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The Strange Town in the Middle of the Forest by Max Szredni (52)


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(Three Days Later)

            Daid stared at the book on his table. Besides the respectable sum of given-benefit he had found in Raque's dirty nightgown, this was the only other item his now-deceased friend had been carrying on his person. Up until this point, Daid had been unable to crack open its spine, petrified   by the marrow of genius that might spill forth with its disarticulation. Daid had always envied Raque and had often felt daunted by the words of brilliance the man used to regularly spout from his flaky lips. 
            Now, infused with alcohol as he was, Daid's curiosity won out over his jealous fear. So what if it is momentous and earth shattering? No one will ever have to know about it except you. No one will ever have to know how great the man truly was.
            Tentatively, Daid opened the book's cover, expecting the first page to be clogged with Raque's untidy scrawl. But it was empty. Confused, Daid flipped over to the next page—but it was empty too. Again and again he flipped the pages—empty, empty, empty, empty. Disgusted, he was almost ready to toss the book aside, when he saw it, Raque's entire masterpiece crammed into two lines at the bottom of the very last page:

            "Before my Past, I wasn’t. In my Past, I was. Now, I am. In my Future, I will be. After my future, I will not be."

            Daid looked at the sentences for a long while. Then he howled with laughter and was unable to stop until his vomit had choked him dead.

            For the umpteenth time, Mil pored over the notebook Domei had left on her bed, the final birthday present he had given her before the ekzootion. In it there were words and sketches, many of which Mil could not understand; she didn't ask anyone to decipher them for her though, because one of the few bits she did understand was the part on the front cover saying: "Do not let ANYONE else see this, Mil."
            (As the years passed, Mil would often revisit the notebook, understanding a little more with each reading. It was a book of change, a manifesto detailing all the wrongs of the town and prescribing solutions to them, one-by-one. Throughout its pages, Domei had built a framework for the changes he had envisioned, an all-encompassing plan for the new and better world that would exist—but only if Mil wished to make it so. And, at the bottom of the very last page, he had written his final words to his sister—"I Love you Mil, now and forever."

            In the white chamber, Lelae stood and watched the Lovers, wondering at the small boy who had died in her stead. The next day she went to the wreckage of her old home and fished out her favorite cast-iron pan, rapping it affectionately with her knuckles before heading into the darkness of the surrounding woodland, never again to return to the strange town in the middle of the forest.


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