The Desk of Professor West

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Digital drawing. View looking down at a weathered antique desk, composed of a tabletop and a hutch with a central cabinet, various slots, a dome top, and drawers, one of which, at left, is open and empty. The whole desk and hutch appear empty except for an envelope lying on the tabletop. The envelope bears a wax seal. Just above the open drawer is a butterfly in midflight seen in three-quarters view, trailing two afterimages and a soft glow of light that suggests its flight path. At right, a hand emerges from out of frame, holding by the blade what appears to be a dagger with a cross guard whose ends curl down and a handle resembling a spiral horn.

I’d seen pictures of his desk, several of them.  They were slightly different, but there was one thing in common with every single one.  It was cluttered.  Piles of files, pencils lying in constant danger of rolling off the edge, a half-empty cup of coffee or tea or maybe flat soda, a wadded up piece of paper, a stack of books, no two of them aligned at the edges.  It seemed like the desk of someone who would start working on every idea that popped into his head, so he wouldn’t forgot.  A person who didn’t use sticky notes or devices to help him remember.  But in the most recent picture I saw of Professor West’s desk, all of that was gone.  There was just one thing left on the desk, a letter addressed to someone he’d never met before in his life, and who’d never met him. 

A letter addressed to me.

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The Last Night of Grief

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Digital drawing. Facing forward, a creature with three dog-like heads with different colors of fur. The heads emerge from serpent-like necks from a central body with the top half of three legs visible, standing. All eyes are glowing. All the snouts are contracted as if growling. All ears are perked up. A forked tongue emerges from the head at right. Snake-like fangs drip a drop of venom from the head at left. Behind and above the heads, an armored segmented body is visible extended up out of frame. Extending down from top left of frame is a segmented spiked tail curling upward. Behind the creature is the opening of a cave.

“Before you kill us,” the philosopher said, standing before fangs dripping with searing venom and six pairs of blazing eyes, “let us ask you a question.”

The philosopher felt her heart beating within her chest.  She winced at the feeling.  It was not painful.  Just sad.  Her heart knew this was the moment of her death and it was still aching to keep her from it.   

All six of the creature’s eyes were on her, but she was most directly in front of one pair in one giant dog-like head.  She knew this one’s name.  This one was Lucte.  The name meant “grief.”

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The Surgeon’s Secretary

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Digital Drawing. A woman seen from waist up, facing forward, tilted to the right, holding an open book before herself. Her right hand is visible poised over the book loosely holding a fountain pen. She’s wearing a shirt, tie, aviator’s coat, and glasses with round lenses that each completely obscure her eyes and reflect the silhouette of a woman in profile with her face and arms thrown back, her hair and clothing streaming backwards. A rainbow overlay of that same silhouette lies over the image.

“Here, you see?” the surgeon said, as he pointed with his scalpel.  “At the nexus of the heart and the brain?  Between the eyes and the throat, right at the back of the mouth, where the voice is on the verge of emerging?”

The secretary peered past the gleaming scalpel and tilted her head.  There was nothing to see at the moment, other than the expected anatomy inside the mouth.  The corpse that lay on the dissection table had been long vacated.  But the surgeon claimed that he had cut through at just the right time, the fleeting moment right after certain death. 

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Transdimensional Top Hat

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Digital drawing. A young woman at center seen from knees up, dressed in top hat, ruffled shirt, and a jacket with coattails. She stands facing forward, turned slightly to the right, arms raised and bent, hands flourished. From her right shoulder, a flock of a butterflies fly up to upper left corner, one of them perched on her right index finger. Bottom right corner, waist-high to the young woman, stands a classic style robot made out of blocks and circles, with right arm raised, see from mid-section up.

“Maybe this is my destiny,” Ro said, as she swept the top hat off the table and perched it on her head. 

She spun around to show her cousin who laughed, gave her a thumbs up, and continued browsing the crates full of old magazines.

The two were at an estate sale that had intrigued Ro because it was for the former belongings of a magician. 

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A Dream Unto Death

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Digital drawing. Sketch of a structure roughly shaped like a tree but made up of disproportionately sized animal bones. The trunk is the bones of an elephant leg. Sprouting from above the foot bones are curled horns, labeled at right “horns of a markhor?” At the top of the trunk are the bones of a human hand, fingers splayed out in the suggestion of tree branches. Extending from some of the branches are the bones of cat tails and bat wings, one at right labeled “bat wings.” Capping two finger bones are the skull bones of a penguin, labeled at left “penguin skull (reminiscent of plague mask).” A third penguin skull sits atop the bones of a cat’s tail. The sketch is labeled “Tree of Death” at the bottom. Above the title and to the left of the sketch is written the following in a calligraphic style: 25 October. Her dreams grow ever more frantic, ever more heinous. I have attempted a sketch based on the details gleaned from her latest nightmare.

13 September
“I’ve been summoned to your side,” I said, taking a seat in the chair beside her bed.  “In the hopes that I can help guide you back to the world of the living.”

She coughed, cleared her throat, smiled at me, and said, “I have been waiting for you.”

The waking dreamer was lucid on the day that I met her.  Though she was lying propped in her bed, she didn’t even appear weak or pale.  I was quite surprised.  But then I looked into her dark eyes and perceived in their depths a hidden truth, a weary soul, and a cautious calm.  She was indeed haunted by the journeys that her mind and even her body had made in the weeks prior.

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The Shadow of Victoria Lockhart

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Digital drawing. Silhouette of a figure in a dress with bell sleeves and a hoop skirt, holding up a parasol in the right hand, with a gauzy veil flowing to the right. Bright light shines from above and behind the figure. Extending below the figure is what appears to be a shadow. Leafy, bushy foliage frames the top half of the image, extending down either side of the frame into dark shadowy patches in the foreground and hazy patches in the background. The image appears to be right side up, but would still be so if it were flipped vertically.

Victoria Lockhart, like many of those in both the cast and crew of her feature film debut, had heard about their director.  His genius.  And his…moods.  That’s what they were called back then.  Moods.  And only directors were allowed to have them.   She’d been so excited on her first day.  Even after she saw him throw a chair at one of the writers.  Even after she’d seen him take a swing at the cinematographer.  Even after she’d heard him say things to his assistant in front of everyone that made the woman crumple at his feet in tears.  Victoria told herself that she would never trigger his ire.  She would make him adore her, respect her, and treat her as gently as he treated that favorite suede jacket of his. 

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Flight of the Stegosaur

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Digital drawing. Hovering in the sky, left side view of a stegosaur-like dinosaur with a bulky body, claw-like toes, bony spikes on its tail, a long neck, protruding snout and bony plates along its back. The dinosaur’s mouth is open in what appears to be a smile, eye looking at the viewer. From within the middle of the bony plates there emerge pairs of delicate veined wings like those of a fly or beetle

The stegosaur watched the beetle flick open its hard outer wings and extend the flight wings underneath.  She watched the beetle launch himself into the air and hover, floating to and fro before he droned away.  She watched in study of the beetle’s ability.  And she watched in envy of the beetle’s ability.

She heard pebbles shifting behind her, but she did not turn.

“You’re looking in the wrong direction,” a voice said.

The stegosaur smiled and swung her head around. 

“If you want to fly, there’s the way,” said the little limusaurus.  She tossed her head back as she strode over to the stegosaur.

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The Last Magnificent Seahorse

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Digital drawing. Floating in water among small bubbles, the mythical creature known as the hippocampus. Seen from left side, the front half looks like a horse, except that the mane is replaced with a spiny dorsal fin, and the hooves are replaced by fins. The forelimbs appear to be in mid-gallop. The back half appears like a fish with fins protruding from the sides. The tail arcs toward the front. The creature’s coloring is vivid and shimmering like a fish.

The foal peered out at the sea, the forbidding sea, and he wondered.  He wondered at what his mother had just told him.

“It can’t be true,” he said, swishing his tail.  He was still new to the world, but already he had a favorite thing to do, and it was swishing his tail.

“Why not?” his mother asked.  She had warned him not to get too close to the waves.  But she need not have.  He wasn’t going anywhere near that roaring, reaching, grasping beast that she called “the sea.”

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Queen Niyami

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Image description: Digital drawing. A creature with the front half of a woman and the bottom half of a shark. She’s underwater. Foreground, a disembodied eye trailing a nerve stalk lies on the floor of the body of water in which the creature is floating. She’s facing forward with both hands planted on the floor as if doing a push-up. Her right eye is missing. The socket bleeds. Her open mouth is filled with shark’s teeth, and part of a second mouth appears to be growing out of her first and under her right cheek. She wears gold jewelry, metal cuffs, and a scarf wrapped upon her head that flutters slightly in the water. Her tail is visible bending towards the right.

“Well, I’ve heard that sharks can never stop moving or they’ll die.  And they don’t sleep as we do.  I have a story that might explain why, but…”

Lia pretended to hesitate as she gauged the children’s reactions.  The oldest looked curious but skeptical. The middle one started to grin at the mention of sharks.  And the youngest cocked her head in such a way that the lamp light cast a twinkle in her eye.

“You know what?” Lia said.  “I’m actually not sure I should tell you this one.  I don’t want to give you nightmares.”

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The Vessel Vespertilian

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Digital drawing. A bat mostly resembling the pygmy round-eared bat, three-quarters view of head with mouth slightly open, seen from bent legs up. The bat has two arms bent over his legs with a smooth membrane connecting the arms to his side. Behind these arms rise four pairs of membranous wings. They extend off frame. The bottom pair is watery and translucent. Next is a pair with rough earthen texture. Next is a flaming pair. And the last is luminous and wispy.

“Raccoons or orphans, whatever is back there, chase them away.  Or chase this away.  It’s your choice.”

I didn’t want to look at the glinting silver coin that he held up, but I couldn’t help it.  This was not the coin I needed today, or ten days from now, or even ten years from now.  I was prudent with my coin.  No, this was the coin I would need when I was an old woman, assuming I wanted to be the type of old woman who spent her days sitting by a sunlit window, sipping on fruit nectar, listening to a happy dog bark as I read a book of my choosing for as long as I so pleased.

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