20.

The straw whirled and swirled around him, lashing at his eyes, jabbing at the delicate flesh of his nostrils. He squealed and stumbled, blinded by the fibrous fog.

Thus the first pig briefly regretted saving time and money on building materials, before fur and teeth loomed out of the whirlwind, and the jaws of the wolf closed about his throat.

19.

He was so safe. His bed was low to the ground, the floor made of spongy foam tiles that would cushion any falls. The windows were closed against the harsh air outside.

Beyond the windows, down the road, was a strong gate, with guards to keep out undesirables.

He walked to the bathroom in his grippy socks, knelt carefully to expel the contents of his stomach.

Damn this cancer.

18.

Dueling among the crew was explicitly forbidden in the ship’s articles. But the captain was, as he had stated earlier “sick at the sight of the both of you”, and the crew was in a fey mood.

Thus it was that One Eyed Madge and Sheduer the Mountain found themselves in a cleared space amidships, dirk in one hand, pistol in the other, as agreed, in drunken heat, the previous night.

Madge spit, her one fierce gray eye cold and flat, like the sea around them. Sheduer bellowed.

Sheuder’s shot hit Madge in the chest. Her shot went wide, but hungover rage carried her over the distance between them. Ducking and cursing, she twisted her dirk into Sheduer’s bulge of a gut, tearing flesh and cloth alike. The Mountain fell to his knees. The dirk found his neck next, ending him.

“Damn your eyes, this hurts,” said Madge, clutching at her chest. She coughed blood, and fell to the tarred wood deck beside her foe.

And that was the end of that.

17.

Bob the Pure and Just punched the flying saucer very hard, and it went careening out of control. The city had been saved; the citizens blissfully unaware of how close they had come to being vaporized.

Blanch Derrigan, who had not been paying attention to the news that day, was doing her taxes at her kitchen table when the saucer crashed through the front of her house, squashing her flat. Moments later, the hyperdrive engine imploded, compressing the neighborhood into one very small bundle of matter.

16.

The monkey struggles less now. Its black eyes wander, the green leaves and scaly bark of the tree reflected there, but unseen.

Fallen leaves rustle as the snake shifts.

The monkey grows still. The reflections remain for a little time; then the snake swallows them, too.

15.

The loss of consciousness is instant as the bullet pierces his brain stem. But his face gives the impression of puzzlement as his body sinks back against the bed, eyes rolling as if to look at the three framed pictures on the dresser.

14.

It is quite the transition. One moment, cruising along with one’s thoughts, the rushing world outside veiled by the dream stuff of plastic and glass.

And the next the sudden hard reality of physics. Several tons of steel colliding with several tons of the same. Plastic screaming and peeling away. Glass flying. One wet squish.

13.

Lyuowan bellowed, and she felt the energy flow through her body, a warm river of yellow light that seemed to stretch from her chest to Heaven.

It was raining, but she laughed, and advanced through the forms, her bare feet stamping on the muddy street. Her bright red tunic caught a stray shaft of sunlight and glowed.

Syungyi saw her and thought that she was beautiful and strong, and he laughed with her.

A british bullet ripped through her chest first, and she fell to the mud. Another bullet took Syungyi through the temple before he could scream with rage at Heaven’s betrayal.

Ten more Boxers fell, and the British troop paused to reload.

12.

The very last person to remember the Great Pumpkin Pie Scandal of ’06 died on a warm Friday afternoon, their last thoughts comprising the color orange, the chemical smell of artificial pumpkin flavor, a pang of hunger, and a profound feeling of loss.

11.

The newspaper headlines are not good. He has the sense that his life’s work is being undone. The boulder is rolling back down the hill.

But he is so very tired, and he has lived so very long.

There will be others to catch that damn boulder and give it another push.

He has a brief vision of the ocean, of waves advancing and retreating, advancing and retreating, slowly wearing the dun sand away. And then he has no more vision of anything, and the paper falls, half read, to the floor.