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The Fletcher Legacy

Monday, January 12, 1903, 8:45 p.m. Conrad Fletcher lay dead, or seemingly so, on the floor of his capacious upstairs library. A crystal highball glass lay unbroken beside him, its contents spilt out and soaked into the carpet on which Fletcher lay. Oddly, none of the assembled guests leapt to the aid of the stricken man. Instead they simply stood about the library, a few looking at Fletcher, but most making a point of not looking at him, as though either seeking some measure of plausible deniability or perhaps expecting others to do whatever was appropriate to the situation. At last, however, Giles Prescott knelt beside Fletcher’s prostrate form and leaned in closely, his hand, then his ear to the fallen man’s mouth. After a moment so ...

Iron Law

The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race. The vices of mankind are active and able ministers of depopulation. They are the precursors in the great army of destruction, and often finish the dreadful work themselves. But should they fail in this war of extermination, sickly seasons, epidemics, pestilence, and plague advance in terrific array, and sweep off their thousands and tens of thousands. Should success be still incomplete, gigantic inevitable famine stalks in the rear, and with one mighty blow levels the population with the food of the world. — Malthus T.R. 1798. An Essay on the Principle of Population. ...

The Queue

“Damn, it feels like we’ve been standing here forever!” Flynn shifts his weight from one foot to the other and back again. He removes a tissue from his pants pocket. It’s already crumpled from previous use, but he wipes his brow one more time and exhales with loud exasperation. “Is this how it’s supposed to work? Seriously?” he continues. “We haven’t moved an inch in, like, an hour.” Flynn Simon has, in fact, been in the queue for over an hour and a half, which is how long it’s been since he drove his 2007 Toyota Highlander into the back end of a stopped eighteen-wheeler on the Long Island Expressway. He had looked away for only a second at the sound of his cell phone ringing on the passenger seat. He never got a ...

Everything Old

Who could have imagined that the universities would be the first to go? Anyplace where you went to learn how to think. The trades turned out to be much harder though. They can make you a competent contract attorney or psychiatrist in fifteen minutes, but if you want to learn plumbing or welding, you still have to go spend a year or more in a trade school, just like back in the day. When the technology first started to emerge in the late twenty sixties, it was driven by the work of Columbia neurobiology researchers Pelton and Yamaguchi, who had collaborated decades earlier on identifying specific sites in the human brain where learning occurred, research that had subsequently earned the pair Nobel Prizes in medicine. With the benefit of ...

Turtles

“I can’t help it, Rob. And I can’t explain it either. Well, I can, but it will never be a satisfying explanation.” “That’s certainly true,” Rob said. “I will tell you this, though, because I’m your friend and someone has to tell you. You’re freaking people out with this business. There’s talk of interventions, counseling, possibly restraint.” “You’re totally overreacting. It’s not even that big of a deal. It’s only a feeling after all.” “Yes, a feeling—a feeling you’ve now shared with everyone we know, in every conceivable social situation for going on three weeks, a feeling that you—we—aren’t real. That we’re just characters in a story being written by some author somewhere, who we—well ...

Before the Fall

Three seconds of rushing wind precede the violent thunderclap of a body impacting asphalt. There is a limit to the velocity with which the human body can strike an unyielding object and still retain any semblance of intactness. Former Mayor Roger Hendricks had exceeded that limit by at least an order of magnitude during his plunge from the thirty-seventh floor rooftop terrace of the Flemington Tower on June the sixteenth of the year preceding. As of today, now nearly seven months on, why he took that plunge remains a mystery—one that, alas, it was now Benedict’s sworn duty to unravel.   Thursday – January 7, 1937 “I confess, sir, that I have no earthly idea. No idea at all,” Senior Detective Malcolm Benedict sat ...

a story in which

…because if she didn’t, there was a decent chance Bret would react precisely as her friends had, on multiple occasions, suggested that he would react, which seemed unlikely to be good. And so Melody had spent a fair bit of time avoiding Bret in recent days. She had, in fact, found his behavior of late to be borderline erratic, almost as though this whole situation wasn’t really as innocuous as he had led friends and associates to believe. And if that was the case—if Bret was harboring some misguided sense of indebtedness on her part—well, then, she was pretty sure that being around him right now was not high on her list of things to do. Still, there was the interview day after tomorrow. There was no denying Bret had made that ...

Hegel and Hobbes Have an Adven ...

Hegel the hedgehog rose one morning and greeted the sun. His smile was bright, and he decided, as he stepped through his front door and into the garden, that today would be a wonderful day, a fun day, and, if he was lucky, he would see Hobbes the hamster and maybe even get a chance to cheer him up. For Hobbes was not a very happy hamster. Hegel and Hobbes had known each other for a very long time, and it seemed Hegel was always trying to cheer up Hobbes. Once in a while he would succeed and bring a smile to Hobbes’ face, perhaps with a riddle or clever rhyme. But mostly Hobbes just walked about wearing a pouty face. Just as Hegel the hedgehog was thinking these things about his friend, there came a scratching sound at the garden gate. ...

As God is My Witness

The grandfather clock in the corner chimed 6:30 as Buster sat deeply and comfortably ensconced in his recliner, repeatedly belching up the taste of the spaghetti with sausage and marinara sauce leftovers he had nuked for supper. He loved the sausage, though he knew well that he would still be tasting it well past bedtime. The TV was tuned to the evening news, or at least what Buster still preferred to regard in that way. It wasn’t the evening news any more, though, was it? It was the all-the-goddamned-time news. It was just that Buster had spent most of his adult life in the era of three channels, each of which aired a half hour of local news from 6:00 to 6:30, followed by national and international news from 6:30 to 7:00. And if you ...

The Horse Thief

Billy Hale was descended from a long line of miscreants and vagabonds, and when the day came at last and they sent him away for stealing horses from the farm in the same town as my own, no one was much surprised, least of all Billy. It was generally felt that his life—all thirty-two years of it—had been building to some sort of unfortunate crescendo, and the only question in the minds of those who knew him was whether or not the climax would include incarceration, death, or quite possibly both. That he ended up merely imprisoned was regarded by most as an unexpected windfall. Ours is an area of the state in which men are routinely shot for taking things that aren’t theirs to take, with the authorities in such cases more likely to ...