By Forrest Aguirre

“A beautiful day,” Langknech giraffe said to friend Tzi-Tzi. And, indeed, it was a beautiful day. The smiling face of the sun shone down from sky blue, and where there were spigot-clouds sprinkling water (neither one quite knew who turned the handles of these munificent rain-bringers); red flowers sprang up with a cheerful “Pop!” The rolling hills were a pleasant sea of closely-cut green grass. The smell of lilac and peach blossoms was on the air. It was more than beautiful, it was a perfect day.

Tzi-Tzi’s chitin sparkled deep iridescent blue in the sunlight. “We should walk,” she buzzed, “and explore.” Her wings clattered in the clear air, the only background sound besides the shush of warm zephyrs from the east. “After all, you are a bit of a parochial fellow. Let us see the world, Langknech.”

“You are the most adventuresome insect I know,” replied Langknech, “as well as the largest. You are larger than one of my horns. How did you become so big?”

“I suppose The Maker made me so,” Tzi-Tzi buzzed.

“How can you know, friend fly?” Langknech tried to furrow his brow with suspicion but to no avail–the fabric of his forehead wouldn’t allow it. On the contrary, his unblinking button-black eyes gave his face the appearance of ongoing naïve curiosity. Plush animals are like that, even if they are draped over a frame of genuine giraffe bone, as Langknech was. So he voiced a hint of suspicion to make up for his lack of expression: “You speak as if you have seen The Maker.”

“Ah, but I have, friend giraffe, I have,” Tzi-Tzi condescended.

“But how?”

“Come. I will show you.” Tzi-Tzi flew ahead, with Langknech following her over the green hills.

They traipsed (well, Tzi-Tzi flew, actually) for days through those hills, Langknech’s hooves going fuzzy on the bottom, little pellets of fake fur curling up underfoot. Occasionally, they would see a friend–Johnny Mbango, the walking skeleton man; Imbroglio the Venetian clown; grumpy old Ndege the crocodile. They waved and moved on, heading north and west toward the Kikape Mountains, a series of high, serrated peaks that crenelated abruptly up from the absurdly flat Menge grasslands on the leeward side. It was a long, difficult climb up the mountain, and Langknech leaked stuffing by the time they descended to the grasslands on the other side. Tzi-Tzi shivered from a mountain chill. She definitely preferred hotter weather.

And hotter weather they found. After only a few miles, the short-cropped grass stopped suddenly and gave way to a blazing desert. Nothing grew here, not even the baobab. The sky spigots had disappeared. Langknech was glad he had shed some of his fake fur. This must be hell, he thought.

Tzi-Tzi was in heaven.

“Just like home,” Tzi-Tzi said.

“But I thought our home was back over the mountain, the way we came.”

“That is your home, Langknech,” Tzi-Tzi said knowingly.

“Then where is your home?” Langknech was sometimes confused by Tzi-Tzi’s complexity. After all, he had the bones of a real giraffe but the not brains of one.

Tzi-Tzi started to say something, then stopped. Longknech noticed an insectoid confusion in the awkward tilt of Tzi-Tzi’s head. The fly wiped her face with her black arms, as if she were trying to shoo away her consternation. Then she spoke in a distant, hollow voice as if dreaming:

“I don’t know. Except I know it’s not back over the mountains. Wherever I am from, it is hot. I do love the heat!”

Then she started flying again, as if her reasoning had explained away any doubts. She whistled a happy song as she buzzed along, not a care in the world.

#

Frankenstein Don Juan knew his duty the moment he winked back into mortality. He was to watch and protect The Maker, no matter what the cost.

He awoke at about the same time as The Maker fell asleep. The irony of the situation was minor, however, in comparison to the irony of his newfound existence. His old existence seemed like a dream to him now, his existence in hell, that is. The eternal soul of Don Juan could appreciate the humor of it all. He laughed aloud with the voice of Frankenstein’s monster (whether or not The Maker and Doctor Frankenstein were the same, he did not know, nor did he much care, though the thought did idly cross his mind). In any case, he was glad to be away from the underworld. It was boring as…well, you know.

Here, however, there was plenty to do. The Maker lay on a stone slab, an altar, really, in the midst of a mad scientist’s laboratory. Tesla coils, a Faraday cage, tubular light bulbs, skulls, and telescopes were arranged in no particular order. Several books and papers lay scattered across the lab — Gray’s Anatomy, Meyrink’s The Golem, Hall’s The Secret Teachings of All Ages, and Goethe’s Faust, along with sheaves of parchment inked with calculations, formulae, and graphs so dense and intertwined as to be nearly indecipherable.

A series of photographs were interspersed with the notes. The topmost was a picture of The Maker, dressed in a brown herringbone suit, had each arm draped over a man-sized wind-up robot, one on either side of him. He was a soft-featured, middle-aged man with a slight paunch. His dirty brown hair was parted to the side, unmoving largely because it was so greasy. In addition to his suit, he wore tennis shoes and a necktie that was in need of a decade or two of updating. The expression on his face was happy, no elated: a wide smile. He might have been yelling for joy had the picture not remained silent there on the table. Across the photograph was scrawled an autograph in large, bombastic handwriting: “Me and ‘The Boys’ — Call me ‘The Maker.’ ”

And now The Maker lay on an altar, comatose.

Frankenstein Don Juan only felt a passing interest in these things, in the objects, The Maker, the pathos of contradiction inherent in the situation. What interested him was himself, and now he would tell The Maker all about himself, his life, his death, his rebirth.

“I will assume that you know the sordid details of my first mortality, at least literature’s portrayal of them. While not completely accurate, they give you the gist.”

His voice was not his own soothing basso with which he had grown familiar during his stay in the abyss. The sound emanating from his throat was more akin to the cunning, but nearly mindless horned demons that inhabited the eighth circle of hell. Gone was the charismatic coo that wooed two hundred women, lost to La bufera infernal, forever chased by Cleopatra, Helen, Semeramis.

Still, he had his panache (a beautiful word he had learned from someone else in…well, it didn’t matter) to think about. He cleared his throat and continued:

“My death is less well-known, shadowed as it was by the debauchery of my life,” he said with a flourish of his ungainly hand,” He noticed, to his chagrin, that his pinky had not been sewn on straight.

“Still, the stories are accurate enough. Shaw either had a crystal ball, or he talked with the Devil himself. Yes, that must be it. Who else could have tricked me so? Old Nick did have a sense of humor behind the droll exterior. Here I thought I was coming to heaven, then ‘pop!’ a flash of light, and I am encased in an undead body, like the old commander’s ‘living’ statue. I’ll bet Ana had some hand in this. I suppose that I am now her ‘Superman.’ ” The word dripped with disdain.

He leaned closer to the comatose Maker.

“And you are my father.”

He reached his roughly-sewn hand out to touch The Maker’s pale face. His fingers were so calloused that he couldn’t feel the sleeping figure’s flesh, as if the man were a phantom, insubstantial.

#

Ahead, in the distance, Langknech spied a tall, thin black tower that looked like an ebony needle rising up from the desert floor. Tzi-Tzi, being capable of, at the very least, achieving Langknech’s vantage point, saw it, too.

“Ah, The Citadel of The Maker,” Tzi-Tzi said with the upbeat gusto of a tourist guide.

“It looks rather dark,” Langknech noted, craning his serpentine neck to try to see more detail.

“Dark and impenetrable, like The Maker’s thoughts,” Tzi-Tzi said in as low and ominous a voice as she could manage. An involuntary buzzing of her wings brought on, she thought, by fear of what lay ahead, made her feel ridiculous, but Langknech didn’t seem to notice.

Instead, he stopped, stooped, and squinted at what lay ahead. Something…else lay between them and the citadel. Actually somethings, and they didn’t lay (or lie–poor Langknech didn’t even know the difference), they moved, very slowly, at a steady, methodical pace, in a large circle around the plain surrounding the tower. The shimmering of the desert air made it appear to be an army marching round and round, until the pair drew close enough to resolve the figures, one glowing gold, the other shining silver. Rooster tails of dust sprayed up from the being’s feet.

“Aliens,” Tzi-Tzi buzzed.

“How do you know?” Langknech asked.

“Because, friend Langknech, we are The Maker’s only creation. These,” she said, trying to narrow her eyes under her non-existent brow, “are intruders.”

“What are we to do?” Langknech asked, quite forgetting about Johnny Mbango, Imbroglio, and Ndege, whom they had seen before they crossed the treacherous Kikapes. Langknech had evidently lost some of his memory, along with the soles of his feet.

“Let me handle this.” She flew off like a bullet toward the imposters.

Immediately, a pair of flashes erupted from the beings, temporarily blinding the bug. She flew in lower in an attempt to evade their notice, but they turned their metallic, box-shaped bodies toward her.

Other than their color, Silver and Gold were, respectively, identical to one another and identical to one another. Silver had a cylindrical head atop its rectangular frame, as did Gold. Gold had a cone protruding from each side of its cylindrical head and an oval-shaped antenna that spun round and round atop it, as did Silver. Both had a mouth more reminiscent of a portcullis than any organic mouth, and neither had eyes, unlike Tzi-Tzi herself, though theirs were merely covered in a wire mesh, unlike her truly multi-faceted organs.

They were, of course, not organic, and they spoke in inorganic voices from their gate-like mouths, a static, crackling sound as if heard from a distance, though they were very close to Tzi-Tzi, who had given up her pretense of sneakiness and approached them head-on.

“Intruders!” they yelled.

“Intruders!” she yelled.

“What?” Langknech yelled, galloping on his bony legs toward the trio.

Rays of light erupted from the robot’s eyes, converging on the hapless fly. She fell to the ground, wings involuntarily twitching, fanning the smoke that rose from her body. Thankfully, she was not conscious, so she was not embarrassed again by her wings.

The plush giraffe picked up speed, racing toward his fallen comrade.

The robots’ eyes glowed and shot out their rays again, but the giraffe was unaffected. They continued firing at him. Bolts of energy spun off into the sand and sky. Langknech ignored them, stooping his head down to nudge Tzi-Tzi with his nose. She buzzed feebly.

“Impossible!” Gold said.

“Does not compute!” Silver exclaimed.

Langknech ignored them. “Tzi-Tzi, wake up.”

Tzi-Tzi woke up. She looked at Langknech, seeing even more giraffes than usual.

“That really hurt,” she said, groggy from the enfeebling rays.

Langknech no longer ignored the robots. He turned to them and lowered his head, threateningly.

“Wait!” Silver held up his inflexible arms to protect himself.

“We must know something!” Gold said in his electronic voice.

Langknech kept his head down, eyeing the pair suspiciously.

Silver ventured a little closer, his arms still upraised. “We must know–” a near-silence, sparkling with static, filled the air with anticipation “–what world you come from.”

“Why, this world.”

Gold startled himself with his own digital laughter. “Ha, ha, ha.” He had forgotten that he had a humor chip.

“But, this does not compute at all,” Silver said. Gold concluded from this that Silver did not have a humor chip, and that, though they appeared nearly identical on the outside (differing only in color), they must be very different on the inside.

“Still, it is true,” Tzi-Tzi buzzed wearily, still trying to shake off the stun. “We are from this world.”

“But you cannot be!” Silver squeaked.

“Ha, ha, ha.” Gold was enjoying Silver’s confusion, which meant that he must also have an enjoyment chip. He wondered if Silver had a confusion-compensation chip…

Silver’s head began to smoke.

…apparently not.

“And yet we are,” Langknech said, relaxing. “Isn’t that right, friend Tzi-Tzi.”

“That is right, which begs the question, metallic ones, what world do you come from?”

“How ironic that you should be asking us such a question,” Gold noted.

“But we are the only iron ones here,” Silver protested. His vocabulary chip must have been malfunctioning.

“Never mind that,” Gold continued, then, turning back to Langknech and Tzi-Tzi, Gold made his best attempt at a mechanical genuflection. “We are, it seems, from the same world, and yet we were programmed to believe that we, Silver and I, were its only inhabitants.”

Sparks were now fizzing up and down Silver’s antenna. Gold thought his companion might not make it. He decided not to worry about it and found non-worrying rather pleasurable, unlike Silver’s obvious agitation, which must have a negative effect on his gears and rollers.

“You must be quite stupid to have been programmed to believe that,” Langknech scorned them, feeling a sense of superiority he had never felt before.

“Only as stupid as you,” Gold said without malice. “You are, after all, programmed exactly the same way.”

“We are not programmed!” Langknech was indignant. “We think!”

“And where do you think, since you are so insistent on thinking, that your fuzzy little brain came from, my friend?”

Langknech had to think about that for a moment. It hurt. The feeling of superiority and righteous indignation fled.

“From The Maker,” the giraffe concluded.

“And that,” Gold said conclusively, “is precisely where our programming came from.”

Tzi-Tzi felt she had to integrate herself into the conversation. “So you, too, are from The Maker.”

“Yes, we two are from The Maker. Or, rather, we four,” Gold quipped.

Tzi-Tzi chuckled, trying, unsuccessfully, to smile with her proboscis.

Langknech stared at the citadel, trying to piece all of this together.

Silver spun round and round in circles.

“Now, I wonder why he kept us unaware of each other,” Tzi-Tzi buzzed. “I think it would be a good idea to pay The Maker a visit.”

And so it was agreed upon that the four of them should visit The Maker.

Silver trailed a little behind, wondering why they were no longer on patrol, lurching and sparking the whole time.

#

Frankenstein Don Juan had tried everything he could think of, but there was no waking The Maker. He had screamed and roared, smashed together beakers, turned on the Faraday cage, even chanted a few lines of a hymn taken from The Necronomicon (the blood was dry on the parchment, he noticed, not that it would infect him anyway, being undead) all to no avail. Not that he had any sort of altruistic motives–he was still Don Juan on the inside, after all. He wanted an audienceLuckily, someone found him.

A huge explosion outside heralded the someone’s or someones’ arrival (he couldn’t be sure which, quite yet). He smiled at the sound of shrapnel plinking off the walls outside and the roof above. Hopefully, his visitor (or visitors) had not gone to smithereens. It would be such a shame to have left the land of the dead so recently and be unable to talk with its recently interred denizens, if that were the case. Of course, he had not tried to talk to the dead since he had awoken here. And, who knew? Perhaps his existence somewhere between the land of the living and the land of the dead, that indeterminate state called undeath, would grant him the privilege of speaking with those on both sides of the veil. On the other hand, it might, likewise, prevent conversation with either one. In any case, he felt compelled to find out. He rushed, well, lumbered, really, down the stairs that encircled the inner wall of the citadel, seeking an audience with the living or the dead.

#

“I found an eye lens caught on the lip of the roof,” Tzi-Tzi called out, as she flew down from the citadel’s pinnacle.

“Hereth the antenna,” Langknech said through a mouthful of metal. He lay the twisted antenna down on a pile of debris the group had been collecting.

“It’s hopeless,” Gold said, looking back and forth between the scrap pile and the smoking neck-hole where Silver’s cylindrical head was once attached to the boxy body beneath. “I can’t fix him. I don’t have the tools; I don’t have the knowledge; I don’t even have proper hands. It’s hopeless. Silver is done for.” His logic bank told him that his reaction should be one of sadness, but, instead, he felt gleeful, which made him wonder what other boards and protocols he might be equipped with…or lacking.

Langknech looked sad.

Tzi-Tzi looked like an enormous fly. She was, Gold decided, incapable of looking like anything else. Flies must not have emotions, he calculated, or at least there was a statistically good chance that flies were emotionless, since they obviously were incapable of expressing their feelings, if they had any at all.

Gold stopped looking at the smoking hole to the junk pile. His sensors detected that the door of the citadel was opening. Tzi-Tzi and Langknech followed his stare.

Four gargantuan sausages appeared around the door. No, four fingers, each as big as a bratwurst. The hand and arm that followed were grotesque, sewn and sutured in a patchwork of flesh. The rest of the body that emerged from the doorway did not look much better. The eyes were mismatched in color and size; hair was missing in patches; the torso looked like a jigsaw puzzle that had been forced together, whether the pieces fitted or not. Thankfully, the thing wore pants.

“Well, hello there! Ah….” The thing stopped, staring at the bizarre trio (or quartet, if you counted Silver, but he was dead at this point). “Ah, well, you weren’t what I expected.”

The three stared at him, unmoving.

He smiled. One of the wires holding his lips into place strained, then snapped, causing the side of his mouth to droop down.

“How rude of me. I should introduce myself. I am Frankenstein Don Juan.” He suddenly remembered, in the back of his barely functioning zombie-brain, that he had an injunction to protect The Maker. Again, his ego had gotten the better of him and put him in a bind.

“Ah, I just remembered, I have something to do.” He hurriedly closed the door behind him. He fumbled to find a bar, a lock, anything to prevent their egress.

Outside, Tzi-Tzi flew over to the door and tugged on the handle. The door swung wide, exposing Frankenstein Don Juan, on one knee trying to figure out the door’s latch mechanism.

Gold approached the door. Langknech cautiously (would he do it any other way?) followed, hiding the bulk of his plush body behind the robot, peeking around to keep the monster in his sight.

“You are not The Maker,” Gold said.

“Indeed, you are not,” Tzi-Tzi said, crawling atop the door.

Frankenstein Don Juan stood up. “Ah, well, no I’m not. But he did bring me together, in a manner of speaking. At least I think he did.”

“Still,” Tzi-Tzi said, continuing her earlier thought and ignoring Frankenstein Don Juan’s comments entirely, “you seem vaguely familiar to me.”

“I’m sure you’re mistaken,” he said with a fake, drooping smile.

Tzi-Tzi tried her best to seem suspicious, but involuntarily preened her proboscis instead.

Gold broke the tension. “We should see The Maker. We have many questions for him.”

Frankenstein Don Juan began to protest. Then, realizing he had some questions for The Maker, he decided better of it.

The four of them ascended the stairs, though Gold didn’t do so on his own power. Rather, Frankenstein Don Juan carried him on his back. Robots don’t do stairs, especially the spiraling kind.

The lab was a mess. Even more of a mess than it was before Frankenstein Don Juan had arrived or awoken or whatever it was he did. He was clearly the cause of much of the mess. At least it was clear to him. After setting Gold down, he created a path from the doorway to the table on which The Maker slept. Langknech was impressed by the monster’s strength. Frankenstein Don Juan swept aside machinery as if they were toys.

As the last screeches of metal and crashing of glass echoed off the walls, the party of four stood alongside The Maker, looking down on him as he slept.

Half thought of what he would ask The Maker when he awakened.

“What circuits have you soldered into me?” Gold would ask. And “Why is Silver so different inside? Why was he made that way?”

“How did I get here, and how do I get my beautiful young body back?” Frankenstein Don Juan would ask.

Langknech had not thought of what he should ask. He was awestruck to be here in the presence of The Maker.

Tzi-Tzi, rather than thinking of asking The Maker a question, asked herself “Where do I know this Frankenstein Don Juan from?”

“Aha!” she yelled aloud, startling the rest.

She had remembered.

“You! You scoundrel!” she accused, pointing at Frankenstein Don Juan.

He feigned surprise. “Me? Whatever do you mean?”

“Don’t try that smooth talking with me, you infernal demon!”

Gold recognized that Tzi-Tzi recognized Frankenstein Don Juan from somewhere else, another world, perhaps? Tzi-Tzi’s reaction to the realization of the monster’s identity was causing Gold to recalculate the statistical chances that a fly could have (and express) emotions.

“You go to hell!” Tzi-Tzi yelled.

Gold, with more data, recalculated again.

“Been there. Found out it wasn’t really my thing. Er, should I know you from somewhere?”

Something in Frankenstein Don Juan’s voice spawned a hypothesis in Gold: the monster suspected that he knew to whom he was speaking, but he couldn’t be sure– “He,” in the last instance, meaning both Gold and Frankenstein Don Juan.

“Not my form, Don Juan, but surely my title: Ashtoreth!”

He was visibly stricken. Gold’s hypothesis was coming together, now.

“Ah, oh, yes, you. Well, ah, that’s all behind us now, dear, isn’t it?” Frankenstein Don Juan pleaded.

“No, it’s not!” she buzzed. “Seducing mortals is one thing, but you can’t expect to seduce a she-devil and expect to get away with it…”

“But I was trying to help.” Frankenstein Don Juan’s voice was pathetic and small for such a big body.

“…especially when she is handed over to Beelzebub like some piece of property…”

“But it was Moloch who…”
“…impregnated by The Lord of the Flies with the seeds of her own destruction…”

“About that, you see, I merely…”

“…forced, just before that moment of ecstasy to wink out of existence…”

“Well, I will give you that, however…”

“…only to awaken bursting forth from her own obliterated womb…”

“It was rather disturbing, I admit…”

“…in the form of a gigantic bug…”

“Um…”

“…and banished from her home to another plane of existence that makes absolutely no sense at all!”

“Uh…I’m sorry?”

“Not in a hundred thousand eons will I forgive or forget…”

“Quiet!” a new voice screamed to be heard.

Tzi-Tzi, Gold, and Frankenstein Don Juan turned to the voice, stunned.

Langknech was already bowing in awed reverence.

The Maker had awakened.

“Will you all kindly shut up?”

“You’re awake,” Tzi-Tzi said.

“Of course I’m awake.”

“But I…”

“Yes, you bit me. You infected me.” The Maker sat up on the altar, rubbing the back of his neck as if remembering the pain of the bite. “Your saliva contained a trypanosome that put me into a coma. Yes, I remember it all.”

“And you’re not angry with me?” Tzi-Tzi asked.

Frankenstein Don Juan awaited the answer, hopeful that she would, in some way, be punished by The Maker.

“No, I’m not angry with you. It was supposed to be that way.”

“It was planned?” Tzi-Tzi seemed confounded.

“Look, one doesn’t draw a demon from hell without some plan in mind. Do you think that skinning the sacrificial giraffe to open the gate–why a giraffe, only Lovecraft knew–do you think that was fun? Let me tell you it was not fun.”

“So you brought me here.”

Gold’s databanks were filling up quickly.

“And you brought me here,” Frankenstein Don Juan said, full of vain pride.

“Actually, you were a mistake,” The Maker said.

The monster slouched and hid behind the robot.

“You were all a mistake.” The Maker put his face in his hands as if he had been hit with the magnitude of his greatest failure.

An awkward silence filled the room.

The Maker sighed.

“It’s a mistake that I’m even here. I’m not from here. I’m from Pittsburgh, for crying out loud.”

“Then, how did you get here?” Langknech ventured a question.

“I’m not really supposed to be here.” The Maker looked at Langknech. “Sorry for the whole sacrifice thing, by the way.” He looked more carefully at the giraffe. “Still, I didn’t do a bad job on the fake fur.”

Langknech didn’t know what to do, so he nodded in a forgiving way.

“This place isn’t even real,” The Maker explained. “My reality is a soft, white room in a state mental hospital.”

The others looked at one another for an explanation. None was forthcoming from among them.

The Maker continued.

“During my worst episodes, I came here, created this place, created you.” He pointed at Gold. “By the way, wasn’t there another . . .? Nevermind. Where was I?”

“Worst episodes,” Gold prompted him.

“Ah, yes. You see, after I lost my job, the bills came due, and my ex-wife took the kids, well, I left the ‘burgh, at least in my own mind. I came here. I could create here, make things, have some control over myself and my circumstances. I was, I thought, free. But when I slept here, I awoke there. This place is a distorted mirror of the real world.” He looked around at the room and at the four figures before him. “Very distorted.”

He paused for a moment, a look of disgust curling across his face. “Anyway, when I sleep here, I wake there, and vice versa. For a time I liked this place more than the reality that I came from. This was my escape, but at times, when I was awoke – over there, that is–I caught snippets of lucidity. In those moments I realized that the gravitational pull of irrationality was difficult to resist, even addictive. I had escaped into a trap.”

Langknech felt sorry for The Maker.

So did the others.

Except Gold, who didn’t have a pity circuit.

So I schemed, from this side, to find a way to be free again, free to face responsibility, free to face consequence, free to make decisions about life. Real life. To be involved, again, with real people. People other than my caretakers.”

“I was ready to heal.”

“This, friend fly, is why I brought you here to put me to sleep in this place, forever, so that I could awaken in the other. I didn’t want to stay here.” He looked around at the walls and ceiling with a twinge of fear in his eyes. “This is the land of the mad.”

After a short lull, Langknech spoke. “What would you have us do for you, our maker?”

“I need to rest,” The Maker said. “This time for good. I have a life to rebuild. It is time for The Maker to sleep, that I might awaken. Look, guys, I’ve really got to go.”

The Maker lay down for his final rest.

#

They wandered, disconsolate for the loss of The Maker, through the desert. Each one contemplated their many questions, questions that would not, that could not, be answered. Nevertheless, answers did come, unbidden, to other questions that quietly crept in from nowhere or somewhere unknown.

“My programming is inadequate for my long-term survival, yet I delight in imperfection,” Gold said.

“My body is my prison. It is worse than hell,” Frankenstein Don Juan said.

“You lied to me,” Langknech said.

“What do you expect?” Tzi-Tzi said. “I’m a devil.”

And so forth. Answers to unwanted questions led to dissatisfaction, dark murmurings in the heart that sought direction, barbs that required targets, and there were only these four in the world. Each eyed the others with suspicion and ill-intent.

Just when it seemed tensions were about to spill over into open conflict, they saw it. Mired in self-pity and anger, they had blindly climbed a high sand dune. They crested the peak and looked out to behold a vast, grassy plain over which a parade of cotton-ball white clouds floated in precisely-ordered rows. The plain was covered with tens of thousands of beds, and in each bed a person slept. Men, women, young and old, people of all races and backgrounds, some sleeping in hair rollers, some naked, some dressed in fine silk pajamas.

Suddenly, the four of them felt very alone. They craved companionship and sociality. They knew that they could drown their questions in play, in conversation, in life here, the place that The Maker had dubbed “The Land of the Mad.”  And here was an entire valley filled with slumbering inhabitants, a treasure trove of Makers, each capable of creating others like them to inhabit their world.

#

They nudge the dreamers.

The sleepers begin to awaken.

Forrest Aguirre’s short fiction has appeared in several venues including Asimov’s, Polyphony, and Gargoyle. His earlier short fiction is collected in Fugue XXIX. Forrest won the World Fantasy Award for co-editing the Leviathan 3 anthology. He is currently working on a fantasy novel titled Heraclix & Pomp.

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