, you’re protected. I could be punching random numbers in.”

“They obviously know!” Adam said. “Right after they tell you no, they call me! They don’t want the smallest acknowledgement, and they don’t want a smarmy reporter writing about them. They told me you drove to their houses after you called them and they didn’t say anything. You don’t think that’s mildly aggressive?”

“If they feel that way, they should say so clearly on the phone…”

“Can’t you write about them without interviews? Do some research, interview friends, parents…”

“Why not interview you?” Nate asked.


Actually. Maybe this was it, Adam thought. “Wait.” His gambit, the mysterious ability he had to stop Nate that Mr. Rennes detected in him. There was a stupid hipster passion in Nate’s eyes that told Adam that Nate would never stop with this when left on his own. He’d whittle down the list of lizards until he visited the house of every tortured soul Adam helped in his (apparent) years of working…Adam’s phone raging after every knock on their doors…

This was what he had to offer, he’d sell himself out to Nate, just like the lizards accused him of. Yes, he’d participate in Nate’s inspiring articles like he planned it all along, if it meant it’d give the lizards the net peace. His career helping them would be finished, the worst offense he could commit in their eyes. But he would be done with this nightmare. The phone calls would go away, then the lizards, telephones, airplanes, penicillin…His interview would doubly rob Mr. Rennes of any satisfaction, which was appealing. Nate sat on the bed and looked up at Adam, waiting.

“If I gave you the big, exclusive,Adam shuddered, “no-holds-barred interview with the one most acquainted with the most tortured of the lizard kind, would you stop trying to contact the people you found from my address book?”



“Why would I?” Nate asked earnestly, holding his stance.

Adam picked up his folder and address book, reunited at last. He realized how much the hotel room was already intertwined with the the reporter. A blanket bunched into a ball, old clothes in a pile in the corner, balled up socks just beyond the foot of the bed, a laptop charging on a desk with hotel-branded notepad and green lamp.

“So…The Imbiber, huh?” Adam asked.

“Oh yes!”

Maybe it wasn’t so bad. The lizards were being dramatic. They’d outlive this saga. “Just be kind to them, then,” Adam said. “Give them space. You’re a no-one to them, but I’m the only one they trust. God help them.”

“I wasn’t…Okay. Fine.” Nate rolled his eyes.

I hate my life, Adam thought.

Nate watched Adam leave down the hallway. Adam walked slowly until he got distracted by a vending machine. Adam got up close to the glass, peering in. He dropped his forehead against the window with a rattle, repeated three more times, stood in place for a moment, then continued down the hallway. Nate slipped the “do not disturb” on the door handle and settled back at his desk. He reached for the address book copy by the leg of the chair and opened to the list of return calls he needed to make, people who didn’t pick up yesterday. The G’s, where he left off.

Human Interest 6

The address book burned like fire in Adam’s mind, stewing in its evil in the passenger seat. Oops, I chucked it out the window. Nuts! But no. Its presence and its absence were equally matched evils to Adam.

The main consolation saving it from defenestration was Mr. Rennes’s opposition to him having it and continuing the Holy Cause of bringing lizards their groceries. But the thought drifted by, mockingly casually…Do I want to know the names of the people calling to tell me they hate me? Mustering up hours of strength to write, memorize, and recite the reasons they’re angry. They don’t hate you…They’re just mad. That they’re alive. And at you, too, but that’s just peripheral.

Maybe he’d run into a fairly-adjusted lizard one day, lock eyes and put his hand on their shoulder, an earth-shattering gesture. “You are Adam Hartage now. You deliver food to lizards. Ignore your lack of memory, this is your duty. Go, help them.” Then he could float off into the sky, laughing and raising his arms up to heaven. And then the cycle would continue.

Nate fretted with his hair part in the mirror, distracted by the way the circular mirror light illuminated his face and shone in his eyes. No one would have a mirror like this at their home, but they’re in hotel rooms. Why? He decided he’d leave himself out of these papers. Sometimes Nate Trafford the character belonged in the story, sometimes he didn’t. Nate Trafford had been bad for this story, maybe Adam had a point. Nate Trafford could scene-steal if the scene were boring enough, but there was an importance here. He’d use “you” though, this needed the directness of the occasional “you” and a peppering of contractions. No exclamation points though. He’d experiment with them one day, but this was not that day. He kept looking around the room before returning to his hair and clothes. The Adam encounter went as smoothly as it could’ve gone. A weight was lifted, and hopefully it would show in his work from now on. He wished he hadn’t been in a bath robe with his hair undone. How weak. He should’ve been ready. But it was done.

A quick knock on the door. Or was it done? He started shaking, the illusion of peace broken already. He’d have to give Adam the address book copies, he feared. At least one of them. He opened the door.

It wasn’t Adam.

“Oh. You are here,” the visitor said. It was Samantha Rowan. Her face dripping with tiredness. “I checked earlier but kinda fell asleep in the lobby.”

It was her. She was a usual sight for Nate. So was the Angel hotel hallway. But both together…

Sam?” he asked in disbelief.

She walked past him and dropped onto his bed face first. She rolled to her side and reached for her shoelaces with one hand, undid them and kicked them off on the ground.

Sam, I was just leaving. Wait, what. Why are you here?” Nate asked.

“I…” she paused, and sunk her head in the pillow. She let the pause linger a second too long, two seconds too long…“You know the Imbiber’s got L.A. offices now.”

“Are you serious?” Nate asked. “What about the startup—

“I’m not talking about it,” she said. “I’m staying at my parents’. I called your boss and he’s paying me to help you write this. Fitting, since I got you this anyway! It’s easy with it being pseudonymous. They’re literally publishing them with ‘John Doe’ as the name, you know that? But I can sit in a dumpster for the next month for all we both care, it’s sympathy pay anyway. Where are you going?”

“Wait, ‘not talking about the startup’ how?” Nate asked. “Does anyone need to, you know,” he cracked his knuckles, “die?”

“All of them,” Sam said.

Sam flipped through the Xeroxed address book while Nate drove, occasionally smiling and shaking her head.

“And he just gave it to you?” she asked.


Nate drove focused, repeating memorized directions to himself. Sam didn’t know if Nate actually sympathized and respected her situation or if he didn’t care. She was fine with the latter, she didn’t need any unnecessary changes to their dynamic. Nate’s usually-annoying behavior of hanging around to talk about his passion-of-the-week for long stretches until deciding he was needed elsewhere actually felt comforting now. He would be the last one to pry about her last few days at the startup she left Oregon to work for…

“How many have you talked to?” she asked.

“Fifteen,” Nate said.

Sam sat up in her seat, surprised. “Really? Are you just driving to the addresses?”

“This is what I do all day.”

For this? she thought. Then she remembered, it was her mission now, too. She couldn’t dismiss it as trivial, definitely not as platitude. It just crossed a line she liked not being crossed. But the whole thing wasn’t…she didn’t know. “What was your reaction? When you saw one,” she asked.

“Saw what?”

She side-eyed him, but he was still watching the road. “A…yeah. You know,” she said.

“A lizard?”


“I don’t know,” he said. “Normal?”

“…the very first one you saw?”

“They’re kinda cool. They’re not, like…weird. They’re frustrating though, you’ll see what I mean.”

“You don’t write like that,” Sam said.

Nate hummed an “I don’t know.” Sam decided she could console the lizards after Nate was done using them. Nate could dig out what he wanted, she could talk to them after.

“Was that University right there? Damn. Can you make U-turns at lights here?”

The buildings on University Drive grew grayer and older, the murals more frequent, the food more esoteric, the car decals more maroon. Nate was feeling anxious, but he didn’t want Sam to see. A pickup passed them with three teenagers with buzz-cuts sitting in the bed wearing matching jackets and sunglasses. They sweated patiently at each stoplight until they were cooled off by the mild speed of traffic.

“There,” Sam said.

The address Adam had in his book had led him to a dorm with a passkey and a curfew, but he called the lizard ahead of time who told him to come here instead. Nate felt like he should've seen this coming. It was clearly once a church, the wide-pewed non-denominational sort, with the same low plaque and roadside marquee and ’80s-ish typeface they all had. The parking lot was smaller and the roof lower than Nate had visualized when he memorized the address. Cars wormed through the parking lot, and several drivers gave up to park on the side of the road. They parked in the dirt lot beyond the normal parking lot.

“You know how to find him?” Sam asked.

“He’ll be the lizard.”

Sam raised an eyebrow at him.

Nate and Sam walked towards the church-like building, realizing they were part of a larger mass of people moving inwards. Nate made the uncomfortable realization he and Sam were older than everyone around them. For every beefy neck there was a scrawny kid in a hoodie. For every group of friends, people keeping to themselves in silent meditation. There was every current flip and color of modern haircuts, every fashion from button-downs and dark green tattoo sleeves. The people shuffled along the inside hallway with its bumpy plaster brick walls, empty pinboards, empty glass display cases, and hot-looking water fountains three feet off the ground. Someone opened a pair of double doors to a long oblong congregation room, revealing a long room with its pews replaced with a spiral of beanbags emanating out from the center. The people at the front of the crowd ran to the center of the room and fell into the bags. The spiral of bean bags was surrounded by a circle of podiums along the wall. Each one had someone standing behind the podium on a raised stand, all wearing matching black robes.

“Is that a planetarium projector?” Sam asked Nate, pointing.

A woman with a thick accent from behind one of the podiums called out, “Please scooch in, there’s a lot of room, thank you.”

Nate was trying to scope out the room without walking five feet beyond the entryway. He rotated on his heels, rubbing his knuckle across his upper lip.

“Red?” Nate said.

“Red,” the lizard, was sitting with his legs crossed on top of the podium to the side of the door behind where Nate was standing. He was wearing the same robe as the others—a tightly bound black velvet with a stitched cherry blossom design winding around the fabric. Over this he wore a thick black cape made with fake black bird feathers that shone green in the light. All the people standing at the podiums had them.

Nate!” Red said. Red uncurled his legs and hopped down from the tall wooden perch, his cape trailing behind to slowly settle around him. He stood upright and jut his hand forward. Sam was impressed how quickly Nate’s slapped his hand into the lizard’s for a firm handshake, eye contact, perfect handshake longevity.

“This is going to be good, right?,” Red said. “Look at this crowd. We didn’t get a third of these seats till this morning, glad we did. We get a bigger attendance during the school year, but look at how it’s growing already. A lot of Angel representatives.”

“Why are you called Red?” Sam asked.

“Ah…this is Sam, my new partner on this!” Nate said.

Red lifted his hand up in the air, and turned it to show her. “My scales are more pinkish than other lizards. Don’t know why. I have many names.” He extended it for a handshake to Sam this time. “Who told you ‘Red’? Not a common one.”

Adam,” Sam said, shaking his hand. “Hartage.”

“Oh! The circle grows. I should get back up there. The congregation is starting soon. There’s going to be an explosion!…of consciousness.” The lizard smiled and bit the side of his lip, exposing a few sharp teeth. “That’s our theme this year. Take this.” He whipped his arm down and caught a flier that fell out his sleeve, and handed it to Sam before climbing back up to his podium.

“He didn’t remember Adam at all, did he?” Sam asked Nate.

“What was that about, Sam? Don’t tell them about Adam.”

“…so he didn’t give you his contacts.” She sighed. “You could’ve told me, I wouldn’t have cared.”

Nate was silent. Sam looked down at the flier in her hand. She jumped. “Ack!” She handed the flier to Nate. It had a huge, decorative capital “R” on the front. He unfolded it to a large grid of well-lit headshots of the organizers and robed podium standers of the “Angel Righteous Charter,” a group of people diverse in every category except for age. One of the headshot squares stood out, all black with neon streaks. It was Red with glow-in-the-dark paint streaked over his facial features, with emphasis around his eyes and horns. Red’s eyes glowed, staring sternly into the camera. The caption for his name only read “Lizard.”

“Yeesh,” Nate said.

The crowd started applauding. Someone bumped into the back of Nate’s knee as he sat down. “Sorry.”

“Let’s get out of here,” Nate said to Sam. Without waiting, he started carefully waltzing between the seated attendees back to the door.

“Hey,” Sam called out, carefully following his footwork. She bumped past two black-robed women walking in the room speaking Mandarin to each other as she followed Nate out, the doors were closed behind her.

“You don’t think that was interesting?” Sam asked. “Whatever that was.”

Nate reached behind him to dig out a lost seatbelt band. “He was advertising his dumb event! It was nothing but college kids in there. I’m beyond college kids now! Those stupid robes, trying to be a cult or something? But don’t worry. There’s better ahead. Still a lot left.” He got hold of the seatbelt band and pulled it forward.

“You don’t make a lot of sense,” Sam said.

Nate tried to straighten the seatbelt band by moving the buckle down the length of it, but it kept turning to the wrong side. “I don’t want to sit through that. I can find two, three more people in the time it takes for that to be done with. It wasn’t about Red, I couldn’t write about it. Let’s go.”

“Is it because I brought up Adam to him?”

“Nooo…no. C’mon.”

“Aw, know what.” She said. She unlocked her door and swung it open. “I’ll get a ride. This is Angel. We could split up, couldn’t we?”

“Aw…” Nate said. “We’ll get to interview someone together at some point, right?”

“Yes, Nate.”

Human Interest 7

After a successful phone call two days before, Nate faithfully followed Adam’s directions to find a lizard to interview, labeled as “E.R.N.” Nate wondered if Adam had set any traps in his address book, but there were never any signs of such foresight. It felt like Adam had written his instructions down expecting himself to be extremely forgetful. Not a bad habit, Nate figured. For once, Adam’s handwriting was exceptionally clear, even through the Xeroxing. It told him to go in the back loading area of a clothing department store.

The lizard was eight years old-ish, skateboarding in a circle. He was cute. The right height for that age and his horns were small stubby things. He was wearing white cargo shorts and a bright-colored shirt with text about preferring video games to chores—proper little boy clothes. The shorts had an obvious hole torn in them to let the tail through.

“Hi,” the kid said, whooshing by.

“Hello.” Nate said.

“Hiii,” the kid said.

Nate slowly turned to follow the kid on his circular path. The asphalt was hot and bright, and the only sounds were the whirring of the tiny skateboard wheels and the diffused reverberations of early ’00s pop from the parking lot on the other side of the store.

“Hey, guess what?” the kid asked, pumping his foot back to put some speed into his circle.

“What?” Nate asked.

“Chicken butt.”

Nate wiped sweat off his forehead. Wow. “Hey kid,” Nate said.


“Guess why.”


Chicken thigh,Nate said.

The kid slowed his skateboard, stepped off it and gawked at Nate. “Oooooaaahh.” Nate nodded slowly, communicating, I know. The skateboard kept its momentum and was rolling dangerously far away. The kid saw it and ran after it, catching up with it. He hopped onto it, held his arms out for balance, tried turning back to Nate’s direction too sharply and fell forward. The kid tumbled and skateboard shot out from the wreckage in a random direction. The kid tried to get up, gave up, and sprawled out on the hot ground. He laid the side of his head on the asphalt and hummed.

From above: “Hey, be careful.”

“I’m okay!” the kid called.

“Get up, there might be cars,” the voice said.

The kid groaned, got up to his feet and brushed his knees off. Nate turned around, looking for the voice.

A lizard, adult, was sitting at the edge of the department store roof. She was only wearing a pair of jeans, letting her legs dangle over the side of the building.

“How long have you been up there?” Nate asked.

“Hello! We talked on the phone!” she said. “Come on up here.”

Nate scoped the base of the building. “…how?”

The lizard pointed in sequence to the dumpster, the wall around the dumpster, and a few metal ladder rungs leading up to the roof ledge. “Really?” Nate asked. She nodded.

Nate hesitantly climbed the dumpster and stood on top it. The plastic lid gave in more than he liked. He walked up the slope of it and stepped up to the enclosing brick wall. There was three feet between the building ledge and where he stood. He looked down and thought, journalism. He grabbed hold of the lowest rung easily, but had to awkwardly roll up onto the roof at the top step.

“You did it,” she said.

Nate got up and appreciated the surroundings. He had never been on top of a store before. It was more busy than he expected, grills, pipes and metal boxes sticking out everywhere. A blue cooler was in the corner where the lizard was sitting.

“I only had your name as ‘E.R.N.’,” Nate said. He sat down next to her, but not as close to the edge.

She turned to him. “It’s Erin.”

Nate.” He stuck his hand out, and she shook it.

The dumpster lid clattered below. The skateboard flung over the side of the building and landed upside-down. The young lizard followed after it, hopping over the ledge.

“And this is my brother Jamie” Erin said.

“I hurt my knee,” Jamie said.

“It was only time…,” Erin said. She got up and walked to the blue cooler and pulled a two-gallon jug of water out of it. “Come on over.”

Nate couldn’t help but look—the scraped knee had specks of red. He averted his gaze, curiosity sated.

“Do you want to get pads? We can get pads,” Erin asked Jamie.

“I’m already wearing clothes.”

“You’re just going to have to practice those turns more,” Erin said, inspecting the damage. “Yeah,” Jamie agreed. Erin poured water over the scraped knee and he shuddered. She sealed up the water and returned it to the cooler. Jamie whisked the shirt off over his head and threw it off the side of the building and plopped backwards. He lied there with his chin pointed up, exposing his neck. Erin sat back down at the ledge, then lied backwards herself.

“Is this sunning?” Nate asked.

“Yep,” Erin said.

“Wow.” Nate followed suit and laid on his back. It did feel kinda nice. “Do the workers know you’re up here?”

“Oh yeah.”

“Um…how do I put this…you seem to be at peace.”

“What?” She twisted her side to look at him and rested on her elbow. “You get that impression?”

“Some lizards I talk to have problems. That I don’t think you do.”

“You call them all like you did me? Ha.”

“What’s wrong with that?”

“Hey, you know what’s something cool about being a lizard? You can go in a store, grab an ice cream from one of those sliding-door freezers, and walk out of the store, all while holding eye contact with the cashier. They have no idea what to do.”


“I don’t do that with Jamie around though. I always give him some money.”

“The thing I’m wondering…From that anecdote, I can tell you don’t have any qualms about just going to the store in the first place. You live on top of one, so I don’t get—well, I can just tell you, I called you because you were a previous client of Adam’s, and—


“A delivery guy. Groceries, stuff like that.”

Erin was deep in thought.

“For lizards,” Nate said.

“I called someone to deliver some Chinese food we ordered one time. Is that what he does? He was kind of a weirdo.”

“How’d you get his number?”

Erin shrugged. “It was like a year ago.”

“Hm.” Nate laid his head back and looked back up at the sky.

Human Interest 8

Shortly into the drive eastward Sam worried she shouldn’t have volunteered for an hour spent alone with her replaying memories in a metal box surrounded by nothing but freeway. The fear was needless thanks to an in-depth public radio story about deep-sea trenches. Maybe that’s what this work can amount to one day, she thought. That wasn’t such a bad goal, was it? Delivering small, daily escapes was an important duty, an honorable field. Expanding someone’s worldview bit by bit even though they didn’t know it. And maybe venting really did help them, anyway. The…lizards. John Doe was here to help. John Doe was helping distract her too, she supposed.

The surroundings grew flatter and more devoid of trees, giving way for the far mountains to demand full attention. She turned off the freeway to a thinner road with no decrease in speed limit. It was the kind of road that might have passed as a highway some previous decade, but was made quaint by modern interstates. The house appeared suddenly, a small white square off the roadside. Sam chuckled. That’s it…all it is. A house in the desert.

The lizard went by his last name, Lanhart. He had set up a fold-out table and two chairs outside his home in preparation for meeting Sam and waved happily as she parked. He was tending to a glass pitcher sitting on the table. The lizard’s house was barely there at all, it resembled the old adobe ruins that peppered the Southwest. The landscape was commanded by a central mountain range. It wasn’t tall, but had a foreboding symmetry to it. She wondered what the lizard did during the winters and rainy seasons. They greeted, and Sam took a seat at his table. A hot breeze snaked around the air, rustling bushes and realigning the dirt.

“I made sun tea,” Lanhart said. “It’s when you put the tea bag in the water and…will you have some? I don’t have any ice, but out here…”

Sam accepted. She was well-acquainted with sun tea, but he described it with a proud earnestness that didn’t bother her. He filled a glass and handed it to her. She tried the tea, it was warm and pleasantly dark.

“Do you like the mountain?”

“Yes,” Sam said, meaning it. “I keep looking at it.”

“People come and hike it. The trail starts close to here.”

“What’s it called?”

“The San…San…San Something.”

None of her tricks she’d learned from her old days on the Imbiber got her anywhere. She had tricks for opening people up when they were locking up or when they were hostile. Lanhart was in an ecstatic glow just talking with her, content with yes’s and no’s.

“Have you always lived out this far from the city?”


Alright. “When’s the last time you’ve been in the city?”

“Last fall.”

She waited, but nothing more came. He sipped his glass, reveling in the situation.

“When I called you and said I’d interview you, possibly publish the things you said—you said yes. How come?”

“I want to talk to people again.”

“If you don’t want me to write anything, that’s fine. We can just talk.”

“That’s okay. No one else called me. You can do what you came for.”

She was glad she came instead of Nate, for the lizard’s sake. “Wait,” she realized he had given her a wedge. “Did you use to not want to talk to people?”

“When I went to Angel last, I had a…I shouldn’t have gone there. I don’t know why I did.”

Sam tried to not lurch forward in attention.

“I gave up and I went up the…the fire escape of this apartment building, downtown. I sat up there for a few days…heheh.”

“Days?” Sam asked.

“It got cold but it was okay. The people that lived in the building found me. Well a couple of them. They tried to give me confidence to get up and…I just didn’t want to be there anymore, so I finally got up. Mr. Hartage gave me a ride back out here.”

Adam?” Sam asked.

Lanhart’s expression brightened. “You know him?”

“I haven’t met him but I’ve heard about him.”

“He’s a really nice person. He drives me stuff out here sometimes. I don’t need a whole lot.”

“Do you go to see your parents ever?”

“Parents…For me there were different people and their names were Marie O’Fay, Ed Lanhart, Chris Morganson, Arnold Paulson, and R.J. Acquarone. I went to live out here by myself but I still see them. Do you know any of them?”

Sam was caught off-guard. Should she? “I don’t, sorry.”

“Oh. That’s okay.”

Human Interest 9

Dear Mr. Trafford,

Hello! You haven’t contacted me but I’ve heard about what you’re doing. A lot of people have, I can’t imagine what it’ll be like after your first article is published. You’ve got balls to try to cold-call a group so freaked out by the smallest contact, and I respect your fearlessness. What else could it be? We need a good disruption if you ask me. The people (lizards) I heard from weren’t too happy about you calling them, and I had to play along that I wanted to kill you but deep down I had to burst into action. I felt kinda insulted that I wasn’t on your call list. All the older lizards I know got a call. (Not that I know many…) I’m just kidding about being insulted! But I definitely want to be a contact for you. No one’s ever talked about us, and this is all really exciting. Really good. Searching “nate imbiber” got me your work email from their website, really hope you check it soon enough to see this. I’d love to come across as casual but to be honest I’ve been walking in a circle in my room all day at the prospect of sending this. Forgive me if I come off a little scattered. Maybe I should save some of this for a follow-up but I’ll save you an exchange if you do want to talk.

So first off my name is Roscoe and I’m sixteen until next month. The oldest lizards are about twenty-five right now, meaning my original adoptive parents (if “parents” is the right term) had more than eight years to realize we grew up to be more than animals, but it still came as a surprise, I guess, so they quickly dumped me off with a foster family who I still live with. (I can completely sympathize with the first-year adopters who had no idea what they had gotten into, but not these guys when they had eight years. But they did their job passing the baton.) My new family fully knew our capability of gaining at least an eight-year-old’s intelligence and knowingly signed up, even though they had two kids already (and had two more after. I’m a middle child!) And then I ended up having more than an eight-year-old’s mind, and I’ll probably have a 25-year-old’s one day if everything goes according to plan.

I don’t really know if you’ve had lifelong experience with lizards or if this is new for you. That’s fine if it is! I don’t know if there’s really any experience to have. I feel guilty about having a fortunate upbringing sometimes, but who’s there to berate me for not having an “authentic” life? Why do I make up someone to criticize me? If I should be “less human,” what direction is that? I’m probably misidentifying some normal living, thinking, society-dwelling feeling as being human-specific.

I hope in your essays and interviews you decide to be as blunt as you can…I’m not as blunt as I should be in public. A good way you should do this— the word “alien.” I’m not kidding. Did you know a lot of people don’t think we’re aliens? I’ve seen fellow lizards even think this. We were curled up in eggs for an unknown amount of years flying through space. With handmade relics of “unknown origin.” And an “I don’t know?” It’s something that everyone knows but something you’re not supposed to actually believe. People can get by without any conviction on whether the lizard people that live with them are aliens or not. How is that even possible? How is that what you ignore? Maybe if someone found an egg stash on an island somewhere, it’d be something worth questioning. But no, we come packaged with artifacts from wherever it is we left. I’m sitting here wondering who the hell sent us off with these pots and carvings and no explanation, while people go about shrugging off alienhood when pressed. I don’t get it.

I think it’s really important you cover the artifacts. Maybe not your current paper, which I’m sure is going to be really good, but I mean like coming down the line. I would love to help you out on this! Who even buys the artifacts at auctions, anyway? Some of them are lamer than others but everyone manages to get at least one high-selling item. Also deciding whether to sell them or not. I’ve got a couple years until I have to decide, thankfully, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be going the cash route. Each one has a little glimpse into the world it came from, and it always ends up being a tease. If it’s a coincidence, some meaningless decoration that happened to come down with us, it’s an impressive one. I almost want it to be a coincidence. I see the logic of constructing little teases, not giving too much away upfront so you can manufacture scarcity, but that seems so monstrous.

Sorry for unloading. I hope this helps. We should meet. I also attached some of my short stories to this in a .zip you should check them out they’re on this topic.


(the lizard)

where we came from 1-26.zip (464KB)

Human Interest 10

Nate worked on his follow-up article using the interviews and notes taken by him and Sam over the past week while impatiently waiting for the clock to tick up to midnight. It burned Nate that the world hadn’t got to read his first essay about Darius this whole time. He tried to see it as a blessing, or a head-start on the second article, but it only made him anxious.

In the midst of the week’s lizard-hunting, Nate had been assigned to participate in a “dialogue” about the futures of different mobile operating systems with three other tech writers, who chose tonight as the night for zipping around emails about a basic structure their discussion would follow. Nate shuddered at each new notification. At 10:50 Nate got hopeful thinking about time zones, before remembering that in spite of the long commute he’d only driven south.

11:59 finally flicked to midnight and Nate refreshed the Imbiber website. There it was, the tumultuous article, a week after making it into his boss’ hands for the first time. It was there, his article alright, made official by the Imbiber’s website’s spacious fonts and padding instead of the Word defaults. His eyes scanned over it rapidly, but he’d read over the words so many times he couldn’t slow down to remember any meaning or emotion. He hoped they were still there.

The “by John Doe” at the top with a small watercolor silhouette (dark blue, like a default social media avatar) dampened his pride. Maybe the next one he could get to read “by Nate Trafford & Samantha Rowan.” Or, “Nate Trafford, Samantha Rowan, & John Doe.” Yes.

He’d decided days before that he wasn’t going to read the comments on this one. But now it was 12:03 and there were still zero comments. He tried checking what his coworkers were delegating to him, but he only lasted seconds before returning to refresh the comments page. He eventually texted Sam, “You up?” She didn’t respond.

“You guys okay to just get this done tonight,” one of the emails read. Nate foresaw a long night of him lying awake, getting hotter and less comfortable on the back-aching springs of the hotel bed and responded yes, accepting his duty.

It was eventually 3:20am. Nate rewarded himself with a page reload. His heart raced at the sight of the “1 comment” link. He clicked on it and it read: “first.” Posted twenty-six minutes ago. He reinspected the Imbiber homepage—the article was in a nice spot, but not the spot. A snappier article had gotten that one. Damn. His article only got a minimal line drawing of a lizard. Tasteful, but didn’t really grapple the casual browser by the neck like he wanted. If it came to it, there was article two, already on its first draft, ready for next week.

By 5:35am, Nate found himself in a heated (but publishable) argument with one of the writers in the email chain. Maybe he would’ve been fine going the tech route, if he didn’t get distracted. His phone buzzed with a text message: “No.” From Sam. Nate sent back a squid emoticon and put the phone back down. He felt a weird energy that comes from outliving the tired hours of the circadian rhythm and got up to pace. He wandered to the far wall and tried to slide back the many layers of the hotel window curtain. They refused to slide down the old curtain rod, so he peeled them back and stepped inside instead, his knees pressed against the AC unit and his nose an inch from the glass. The sky was glowing from the unexposed sun lingering just below the horizon, made greenish by the Angel air. The area around the hotel was waking up, birds peppering the dark blue air with their peeping. Between buildings, the white and red streaks of a highway glowed, and streetlights stayed on as a final remnant of the night.

The sky’s glow grew brighter. No matter how many long nights Nate had spent in a free-flowing writing mode, he never got used to the vague fakeness of a second sunrise, the mild panic to find sleep before the sun fully rose. Nate looked down and noticed the pool edge was directly below his room. Its water was unbroken, he could see the last few leaves in the bottom corners the cleaners couldn’t catch. The water rippled, coming from a single point. Nate stuck his nose to the glass to get a better vantage below. The ripple dissolved back to stillness. A black mass was lying at the shallow end of the pool, limbs freely suspended in water. It was a lizard, Nate realized. There was no mistaking the tail, the neck. Why here? Was it his doing? He checked the poolside for guests, but the lizard was alone, floating in isolation, not moving. Ah, fuck.

Nate tightened his robe as he ran out the hallway. He went for the stairs, bounding multiple steps at a time. He ran through the empty lobby to the other end of the hallway out to the pool area. It was muggy and still outside, hotter than the dark blue color suggested. The stucco-y path led to a metal-barred gate. Nate shakily pulled the keycard out, and the reader blinked red. Locked for the night. Nate poked his head around the bars to find the lizard in water. “Hey!” he called out. “You okay?” No movement.

Nate grabbed at the bars and climbed over, his feet grabbing onto the flat bars easily. He jumped off the top and the gate clanked in place behind him. He found the lizard in the shallow water, out of arm’s reach, half of his face in the water—just like he looked from Nate’s fourth story window. Nate kicked his sandals away and shrugged his robe off and waded into the water, water splashing up over his shirt and pant legs. He got to the lizard, knelt to hook his arms under the lizard’s shoulders from behind, and drifted him back to the edge of the pool. In spite of the muggy air, the water was cooled by the night, too cold to swim in casually. The lizard himself was icy. Nate tried standing him up and the lizard moved his legs, his first sign of not being dead. Nate was relieved. Nate walked backwards half-lifting, half-dragging him out of the water back to a pool chair. The lizard collapsed into the springy plastic bands of the chair.

“There’s no towels, they must’ve taken them in for the night,” Nate said, realizing he was just as drenched as the lizard was. “Are you okay?”

Nate?” the lizard said. His eyes were still closed and he didn’t say anything more. Nate noticed the lizard was wrapped all in black, it wasn’t just the water darkening his clothes. Some designs and embroidery he couldn’t make out. Even in the low light there was something off about the lizard’s appearance. He looked like he was deeply sunburnt, glowing pink underneath a translucent layer of scales.

“How do you know me?” Nate asked.

The lizard gripped onto the bands with his other hand and shimmied himself up the pool chair. He smiled, with his eyes still closed. “I like what you do. You’ve got to keep…you gotta keep…” He hung his head down and moaned.

“How’d you get here?” Nate asked.

“Why’d you leave?” the lizard asked. “I talked with…Sam…she gave me your place…”

Red!” Nate said, excitedly.

Red opened his eyes and blinked experimentally. He looked at Nate and tried holding them open for a moment, before wincing from the chlorine. “I’ll make sure, everyone, everyone’s gonna read…you gotta keep…” He mumbled to himself and said something that made him chuckle softly.

Nate knew Red wasn’t there completely, but it felt more like the brink of sleep than the verge of death. He wasn’t going to get a good explanation out of him in this state. “You need something dry on,” Nate said. “This was from my room,” he said, grabbing his dry robe from the ground and setting it next to the lizard.

“I’ll make sure everyone reads it, it’s time…People who…people who…it was the sign I…didn’t know I was…waiting for…Can I come to your place?”

“Of course,” Nate said. “Here.” He reached to help Red up, and Red batted his hands off him.

“No,” Red said. “Leave me out here a bit. The sun’s coming up.”

A sideways jolt of white yellow had entered the sky. It shined in Nate’s eyes as he stood up. There it was, the sun, halfway over the skyscrapers.

“I know where your place is,” Red said. “Go on. I’ll…I’ll…”

Backstory #9: Reunion

I slipped into the room alone from the unlit hallway. A dangerous mission. Authorities were combing the facility, swinging flashlight beams over every corner, narrowing in on me by the minute. I scanned the binder labels in the dim light. It was direly important I pick up the right one, the label that read “2002.2.28,” replace it with the one in my hands marked “2002.28.2.” Why was it so hard? I looked at the binder in my hands which now didn’t have any date on it at all, just a blank label, I must’ve put it down somewhere. Or did I put it on the shelf already? Wait, wait. It was “2020.40.1,” not “0202.0.0”. That was right. The titles on the bookshelf looked alright, I must’ve switched my binders up earlier. I’d go up to the clerk and ask where I’d put it, yes. She asked for my ID. I growled, pulled out a tiny keychain-sized card from my wallet, just enough room for a barcode. The flipside had an illustration of a clipart worm with glasses. Dusty and yellowed. The county library! They wanted me for a book I’d checked out when I was nine. I couldn’t show the card, give myself away.

“Hey,” my assistant said, always by my side. My assistant, my protégé, my student. Another lizard, rather lanky though. The situation seemed obviously familiar. Yes, yes. I remembered this part. Something terrible would happen to both of us if I were allowed to check out all the books I had in my arms. There was something terrible in the old leather book, used as a bookmark on the 390th page. And when I opened it—

“Hey,” my assistant said again.


“Focus. You’re losing lucidity.”

Lucidity…yes. Dreaming! Of course. “I’m sorry. You’ve told me over and over…”

“…I just got here. Here.” The assistant grabbed me and pulled me forward by the skin of my wrist. I was led through the dream hallway to the reading room, built around a fat central oak tree. The bookshelves became glass benches in the time it took to look away and back. The room was encased in a large floating glass lantern. Outside the glass there was nothing but a deep blue swirling sky and wispy puffs of clouds suspended in place.

The skinny tall lizard stood in front of me, looking me over. I realized we weren’t very alike—she had no real central bulk, all lean and pointed and tapered. Entirely different skeletal structure. She was female, assuming the horns/no-horns thing was consistent. Her long tail sat limp on the ground.

“It’s your first meet, huh?” she asked. “We do these monthly. I was supposed to grab you. We bipedals, gotta stick together.” Her fingers were long and bent away from the hand, like a proper animal lizard’s. “That was a joke, you can…never mind. You don’t gotta tell anyone about Earth. We all know Earth here.”

Before I could ask anything, I noticed the glass benches were being filled in with a familiar tone of tan scales. But the shapes were wrong.

“Hey, XXXXX!” I heard from above. [They were calling for the guide, but her name didn’t survive the dream.]

My guide looked up. There was a short, fat lizard on the wall with a wide smiling mouth. He had a stumpy heavy tail like a gila monster and had thick scales that jutted out from his back. My guide greeted him by name [also lost] in a bothered but familiar tone. She introduced me as the “new one.”

“So you’re Roscoe! How do you do?” He dropped down a hand from the wall, I grabbed it and shook. It was ridged and stuck slightly to my palm. The handshake didn’t budge his attachment to the surface. Our hands detached with a small pop.

“Human, huh? I can see it…the arms, the chest, yes, I can see it,” he said, looking over me.

I was scared by this comment. I quickly looked at my hands, still scaled and lizard-y. Softly fine-scaled, squishily wrinkled, purselike. I was confused. “What’s wrong with my arms?”

“Geez kid, you’re thin-skinned. What do you think I am?”

“Um.” I stuttered, and shut up.

“Diggers. Mole people. I’m way out of the norm. I’d trade ya.”

I didn’t respond fast enough, and my guide and the mole lizard started talking each other up again. I backed away to not disrupt them. My bare heel nudged into soft damp turf. Had I been wearing shoes before? It didn’t matter. The sky beyond the glass lantern wall was textured like a swirling quilt. Could almost make out patches and stitches among the blue. Everything felt backlit, the kind of luminosity objects had during abnormally bright full moons, but still filled with color. I looked up past the top of the oak tree. There were a dozen lizards on the top of the dome wall like dead bugs at the bottom of a light cover. But they were talking, living…

While watching them I accidentally backed up into a stone pedestal with enough force to raise a corner off the ground. I rubbed my back, inspecting the future bruise. There was a shuffle of air above me. I turned and stopped. On the tall pedestal, a bulky lizard was posing like a gargoyle. He had wings extended to his side to balance himself. I stepped aside from the pedestal in a mix of reverence and jealousy. He looked down at me, and blew through his nostrils like a bull. He repositioned his wings behind his back and turned away from me.

“The gryphon people of XXXXX. A young race. Haven’t developed spoken language yet. I don’t know if I’d give it up for the wings. But…”

The voice came from below me. A lizard on all fours. His ribcage was deeper than mine, his hands and feet were three-toed, somewhere between a paw and a talon. His spine was ridged, tail more intense, but otherwise not too different from me were I to drop on all fours. Suddenly the quadruped stood up on his back legs and supported himself by putting an arm against the pedestal. Slightly more intimidating, but not much compared to the dragon he was standing under.

“I’ve read a bit about the Earthborn, but there are some holes. What are the artifacts like on Earth?” he asked me.

I answered cautiously. “Um…simple carvings…pots…”

“Always pots! Every civilization but mine cherishes pots.” The quadruped shook his head. “My society loves masks, so we get a lot of those. Tribal masks, ceremonial masks. There’s that at least. Someone at the last meeting…he opened up bragging about these hats he came down with, until realizing everyone was laughing, then he tried to distance himself from his hat society, ‘What’s the deal with them?’ sort of thing. But it was too late. We all saw how proud he was of his hats. He had a spiked tail though. I like those.”

“So there’s…human in me. My artifacts, my body, everything. Geared for pleasing them.”

“In you? No. You’re all lizard. You had human adopters, huh? I had XXXXX adopters. Simple. Did you look like that out of your egg? I didn’t look like I do now either. Look at all us, all so very lizard. Which one of us is the most lizard, you tell me. Your hands—

I held mine up again. So human. I never really noticed. In normal life, they’re one of the silent uncomfortable differences people notice. A different head, a tail, that’s all fine, but a hand…a hand is how you interact with the world…what is a different hand even like? What does it feel like? What does it feel like to hold one? Every smallest difference, differently proportioned bone, slightly “off” angle. But now, standing among the other lizards, it was obvious how human they were. Ten fingers, what required it? Four up there, a thumb to the side, just like humans.

“Five fingers!” the quadruped blurted. “Everything’s got three digits on my planet. It’s the worst. Look at me…” he turned his claws, spread the fingers out. They had callused pads where he walked on them.

“I think you look cool,” I said, truthfully.

He perked up. “Thanks!” he said. “You do too.”

“…What are we?” I asked.

He looked off to the side. Our eyes were identical, I noticed. All our eyes, the same size, shape, streaks of color.

“We adapt. We match our parent societies, it’s our thing. I’ve got more than three fingers, maybe even more than ten. But bones fuse, or stay small and vestigial. We’ve all got wings like this guy, at least the potential for wings, isn’t that cruel? If you ever X-ray yourself, you’ll see what I mean.” He closed his eyes, stretched, then went back on all fours. “Anyway…nice talking to you, Earthborn.”

“Hey, wait! How long do we live? Can we have alcohol?”

He stopped walking and turned back. “On Earth?”

“You mean that matters?”

He smiled and walked off.

The dragon above curled up tightly, oblivious to the rhythmic tones and sounds that had come out of our mouths. I walked over to an unoccupied glass bench and sat, a safe distance away from all the differently shaped lizards talking each other up like old chums. Light passed through the designs on the glass, giving the air a bright watery look. The nearest person was lying on a bench, covered in horns and spikes with a rocky back. My foot caught on something underneath the bench, I peered through the textured glass. An unlabled four-inch binder. I picked it up from the grass.

“Incredible, you found it.”

“They’re going to want it.”

“Yes,” I said.

Instead in my hands I was holding the ancient, leather-bound tome. I looked forward to seeing this part play out again…but it was getting time to get seats, we’d been waiting in the lobby too long, had to get enough seats for…was it six of us? The carpeted hallways were empty and wide. Red velvet, gold trim. The movie hadn’t quite started yet, the lights hadn’t dimmed for the trailers yet. I counted the seats in the row, trying to gauge how we could arrange ourselves, but the row didn’t have the right amount of seats. Someone took a spot, yes. The next row up was…

“Ooo, what is this place?” a voice to the left asked.

A lizard was sitting to my left, taking in the view. She sprouted a coat of large white feathers. It started thin and soft, sprouting from the forehead and cheeks until growing thick from her back and arms. She was laughing with delight over the ornate gold fixtures that decorated the room. She had a crown of three large light-gray feathers that swayed as she turned her head.

“It’s a theater,” I responded. It was a theater. Why? How did I dream this up so fast?

“Oh! We have those, I think, but not like this. Do they put on performances?”

“Uh…kinda. Recordings of performances.”

“‘Recordings’…oh. I’m so sorry. Did you mean to leave the meeting? We usually chase after people who slip out, just in case they were losing lucidity…” The movie was playing now, a scene with a train lazily moving through a meadow. The feathered lizard was watching now, distracted from her worries. The train rattled on on its heavy machinery. Trees turned past outside.

“Normally we shouldn’t chase so far after someone…but…” she said. “I’m sorry. What a beautiful view…”

The tea shook in the glass. I set it down on the saucer, where the tea continued to wobble up to the brim. Such violent wobbling, even with the slow easy turn of the grasslands outside.

She stood up from the table, adjusting her coat buttons and grabbing a briefcase from the floor. White feathers poking from the collar and shirt sleeves. “Fine, fine. I’m going back. I’ll let you be, quiet one. See you next month,” she said, and walked into the next train car.

Backstory #4: Custodians

The lizards came from the planet Juncea.

The crash woke up Rem (the lizard) in the middle of his nap in the middle of an unused road. The supports under Circle 5 (connecting Avenue 4 to Avenue 7 above, with a large grassy park in the center) gave out after two centuries of service. As the columns cracked, the suspended circular park and its grass and trees tipped and crashed into the empty metal buildings of Avenue 4 below it. The circle came to a stop, only for another support to give out and send the structure sliding into the base of several adjacent buildings.

The city’s structure was designed to allow such collapses—in fact, a whole cube block could disappear from anywhere within the city’s three-dimensional structure without so much as a rumble above. There were rumors of blocks floating in midair when all of its neighbors had collapsed, but the rumors never proved true—if a location was given, it would always turn out to be a normal city block like any other or an intersection of two roads that never actually met. After the week’s journey, the countered storyteller would claim, “no, you had the coordinates reversed,” after which the curious traveler would give up, devote their time to other sights of the old city.

Rem had to make sure the crash was real. While it was very loud, not everything he saw and heard turned out to have happened, nowadays. He went to the edge of the road and looked down through the city below—the sky was a lush pink down there, until a cloud of gray dust and debris swelled and rolled over the view. He smelled the air—yes, too many things going on to not be real. The ghosts of the lizards from years before would now have to walk through the grass and lie under the trees in the middle of the air, walk around their old Avenue 4 skyscrapers in the fresh rubble. What a quiet shame. Oh no, Rem thought, gathering his pillows, blankets, boxes, and bottles. He had to check that no one was hurt. He threw his things into a wheeled cart and jumped on it, pushing it along with his foot. He guided the cart onto an alternate ramp that spiraled down to Avenue 4, putting his weight to the side to let the cart speed down the turns with one side lifting off the ground. He steered around vehicles, unmoved from their parking spaces for decades. He flew through the Avenue 4 off-ramp towards the wreckage. The air got dirtier as he neared. He let the cart slow to a stop, the whirring of the wheels replaced by the soft rumbling of unseen strained, twisting metal. He stepped off and surveyed the street. The dust was still rising with no signs of exhausting. Debris was scattered along the roads. A metal pipe had impaled a pristine vehicle from above. Aw. Rem grabbed a cloth from his cart and wrapped it around his nose and mouth and went inside the first ruined building.

The park, once an unremarkable urban roadside decoration, had grown into something more like the earth far below the city: lush and overgrown, the trees fat and knotted with roots the size of trunks themselves. It had been one of the only physical changes the city had seen over the decades. Maybe that was what tipped it over. And now it had fallen sideways into the old lobby of a building. Rem had been inside of buildings like this one in his old life. He wore the professional styles of clothes they had to wear and walked in the ways that displayed the power of their positions, the things they did before they died. It was odd thinking that lizards the age he was now had walked among him in those offices when he was young. Aging must have been peaceful when nothing had changed from your youth, no signs that life wasn’t in continuum. They probably didn’t think that though. Now the park’s central tree rested against a torn wall and its exposed inner structure like it had been gently laid down there—and brought the sun and sky along with it. It would do well in its new home, there was enough of the park in the lobby now to make sure of it. The air was cleaner now and he untied the cloth from his head. Every part of the building once stacked above had fallen to the side and into itself, not leaving much to investigate or salvage besides the first floor.

“Hello!” Rem shouted anyway. It bounced off the neighboring city blocks. He hadn’t raised his voice for a few weeks, but hadn’t noticed it until just then. Felt strange. “Anyone here?” Here? Here? Here?…

No response.

He ventured into the nearby buildings that had also collapsed. He knew everyone who bid their time in his sector of the city, and none of them ever set up hut on Avenue 4. If anyone was here, they were travelers, strangers, or people who wanted to stay hidden.

There was a hole in the lobby floor. The top of an underground vault had been pulled and torn off with the rest of the sideways wreckage, leaving a wide hole leading down to a lower floor. Its thick vault door was still sealed from the inside, all for nothing as the fallen-in walls and rubble created an easy staircase leading down into it from above. Rem walked down into it and discovered the vault filled the basement floor. There were rows of metal containers, presumably filled with money, ancient valuables. More fallen metal had cleaved off a wall of the locked boxes and exposed their contents. Rem investigated, pulling out handfuls of golden necklaces and variations of shiny rocks. There were envelopes full of paper money, old even for when the building was first built. Rem fed his head through some of the jewelry and smiled. He’d have to worry if anyone saw it on him—didn’t want them to fear he’d started his final departure from sanity. He knew it was innocent, but no one else would.

The loot replaced Rem’s fears of catastrophe with a boyish giddiness. He pranced around the floor while he could, necklaces clanging, seeing the extent of what he just stumbled onto. A door led out to a hallway filled with storage units, dimly illuminated from holes in the ceiling. He hopped along between the units, deciding which gift he should open for himself first. He stopped in front of a random unit and got his fingers under the door and hoisted it upwards. It held a collector’s stash of old-world items—remnants of a firmly-held childhood of someone who must have died when Rem was young. Thoroughly ancient, but in perfect condition. Rem pulled out a puffy dress from a wooden wardrobe and put it on, and looked at himself delightedly.

He bounced off to the second unit. It was filled with uninviting office-like boxes, but Rem still tried opening one up. It was filled with spongey packing material. He plunged his hands in and found something cold and heavy. He lifted it out and the packing material fell away from it. It was a stone totem, carved with the features of an animal he didn’t recognize. He felt bad for judging the unassuming box. The stone work was heavy but filled him with warmth. An early society. Some proud artist had chiseled all these bumps and grooves. He could feel this artist’s handiwork, moving his fingers along its intricate design—a tactile connection to someone ten, maybe fifteen whole lifetimes before his. The span of time amazed him. He set it back down gently upon the packing material it came from.

He walked to the third unit in the hallway and got his fingers under to hoist the counter-weighted door. The door rattled upwards and revealed an array of stacked vibrant red eggs. Rem jumped up to grab and slam the door back down and collapsed to ground.

It happened so reflexively he didn’t know how to process it.

Never, not once in his long life, had he seen more than a few eggs together at once. How many was that in there? One hundred, two hundred? He’d—he’d do something. But he couldn’t do it now. He had to forget it. He knew he couldn’t file it away and go back to his stagnant existence, but he could try. He forgot a lot of things, maybe all he had to do was wait. He got up and pretended to interest himself in the fourth unit. He lifted up the door, and it was filled with the red eggs as well. No, no, no. He opened the fifth unit, the sixth unit. All filled with the eggs. Oh no, oh no. He walked into one of the units with his jewelry swaying and looked over the eggs. A stupid irresistible paternal feeling coursed over him. He had to do something about the poor things. He was also incredibly rich now, by the old standards. But what’s to buy? Food? Water? There was no demand, no economy, no shortages of anything but people.

He looked over the walls of shining red. He had presumably once slept in an egg in formation with the rest, however many thousands of years before. Maybe the eggs had been stacked in a towering pile in a central location somewhere for millions of years, portions of it coming alive in pockets to build a society, only for time to come and kick the sandcastle over again while the other eggs sleep on. Maybe this dead city he lived in now was only the first or second society the eggs had born members into—maybe they’d sleep through hundreds more attempts at society and monument-building. Until every last one hatched.

If the eggs had been collected together in some ancient time, that pile had been dispersed among the hatched and used as a currency for as long as history and memory recorded. It had been a long time since the first tribes would hold onto and protect a communal pile of their future members. Whether it was out of companionship, a connection with the future of their species, or a display of dominion over the fetal form they came from, only the rich had the luxury of owning eggs in recent centuries, let alone the desire to actually create the conditions where an egg might hatch. Because of this, every living lizard had vague memories of a wealthy upbringing, surrounded by golden mansions and servants and high-class parents and caregivers. Lizards lived a long time, enough to find themselves far away from their rich homes doing things like sweeping streets or tending to crops in the course of their lives. When society had approached its highest-populated heyday over a hundred years before, the eggs simply stopped hatching. The temperatures and lighting conditions that had been conducive to hatching in the past weren’t reliable like before—not that the owners minded their wealth failing to destroy itself by converting into a child. And now that old heyday was coming to a close, even if some old drunken patrons were still stumbling around in its wake. If the sleeping eggs coordinated their revolt, the last people alive couldn’t pick up their infant wavelengths. Perhaps the eggs drew telepathic straws to take watch over the planet, making sure nothing was taking over or erupting, but no more.

Rem didn’t know why he felt sympathetic towards these unborn. He didn’t feel that way about normal living people most the time. And they seem so stubborn. Maybe he thought they were sentient and omnipotent, able to pull him back into peaceful sleep if he played nice. What was so great about waiting anyway? What utopia was going to come around with no one around to build it?

He reached into the wall of eggs and pulled one out of its place with a gentle pop. He held it under a sunbeam streaming down from the broken ceiling. There was a little fellow inside the egg—the same place he’d been throughout every era of time, every historical event in the world of the living, the same place he’d be for centuries longer. Or she, Rem thought with a sad smile.

He set the egg back. He walked out the hall and back among the metal containers. There was a small young girl standing frozen by the safe door in a half-shadow. Hornless, big eyes. Rem made eye contact with her for a moment, then continued back up to the street level. Don’t acknowledge them. That was going to be happening now. He had been tormented by visions of old company superiors for years. Just the morning before, he was woken up by a hurried-sounding well-dressed boss talking about an envelope he was holding, to which Rem sleepily nodded and mumbled “yes, of course” to. Suited lizards rounding corners, flooding him with old stress. Punishment for his stupidly spent life. And now, he’d be taunted by these images of the children that wouldn’t be born. They’d probably giggle while he tried to fall asleep or something.

Backstory #4: Custodians, part 2

The dust had finally settled throughout the street. Everything that was going to fall had fallen. Avenue 4’s wreckage was complete, a finished picture for future centuries.

The girl camped among the wreckage, enjoying the cover the rubble provided and the break from the open, empty streets of the rest of the city. The autonomous maintenance machines whirred up to an undercharged and listless life, cleaning away dust and scraps in small radiuses around them. At night she would sleep through their humming until one would find her and try to scoop up her sleeping body. She had to flail her arms around to make them detect her as alive and leave her alone until they would try again in a few hours. Still an improvement over her last location, but it was no long-term solution.

She had slipped up a week before, right after the park collapsed, but the old lizard who spotted her was one of the invalids and wouldn’t pose any danger to her. If he told anyone about her, they probably wouldn’t believe him, especially wearing the old clothes and jewelry he plucked from the safe.

But at the same time, he could be a dangerous territorial psychotic who this new world allowed to thrive. It couldn’t be ruled out—she hadn’t seen anyone besides him here. He’d always carelessly ride his cart clanging down through the middle of the road, which was maddening to her. She didn’t get it. You could hear it from a mile away. Was he careless, or did he know this was his domain? Did he have a cannon under that tarp? He always went back to that underground safe and come out with his cart full of pilfered things. A nostalgist, probably. Building a nest out of comfortable things.

One day the old lizard had taken off in a different direction than usual. By foot—he seemed to be enjoying the walk. He had his cart along but was gently pushing it instead of riding the momentum from the off-ramp. The girl’s interest was piqued and she decided to follow him from a safe distance. It was easy with the way he happily strolled down the middle of every road, but she kept her guard up just in case, silently climbing over the buildings and raised walkways, hiding behind the parked cars, sculptures, and fountains that littered the financial district when she needed to. The old lizard suddenly stopped, distracted by something on the side of the road. He turned his cart and headed towards the entryway of a glass-walled corner store. Its automatic doors dutifully opened and accepted him in.

She worried this was the time to move in or lose him for good, but he stayed within sight of the glass walls the whole time. He left his cart at an empty row of tables and walked along the back wall, pulling down panels and pulling things out. And loading up a tray…

He was getting lunch. It was an automat, self-maintained, probably received food from the centralized kitchens that kept on churning. He eventually sat down and started eating his selections while looking out the window absently. She had enough of it and gave up her stealth act. She emerged from her hiding spot to walk across the street into the automat. The doors welcomed her in. Rem kept staring out the window, chewing like nothing had happened. He wasn’t armed or primed to strike, so she walked over closer to him. Eventually she was standing directly in front of him, opposite the table. He moved his head over to look out the other glass wall. She was disappointed—she thought she was doing a good job sneaking after him this whole time. He was just ignoring her.

“Hellooo,” she said.

He looked down at his tray, and picked up a new food. Some sort of cake. Her fear that he was a violent overlord over this turf felt ridiculous in hindsight. His chewing was the only noise in the room. She slapped her hands down on the table and stared directly into his face, searching for a reaction. He made eye contact with her for a split-second, only to glance away immediately.

“Come on,” she said. No response. Yes, another invalid. She sighed and walked around to the other side of the table where he left his cart. She was curious to see what trinkets the senile old lizard kept dear to him enough to push through the streets. She moved aside a cloth on the top of the heap and heard him move but was too slow to react. In a split-second her head thudded against the ground and Rem was on top of her, putting all his weight into pinning her arms down. His eyes glared into hers, then scanned over her face. “Don’t do that,” he said. Her heart pounded. Rem looked over her face again, confused. He got up and released her. She sprung backwards and sat upright, breathing rapidly. “Please don’t do that. Please…” he said.

She didn’t produce any words but asked every infuriated question she needed with her hurt facial expression.

“I’m so sorry. I…” Rem said. He hoisted himself up using the table bench and winced. He looked worn out, like he used every last reserve of energy to leap out of his seat at her like he did. “You can follow me around, watch my every minute, just please don’t torment them…” Rem went to his cart, covering up the bundle she disturbed.

Them? “I’m…” she started. What was she? Sorry? She was stupid, that’s all. Too many times in a row. The back of her head throbbed. She was leaving, she was going to go very far away. She started walking to the door.

“Wait,” Rem called out. “You’re…you’re real. Or am I getting too good at doing this to myself?” His shoulders loosened and he smiled. “I’ll never know, will I?”

The automatic doors opened to let her leave. She stopped and looked back at him. “I’m real.”

“How can you be?” he asked. “How old are you?”

“Eleven. Around.”

“The youngest person I’ve heard of was ninety-five. Wait,” he looked up, counting, “one-hundred and ten or so, by now. He lives in the hub. I haven’t met him.”

“There’s others…” she said.

“You’ve seen them?”

She didn’t move.

“You don’t have to leave. I won’t get near you,” Rem said. “I can’t believe I…I thought I was going insane, I thought you were just another…” He put his head down and started angrily mumbling and cursing at himself.

She now had no idea what was going on. She’d known too many invalids who would act parental towards her only to revert back to some…They had a certain emptiness when it happened, the old guardianship fleeing from their eyes, getting replaced by something else. They didn’t look over her face mortified, wondering what they were doing, then profusely apologize afterwards. Maybe there was just something in the cart he was being protective over. She’d given too many benefits of a doubt before. Still, she had a premonition of how she would trek back here in weeks’ time, trying to find him and his cart again, just to know for sure who he was and what he was doing. She could save herself the time. She sat down at a bench near the door, looking as guarded as possible. He had stopped mumbling to himself and sat turned away from her with a hand against the side of his face.

“It’s okay,” she said. It really wasn’t, not yet at least, but she wanted him to talk again.

“But you can’t know that for sure…” he said, shaking his head. “Is your head okay?”

No. “Yeah.”

Rem ventured a smile, but it was filled with remorse. “When’s the last time you’ve eaten?”

“Two weeks.”

“You shouldn’t wait that long, it’s not healthy. Eat at least every few days.”

“I know.”

“Take a tray.” He grabbed one from a nearby pile and slid it down the long table towards her.

“What’s that word say?” she asked, pointed upwards.

He turned to read it, and turned back to her, surprised. “‘Pastries.’”

She pulled out a notebook from her back and copied in the symbol carefully and drew a little cake next to it.

Rem smiled again. He hadn’t even thought about having to learn their stupid curvy symbolic alphabet for years, decades. Did he even remember what it was like learning them? His memories were in third-person. And having to learn it on your own, no schools, no private instructors, the best your parents could buy…The girl got up and grabbed the tray, side-eyeing Rem. He turned back to his food, content to hear the sound of her sliding the windows open and close.

She gently put her tray down, sitting much closer to Rem now. “Is this right?” she asked. Her tray was loaded with fruit, soup, bread, sandwiches, and cakes.

“Of course,” Rem said. What an adorable thing to ask, he thought. He trembled slightly. “Oh, take one of these.” He slid an extra packet of crushed berries over to her. “Put it on the cakes…there. It’s good.”

She ate, quickly. Rem returned to his own food as well.

“What’s your name?” Rem asked. “You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.”

She brushed her mouth off. “Ione.” Eye-oh-nee. She kept on eating.


Who named you? He felt like asking. But she was alone now, what did it matter? Ione. She had relaxed now. Maybe she did forgive him. If she could…Rem waited but she didn’t ask his name in return. Maybe she knew not to. How sad it’d be, being born into this world at this time. Like winning tickets to a play only to find the performers bowing and leaving stage. Could he see her hundreds of years ago in a school of children, making friends? Climbing bars and running through obstacles out of sport, not life-preserving caution. He never thought about what was in store for a newborn. He was so preoccupied with the thought of eggs hatching again he didn’t think about what that life would look like. Maybe they were afraid of this. The eggs retreated into sleep, where at least they had each other. A self-fulfilling prophecy, maybe. A tragedy, but he couldn’t blame them.

Maybe he had been doing the wrong thing this whole week. Idiotically wrong. No. He wasn’t. He couldn’t be…

But they were being born. She was proof of that.

Rem composed questions in his mind. This is extremely important, Ione. I’m sorry I have to ask this, but…are they actually other people your age, or are you the last of us? No, no. What a heartless thing to ask an eleven-year-old who asks if she filled her tray of food right. He couldn’t ask if she remembered her developing mind and how it decided to break out of her egg. And he didn’t want to bring up the hundreds of years of living alone ahead of her.

“Ione, are you going to follow me when I leave this place no matter what?” Rem asked.

She paused.

“I’d rather you’d just come along, by my side. I need to know I’m doing the right thing.”

She started to look the way she did by the door, hesitating to leave.

“I guess I can’t hide this from you.” He got up and went to his cart. “Come here, I…I won’t do anything this time, I promise.”

Ione got up slowly, and walked over to Rem.

“Go ahead…lift it,” Rem said.

Ione walked up to the cart and grabbed the tarp like she did before and pulled it to the side. The cart was filled with red eggs. She was perfectly still, looking into their reflections.

“Have you…seen one before?” Rem asked.

She nodded, not breaking her gaze. “Can I hold one?” she asked. Rem nodded. She gently lifted one from the top and sat down at the table cradling it. A little curled-up lizard slept inside, its soft outline moving slowly.

“Is there anywhere we can take them? Anywhere besides here,” Ione said.

“Besides Avenue 4?” Rem asked.

“This whole place,” she said. “Everything.”

Backstory #4: Custodians, part 3

The elevator pod rattled as it shot down through the city. Ione watched as every level of streets and buildings flew upwards to become part of the indistinguishable mass of technology and—once—society.

“Look,” Rem said, pointing down.

Past the transparent wall of the elevator, the view opened up. A wide, unbroken forest spread out across hills and far-off mountains, far below the bottom of the city. A dark splotch of the forest caught her attention, until she realized it was only a shadow from a small lone cloud far to the side.

“We still have a long way,” Rem said.

“Is anyone down there?” Ione asked.

“No. Just the animals.”

The elevator ended at a platform with three small winged ships on it. “Hold along the rails here, the winds are strong,” Rem said. The door opened and they stepped out. It was cold without the protections of the city. Ione had looked through the holes of the city before, she was used to the great distances above and below, but the emptiness here was new and gave her an intense vertigo. For the first time she could feel the shape of the city. It was only a corner, but it was something besides the constant stream of roads and districts and neighborhoods. From down here the districts had different patterns and hues to them, they made a broken checkerboard of different needs, different purposes…

And below her—the lone cloud, tall and powerful even on its own. It was flat on the bottom, like it was sitting on an invisible plane. Yet the shadow was so far away, how could it be so far down and still be so high off the ground?

“I’ll need your help loading the cart,” Rem said, opening a hatch on one of the ships.

“Yes,” she said, running over to help.

Ione was busy holding the cart in place while Rem took the controls. Ione did not want to look out the windows, but the vehicle flew smoothly. Rem had done it many times before. She eventually braved the look, but it was the same view outside—the thick green trees, the hills rolling in and out of view. She spotted a few rivers and lakes but didn’t go closer to the window to inspect them. Her mind drifted as she held the cart. She uncovered a corner so she could gaze into the red eggs, but she eventually grew tired.

“What’s that?” Rem asked.

“Huh?” she said.

“You say something?”


“Oh. Apologies.”

Ione popped awake from her sleep. The cart hadn’t moved. “We’re halfway there,” Rem said. “The city moves free of the ground. It’s amazing how far it’s moved over the years.”

“How do you know about this place?”

Rem set the controls to autopilot and leaned back in his chair. “My parents had it built. Illegally, probably, but a lot of rich people were doing it back then. Before even I was born, there was a…an apocalyptic fad going around. Not the first, not the last. Not even the biggest. Very few families had the wealth to afford what mine built though. I still have trouble believing it…that I was born to their family. I was one of hundreds of eggs they hatched in their lifetimes, but still…out of that whole city,” he said, pointing out the window, “the richest among all them?” he asked. “No. The most paranoid, maybe.”

Ione followed his pointed finger. She got up and went up to the window and gasped. The city…looming over the horizon. Half faded into the color of the sky behind it. It lost its shape, it was only a wall now.

“That whole thing…” Ione said. “And I’m the only one born there? In all of that? For years?”

“Did you have parents, Ione?” Rem asked. He winced, hoping it didn’t dig too far.

She kept watching the wall on the horizon. “Someone found me. I was a year old in a greenhouse. He used to be a scientist. He raised me, hoping to find out how I hatched. He had two more eggs he found. He was nice until…”

“…It’s okay, Ione. You don’t have to tell me.”

“He kept asking me things I didn’t know. I told him I didn’t remember anything but he didn’t believe me, he got mad at me. He didn’t let me leave his house anymore, and…I took the two eggs and ran away.”

Rem thought to himself for a moment. “What’d you do with them?”

“I couldn’t keep carrying them around with me, so I went to the market district at night. I left them wrapped in a blanket for whoever would see them in the morning.”


“If they hatched they’d be stuck there with him and he was getting worse every day. Anywhere else was better for them.”

“Do you regret it?”

“No,” she said firmly.

“I think I’d make the same choice. That is, I think I’m making that choice now.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’ll show you.”

The forest eventually broke to reveal cleared valleys. There were remnants of ancient roads visible from the air. Ione held onto the walls as Rem lowered the craft, anxious as the tops of trees whisked past.

They landed in the courtyard of an old mansion. The grass and trees were overgrown. Ivy covered the front of the mansion. Its glass windows were broken. A few small animals saw Rem and Ione walking the cart out of the landed ship and ran away into the tall grass.

“This is so much easier with two of us,” Rem said. “It’s in there.”

They walked up the patio. The door was painted to look wooden but actually had heavy metal bolts alongside it.

“I can go through the window,” Ione offered. Rem raised a hand to signal her to wait. A distorted fuzzy voice sounded from the patio ceiling, too unintelligible to make out. “It’s Rem.” More unintelligible fuzz. The door unlocked.

They walked through the foyer. The house creaked as the wind blew. Weeds grew through the floorboards and the degraded ornate curtains and rugs. There were signs of animals thriving throughout the house. Yet, there were still functioning camera and electronic sensors in the corners, tucked away out of sight. Rem walked by a table with an intact stone vase on it, picked it up and inspected it, dumped the dead plants from its base onto the floor, set it in the cart and kept walking. The long hallway led to a solid metal door, under no disguises like the front door was. It opened as Rem approached, revealing a platform on a sloped hallway. The doors closed behind them and the platform descended with a loud mechanical whir.

The basement was modern and pristine like nothing upstairs was. There were monitors and panels along the bright white walls and the floor was shining stained concrete. They walked alongside a long wall of black glass. “Here,” Rem said, walking up to a panel. He poked at the panel and the black wall of glass turned transparent, revealing a massive hangar behind the glass, filled with hundreds of perfect white spheres, around fifteen feet fall each. They were on a deactivated conveyor belt that snaked around the hangar floor.

Ione looked on in wonder. “What are they?”

“These pods were for my parents and their family. For me, and all my brothers and sisters. There’s enough rockets to launch every one of these out of orbit.”

“Orbit? Wh…what for? What’s out there?”

“Nothing,” Rem said. “Well. It was for escaping months of catastrophe they thought would go on down here. The idea was that the catastrophe would be so well-known rescue parties would come to…Oh, it was ridiculous. I know that. My parents were very rich and very afraid. Back then people thought this was what being realistic was. This was what being prepared meant, to them. They didn’t see what was actually coming their way.”

“Are we going out there?”

“Not us,” Rem said. He gestured to the cart full of eggs. “They can live out there, safe in their eggs indefinitely. We can’t.”

Ione was silent.

“Want to go in?” Rem asked. He poked at the panel and a portion of the glass wall slid away making an entrance to the hangar. “Let me show you what I’ve been doing…” he said, pushing the cart into the hangar. The cart’s squeaking bounced off the far-off walls as they walked. There were so many pods, Ione noticed. All so identical…so pure and clean…

They walked among the pods to the back of the conveyor line. He touched the side of a pod and a backlit panel lit up which he used to open its door. He had already filled it with an egg from last time. A lone red egg, sitting on a pedestal.

“I like to leave little things with them. Things from the vault I got them from,” Rem said. He pulled out the stone vase from upstairs out of the cart and carried it into the pod, securing it on the pedestal by the egg. “So they have something. Maybe it’ll help them.” He paused. “Ione…am I a monster?” he asked from inside. “A defeatist, a pessimist, all those words, sending the eggs out there. Making the decision for them. Giving up on our world so easily.”

She stepped away from Rem, looking over the rows and rows of white domes, the maw of the mechanical doors the conveyor bay led them out to.

“If we split up we can fill them faster,” she said.


The in-house illustrator for the Imbiber was handed the John Doe article, a two-day deadline, and the comment “something simple.” She reread the article wondering why God had forsaken her. Her first instinct was to do an image search on the poor creatures, but all variations on “lizard” came up with pictures of the animal. She lived in Roseland her whole life and had always doubted the existence of them anyway.

She filled out a sheet in her sketchbook with a scale pattern before deciding it was creepy.

She tried drawing lizards from memory, but they ended up looking like leather-armored tribal warriors (chest puffed out, head pointed down, turned-out palms grabbing at air, standing on toes, etc.) or comically depressed. She had no idea how to tackle the clothes problem. She knew her mental images of lizards weren’t naked, but what were they wearing? She wondered if she would even get called out if she winged it. She painted a messy stick figure of a lizard, before realizing the tail looked like a third leg. Shouldn’t overthink the design for an essay of someone venting in a bad afternoon, not to layer on any more bathos than was already there. Shouldn’t smother whatever small power it had, if it had any. It didn’t feel right. Not immoral, not unethical, just not...correct.

She drew a few thin lines and angles. Two V’s for horns, two lines for closed eyes, the bump of the nose, a hand over an armrest—it was all just a few chicken-scratches on a field of white. She emailed her boss with a title that read “draft.”

The boss responded: “Perfect.”

stealth firsties

interesting , I read all of it which I don't usually do, but gonna call BS on some of it. They absolutely have their own language, I have direct life experience, Talking to lizards, know many others who can confirm (I thought it was well known?). I'm wondering why "John Doe" wrote that, maybe they don't think no one will fact-check because obscure topic or bad research. It really sours the whole article for me. I want to say it's bad research, why only one lizard talked to? Bad sample size for anything. Still would like to see more done like this

they can talk? (↑ 30)

Good article but really I'm depressed now. I've liked that they are here, never thought what being here would be like

Finally someone writes this

Anyone else kinda wish they had the lizard write it? The writer was good but had a "I've got something important here" writing-for-the-awards vibe that got in the way

"space jester". I think I saw that guy. In Angel? I think he was a busker.

There's an official word besides "lizard," right? I feel like there was one but can't remember it for the life of me. It just sounds so derogatory

I worked with a lizard on a small research team, knew each other on first-name basis. AMA

└ fuck you Dave!

└ I'm not Dave...

>friends posting links to this for the first time today

>after 11am

why did they publish this

Fine I'll click on it, okay internet (↑ 213)

└ ikr (↑ 70)

they have jobs? Jesus I am old

I'm a lizard. We're online too! (↑ 112)

└ bull (↑ 9)

└ Add it to the list of things you have to imagine commenters might be (↑ 30)

prepared to back that up? (↑ 3)

└ [attached picture of scaled hand flipping off laptop screen with enlarged view of above comment] (↑ 290)

haha okay man (↑ 14)

you win the internet for forever. it's over it's won (↑ 29)

You missed something important my N8y, why was someone with his kinds of problems at Demi? message me


would be cool to hear from an original adopter, I've been interested in that since reading Ian Rennes's essays

└ hey I'm not the only one here that reads him. cool. yeah he's like the only guy, and it's all buried in comps of his essays & reviews from late-90's

└ What? tons of people read him here. But I agree, his essays have a forbidden vibe to them

└ He adopted a lizard? How am I just finding that out?

This made me feel guilty and extremely old. I remember the 90s hoopla but they always remained six or seven years old in my mind. Maybe in the hotter climates you glimpse them enough to break that image. I wish some lived here, I wish I could talk to them. I hope it would help

“You think Darius is ever like this?”

“We shouldn’t bring it up.”


Darius 1

Darius sat in his room. Ten minutes had passed and he didn’t have any more of an idea what he was doing. Nate was probably cataloguing every item in his apartment out there. This is what it felt like to blindly barrel out of your routine apparently. Too much for this week, too much for a year. Was he stupid? Did he get a contact high from an afternoon of public interaction? Enough to vent to this…this eager writer from some hip psuedo-newspaper that probably showed popular highlights on its articles. Was this the new him? Everything he just told Nate about himself—a lie that died the same night he told it?

He looked back down at his work desk and the old scraps. It looked like an unholy fusion of football pads and the innards of an electric blanket. Earlier versions were exactly that. This was what this was all about tonight. He made this contraption. He picked it up and put it over his shoulders, stretched out some wires and pads to reach his upper arms and lower back. He turned it on, and there it was. That same euphoria of turning the shower heat up, but it kept going. Warm, sleepy heat reaching from your torso to your extremities. He leaned back in his chair, happier. He could sit there for a while…but the feeling was ruined by Nate, still out there beyond the door. How could he bring up the heat pads to him? Walk out wearing them, with no shirt over it until he got it to stop burning them. No, he could keep a shirt on under the pads for a few minutes, it wasn’t going to spontaneously combust. Maybe walk out holding it, but then Nate would want to try it on right away and he’d have to see him wearing it. “Wow, feels warm!” His shirt explodes into flames. “Wuh-oh!” Hmm. He could lay back and go to sleep like this. Make Nate leave on his own. But with his luck, Nate would be scrambling eggs in the morning waiting for him. He shouldn’t have to feel like this in his own apartment, but it was his fault for not seeing this coming. His apartment wouldn’t be all “his” tomorrow either way. He’d see little things out of place, beanbag indentations. Nate probably has some lingering smell too. So many people carry an aura of their house’s furniture, candles, Febreze, thick flowery detergent. People shouldn’t smell like anything besides soap. Thick, unscented soap.

There was a knock on his apartment door. “Nate, can you get that,” Darius called out. How long ago it felt like Adam bringing up some clothes or groceries or bag of electronic components was a week-upsetting adventure. He wondered what Adam’s response to Nate opening the door would be. He knows I’m not a complete shut-in, but…he’ll probably curtsy and dutifully depart like he always does. From the sound of it, that’s what was happening. Nate offered Adam a water bottle. Huh. Taking the initiative there. And like that, Adam was gone. Darius had always meant to talk to Adam more casually, but every time it came down to it they would both play the professional and politely split ways. Yet he could vent to this stranger he didn’t even like that much. With the threat of his words being published and read by more strangers! Why are some things so much easier to tell strangers than friends? He’d been working his way to something with Adam. Maybe he could ask Adam to take something to the café where he’d be sitting casually at a table, they could just talk about something and not have to awkwardly stand in his doorway…in the certain times of a month he was actually in the mood to sit alone in public like that. Seemed cruel to make Adam go up the elevator and snake through his hallways every time.

…How pathetic. Schemes like this are supposed to be for people’s attempts to ensnare love interests they’re afraid to approach, not for people who want to be able to say “hey” instead of “hello” to someone who runs deliveries for them. He already hated the idea and that it came from his mind and seemed convincing for three seconds. Sitting in a café. Goddamnit. No, this wasn’t a new him at all. He was as himself as ever.

“Hey uh,” Nate said outside Darius’ room door. “Who was that?”

“Someone who I have do some deliveries now and then.”

“Oh. Yeah he just put the bags down and left. I’m gonna go home. I really need to be at my keyboard.”

Whew. “Okay,” Darius said.

“Thanks so much for all this, I’ll email you, okay?”


And Nate left. Darius turned the heat up and sunk deeper into his chair.

Darius 2

The article was out. The fruits of Darius’ venting. Everyone knew it, everyone in the halls and recreational rooms and cubicles of Demi. It came to everyone’s mind when they saw Darius walk by. It couldn’t not be the first thing on their mind. Maybe the article didn’t stop their day, but they saw it, scrolled on, came back to mind when he appeared in the background of the room. He knew it, he knew it.

A portly gray-haired man wearing a tie walked pass. “Darius,” he said, smiling. Darius returned a quiet nod. The man drifted on, the legs of his pants swishing past each other with each step.

The article had gone properly viral. Not the third or fifth biggest thing that morning, but still up there. It didn’t seem to be about the article’s contents though, more that people in New England didn’t know lizards could talk now. He had to remember what turns of phrases he said to Nate so he could never use them again. Did any of his verbal tics make it in? Any words he used too much? Thankfully it was his first vent like this in years. They knew he was reserved, they’ve never heard him talk about lizards or lizardhood. He didn’t talk about much at all. But he did work, as unhelpfully emphasized by Nate. It was all formalities with the legal upper-level people, but he lingered towards the engineers who liked his presence and his input, all while never really understanding what his job at Demi was. He called the engineers “friends” to Nate, but they probably didn’t know he felt that strongly about their presence in his life. To them, Darius was probably the silent drifter they enjoyed messing with. The lizard that’d show up to their restaurant and bar outings, sitting quietly and smiling at jokes.

Darius wasn’t the only lizard at Demi. Maybe it shouldn’t be that surprising—Demi was a massive company—but Darius was never knew exactly how many lizards even decided to work. There wasn’t even a hard number on how many lizards had been adopted. But there was another lizard at Demi. She worked in the marketing department, seemed adjusted. No special connections, she was just hired because she could do the job. Her presence at the company antagonized Darius, a steady reminder where he was in the company and why, unlike her. Of course, the engineers found this other lizard at the company and conspired to make her to run into Darius when he didn’t expect it. She found it funny, it made Darius mad. His attempts at fleeing the situations made the engineers all the more committed.

Darius stopped in the hallway. She was in the cafeteria. Just her. He looked around and went in the door.

“Hi Darius.” She had coffee.

His comments about two lizards being together in public. It all held true, but…he couldn’t be known as the profile’s anonymous subject. He’d talk to her, comfortably, just like the lizard from John Doe’s profile wouldn’t.

“You read that lizard thing?” Darius asked. Does she know?

“I couldn’t do it. Had my brother read it, he said it was maudlin. I’ll take his word on it.”

“Is that why you’re in this part of the building?”

She sipped the coffee. “You think it’s going to be a new thing?”

She knew she knew she knew. “I don’t know. How have your coworkers reacted?” Darius asked.

She looked at him, confused.

“To the article.”

“Uh…no one’s mentioned it. Should they?”

“They…mine haven’t either,” Darius said.

“It could just slip by with no one reading it.” She got up. “No one in real life, at least. See ya, Dare.”

Dare. The engineer friends used the same nickname. He nodded goodbye. She got up and left the room without his friends invading as was usually coordinated. The room was empty, and would probably remain empty with him still in it. He let enough time pass to not be associated with her exit, then went out as a courtesy to anyone else wanting to go in.

Sirvientes 1

Scott used up his quota of sympathetic sideways frowns for Adam for the week. Malcolm and Scott were always in the apartment, but they left Adam alone after realizing his weird embarrassment in his life-predicament had passed and turned into a kind of status quo. Amusement turned into annoyance into weariness.

“That’s almost in Arizona,” Adam said, looking out his room window.

“We’re right on the border,” the voice on the phone said. “If it’s convenient, we have a guest house, if you want to come at night and leave in the morning. It has air conditioning!”

Adam was warmed by the pride in her last sentence.

She told Adam the price she’d pay if he could come tonight on such short-notice.

Adam emerged from his room and approached Scott and Malcolm, watching TV on the couch.

Scott, I need to borrow your pickup,” Adam said.


“Twenty bags of fertilizer!”

“Are they making bombs now?” Malcolm said, not moving his eyes from the TV.

Adam smirked and shrugged.

“You…saw the article?” Scott asked. “I saw it trending this morning. But I’ve also been Googling some things recently, and you can’t tell what’s ever actually popular anymore…”

I read it five times. “Yeah. I saw it.”

“That’s it then?” Scott asked.

“There was no stopping that one. It was the one I walked in the middle of, gave Nate the chance to swipe the address book. It’s next week’s article I’m responsible for.”

“So this is…actually happening.”


Scott walked outside with Adam with a plastic bag to clean out the floor of his truck. Adam helped, hunching over to dig water bottles and napkins out from the crevices. Scott thanked him, then they traded car keys under the agreement he’d get it washed afterwards to remove any fertilizer smell.

“You have to kind of jiggle the AUX cable or else sound only comes out the right,” Scott said.


And like that Scott waved him off, watching to see how he handled his truck’s turns in the parking lot.

The employees quickly saw Adam’s unfamiliarity and probed him for what kind of project he was undertaking with the fertilizer, if he needed any help or knew about services the store provided. Adam tried to help the employees haul the bags into the bed of the truck, but they rebuffed him and did it themselves while he stood to the side.

The sun began setting behind Adam, pushing the truck’s shadow long ahead of him. Mountains came and went, turning in and out of view. The smell of the fertilizer snuck forward each time he slowed the truck, which conjured an odd nostalgia for childhood yardwork and wandering store’s garden centers. Adam didn’t remember the last time he needed to go out this far east. Nevada? There were things to do shuffling up and down the California coast, but it was hard remembering these breaks for highway exits and Cracker Barrels were part of the same state that held Angel. Arizona could annex them and he wouldn’t notice. Over the long distance, the towns felt random, arbitrary spots in a wider landscape people decided to plop down in. There were no reasons to have golf courses, palm trees, and tall hotels here and not thirty miles back, but here they were, and there they disappeared into the sun in the rearview mirror. Were they the remnants of old railroad stops and long-depleted mines? Even as the land surrounding the highway flattened and emptied between towns, there were regular billboards advertising museums and aged rock bands playing casinos, advertising to the city’s-worth of people moving down the hairline path cut through the desert.

It hit Adam that he could’ve bought the fertilizer at a closer town. He muttered a soft “fuuuck” to himself. Arizona needs its own lizard boy, anyway. Adam could handle the Angel metro.

His freeway exit. So small and unnoteworthy after hours of build-up. The off-ramp dumped off to another dirt road. It’d kill a lizard to live on a paved road, Adam thought. The visibility was still good enough to catch an upcoming wire fence and metal gate in time to brake. He parked and opened the gate as instructed, trying to spot the house ahead of him. The road continued on a half-mile onwards.

The house was on a small hill—two-stories tall, wide and circular with brick walls. The edges of the hill were filled with tilled rows underneath raised tarps to protect plants from the heat of the direct sunlight that had since faded. And there was, as promised, a guest house.

The road came to a series of wooden posts ending the path. A lizard was standing next to them, a shadow in the dimming light. Adam parked the car and the lizard walked up. Adam rolled the window down.

“Turn your lights off, you can park here,” the lizard said.

“I can drive up closer to get the bags out,” Adam said. The lizard eyed him, like he was waiting for a follow-up that wasn’t coming. He saw the bed of the truck and looked back at Adam silently. Adam chuckled nervously. “Hey, uh, what was your name?”

“Dominic,” the lizard said. “May is inside. My sister.” He turned around and started walking towards the house. “Come on,” he said. Adam locked the truck and followed.

Dominic was cold to Adam like many other lizards had been since Nate’s bombardment, but it was May he had talked to on the phone anyway. He checked during the call that they weren’t in the address book, and they weren’t—they were new customers, gave the address and directions like they’d never talked before. May seemed enthusiastic.

Dominic led Adam up a shallow cement staircase up the hill to the front of the house. Dominic opened the heavy front door and asked Adam to stay back for a minute and slipped inside, leaving Adam alone on the patio. Adam heard their voices inside but couldn’t make out the words. The door opened, it was Dominic again. “Come in.”

The inside of the house felt like it was still the exterior somehow, like a contiguous wall built on the desert ground instead of an “interior” separated from the outdoors. The same dark brick as the outside, dirt-colored floor, large square holes in the brick for windows. The walls were lit by lone yellow bulbs hanging from the ceiling. It was sparse but not empty, with enough plants, bookshelves, and cables around the ground to prevent it from looking abandoned.

“This way,” Dominic said, walking through to another room. It was the kitchen and dining room, normal stove and kitchen appliances connected to a thick cable that led out of the room. The room was lit by a series of lights pointed at the walls that made a soft ambient glow. May was setting a pan down on a long wood table, too long for a brother and sister to use by themselves. “Adam!” she said. She took oven mitts off her hands. “Want some?” She walked to the kitchen to pull plates out from a drawer. “Timing was perfect…,” she said, grabbing three. She laid them out in the middle of the table, two for her and her brother, one for Adam opposite, the wide ends of the table extending to their sides.

Adam knew lizards ate based on the groceries he bought them, but he never witnessed the act. He felt awkward, like he should ask to take his meal to the guest house so they could be spared asking themselves. No no, too risky if he was reading the situation wrong.

It was a Mexican dish, but didn’t adhere to any of the named orientations of tortilla, cheese, meat, lettuce, tomato. It seemed…homespun. Did they know that? Of course they knew that. He took a bite.

“Wow.” It was good. Very good.

“Grew everything here,” May said. The same warm pride he picked up on the phone. “Well…except the meat, of course.”

“Can we talk about this yet?” Dominic said. “I’m not going to last through an hour of pleasantries.”

May put her arm over mouth. “Damn. Hold on,” she said. “I’m chewing.”

“What is it? I can take it,” Adam said, looking between the two of them. He felt stupid saying it, playing macho, in a stranger’s house hours away from his. Eating their food.

“Twenty bags of fertilizer was a code request,” Dominic said. “You weren’t supposed to be on vacation this long. I didn’t believe it till you pulled up with the bags in the back.”

“I knew it from the first few seconds of the phone call,” May said, done chewing.

“We need you back. The Sirvientes are worse than they’ve ever been.”

“Vacation? Code request for what?” Adam asked, not sure if he should be nervous or skeptical. “I got all that fertilizer for nothing?”

May looked offended. “Oh, no, I’m going to be gardening all this next week.”

“We needed a failsafe,” Dominic said, “didn’t want to be talking about Sirviente matters over the phone.”

Adam looked down at his food. It was so innocent and welcoming. He looked back at the two lizards. He smiled, not having any words that made sense to say.

“How much is gone?” May asked in a hushed voice.

“I, um…” Adam stopped. All memories of lizards erased as of a month ago? “My business doing errands for lizards?” Dominic and May made small nods of acknowledgement, a good sign. “I didn’t have—I don’t have any memory of it. I got my first call for it a few weeks ago, as far as I know.”

May and Dominic looked at each other, concerned. “Wait,” May said. “You had no memory of ever doing it…but you started doing it when they called?”


Why?” May asked.

“Damn it Adam,” Dominic said. “I told you this could happen, going over to them. Don’t you remember that?”

“Honestly I don’t know who either of you are. I’m sorry.”

Dominic threw his head back. “Adaammm.” He rubbed his face. “That’s okay. We’ll fix it. You can still help us out.” Dominic stood up. “I’m going to go get him,” he told May. “He can do something.” Dominic started walking out of the light to the front door, leaving Adam and May alone. The heavy door opened and shut, out of view.

“The food is really good,” Adam said meekly.

“You always complimented it…” she said. “You’re either hiding your skepticism or taking this really well.”

“You can tell me anything about myself and I’ll believe it.”

“You wouldn’t be able to appreciate this, but…you’re so much like yourself, it’s unbelievable…You know what, if you don’t mind getting up for a moment, I have something to show you,” she said. Adam put his fork down and got up.

“I used to have one of those Polaroid type cameras…” May was standing at the bookshelf in the first room with a binder in her hands. She opened it up and started flipping through the plastic sleeves. “You know where this is going. Ignore these…” Adam caught glimpses of pictures of her, Dominic, some humans (her adoptive family?), pictures of their house as it was being built. “Here,” she said, gently pulling a picture out from the sleeve. She handed it to Adam.

The picture was of Dominic looking unimpressed—or any male lizard as far as Adam could tell. To the right of Dominic in the picture was himself, resting on a shovel, sweaty and grinning. He was at the correct weight he would’ve been two years prior. It was a sunny day, and they had just started the new garden.

“This is…” Adam trailed off. He looked happy in the picture. “How did I have all this time? I thought I was so busy.”

May took the picture back from Adam’s hands and tucked it back into the binder. “Dominic’s going to be back soon, and I need to explain something to you before he’s here…you don’t remember the Sirvientes, do you?”

Adam shook his head.

She took a deep breath. “I’m going to lay it out. There was a lizard born on Earth that wasn’t supposed to be. That’s literally all we know. We know that because someone was hired to retrieve this lizard—Is any of this familiar?”

“Someone, like, an alien?”

May continued. “That person created servants to find the lizard, but over the years the servants have split into factions. We help the Ringoan faction. The Ringoans are very no-nonsense about this, they believe in being open about the goals with non-Sirvientes, which is the only reason people like you and me even know about this.”

Adam turned to the side, hand to his mouth, thinking. “…Ringo?”

“Another faction of these people are called the Emanites, followers of Emanuel. There’s even less of them than the Ringoans, and they’ve tried duplicating so many times that most of them are grunts. We have the same mission, but our extreme differences in approach have killed off any shot of collaboration. They’ll do anything to retrieve the chosen one lizard, whatever he or she is. That’s why they’re dangerous. Thankfully the Franciscans have stopped them from doing any real harm yet, but they’re growing stronger. Maybe we’re giving into their threats, but conceding really is the safest route here. We have to find the lizard.”

Before Adam could register what he’d heard, the door opened. Dominic entered. “May? Adam?”

They turned to the door. Someone, human, entered after Dominic and stood at the end of the room—one of the “Sirvientes,” a Ringoan. The Ringoan was completely covered in dark blue wrappings, and the room’s glow haloed around its sides. The figure stepped forward and pulled the cloth from its face. It was a young Hispanic man. As he stepped closer inside the detail in the wrappings showed—ornately folded and prepared, a kind of complexity meant for conveying rank or clan. There was something abnormal to his head and face—looked distant, like a screen display buried under a thick plastic cover. Something you’d only notice on inspection.

Adam felt more at ease with the lizards than this other human.

Adam,” the man said. His voice was higher and less-imposing than his appearance, giving away his shared age with Adam. “Yes, his memory is completely gone. I can tell.”

“Is there anything you can do?” Dominic asked him.

The Ringoan walked around Adam, holding eye contact with him. “The Franciscans are good at what they do, unfortunately. Adam—they would’ve set up a codeword to undo this. Obviously they wouldn’t have told you it, but this is what you should be looking for. If you somehow have any way of contacting the same Franciscans, they should help you too.”

“The…friars?” Adam looked over their faces. “No? No. Of course.”

Dominic spoke to the Ringoan, “Do you think this is the first sign of aggression from the Franciscans? Taking out one of the most important Ringoan operatives?”

“Operative!” Adam interrupted.

“You know and see the widest swath of the lizard population, out of, well, anyone,” May said. “Why do you think we recruited you?”

“No,” the Ringoan said to Dominic. “It’s a misunderstanding. Or incompetence.”

“You said I could help,” Adam said. “How? I don’t get what I can do.”

“The Emanites have a certain motivation and focus, a brazenness I’ve never seen before,” the Ringoan said. “I’m not sure the Franciscans can stop all of them…In your deliveries, have you seen anything ‘special’ to any of the lizards? Something that would have activated the Emanites?”

“…no. What would that look like?”

“Exactly our problem…” Dominic said.

The Ringoan continued, “Anything at all?”

“There was an article published online this morning about lizards, it was really getting around.”

“When’s the last you saw it?” Dominic asked.

“Oh, bit before noon. When I left to get the fertilizer,” Adam said. “It seemed to be making the usual viral rounds. I haven’t been online since leaving to drive out here.”

“And no service out here, of course,” May said.

The Ringoan paced, thinking. “That might’ve done it. The Emanite grunts are volatile enough. They must’ve sensed it these past couple weeks.”

“Couple weeks? It came out this morning, though,” Adam said.

“As their minds get blurrier, those sorts of things stop mattering.”

May stepped up. “Can we restore Adam’s rank in the Ringoans? Now that he’s helping us again.”

The Ringoan turned to Adam. “The old Adam isn’t here. I’ll return your honorary role when he is.”

The two lizards looked at Adam with matching sympathy in their faces.

“Now,” the Ringoan said. “Dominic told me there was dinner.”

Sirvientes 2

Adam, it’s Dominic!”

Adam’s senses were hazy. He was in bed. Was it morning? He was in a single room, an AC unit loudly whirring outside. No, it was still the middle of the night. The guest house.

Dominic shut the door, sliding the locks into place. “Wh—Adam started. Dominic shushed him and whispered, “One second.” Dominic ran to the window looked outside. The AC finished its whirring and stopped, leaving a hard silence.

Adam tried watching Dominic but his neck strained and eyelids drooped. He fell back into bed. He would reawaken with half-awareness of what was happening, see Dominic in the same still stance, and not know how many minutes had passed. Or hours. He noticed for the first time that Dominic was holding a rifle in his hands.

“Why do you have a gun?” Adam whispered.

“It’s a pellet gun.”

Adam squinted. It was. Compressed air tank on it and everything. “Like for gophers?”

Sirvientes. Emanites. They followed you from Angel, it’s incredible. I’ve never seen anything like this before. Are you sure this is just over an internet article?”

“What’s a pellet gun going to do to them?”

“This is why no other factions duplicated themselves this much. They look threatening but they pop like balloons. Straight into vapor, I’m not kidding. I could have a bag of sharp rocks…Come here.”

Adam got out of bed and walked over to the window, barefoot. He followed Dominic’s finger to the bushes outside. “See?”

Sirvientes stood behind every small obstruction in line of view, a good ten visible even in the night darkness. “They’re all around us,” Dominic said.

“Are we safe?” Adam asked.

“I’m sorry but you need to get out of here. They’re going to keep coming. There’s no Franciscans out here to take care of them like in the city. Get your things together. Wait—

Dominic held Adam back with his hand. He turned and walked to the door. He waited. Someone yanked at the knob from the other side. They started pounding at the door. Dominic took a breath and reached to undo the lock.

“What are you—

Dominic unlocked the door and threw it open. He fired five pellets, hitting five Emanites in the head. With each pop of compressed air, the Emanite puffed away backwards, dragging the empty blue clothes backwards and to the ground. Dominic closed the door again.

“They’re nothing one-by-one, but if they get the chance to swarm you…” Dominic said, “Let’s go. There should be a clear shot to your truck. Now.” Dominic opened it again, fired three more pellets into the night and took off.

Adam chased after Dominic out the door. He was sprinting, feet pounding at the dirt, beelining to the truck in the distance. Dominic wasn’t lying, there was something alive in the dark surroundings, but they had run past it now.

Dominic stopped. Adam misjudged his speed and put his hands in front of him to stop himself against the truck bed.

“Aw, damn. The fertilizer,” Adam said, breathing hard. “Is there time?”

Dominic groaned. “Agh. May would kill me if I didn’t. Take this,” he said, extending the butt of the plastic gun to Adam. Dominic stepped off the truck tire into the bed. He hoisted up the first bag and threw it over the bed of the truck, slamming on the ground. Adam climbed up after Dominic and onto the top of the cabin. The roof indented below under his weight like a jar lid’s safety seal. Oops. A line of the grunts was walking towards the truck from the direction of the guest house. Adam aimed and hit the first one he fired at. After a few misses he had gotten the rest, but there were more out of the cheap pellet gun’s range.

“This could almost be fun if it—

“Behind you,” Dominic said.

“Shit.” Adam turned around and fired twice. The blue cloth rippled away. Another grunt was crawling out from the bottom of the truck. “Dominic!”

“Got it,” he said, and dropped a fertilizer bag onto its head. The Emanite flattened without resistance. “May owes me. Okay. That was the last bag.”

Adam slid off the top of the truck and the metal roof popped back into shape with a womp. “Drive out of here,” Dominic said, taking the pellet gun back from Adam. “Chase ‘em out. May and I are nobodies, but they want you, somehow. I don’t know how things got this urgent.”

Adam swung into the driver seat. “You sure you’ll be fine?” He started the ignition and the lights came on automatically. There was a wave of Emanites in its beam.

“Yes! Go!” Dominic yelled. Adam made an awkward U-turn avoiding the fertilizer bags, then floored it. He hit two grunts as he drove out of their property. The clothes kicked up across the windshield and over the truck as he drove, leaving the house behind in the rearview.

Sirvientes 3

Red woke up on a carpet rug underneath a coffee table. There was a cloth over his head, he pulled it off—it was the dry bathrobe Nate had offered him earlier in the day. A lifetime ago. Yes…Nate. Did Nate go out somewhere? This was Nate’s place…it was…intuitive. But the house was quiet. Or apartment, whatever it was. Red slid himself out from under the table. The ceiling was low and speckled with globs of drywall, the dusty ceiling fan was still, its two pull-chains reaching down towards him.

He was in a pool earlier, wasn’t he. He’d felt so tired recently, but his intuition was good, it kept him moving. Or, drifting. Maybe this was what alcohol felt like. He remembered something about…yes, the lizards getting some attention. There was a warm gratefulness he wanted to extend to Nate. The article! Yes. He read it after midnight. He knew where Nate was, so he went there. He missed his mark and fell into a hotel pool, but Nate found him, so it wasn’t all too off, was it? After he dried off he went back to Nate’s like he told him he would, but…Nate wasn’t here. What an awful rug. His head felt heavy. Maybe he should’ve gone to Sam, but she made it seem like Nate was the real force behind it all.

The air was stagnant but he felt a chill on his skin. The pool water? No. He had laid in the sun for an hour, two hours, completely dried off. That wasn’t it. He put a hand on the coffee table to lift himself up and stopped. His stomach sunk.

His hand was blood-red and glistening. His arm, his other hand, his chest, a deep primary-color red…where’d his clothes go? He felt his arm. It was raw and stung slightly at his touch, but it was dry. The scales were fine and silk-like, softer than he’d ever known them. He twisted his arm—there were bands of yellow and silver among the red, twisting and spinning around his arm and the rest of his body like a tattoo. The color changes were just under the surface of the scales, but still lush and vibrant like they’d been painted on. Red stood up and stumbled across a hallway to the bathroom. He turned the light on and stared past the mountain of combs and gels into the water-specked mirror. He stared into his reflection and laughed. Small bony horns had grown under his chin and on the ridge between his eyes. His two old horns had grown, curving downwards.

He looked like the devil.

The jolt woke him up like he hadn’t been the past twenty-four hours. He had his normal mind and consciousness back. Maybe. He still had no idea where he was or how he got there. He left the bathroom and noticed his old clothes, the black robes he wore as a council member of the Angel Righteous Charter. They’d get a kick out of this. He reached down to pick the robes and stopped. They were still being worn by a twisted, rumpled ghost of himself. It was his head, his body, but they were translucent, turned in unnatural directions, hanging out of the openings of the robe. He nudged it with his foot and it moved with no resistance.

It was his skin, his old tan skin. He’d molted, shed his skin like a…goddamn snake. He felt sick. In his life he had noticed small clumps of scales turn whiter, grow looser, and he’d scrub them off in a shower, never to tell anyone, but it was never more than a half-inch at a time. He stomped at his old skin, crushed it until it stopped looking like him. He stopped and the skin slowly folded out again. He reached down and crumpled together the old skin and robe into a ball. He walked into the other room, looking for a trash can. He found one by a kitchen counter and pushed the wad of skin and cloth so far down into it it undid the red bands of the trashbag from around the lid. He threw on two nearby boxes of cereal to hide the top of the trash from his sight. He never wanted to see the robe or what it held again. Nate could throw it out without knowing. He stopped and caught his breath.

Someone knocked at the front door.

Red rubbed his eyes with thumb and index finger, holding himself against the kitchen counter with the other hand. What?

More knocks. “Nate? Nate Traf-ford?” a voice called out. “Hey ‘John Doe,’ open up. You have the most obvious writing style in the world.”

Nate…I am at his place.

Red realized he was still naked, wasn’t he. Huh. He went back into the main room and put on the white hotel-branded bathrobe Nate gave him at the poolside.

“C’moonnn, Nate. Give us a comment? I just heard you in there. This would’ve been a lot easier if you just re-sponnn-ded.”

Who is this guy, Red thought. He opened the door. It must’ve been noon, the sunlight blinded him.

“I! So! Called! It! Wahahahah!” the man laughed. Red stepped out in the patio, eyes adjusting. It was a large man with a small face, a crescent of beard nestled under his chin.

“Who are you?” Red asked.

The man took pictures of Red while walking backwards. Red shrugged an angry “why?” at him. The man switched to video.

Giddy over his footage, he ran back to his car and pulled away. Red walked down the sidewalk towards him and watched him speed down the street. Did he have reason to be running from him? He remembered he was the devil now. Might have something to do with it. And the devil did just come out of Nate’s home. Maybe there was something going on here. Oh yes. He remembered, he’d helped the article along since it was published. Just a little shove. Maybe it did blow up. He remembered saying something about it to Nate at the pool. But what was “John Doe” about? He wasn’t sure. The car had a pastel lavender license plate, not the usual white and red.

No, no. Nate lived in Roseland. He looked down the street. The sky was blue at the horizon. That was wrong. The street was dotted with tall, sidewalk-disrupting trees. Cars were parked alongside the street with leaves and bird poop on the hoods. All the plates were the same pastel lavender and blue with a green tree in the middle. He was in Oregon. Maybe his intuition wasn’t as good as he thought. He could practice that later.

Red stood in the grass taking in the events. There would be no driving after the mysterious photographer. But Red knew where the man was going anyway. The man worked out of his house, not far from here. Twenty minute drive. The man was putting forth a lot of energy getting back to it, visualizing it, it painted a clear picture for Red. The man worked with his brother, who was currently sitting at a desk in front of a dual-monitors waiting for his return. A square outline of daylight poked through the edges of the blacked-out window. The brother was drinking from a can…of…La Croix, surprisingly, until a call came in through his computer, phone, and nearby tablet simultaneously. He leaned forward in the chair, looking for a safe place in the clutter to set the can down. He put on a gaming headset and picked up the call on his computer.

“Yeah I know you called it. Good work. … Yes, just posted. I’m writing the post now. … You know, what is he? … Yeah. Our comment section’s probably figured it out by now. Some variant. I thought they were all tan, tan-ish.”

“Just posted what?” Red asked.

The brother turned his head back to find the voice. He found Red standing behind him, in front of his locked room door. The man jumped and fell backwards in the chair. The wheels on the legs twirled freely in the air. The gaming headset dangled from its cord with the photographer still on the other side of the call. The brother stared at Red silently from the floor while a “Hello? You just fall out of your fucking chair? Hahaha fucking dumbass” came out of the headphones. The brother pulled out his dropped smartphone from the floor and held it up.

“Did you say I wrote the John Doe article?” Red asked. The brother didn’t move from his phone. He turned its flashlight on and Red squinted.

“The time is 12:30pm,” the brother said, “not even a full five minutes from my coworker’s initial picture, over ten miles away. We will prove this with timestamps and geotagging. The anonymous author known as John Doe has broken into the Media Unveiled offices to—

“Now you’re videoing this?”

“Live streaming!”

“Uh-huh,” Red said. Red stepped over him to look at the computer. “What is this.”

Step away!” he said, from the floor. “This is private property!”

Red read the screen, saw the picture of him standing in Nate’s doorway looking bemused. A bemused demon in a white hotel bathrobe. “Really?”

“Step away!” he repeated. “H-how did you get in here?”

“Live streaming, huh?” Red said. He smiled, biting the side of his lip, baring sharp teeth on the other side. He walked towards the camera. The brother lost his composure and scattered away off the plastic chair mat.

The voice from the headphones: “Dude, who is it? What’s going on? I just got a notification, we’re streaming? Is that you? I almost hit a car.”

The brother panicked. He was alone in the room, the door handle still locked.

Red’s short fall was caught by a bed of tall yellow grass. He stood up, brushing the dirt off. The entire sky was dark gray and overcast—it was sprinkling. Damn. No matter. Knee-high grass filled the entire field of view. There were only two trees in the distance, growing near each other. They looked stretched horizontally, unlike any trees that grew in the American Southwest. It worked. On the grass next to him, the photographer’s half-empty can of La Croix came along as well. Red kneeled and picked it up. He laughed for the empty savanna to hear.

Sirvientes 4

“John Doe,”

We know you’re Nate Trafford. We’re publishing our evidence later today. Any comment?


Unveiled Media Staff

Dear Nate Trafford,

It’s Roscoe again. You tricked me! Rereading my last letter will make me look pretty stupid now. (Why did I write so much?) But what a ride, huh? I should’ve seen it coming. It had to come from us. Maybe not “had to,” but it feels right that it has.

I’ve heard you can teleport and things. I like how you keep showing up on live news broadcasts. If that’s true you should come see me. I have eight million theories about what this could imply about our race and origins. I don’t know if you have time to check your email but if you do that’s really cool. Come talk to me about anything, really.

I also attached some more short stories I wrote if you want to read them. Tell me if you read them please and what you think.


(Fellow lizard)

Nate moved his hand from his face to resize the window to hide the view count, the related videos. He let the video replay. The lizard, standing in his doorway in Oregon. Nate could even make out the familiar walk-mat and upturned sandals on the ground inside. The lizard walking towards the cameraman until he ran backwards to his car, dramatically shaking the camera. And then the second video: ground-level cell phone footage of a dark bedroom, the cameraman scared and stuttering at the lizard standing over him, lit only by the glow of an off-camera computer screen. The camera whooshed downwards and the lizard was gone, frame-by-frame analysis revealing nothing. “Unveiled Media” had removed their original uploads after public ridicule over the cameramen themselves came in. Sam had researched them and found their blog, dedicated to conspiratorial criticism of all media outlets, with a penchant for uncovering anonymous sources and damaging leaks.

New comments flashed under the video player:


dammmnn he looks sick

>people still falling for viral marketing

Several commenters were referring to him as “Netanel” but Nate couldn’t find out why. Most just referred to the lizard as “Nate.”

“It’s not Red,” Sam said. “I just know. I talked with him for a good while, you know. He was new age-y, not a…chaos god.”

Nate got up and walked over to the room phone.

“What are you doing?” Sam asked.

Nate dialed for the front desk and asked for a new bathrobe. He thanked them and hung up. “Just wait,” he said.

Sam turned her attention back to her laptop. She was waiting for another batch of comments to load on the Imbiber’s website, but the servers had been strained over the past hour.

“He could at least say he’s not me. Just once,” Nate said, and sighed. “Do you think anyone will be able to read the article? The way anyone was able to this morning. Before this last hour. Or, or, or the next article, the one we’ve worked on, will Imbiber even publish it? All those lizards we talked to…”

The door rang. Nate got up to answer it. He thanked and tipped the maid and walked back with a bright white folded bundle. “Alright, pull up a video of him and pause it.”

“I’ll get that 4K one, the local news place,” Sam said. Nate laid the bathrobe out across the foot of the bed. Sam paused the video and looked up. The bathrobe had the logo of the hotel, three swooshes depicting sailboats, with the name and “Angel” underneath in small text. She looked back at the video—lboats, hotel name, “Angel.” The same white thin cloth, same pockets, same collar folds.

“See?” Nate asked.

“Wow. It’s Red.”

“I need to chronicle this. This can be the second article. Emergency article. You still have that pamphlet with his picture?”

“Uh, yeah, hold on. More comments loaded.”

“Also, I found a plane ticket. It’s not till the morning, but even that’s a miracle…”

“What’s the good in it at this point?” Sam said.

“For one, I can lock my apartment door.” He settled back down at his computer.

They both clicked at their trackpads in the silence between Nate’s sighing.

“Do you want to go to the pool?” Nate asked. “Just for the change of scenery.”

“Too hot.”


They returned to their laptops, both quietly trying to get a sense of what had just struck the Earth.

“Hey…Nate. I was searching your full name. Filtering for results before today.”

“It’s all results for that soccer player still, right?”

“Yeah. But, your old Imbiber articles…” She turned her screen for him to see. His usual black-and-white profile picture next to all his articles was replaced with the same faceless icon used for the John Doe article. His picture wasn’t anywhere on the Imbiber website. Nate opened his mouth to say something, but nothing came out. “Did they…”

“That plane ticket might be a good idea,” Sam said.

“I didn’t get any sleep last night. How am I going to get any tonight?” Nate threw his head back and leaned back in his chair, surveying the ceiling. “You can use my car if you want while I’m gone.”

Nate took a break to walk out into the hallway with two dollars in hand. He scanned the vending machine for something sour and gummy, but there was nothing. He settled for a pack of gum, stuck four in his mouth, and walked back into the room.

“Hey, uh, check this out,” Sam said.

“Mm,” Nate mumbled.

“Someone wrote, ‘You missed something important my Natey, why was someone with his kinds of problems at the Demi conference? Message me.’ And their username links to a page with a contact form. It was posted two hours before Unveiled Media uploaded anything.”


“Well, ‘N’-number eight-‘Y.’”

“Poor Darius…I hadn’t even thought of him this whole time. I wonder how he’s taking this.”

“Why didn’t you ask Darius about that?”

Nate sat back in the chair. “I was done with Demi.” Nate opened his laptop. “Send me that link?”

Nate opened the link. A blank page with a field for his email, a message body, a submit button. He typed “Hi. It’s Nate” in the body and sent it. His email inbox dinged immediately. A response:

Darius owns Demi.

Send me Adam’s book for explanation.



Nate smiled, impressed. Owns Demi? …“Apostle”? It was surreal, someone caring about Darius, Adam, the lizards, the real Nate Trafford at this point. Caring about Demi at any point. All while a lizard with apparent godlike powers was making rounds...it made no sense. Nate looked over at Sam hesitantly— was still flicking up on her trackpad, reading comments. Nate angled his screen away from her and went to the awful website of the copy store he was forced to register for to make the copies of the address book. The PDF of the book was sitting in his history section, he started the download and it finished quickly. Another ding from his email inbox.

Got it, thank you.

Most of “Demi” is in Darius’ name. Taxes/legal ownership with lizards is incomprehensible clusterfuck with artifact trusts, etc. Demi abuses this, evades nearly all its taxes. He has no power over Demi but they kick him some of the cash they save doing this. They’ve been audited repeatedly and it’s too dense to find anything illegal.

How do I know? Offer was made to me first. I turned it down, then they gave the same offer to Darius. He was a friend of mine then. He’ll probably tell you who I am, I don’t really care.

So basically, your first subject was covering his tracks. The neurotic introspective profile you captured was a ruse. He doesn’t really “work,” just signs things. Him deflecting care about lizards’ fingers on touchscreens? Helping his business. Not that it made it to your final paper! It would’ve been buried by Netanel anyway. Lucky us.

Please stop writing now.

Hope this helps!!!


Nate never uploaded the address book. Oh, Nate realized. It must be Alcinex. Adam said something about him. What is wrong with them?

Would he have sent him the address book? He was just downloading it to…consider it.

He’d been played, then. Thank God no one will read the article. It was already a curiosity, something for the “Early life” section on this new god’s Wikipedia page. But it…it didn’t make sense. This Darius that Apostle’s email described wasn’t the Darius who ranted to Nate that night. Darius had been at the Demi conference…but…it wasn’t everything. There was something to Darius that Apostle didn’t get. Or Alcinex or Mr. Rennes or whatever.

“Oh my gosh,” Sam said. “Red showed up on the video of this German kid’s video game stream. It’s too good.”

“I need to talk to Darius,” Nate said. “Before I go back to Oregon.”

“Be nice to him. He’s probably not taking this well. You have that in common.”

Sirvientes 5

“Hey Darius…how are you,” Nate said into his phone.


“I’m sorry if I pressured you into anything. If you have any regrets, I don’t think anyone’s going to read it now. Read it as anything besides this Netanel guy’s humble beginnings.”

“They think Netanel’s you. They don’t even care, it’s just a small accepted detail...”

“Yeah I…you want to meet anywhere? I think we both need it. I’m not writing anything, don’t worry.”

“I’m in a park. It’s two blocks south of my building.”


“Today’s been…a weird day.”


Darius had a park bench to himself. The rest of the benches were full, circled around a large fountain shooting jets of water into the air. Kids were running around, some strollers at the side at a safe distance from the wet ground. Where did they come from? A lost, wandering downtown breeze blew through the water and misted Darius. He was still wearing the custom semi-formal style of clothes he wore for going to Demi, long-sleeved and collared. His tail had fallen through the back of the bench. Nate kept his tangent about keeping it tucked behind a leg in the finished article, so Darius was going to let it stick through the back of all his chairs now. He sprawled out and slid down, looking up at the treetops and bright sky. It felt good.

He was misted with water again.

Darius,” Nate said. He was standing in front of him with bags under his eyes. He raised his hand in a wave. Darius nodded and looked back up at the sky. Nate sat by his side at the bench.

“Was the article any good?” Nate asked.

“I’m the last person who could answer that,” Darius said.

“I should send you the follow-up. I’ll finish it if you want to read it.”

“Did we make Netanel happen?” Darius asked.

“I think we caused it to happen this weekend versus some other day. That’s probably the extent of the hand we had in it.”

“You were supposed to tell me I’m dumb to think that…”

“He told me it was a sign he didn’t know he was waiting for…something like that.”

“Wait, who? Netanel? You talked to him?” Darius said, and shook his head. “Of course you did. How easy it was being a lizard the day I decided to vent about it. How stupid I was. What I’d do for it to just be yesterday. Do people think I’m going to be that? And I don’t know, honestly I don’t know. Will I wake up like him one day? Are we here to do this? Was trying to live a normal life here…a stupid pantomime until this kicked in…” He stopped asking questions. The mist hit both of them, Nate squinted. A mother was consoling a wailing child.

Darius…” Nate said. “Do you have anyone to talk to about Demi?”

Demi?” Darius asked.

“Do you have to guard it from everyone you know?”

Darius stopped sprawling and shot up, alert.

“Don’t worry, I’m not writing a word about it,” Nate said.


“Mister R-something.”

Darius slouched forward, put his elbows on his knees.

“Just tell me…it wasn’t a put-on?” Nate asked. “All the worrying, the wanting to keep the public eye off the lizards. It wasn’t keeping the public eye off Demi, how its touch screen couldn’t—

No.Darius said. “Look at me.” Nate turned, made eye contact. “No.

“Okay,” Nate said. “I believe you.” They both looked off. “Why’d you talk to me?” Nate asked. “Initially.”

Snarky responses filled Darius’ head. They were lies, though. “You were the first person I’ve heard say the word ‘lizards’ without ten seconds of ‘um’s or ‘you know’s. That counts for something.”

“Thanks, I think,” Nate said. “You didn’t answer me about Demi.”

“Maybe I did have an ulterior motive,” Darius said. Don’t do it, don’t do it—he began pulling his long sleeve up his right arm. There were thin metal bands wrapped around it. Nate wouldn’t care, what are you doing. Stop this. “I made this. I’ve got it on my chest and back, too,” Darius said. He undid a button in the middle of his shirt, showing the dark metal below like a thin bulletproof vest.

“What is it?” Nate asked.


“For what?” Nate seemed oddly enthralled. Darius was confused.

“…Every air-conditioned room is about…twenty, thirty degrees below where it’s comfortable for us. And once you get to that temperature, it takes a while to warm up again. It took me a while to find out it wasn’t like that for other people…”

“You serious?” Nate said. “Wow! And that works?”

Darius looked over Nate with caution. He seemed earnest, boyishly curious. “I need to work on the battery and overall comfort, but…”

“Damn! I so would’ve plugged it…” A sadness washed over Nate’s face. “I would’ve. I don’t know if I’ll get to now…”

“It can’t come from me,” Darius said. “There’s no way. It can’t.”

“I’m going to the Imbiber offices first thing tomorrow after I get home, I’ll get this all sorted out. Thank you, Darius! I need to pack, I need to get some sleep so I can…”

Oh no, Darius thought.

“Don’t say goodbye, we’ll be meeting before you know it!” Nate said. He walked backwards, smiling, then ran off past the fountains.

Sirvientes 6

A boat was approaching. Its motor reverberated through the seawater. Auto woke up without moving, ready to snag any skittish creatures fleeing from the loud vibrations. The boat soared past, rising and crashing on the crests above. In Auto’s peripherals, something from above moved to his side. He launched through the water and caught it in his hands—it was an empty glass bottle, thrown from above. “Crown.” Idiots. He rose to the top of the water to watch the boat ride off. There were more people on the boat than there should be, along with loud music and intoxicated laughter. Tourists. He thought about sabotaging their boat, but the rocky waters would take care of it sooner or later. Where did they come from? It was no matter, his rocky bay wasn’t as safe as he expected. He swam to the shore.

The sun dried him off. He rubbed the salt and sand off his skin. He hadn’t been out of the water for almost a week now and his eyes weren’t adjusted to air yet. He didn’t have much to collect or hide. He was proud of his fire pit, even though he was too lazy to cook most things he caught. He covered it up, kicking its ashes back into the sand.

It had been a while since Auto visited the empty warehouse on the wharf. When he used to visit regularly, there would be a collection of servants waiting for him so they could give their trivial status updates and ask him questions he didn’t know the answers to. The servants had gotten weird, doubling in numbers and growing more esoteric and stupid in the process. They developed factions quicker than usual and their philosophical quandaries strained Auto’s patience. They were more confused and discontent on this planet—it was either a bad batch or something wrong with the planet, the atmosphere.

Was it a Sunday? He figured he should return to the warehouse just in case. He didn’t remember what day of the week it was, or the month for that matter. It was the planet’s warm season for sure. The cold season had been unpleasant, but he’d endured worse.

Auto swam through the sea, his long wave-like fins extended out to propel through the water with an effortless speed. The water grew warm, dirty, and loud as he neared the Costero port. The water was chopped and disturbed by the wakes of the massive boats that passed through the waters to dock there. He picked a shaded spot close to his warehouse to leave the water. He was uninterested in covering himself for anyone who might see—the dock was empty.

He walked up to the warehouse and stopped. Water dripped off him onto the ground in quiet tp, tp, tps. The front of the warehouse was covered in red flags. They were stuffed into the door, littered on the ground, even taped to the wall. There were red rectangles spray-painted on the walls, red bandanas tied around long-dead light poles. An ocean breeze blew and sent flags skittering along the ground. All around the vicinity of the warehouse there were red flags caught in the corners of chain-link fences, collected in ditches, floating in the water below the boardwalk. Auto was scared by the display. It was quiet outside, an apocalypse could’ve wiped out everyone as far as he knew. Except for the boat assholes. There were no servants to be seen. He walked up to the door and moved it, small red flags falling from the disruption. The warehouse floor was covered in red. Auto stepped inside, the thin paper flags sticking to his wet soles. There wasn’t a servant inside. Had they gone rogue? It happened before. It was a good thing, it meant their fevered motivation was finally beginning to kick in. But still, to give up on the warehouse after all this effort…it was unlike them.

The metallic smell of a handful of coins filled the air.

Auto stopped. “So they’re getting serious with their efforts now, are they?” Auto said, looking around.

“Hello, Autochthon,” a voice said in a language he hadn’t heard for many years.

Auto looked up. A toothy mouth smiled from an inky collection of limbs attached to the warehouse ceiling.

“S21,” Auto said. He knew her name but called her by her official designation. “What did they offer you?”

S21 dropped from the ceiling and folded into nothingness before she hit the ground. A blast of air whirled the red flags in a circle and broke up, leaving only the thick smell of iron in the air.

Sirvientes 7

Malcolm pulled into the full parking lot off of University and hunted for a parking spot. The Angel Righteous Charter’s biweekly meeting started half-an-hour ago, making him ninety minutes late. It was all good, he’d roll in cool. Because he was cool. He didn’t think he had pregamed that hard, nowhere as hard as usual, but now it was difficult finding a spot, judging the spaces between each car. So many cars.

Malcolm walked in the converted church’s hallway. An unfamiliar speaker’s voice bounced through the brick walls. A guest speaker? Malcolm got to the main doors, perfecting the cool bob he’d walk in with. He pulled the door handle and it squeaked loud on its hinges.

Everyone in the room looked at him. Just like he feared. He scooted in and stopped—they were still looking at him. They had a look to them, like they wanted some reassurance only an outsider could bring. The crowd was bigger than usual, lots of people in the same dark blue. The circle of podiums were empty, missing their Righteous council members that stood behind them. There was only one person up at a podium, the speaker.

When does he come here? What has he said to you all?” the speaker called out. He regained the room’s attention, including Malcolm’s. The speaker was fully covered showing no skin at all. He was holding the flowered dark robes of a council member in his hands. And something else—Malcolm tried to make it out. Then, it hit him—the skin of the lizard council member was still inside the council robes.

Malcolm’s palms stung from hitting the door on his sprint out of the building. He was back in the parking lot already. Looked behind him, no one was after him, but he kept running. Back in the car, starting the engine. Driving to Scott’s. Driving to Scott’s. Driving to Scott’s.

Adverb. Adverbial. Advergame. Adversarial.”

Adam lazily swiped through reply chains talking about Netanel. Someone set up a public document tracking Netanel’s every move and sighting. Adam tried opening it and it slowed the browser down short of crashing it. Over a hundred guests were viewing it, and a few people were making changes and causing the text to move up and down as they wrote and repositioned cells. He closed it before it took the browser down with it.

Adversary. Adversative. Adverse. Adversely.

Another poster was joking about conjuring Netanel by chanting his name in a mirror in a dark room, to which a couple horrified responders reported actually worked. One had a picture of Netanel standing in their bathtub. A later responder said Netanel showed up and told him to tell the others he was ignoring “the Bloody Mary shit” from now on. Later responders confirmed the lack of results.

Messages over eight hours old felt like relics from an innocent past. Too much was happening every hour. Yet even in the oldest messages Adam found while hunting for the first shocked reactions, there was a population already tired with Netanel, tired of the people that were learning the newest info for the first time. Surely Dominic and May have figured out what’s happening by now? But they made pains to not talk about it over the phone. Were they paranoid? They’d want to hear he made it back safely. Yes, he’d call them later. Ask about the garden.

Adversity. Advert. Advertise. Advertisement. Advertiser.

Adam heard Malcolm enter the apartment from his room door. “Scott! Is Lizards here?” Adam got up, “Lizards” was Malcolm’s nickname for him now. Adam opened his door. Malcolm had an expression Adam didn’t see on him much—terror.

Malcolm sat at the corner of the dinner table with enough free space carved out to set a water glass. “They were holding up his…his skin,” Malcolm said.

“Doesn’t mean he’s dead,” Scott said. “Or that they murdered him. Do they molt, Adam?” Scott asked.

“I don’t know,” Adam said.

Righteous was supposed to be a pure place,” Malcolm said. “It was my only pure place…”

“They’re called Sirvientes,” Adam said. “If you actually see any, it’s the Emanite clan, one that slipped through the cracks of the Franciscan clan. They all want Netanel. That’s it. They’re not even real people. If they come up to you—which they might because of your association with me—just yell at them, like dogs. Or kick them, they’ll poof away. It’s only in numbers they do anything.”

Malcolm stared into Adam’s face. An intense study, looking for the telltale signs of fuckery. Adam had nothing to signal but complete neutrality. It scared Malcolm more. “How the hell are you taking this so well?” Malcolm asked. “Freak out at least a little! C’mon! You were good at it a while ago.”

“This is only like, a third more weird than last month,” Adam said.

“You do want this, don’t you? All of this,” Malcolm asked.

Adam shrugged.

“And what the hell is coming from your room?” Malcolm asked. Malcolm and Scott stopped and listened.

“I had the Franciscans wipe my memory of lizards so I could take a break, but it hasn’t worn off yet, so I’m listening to a computer voiceover of the dictionary to find the codeword that manually overrides it.”

“You’re insane,” Malcolm said.

Adam ate tortilla chip shards from the bottom of the arm-length tall bag on the couch in the main room with his feet up next to Scott. Neither of them felt like stopping the autoplay countdown for the next episode. Scott glanced over at Adam as Malcolm’s friends walked in throughout the night, but for the first time he showed no signs of caring.

Adam…?” one of the friends said.

“Hey,” Adam said, and kept eating.

“Can I, uh…” the friend said, holding a vaporizer. “It doesn’t smell.”



Malcolm was on the other side of side of the apartment, head in his hands. The younger crowd was over that night, Malcolm couldn’t face any friends from Righteous yet. The swaying, papery skin…the robed men…all identical…

“Yeah, that’s enough. What’s something else good to throw on?” Adam asked.

“Whatever you want,” a friend said. The friends were all looking at Adam instead of the TV. Scott noticed it too.

“So…Adam…” one of the friends started. “Have you…seen him?”

They were all staring intently, awaiting the answer. “Nope,” Adam said. He crumpled his empty bag and walked over to the kitchen trash can. They all watched him walk over. He tried smooshing the trash down, but it didn’t give. Already packed down too many times. “Be right back,” Adam said, pulling the bag out.

Adam rounded the corner outside the apartments towards the dumpster. A Sirviente was standing alone. Okay. Adam breathed in, out. The Franciscans weren’t doing that good of a job, then. The Sirviente didn’t move. Adam lifted the trash bag, holding the bottom with his other hand. Pretty good heft. Should make a nice poof…He walked up closer, waiting for the Sirviente to make a move that never came. Still just standing there. Adam swung the trash bag back and forth, gaining momentum. He walked up swinging the bag, and threw it into the air. It arced straight into the Sirviente’s face. Direct hit—the Sirviente fell straight back onto the ground and moaned. Soda cans and tissues scattered onto the ground. “What the hell,” the Sirviente said.

“You’re…not an Emanite?”

“Yeah I am!” He pulled off his head wrappings. It was…

Charles? Freshman?Adam asked.

“I know your secret Adam. You’re a Ringoan. They told me.”

“…It’s…not a secret. I’m not though. Wait, what? You’re an Emanite?”

“They fixed me. Like the Franciscans fixed you. From all the illusions we lived in.”

“Wait—do you know where the Franciscans are?” Adam asked.

“I could tell you. Maybe. Saaay, you know, you doing all that lizard stuff. You must see a lot of liz—

Adam picked up the bag of trash from the ground. “I haven’t seen him.”

A higher pitched voice came from the side of the dumpster, a familiar voice. Someone Adam’s age. “Get out of here, kid. You’re not one of us.”

Charles took a defensive stance. Another Sirviente was leaning against the metal of the dumpster, with his hood off. The same face Adam saw at Dominic and May’s.

“And take those robes off,” the Sirviente said.

Charles stepped backwards, not primed for these kinds of encounters. He turned and ran. The Sirviente turned to Adam and chuckled.

“You’re a…Franciscan?” Adam asked.

“I’m going now.”

“Hey, help me out! Please!”

“The Autochthon hasn’t instructed us to. I’ll just say…you’re wasting your time with the dictionary, we don’t use single-word code phrases, okay? Good luck Adam.”

Damn. “Wait—

The bottom of the bag had turned from chip shards to crumbs to dust. Adam hoisted himself off the couch and walked up to the can to throw it out—the can was empty, a fresh new bag in place.

“Wasn’t this just…” Adam started.

Ah. He remembered now. Franciscan putting some distance on himself. Goddammit.

Sirvientes 8

Nate carried his suitcase off onto the street, fresh from the airport. Back in Oregon, back in Roseland, back at his street, back at the small familiar places where he knew where everything was. His front door was closed, maybe his neighbors could be relied on for something after all. He wanted to get to the Imbiber offices right after but his bed was…right there inside, calling for him. How much of the planet had seen his doorstep now? A stupid article idea came out of nowhere, an old kind of idea he would have. What’s it like having half the planet watch your porch be the scene of…He should have asked the driver if he recognized the yard-front. Maybe the start to all this didn’t mean much at this point. It was just trivia now. Red, or Netanel, or whatever his name—he jumped around at a dizzying pace, visibly drunk off of his own mayhem. There was nothing calculated about it, just a feedback loop. Nate wanted to sleep on the flight but his attention and adrenaline spiked at every hushed conversation on the plane, wondering if they were talking about it. And they often were—but on levels of casualness Nate didn’t understand. The lizard looked like how he looked, he was clearly teleporting, but it was undramatic, usually off-camera.

Nate opened his front door and walked inside, wheeling his suitcase behind him.

The apartment was filled with silent people. They were faceless, identically covered by a dark navy cloth, not a single inch of skin showing in the whole room. They filled the kitchen, the main room, the hallway. They were sitting on top of the furniture, standing in open closets, behind the blinds.

All their heads were pointed at Nate.

Nate was silent, turning to look at all of them, waiting for an action. He was outnumbered, ridiculously, too bewildered to do anything intelligent. His kitchen trash was upturned and poured over the floor, some cereal boxes on the ground. He hadn’t finished those boxes yet, did they—did they eat his cereal?

A lone voice spoke. “Nate Trafford? The writer?”

“Yes,” Nate said.

The room mumbled. “He speaks the truth.” “He is the writer.”

“What’s going—

The intruders walked towards him from all directions. The closest ones extended their hands and placed them onto Nate’s shoulders. The intruders placed their hands on the heads and shoulders of the inner ring, until the entire room made a web of arms all pointing to Nate in the center.

A falling, or sinking feeling.

The floor began to droop downwards under their weight, like the center of a trampoline being pulled below through the ground.

“Shit shit SHIT SHIT—Nate reflexively broke free of their arms. The floor was a funnel, stretching down, he tried to climb over their heads. He felt loose hands try to tear at him. Someone got him by a handful of his hair and pulled. He fell back and they were pulled down together.

The open front door swiveled loosely on its hinge. The apartment was empty.

Sirvientes 9

A lizard named Jay sat in the passenger seat of Mr. Rennes’s parked Jeep. Mr. Rennes was knocking at the doors and windows of a lone desert house, yelling at the inhabitant to come out. Mr. Rennes would pace before changing his approach and taunts. He finally walked back to the Jeep and climbed in without opening the door, swaying the car when he landed. “Okay, they’re not here. I’m thinking we head downtown.”

Mr. Rennes came to Jay’s house in a similar way. Pounding at the door until he opened it. Jay was surprised at the sight of a lizard in his doorway, his large threadbare Hawaiian shirt flapping in the hot breeze, bearing his teeth in a wide smile. “Jay! Come with me.”

Mr. Rennes drove fast with his left arm hanging out the window. “This Netanel is a total fraud, you know. But that shouldn’t stop us from taking advantage of an amazing opportunity. We went from sad worrying bus riders to dangerous god beings in the course of a single day! If we lizards can’t take advantage of our lizard god showing up now, when can we?”

Jay looked at him, Mr. Rennes caught his eye and double took. “Hey, I didn’t call you a sad worrying bus rider. You’re out with me, on your own accord, aren’t you? We need the lizards who wouldn’t go out on their own accord. We need to inject the triviality, the spontaneity back into their inner lives! And how? Confrontation, the real world, a physical encounter! No essays, no structured philosophy they can mull over still inside their internal worlds. Their inner worlds is where they need to be pulled out from. Go turn around and open up that cooler, I’ve got something ready.”

Jay unbuckled his seatbelt and turned around, there was a small red cooler in the backseat floor. He opened the lid—the cooler was full of small balloons of all colors, jiggling as the car bounced. “Water balloons?”

“I’ll show you what those are for later.”

Jay admired Mr. Rennes from their short time together, he seemed to have something he didn’t. He didn’t get Mr. Rennes all the time but he stayed quiet to see what it was Rennes had control over that he struggled with. “This is good,” Mr. Rennes said, pulling into a metered parking spot. He parked and swung out the side, swaying the car as he left. Jay opened the door and stepped out. After getting the meter to accept Rennes’s card, they walked down the sidewalk, Rennes laying out his personal manifesto, Jay listening quietly.

It was hot and cloudless and most people outside were in fast transit from one AC to another. They crossed a road, passing a vitamin store, a deli. Mr. Rennes appeared to have a destination but he didn’t waver from his speech.

“This is absolutely the best time to be alive, do you see how everyone cowers? Look for it the next people you pass. The internal decision-making when they see us.”

A man was eating a sub on a bench, the only soul not minding the heat for the last few blocks. He chewed slowly. His looked over to Rennes and Jay before casting his eyes down immediately. Rennes stopped in front of him and leaned in, turning back to Jay. “See? See what I mean?” The man jumped, tucked his sandwich closer to his body, looking between the two of them. Mr. Rennes laughed and walked on. Jay stopped, feeling he owed the man an apology. It was too late, too weird to do it now. He hesitated, then fast-walked to catch up with Rennes, resisting the urge to look back at the bench.

“Where are we walking?” Jay finally asked Mr. Rennes.

“Other side of the street, the bodega thing. We have someone to meet there, ‘Nell.’”

Mr. Rennes walked into the grocery store confidently. Back straight, shoulders back, arms swinging dramatically. Jay noticed his own walk in comparison, quiet and sneaky, the walk of not wanting to be seen. Could he walk like Rennes, or was it too obvious he was copying him? It was a small store, with the high-stacked aisles and dirty white tiles of every local store, older people at the front counter with the accents and personal drive to signal they were also the owners. Rennes turned down the first corner, finding a few tables in the back next to an employee door. A lizard sat by herself at a laptop. Rennes stopped and struck a pose. “Nell?” She looked up slowly.

“Oh no,” she said.

“Come take a walk with us, Nell. Isn’t it odd, just we three lizards all here together?”

“I told you everything I needed to tell you on the phone,” she said. “And who are you, his lackey?”

Me? Jay thought.

“You’re not going to talk to Nate or Netanel or John Doe, are you?” Mr. Rennes asked.

Nate hasn’t called any of us anymore!,” she yelled. “It’s just you!”

“You’ve had the same routine sitting in here every day for so long it was marked as your ‘address.’ What did you need Adam Hartage for when you’re in a grocery store? Don’t you think it’s kind of—

Adam Hartage?

“Alright Jay, let’s see if we can’t park the car any closer…”

“I, uh…” Jay said hesitating. “The…cooler?”

Mr. Rennes widened his eyes, nodded a “duh.”

“What the hell!” Jay said, louder than he meant. He turned to Nell, “He has water balloons.”

“You were actually threatening water balloons? On the phone? I thought you were joking!” Nell said.

“Jay!” Mr. Rennes took a step back from the two of them. “You’re a terrible follower!”

“I’m not your follower,” Jay said. “What’s your problem?”

Mr. Rennes balked, and looked between them. They were angry. He walked off out of the store alone.

Jay. Christ, what a narc, Mr. Rennes thought to himself sitting in his car. He waited to see if Jay would make a return, but he hadn’t left the grocery store. It became clear Jay had turned and he started the engine. I don’t need disciples. He put in directions for the next address.

Sirvientes 10

Sam filed a missing person report on Nate. He had texted her a picture of a pun someone wrote on a bathroom stall in the Roseland airport, so he made it that far at least. Her boss assured her he never came into the office. She tried to get ahold of someone to check his apartment to see if he would answer the door, first trying a round of old Imbiber employees. When they all proved unhelpful, she found an old roommate of hers who still lived in the area. She reported back a negative: no answer to the door or signs of life from the cracks of the window blinds. She even asked the neighbors, who said they didn’t pay close attention to Nate’s comings and goings and couldn’t say one way or the other if he’d been around.

Each morning Sam woke up, she would camp in her parents’ sun-filled kitchen with her laptop, checking her email for any updates from friends and coworkers, checking Nate’s social media accounts for signs of life. She had stayed in Nate’s hotel room until the week he paid for was up. When that ended, she took both of their belongings to her parents’ house. Her parents fulfilled their duty of acting like it was the most normal thing in the world, greeting her back like she had just gotten back from summer camp. She had trouble believing she spent her whole life here, before Roseland.

Sam’s younger sister walked into the kitchen, fresh out of bed. She flashed Sam a peace sign before assembling cereal materials from the pantry. She took the bowl and a bottle of soy milk to the kitchen table. They exchanged “morning”s.

“If you’re worried about Dad,” her sister started, “he’s actually totally sympathetic to you with your asshole friends’ company thing. I was surprised. But I wouldn’t push this for more than…two weeks or so. Definitely make a show of looking around for something by Monday.”

“Aren’t you old enough to drink now?” Sam asked.

“Hey bub. You sure are.”

The doorbell played its musical chime, launching Sam into a deep nostalgia. Her sister went to get it. She reappeared in the kitchen doorway. “Someone’s asking for you, Sam. Do I tell him you’re not here?”

“For me?” she asked, as surprised as her sister. “No, I’ll get it…”

There was no way someone knew how to find her. Nate was the only one who knew she was staying here, and even he didn’t know the address. Sam walked to the front door and inspected the peephole. It was a man—short-cut hair, unfamiliar, swaying in place while inspecting the patio. Sam opened the door. “Yes?”

The man smiled. “Sam! I didn’t want to pop in. Er, teleport in. Scare anyone.”

“…What?” Sam asked, not opening the door any further.

“It’s me. From Righteous. We talked! Sorry about the appearance. Anyone around?”

In the spot the man was standing was now Red, or “Netanel,” in full-colored lizard splendor. “Eh, doesn’t matter,” he said. His hotel bathrobe had since been replaced with a darker material. Still a robe, but tighter wrapped, not evoking a bathroom robe any longer but not in full wizard territory either. She recognized the new outfit from videos of him taken the night before. “This is about Nate,” he said. “Can we go somewhere we can talk?”

Sam squinted cautiously. “Not inside. The backyard?”

“How about that hill?”

Sam stuttered, then her feet were standing on mushy soil. She and Netanel were standing alone among trees on the top of the hill, overlooking her parents’ house and her old Angel suburb.

Fuck!” Sam yelled. “At least ask me first! Fuck!”

“Sorry, sorry,” Netanel said. “Nate is okay. I can sense him. I just can’t find out where.”

There were a few things Sam wanted to say. Stop impersonating him, asshole. And worse. She blew out her nostrils and dropped it. “He made it to Oregon,” she said.

“If he were on Earth I would able to find him.”

“What does that mean?”

“There’s someone who can explain that to you. I found him tailing me. I left him alone on an island for a minute, do you want me to teleport us there?”


The soft soil turned to a fine sand. The bright morning light was now mid-afternoon. Sam was hit by a cold ocean wind, the soft crashing of waves in all direction. She only got out of bed twenty minutes ago, she couldn’t drum up the amount of bewilderment the situation required. In front of her a man covered in dark blue cloth was kneeling in the sand, pleading at Netanel’s feet.

“You have to return! You can make us all go away! You’re needed badly! I can’t make you go. Not alone,” the man said from the sand.

“Tell her what you told me just now,” Netanel said.

“Will you return?” the man asked Netanel.

“If you don’t want to be stranded here, tell her what you told me,” Netanel said.

The man in the sand reluctantly turned to Sam, who now wanted to be back home very much. He hung his head down before talking to her.

“We’ve failed in our non-intervention. Our business is between this lizard,” holding a finger up to Netanel, “our leader,” jabbing a thumb at his chest, “and no one else. You shouldn’t know about us. But a different faction doesn’t share this belief. They’re the ones that took Nate.”

“Took him where?” Sam asked.

“It’s a one-way…we only know how to send them on their way. It takes a lot of us. These people were…were imbeciles…they thought it was the lizard in disguise because they knew he wrote the John Doe article.”

“But Nate’s human!”

“Have you not seen the special one’s disguises? It’s not unreasonable to assume he might take a human appearance.”

Sam looked at Netanel who shirked her eye contact.

“Our deepest apologies,” the man said. “Though of course it’s Nate we need to give those apologies to,” the man said.

“I don’t know how to ‘return,’” Netanel said. “So tell your friends to leave me alone.”

Netanel flickered briefly. The man was gone.

“What did you do to him?” Sam asked.

“Brought him back to the hallway where he was spying on me. In Angel. They’re not human. Clones made for this sole purpose.”

Sam snapped. “You could’ve distanced yourself from the stupid paper on day one but you never did. Now Nate’s gone because they thought he was you. What the hell!”

Netanel didn’t say anything. Oh God, what have I done? Sam thought. She was on a minuscule island, nothing visible on the horizon, yelling at her only chance of getting off it again.

“I’m going to find Nate,” Netanel said. “I’m going to bring him back so I can apologize to him in person. I don’t know how just yet, but it’s only been a few days. I’m going to try.”

“Tell the world you’re not Nate Trafford then. Let people know he exists and is missing…”

SamImbiber contacted me. They…want to continue the John Doe articles. With me…and you.”

“Um…” This threw her off. More than the teleportation, more than the miles she traveled instantly. Or, knowing why she left Imbiber, maybe it wasn’t surprising at all. How weird her boss had acted when she was trying to get information on Nate…She put her hand on her forehead and nervously dragged it up through her hair, looking out at the sea around them. “So, they don’t want to publicly say the new lizard god hasn’t been a writer for them,” she said. She chuckled. “Is there housing?”


She looked out at the clouds on the horizon. “How are you the stoner I talked to last week?”

“Stoner?” He stepped back, hurt. “I’ve never done any drugs in my life.”

Well, it’s Red alright. “Take me back to my parents’ house, please,” she said.

In an instant she was in her backyard, standing on the wood of the gazebo her family built when she was twelve. Not on Earth…, she thought. You better write this well, Nate. For the first time in your life.

Avery 2

McCammon sat on the edge of his bed, the only available spot in the small windowless supply room Avery took as his own. “The seminarians are wrong to feel threatened by Netanel, but it’ll take time to talk with them. To any good outcome. If you don’t want to live in the seminary during this, you can stay with my sister. She’s a lawyer, has a big house, a family of her own…I’ve talked about you with her. Not Catholic, however…”

“No thank you,” Avery said. He was sitting at his room desk facing the wall. “I can handle it. No one’s said anything,” Avery said.

“I know the silence is worse. Please don’t hole up like this,” the priest said.

“…He’s given every answer and miracle the struggling believer could want. A belief I’m an actual fit for. My god has shown up, why am I still here? Gloating? I’ve got my own answers now, answers they don’t have the luxury of having. Why am I wasting my time with their questions? The questions they have to ask? But Netanel’s not a god. He’s godlike, but he’s not…I can’t have Christianity, but I can’t have him…”

Avery…how long has it been like this?” the priest asked. “It’s been before he showed up, I know that.”

Avery looked forward at the wall. He couldn’t make eye contact with the priest. “How long ago was it when we went to the library?”

“That long…weren’t you just fifteen then? Has it been this whole time? I wasn’t sure if it was the occasional funk.”

“This whole time.”

“This will pass. For others, not for you. People will get up for work in the mornings. They’ll wait in checkout lines at the grocery store. They’ll go to church on the days they go to church. But it hasn’t passed yet, and it won’t pass here for a while.”

Do I leave the seminary?” Avery asked, turning around to face him.

“If it’s unhealthy for you to be here…of course.”

“That’s not…giving up? Running from a trial?”

“Absolutely not. You’re hurting yourself alone in here.”

“What about what we talked about, presenting the important questions for the seminarians to—

“This isn’t about them, it’s about you now. Besides, you’re not doing that in your room either. Promise me you’ll go out?”

Avery promised. McCammon got up, though he knew it wasn’t a good idea leaving Avery alone. But it had to happen at some minute of the day, it didn’t make any difference when. He had nothing left to say and he left. Avery watched him walk out the door—it was the middle of the day out there. He didn’t know that. He had been in his room for two days. Ever since the news of Netanel’s arrival and first-day antics trickled in to the seminarians through phone calls from concerned family members, slowly-loaded news stories on their phones over the shoddy connection. Ever since he naïvely asked what was up, the awkward pauses. Looking it up himself…

Maybe if Netanel didn’t look so damn holy this could’ve gone easier. If he just turned bright green and found out he could shoot some kind of beams. That’s almost expected, isn’t it? Instead he turns deep red, grows these deep curving horns. Teleports, seems widely telepathic, or worse, omniscient.

Avery tried opening the Bible to a random page like he was supposed to, knowing how even his most memorized passages could hold something new when reread at the right time. But they didn’t this time. He never felt so distant from the words. He scanned the earliest books to see if the warnings of false gods and idols could feel relevant again, but they reaffirmed how he always felt about them—ancient commands for an ancient people, an eavesdrop on a dead culture, a dead problem. I am hurting myself in here.

Avery stepped out of his room and closed the door. His hand lingered on the door handle a second too long, two seconds, three seconds. He was frozen. Going inside would be easy. It took the thought of someone seeing him standing there to make him let go. He walked down the hall with its repeating square stucco pillars and open arches not knowing where he’d go. He walked through a courtyard. The new wing was complete and open, the last remnants of construction painted and cleaned away. Its construction was stop-and-go for unclear bureaucratic reasons but finally completed after three long years. Even after all that time it still jutted out in a way Avery couldn’t get used to. Its presence made the courtyard feel unfamiliar. He was out in the open now more than he was even on normal occasions, but that’s what he was here to do, wasn’t it? Where was everyone? His sense of time was off. The new wing’s double doors opened to unleash the shuffling seminarians out into the courtyard. There they were. What were they all doing? Did something just wrap up? Avery sat down at a bench, waiting for them all to pass. He sat still, letting the sun warm him, waiting for the conversations and footsteps to end.

Something occurred to him—he had no idea what happened the past two days. Out in the real world. Had Netanel started killing people? McCammon would have told him if there was something big, right? No—McCammon had spared him. He came in to tell him he should consider living outside of the seminary for the first time since he was born. He even talked to his sister about living arrangements. And now Avery the lizard was out here, in front of everyone.

He closed his eyes. His body was shaking. He prayed, broadcasting as loudly as he could:

get me out of here get me out of here get me out of here.

Avery opened his eyes. A lizard sat in front of him. Silent. The lizard had deep red skin and deep curving horns. Netanel. Here. No.

Avery,” Netanel said. He was sitting at the base of a fountain fifteen feet in front of him.

A circle of seminarians formed around Avery and Netanel in the middle of the courtyard. McCammon hurried across the courtyard and stopped at the circle’s edge, taking in the scene like everyone else. Everyone was staring at Avery, staring at Netanel. How long had he closed his eyes? Prayed to himself? “Hey,” the lizard said again.

Get out get out get out, Avery thought. Escape. Escape.

“Fine,” Netanel said.

Avery fell forward and trembled. His hands grabbed onto fistfuls of thin reeds. The sky was filled with yellow light—late afternoon, not yet the orange of sunset. The bright noon California sky was gone. He was bowled in by tall hills on the north and south covered in tall trees swaying freely at their tops. Avery squeezed tighter onto the dry plants, kneeling his head down to the ground. The ground was wet—a stream bubbled by somewhere hidden by the tall plants. The gentle peeps and songs of unseen birds filled the balmy air. There were no signs of manmade interference anywhere.

“Are you okay?” Netanel asked.

Avery gritted his teeth. “Where are we?”

“A place I found and liked,” he said. He was sitting cross-legged on a tree stump, hands on knees, admiring the hills, the sky. “I remember it by feeling, not GPS coordinates. Somewhere in the Northeast. There’s no damn Sirvientes here, I know that. California, the whole Southwest, almost all of Mexico is a landmine for me…but here…”

“I…hate you,” Avery said. He lifted himself and looked back at Netanel on his stump, taken aback. “Oh. I’m…” Netanel stood up from the stump. “I’m sorry. You wanted out of there. More than I’ve seen someone want something. Do you want to go back?”

“I can’t go back now. Can’t go back there. The whole seminary saw. Saw you…”

“I’m sorry.”

“I was taken in by them. After I was orphaned by my original adopters, before I had any memories of it. Got to know every year of seminarians, as they came in and out…”

“I know.”

Avery didn’t ask how but believed him. He didn’t care how. Netanel stood there, knee-deep in the reeds like him. They stared at each other with nothing but the soft noises of the idyllic scenery and the warm wind blowing around them. Netanel looked like he was part of the scene somehow, like he could blend in, fade deep into the plant-life and sleep for millennia…

“It is strange hearing your voice in person,” Netanel said.

“What do you mean?” Avery asked.

“I know I’ve only been like this for a week, but you’ve called out to me for…for years. More than anyone.”

“I’ve never called out to you,” Avery said. He turned and walk away from Netanel. He had nowhere to go—no, he had somewhere. He’d find that stream. Netanel trailed behind in the flattened reeds where Avery walked. Avery tried to ignore it. “Every night,” Netanel continued, “but all throughout the day too.” Netanel stopped at the side of Avery, maintaining polite distance. The stream was thin and wide. Green films of algae hung along the sides of rocks. Avery dipped his foot in the water. Icy, icy cold. It shot up his leg. He jerked his foot out and the air was equally icy on it.

“You’re wrong,” Avery said, immediately wishing he said nothing. He didn’t want the rebuttal.

“It took you two years but you finally convinced yourself you’re from Earth.”

Avery looked off, avoiding Netanel’s gaze.

“You’ve looked through all the self-proclaimed prophets of history, hoping one might’ve been overlooked.”

“I wasn’t praying to you.”

“You might have been. Accidentally. Either way I heard it.”

“All that…all that constant…”

“It’s why I found you, you know.”

Avery finally turned around to look at him. “Why did you tell me this? Why?”

“I know what having someone to believe in was like, thanks to your praying. And I know what it was like when that person…wasn’t there. But I am here. I want to provide a person like that for the rest of us. A god, a protector, someone to confide in, like you did unknowingly…but…is it possible to be that person and still be here? Alive, in the flesh, in the news cycle? That’s what I want to know. I’m new to this, but you aren’t.”

“Are you asking for help inventing a religion?”

“No. Why would I need a religion when I’m already here?…I’m a world figure now. I guess. And much more than that to lizards. And I need to handle that responsibility now. You, more than anyone, understand what we need to have—at least, you can tell me what I shouldn’t be. I do want to help. I spent the first couple days being stupid, I know. But I’m done with that now. I want to hire you.”

Avery turned and walked down the stream. He started an internal “God, I…” then cut it off. Praying was his instinct, for every small act of the day. No one could possibly have known about his researching the false prophets, not even McCammon. Praying, the replacement of all his inner ramblings. Did his prayers go to God at all, or were they intercepted by Netanel completely? Was he…was he incapable of praying to God? His prayers biologically diverted elsewhere? Sent down a different tube, like some cosmic mailroom? How long would it take to break this? His safest, most innocent, private activity, violated by Netanel. Violated for years before, constantly praying not knowing any better. How casually Netanel told him it too, didn’t he know the implications? How well could he really know him if he didn’t expect that to devastate him?

A watery thunk. Avery turned to look upstream—Netanel was throwing rocks into the stream. Thunk. Water jumped up from the ripple and fell back down.

“I used to think when God returned, no one would be able to know,” Avery said, walking up to him. “It wouldn’t be as a leper, an immigrant, that’s too easily telegraphed by the New Testament…it’d be updated, something we wouldn’t recognize today. Someone truly maligned, the absolute bottom caste, but he’d never show up as—

“A lizard?” Netanel asked.

“An asshole!”

“Well,” Netanel said, throwing another rock. “I’m not Jesus.” Thunk.

Netanel crouched for more rocks. There was a sound from behind them—Avery turned to look. A group of birds flew overhead out from the trees behind them. “Hey, uh, Netanel…” Avery said.

Netanel turned, rocks in hand. There was a man—older, bearded, hatted—at the top of the hill, looking down at them. He had a long hunting rifle in a zipped-up bag on his back. “Oh my god,” the man yelled, raising his arms. He stopped and laughed. “It’s you! Holy shit.”

“Shouldn’t you be getting us out of here?” Avery said to Netanel.

“No. Why not say hi?”

The man walked down the hill towards them, and Netanel walked up. Avery stayed put by the side of the stream, watching the rifle.

“Hello!” Netanel said. “My apologies for trespassing.”

“No! No, I…” The two of them continued talking. Avery tried to shut out their words, but the tone cut through—the man was bewildered but amused. And now making small talk with Netanel. Netanel was…oddly smooth, charismatic. What on Earth, Avery thought.

Avery!Netanel called. Netanel motioned to follow the two of them back up the hill.

The man lived alone, no visible family. He was wealthy—the house was huge and open with wood floors, stone walls, and wide windows. The man was a hunter, with antlers and other trophies of animals throughout. To Avery it felt like the house was a testament to a woodland, pagan god he didn’t know about. Antlered, primal, powerful. No. Not everything’s a shrine. He had been in the seminary too long.

Netanel was still chatting. “The teleportation’s really something,” he told the man. “You never really think about how little a sliver of the world is in the same time of day as you. I still have to fight the feeling I’m time traveling. Ohhh…” Netanel saw a taxidermied bear and ran up, distracted. The man dropped back to Avery’s side.

“You’re dressed nice,” the man said. Avery realized he was talking to him now. “Oh…yes.” He was wearing the seminarian outfit of white collared shirt and black slacks, as opposed to Netanel, who was wearing his usual robes.

“To be honest I’ve never met a lizard before. In person,” the man said.

“I’ve only seen four others myself,” Avery said.

Netanel looked back at Avery and smiled, biting his lip. Avery saw that lip-bite in the videos, but here he was getting a real one from the source. Is this what you do? Avery thought. Netanel kept smiling at him. Avery was unsure if it counted as a response to his mental question and frowned. The man hesitantly offered them food, but Netanel said they wouldn’t be around too long.

“Where are you going?” the man asked. “If I’m not being nosy, I just uh…this is all…kinda nuts to me.”

“California, weren’t we Avery?” Netanel said.


“Yes, we’re due back now. Thank you for hosting us sir, sorry for dropping in like we did,” Netanel said.


Avery lost his balance and stumbled backwards but caught himself. The light and heat of the California noon was back. They weren’t at the seminary. They were only a few streets from the coast, waves audible in the distance. They were standing on a city sidewalk, a few people walking down the road but no one up close. There was a line of cars waiting for the chance to scoot up three cars’ length and stop again, no faces visible in the tinted mirrors. The sidewalk was lined with upscale stores and cafés with patios empty from the heat.

“When someone’s obligated to feed you it means you’re overstaying your welcome,” Netanel said.

Avery was still looking around their new location. “Is this place what first comes to mind when you think ‘California?’” Avery asked.

Netanel smiled. “Pretty much. You could start getting how this works…”

I don’t want to start getting how this works.

Twenty minutes hadn’t passed since Netanel plucked Avery out from the seminary. A shorter amount of time could’ve offered hope it could be undone, but at this point a permanent thing had happened. He was here now, standing on the hot sidewalk as cars drove by. He could feel his weight on his feet. The seminary, the two days alone in his room, McCammon’s talk. How far gone that time was. How totally, completely dead. No part of him was ready to shack up with his captor but his home was gone. He knew it on an intellectual level but it hadn’t fully hit yet.

“It’s loud here,” Netanel said. “I need to take you somewhere…”

“Please, no teleporting for a minute, this is…”

“Juuust down this sidewalk,” Netanel said, walking to the corner. Avery followed. “I want to show you what I do when not on TV. So you can better consider my offer.” The light went green, and the backed up cars made their way out of the road. The same storefronts and patios continued on this road as well. No pedestrians in sight, or cars either. A lull in traffic? A green light from somewhere else would release an onslaught any second now.

“I haven’t come up with a good name for this, but it’s somewhere I can go to concentrate. Just slip into a point, walk around in it. It’s a good place to listen.”

“What are you talking about?” Avery asked.

“I’ll try to describe what it feels like for me. Imagine the whole world’s inside a giant box and all the inside walls are mirrors. I kind of…pull the box smaller. Pull it around a city block, a square of sidewalk, a single point. Then voilà, here we are.” Netanel looked around smiling, proud of his work.

“Nothing’s changed,” Avery said.

“Exactly. It’s the same essence. It’s really cool,” Netanel said.

“Uhh…” Avery said. “A mirror. Wouldn’t things be repeated or—

“It’s not a perfect analogy. Look—no one’s here. If you keep walking in the distance,” he said, pointing to a small mountain dotted with houses, “you’ll never escape this part of town. The gentrification, the extraneous medians with palm trees…It’s every factor that made the spot we came from, applied to our own little universe.” He walked out into the middle of the road. “See? No one here.”

Avery was skeptical in spite of the teleportation show he was given earlier. There was no jolt, no disorientation like the teleportation had, it did just feel like they rounded the corner. It was quiet—no cars, no pedestrians, yet it didn’t feel empty or abandoned. The roads and shops were identical to where they walked from, but a sunset-like light was cast on it in immediate memory, the mental afterimage shimmering away into a golden yellow. It’d feel wrong if something lived and moved around here, like an invader in a museum exhibit.

“I believe you,” Avery said, surprised at himself. How that sounded like heresy. But he did believe him. “Is that how you teleport, then? By doing the opposite, collapsing the space between down to a point instead of expanding a point.”

“Huh…I don’t know. Hold on, my little refuge is right around here…” Netanel said. He stepped over a patio gate into one of the cafés. He popped his head in the door. “Yeah, it’s this one. C’mon.”

Avery followed inside. The “café” was empty. The room and floor was bare except for a small twin bed in a metal frame with a small bedside table. The bed had a bright red blanket, and the bedside table had a water bottle and notebook on top of it. “I keep my things in here,” Netanel said.

Avery stopped. “Wait. How does that work?”

“It’s where I keep it, I don’t know.”

“Um…so…this is where you listen.”

Netanel nodded.

“What do you listen for?” Avery asked.

“Low steady helplessness. Futile calls for help.”

Was that me? Avery wondered.

“Hold on…” Netanel said. His expression grew somber.

Avery stood still, cautious. Netanel was meditating, mumbling to himself. Avery waited, then went to the other end of the bare room. He felt sick.

“Damn it,” Netanel said. Avery turned back. “A lizard’s been waiting for me…collapsed…cold. Caught in the rain. Lying behind a wall at a—

At a highway rest stop overlooking a mountain gorge barely visible behind the gray wall of pouring rain. Avery and Netanel were under a short metal roof. The raindrops were like marbles pounding off the metal. A cold wind flanked them carrying cold rain from the side. Avery drew inwards, holding onto the Angel heat that his body still held. Through his shock he watched Netanel run out into the rain, looking around. Netanel saw and ran up to a muddy heap on the ground by a brick wall. Avery saw the blue backpack first, then the rest—was a lizard, lying in the mud, soaked, barely shielded from the rain. Must’ve been in that knell before all bodily and cognitive functions shut off. How far away did he come from before making it here? Where were they, what state was this? Netanel tried shouting at the unmoving lizard but got no response. Avery panicked. Was this a dead lizard? Netanel tried hoisting him up to stand but the lizard had no energy. He finally scooped the lizard in his arms and tried lifting him, straining. “Avery, we’re—”

They hadn’t been at the rest stop for more than fifteen seconds. The rain was gone but the cool air remained. The sky was a solid overcast, hard to place where the sun was. Avery was standing on dark rocky ground. Netanel was standing ahead holding up the cold muddy lizard who still looked absent and half-dead. Avery and Netanel both knew the feeling. They were standing among small bodies of vibrant bright blue water that pocketed the ground all the way to the mountains in the distance, with a wispy steam wafting off of the ground in all directions.

“Where are we?” Avery asked.

“A twelve foot square of Iceland, forever,” Netanel said. Avery noticed it as soon as he said it—the brighter spots of the landscape, glowing yellow in the afterimage when he closed his eyes. They were in Netanel’s mirror-box land, there was no one around them. Still holding the lizard, Netanel dipped his foot into the water to check the temperature. He descended into the water up to his knees before lowering the still lizard. The lizard didn’t move.

“This will take some time. He was lying there for six hours.”

Avery stood there at the water’s edge, looking over the scene.

A hot spring. Did Netanel have to cradle the lizard, take him into the steaming water? There were other warm places on Earth. He could’ve gone in the middle of Death Valley or near an active volcano. Was he—was he using this all for baptism symbolism? All a display for him? Warming this hurt needing lizard in the hot restorative waters of…where were they. Iceland? Netanel said he didn’t want to be seen as a god, but his actions said the opposite. Avery wouldn’t give him the satisfaction.


The lizard curled up, stretched his limbs through the water with a high-pitched whine but didn’t open his eyes yet.

“I think this would burn anything besides us, but it’s quite nice if you want in,” Netanel offered. The two of them were at their necks in the water now.

“You said this goes on forever, right?” Avery asked. “I want to walk it.”

Netanel nodded.

Avery walked along the edges of the warm bright blue pools. The mountains were small things—low, smooth, and colorful, like a painter’s palette had dripped down on them from above. Streaks of orange and yellow among the green and rocky brown. Avery second-guessed it at first, but he was getting closer to the mountain. He couldn’t see Netanel and the other lizard anymore. But he could pray to him, couldn’t he? He sighed and kept walking.

“I saved your ass you know…what were you doing?” Netanel asked.

“I…mmmmm.” The lizard sunk deeper into the water, blew bubbles through his nostrils. Netanel pulled him back up.

“Are you okay?” Netanel asked.

The lizard looked Netanel over. “Are you a…what kind of lizard are you?”

Netanel smiled. “Haven’t seen a TV for a while? Internet?”

“Haven’t for years…I live out…out in the woods there. I try to stay close to the rest stop, in case something happens, but…hey—have any lizards died yet?”

“No,” Netanel said. “Not if I can help it.”

“Was I that close?”

“You could’ve been. You called out and I heard it.”

“How—oh, I don’t care. Thank you…uh…”


The lizard reached a hand up out of the water, Netanel shook it.

“Could you leave me here?” the lizard asked.

“We’re in Iceland,” Netanel said.

The lizard perked up in surprise. He started to stand and walk up out of the water, surveying the area.

“Hey hey,” Netanel said. “It’s okay. Rest.”

“You’re…you’re right.” He sat back down in the water, slowly letting the waterline ease up to his mouth and nose.

Avery made it to the base of the small mountain. He was confused. There was a walkway leading up the mountain with carved stone steps. “Every factor that made the spot we came from, applied to our own little universe,” alright. He followed the path looking down at his feet, one in front of the other. The path curved and something caught Avery’s eye. It was a carved stone statue, only a few feet tall. Heavily worn, but it showed a bearded human face with runes down the side. Avery kept walking. What is this place. Every bend in the path had one, was it a path marker? By who? For who? Were they part of the…essence of the twelve-foot square Netanel picked? He kept it out of his mind, focusing on his steps.

The path stopped. Avery was at the top of the peak. Netanel had not lied. There were other small mountains scattered on the landscape, but the colorful pools of water extended to the horizon. Up close they had looked random and natural, but far away their consistency was revealed. Avery looked for where he’d come from, but there were no landmarks for reference. He spotted a speck of bright red and squinted. It wasn’t Netanel, it was too big, it was…rectangular…it was the bed from the café. With, yes, the bedside table right next to it. Avery shook his head. He kept scanning, trying to find their heads poking out of the water. He saw something moving, heading towards the bed from afar. It was huge, spider-like, speeding across the ground beelining towards the bed.

Netanel, there’s something here, Avery projected.

What is it?

Avery shuddered, not expecting the response, not knowing what it’d feel like. He projected the image of the spider-like creature. Avery heard a sound and turned behind him. It was Netanel, dripping wet, running towards Avery holding the lizard from the rest area by the arm, trailing behind. “Alright let’s go!” Netanel yelled.

The three of them were gone from the island.

Avery 3

Avery sat alone in the seminary cafeteria. He got a styrofoam bowl of soup (egg drop soup that day) before the cafeteria closed and spent the rest of the night pushing the eggy film around with a plastic spoon. Someone had come in the door earlier, seen him sitting there, hesitated and left. Avery watched them from his peripherals, not caring enough to turn his head. They either didn’t care enough to alert anyone he was back or no one cared to go see him. Earlier he found a few empty boxes for packing his things but realized he only needed one. His fiery inner questions had melted together into a steady buzz of wordless anger and confusion, until even that had faded into a fixation on the turning of his soup. This should be the biggest night of his life, he should be reflecting on the seminary, his home, his religion…feeling a burning rage at Netanel for throwing him into this situation, invading his only sanctuary…he should be pleading his case for understanding from the inscrutable seminarians…pleading his case with God…but all that occupied his mind now was soup. He felt like he was waiting for a train or a flight. Packed and ready to go.

The door opened. “I tried your room, saw your things were packed.” It was McCammon, just as Avery was half-expecting. He walked over to the table and stood in front, arms behind his back. “It…wasn’t the best look, earlier today. I’m glad you came back. Is it the last time?”

“Yes,” Avery said, still stirring the soup.

“How are you getting out of here? You need a ride?”

“He said I could…call for him, he’d…hear it…oh, God.” He dropped the spoon and put his hands to face. “It sounds even worse out loud.”

“Are you doing something with Netanel?” McCammon asked. Avery was silent, which McCammon read as a yes. “Please come see me sometime. But don’t just pop in like he does, don’t give me a heart attack.”

“Alright. I will…Is that it?” Avery asked.

“Should there be more?”


“Take care of yourself, Avery. And I’m not saying that as a pleasantry…take care of yourself, okay?”

“I will.”

“I’ve enjoyed you being here, growing up here…Goodbye, Avery.”

Avery walked back to his room in a daze. The room looked deeply depressing with his books gone from the shelves, posters unpinned from the wall, the bed made for the first time in years…He sat down on it for one last time and put his hand on his lone box of earthly possessions. He put his head down and prayed. Netanel? He closed his eyes, bracing. I’m ready—

Avery and his box came in a few inches off the floor and fell with a light thud. Avery nearly lost his balance again but caught himself. He let out a reflexive yell of anguish.

“Oh. Avery?” A voice. A human voice. She moved out from behind a large computer monitor to see the guest.

Avery looked around, breathing quickly. He was in a small, rented office. There was an unfamiliar human woman at a wide work desk, some filing cabinets in a corner, and a mattress on the ground with Netanel sitting on top with his legs crossed. Netanel opened one eye and recognized his guest.

Avery! There you are, I’m glad you came,” Netanel said, getting up. “You know, I don’t think I could ever live up to how big you’ve made me. Did you really stop praying because of me?”

Avery glared at Netanel, then threw a concerned look back at Sam. He went for the office door and ran out, slamming the door behind him.

“That was a stupid thing to say,” Sam said.

Netanel rubbed his forehead. “Well, what do I need to do? Do I have to organize casual-looking activities for him to come in during? Do I need to have my arm halfway in a bag of Hot Cheetos?”

“It would’ve been better than that.”

“I’ll go talk to him…”

“No,” Sam said, getting up. “That’d be…really bad. I’ll go.”

“Okay,” Netanel said, sitting back down on the mattress. “Thank you.” He closed his eyes and crossed his legs while Sam left the office.

Sam found Avery on the other side of the parking lot, standing against a chain-link fence and staring at the dark undeveloped lot beyond it with his fingers hooked onto the chains. She walked up to his side.

“He’s really just some guy. It’s the only way to see him that makes any sense. I met him before this all happened. He was part of a druggy new age thing, he helped preach their manifesto on ethics and consciousness exploration. Popular with college kids.”

Avery put his head to the chain link, rattling it. “Did he give you the whole teleportation demo?”


“With the mirror-box thing?”

“Yeah. Did he show up to you in disguise at all?”

Avery looked at her. “He can do that?”

Sam nodded.

“Did he nonchalantly reveal he could hear years of your internal prayers?” Avery asked.

“He…told me about you, yes.”

“It’s a bad thing to do it, but I think it’s almost worse to tell someone you’ve been doing it. And you can still see him as ‘some guy?’”

“Yet you’re here,” Sam said. “Hey. Let’s climb this thing. Walk around. I’ve never done it.” She grabbed onto the chain, more rattling. Avery looked up at the top of the gate, and in one loud swoop was climbing up and over the top. He landed on the other side from Sam, barely a silhouette against the nighttime surroundings. Sam followed suit, climbing over, landing and pulling her clothes back into position. For a minute they walked silently through the dirt and weeds of the flat ground, occasionally hearing unseen things scatter out of their path.

“Why are you working with him?” Avery asked.

“You know that article that came out about lizards, the John Doe one.”

“Wait, I thought he wrote that.”


“That’s his name, right? Nathaniel Trafford, that’s where ‘Netanel’ comes from? The Hebrew form?”

“About that…”

They walked in circles until it was deep into that isolated time of night. Avery’s head would nod, eyelids heavy. He told Sam this and the both of them headed back to the office so Sam could grab her laptop and keys to go home.

“I can give you a ride to your apartment,” Sam said.


“He’s had them ready. Right next to mine…”

They walked up the stairway and down the office hallway. Sam opened the door and flicked on the lights. Netanel had tipped forward, face-down in the mattress, legs still crossed. Avery gasped.

“He fell asleep,” Sam said. She picked up a wadded up comforter from the corner, flicked it out in the air so it would land down and cover Netanel. “Aren’t I sweet?” she said to Avery.

As they walked back out the hallway, Avery stopped. “Oh,” Avery said. “My box. I’ll be right back.”

He opened the office door. He left the light off, letting the hallway light give him the illumination he needed to find the box and go.

“Hey Avery,” Netanel said from the mattress. “…You know how close I was to taking you to Vatican City?” He chuckled to himself.

“Good night, Net.”


Darius 3

Darius walked into the wing of the Demi campus where the marketing people worked. He stood aimlessly as people walked by past him. He looked overdressed, wearing a large suit jacket over his usual business clothes.

Darius?” Someone asked, smiling in disbelief. Darius recognized her, but couldn’t place her name. “Are you looking for her?”

For her. That obvious? Of course it was. He wanted to say no, but how long would he be standing here? Everyone that walked by had to know, suspect everything he couldn’t stop them from suspecting. “Yes.”

“Come. Approach,” she said, trying and failing to contain her smile. She walked ahead and stopped at a cubicle. “Hey Brooke. Look who’s heeere.”

It was the other lizard. First time he’d seen her since the article came out…before Netanel. Brooke. What a normal name, he thought. He never knew it, this whole time. Never even knew he didn’t know her name. She turned in her computer chair to see Darius. “Oh. Oh ho,” Brooke said.

The coworker who guided Darius over to the cubicle left, giddy with her role as matchmaker. Darius imagined the people she’d be telling about his appearance, it’d make it over to engineering any hour. Darius closed his eyes and took a breath. “I need to show you a prototype and ask for your input. It deals with us, unfortunately. When could you see it?…If you wanted to.”

“Go ahead,” she said.



Darius didn’t plan for this. He was expecting a meeting sometime deeper into the afternoon with a better chunk of the employees gone from the building. “Oh…I…I had a second prototype. I was going to let you use it.”

“C’mon, what is it?”

“I’ll give you mine,” Darius said, taking off his jacket, revealing thin contoured bits of metal wired together around his upper arms and body. He laid his jacket on the table behind him and lifted the metal up and over his head. “Wearable heating.” He extended it to her. Her eyes widened.

“I’ve bought hand warmers in bulk to stick in my clothes.” She fed her head into the metal and lowered it over her clothes. “But this is…this actually…wow.” She sat back and zoned out. Darius recognized it—the hot shower feeling.

“Battery only lasts a couple hours,” Darius said. “Still need to add variable temperature, still has a lot of bulk I need to shave off, still need to make sure it won’t burn anything you wear or sit against…”

“It’s good. You made this?”


“What do you need my input for?”

Darius put his hands back to support himself against the desk. He could already feel the heat seeping away into the frigid office air. How quickly the heating pads had spoiled him. “Do you think Demi would produce and sell them?”

“Definitely. Pitch it. It might take a while for the gears to churn but yeah, of course. Have you talked to anyone yet?”

Darius was expecting hesitation but she had answered immediately. “That’s what I needed to talk over with someone. I don’t know how it’d go.”

“Easy! Tell them we all have money!”

“You make it sound simple, but what would that look like? I pull someone aside in the hallway and ask, can I pitch you a project?”

“Yeah! It might sound simple because it is simple.”

“You could ask for me. You’re a neutral party here.”


“If I came to them with this, don’t you think that’s too…the exact thing they’d fear I’d do? They give a lizard a high-status job here, and then he starts wanting special lizard things? And if they said yes, how would I know it’s not just obligation towards me?”

She sighed. “Darius…do you want it made?” she asked.


“So do I!” She shook her head. “I don’t know what you’re hired here for, but it’s not your adventurousness. Here.” She raised the metal off her arms and chest and handed it back to him. “Go show it to them. I want to buy my own soon. Tell them that. Tell them I said that.”

Darius found himself in his car ready to drive far away from Demi, back to his downtown abode. He told Brooke he’d pitch it to someone, and he didn’t want it to be a lie. But he’d do it tomorrow. He did enough for today.

He was back in his apartment. This could be my way of giving back to Demi. He sat in his armchair looking out the window over the Angel downtown. But I already do earn my keep, just by staying out of the way. He had cranked the AC up in his apartment and clutched a glass of iced tea in his hand, letting the cold ice reach into the bones of his hands. The overhead fan was spinning for the first time in months. The heating pads were at full heat and he was…to his surprise, comfortable. The heating pads conquered the worst his apartment could muster. He was a little cold in the extremities, but the heating pads did their job warming his entire body just by sitting on top of a few key points of the circulatory system. He didn’t have to dread the winter months. He could tolerate grocery stores that were once too uncomfortable to spend more than fifteen minutes in. He could live outside of the Southwest, see the Rockies, Canada. Canada! Why stop there. He could walk among the bundled citizens of Greenland if he wanted to. Learn a language. He could be an American in addition to being a lizard. He could go snowshoeing in the Alps…somewhere he wouldn’t startle anyone. All without the fear of shutting down to conserve energy, lying on the ground for days at a time. He could walk on with a warm hand at his back…

A knock at the door. Darius panicked—the AC. Were they here about it running full blast? He ran to the panel before answering the door. The panel read that the room temperature was 76° F. Hm. Darius threw his business jacket over the heating pads and opened the door.

The red skin, the horns, the robes. “Howdy!” Netanel.

“Get inside please,” Darius said hurriedly. Netanel walked in and Darius closed the door quickly and took a deep breath. “Did you walk in through the lobby or—

“Nah, just teleported to the hallway, I’m not impatient enough to pop up in people’s rooms yet.”

“No one saw you?”

“No…” Netanel said. He looked at Darius skeptically. “It’s um, you don’t seem surprised to see me.”

“I…I know you’re helping a lot of us. I think that’s pretty good, I mean, of course it’s good, but, I’m doing fine. I am. Just kinda…”

“The heating pads, can I try them?”

“How did you…hm.” Darius accepted it. He cast his jacket off again and handed the pads to Netanel. “They’re on full right now.” Netanel opened the fold of his robe and dropped them them down onto his shoulders.

“Ahhh. Yes,” Netanel said, grinning. “Good. So. Will it help these get made faster if I promote them?”

“I-I-I, uh. Of course! Yeah! I need to tell them though.”

Demi?,” Netanel asked.

“Yes,” Darius said. Ah, how much does he know? Darius thought. He is telepathic, right?

“I’m going to wear it either way, I just won’t show it publicly until you give me the word.”

“How do I give the word?” Darius asked.

“Pray. Pray me the word. I’ll be listening. This is good work…you don’t have an old prototype you could spare, do you?”

Sirvientes 11

Avery switched the panel off on his heating pads to let the metal cool down. He flicked it on again, the heat filling back in. Off. On. Off. On. Someone Netanel knew from his travels had pitched the heating pads to the tech company Demi, successfully proposing they create a subsidiary devoted to them so they could be produced unaffiliated with the Demi brand. The friend also proposed that Demi should give Netanel prototypes to promote and give to others for the publicity.

“The Righteous Manifesto isn’t salvageable,” Sam said. “But don’t say that if Net’s not meditating.”

Netanel had given Avery all his old civilian clothes. They were loose fitting on Avery but acceptable. Avery had put on an old pair of black jeans (modified with a tail-hole) and a T-shirt of a Japanese movie poster which rested on top of the heating pads. He got dressed and looked at himself in the mirror. It was weird even seeing the inside of his elbows in normal day-to-day activities. How long had he dressed up in the long-sleeved seminarian costumes? What did he wear when he was younger?

“I say we just formalize what’s been going on already,” Sam continued. “But I don’t even know what format we’re writing for. Is he going to give a speech somewhere? Are we writing another manifesto? A blog? Imbiber’s willing to give us whatever platform we need, but…is this even the right way to be going about it?”

“I don’t like small religions with official websites,” Avery said. “Too many cults with ’90s-looking websites. Whatever we do, it should be as a third-party. We give out everything ourselves. I don’t want to say ‘elusive,’ but at least not holed up, easily capsulated. He should feel bigger than a website.”

“I like that,” Sam said. “We could set up a fake unofficial website that’s effectively condoned, even do some video interviews for legitimacy, but not have it be the official official website, if that makes sense. And absolutely no social media. We could…”

Netanel was half-listening during his meditating on the opposite side of the room from Sam and Avery. I heard that, Sam. Avery was being helpful, but it came out of a nihilistic spiral. Avery knew he was betraying his principles but kept burrowing down because he just didn’t care anymore. Netanel couldn’t talk to him about it directly and risk coming off even more invasive, but he wished he could do something.

Their talking would ebb as Netanel focused. His meditation process—for years, well before his Big Day—was to let the stars and afterimages in his closed eyes turn into solid shapes, as clear-defined as anything he saw with open eyes. Sometimes they were simple dim orbs, other times they were vibrant galaxies. It didn’t achieve anything outright, but it would shut down any mental noise that got in the way of the river of incoming information. The streams of emotion, personality, thought, logic, color. It wasn’t overwhelming—it was subtle and quiet, hidden like the contents of a dark room when walking in from the sunshine. But when adjusted to, fully submerged into, the details emerged.

But his intent wasn’t on the world right now. There was no danger, no desperation, no lizards calling out. He checked first, it was only the river of a world going about its day. It was time to explore elsewhere. He felt around in every direction, every phase and shift of the river, but he felt trapped in two-dimensions, sliding around the surface of the planet. C’mon Nate. Where are ya. It didn’t help how little humans registered to him compared to lizards. When he tried moving in that third direction, outwards, there was a giant wall, a mass of jelly, pushing back at any attempt to move past it. Its defenses were strong—any strong attack at the wall would lead to distractions like “it smells dusty in here” or “Sam’s nose is running.” Today he would take a gentler approach, walking alongside the wall running his fingers along its surface, not pushing against it outright.

He spent a while doing this, wondering where his meditating mind was traveling. The upper atmosphere? The Kuiper belt? The voids between superclusters? The gates of Hell? The discovery process was dangerously close to the creative, imaginative processes. They worked and tied together, one process helping the other. It was impossible to separate them, they felt the same. The self-doubt never left, but he hung to his successes—he did find the lizards exactly where he detected them, every time. He worried he somehow made the lizards he detected, but he knew this wasn’t true. It was ridiculous to believe the lizards wouldn’t be creating issues for themselves if he wasn’t around.

Netanel paused. He felt something along the great, unchanging wall. A seam. The edge of a tectonic plate. His arm plunged through with no resistance. He stepped inside the seam and traveled onward, slipping past all the mass he had wasted his time fighting against. All the time he could’ve just went around it…

An egg timer went off. Sam and Avery jumped while Netanel was completely still. He slowly raised his right hand, with a single red finger pointed up. One. Sam saw and set the timer for another half-hour.

Netanel shouldn’t have flattered himself imagining he was out of the solar system before. He was only a few inches off the ground compared to the distance he was bounding through now. There were stars and planets out here. But no Nate. No lizards. No life at all. Only distance, growing numbers. Nate! He thought of Nate’s annoying ambition, his writing style, his pouting at Righteous. He thought about how he called him “Red,” such an old nickname. He thought of the sensations Nate must be feeling now…fear, confusion, displacement. But was any of that Nate? He knew Nate wasn’t dead, that would jut out from the streams during his repeated searches for him. He practiced searching for dead celebrities to learn what it felt like, and it just wasn’t there for Nate. No, Nate had to be out here, as far as the Sirvientes could throw him.

The egg timer rang again. Netanel opened his eyes. It felt like a minute passed, but Sam and Avery were now in different parts of the office. He cracked his back and got up. He stretched, a wave went through his tail.

“We outlined the basics, if you’d like to see,” Avery said. He said it neutrally, his inner worries well-buried. Maybe he started to believe the inner worries were unfounded, but didn’t know how to make them go away for good, so burying and ignoring was his best shot. Netanel didn’t know.

“Good,” Netanel said.

“The ‘Apostle’ guy wrote another rambling post analyzing how fake you are,” Sam said.

“Typos to correct?” Netanel asked.

“You know it,” Sam said, smiling. “We’re still the only commenter he’s gotten.”

“If I gave him a heating pad do you think he’d write a post about it?”


Netanel chuckled. “You’ll have to remind me later, I’m going to make my rounds.”

“Alright, we’ll—

He was gone.

Netanel was on the patio of an old farmhouse, tucked between small round yellow hills. The ground looked like velvet yellow for as far as he could see, like a giant couch you could leave a handprint in by swiping along the fabric. The door opened a crack. A lizard peered through the door.

“I saw it was you from the peephole,” the lizard said.

“Can I come in?” Netanel asked.

“What for?”

“Are you doing okay?”

“Yes. I’m fine.”

“What about your arm?”

The lizard opened the door wider without looking Netanel in the eyes. Her right arm was wrapped in a sling made out of an old shirt.

They sat down at her table. She slipped the top of the sling off her head with her left hand, careful not to jerk at it too suddenly. She set her wrapped broken arm down on the edge of the table, grimacing in the process.

“I know it’s broken,” she said. “I’m not deluded. But what could I do? Go to a hospital?” She slowly unwrapped the shirt from her arm while she talked. She slipped the last of it off and they both looked at the arm quietly. It was swollen and turning black. “Have any of us gone to a hospital? There are thousands of us.”

“You feel guilty,” Netanel said. “You don’t have to.”

“Are you going to call for someone?” she asked. “Teleport me somewhere?”

“I think I can help. Can I see?”

She nodded and looked away to distract herself. “So what are you up to, have you been…hopping around a lot?”

“I have.” Netanel grabbed the arm. She winced. “Don’t look.”

She felt the bone like she never wanted to feel a bone. An intense sucking pressure on her whole arm. Her head went down to her knees in a reflex of agony, arm still on the table. Netanel’s hands weren’t on it anymore. He got up and was carrying something in his arms. “Don’t look,” he told her again. He heard him slide her back door open and step outside, drop something to the ground.

She opened her eyes. Her right arm was on the table, feeling raw and cold to the air. It was deep red with gold running through it. Her fingers twitched. She tried raising her elbow up by the smallest degree, and—no pain. She clenched and unclenched her fist. She flung her arm up to her chest, locked her fingers with her other hand, deep red and light tan fingers folded together.

“I’ll be damned, that’s something,” Netanel said, standing in the doorway. “I might be able to fix that later. I’m still kinda new at this,” he said, smiling.


He was gone. She looked at her arms in stunned disbelief.

And now a food truck in Angel. One in the long line of food trucks that continually serviced his old campus. There were a couple people standing by the window sweating and waiting for their food but they stepped out of the way when they saw Netanel appear and walk up.

“Lizard! Good to see you my Teo. Good to see you still have time for your old paaals.”

“Yeah yeah. You still have that agua fresca tub? I need it.”

“Listen to you. Still have that agua fresca tub.” He filled up a cup and handed it through the window. “New York has changed you!”

Netanel handed him a few bucks, which he refused. Netanel stashed it in the tip jar.

“See ya, bud,” the cook said.

Netanel walked off with the drink and found a metal bench, unoccupied thanks to its temperature. With the heating pads, the cold liquid didn’t come with the same punishment it did before. He closed his eyes. The sun shone bright red through the blood of his eyelids.

The last lizard’s broken arm had scared him. Swollen and black like that. He was happy he had the ability to heal an arm like that. It looked neat with the red skin like it did. But what if he couldn’t have helped, what would have happened to her? She barely made any blip in his meditation, he wasn’t expecting it to be as severe as it was. How many more were out there quietly suffering, human surgeons not an option to them? No anesthesia, no painkillers. Unless they wanted to be the first one to see what happened…

He had been going about this wrong. Play-acting. He had to tell Sam and Avery. He wasn’t going to be a god, he was going to be a doctor. Put together a body of medical knowledge. He could do all the heavy-lifting until the science was there for them.


Netanel looked up from the bench, squinting. Someone was standing in front of him. “Long time, man. You look different.”

“Wow,” Netanel said, shocked. An old friend, an old friend. Before Righteous, before his college experiment. Long before “Netanel.” He was in his old stomping grounds, so it made sense. It seems like everyone leaves their hometown until you come back and see how many never did.

“Saw you on the news. I didn’t want to think every lizard I saw was you, but then it was you, you royal asshole. Can I sit down?”

Netanel scooted over. The friend sat down.

“You remember these?” Netanel asked, shaking the ice in his cup.

The friend lurched at Netanel and grabbed his neck. The cup fell to the ground. “You have to go back. Now!” He dropped the disguise, and his blue Sirviente clothes showed through. Netanel fell off the bench, hitting his horns on the ground. The Sirviente was still on top of him. Netanel tried kicking him off but the Sirviente was strong. “Why do you torture us why do you torture us!

Netanel slipped away into the mirror-box. A reflex.


He breathed in. Breathed out. He was a coward. They won. His neck stung. He lied on the ground catching his breath, more unsteady from the shock of what just happened than the choking. No. No. No. He tried getting up but collapsed back down. They were supposed to be nothing one-by-one. He rolled onto his side, eyes closed. My home. My friend. His face, his voice, his personality. No!

He remembered something—he wasn’t supposed to go into the mirror-box world anymore. He looked out at the empty street. The bed and table he kept in the mirror-box world were set up in the middle of the road. The black spidery creature was sitting on the bed, smiling, unmoving. Some of its limbs were curled around the bed’s frame, some reaching over to the table.

Netanel, is it?

He was gone.

“Damn it, Red,” Sam said, hand over her chest. She had jumped in her chair when he showed up.

“I’m sorry,” Netanel said, picking his things up. “I’m sorry.”

“What happened? Are you okay?” Avery asked.

“I’m not going to be in America for a little while.”

Sam and Avery shared a glance. “Where are you going?” Avery asked.

“Anywhere else right now. I’m sorry.”

“Do you—

And like that, he teleported out. Avery got up out of his seat, looking around. “Has he ever done that before?”

Sam shook her head slowly.

Sirvientes 12

Auto stood on a rocky beach. All his fins extended, not messing around hiding under wrappings anymore. His new home was at the edge of a large bay curved off from the mainland. The water at the entrance of the bay was too rocky and turbulent for anyone to come through. Including his servants, most importantly. Inside the bay it was peaceful. The water was deep blue. No pollution. Birds swarmed the place with a constant chorus of squawking, but Auto was fine with that. He looked out over the water, seeing if any packs of seagulls spotted something in the water he couldn’t. He squeezed and pushed the coarse sand with his feet as he stood. He stopped and looked back at the trees and brush behind him. Smelled something.

He walked into the water and swam to the cave he stayed in during the nights, its entrance only available from the water. He climbed up onto the dry rock and walked down the dark path, leaving a trail of seawater. He felt behind a large rock, feeling for the cold metal. He found it—an old shotgun. He quickly turned on his heels and pointed the shotgun into the air, finger on the trigger. The barrel was inches in front of Netanel’s nose.

“Please,” Netanel said. He put his hands up weakly. “Help me.”

“Don’t sneak up on me,” Auto said, lowering the weapon.

They left the dark cave to sit on the beach, looking out over the waves. They both tried to get a good look at the other when they weren’t looking. Auto, looking at the bright red lizard—the reason he was on this planet. “Of certain characteristics,” what a joke. Swirling with gold. The horns. And Netanel, looking at the humanoid pink fishy lion, the light-blue pupil-less eyes. A third sentient race in the universe. He wondered if there were more, then remembered the creature in his mirror-box. Three was good.

“You’re from America, aren’t you?” Auto said. “I spent so long mastering Spanish. Been learning English since.”

“I was born in Mexico,” Netanel said. “Moved when I was five.”

“Well. That’s nice,” Auto said.

“You have to call off your servants.”

Ha,” Auto said. “I can’t. They’re a disappointment. They scare me too.”

“They’re terrorizing me. I have to do something before they get to people close to me.”

“They’ve succeeded though. You’re here talking to me willingly. If it were just me hunting you down, you’d be popping around all over the planet, wouldn’t you?”

Netanel was silent.

“You just have to reinitiate contact. I think you know what that entails by now. I can’t make you do anything, but I can tell you what’s wanted of you.”

The seam…Netanel remembered.

“They called me out here so early, that’s when these problems with the servants happen. They get too much time with no answers. Had I showed up this year, they might have actually been useful.”

“‘They’ called you out? Who’s ‘they?’”

“I get info through proxies. It’s all very need-to-know. You know, you can figure out who ‘they’ are and fulfill the servants all in one go. You don’t have to agree to anything, forfeit anything you don’t want. You just need to talk.”

Netanel got up and stood over Auto, fists clenched. “I don’t believe you. I don’t believe you’re helpless like you say you are. I don’t believe the servants are going through all this just for initiating contact. You just held a shotgun to my face!”

Auto looked up at him, unfazed by his stance. “Have you met S21? The black, gooey thing.” Auto saw the flash of recognition in Netanel’s eyes and continued. “Things like her get hired when I take too long. You don’t want to meet who gets hired when she takes too long.” Auto got up. “Oh, I had a message, from whatever it was that wants you. It was just two words…‘I’m sorry.’ Know what that’s referring to?”

I’m sorry…no. Nothing. Sorry for what? But…

Netanel felt a deep wound from deep inside him, a gaping wound that never stopped its bleeding. Something that had been torn out, something that had been a part of him, a confused rage so old it didn’t resemble any earthly feeling. He didn’t know where it came from but it had always been there. He stepped back and put his hand over his chest.

“I don’t,” Netanel said, honestly.

“It looks like you might.”

“I…I don’t know…”

Auto stood up from the sand, brushed himself off. “Looks like you have another question to ask ‘them.’” He waded into the water, looked back at Netanel, then kicked off into the deep waters.

Netanel felt sick. He stumbled up the beach, almost tripping on the sand. He supported his weight against a tree with one hand and threw up. When that was done he walked off and collapsed into the sand. What is this? The two words. “I’m sorry.” Shouldn’t he be able to heal himself? Like he took away the broken arm? Like when he helped that cold lizard in the mud? Like when he helped the lizard who ran out of food and water in his desert home with no means of contacting anyone? Like when he comforted the younger lizard who ran off when…

He couldn’t do any of that.

Sunset. Netanel woke up in the sand to a deep pink sky with red clouds. He smelled smoke. He lifted his head and propped himself up on his elbows. Auto was standing beside him, holding a cooked fish wrapped in a palm leaf. “Here,” he said. He laid the fish on a rock next to Netanel.

“Thank you,” Netanel said. Auto nodded and walked off back to his fire down the beach. He felt better now, just tired. He scratched his head, getting the sand out of the places it got stuck in. He noticed the fish had a row of teeth marks in its scales. He had no idea how to cleanly eat it, but the meat he messily picked off was better than any fish he’d tasted.

Would returning to Sam and Avery to explain the situation, even for a minute, set the Sirvientes after them? He owed them an update. He could quickly show up and teleport them to Mongolia or wherever and return them afterwards. Keep his time in California to a few seconds. He closed his eyes, tried to see where they were. He picked them up quickly, he was well-tuned to their presences. They were…they were watching a movie at the theater. Avery, Sam, and Sam’s little sister, all sitting together. He wasn’t going to interrupt that now, was he. No. They’d be okay without him there for a little longer.

With the sun gone it was getting cold. The heating pads’ battery was running low. He meditated again. Who else was out there? He closed his eyes. The lizard with the fixed arm was still profusely wanting him to come back so she could thank him in person, show off the new arm he gave her. It wasn’t worth bringing her to any Sirvientes’ attention. He’d come back when things calmed down…if they ever did again. He kept listening, and…nothing.

He rekindled the fire in the pit Auto used to cook the fish earlier. Netanel sensed Auto’s disdain for his creations was genuine. He could trust Auto to pick a safe refuge from them. Netanel could tell how remote the area was by how well he could see the stars. He drifted in and out of sleep.

A call.


It wasn’t that syllable exactly. Oh now there’s someone, Netanel thought, waking up. He couldn’t hide on this bay forever. The fire had dwindled to no more than a glowing orange ghost at the bottom of the pit. The call was from a young lizard, a little girl. Netanel forgot that people still adopted new lizards. She had a brand of terror you feel most acutely at that age. She was lost, helpless, and panicking. He felt her location strongly. He didn’t want to get in the way of the parents if it was just a small child’s nightmare, but that wasn’t going to stop him from seeing if it was something serious. But he didn’t want to scare her too much, looking like he did. He would have to—

He was in an outdoor courtyard in front of a few low, long buildings. Middle of the night, too dark to see much. He walked up to a lantern in front of one of the buildings. The walls were made of thick blocks of wood with translucent paper between, vaguely evoking Japanese screen panels. He sensed the girl was nearby and looked for her. She was walking through the dirt aimlessly holding a cup with two hands, tail dragging a thin line behind her. Netanel stayed by the light, waving to her, knowing he might startle her walking up to her in the dark. Startle anyone, really. She saw him and stopped. She came up to him still clutching the cup. She babbled something to him he didn’t hear but the meaning came through. I went to get some water.

“Where’d you walk from?” Netanel asked.

I’m lost. I’m lost. Where’s Mom? Where’s Dad?

He tried to scan her mind to see who Mom and Dad were and see if he could sense them, but she was restless.

I think over here. She walked over to the building’s door, hooked her fingers on its sliding panel door. She screamed out to the dark room. Mom! Dad! Netanel followed her in.

Someone lit a lantern in the middle of the room. Sleeping quarters. Some kind of barracks. There was a row of beds alongside both walls. The girl’s screams startled everyone from their beds. Every bed had a lizard, now awake and looking first at the girl, then at him. Two dozen eyes on him, all lizards.

He had pulled through the slip in the wall. From his meditating. All the way out here, to this tiny outpost. He had permanently opened the gash, there would be no closing it back up.

He disappeared in front of all of them.

Sirvientes 13

Adam drummed his fingers on his steering wheel. He knew these drive-thrus were always bad, but this was particularly bad. He could’ve parked and gone inside to order. It feels fast because you can go right up to the counter but you’re waiting just as long for your food in the end. Or is there a kind of staggered queue for inside versus outside orders? Too late now anyway. Maybe it was a power-out. Or a robbery! He was just behind the curve so he couldn’t see the people up at the window. He was starting to smell car exhaust. Okay, Adam thought. Ultimatum. The entirety of “Rosanna” finished on the radio and he hadn’t moved the whole time.

The car in front of Adam honked. Adam sat up. Another honk, really laying it on this time. No movement. The driver got out of the car in front of him and walked down the drive-thru out of sight. She came back and walked towards Adam’s car. He rolled his window down. “What’s going on?” he asked her.

“Uh…I need your help,” the woman said. “The driver’s not okay. I thought he was waiting this whole time.”

Adam put his car in park and walked up to the car with the other woman. Adam gasped. He recognized the face—a Sirviente. His head was back against the seat, staring at the top of the car, mouth open. It was a blissful, orgasmic expression. He wasn’t moving. Adam hesitated.

“We should open it,” the woman said.

“I’ll do it,” Adam said. He knocked on the window first with his knuckle, then tried the door handle. It was unlocked.

At this point a restaurant employee had come out as well and speed-walked out towards them. “Is everything okay?”

Adam put his hand on the Sirviente’s shoulder to shake him. Pppfffzzz. A blast of mist hit the three of them in the face. Adam’s arm, the inside of the windshield, the entirety of the car, the woman’s phone ready to dial 911, were all covered in dewy drops of water. The Sirviente’s empty clothes fell down in the seat. The car was empty.

Two older men set their drinks down and got up. There was a scream outside. “Goyo…?” They looked at each other and hurried outside.

“They’re…they’re everywhere…” Goyo said, trembling. The two men caught up to him. He was standing in the rocky dirt outside of the house’s landscaping at the foot of a body, face-down, wearing dark blue wrappings. There was another body just like it twenty feet away, fallen against an old ironwood tree. One of the men leaned down to the body. “Why do they all look like me!Goyo yelled. The man put his hand down to the body to turn it over. Pppfft. Sprayed in the face by the blast of water.

“It’s you, Goyo!” the other man yelled, inspecting another. “Were they all watching the house? Before they died?”

The first man turned to Goyo. “Have you done something? Do you have enemies we don’t know about? People who want to get to us?”

“No! I don’t know!” He stepped back, then turned and ran through the desert, away from the house and the bodies in the dirt.

Auto woke up on the rug he spread out on a flat rock in his seaside cave. There was a sound coming from his bag of old possessions, half-working equipment he brought to Earth with him. He pulled out the offending piece of equipment—it was the old container of the fluid that made the Sirvientes.

They were dead. Finally. He walked out to the mouth of the cave, out to see the sunny blue bay, hear the sound of the water on the rocks.

“Good choice,” he said to himself, and smiled.

Adam volunteered to park the Sirviente’s still-running car and was comped a free meal inside for his trouble. He had worried that the Sirviente would re-materialize in the fifteen seconds it took to pull it into a parking spot, but it didn’t happen.

Adam was sure this meant the Sirvientes had fulfilled the task they were created for. It hadn’t taken them long to get Netanel to do what they wanted, whatever it all was. But, he’d only seen one Sirviente pop away like that, maybe the rest were still intact. He wasn’t sure how to test his theory—so far, the Sirvientes had all come to him. There were was no Sirviente den to look for empty deflated robes like the ones that sat in the Sirviente’s car seat. He could call Charles, but he didn’t want to do that. Wait. He did have someone. He set his half-eaten burger back down on its wrapper and got his phone out.

“It’s Adam. Do you…need any fertilizer?”

“We don’t need codewords. They’re gone,” May said. “They’re gone. Ohhh boy.”

“Okay, so you too then.”

“We had three Ringoans standing guard here in case more Emanites came since they swarmed you that night. All three of them at once…poof. That’s why we built our place so far out from the city, you know. We could openly work with Ringoans without having to worry about the Emanites all the way out here. It’s setting in for me how lonely we are out here now.” She sighed. “Dominic’s out looking for other Ringoans but he’s not going to find any. Adam, did you get your memory back?”

“…no.” Adam couldn’t hide his embarrassment from his answer. “Why?”

“If all the Sirvientes are gone, that means the Franciscans are too. They can’t restore the memories they removed.”

Adam gave an “oh fuck” so loud he had to apologize to the adjacent diners.

Sirvientes 14

Sam unlocked the door to the office. The morning light streamed into the small room. Netanel was sitting on the edge of the floor mattress holding his head in his hands.

Sam closed the door behind her quietly. “Red.”

“That’s not my name. ‘Netanel’ isn’t either.”

“What happened yesterday?”

“The Sirvientes are dead.”

“What did you do?” Sam asked. “That’s good! That makes this a lot easier, right?”

“Yeah,” Netanel said, looking forward blankly. “Actually, no.” He got up off the bed. “I…I went too far. There’s a colony of lizards who know I’m alive now. Know I’m here. They’re drowning out everything. I couldn’t sense where you were, where Avery was, sense if you were okay…”

“A colony? Where?” Sam asked.

Netanel smiled sadly.

Sam returned the smile and made a for real? face.

“I don’t care about them. I’m not theirs. I care about us—here. But they…” he sighed. “You don’t have to be here at this office. You and Avery both. You can go back to your place. I’m not sure what’s going to happen now.”

“You…you sure?” Sam asked. Netanel nodded. “Okay then,” she said, walking out the office door. She caught it before it closed. “Red,” Sam said. “Was Nate there?”

Netanel thought.

“Well. Worth a shot,” she said, and closed it.

Netanel waited to hear her steps go down the hallway and the stairs. “She’s gone. I’m alone,” Netanel said.

A black vertical line sliced itself into the air. A shiny black arm shot out of it, then another. S21 pulled herself out of the void, a thick coin smell filling the room. She dropped to the ground and looked at Netanel, unmoving. “I wasn’t hiding because of her,” S21 said. A semblance of a chuckle. Her voice was haunting, like it skipped some normal process of sound transmission.

“The Sirvientes are gone,” Netanel said. “What more do I need to do?”

“Do you think the Autochthon and I were commissioned to bring you to a little outpost planet for thirty seconds? A halfway point?”

Netanel avoided looking at her.

“We can’t touch you. They’re very strict about that,” S21 said. “I’m just watching you.”

“I know what you’re trying to do.”


Netanel teleported to the nearest Californian park that came to mind. He arrived on a sidewalk lined with orange trees with white-painted trunks that looped around a duck pond. He walked on, hoping the water, the trees, the ducks splashing themselves could do anything to calm him down, but his mind was filled with noise. Hundreds of foreign minds calling out to him, not knowing his name, all visualizing him standing in the door of the sleeping quarters. And the lizards who didn’t see him firsthand were visualizing him exaggerated and majestic, twirling horns and floating in the air with a glorious light behind him. They wanted him back so they could talk to him, see him, welcome him, thank him, worship him. He felt something else…a low noise underneath the chatter of the awestruck lizards. An outstretched finger of something much bigger. The thing that hired Auto and S21. The thing that tore the hole he felt, that sent down those two words…

The sunny pond only taunted Netanel. No scenery could distract him from this feeling, he might as well be locked in a closet alone with his thoughts.

There was a metallic smell in the air. Not here…Netanel looked down the park. S21 was floating inside of a tall billowing tree by the water’s edge, completely still while the leaves and branches flowed around her. She saw Netanel looking at her and slipped away.

Netanel knocked on Avery’s apartment door. He waited, then knocked harder. Avery opened the door. “Netanel?…Sam told me what happened.”

Netanel lowered his head in shame. “I need to see you.”

“Come in.” Avery stood to the side.

Avery’s new apartment was small but still sparse. Avery didn’t know how he should decorate it. So far it looked like his room at the seminary expanded out to fill the bigger walls, wider spaces between his posters.

“I overshot the apartment building by over a mile,” Netanel said. “I walked…” He sat down on the small couch, one of the only pieces of furniture in the room. “Could you sit here too, Avery. I don’t know how to make that not sound pathetic.”

Avery sat down next to him. Netanel closed his eyes and drooped his head down onto Avery’s shoulder. Avery wasn’t sure what was going on but decided it wasn’t the time for that.

“I’m sorry…I just need…someone…” Netanel said.

“It’s okay,” Avery said. He held still, not sure if he should move. He could feel Netanel breathe in and out from his shoulder. “You did get something wrong about me, you know,” Avery said. “I never got myself to believe we were from Earth. I just convinced myself I did.”

“There’s other lizards out there, Avery. I went to them, like the Sirvientes tried to get me to do. I didn’t even know I was doing it. I can’t undo it now. I can’t even have my mind to myself anymore, they drown it out.”

Net,” Avery said. “Go back to them then.”

“I’m not going to,” Netanel said sternly. “I’ll have to find a way to work with this. I’ve been seeing the god thing all wrong, I have a new goal in mind. I’m not going to give us up.”

Avery hesitated. He wasn’t sure if this was the worst possible time or the only time he’d get to have this conversation. “I think you’re their messiah. Born here, by mistake.”

Netanel was silent.

“If you can’t be here for both of us, I think we’re going to be okay here,” he continued. “But they’ve called out for you…across…”

Netanel raised his head off of Avery. “What if it’s something worse?” Netanel asked. “What if there’s some racial caste system, and we were the undesirables? What if I was some pretty-colored upper-caste lizard they tried to save from the rabble—I can’t accept a society like that. Or, what if we’re war criminals, fleeing persecution? Genocide? What if we’re mules, an interspecies offspring they can’t stand the sight of? What if we’re slaves, sent out to the universe as samples, a gift? What if we’ve committed atrocities so horrendous, we sent our own children out with no idea of their home so they never had to know what their ancestors did? If I go back and find an answer we don’t like, we can’t take it back.”

“You hired me for advice on what every lizard needs you to be for them, right?” Avery asked calmly. “We have a hole to obsess over, a puzzle to build an identity off of. Maybe that gives us a purpose, at least, it used to give me one. But now I realize how artificial that purpose was. I hate only being what I don’t know, being what I won’t do. I hate it!” He paused to calm down. “I don’t know that much about all of us on Earth, but I know what it’s like to have your life defined by a void. You can tell us how we got here, what the hell we are. I think it’s all we need. You know we’ve got a shot living here, but you don’t know that about them. They might need you.”

“They do,” Netanel said. “Avery…whoever it was out there, from our home…it did something awful to me. It’s been…I don’t know this, I can only feel it. It’s been thousands of years and I just learned how to feel it again. I was lucky to get back to Earth like I did. If I set foot back on that place, now that it’s waiting for me…I don’t know what it’ll do with me.” Netanel put his hand over his chest. The feeling was back, but it had never really went away.

Avery silently leaned over and put his arms around Netanel’s shoulders and stayed that way for a bit. Breathing. He broke the silence himself. “Sam thinks Nate is there. Is he?”

Netanel growled. “That’s what it’s going to be, then.” He moved Avery’s arm off him and stood up. “That’s what’s going to move my hand, isn’t it. All these fears and identity questions, they’re nothing next to Nate Goddamn Trafford. It is what’s going to move my hand, that’s the thing. I could’ve died in that pool in the state I was in, but he ran down and fished me out. And what did I do? I borrow his name and let the Sirvientes take him in my place. I spend more time planning a religion than getting him back. I owe him.”

“Are you sure?” Avery asked.

“If I’m not back, I was going to start building a body of medical knowledge. We need doctors. Okay?”

“Wait, you really are thinking you could die out there?”

“Let’s see what happens,” Netanel said. He smiled and disappeared and Avery was alone.

Landing 0

The hunter held his bowstring back tight, terrified of making a sound. He’d never seen a stag like it—he wasn’t sure it was a stag at all. Its torso curved upwards, covered with a thick fur that was green like fresh moss though it would be months till spring. Its face was flat like his yet spurted huge, intertwining, knotted horns.

“Return your arrow to its sheath and I will show your family a prosperity it has never known.”

The hunter hesitated. The voice didn’t sound like it came from anywhere at all. It was like the forest itself bellowing commands, or a fellow hunter whispering quietly in his ear—almost anywhere but from the creature in front of him.

“I am far from my home, as far as I could go, and my power is weak. You may kill me. My body will feed you, your parents, and your six children. But if you heed my words your ancestors will never fear for a day without food like you do now.”

The beast stood on its hind legs which grew to look like the hunter’s. Its other, many legs extended like the arms up in praise, in offering. “Come.” It stepped forward. “Leave your bow.” The hunter dropped his bow for the last time and put a foot forward. The creature approached. Its mouth did not move as it spoke. Snowflakes fell onto its eyes but it did not blink. “In return for your sparing me…”

The beast kneeled and touched its forehead to the hunter’s.

The hunter died twenty years into leading his family to the southern lands, but not before passing the beast’s teachings to his children. Though not specifically commanded, the family forewent all meat, an extreme frivolity among their kind. The beasts did not populate the southern lands like they did in the wooded north. The air was warm and wet and filled with insects, yet their family persisted because of the new power the stag had given them to control where the earth grew food.

Word of the Stag Clan’s prowess and good fortune attracted people out from the north. The family accepted those of different blood into its ranks just as easily as it left behind those who rejected the hunter’s words, a strength that brought the clan a wide range of people with different abilities. Outsiders were confused by the seemingly pointless large-scale structures and markings the clan left over the ground, but the family members continued building them without question. To them, the structures were one and the same with the commands that taught them how to store grain and move water across their fields. They were fiercely neutral and isolated from the concerns of the warring clans that rose and fell around them. When their size or neutrality earned them ire, they were able to defend themselves with their knowledge of their terrain and, according to the stories, the advanced weaponry knowledge bestowed upon them. The older, smarter clans learned to accept the Stag Clan’s harmlessness and lived out of their way.

Hundreds of years passed since the great stag first appeared. Every member of the clan knew this year was a special year, a year the stag had lined out for them from the beginning. It was the day the visitor arrived. Every member was anxious, they wanted to prepare feasts to welcome the mysterious visitor, but it would not be so—the stag’s instructions were for the clan leader to walk out to the middle of Sun Hill to welcome the visitor alone.

Sun Hill’s first stone was laid by a member of the first family but not completed until many generations later. It was an artificial hill that had since grown over with grass. A circle of white stones was laid at the center with thirty rays stretching out a full mile in each direction. The current leader knew his name would be remembered in clan history because of this day. His name written in scrolls, his likeness carved in monuments, painted in murals. He knew this when he became leader twenty years before. It motivated him to be as kind, productive, honorable, and worthy a leader he could be. He would not betray this gift of timing.

As the leader walked up Sun Hill, he saw the visitor was already standing at the top. The visitor stood on two legs but was unlike any creature he had seen. He looked aquatic—skin of fine pink scales, gills on his neck. Long red fins over his head and the sides of his body. Pale blue eyes with no pupils. He knew the visitor was watching him approach.

“Welcome, visitor,” the clan leader said.

“You have a job for me?” Auto said.

“Yes. We have the ancient documents to show you in person, if you wish. Town is that way, over the trees there.”

The two walked. The leader did not speak or ask the questions he wanted to. The stag did not command it, and he dared not risk offending the visitor.

“How long ago did your god contact you?” Auto asked.

“Six centuries.”

Auto was impressed. He didn’t know the length of a year on this planet, but six hundred years was a lot on any life-sustaining planet. That early a precognition—and to the minute he arrived. This god sensed it earlier than many.

They walked into town. Auto’s eyes followed the top of the tall walls and structures of the town entrance. No matter how many times he saw it he was always impressed. All this, for him. The Stag Clan didn’t know it, but it was the fastest and most common ways gods got their requests out to the universe if none of their subjects had developed interstellar travel yet. The gods would raise any lifeforms they could find out of squalor so they could create massive beacons that could be seen by job hunters like himself. And they would do the same for however many hundreds of planets with intelligent life were in radius of their power’s reach.

The clan leader took the visitor to the holy room where only leaders, elders, priests and himself could enter. The leader presented the visitor with the drawings, symbols, and maps of places the clan could never decipher. The visitor looked over them with recognition and understanding.

The visitor indicated what he had seen had suited him. He promised a return, perhaps in the leader’s lifetime.

The leader bowed. “There is one more thing,” the leader said. “This is not part of the official contract, but nonetheless it has survived through the ages. When you find the sought-after one, tell him the sender says…‘I’m sorry.’”

“I will.”

The leader walked the visitor back to Sun Hill.

“Our meeting means a great deal to us here. It marks the beginning of our next stage of life here. He has already shown us how to retrieve the fruit of the earth. Now we will go underground for the new fruit the sender has left us. Then after that, we will reach to the sun and the skies for the fruit of the third stage of life. Then the fourth, and the fifth.”

“Yes,” Auto said.

The leader smiled, then realized it was time to leave the visitor alone. “Farewell.” He walked back down to the hill to his people.

Backstory #2, #7, #13, #18, #19, & #20

#2: Outbreak

(somewhere in the Horn of Africa)

The lizards came from the planet Earth.

One of Ittam’s duties was to sterilize the artifacts of their society they wanted to survive. Should things go that bad. It wasn’t necessary to do it and it only added a risk to the operation, but Ittam thought they owed the newborns some remnants of the culture they came from. Should things go that bad. Her work wasn’t advertised to the donor parents because it revealed a level of bleakness they didn’t want public.

Ittam’s hands were inside gloves attached to the wall of a sealed glass box. She was cleaning down a carving of an abstract representation of the atom when she heard the shouts of the scientific team and guards from the hallway. The commotion neared her door and she pulled her hands free from the box.

The door opened. “Aatdje?” Ittam said, not getting up from her seat. Aatdje stood out of breath in her door. The guards caught up to him and stopped. “It’s okay,” Ittam said to the guards. They edged back and Ittam approached the door.

“Aatdje, why are you here?”

“You can’t send our child up there. They’re infected. I know they are.”

“If you successfully bore a child, it is not a carrier. You know this.”

“It could give it to everyone we’ve already put up there! It could put them all in the situation we are now.”

Ittam sighed. “Why are you here?”

Aatdje’s lip quivered. He rolled up a shirt sleeve, exposing the deep dry cracks on his upper arm, the exposed tissue and muscle. “It’s this far already. I’m weak and tired all the time now. I’m useless to my family.”

Ittam didn’t know what to say. She had the disease, everyone in the city had it, but she hadn’t shown any symptoms yet. She wouldn’t bring up Aatdje’s years of commitment to letting the scientists use their unborn child to help build a genetic pool to rebuild their society if they never found a cure. She wouldn’t bring up how he already had an almost-adult daughter. She wouldn’t bring up how they needed genetic diversity and how Aatdje and his wife were one of the only Tmassen donors to have any children in the last decade. She wouldn’t bring up how the eggs would be perfectly safe in orbit, how a failsafe mechanism would take them all back down to Earth together in thousands of years. Ittam knew Aatdje knew all those things already. She didn’t know what to bring up. He was already here, feeling like he felt. Breathing heavily, barely holding back his desperation.

“Do you want her to grow parentless or childless?” Ittam asked.

“It’s a her?”

Damn it, Ittam thought. A slip. “Yes. She’ll hatch and grow into a woman, free from this disease. She can have children of her own if she wants to. This will happen whether they’re up there for a year or for a thousand years.”

“I want to see her grow up. Even if I only have a few years on me, I don’t care. She deserves to know us. The cure could come in her lifetime.”

“If she hatches here now she will have the disease. Am I clear on this?”

They stared into each other’s faces, neither flinched. The room door opened, a coworker hurriedly entered. “Doctor, there’s a raid outside.”

Ittam turned. “Humans?” She groaned. “I’m coming.”

She grabbed one of the net cannons and hurried into the street to help. The humans had a habit of coming out of nowhere. There was no structure or schedule to their attacks. The streets of the city would be quiet, then a few lumbering creatures would just be there, looking around. Out from the trees. Sometimes it was a few curious specimens, quick to scurry at the sight of a lizard. Other times they were threatened by the activity of the city from afar and they would come in with a vague but violent sense of anarchy. This was one of the largest groups that had come in weeks. The facility’s security staff was out on the streets quickly bagging them, but not before they could make a few successful sneak attacks or long charges into the city.

Ittam spotted an adult male human beelining towards her. It was carrying a gun of lizard origin. She panicked, then realized it was holding it by the barrel, ready to strike with the butt of the gun. She lifted the air cannon and fired—a weighted net flew out and wrapped around the human. He writhed dramatically on the ground, tangling himself further. A truck specially fitted for this kind of thing would pick them up later. She was unnerved to see them use tools, imitate them…she lowered her cannon. There was a very short human following after the male, running while holding a sharpened stick. Not a short human, you fool. It was a child. She hadn’t seen one for so long. It was toddling towards her now. She fired the net and the child fell close to its parent, wriggling itself further into the net the same way. The disease hasn’t hit them at all, has it, she thought. How long until they have an empty city left for them to explore?

#7: Atom

The lizards came from the test site.

After the bright circle twinkled away from the horizon, a research party of two humans in hazmat suits took a speedboat to the island. They double-checked their position as they neared the shore, unsure of what they were seeing. There was no destruction on the island. They made it to shore and disembarked. Every tree, leaf, and rock was in its place.

“You ever do drugs back in the day Edmunds? Not weed, I’m talking like, hallucinogens. This is giving me flashbacks. This is just what it’d be like. Everything looks like itself until you linger on it for a second, you see these patterns and fractals on everything. Even the sand we’re walking on, look at these designs. It feels wrong walking on it.”

“But it’s not turning into ants or faces or anything either.”

“Right. Oh I’m not doubting my eyes here. But it is surreal. This seems against the laws of thermodynamics. Just the basic entropy of…everything here should have increased here after the detonation. But instead, this intricacy, this structure…”

“Watch where you’re going there, Novak.”

One of the island’s abundant native species of monitor lizard was ambling towards Novak. It was aware of the two researchers but didn’t look threatened. Merely curious.

“It’s still alive. That’s incredible,” Novak said.


The two researchers looked at each other through their suits. “Is that you?” Edmunds asked. Novak shook his head. They turned to the monitor lizard.

Caren tone a toward elevanting sirrusan andor ministanegomy.


The animal stood on its hind legs, its anatomy barely resembling a monitor lizard anymore. “Novak. Novak. Novak. Alrift, sun, high less and erran drannen freence. Anclosure. Sededem. Ty unn valan. Ek alowen.” More monitors lizard showed up showed up from the trees, interested in the scenario.

“I think we have an ethical predicament here.”

#13: A Test

The lizards came from the planet Osier.

The Eilao gang stood over the lizard boy. Their bony ridged blue faces didn’t hide their contempt for their classmate knocked over onto the cement.

“You got the test curved. By only two points. Lizard.”

“All you had to do was fail like the rest of us. Was that so hard, lizard?

The lizard cowered backwards, his books and pencils strewn over the cement. “I was just trying to do my best!”

The meanest, tallest Eilao of the gang spat to the side, hitting one of the lizard’s notebooks. The spit burned through the cheap recycled paper.

My notes!

“You know what my Pop always said about your kind? He said you were always too good for—

The ground shook. None of the children had known such a force, an immense rumbling to come from every direction around them.

“What’s happening?!” one of the Eilao children cried.

A cliff pushed itself up from what was once the school ballfield. The foundations of the school buildings were shaking violently. Dust was rising from the auditorium. Every part of the earth was yawning and creaking and screaming. Something was happening to the skyline of the city in the distance.

“Get down!” another one of the Eilao yelled. The kids got on the ground and covered their heads. An ear-piercing blast of steam broke out of the schoolyard. One of the Eilao watched as the fallen lizard’s school equipment began to bounce in place. His pencils and books were alive with energy, frenetically popping back and forth. The others noticed, watching from their panicked positions. The lizard’s belongings started bouncing into the air, rising steadily.

“Whoa-oh-oh!” the lizard said. He started rising himself. He dragged his hands on the ground but could not grab hold. “Help me!” he cried.

One of the Eilao got up and ran to the lizard, but the ground shook and dropped from below him and the Eilao fell forward. The lizard had risen out of reach now. He took off his backpack and held it below him so the Eilao could grab onto it and pull him back. The Eilao stood up and jumped but its arms could not reach the ascending lizard or his backpack. The cement started to crack.

Without warning the lizard and his belongings shot up into the air. The lizard helplessly watched the Eilao and school recede into dots on the landscape. The cracking, disintegrating landscape. The air was already turning dark with ash. The lizard flipped over to look upwards, shielding his eyes from the air he was flying through. There was something in the sky. A triangle. Like a spaceship, out of the movies he saw. He was heading right towards it. He looked around him, panicking. Abducted! There were dots in the distance, other abducted people like him. He held his eyes open long enough to make out—they were lizards too, like him. All of them. They were all converging in on the massive metal ship above them. An underside hatch slid away: the mouth of the ship ready to take them in.

The lizard boy woke up. The first thing he saw were the frightened stares of other lizard children around him. He realized he was making the same scared face they all were. They were in a long chamber. They all had cots, food and basic necessities laid out for them.

“We all just woke up too,” one of the children told him.

An electronic crackle echoed throughout the room.

“The Eilao people…have failed,” a voice said through a PA system. A tall lizard in a blue elaborate dress walked down the middle of the room carrying a microphone.

“Do not fear, my children. You have very safe lives ahead of you. We are the Osier Kingdom. We police every known sector of this galaxy. Our natural dominion is known and accepted by hundreds of races you are yet to meet. The Eilao people were not ready for that truth.”

The speaker pressed a button on the microphone. The opaque floor of the room turned transparent, revealing the view below the ship. They were in orbit around the planet. It was barely recognizable from the maps the children knew in school. They were directly over the coast of Pinunn, barely recognizable from the shape it had yesterday. Pinunn was destroyed. The young lizard wanted to become a sailor there one day, like the characters in his shows.

#18: Stowaways

The Orw worker wiped his hands together. “Alright, what did we have in this one.”

The Raneutian read off the inventory. “We’ve got an ancient Mi Ku stone bowl, a limited-run reproduction of contemporary Sorsan sculptor Tjerni Nul’s work ‘Body and Water in Talk with Butterfly,’ and an empty Ballio starlight battery.”

“What’s this?” A third worker asked, pointing into the vessel.

“Bim,” the Raneutian said, “you’ve been working here a whole month.”

“It’s an…egg?” Bim asked.

“Yeah. Duh.”

The Orw grabbed a hose and pointed it into the vessel. He sprayed a jet of a water, flushing out the red egg.

“You’ve never seen a lizard egg? This whole month?” The Raneutian asked.

“Never!” Bim said.

“Just flush ‘em out like this,” the Orw said still holding the hose. “They’ll go in the drain, come out somewhere, I don’t know. I just work on this planet.”

“What are they?” Bim asked.

“Bim! I can’t believe this!” the Raneutian said.

“They’re stowaways. These shipments from the Plal-o warehouses, they’re ‘budget’ for a reason, yeah? They’ve got these lizard things they can’t get rid of, a total infestation. The lizards lay their eggs and they…they stick them in here. Trying to, I don’t know what.”

“I don’t know what the big deal is, I just never seen one before,” Bim said, scratching his head as he watched the egg flow down with the hose water. “There it goes, right down the drain like you said.”

“Alright, back to the inventory. What’s next?” the Orw said.

“The order was for 24,308 vessels. That’s a biggun. Probably for Vrin Spring Sale rush…or the Allin Founder’s Month whatever…we had 20,030 arrive, so that’s, what, less than 20% breakaway? Pretty dang good, especially from Plal-o.”

“Think it was a raid?” Bim asked.

“No, not for this junk. Probably just gravity, straying too close to a star system. They try to pick the clearest routes, but there’s always some breakaway.”

“I had to tell a client they lost over 50% of a Plal-o run that way, and they didn’t say a single word about it. It’s just a known thing.”

“Makes sense, this order did come a long way. Anyway…onto the next one…”

#19: Trade

The human named Jeffrey woke up to the sound of a computer offering him a warm towel. “Good morning Jeffrey. It’s a beautiful July day on Planet Lizard. It is 11:32am.” Jeffrey patted himself with the warm towel, humming while he scraped the icy frost from his skin and hair. “It is 320 years later.” He pouted his lips and raised his eyebrows, weighing the information. Acceptable. “We will be arriving shortly.”

Jeffrey walked to the door’s view portal. The vessel was carrying him hundreds of feet above the Planet Lizard suburbs. Lawns, lawns, lawns, lawns, a tollway, lawns, lawns, lawns. A private park.

“Prepare for impact.”

The vessel slowed and gently touched the ground. Almost a perfect landing, only a smidge too tilted. The door opened outwards. A minivan was parked in the grass waiting for him, its lizard driver standing in front.

“You’re early Jeffrey!” the lizard said. He straightened his tie.

“Fashionably!” Jeffrey said, snapping both his fingers at the lizard.

“Ohp,” the lizard said. He walked forward, reached up and plucked a stray icicle from Jeffrey’s ear and flicked it to the side. “Cryogenics. Man. You silly little monkey boys have it good.” The lizard playfully punched Jeffrey’s gut. The jiggling of his own belly hypnotized him. “That ol’ popsicle process pops us right off. Found that out the hard way. We gotta send our boys unhatched!”

“Ahhh,” Jeffrey said, looking around the park. “This labor exchange benefits us both. In ways people don’t understand. The data’s there.”

“How right you are…Now. Your log said you have experience in sales?”

#20: Helium

The lizards came from the planet Tremula.

Nium rock, informally known as “helium ore,” had become the backbone to the Arist economy. It was a green-hued metal that floated into the air once freed from the ground, rising forever if not contained. Many technological achievements were made by alloying it with different metals to create a strong, near-weightless metal—or in the case of aircraft, weightless or more.

In some lands there were quarries and mines for the rock (with complicated structures in place to hold down the metal once it was mined). There weren’t any large deposits in this region, but there was a steady presence of nium scattered in the subsoil, making what was once poor farming land desirable in a new way. The fields were worked by Borer workers: a reptilian race, large and quadrupedal. They were perfectly intelligent but quiet, seemingly content, bordering on subservient—a quality the Arist race took full advantage of. The Arist were a daintier race of people: scrawnier and two feet shorter than the Borer on average. Reptilian as well, but with bipedal skeletal structures. They occupied themselves with business, politics, art, and invented social rituals. Only one Arist was needed to watch over the Borer workers—there was no tension between them. The Borer only had to loosen the nium from the dirt that held it down so it could ascend to the large net constructed above their fields to catch the floating metal, creating a slow inverted rainfall of pebbles and grains while they worked. The larger chunks would fly upwards then roll up along the underside of the net until it pooled at the top. After a day’s work the net would take a cone shape, a pointed marker visible above the field for miles. The Borer would then return to their Arist-provided sleeping quarters to quietly eat their Arist-provided food and go to bed for the next day.

Laocra was the daughter of the Arist lord of this region. She lied in the forest grass next to Nyric, a Borer from the fields, watching the smoke of their campfire rise up to the night sky. She had been there with him for hours but panic still choked at her throat.

“Could you strangle and kill me?” Laocra asked.

“…Is that what you want?” Nyric asked.

She turned, surprised. “You would really do it if I asked you, wouldn’t you.”

He stared at her, completely still as the dim orange light of the flames danced off him. “If you wanted it. I would. But you don’t want it.”

“I’m sorry,” she said. She rolled onto her side, closer to him. “Have I doomed you to this situation by first talking to you? Did I take advantage of you?”

“If I didn’t love you,” he said, “you would know.”

She grabbed his hand and rubbed the thick calluses on the heel of his palm. “What do we do?” Nyric asked. “We’re not against that wall yet, but will we be?”

Nyric was silent. He closed his eyes and pressed his nose to hers.

What are you thinking?” a voice shouted.

Nyric and Laocra jolted awake. An Arist woman was running up to them. She ran up to the fire and kicked dirt into it. Laocra recognized the woman before she extinguished the fire—she was the lone forewoman over the Borer workers. Laocra had been seen, an Arist lying in a Borer’s embrace. But her face? Would she be recognized? Before she could process it she was on her feet running away. Darting through the forest, running anywhere else but there. A coward! No. Nyric could outrun any Arist. If he wanted to enough. And he had reason to want to.

The next morning all the Borer were in the field resuming work from where they left off. Laocra had made it back to her family’s house before sunrise but could not sleep with what had happened. Spotted so easily, so carelessly. In the morning she snuck past her maids before they could dress her in the flowery morning-time dress. She was spotted leaving the house by her brother, his face in the same scowl it had been stuck in for years.

She stood three trees deep in the forest overlooking the fields. The leaves and the giant suspended cone of nium gave her shade from the morning sun. She looked for Nyric, but from this distance any of the workers could be him. Or…he might not be any of them.

“I didn’t know women of your rank owned such common clothes,” the forewoman said, emerging from the trees to Laocra’s side. “Your posture gives it away.”

Laocra bit her lower lip and kept her gaze forward.

“You shouldn’t have made the fire. I could see the smoke from my quarters here. You didn’t need to run either. Nyric walked back with me, we didn’t say a word to each other.”

Laocra continued ignoring her.

“Is it his child you’re carrying?”

Laocra glared in disbelief, anger. The forewoman’s face was completely unfazed.

“I’ve seen you coming here for months,” the forewoman continued. “I doubted it because…well, it’s usually the Arist men eyeing the Borer women. I run them off when I see them. We can walk back to my quarters if you want to talk there.”

No response. The forewoman walked forward on her own. It wasn’t long until she noticed the footsteps of Laocra following behind her. They walked past the fields up close, Laocra looking out over them. “Where is he?” she asked the forewoman.

“He’s fine. This way.”

It was a small room. A bed, a pitcher of water, a large logbook. The forewoman closed her front door and sat down at the table opposite Laocra.

“I want to raise our child,” Laocra said. “With its father. I want to see our child grow up and live a normal life. But it’ll never be possible here, will it?” Laocra said, biting at her nails.

“No.” The forewoman sighed. “I want to help you.”

“Why do you want to help? I don’t get it. Why don’t you see our child as a mule, an infertile perversion like everyone else would.”

“There is something I’ve done for the pregnant Borer with their Arist fathers. If you do it too you won’t be able to raise your child. But it could go somewhere besides here.”

“Can’t I…don’t I have some kind of power? Our society has to get past this, somehow, right? I can be the start of something! I have standing, a standing not many people have…”

The forewoman laughed involuntarily.

“What?” Laocra asked angrily.

“You have status, all that gives you is a longer distance to fall. How well do you trust your own family? How long do you think you’d be here after announcing such a transgression? How long do you think Nyric would?” She paused. “You asked why I was helping you…I was working this same job some decades ago when I saw a child like yours. A ‘mule,’ like you say. Almost an adult, I don’t know where he had lived his whole childhood. I didn’t do anything to help him, I let him go on his own. I never told anyone. I felt so heroic just for doing that. Later he had been found in a city outskirt, miles away, beaten to death while he was sleeping.” She got up and looked out her window. “There is no natural order. Only a social order. It’s fragile as all hell. Have you lost your appetite yet?”

Laocra shifted, not answering.

“That means it’s time. You won’t be able to hide that forever. Will you come back tonight, like you usually do?”

“I get no sleep anyway,” Laocra said.

“Good. Nyric will be there.”

There was a knock at the door. The forewoman walked over and answered it. A Borer was at the door on all fours and bowed her head. “The net is at capacity,” she said.

“Good. Assemble the others at each end, I’ll be out shortly.”

The Borer nodded again and left. The forewoman turned to her guest. “Tonight, then.”

Laocra delivered her child behind the Borer sleeping quarters with the forewoman’s help. She squeezed her hand into Nyric’s, standing by her side. Delivery was not an excessively excruciating process for the Arist, but the half-Borer egg was larger than Laocra was built for. The forewoman cleaned off the egg with a rag and held it in a sheet while she recovered.

“The color…is that like the Borer?” Laocra asked Nyric.

“Our shells are off-white,” he said.

“Ours too…” she said.

Laocra held the egg. It was a vivid red, even in the night. What happened to that ancient race of priests and sages? That sterile, in-between race…Loved and honored. She handed it back to the forewoman. Nyric stood up on his back two legs, towering over Laocra. He embraced her and she trembled. Her body still hurt.

“I sent Nyric out today to find the largest intact deposit of nium I knew of. He found the perfect sample, carved it out himself. Can you get it now?”

Nyric let go of Laocra and left to collect it. He came back on two legs, holding two massive two-foot wide hemispheres of the green metal. His muscles strained to keep it down between his hands.

“This is it then,” Laocra said. “This is our best. We just…let it go. Up there, somewhere.”

“Nium isn’t less dense than air, that’s not how it floats. No, it’s pulled away from here. It keeps rising away from this planet until it’s gone forever. Maybe it’s headed somewhere in particular. Wherever it goes, the egg is completely protected by the nium.”

“Where does it go?”

“Anywhere but here.”

“For how long?”

The forewoman didn’t answer.

Nyric repositioned his arms to hold the nium tighter. “Laocra,” he said. He nodded slowly.


Laocra,” he said. “Please.”

It was the first time he’d insisted on anything in the time she had known him.

The forewoman gave the egg back to Laocra for the last time. “I know there are others like me. And those others know others. And those others know others…Wherever your child is going, there are dozens making the same journey. Maybe hundreds.”

She looked into the egg. Too dim to make the shape out. But it was there. Their child. She raised it to her face and whispered to it. “Please be happy…”

The Overlap 1

The lizards came from far away.

It was day this time. A sky of bright lavender.

Traveling here took everything out of Netanel in a way it didn’t when he was here to help the young girl. He let himself fall onto his knees in the yellow grass. The planet’s sun was a perfect white circle, easy to look upon, the way the Sun looks behind the edges of clouds on Earth sometimes.

The speed of his travel mocked him. It gave no time to process anything. He was in Avery’s apartment, and now he was here. Flick. He wanted to release everything, somehow. He couldn’t have his home, his refuge, his friends. He couldn’t be left alone to help his own people. He couldn’t have a quiet mind free from the barrage of pleading voices. And now he was here. He let the wind wash over him.

He decided to yell as loud as he could. He pulled a deep anguished bellow from the bottom of his abdomen and held it out as long as he could go, his head shaking from the power of it as he pushed every bit of air from his lungs.

He felt a little better, but also more stupid. Birds flew out of the far-off trees.

He caught his breath and did it again.

He knew he was on the right planet, the voices that had drowned out his mind on Earth were sharper and clearer without the distance separating them. Beyond that, he had no idea where on this planet he just dropped himself.


No more resting.

He scoped the area. He was surrounded by shallow rolling hills, circled in by a line of trees. The plants at his feet were unfamiliar, but only in the ways plants are unfamiliar when traveling to other countries. The way the wind sounded blowing through them was all the same. There were tall white stones poking out of the ground at irregular intervals. They looked man-made to Netanel’s eye, but he didn’t know this world’s geology. If there had been any structures built here, they were long, long gone.

A lizard moved out from behind the stone column closest to Netanel’s side. A native. The lizard looked concerned. Netanel had just howled his soul out, twice. Fuck. He felt humiliated. He didn’t know who this lizard was, but he had already failed him. Or, worse, terrified him. Netanel stood up and they both held still.

The lizard spoke a word Netanel didn’t know.

“I’m sorry…” Netanel said. He saw the confusion in the lizard’s face at his syllables.

The lizard spoke in the same language as before but the meaning came through. It’s you?

“Yes, I…” Netanel started, then stopped. He broadcasted his words out to him. Don’t be afraid. It’s me. The words came to him easily. Maybe it was just the right thing to say. He didn’t know if the lizard was afraid, he didn’t know what “it’s me” confirmed to him, yet it looked like he was eased by the words. The lizard put two hooked fingers to his lips and gave a short piercing whistle Netanel didn’t know lizards could do. A woman stepped out from behind a further pillar with a short knife. She stopped, seeing the red and gold god standing in the field. She beamed and laughed a single happy “ha!” and stashed the knife. Netanel realized she was decades older than him, a novelty that he didn’t expect to surprise him so much. Her face had the years of gravity to create the definition and character that her smile radiated through.

“Did you travel so long even you forgot your past?” she conveyed through her foreign words. “You look just like they described you.”

The first lizard was plaintive. “We were here to rob you. I didn’t know who you were,” he admitted to Netanel. “We are thieves.”

The Netanel that grew up on Earth was ready to joke about his willingness to admit that but stopped himself. He gave a thought of acknowledgement, a “this is well” or “so it is.” They raised their heads slightly.

“Is this home?” Netanel asked them.

She snorted. “You really have forgotten!”

The two lizards led Netanel through the hills and fields in the direction of their dwelling. They silently understood everything this moment meant and didn’t want to spoil it with talk. As they turned around the hills, Netanel first saw the wall of mountains wrapping around them, receding back into the deep lavender of the afternoon sky. Something about them seemed obvious and familiar to him—he remembered making them. All this land, his preparations. For a split-second he knew what it felt like to casually reflect on thousands of years. To protect them until they were able to take on the rest of the continent and what it held.

“We wish to stay here. We are done waiting, done traveling. You know our hearts, you know how they cannot be shaken.”

“I do. It is a deep sadness. But you shall stay. I cannot change your hearts, but I can help you live here.” He turned to the lands beyond, and raised his hands.

The path would taper away into the plants and resurface later as they walked. There was little to signal the alienness of the world. The plants, the ground, the shapes of the landscape and mountains, he didn’t recognize them but they felt “right,” a tasteful variation on a theme. The blooming flowers perfumed the air. The lavender sky felt more like the haze of a pleasant dream or the ambience of a grandmother’s house than a new planet.

These vague memories of a…of a god, shaping the land. Why did he have these memories? He had no forgotten past, he wasn’t an amnesiac. He had a human grandmother’s house to remember. He remembered being a few feet long, running on all fours before his skeleton grew more bipedal…Was it a telepathic imprint of the place? A memory bestowed onto every visitor? Was every plant and fiber a record of the land’s history, transmitted through the air?

The older lizard watched Netanel look over the landscape and seemed to know the histories he was reflecting on. She smiled and kept on.

Raindrops pool into a groove on a tall boulder.

The two lizards started to talk to each other. Without addressing their thoughts to Netanel, he could only catch snippets of meaning. He gathered that this lizard society had a central town they had both fled from many years ago. The younger one had hated the town for his whole life, but now, with Netanel’s arrival, he felt kinship with his people. He wanted to see how happy all of them would be. He was proud of what they had built here, as a people. Proud to be surviving. The two of them wrestled with the thought of their newfound role in the story of Netanel’s return. The man refused to accept it, and doubted that they should even go into town with him. We have to, the woman insisted. He doesn’t even know how to get there! They talked about past transgressions that Netanel didn’t understand, and it occurred to him—this wasn’t his to control, not even to fully understand. These people held his departure and his promised return as central elements to their mythology and cultural identity. These two lizards, these two outcasts he landed in front of, are the heroes of a Biblical-level saga whether they’re ready for it or not. They will be sanctified, everything about their pasts will be reshaped as the ingredients that led them to that field on that day. The start of a thread that will span centuries. He would let them discover the weight of that for themselves.

A star explodes in vivid colors for the audience at the other end of the deep space telescope.

They neared the dwelling. As they rounded the final bend, Netanel thought he saw buildings, but realized it was the same ancient white stone as the pillars. Walls without roofs, spires lying on their side. The most intact building had a triangular tarp stretched on top of it—this was their home. They apologized for its quality of shelter. It looked like it was once a church with the familiar pointed front wall, but the inside was a circular shape, more communal in design. Birds cast long shadows as they hopped along the ground, pecking dutifully. It was beautiful.

The young thief cleared a square yard of plants and dirt to reveal a wooden hatch with an iron lock. He opened it and tossed in the packs he and the woman had been carrying. He slipped into the waist-deep hole to grab some firewood and stepped back out.

The woman was by Netanel’s side. “We heard you had come that night. The word traveled like lightning, even to us out here by the mountains,” she said.

Netanel said nothing, letting the wind fill the space.

“There’s something I want to show you. Before the sun sets.”

They walked out of the field. There were more of these church-like ruins as they continued.

The universe’s heat death pops into the mind of an expectant father stuck in traffic.

Netanel’s guide approached a ruin with its entrance blocked by a fallen white pillar. “This way,” she said. She climbed over the pillar’s corner and slid down to the other side, and Netanel followed. The stone floor had given way to an untouched garden, buzzing and chirping with insects. It was closed in by tall intact walls on three sides, but it glowed in the golden sunlight that wedged in from the fallen roof. Netanel followed the woman as she waded through the tall weeds and flowers to the far wall to stop in front of a worn-but-legible engraving. It had two intersecting circles, like a vertical Venn diagram. In the bottom circle, there was a silhouette of a lizard with ornate swirls and branches around it, with smaller worshipping lizards at the border. “You,” she said. Netanel looked closer and realized the swirls weren’t ornamental, but matched the twists of gold and silver on his body. With dread, he looked up at the her hand as she pointed to top circle. “Old,” she described. There was a figure carved with antlers and many arms. It was more worn than the rest of the engraving. In the center, where the two circles overlapped, there was an engraving of the mountains that surrounded them. She jammed her finger at it. “Us.”

Netanel would’ve been happy if it were only lizards in the engraving. That would’ve been simpler. Maybe some humans, even. He didn’t know what to make of the top circle—and, he didn’t know what to make of being in the place both circles overlapped.

“My grandmother took me here when I was a child. When I was a child! And she was taken here by her grandmother! It has always been this way, for us old ones! Untouched and still. That’s how old these ruins are. That’s how old you are.”

Netanel shook his head. “I was in my egg less than thirty years ago.”

“This whole place is a temple…to you. They came with you but stayed behind, and died long ago. We only have old memories of old memories. But you are here! The one carved into this wall! You are back!”

The old woman went to sleep early, leaving Netanel to sit next to the other lizard by the fireside. They bore their eyes into the flames for a long time in silence. The lizard finally spoke to tell Netanel that they would leave for town tomorrow morning and that he should prepare for the reception he was about to receive. He put a hand on Netanel’s shoulder. “I won’t tell them about the yelling.” Netanel smiled and felt good for the first time in a long while.

Nate Trafford was given an abandoned hill-top shack outside of town. The lizards had no idea what to do with him. He was surely related to Netanel’s reappearance but they weren’t sure how. Maybe he was a product of their unceasing prayer for his return. An odd sign to receive, but a sign nonetheless. Nate tried to talk to the lizards but they only laughed politely. Over a week had passed, and Nate stayed out of the city now. The children of the town, however, could not ignore him as easily as the rest.

Nate heard young laughter outside the shack’s sliding door and growled. He stepped outside, ready to noogie one of their heads. He’d done it before and he’d do it again. Four kids ran in a circle around his abode. One broke off and started to deftly scale up onto the roof with a heavy stick in hand. Another darted through his door and back out with a stack of thick paper with ink scrawled over it—she ran the fastest, barreling down the hill with her prize. “Hey!” Nate called futilely. The child on top of the roof swung his stick down to whack Nate while he was distracted, but Nate saw it coming and held his hand up to catch it mid-swing. “Ah HA!” Nate yelled. The roof lizard groaned in defeat and climbed down the opposite side. Nate looked for the girl with his papers—she was at the bottom of the hill now with momentum that would carry her a hundred feet onwards. A man stood in her path and she almost fell backwards trying to stop herself. She landed sitting awkwardly on her tail and looked up. It was him, the lizard who had disrupted her parents and her teachers so much. The god lizard with the red and gold skin. He smiled at her and she scurried to the side, too stunned to apologize. He was draped in ceremonial robes, gold jewelry, and small white flowers.

“Hello,” Netanel said down to her. She gulped.

Civilizations rise and die like crackles of radio static inside the slow dance of a binary galaxy.

The kids stopped, taking in the scene below them. Nate set the stick in the ground and rested both hands on top like a cane and looked on at Netanel. “So. ‘Netanel,’ huh?” Nate yelled to the bottom of the hill.

They were odd sights to each other. Nate was wearing a stiff long blue cloth that stretched from his shoulders to just above his ankles, pinched with a belt in the middle. He was sporting a week’s worth of stubble and wearing a triangular hat made from the same thick brown paper the child had grabbed a stack of.

Nate…!” Netanel called back. “I…”

A cricket stops chirping when a dog walks by, then picks up where it left off.

“Why don’t you walk up here!” Nate called.

Netanel nodded and started walking.

“My birth name’s Nathan, by the way. Not Nathaniel. Not NET-AH-NEL. It hasn’t been easy being me, has it? I understand completely,” he said, smiling. “It’s the same year, right?”

A child skillfully folds a piece of fruit leather to avoid touching the sticky side.

“…It is, right?” Nate asked frantically.

“Yeah. Same year. Sorry,” Netanel said, at the top of the hill now.

“Good. Want to sit down?” Nate asked, turning around to head inside. He had a large hole in the seat of his clothes revealing his checkered boxers.


“Ah, damn,” he said turning back around. “I kept trying to stitch those up. I think the kids pulled the string out.”

A musician builds up confidence for two years to post a video of herself playing a new song on the guitar and finally reveal to her fans she’s a lizard, all to find the first response is a question about the tuning.

There were two low stools at a table. The tabletop had a rudimentary inkwell, more pieces of brown paper, a few attempts at wooden carving. A hand-woven basket half-full of berries. “None of the chairs have backs here,” Nate said. “I thought that was adorable. You should get a summer home here. Lakeside cabin. I would, if, you know…You okay?”

Violent windstorms etch a civilization’s word for “hello” in the rocky desert of a planet they will never reach.

“What?” Netanel asked.

“You seem distracted.”

A deer crosses an empty road, the only living being on it for miles.

“It’s the hat…” Netanel said.

“Oh. You like it? The kids made that for me.” Nate lifted it off his head to look at it, revealing his haphazardly short-cut hair. Netanel couldn’t repress his surprise. “Yeah,” Nate said, feeling his hair. “One of the blue people pulled a chunk of hair out. You know, when I came here. When they thought we were the same person. It hurt really bad! It bled, the lizards in the village had this balm, I don’t think it did much but it smelled good. I didn’t have much to do here so I cut the rest off.”

“I’m…so sorry Nate. That you ended up here at all.”

“That was a pretty weird day. You’re here though. You’re their, what, their god now? Yet you’re here seeing me. I respect that.”

Nate…before we go back. Imbiber isn’t your friend. Samantha is. She doesn’t even particularly like you that much, but she hounded me every day to find you.”

“Really?” Nate asked.

“Yes. We worked together. At least, we started to. Before all this.”

“Wow…” Nate said. “Canoodling with the enemy.” He smiled. “I can’t believe you said the word ‘Imbiber’ here.”

“Are you ready to leave this place?” Netanel asked.

“What is it then? You’re going to hop back and forth between Earth and here? Is that your new life?”

“I don’t know,” Netanel said. “But you need to go home. I don’t know how much time I have to do what I want.”

Nate got up and thought. “One moment.” He walked out of the house and down the hill, Netanel following close behind.

A frozen pathogen thaws from the permafrost.

Nate stopped, appreciating the surroundings. He took in one last lungful of air. “Good air here.” He spotted the children down the hill. “Goodbye, children!” he yelled, waving. The children turned from their huddle and imitated his wave back. “Alright,” Nate said, facing Netanel. “Let’s get out of here.”

The Overlap 2

Sam dropped the letter into the metal mailbox on the other side of the apartment complex’s hot parking lot. She was sending a letter off to the lizard Lanhart, out in the desert with his sun tea. She wanted him to be doing well, and included her apartment address, phone number, email, and even her parents’ contact information in the letter. She stuck a few extra stamps inside, in case he didn’t have any.

The hope of finding Nate was what pushed Netanel to finally leave for the other planet. That was the only information Sam could get out of Avery, who was despondent on his couch with his head in a pillow. He was beating himself up for telling Netanel he should go and already wanted him back. “I hate how he leaves,” Avery had said. “I wish he could walk out of the door first. Instead he’s there talking to you, then…he’s not.” Poor guy, Sam thought. Probably still on his couch now. She hadn’t tried to comfort him beyond a shoulder pat and letting him know she’d be in her apartment. She had no more idea what was going to happen to Netanel than he did, and she knew how optimistic speculation usually backfires, so she left it at that.

Everything Sam had been doing these past weeks should have felt like a bigger part of her life than than a transitionary period stemming from the startup incident, but that was how it felt to her. The startup incident had been a much longer story in her head, but she was getting enough distance from it to build the synopsis in her head and look on at it. She supposed it wasn’t that bad in the scheme of things—she wasted a lot of money moving down here, but not a fatal blow. She did get another job so quickly, after all. She never gave the rundown to Nate, and she wouldn’t give it to Avery either. Her embarrassment could stay her own.

And where did it lead her? She just had to help her old coworker write his article, which just had to involve this barely-alien race on the cusp of their holy awakening. She cared about all the lizards she ran into—she cared about everyone she ran into, and considered that an important part of her success as a writer—but she didn’t feel whatever draw Nate felt to be a part of their story. She was fascinated by the work Netanel offered her, but regardless of the supernatural displays Net gave, it was only ever that, “fascinating.” It was in the realm of elaborate thought experiment, never really part of the world she lived in. When she finished her work, she’d be fine letting their concerns stay theirs. Nate had his annoying tendencies and a sense of ambition that often came across as ingratitude or egomania, but he had respected Sam as a coworker over the years, more than anyone else at Imbiber did, and that meant something to her. They had a shared experience at that place that wasn’t going to go away.

To most the world, Nate Trafford wasn’t even missing. He was Netanel’s human persona before revealing his god status to the world. The people that knew Nate Trafford at Imbiber had no interest in contradicting this common knowledge, in spite of the years of loyalty he’d given them. She was the only person who knew the trouble he was in, but the only thing she could do was poke Netanel to fix it. And now he was gone and all she could do was wait. The fucker’s safe return was the only obligation left tethering her to this haze her life had been mired in since leaving Oregon.

She was back in her apartment now. She was dabbing her forehead with a paper towel before there was a knock at the door. “It’s me,” Avery said.

Sam let him in and he stood in the door holding his elbow. “This isn’t good for me.” He seemed to wince at his own words. “My apartment feels dead. I can’t explain it. I’m going to take a walk. Thanks for checking in on me earlier.”

“Of course,” Sam said, “you—

Thump. From the bathroom.

Sam and Avery threw a confused look at each other. Avery was closer and made it into the bathroom first.

“Who are you?!” Avery yelled.

Sam hurried in behind Avery. Nate Trafford was lying face down in the bathtub. Wearing long bright blue clothes, with a hole in the rear with his boxers showing through. Nate groaned in pain and rubbed his head, then started to lift himself out of the tub. Avery took a defensive pose until Sam stepped between the two of them. “Oh, heyyy Sam,” Nate said looking up at them. “Wait. Where’s Red?”

The Overlap 3

Netanel yelled helplessly. An unseen force grabbed him by the arms and legs and held him suspended in the air, yanking him from the teleportation while Nate went on ahead. The force tapped into Netanel’s own powers, drawing the sides of the world in. The town disappeared, turning into a hill like the one he stood on. The hills, the trees, everything shifted and changed as the mirror-box walls were pulled in against his will. Pulling in on Netanel himself. He clamped his eyelids down and his vision shrieked with gold. The walls came in on him, closing in on a point. Netanel braced himself…and the walls kept going. The north wall eclipsed the south wall, the top wall eclipsed the bottom. Netanel wasn’t sure he was anywhere anymore. He didn’t dare open his eyes. The force still held onto his arms and legs, holding him in place.

“I won’t make you hunt for me.”

Netanel’s bare feet rested against onto cold marble. The force released its hold on his limbs.

“Were you ever able to hold a name? What do you go by this month—Netanel?’”

Netanel opened his eyes. He was inside a giant stone temple. Or, the appearance of one. Every surface was shining and white, yet there were cracks and rubble on the ceiling and the pillars around them. There was an animal, some kind of woodland creature in front of him. On four deer-like legs but with an upturned upper body with a flat face. It was dark green, like it was draped in a coat of moss.

It spoke. “I don’t know if you came back to avenge him. Or maybe to forgive me. I miss your people. I miss our people.”

Everything Netanel saw was an illusion, but it wasn’t for deceit. It was its own technique, its own diplomacy, its own art. The creature’s dark green visage reflected off the marble floor.

“We’ve been alone for so long,” it said.

The being manifested itself as a stag but their conversation didn’t feel like it was happening face-to-face, words exchanging between them. The words were in the rustles of leaves, supernovas, raindrop patterns, the cycle of life and death.

The ways gods talked.

“The outpost planet?” Netanel said. His voice came out muted and stagnant. It didn’t carry and bounce off the flat surfaces the way the god’s words did.

“No. Our home, Netanel,” the god said. “Come back to the land where your people’s parents are buried.”

“Our parents left us. Sent us out,” Netanel said. “We hatched and grew up on Earth.”

“Your parents did no such thing!” the god yelled. “You lived here! You and everyone else. Do you not remember?!”

“I don’t.”

“Does this mean…you don’t remember what I’m apologizing for?” The beast hung its head down. The scenery dimmed. The temple and the surroundings faded to nothingness. It was only Netanel and the beast’s words now.

“I was the creator of our home. For your race and mine. I was everything to them…the god of everything. From the earth to the firmament. The sky was a hard dome I held up, a hard dome I moved the sun and stars across. Then you came along. Your brother made you. Your power was limited, but it wasn’t tied to our home like his and mine were. You showed them what was out there. You took my dominion over the endless, rolling, unimaginable lands, and curled it into a sad ball floating in a void of other sad little spheres. My dominion, it used to go on forever, they loved me…worshipped me…and look what you made it. Somewhere to escape from. A milestone. A hurdle to be cleared. You made me an angry child screaming my dominion over a sandpit!…

“You rallied your people together, regaling them with stories about the size of the universe and their place in it. You dwindled away the one world they had known. You told them to follow you out into the unknown. Your brother—your creator—was permissive. He who had created you, yet declared you as a brother, as an equal. He didn’t know what your departure would do to our home, to my race…I tied him to your side. He never told you but he knew what I had done. You’d never leave each other’s side for eternity. You’d never go anywhere without him, and he couldn’t stay without holding you back. The time came that you and your followers decided to leave. You and your belongings and creations, all the traces of you being here, all ascending into the air together. Time moving backwards on your bodies and your belongings until you slipped to pre-existence, all to one day reset the flow of time again when you neared the world you had promised them. As you ascended off our planet, your brother came with. As he moved away from the planet, his power drained. Dying slowly as you watched. You grew back into a child, back into your egg, back into nonbeing as he shriveled away, telling you goodbye as you dragged him to his demise, telling you how to take care of everyone when he was gone. Too stubborn to hold you back where you belonged!

“…He sacrificed himself to let you go. I didn’t know he would do that. I knew you were the unruly one, but he was one of the old ones like me…I thought…I thought you’d stay. We would all be together like it had always been. I would have welcomed you all back home.

“He’s still there, you know. Dead. Dragged along like a shadow. There’s nothing left of his physical body by now, he couldn’t regress like you and the others could. But the absence, the dead soul…I can see him. Can’t you?”

Netanel looked behind him. There was a corpse lying on the ground. It looked like him but withered and brown like an apple in the sun.


The corpse vanished as quietly as it came. But it didn’t leave. In the stream of the universe as Netanel felt it, in all the thoughts and voices of the world, there was a boulder rolled into the stream. A blackness permanently cutting off a segment of light and color he’d never recover.

The god had seen the corpse too. When he spoke of the past, the god could not hide his flares of anger. His anger was in the language of earthquakes, the cores of stars. But when he talked about his act of murder, when he saw the dead god’s body lying before him, there was something else in his words. Netanel didn’t know the true cosmic form of the creature in front of him, but in these moments it was a small, cowering child in a corner.

The injury Netanel had felt before was still there, but it didn’t bring him weak to his knees like before. He remembered his soul traveling across the universe, alone with heartbroken rage. He spent so many hundreds of years with it. It wasn’t his anymore. His chest had been torn open, but it had hardened in that broken shape.

“And you know what it was all for?” the god asked. “Your grand adventure into the universe? The awesome potential waiting for all of you out there, thousands of years later? I want to show you the pinnacle of social progress your followers have achieved ten years from now. On the great new world you promised them. Do you want to see the highest level of group organization among lizards on Earth, and what they have achieved?”

“I do.”

“I will throw you to Earth now. You have one minute.”

It was dark. A true void without the god’s words and memories to fill it. The first sensation to float out of the emptiness was the sound of rain on glass windows. The fog of nonbeing began to clear. Netanel was inside, somewhere. It was orange. Carpeted. Soft yellow lights. It was Earth, modern-day. Ten years later like the god had said. A…a restaurant. Netanel looked at his hands. They streamed and fluttered in bright flames. He was an excited blur of himself. He was here, but not here in the flesh. There were two tables pushed together in front of him.

The god’s disembodied whisper was sent down alongside Netanel. “It’s a group of eleven lizards who meet weekly at a Denny’s. In the middle of the night so they don’t disturb the normal patrons.”

The wind picked up, blowing a hard wall of rain at the window.


The god could not respond. He couldn’t leave this far from his planet, his power drew from that corner of the universe. Netanel was here alone.

“Is that Netanel?” one of the lizards at the table said.

“I believe so,” said another.

“Hey Net. Want some pancakes?”

Netanel walked up to the table. He didn’t feel any weight on his feet but they carried him forward nonetheless. He waved like a fiery ethereal flag, a fountain of energy in the shape of the body he woke up in in Nate’s apartment an eternity before.

“This is ten years in the future?” Netanel asked the group.

“Yeah, you said you’re ‘outside of time’ or something.”

Netanel looked over them. Their phones looked dumb.

“And the answer is no, for all of us.”

Netanel threw a confused expression to the speaker. “Answer? To what question?”

“We thought it was an elephant in the room. Years ago. But when we decided to address it, we all knew the answer. We’re doing good here, Net.”

Netanel looked over all of them. Why was this so nonchalant for them? “Good,” he said, smiling. “Good.”

“…Did you want pancakes, though? I wasn’t messing with you, if you wanted some.”

“No, I…” Netanel stepped back. “Thank you.” The lizards joked to the pancake offerer, shoved her shoulder playfully. Netanel stepped back while they were distracted.


Netanel turned. It was the waitress, a human. “You’re like their dad or something, aren’t you?” she asked.

Netanel hesitated. “Have they been good?”

She smiled. “Heh.”

“I think I have to go,” Netanel said.

“So long,” she said.

Netanel began to break apart, like wind through a pile of leaves. Blowing off around an invisible corner.

He was at the lavender-skied planet where the god could reach him. The god wasted no time, the walls of the mirror-box started to pull in the same way as before.

The woodland creature stood in front of him once more. “You came back.”

“It wasn’t my year.”

“Is this the potential of your people, what you saw? Is this what you had in mind when you called for them to leave their home?…” The god calmed himself. His voice grew quiet. “Would you call your followers back?” the god asked. “We’re a mutualistic people.”

“I liked what I saw there,” Netanel said.

“We can be so much more, together.”

“They don’t need it. I know they don’t.”

“That’s not good enough.” The god smiled. “How many have you asked?”

People of Earth 1

Avery woke with a pang of fear. Waking consciousness and the midnight sounds of crickets replaced the last wisps of the dream and he could breath steadily now. He had dreamt he was in the library, like on his old trips with McCammon. He was reading the worn leather spines when he saw leaves of flame blow around the corners of the shelves. He followed them to find their source, an invisible gash hanging in midair. He knew, in the dreamlike way one know things, they led to Netanel’s mirror box. He willed himself inside of it and the shelves and library walls grew gold like he remembered. Netanel’s bed and nightstand were here, the only constants of this mirror world. Netanel was sitting on top of the blankets—not the ethereal, ghost-like Netanel who returned from the outpost planet, but the solid physical Netanel from before. He turned to face Avery, surprised to see him. “How’d you get here?” Netanel asked. Avery looked down, and there was the dead body of a lizard at his feet. The shock brought him back to his bed in his apartment where he laid now.

Avery wouldn’t talk to Netanel in person until a week later. Netanel learned from experience (spread around the decade) on how to introduce himself to lizards without making them jump in fright. Calling the lizard’s name from a distance worked well, also casual moments like lunches. He relearned the utility of knocking on doors first, a tactic he would use for the careful operation of meeting Avery for the first time (in Avery’s chronology) since he left. He stood in the apartment hallway and waited.

The sting of Netanel’s abrupt goodbye had aired out of Avery’s apartment, letting the small rooms return to their original state as a neutral living environment—a place to get dressed and cook dinners in. This change was a function of a week’s time passing and Netanel returning to Earth not being dead. Avery wasn’t sure if “alive” was the right word, but he wasn’t dead. Netanel had revisited his classic method of hijacking live news broadcasts, but with a new calm maturity. He was there as an ambassador between the lizards born on Earth and the vague, undescribed people he’d met out there. He calmly announced his new state of being and how he would be spending the next ten years speaking to every lizard on Earth.

Sam christened her life transition by sorting through every personal belonging she owned, scoring Avery a box of her old electronics and scattered household utensils. Alongside the box of Netanel’s old clothes, Avery now owned more hand-me-downs than anything he brought with him from the seminary. From his entire life. Sam had also given him her old Demi tablet computer, which Avery knew knew was no small gift, but had no idea what to do with it. The screen was oddly unresponsive to his finger’s touch, a fact that mocked him as he tried to feel comfortable with it. His first practical idea was to look up recipes of dishes he missed, but after seeing the ingredients and preparations involved to cook them, he settled on making salads for all his future meals. For the first time in his life, he had to put serious thought into the question of how to entertain himself. He watched a pilot of a TV show he remembered a seminarian student talking about in detail but didn’t like it very much. Without much conscious thought, he installed a daily Bible verse app, a popular recommendation for old priests to give to audiences a third of their age, but after seeing the day’s verse (a popular pick from Psalms), it only made him sad. He had his biggest successes perusing street views of foreign cities and browsing through online archives of old public domain novels, two activities that kept him busy deep into the night and continuing into the morning after he woke up. He was scrolling through the introductory notes to a 19th century philosophical work over a bowl of cereal when he heard a knock on his door. For reasons unclear and unquestioned to himself, he knew it was Netanel before getting up to look through the peephole. It wasn’t a fifth sense or any supernatural link, but a natural result of these long days spent waiting for nothing in particular. Netanel was just what it inevitably had to be.

Avery opened the door. The ghost of Netanel held his interlocked hands together over his abdomen. “Well…I didn’t die,” he said, and lifted up his wavering arms to show it was so.

Avery talked quietly. “What happened to you?”

Netanel didn’t respond. Every part of him was translucent and shifting, but his stance was still.

“You can come in,” Avery said, stepping to the side.

“Thank you,” Netanel said. He walked four feet forward to cross the door, but made no effort to survey the apartment or settle.

“Is this the ‘you’ that just got back to Earth or the ‘you’ that’s been here for ten years.”

“I’m both,” Netanel said. “I can talk in koans now, and mean it! So, do you want to go to the Cave of the Patriarchs or anything?”

I’m not falling for this steamroller impulse you have to toy with me. I remember you putting your head on my shoulder when you needed help. “As soon as I heard ‘ten years’ I did the math,” Avery said. “If you need five minutes to ask someone a yes-or-no question, and you do this for eight hours a day, that’s enough for three-hundred-and-fifty-some thousand lizards. There’s no way there’s that many lizards.”

“I need to,” Netanel finally said.

“What happens if you don’t?” Avery asked.

“A lot was unsaid, but…we understood each other.”

“What does that mean?” Avery asked. “Why’d you pick now to learn to talk like a god?”

Netanel’s shape lost cohesion briefly and he blurred in flames. “That’s not fair,” he said.

“What happens if—

Avery!” Netanel yelled. “I need to convince myself too!” He covered his face at first, then meekly rose his head in a smile. The teeth shone through the red haze. “It takes me so long to realize that. I did something a very long time ago. I’m not the only one who needs validation that there’s good coming out of it.”

A flash of the dread from Avery’s week-old dream passed through him. The body. He realized that was what it from and discarded it as coincidence. “Is it really going to be ten years like this…” Avery said, stretching a hand out to Netanel’s. It passed through, and Netanel looked down and saw. Netanel returned the gesture, grabbing Avery’s hand with both of his. He coalesced his palms and fingers into matter, enough to give a resistance to raise Avery’s hand, but there was no weight or form behind it.

“I’m sorry Avery. I’m sorry.”

Before Avery could respond, Netanel let go of Avery’s hand and sharply turned his head.

“I’m going. For now.”

Avery nodded his permission, and the translucent leaves that made up the figure of Netanel dispersed into the air.

He didn’t ask me what my answer was, Avery thought. He’ll be back.

Adam was sorting mail when his phone rang from his pocket. He reflexively silenced it and kept working, receiving one final buzz for the voicemail. Adam wondered if it could be someone he knew who should know to text instead, or a scam call about an insurance company he didn’t use, but, hell, he knew it was a lizard. At the first sign that his coworker was absent, he pulled his phone out to read the generated text transcript. It was a number he didn’t recognize, Angel area code. “Hey Adam. It’s been six months. Call back when you can.” A lizard, it had to be, but not for a food delivery. They couldn’t have left a more ominous message. Six months since what? Adam returned his phone to his pocket. The message upset him and he didn’t want to return it. It almost slipped his memory before resurfacing while filling up gas on his way home. Maybe the lizard just meant six months since the last delivery. This satisfied Adam enough to return the call while he drove back home. The lizard picked up before the second ring.

“Hey, it’s Adam, got your message. Who is this?”

“It’s…it’s Tobias.”

Tobias let the silence hang. Adam realized he wasn’t going to say anything more and spoke. “What was six months ago? Did I bring you something?”

“You’re making deliveries?” Tobias asked with a tone of surprise and disbelief.

Adam realized he was right to be suspicious of the message. “Yes. You need one? Because I’m on my way home now, I can get something now. I don’t have my address book on me, if you could tell me your address again—

“I don’t need anything. Sorry,” Tobias said and hung up the phone.

Adam tossed his phone into the empty passenger seat and resumed focus on driving.

He could excuse the lizards for being antsy with the last two days’ events. Cosmological updates, vague as they might be, were probably enough to do that to you. If anything could. But what did that have to do with six months? When did he first start getting calls from lizards again? June?

Adam entered his apartment door with a nod to Scott and made his way to the bathroom until he saw the light underneath the door and stopped. “Is someone here?” he asked Scott.

Malcolm’s shower’s broke,” Scott said.

There wasn’t any water running. Adam knocked on the door. “You gonna be long?”

Malcolm opened the door, releasing steam and yellow light into the hallway. He had a towel around his waist and the left half of his face and neck sported a white-blue coat of shaving cream. The right side of his face was stubble-free for the first time Adam had ever seen him. “You can use it. I got an interview in a couple hours.”

“No, I can uh…”

A drop of shaving cream and freed stubble dropped from Malcolm’s chin to the bathroom tile and they both watched it fall. Malcolm curled his big toe to smear it off the floor.

“Wait…interview?” Adam asked.

“Yep! Oh, by the way, I’m glad that guy wasn’t skinned alive,” Malcolm said. He spoke with the tone of someone delivering positive news about a football game.

“…what the fuck,” Adam said.

“The lizard from the Righteous meetings. I don’t know his name, people just called him ‘Lizard.’”

“So he’s fine?” Adam asked. He half-remembered Malcolm freaked out about seeing Sirvientes at his last Righteous Congregation, but that was it.

“Yeah, he’s like, flying around now? Went to the lizard planet I think? People call him Ned or Red-something. I never talked to him, but he was at all the meetings. It looks like he actualized.”

Netanel. Netanel was at your meetings. The one who was on TV.”

“Yeah! That’s him.”

What the hell, Adam thought. I never even met him. Right?

Malcolm was now clean-shaven and getting Scott’s opinion on his tie. Scott said he had a better one and set out to find it from his closet, leaving Adam sitting on the sofa’s armrest in an uneasy state of alert procrastination. He figured there couldn’t be any more lizards from before the Franciscan memory wipe left who weren’t filled in by now, but apparently not. Who was this new one? Tobias? Maybe Adam would be forced to relive the same painful admission that “no, I don’t know you” for years moving forward.

Netanel was “back” before Adam knew he was gone. Netanel had lost his physical body and was outside of linear time, to some degree. He was a ghost—a ghost consigned to haunting the decade, asking every adult lizard the question that their proper god was too far to ask himself. For the lizards, would this be any more or less unwelcome than Nate Trafford asking them why they didn’t want to rattle the chains of human society or whatever? Adam wished Netanel could’ve waited to start this new phase, could’ve given him more time to get his broken memory fixed. The pettiness of this thought struck him: he wished the god of a different race hadn’t left Earth, so the clone-things created to pursue him would still be around to help this random human who brought members of his race some groceries. Is that what he wanted?

Yes. It was. Netanel had ten years, he could fit it in.

“Tobias, if this is about my memory, it’s still gone. The Franciscans are gone,” Adam said into his phone, standing in front of the window overlooking the parking lot.

“...I’m so sorry, Adam,” Tobias said.

“Have you met Netanel yet?” Adam asked.


“You’re going to meet him eventually though, right?”

“I think so…I think that’s how it works…You probably know as much about him as I do.”

“I don’t know how much he’s gonna care about me,” Adam said, “but, when you meet him, can you tell him what happened to me and ask if he can pick up on anything the Franciscans would’ve left? Wait,” Adam stopped himself. “No. What am I thinking.”

“What? What is it?”

“I should leave you out of this. This is like, your one-on-one meeting with a god. Your god. I can find another—

Adam,” Tobias interrupted. “Of course I’ll ask Netanel. You’re my friend.”

Tobias had said it with such total innocent assuredness that Adam knew it was true. It had been half a year and he didn’t remember him, but he was Tobias’ friend, goddammit.

“I don’t know when he’s gonna come, though,” Tobias continued. “It could take the whole ten years.”

“I have a feeling that might not matter,” Adam said.

“Ah…I think I see,” he said, but without conviction. “I’ll tell him. Okay? I will.”

They said their goodbyes and Tobias wished him luck.

People of Earth 2

The phone call satisfied Adam. This would work. All he needed to do now was wait. Malcolm had long since left for his interview and Adam was alone in his apartment. He felt like there was nothing left to do on his end, but that wasn’t enough to remove his uneasy energy, so he directed it into cleaning. He vacuumed the floors and the fallen couch crumbs, happy to let the loud drone and old warm smell of the vacuum drown out his thoughts. He pulled off the old, blackened, curled-in duct tape from his door seal and wadded it into a ball and lobbed it into the trash. He’d reseal his door later, maybe, it no longer felt as important.

The false comfort of busywork broke when Adam ventured outside to take the kitchen trash out to the alley dumpster. It was quiet out. Daylight did nothing to remove the memories of the Sirvientes encounters that happened out here. He hesitated a full twenty seconds before swinging the dumpster lid open. Nothing jumped out at him, but that didn’t make him feel better. The Sirvientes may be gone, but he went and mucked with the god that necessitated them. The wild god from TV. Friend or not, he’d made Tobias, this lowly pawn in the big scheme of things, ask his god for a favor for the human who brought him groceries. What wrath might that bring down on him? What wrath might that bring down on Tobias?

Adam couldn’t sleep. He saw Sirvientes in the dark corners of his room. He rolled to a cooler spot in the bed and felt something like the cloth of the Sirvientes’ robes and batted it off the bed in a panic before realizing it was an unwashed T-shirt. He almost succeeded in sleep until he heard a car park outside his window. He was wide awake, heart pounding as he listened to the mysterious tenant beep their car and walk past his window, holding his breath until the footsteps passed in the other direction. He tried to will some sense into his sleepy mind—Netanel wouldn’t need to drive a car, stupid—and this had some success in calming him down.

He woke up again, unsure of the time. He pushed the window curtain aside with a finger, expecting the azure of early morning, but was instead greeted to the yellow buzz of a streetlight against a solid black night. Was every night going to be this? This could go on for ten years. How could the lizards deal with this? They’d have to learn how. He’d have to learn how. But, a twelve hour whim could be undone. He could still get out of this. It was late, but he could text Tobias and take it all back. If Tobias was awake he’d see it in time, Netanel never had to know about this. He felt for his phone, patting his sheets. Something crackled. He froze. The sound came from under his torso. He experimentally shifted his weight and heard the soft crackle again—had rolled over onto a piece of paper. He pulled it out from under him and squinted at it in the dark. He found his phone and held its glowing lock screen up to the paper and his stomach sunk. It was a torn page from a lined spiral notebook with a message written in black Sharpie. He blinked to get his eyes to adjust.

Their plans hinged on you going to an Italian place on your birthday, the same one you went five years in a row. However, you changed it up and went to a Mediterranean place. (Fair!) The codeword is lost to me, but this aspect lives. Why? I don’t know.

Please don’t advertise that I did this for you!

See you,



The message had calmed him. Netanel had been in the room and laid a message on top of him while he slept—and he rolled on top of it. He had imagined so much worse that this midnight visitation came off as a relief. The Band-aid was ripped off and he went to sleep, happy to leave the work of processing the message to his morning self.

The Franciscan said they didn’t use one-word codewords.

Adam walked into the Italian restaurant with a hunched, defensive gait. He knew the place well, but the high-ceilings and overboard fake trees and pillars held a new menace that cut through any old familiarity. Did the Franciscans do something to this place? What could they have done? Was Netanel going to appear? He listened for screams from the kitchen, fire alarms. Maybe a Franciscan was supposed to meet him here, a job there was no one left to fulfill.

The host had to ask Adam twice for how many seats before he noticed and answered that he was alone. He followed the host cautiously to a small circular table with a candle in a small bed of river pebbles. It took many visits here for the restaurant’s air of fanciness and slightly-beyond-your-means quality to wear off on Adam and let him see the place for as silly as it was, but the food was good, the fact that won his repeated visits. Alien-clone-things had to analyze my restaurant patterns to pick this place. He would’ve liked to see that meeting.

The restaurant wasn’t particularly busy. There was nothing obviously out of place, no messages on the walls, nothing on the tablecloth. Inspiration struck and he slowly overturned the coaster, but it only had the restaurant’s website. He tried describing things under his breath as he saw them: “salad fork,” “water pitcher,” “garlic butter.” After he ordered his usual meal, the waitress was about to take his menu back before he thought about it and asked to keep it. She nodded and walked on. He thumbed through it quickly to see if there were any more notes from Netanel tucked inside, but there weren’t. He sighed and let the pages fall back down, opening to the first page.

His eye locked onto to the name of a cheese. Ah.

Two lines deep into the description of a cheese plate. The Franciscan codeword was “pecorino sardo.” There was a certain obviousness, familiarity to it. He remembered the Franciscans saying it to him, moments before they laid their hands on top of his head. He shuddered at the memory, re-experiencing all the same doubts and discomfort he had leading up to it, but then it faded to the realization that it was all there.

Oh God.

The months of indecision and hesitancy to lose his memory, it wasn’t unfounded after all—but he ruled triumphant anyway. It hit him emotionally in a way he wasn’t ready for and his eyes misted over. He sniffled and looked up from the menu and made eye contact with the waitress, who was setting down a bowl of bread, paused, and walked off quickly. Adam laughed to himself.

He went to a bathroom stall and blew his nose.

Oh God, oh God.

He called Scott who picked up quickly.

“You’re home, right?” Adam asked. “This is gonna sound weird. Can you get the address book?”

Scott replied with a drawn-out “Uhhh.” Adam could hear the calculations and hesitancy in his pause. “Same drawer?” Scott asked. Adam heard him get up and rummage. “I got it, what do you want? You need it?”

“Can you just…read me a few random names. Any of them.”

Scott read him three names.

“Do a couple more,” Adam said.

Scott read off two more names. “Is that…it? What’s—

“I’ll tell you later, I gotta go,” Adam said and hung up.

Each one of the five names, five histories. He remembered their houses, what they ordered, meeting each one for the first time. It was all there.

He finished eating his food and paid while maintaining composure, then laid across the back seat of his car to cry. The tears didn’t come and his nostrils dried but he felt good.

I almost gave it up…I was ready to be okay with it.

What kind of gamble was it that he’d go to the same Italian restaurant? He had gone there a dozen times before, but still. What if they took it off the appetizer list? What if he ordered his usual every time without opening the menu?

I’m such an ass.

He knew what had happened on an intellectual level but the rest of him was still catching up. The memories didn’t flood Adam immediately, like how you can’t will a chronological replay of multiple years’ events. The memories were just sitting there, waiting to be found by the right train of thought. The five names Scott had read him over the phone gave him a satisfying web of memories to dig into, but it was a crack in the door. How few memories do you go through each day? But you nonetheless feel like yourself, like everything is always at hand. Everything was at hand now, but he didn’t feel like himself yet. He felt the size of what was uncovered without knowing the new him that came from it. Maybe there wasn’t one. He was overwhelmed. He sat up—he wanted to be home where he could sit on his bed and read his address book.

As he got up, his phone buzzed again. The message preview had a list of food items and a street address. Adam smiled. A normal food delivery. How beautiful it all was. He started the car. He liked the idea more as he thought about it. He could surprise the lizard, whoever it was. He was disappointed that the phone number or street address didn’t bring the same flash of recognition as the names Scott read, but the directness of the order implied it was a regular, someone he’d know right away in person. He set off to the closest grocery store.

The most outwardly unhappy lizard on Earth was named R.R.E., a fact that Netanel had known for a long time. R.R.E. lived in small, minimally-designed house at a mountain base in California. Netanel wasn’t sure if he’d decided to get the conversation out of the way early, or if there was a strategic decision formed over the decade that it was better to approach R.R.E. in the early days before lizards were used to him. The out-of-time factor had played into this odd feeling. All his decision-making and internal thoughts were spread across years. His actions seemed even more unpredictable and spontaneous now that the idea would spring to mind and be done four years before.

Netanel was on R.R.E.’s porch. Netanel had sensed R.R.E.’s presence even before going to the outpost planet but had avoided him. It wasn’t the decision of a god or a counselor, it was the decision of instinct, social survival. He couldn’t afford to hold onto that instinct anymore, if anyone would consider leaving this planet it would be R.R.E. The loose flames that made up Netanel’s hand coalesced into hard physical knuckles. Netanel knocked on the tall wooden door. His fingers broke up back into wavering light when he was done.

The door cracked.

“I owe you nothing.”

The door closed.

Netanel didn’t remember the initial rejection, but he had no more business on this lizard’s patio. He went somewhere else, to some other time. He went to everywhere else, every other time. Then, he was back on the patio. It was six hours later. Whose patio? Where was this? Oh. It was R.R.E.’s. Yes. He remembered. R.R.E. opens the door again now.

On cue, the door squeaked. It opened wide, not the careful crack of before.

“We can talk now. I respect that you waited. Is this that important?” R.R.E. said.

“Yes,” Netanel said.

“Good.” R.R.E. stood to the side and gestured him in.

Netanel followed him inside. R.R.E. shut the door and didn’t walk any further into his house. “What is it?” R.R.E. asked.

“Do you hate it here? On Earth. I’ve met a god from our home. He says we can return.”

Well!R.R.E. said sarcastically, crossing his arms. “Can I call you Mateo?”

Netanel’s form expanded and blew to the side in surprise. He reconvened in shape. He didn’t remember that R.R.E. would say that. Before “Net,” before “Netanel,” before “God,” before “Lizard,” before “Red.” Mateo. He never gets used to it.

“How did you…?” Netanel asked.

“‘The Apostle’ found it. He showed his work. Can you see the internet…?”


Mateo,” R.R.E. said, “you think I hate it here?”

“Frankly…yes. More than any lizard I could sense.”

Hi,” a new voice said.

Both R.R.E. and Netanel’s head turned down the hallway. A small lizard boy popped his head through a doorway. Netanel picked up a sharp protective blast of anger in R.R.E., like someone finding a child about to poke a rattlesnake. R.R.E. restrained himself to not scare the boy.

“You look cool,” the boy said to Netanel.

“This is my son,” R.R.E. said. “I adopted him, the same way my parents adopted me. He’s on his summer vacation.”

The boy waved to Netanel in an exaggerated way that conveyed he enjoyed any opportunity to wave his arms around. He looked to his dad and mouthed a question. “Just a minute,” R.R.E. said back to him.

“I’m wasting my time here, aren’t I,” Netanel said. He turned to the boy in the door. “It was nice to meet you.”

“Bye mister!”

Netanel left the two of them back to their business.

Mateo, Mateo, Mateo. It was Netanel’s birth name, of course. Who found it? R.R.E. had said The Apostle. “The Apostle.” That was familiar. He had an odd sense of nostalgia about random names and phrases like this. It didn’t matter from what part of the decade, any two moments were just as far apart as any other two, unless he was actively anchoring himself down. Following linear time wasn’t the lazy slipstream it used to be and required active effort, but he tried to savor it when he could. Being outside of time forced him to constantly confront the fallibility of his memory and the odd things his mind would store, throw out, or change completely, a process that was inescapably obvious now that he was experiencing the subjects of his memories live at all times. He felt stupid and humbled, and he realized this was probably the god’s intention. He could sound godly and wise by his cryptic—or more often, accidental—references to future events, only to shatter his mystique when he had to ask what he had discussed days or hours earlier.

It was the middle of the night. A night. The moon wasn’t out but Netanel could tell he was in a residential area by the square silhouettes of houses against the glowing yellow night, a glow that gave away he was in Angel. His hands were solid matter: bones, muscle and scales wrapped around something heavy. The mental energy to keep them that way made him lose context for what he was doing. What was he holding? It was one of Darius’ heat pads. But not the new perfected lightweight design of years later, this was the heavy prototype, like the kind he wore briefly in his last weeks of having a body. Oh, he remembered, Avy’s battery goes out. But no, that was in winter. This night was still balmy. Spring or fall? He looked around for a few stars to poke out of the Angel light pollution. Early fall. That was a helpful trick he learned a few years later.

Mateo. Mateo. Yes. He remembered now. His return had given Mr. Rennes a lot to post about. Couldn’t Mr. Rennes respect that gift? Why’d he have to dig his birth name up. Unthinkable.

He was in front of Mr. Rennes’s house. The house was dim and Netanel could sense there was no one inside, but there was a light poking out of the small windows of the tall separated garage. He walked up to the small side door. He used his still-solid knuckles to knock on the door, but the only response was the sound of TV commercials from inside. He tried the handle, it was unlocked. He walked in smiling and holding the heat pad high, waiting for a response, then stopped. Mr. Rennes wasn’t asleep like he assumed. He was sitting upright on his beat-up sofa, staring dejectedly into the TV commercials. The sight unnerved Netanel. Whatever Mr. Rennes had going on, he kept it so well bottled that it was invisible to Netanel from far away. Netanel was instantly glad he decided against bursting in the door yelling what he originally planned to say.

“We have the same name, you know that now, don’t you?” Netanel asked.

No answer.

Matthew, Mateo,” Netanel said.

“I know.”

Netanel walked to the sofa and joined Mr. Rennes in staring into the screen. “I brought you a gift,” he said. “Originally it was to mess with you. Lightly. But I still want you to have it.” Netanel laid the heat pad on the empty cushion. With the weight gone, his arms fizzled into mist, recuperating from the effort spent holding them together, and for the moment he was armless. Mr. Rennes watched without comment. The TV commercial seemed to be endless, until Netanel realized with horror that Mr. Rennes wasn’t watching anything, he was on a block of “paid programming” where the ads would repeat their points and footage deep into the night.

“I left the comments on your blog making fun of your typos,” Netanel said. “…or directed my writing partner do it, but…I’m sorry.” No response. Netanel looked up at the ceiling and saw there was a hole in the upper corner of the wall. Some kind of water damage, but he didn’t have the eye for that kind of thing. Pieces of drywall had fallen to the ground in a small white pile directly below it. “Can we call a truce?”

Mr. Rennes sighed and it bothered Netanel. It was a forced sigh, too theatrical.

“Fine,” Netanel continued. “You already hate me, so I have no more social barriers to breech. Let me tell you then, your mom’s waiting for you to reach out to her, she’s not going to do it first.”

That got to him. He let out pent-in breath through his nostrils like a bull, no false theatricality. “Was that even a good or a mean-spirited thing to tell me. I don’t know.”

“Do you want to go on a walk through the roads here? I can tell you how to use that thing.” Netanel gestured to the heat pad with his chin, his arms were still absent.


“Do you want to talk about the question you know I’m here for.”


“But you know your answer.”

“Of course.”

“There’s no rush. But, hey,” Netanel said, “everyone tries to call me Mateo for like a year. It’s awful.”

That news got a fraction of a smile out of Mr. Rennes, and Netanel left for the night.

Adam thought the house’s street address sounded familiar, but not because of his restored memories, he soon realized—the directions led him into his childhood neighborhood. The two decades of sun changed the color palette of the neighborhood’s houses, but the place was still intensely itself. If there was anything different, the roofs and trees that towered over him in his memories were shrunk down to the size of real life. He could see these rows of houses as both part of his deeply important personal origin and part of the rest of the sprawling neighborhoods that made up the Angel suburbs. The thought of a lizard living here, only a few blocks from Adam’s and Scott’s old houses, shocked him. His old bus stop wasn’t far from here! He felt like driving by it and reminiscing, but he could wait until after the delivery.

Adam found the house number he needed and pulled over to the curb. He got his groceries out from the trunk and walked ahead to the patio. There was no answer at the front door. He tried knocking again. The house’s lights were off, windows shuttered. He was cautious to leave food on the doorstep if he wasn’t specifically instructed to, but lizards had gotten cold feet when he was at their door before. When this would happen, his strategy was to set the bags down and walk back to the car and check back. More often than not, the lizard would whisk the bags away in the time his back was turned. It felt odd for him to have these new strategies that he developed in the last few months sit side-by-side with his uncovered mind. He had bifurcated, and he didn’t know how long it would take to feel like one person again.

Adam was about to set the bag down when he heard a voice call. “Yoohoo!” It wasn’t from inside. Adam swiveled on the doorstep, trying to find the source. The windows were shut. He stepped into the grass to investigate around the side when he thought to look up. There was a lizard standing on the roof shingles. The lizard turned around to look back at Adam, smiled, and walked out of sight.

“Careful…,” a new voice said from behind the house. Adam heard the roof lizard land in the grass with a fwoomp. Adam walked into the backyard in time to catch him with his hand on the grass in front of him, steadying himself as he straightened. He smiled again at Adam. There was a small chorus of cheers and laughs, Adam wasn’t sure if it was for him or the roof lizard’s acrobatics. The back patio lights illuminated three lizards behind them sitting in a half-circle of camping chairs. They stopped laughing to soak in Adam’s stance and twitchy facial expression, their silence giving way to the buzzing of cicadas in the tall trees around them.

“How’d you get up there?” was all Adam said.

The lizard shrugged. “The gutter’s sturdy.”

“…What is this?” was what made it out of Adam’s confused fog. He was still holding the groceries.

A lizard stood up from one of the camping chairs. “We all thought we should be together in the same place with you, so we could all—

“A party,” another said.

“Yeah…that,” the lizard said and chuckled nervously.

“For...me?” Adam asked. He remembered the grocery bags’ contents. Chips, frozen pizza, Solo cups. He brought the materials to his own surprise party. Adam laughed too this time. “Who planned this?”

The lizard who previously spoke raised his hand. “It was me.” He put his hands together nervously. “Six months ago, we talked about—

Adam faced him. “Tobias!” He blurted the name like it won him something in a game.

The four lizards leaned forward in surprise. More surprise than Adam expected. Was he not supposed to know his name? It was Tobias, though. He’d just talked to him on the phone the previous night. But that wasn’t it…

Adam wasn’t sure when the last time he saw more than two lizards together was. Even with this small group, he was struck by how distinct they all were from each other. Did he knew these four that well? Even how they dressed and held themselves was different. Tobias had a coy smile, leaning forward with his hands between his knees in cargo shorts. Adam walked down the line with his finger pointed. “Whitney…” Whitney collapsed deep into her lawn chair with a patterned crocheted blanket bunched over her and sighed happily. “Everett…” Everett was the one on the roof. He had jumped back into his chair and assumed a focused and symmetrical poise with his legs crossed, fingertips pressed together under his chin, and his tail curled behind him. The fourth lizard had tensed and shifted slightly when Adam got to her. “Peri?” She nodded and turned her eyes down.

“Well. This makes tonight easier,” Whitney said.

A voice bellowed from behind. “Adam!

Adam turned around and saw the biggest lizard he’d seen in his life.

The lizard was wearing a bright blue tracksuit and standing in the grass at the end of the yard with a cardboard box in one arm and his legs wide apart. He was tall but also physically big, like he was proportionally scaled up in all dimensions. He set his box down with the sound of clanking glass bottles, and before Adam knew it, the lizard had rushed over and thrown him into a bear hug in one unbroken dash. Adam was too shocked to return the hug and braced with his arms down at his side while the lizard squeezed him tightly, lifting Adam’s feet off the grass in the top arc of the hug.

“How are you late to your own house, Tel!” Tobias said.

“I know I know, shudduupp,” Tel said.

“Tel…” Adam said, trying the word out in his mouth but unfamiliar.

The lizard’s smile was warm and toothy. “Yeah that’s it! Jesus, kiddo!”

“Tel…Telorak. From…the school down the street.”

“What was that club we had? The one you drew the logo for in that notebook, you still have those? Hey, wait.” He stooped to the ground where he dropped the cardboard box.

This was the day clarity was restored to Adam’s mind. He knew his past and every lizard he met while working. He knew he was also sitting on a couch mumbling about lizards, propped up against Charles mumbling about Thundercats, Malcolm shaking his head and planning on how he’ll redecorate Adam’s room after he moved in. It was all part of the cosmic order of things and he accepted it in its totality.

“I was gonna throw these in the freezer but ehhh, cheers.” Telorak pulled out two lukewarm beer bottles from the box, tossed one at Adam. He stuck a claw under his bottle cap and tore it off.

Everett saw what was happening and ran up to intercept the bottle from Tel’s mouth. He batted Tel’s arm to the side and spilled some of the beer out of the neck and into the grass as Tel watched in dismay. “What are you doing?” Tel asked angrily.

“Those aren’t non-alcoholic!” Everett said.

Whitney was up now too and grabbed a bottle and inspected the label herself and nodded in confirmation.

“Yeah. It’s beer,” Tel said, confused. “What?” He looked at Adam for support. Adam didn’t know what look to return with. Tel tried bringing the beer to his mouth again and drank as Everett and Whitney watched in amazement.

This made Peri stir. “You can…you can drink it? Do you feel okay?”

Tel whispered to Adam, “Adam…what’s their big deal…”

Adam whispered back, “You might be the first guinea pig to see if lizards can digest alcohol.”

Tel snarled in rejection. “No…no way…I’ve had beer since I was sixteen…I’ve bought beer since I was sixteen…”

Tobias rubbed his eyes and the bridge of his nose in disbelief. Whitney laughed. Everett stared down at the box of beer. Adam saw the rest of his night play out and grinned. The address book could wait.

People of Earth 3

Everett told Adam to take a seat on his back patio chair. It wobbled slightly on the hard desert earth. “Adam…You can name your price. You can give a flat no.”

“What is it?” Adam asked, wiping sweat from his forehead.

Everett stopped pacing and caught his breath. “Can you teach me how to drive?”

Adam made a confused face.

“I can get a car. My friend has one she wants me to buy off her.”

“Can’t your parents teach you? This is more…dad-territory.”

“I don’t want to turn twenty and still not have my license. It’s California, I’m going to get screwed if I can’t drive…I want to surprise them that I can do something on my own for once.”

Adam scratched his hair. “I don’t…”

Everett saw Adam’s hesitation. “No, it was just an idea. It’s fine. I don’t have my learner’s permit anyway.”

Adam stood up. “No. We can do it. You can use my car, there’s no one out here.”

“Right now?” Everett asked nervously. Adam smiled and beeped his car.

With Adam’s insistence, the young lizard was coaxed into the driver seat. Everett started the engine and whistled. The fans blew hot air, reminding Adam to reach over and turn the AC off before it kicked in.

“So, I know from my brother learning, I know the car always moves forward if you’re not braking.”

“Just try that at first.”

“Okay, I’m putting it in drive. I’m doing it.”

The car rumbled forward. Adam didn’t feel old enough for this yet. He never realized it, but this was the ultimate fatherly passing of the torch. It worried him. There weren’t enough years between him and the lizard, it disturbed the order of things. Maybe the surreal feeling of sitting in your own passenger seat was bleeding into his thoughts.

Everett looked in the rearview mirror and gasped. “No!

Adam looked back and laughed. A pickup had appeared behind them, riding their bumper as they crawled through the dirt road.

How is there someone out here!” Everett pleaded.

“Just let ‘em—

Everett swung the car to the right and ran over a creosote bush. Even at the idle speed, the branches gave a wincing scraping sound. The pickup passed them to the left and clouded the air with dust. Everett put the car in park and sunk his face in his hands. Adam hid a chuckle and gave him a “there, there” pat on the shoulder.

Adam came from the back mailroom carrying a large, light cardboard box and passed it over the counter to one of the usuals, a middle-aged woman in sunglasses who came in on her work lunch breaks. She thanked Adam then set the box down and tented her fingers on top of it.

“Was there something else?” Adam asked.

She pursed her lips and took her sunglasses off. “My husband and I are leaving the country for the next half the year. My son, Tobias, he’s old enough to live on his own now…but…does the post office have anything where, someone could bring regular deliveries. Picking up fresh food, milk, you know! Having someone knock on the door, make sure he gets it. The same person preferably, for his sake…There’s a Meals on Wheels here but you have to qualify.”

Adam gave a thoughtful “hmmm.” She didn’t give any indication she was a smotheringly-doting mother, or that Tobias needed medical attention. Her concern was genuine, although her approach set Adam’s mind down suspicious paths. “We don’t—the U.S. Postal Service doesn’t have anything like that. I don’t know any private companies who would, either,” Adam said. “However, someone here,” someone here, Adam you sly dog you, “could do it as an outside thing.”

“Oh…! As long as someone can. I can trust someone from here. My other option was my coworker’s son, but,” she laughed, “he’s not my first choice. If I go this route, should I contact you?”

“Yes,” Adam said, not too quickly.

“That’d work out so well! Thank you…,” glance at the nametag, “Adam.” She wrote her own contact information on the back of a brochure using the pen chained to the desk.

Adam twisted the rubber grips of his handlebars. The bike path raised and lowered him through the length of the park. Each turn and hilltop hid something new: an elderly couple out walking, a group of geese, a focused jogger, a corner of the pond reflecting the sky’s morning hues.

The spring temperatures were rising—not enough to ruin outdoor activity, but enough to warn Adam to do whatever he wanted to do now before it got hot. The roads by his apartment had okay bike lanes, but drivers were so unaccustomed to anyone using them that it made the experience overly stressful. With careful angling, he could fit his bike into his hatchback and drive out to the rich mountainside communities to enjoy the parks and trails they kept around them.

The morning air was still cool but his exertion made him radiate with heat. His bike swayed as he fished the water bottle off the bar below his seat and tipped the last of it into his mouth. Now emptied, the water bottle reverted from restorative life-giver back into light cruel plastic. He unhappily reattached it and took the fork in the path that headed back to his car.

More cars had filled in since he first arrived, but he remembered he parked on the roadside by the dog poop bag dispenser. He spotted his car, stopped and walked his bike across the grass to the curb. He lifted the back hatch lever enough to let the lift support take care of the rest, then crouched to pick his bike up. With his bike in his arms, he turned to the open back door and saw a man lying inside his car. The man was a Sirviente in full dark blue regalia. The Sirviente startled and turned towards Adam. With a burst of adrenaline, Adam threw the bike at the man inside his car. The blue robes deflated into a heap of empty cloth.

Adam panted in shock. He looked around him, but he was alone.

Adam was feeding bulging bags of groceries into the back of his car when he noticed two bottles of shampoo had escaped and rolled out of their bag. He had selected them in the haircare aisle and scanned them at the self-checkout without ever wondering what a lizard would need shampoo for. Is it for someone else? He didn’t remember this lizard having a dog or anything, must be shampooing something else. You don’t shampoo carpets with normal shampoo, right? He pulled his phone out to double-check the order when someone with a cart started to cross his path.

“Oh, sorry,” Adam said, about to move his cart out of the way. The young dark-haired man pushing the cart stopped and faced Adam. It was a Franciscan, out of his blue robes and in normal street wear.

“Hey!” Adam yelled. “Get back from my car!”

The Franciscan looked confused.

“I thought you guys were supposed to have the Emanites under control here. I fucked up my bike frame. I know you know what I’m talking about.”

The Franciscan gave a sagely “ah.”

“What if I didn’t see him back there and he popped out when I was driving? Jesus.”

“So you’ve been considering our offer.”

“I didn’t say that.”

Are we having this conversation now? In this parking lot? But, the Franciscan looked normal enough in the corner of his eye, no one would take notice. He was wearing basketball shorts and a T-shirt, but his stance and tone gave no glimmer of warmth or patience. “If you’re hesitating for financial reasons, we can get you the three or four months’ of money you would’ve been making, upfront.”

“It’s ‘three or four months’ now?” Adam asked.

“We can find the lizard in that time. We’re close, and the Emanites know it. That’s why they’ve become so reckless. With the kind of network you’ve built, they’ve picked you as the way they’re going to get that done. That’s why one was hiding in your car.”

Adam grumbled. He regretted volunteering the reference to the car incident, but it was a fair point. He had started to suspect that the Franciscans were staging these Emanite incidents, but he knew nothing was outside of the Emanites’ capabilities either. This was only the latest incident in months of open intimidation.

“So…humor me…” Adam said, “how would I nonchalantly inform my clients I’m not going to work for them for months—and if they manage to get ahold of me, I’m not going to remember who they are? And when it’s all done, how would I nonchalantly return to work like nothing happened?”

“You might not like it, but we think a simple approach works best here,” the Franciscan said, and paused. “Tell them you have a death in the family. Taking work off indefinitely.”

Adam thought about it and winced. “Oh, that’s so shitty.” He winced again. “No, they’d be sending me condolences and…no, no way. You’ve got to have better than that.”

The Franciscan shrugged dismissively. “It’s unsuspicious, they wouldn’t pry, and it maintains your sympathy.”

Adam wasn’t used to having this long a conversation with the Franciscans. They had proposed the “vacation” weeks ago but kept details scarce. Conversations like this were more in line with the casual open style of the Ringoans, who Dominic and May introduced Adam to a year before. The Franciscans’ defining trait up to this point had been their terse cryptic remarks and sudden disappearances. Adam realized they must feel like they were closing in on convincing him. Were they?

“I’d rather say nothing than do that,” Adam said. “Have something better next time you sneak up on me in public, okay?”

The Franciscan nodded. Adam put the last bag in his car, and the Franciscan was already out of sight.

Whitney, unlike many of the first lizards Adam met, moved out of her adoptive family’s home to live in a normal Angel suburban subdivision. It was her second try going into the grocery store behind her house. She stood close to Adam’s side while she watched the checkout lanes, tightly gripping her basket. “Wait. I wanted to get more coffee grounds. I promise, I did want to. I’m not stalling.”

“You have my permission…this time,” Adam said.

“Har-de-har,” she said. “Okay.”

She walked back into the aisles and didn’t take long to reappear, coffee grounds in basket. She ignored Adam and walked on into the closest checkout lane. Adam was pleased. They tried this last week and Whitney had panicked before they even got to the checkout, handed Adam her basket, and went to hide in the bathroom until he texted her to come out.

Another shopper got in line behind her, sandwiching her in. She was committed now. On the way here, she had asked Adam more questions about the conveyor belt separator than he thought possible, something she remembered from a shopping trip with her mom when she was nine. Adam rooted for her from afar as she laid the separator for the other shopper, just like she rehearsed in the car.

The shopper in front of her pulled out a folded up newspaper ad and handed it over to the cashier. Adam laughed, knowing what was unfolding while Whitney looked on unaware. The cashier listened to the shopper’s intentions before asking the cashier behind her for help. The two cashiers were now both over and poking the register computer trying to handle the price check. When the second cashier gave up and picked up the store phone to call a manager up to checkout, Whitney realized something unexpected was underway and turned back to look for Adam. When she found him, he gave her a thumbs up which she returned. At this signal, Adam walked off to the in-store coffee shop line to leave her alone to her task for a few minutes like she requested. He returned with an iced tea in hand to find her already standing against the bagged ice freezer past the checkout, holding her bags.

“How was it?” Adam asked.

“I did it,” she said. Her grin pushed her cheeks up to make her eyes look squinted—she couldn’t fight it. “I bought some chocolate.”

“What kind?” Adam asked. She raised her bag and Adam inspected, then nodded approvingly.

Adam…I think I want to do this myself next week. I mean, completely by myself. I can call and tell you how it goes…if you want.”

Adam was surprised, but happy for her. He didn’t expert her to grow this comfortable in busy public spaces so quickly. All he could respond with was a quiet “I’d like that.”

“You know…I never realized how much you were helping train me to not need to give you anymore money.”

“Oh.” Adam ran his hand through his hair. The thought never occurred to him so plainly before. That was what he was doing. It wasn’t conscious, and it wasn’t something he regretted now that it was put into words. It was simply what he had to do. “I’m…pretty dumb at business,” Adam said.

“Thank God,” Whitney said.

Adam and Scott sat around their kitchen table, a stained hand-me-down Scott got from an old dorm-mate. Adam had brought home Chinese after taking a delivery out to Peri. As he sat down to eat, Peri texted him a picture of an item he brought her with no caption. He braced himself. He considered pocketing the phone and forgetting it, but decided to be prompt and get it over with. He texted back, “Is that the right one?”

“If you let that rice get cool, it’ll never be salvageable,” Scott said.

“Huh?” Adam said. He looked over at Scott and saw he was almost finished with his carton. “Oh. Yeah.” He realized he hadn’t even got any silverware yet and got up to the drawer.

“Who are you talking to…?” Scott asked.

“No one,” Adam said automatically.

“You look, uh…” Scott said, then cut off when he saw Adam’s lowered brows. “Stressed.”

Adam’s phone buzzed the table, and he looked at the screen: “Are you going to the store now then?Adam tightened his lips, puffed his mouth out, and looked up at Scott for relief, then broke into a pained grin.

“Whatever you say, boss,” Scott said, returning to his food.

Tobias sat inside a small circle of five space heaters. Adam once jokingly called it his magic chalk circle and the name stuck. Whenever Tobias wanted to settle in a new part of his house, he had to unplug each space heater from the power strip and reassemble it one-by-one at the new outlet. When their glowing orange hearts returned to life, he would hold his tail and gently squat down between them so he wouldn’t knock any over and trigger their clattering alarms.

Adam bought the first two space heaters for him one urgent winter when his house’s heater broke—Adam’s first time learning the waking terror that the mild Southern California winters threw lizards into. Tobias had since got the house’s heater fixed, but now preferred the space heaters to keep costs down. Outside the magic circle, his house was cold enough to make even Adam leave his hoodie on.

Tobias was hunched over a Wii remote in front of his TV. He had thrown his coat off to the side so he could best absorb the heat, but his fuzzy slippers remained on his feet. Adam held the second Wii remote in his cold fingers lying on his side on the couch behind Tobias.

“What the hell’s a thunder cloud, this one added too many items,” Adam said.

“Bump into someone before it shrinks you—it shrank you,” Tobias said.

“You need to play the old ones…”

“Where you’re falling for like eight minutes,” he said.

“That’s right!” Adam said, smiling. He crawled into 6th place for the final lap, put his head back on the couch, and let the screen go to the race results video of the players coasting along the track. He held the Wii remote by the strap and lightly swung it in a circle by the ground. Tobias was about to continue onto the next race when he turned back and saw Adam’s spacey gaze up at the ceiling.

“Tobias…” Adam said.

“You’re going to do it, aren’t you. The vacation.”

Adam scrunched his eyes shut and nodded.

Tobias picked up the TV remote off the carpet and muted the speakers. “So this is going to be our last time hanging out for a while.”

“It’s just till summer.”

“Why’d you ever get into…alien clone gang turf wars. Or whatever it is.”

“They’d be after me no matter what I did. It was an occupational hazard, one I didn’t know about. I don’t want to be responsible for leading you into their hands, either.”

“I can take ‘em.”

“I know you can, but I can’t imagine throwing that on every lizard I know through this.”

Tobias’ pride in the compliment dimmed as Adam’s point sunk in. He carefully propped his hands on the ground behind him and leaned back. “I get it but I don’t like it.”

“Tell me honestly—two years ago, if I disappeared off the planet and left you alone for a few months, with how you were then…would that have fucked you up? Or, would a break from my coddling and enabling have done some good.”

“I can’t answer that.”

“I fought with Peri again the other day.”

“How bad?”

Adam rolled over to face him and grinned.

Tobias sighed. “She…has her days, you can’t let her get to you.”

“I went all out. I was so stupid. It started over text then it turned into a phone call.”

Tobias laughed to himself. He was responsible for referring her to Adam and bore the weight of their frequent clashes of personality from both ends. He hadn’t heard it from her end yet, but he knew it was coming now.

“Can I ask you to do something for me? I don’t want to scare May and Dominic, they’re pissed about the whole thing as is.”


“If I haven’t gotten back to you in six months from now…can you get back in touch with me? And get me in touch with the others? I can give you a list of people to round up together in case anything…I don’t know.”

Tobias’ composure changed instantly. “What!” He rose to his feet. “I thought you were confident that couldn’t happen! No! You can’t! If you have to plan that…!”

“That’s why I didn’t want to ask! C’mon man…” Adam swiveled his legs to the ground and righted himself on the couch. “I trust the Franciscans, I just want a backup plan, that’s all. I’ll be fine. Here.” Adam dug in his pockets and handed Tobias a folded orange sticky note. He unfolded and read the note: “Whitney,” “Everett,” and “Telorak,” with phone numbers underneath. He didn’t know any of them but they sounded familiar from the two years of Adam’s anecdotes.

“And anyone else you think should be there,” Adam added. “But you won’t need to. I promise.”

Adam was halfway up the cafeteria line—which was always longer on pizza stick days—when he felt a hand on his shoulder. Adam turned around to see a lizard, already a foot taller than him, showing his teeth in a wide cheesy grin. “Hey, little bro!” Telorak said.

“Tel!” Adam said. He was completely off-guard. Tel had changed middle schools and hadn’t shown up at the elementary school like this for a year.

“I got us lunch,” he said, holding up a full McDonald’s bag. Adam hesitantly left the line while the other fourth and fifth graders whispered to each other. The kid behind him quickly scooted up to prevent Adam from taking his spot back in line. Telorak led Adam out past the awning and out alongside the brick school building. “I left the gate open.”

Adam realized what he was proposing. “No, no way! They’ll see us leave!”

“Oh come on Adam, there’s no one out there. How do you think I came in?”

They were at the gate leading out of the schoolyard. Telorak removed a well-chewed Bic pen from the high latch and held the gate open for Adam. Adam sheepishly ducked through and Telorak followed.

Adam looked out at the street. “I don’t think the crossing guard is out.” Before Adam could suggest going back in, Telorak had hopped off the curb onto the street. “C’mon, it’s good! Run!”

Adam panicked, there was a car down to the left. “C’mon!Adam dove into a sprint and caught up to Telorak. They hopped onto the opposite sidewalk, and five seconds later the car whooshed behind them. Adam caught his breath.

“You’ve really never ditched before?” Tel asked.

“No,” Adam said. “Where are we going?”

“How much time do you have?” Tel asked.

“Well…I have a sub after this. He started reading a book yesterday when kids were throwing planes at each other, so…I guess I’m good.” Adam was surprised by his easy contribution to this delinquency.

“Good! Just a couple streets from here, let’s cut through here.”

They walked through a new neighborhood, past walls of tan brick, rows of grass lawns and orange trees and playgrounds with layers of spongey woodchips on the ground. Adam was hoping no one would be outside to see them, being the middle of a weekday, but to his horror there was still the occasional car passing in and out of the driveways. Kids were at school and parents were at work, he wasn’t sure what these people could be doing.

“Oh, you want to get into these?” Tel said, holding up the McDonald’s bag. “I got six cheeseburgers, eighty-nine cents each!” he bragged. Adam took a burger from the bag and unwrapped and ate it as they walked. The black pavement grew bright with red-brown tire tracks. They came to the new corner of the neighborhood where houses were still being built. The front yards at this stage of construction were unwelcoming patches of flattened dirt dotted with Porta Potties and kiddy pools filled with murky gray water. Tel kicked the edge of one pool and smiled into the rippled reflection, then walked to the house. “Ohp, watch out,” he said, and crouched down to pull a strip of rusty nails from the dirt. He broke the strip into two and held each piece up with a menacing grin. He made a “rah!” sound and swiped at Adam with them a few inches closer than Adam anticipated. Adam jumped back, confused, and Tel chuckled and dropped the nails back in the dirt. Tel skipped forward into the house through the holes between the wood beams and Adam followed.

The air was thick with the smell of paint, dirt, and wood, but it was cool in the shade. “You never go through houses under construction like this?” Tel asked, walking through the unbuilt walls of a bedroom, a laundry room, a walk-in closet. “I could live here. Houses seem so small when they’re not done yet. Like,” he pointed to a pipe sticking out of the cement inside a small square of wood, “someone’s gonna shit there!”

Adam noticed the cuss word.

The two of them sat on a horizontal panel that would later hold a windowsill cushion while Telorak dug out the next round of cheeseburgers.

“Isn’t it funny how our schools lined up?” Telorak asked. “You’re finishing elementary school, and I’m finishing up middle school.”

“How’d you get out of school today? Are you on break?” Adam asked.

Telorak’s demeanor toughened and he took another mouthful out of the sandwich. “I haven’t been going in a lot.”

Adam, even at that age, knew to leave the statement at that.

“I’m going to be old enough to get a job soon,” he continued. “Can’t do full hours though, but, we’ll see.”

Adam couldn’t fathom why someone would want a job, especially with the homework he’d heard you get in high school. But, was Tel going to go to high school?

“It’s too bad we don’t have more time,” Tel said. He gave no indication of knowing the sadness the sentence contained, and moved onto asking about different teachers he remembered and asking Adam if he knew about certain students between their two grades and what middle schools they went to, which he didn’t.

They finished eating. Telorak stashed the greasy wax paper back into the McDonald’s bag, crumpled it and tossed it into a dirty bathtub. He felt Adam’s guilt without him having to say anything. “There’s already a beer can in there,” he said, frowning. He slid off the board and stretched, then walked up to one of the good thick wood beams and started to carve with his outstretched claw. Adam watched intently.

“T…E…L…!” He stood back and wiped the wood shavings from his finger on his shorts and smiled upon his handiwork. “You do yours. Oh. Wait.” He looked around the floor, and found a broken-off chunk of a nail strip. “Here.”

Without fuss, Adam carved his four letters into the wood below Tel’s name using the corner-nail of the strip.

Adam turned and smiled. “Well. I owe you two dollars and sixty-seven cents.”

People of Earth 4

Adam and Telorak finished half of the box of beer together. Everett had opened a bottle to venture a sip, made a face, and passed the bottle off down the line. The lizards didn’t get below the neck of the bottle by the time they all decided they didn’t like it and sat it on the coffee table where it would remain for the rest of the night. Tobias said he felt tipsy and Telorak told him he didn’t. As the night went on, Tobias noticed Telorak was missing. They searched for him and found him passed out into the grass in a peaceful cherubic manner. Adam went outside to check in on him and realized he was pulling and twirling blades of grass with one hand. Adam stood over him and said, “It’s getting cold, up you go.” Tel grumbled from the ground. Adam lifted his arm up over his shoulder and helped him up without resistance. He walked him inside until he bent forward and crashed onto his shag carpet. Adam took out a twenty-dollar bill from his wallet it and tucked it into Tel’s tracksuit breast pocket. That’ll cover inflation and interest.

Adam didn’t remember the frozen pizzas until after midnight when most the group had fallen asleep. He worked quietly with Tobias to cook them under the lone bulb of Tel’s cramped kitchen. They shut the oven door and Tobias started to investigate for where he could throw the cardboard away while Adam stared out past his reflection in the dark windows. He saw something.

“I’m going to get something from my car,” Adam said.

“‘Aight,” Tobias said, squatting perplexed in front of Tel’s cabinets.

Adam stepped outside. He never would think of the night as chilly under normal circumstances, but he had learned the scale of temperatures lizards felt comfortable in, something made more obvious after stepping out of the stuffy 85° Telorak kept his house at. He’d lied to Tobias about going to his car and hoped he wasn’t looking out watching him. He thought he had seen a pile of fall-colored leaves scatter past the grass and got suspicious, especially now that he was outside and couldn’t find any fall-colored trees on the street or feel a breeze to blow them. Where are you…

The lizards had sidestepped the topic of Netanel for the night—even Tobias didn’t bring up the promise he made to Adam over the phone. Adam read their mood and told the story of the Franciscans’ codeword and how he saw it at his regular restaurant’s menu without mentioning Netanel’s intervention.

Netanel, in the form of a dark orange and red flaming humanoid orb, was standing in the grass at the edge of the streetlight’s light. Adam didn’t jump when he saw him, but instead felt calmed and relieved at the confirmation of his suspicions. The flames drew in and Netanel looked more solid and shadowed.

Adam. Adam Hartage,” Netanel said.

Adam walked down past the rock steps to where Netanel stood. Adam could see his shape better up close. Netanel was looking into the house’s windows longingly.

“You left me the message this morning,” Adam said. “About the Franciscan codeword. It worked.”

Netanel lifted his head to nod, thought about it for a few seconds, then finished the gesture. “Yes. Tobias asked me to. I remember thinking, how could this lizard be so adamant about remembering to tell me this, over six years?”

“Six years…”

“I think a lot about this party over the years,” Netanel said. “We never met before all this,” motioning to the length of this ghostly body, “did we?”

“Your voice sounds familiar. Maybe it’s just the videos. Did you ever need deliveries?”

“I had pink-tinted scales…” he said, but Adam showed no recognition. “It doesn’t matter, we’ve met now.”

“No no…wait.” Adam said. “‘Red.’ Right? It was in my address book.”

“Huh…that was the name Nate called me.”

“Yeah, I’m sure…wait. Holy shit! I bought you shrooms!”

Netanel looked confused, then panicked. “Those were for the committee!”

“I bought you shrooms!” Adam laughed. “Why’d I do that!”

“…maybe I shouldn’t write that message for you…”

“You told me to meet this guy in parking lot somewhere…oh man. It was a lot of shrooms!”

“If you squeal I cut your brakes,” Netanel said. He put his hand on Adam’s shoulder, then smiled.

Ahh, there’s the news-broadcast-hopping Netanel I know, Adam thought.

Netanel drew his hand back and continued. “If you only knew how much I hear about you…I’m glad to finally meet.”

“Hear about me?” Adam said, but Netanel was looking to the side again. Adam turned to see what he was looking at, but there was only dark empty grass. Adam looked back at the house to see if they were spotted out here—Peri had woken up and joined Tobias in cutting the finished oven pizzas in front of the window. By the time Adam looked back, Netanel was retreating back into the blurrier orb-like form.

“Yes. Hear all about you. Now go drink some water,” Netanel said.

“Thank you,” Adam said. Netanel bit his lip and gave a crooked smile and a mock salute, then vanished. Adam was alone in the cool grass. He remembered the shrooms incident one more time and laughed.

Adam saw Everett in the window now too, evidently woken by the smell of pizza. Adam had an epiphany then. I need to retire. This needs to be theirs. He looked in the window and saw his heirs. Should he tell them that now? No. Not yet. It’d be a long process, it wasn’t something they could take over for him overnight. Let Tobias enjoy this return to normalcy, he deserves it. He’d propose it in the morning.

There were no clouds to interrupt the sunset. The sun had a straight, clean plunge down into the ocean’s edge.

From far away S21 would’ve looked like a clump of tangled washed-up seaweed on the beach. Up close she was more sinister. Auto kept his eyes on the water. The tide was pulling away, leaving S21 and Auto further up the beach then when they first sat down. Birds hurried after the receding foam, pecking at anything promising.

“Did you let this place grow on you?,” S21 ask. “You must have, to have spent so much time here. Not doing your job.”

“No. I’m ready to go,” Auto said.

“But it’s so unassuming here!” S21 one said, tossing sand into the air.

“No. It’s very assuming. It’s a very dumb place. Ocean’s too cold for my tastes.”

“Look!” she said, pointing a limb to the sky. “It has a moon! I love moons.”

“…it is a nice moon.”

“Ever go up there?”


The sun was down now. The bright long shimmer on the water was gone. The dark blue descended upon the last band of bright pink.

“We could go back together,” S21 said.

“You scare the hell out of me.”

“Understandable,” she said. “You know I don’t work for anything I can’t sell. This job is no exception. But what are you getting out of this?”

“Twenty years.”

S21 shifted back. “Twenty?! Isn’t that how long it’s taken you to do the job?”

“Why do you think I only take contracts from gods?” Auto asked.

“You did all of this, just to do it?” S21 asked, shocked. “For free?”

“It’s the only thing that is free. Everything else costs time.”

“Well,” she said. “You should haggle for thirty.” She got up. “I bet you were a handsome young…whatever you are.” She moved forward down the sand, down to the receding water until she slipped away into the air. She was gone. Auto let out a breath of relief he’d been holding in a long time. He got up and brushed the clumps of wet sand off his legs. He had GPS coordinates for a certain spot in the middle of the seafloor to get back to.

“And that’s why Earth has nothing left for me. I’m ready to go. Right now, right here. Any day of the week.”

Charles,” Netanel said. “You’re…not a lizard.”

They were sitting in an employee break room. Charles was sitting in front of a loud floor fan, trying to stop sweating. A TV turned to the local news scored the silences between them.

“So?” Charles said.

“For one, I don’t know what the atmosphere is like, and—


“And what?” Charles asked. Netanel was looking off to the side.

I can’t hole up any longer.

“But that’s what I’m saying,” Charles said. “On Earth it’s like…”

I’ve been out in the woods for a while. I watched the sun rise over the mountains this morning. I lied against a tree trunk watching the clouds, the insects, the saplings growing out of the ground. If this doesn’t make it to You…I don’t know.

I’ve been angry. My beliefs keep ricocheting around. I didn’t believe in You last week and now I’m back here again. And where will I be next week? Just as fiery and confused as ever. That’s my only constant now.

Sam’s helped me out but she’s not my therapist. She’s getting her life back now, just like I need to. Nate said he’s going to ask Netanel if he could set up a house on the outpost planet. He’s not gonna get it but he’s fixated. Netanel…it seems like I just told him he had a duty to leave. Find our beginnings. Help whoever was out there. Now I have the same choice and I’m feeling the total opposite. Now he’s gone on this mission, a mission I had a hand in starting…all for something I don’t know if I believe anymore.

I don’t know.

I just need someone to talk to.

Are You there?

“…and then all the Emanites died. Right after my promotion. I could. Not. Believe it.” Charles looked into Netanel’s absent expression and groaned. “You weren’t listening? What are you smiling about?”

Netanel was excited for this day. He was excited for this day across the whole ten years. Showing up will let Avery know that his prayer was diverted again, but today is different and that won’t frustrate him like it used to. He’ll wait for Netanel to toy with him but it won’t come. Netanel will offer to help him pray to the right god but Avery will decline, and Netanel will lie down and join him in watching the changing sky.

“My break’s almost over…” Charles continued, “but this is more important, I can be late. They can fire me. I don’t care.”

“No uh, get back to your job. I’ll get back to you, Charles. There’s someone I need to see.”

“Fine. Fine! I get it.”

Netanel left him alone with the local news and the whirring of the fan. Charles rolled his eyes and reached into his apron pocket for his bottle of sugar pills and popped one in his mouth.