thrice great hermes #42 (2018/01/22)

thrice great hermes

#42

by stanley lieber

THE ABANDONMENT OF CRUELTY

Bubble drifts in its field of suds. This photo is no longer available. This photo is no longer available. Shrink-wrapped antique classroom. San Angeles. Fence in the ceiling. Prosthetic coincidence (telegraphed). Fluorescent halo (wired). London, maybe. Moire. The blank screen.

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thrice great hermes #41 (2018/01/22)

thrice great hermes

#41

by stanley lieber

no one would understand about the phone. how it could not be replaced. how he had not even wanted it, at first, but how it had come to serve as perhaps his most important window to life beyond the forest. nobody else in town had a phone, and nobody else in town wanted one.

vidya wanted his phone. irrelevant now, as it was gone. his books were gone, too. raided at school, confiscated at home. by all outward appearances he now seemed normal. that is to say, illiterate. but he’d continue to serve out his sentence even if nobody could remember his crime.

two more years.

at eighteen, in theory, he would be on his own. he could hardly imagine what that would be like, but he was confident that he’d put at least as much thought into it as anyone else. namely, these maladjusted adults who had chastised him for reading between the lines.

he tried to push through the sludge in his mind, but he was neck-deep in something that was seeping out of his ears. he couldn’t... grasp... the words...

he couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t think, he couldn’t see his way to an idiom that didn’t carry contradictory connotations, defying what it was he had intended to convey. he had to change the liner in his wastebasket three times a week. the shapes and the colors mocked his efforts to frame them.

the real sl would not recognize himself in vidya’s notebook. and what could vidya say? there was nothing for him to say. there was no one to hear. there was no point in complaining, and there was no one to adjudicate his complaints.

vidya threw it all in the trash.

fade to

Beige. Bent white gallery. Lay out the laundry. Shadows wash windows. This photo is no longer available. Pull the red thread. Red polka dots on white drapery. Into the doll’s house.

and then

This photo is no longer available. What was it, Spain? The owl in daylight. Rock blunts scissors. This photo is no longer available. Beyond the smeared rainbow.

and then

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thrice great hermes #40 (2018/01/21)

thrice great hermes

#40

by stanley lieber

every so often sl would grow tired of moving slowly. the blank page, the page filling in, the finished page covered in perhaps ill-considered marks. he watched it all happening and it always felt like time was standing still. the hand moved so slowly, and there was so much he wanted to give.

sl looked down at vidya’s arm. he decided he would try to control it. slowly, at first, he allowed himself to feel each muscle as it flexed and relaxed, obeying vidya’s intention to direct the pen in his hand. next he exerted minimal strain, causing vidya’s hand to slip, then to catch itself before the pen slipped entirely out of his grasp. satisfied with his command of the instrument, sl began to write.

he scoured vidya’s mind for textures. many he could readily repurpose, mixing and matching, recapitulating something that was nevertheless entirely new. with this he was well pleased.

after a time vidya’s body began to complain. sl realized it had grown sore, hungry, as the session had wore on. he rose, to search for food.

what was it vidya had said about food? sl didn’t care. sl would do what he wanted, with affection.

first on the list was cleaning the body. the boy didn’t know what he was doing. he wet the bed. he touched things. vidya always washed his hands, but for sl this would never be enough. new habits must be set in place. he ambulated the body to the shower and turned on the water.

next the body must be groomed, and dressed. sl took a long look in the mirror, unhappy with what he saw. he went to work on the eyebrows, improving on god’s best efforts. he shaved the face and the back of the head. he brushed the teeth. clothes, it seemed he remembered, were kept in the boy’s room.

opening the closet he recalled a black t-shirt that would do. he pulled it on, followed by a minimally adequate jacket and a pair of jeans. all of it was black, but sl was quite beyond worrying that he might offend the town’s inhabitants on the street. what was this? vidya trying to break through. the boy was actually succeeding.

sl remembered this part.

softening to the boy’s pleas, sl slackened his grip on the body, which jerked away from him violently, and retreated to an obscure corner of the mind where he felt he was unlikely to be noticed. some manner of distraction would be in order.

vidya looked down and wondered what had happened to his notebook, why he was wearing different clothes. something was going on, but he couldn’t imagine what it might be.

he got on with it.

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thrice great hermes #39 (2018/01/20)

thrice great hermes

#39

by stanley lieber

all of this gray tracking across his forest like smoke.

vidya sat atop the water tower and watched the spread of the disease. human language, from which he was, for now, thankfully removed.

he opened his bag and took out his sandwich. he fumbled with his thermos and his elbow struck his phone, which had been sitting on the cold metal beside him. it tumbled over the side. he watched as it slipped, spiraling to the ground, impacting with a practically inaudible thump.

vidya climbed down.

he was reduced again to real books. at school, the library admitted to some few volumes he had previous ignored. mostly, lurid fantasy texts, too similar (judging from the titles, covers, and dust jacket descriptions) to other examples of the genre he had already read. he liked this kind of stuff, just not this particular stuff. still, it was here.

mr. anderson noticed him reading a book that, judging from its cover, would seem to concern the adventures of a flight of spacefaring dragons. the pained expression that displaced his usual happy demeanor belied internal contradictions in a man who professed to prefer usa today to the new york times because the former contained more colorful charts and its articles contained fewer words.

sensing opportunity, the english teacher had suggested a program of alternatives: orwell, bradbury, heinlein, dick, pynchon, kafka.

vidya had rolled his eyes and explained his predicament: it wasn’t that he hadn’t explored the recommended authors, it was precisely that this gaudier book was unfamiliar. he hadn’t read it before. the shapes it presented were new.

the shapes?

vidya went into the whole spiel: he couldn’t think of it in words. there weren’t any words about it to think. what he saw were shapes, lines, volumes, twisting into and out of each other in connecting patterns, stretched over time. a schematic view of myriad, though not particularly discreet elements. a maze that in sharp focus represented a pathway, but in the long view comprised the entire map. the map could be folded, bent, rolled up, distorted, stretched, and fitted to arbitrary configurations, but never altered from its essential substance, containing all possible interpretations, and defying any attempt to artificially constrict the infinite catalogue of juxtapositions it advertised, that it seemed to offer.

mr. anderson had not known what to say. for his part, neither had vidya. and that was the point.

mr. anderson had changed tacks. "let me tell you a story," he said.

during the war he had been in the army, serving on a ship.

"okay, let me start again."

during the war he had been in the army, but he had not really been in the army. he had sat in a chair, looking at pictures all day long. the pictures were photographs that had been taken by a satellite. the chair had been in the back room of a small office, which was an architectural firm that did not design buildings. the secretary of the firm did not know that mr. anderson spent his days looking at pictures, and in fact did not know that the firm did not design buildings. a second man, mr. anderson’s colleague, consumed his days forging busywork: various papers, contracts, receipts, memos, correspondence, flyers, bills, and invoices for the secretary to file, retrieve, proofread, type, mail, receive, dispose of, or misplace somewhere in the general disarray of the front office. mr. anderson would enter the building early each morning, flash his badge, ride the elevator to the floor occupied by the firm, nod to the secretary, produce from a hidden compartment in his sports jacket a special key that he used to unlock the safe in his office, and proceed to activate the covert mechanism by which the top of his desk rolled back to reveal his personal digital workspace. hold all my calls, and no interruptions, please.

"photographs of what," vidya intoned blandly.

"suspected military installations. airfields, mostly," mr. anderson said. he leaned forward conspiratorially. "and what do you think of that?"

vidya’s eyes moved back to his book, the trashy fantasy fiction.

"any interest in maybe doing something like that when you grow up?"

vidya’s eyes remained pointedly on the book.

"no thanks," he said, and continued with his reading.

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thrice great hermes #38 (2018/01/19)

thrice great hermes

#38

by stanley lieber

vidya wanted a cigarette. there was no explaining it. smoking was not something he did, but the craving was real. familiar. somehow comforting, like recognizing yourself, and not someone else, in the mirror. still, he demurred.

a blister had formed in the roof of his mouth. he pushed at it with his tongue, probing carefully along its edges. the shape reminded him of a small kidney bean. it hurt, kind of.

vidya got out of bed, wadding up his soggy sheets and transferring them to the washer. mom would be up, soon, asking him the usual questions about how he had slept. eyes drifting carelessly to the sounds emanating from the washer. he really didn’t want to talk about it.

the snow outside refused to melt. walking into town was going to be a nuisance. accordingly, vidya conceived a plan. a doomed plan.

"mom, can i take the truck," he asked when she woke up, already knowing the answer. "all right, then, well, thanks anyway."

vidya got on the phone with james, deftly maneuvering him into thinking it was his own idea for vidya to come over. he had to get out of the house. mom was okay with it, just be back before dark. vidya said okay, and slammed the storm door behind him.

walking to the mailbox vidya counted the cigarettes he saw on the ground. there were quite a lot of them. he felt the urge to pick one up and smoke it, but unfortunately he had nothing on hand to light it with.

unfortunately? what was he thinking. this increasingly familiar urge had edged out the usual distractions, interests, preoccupations, peccadillos, and the heretofore impervious sense of focus that typically comprised the workings of his mind. he was no longer sure that he would recognize himself in the mirror. as these thoughts coalesced, his trust in himself seeming, increasingly, to be misplaced, james drove up, smiling like an idiot, and waved him into the van.

his brother’s van. rose-hulman alumni. some kind of technology guy. all vidya could remember about him was a story james had shared where his brother had met morris day, backstage at a show, and morris day had dismissed him, derisively, as a "fat fuck." well, that he was.

the van’s interior was roomier, more comfortable than vidya had expected. adjustable leather seats, a mcintosh turntable mounted convincingly on some sort of mobile stabilizer, crushed velour armrests. james touched a button on the dash and a can of cherry pepsi emerged from the center console.

"got any cigarettes," vidya said, sounding deflated, and even looking a bit deflated, as his cheeks sagged and his shoulders drooped against his seat. his friend paused for what might have amounted to three seconds, before he depressed another switch and a small door opened in the ceiling, out of which fell a white pack of silk cut, james’ brother’s signature brand. vidya stared at the package and then discreetly deposited it in his bag.

vidya didn’t smoke. vidya smoked.

vidya didn’t smoke.

his mouth hurt.

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thrice great hermes #37 (2018/01/18)

thrice great hermes

#37

by stanley lieber

taking up his assigned seat in mr. anderson’s class, vidya gradually fell in with a new crowd. loud, illiterate, stridently devoted to high school athletics—so far, not much different than anyone else attending the school—his new friends were distinguished primarily by the fact that they were, much like vidya himself, the targets of constant, nonsensical abuse. joining in with this new crew—mom had referred to them as "colored boys"—somehow intensified vidya’s own status as punching bag for the upperclassmen and for the less careful adults who concerned themselves with matters of tradition and seemliness.

mr. anderson had asked him lots of questions about the music. vidya dutifully played him some tracks. the older man had seemed sincerely interested, but it was clear that the english teacher in him wasn’t ready for these kinds of lyrics. at least no one had told his mom what he had been listening to. mr. anderson, visibly appalled, had put on a brave face and let the subject drop.

james was his point of entry with the colored boys, co-signing for vidya’s uncanny ability to make anyone, mostly anyone, laugh. it was the first time after kindergarten, where vidya himself had laughed out loud at the absurdity of his classmates’ comprehensive ignorance of the world, that he had belonged to a large group of friends. this happy and hilarious situation was befuddling in the extreme. where had they all suddenly come from?

answer: kingston, jamaica.

in an unlikely arrangement, a national content provider had acquired the remnants of his town’s crumbling gilded age resort hotel—a story in itself—and had conspired to sponsor immigration into the area of cheap labor from the caribbean. the workers, naturally, had brought their families along with them, or in some cases had produced additional offspring once they arrived. all of these children, once they reached the mandatory age, would attend vidya’s school. this was how the presence of non-whites in the community had been explained to him by critter’s dad, clearly inebriated, taking a break from long soliloquies about his three tours of duty in vietnam.

the economics of the resort hotel, situated as it was in the middle of nowhere, made little sense when one considered the narrow roads, the expense of freight both to and from its remote location, the relative dearth of local color and culture, but it remained a substantial employer of the local population, immigrant or otherwise. in fact, the surveillance vendor who had recently fired vidya also serviced a contract with the hotel. fiber optic lines snaked in and out of the guest rooms, wiring the whole building for networked audio and video surveillance. other businesses in town enjoyed similar custom.

from his new friends vidya had learned his way around the grounds. service entrances, service tunnels, private elevators, hidden doors, locked cabinets, crawlspaces, sealed storage facilities, forgotten access points to the roof. many days, vidya didn’t even bother going to school. just as the abandoned structure in the woods had proven superior isolation, the hotel was a better place to sit and read than the school’s library, with its multimedia displays and its teaching assistant staff sword fighting with newspaper sticks. most of the rooms were empty. most of the staff didn’t care.

aw, little of this was true. none of these kids were really his friends. only rarely would any of them deign to talk to him. vidya wondered what their home countries had been like. he wondered why they seemed so happy to have moved here, to this wretched shithole he hated with all of his being, with every pixel of his after-image.

vidya turned himself to face himself.

what did he really want?

he wadded up the piece of paper and threw it on the ground.

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thrice great hermes #36 (2018/01/18)

thrice great hermes

#36

by stanley lieber

vidya lost his job. he was back in school, as if nothing had ever happened. he even returned to eating his lunch in the drama club dressing room. no one ever mentioned the previous trouble. no one seemed to care. vidya didn’t understand.

in dreams, he had talked to himself. discussed his own confusion about the way no one around him seemed sentient. about how he could have used the money from his job to replace some of the books that had been lost in the fire. what to do about sl. no firm conclusions had ever been reached by the time he woke up.

sl had breezed back into town, dragging in his wake signs and portents of life beyond the forest. yeah, yeah, and the attitude as well. no sooner than he showed up he was gone again, never answering his phone or bothering to call. vidya was growing weary of the sham his friendship had turned out to be. how could anyone live like that?

he couldn’t seem to gain any traction. events tractored along, mechanically flattening obstacles, but the stalks slowly popped back up again, mocking all his attempts to alter the landscape. and he was reduced to farm analogies.

james had offered to hide some of vidya’s remaining books in his locker. on the face of it this seemed like a bad idea. james was a default target—his locker was at least as prone to tampering as his own. but vidya appreciated the gesture. he selected a few relatively unimportant volumes and handed them over.

students were not allowed to receive deliveries at school. vidya frequently flouted this rule, with raymond’s tacit assistance. if he included instructions to have a drone place the package on an obscure windowsill, no one ever seemed to notice.

today’s delivery was running late. vidya paced the second floor hallway, anticipating the tardy delivery notification.

"hall pass," james demanded in jest.

vidya was impatient, but he didn’t want to seem rude. james was his friend. "what are you doing in the hallway during class?" he asked.

"drain the main vein," james said, jerking his hips back and forth, rustling his baggy jeans.

vidya stared. james proceeded to the restroom.

vidya unlatched one of the windows facing the outer wall of the campus, and was greeted with a blast of winter from outside. he slumped down against the wall beneath the window and waited to hear from raymond.

five or six minutes later a drone approached.

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thrice great hermes #35 (2018/01/17)

thrice great hermes

#35

by stanley lieber

the abandoned structure had burned to the ground. parts of the surrounding forest had also been affected. vidya wasn’t sure if something he had done had caused, or led to, the fire. anyway, the books and papers he left inside were now gone forever.

they had finally let him come back to school, probably thanks to his mom. he kept his job, working nights and weekends. part of the deal struck to enable his return had been to steer well clear of the drama club and their dressing room. at work, of course, he would still have to maintain the cameras. it was a coincidence that his lunch breaks on the job overlapped neatly with the drama club’s after school activities. he considered the dressing room as a lunch destination but, you know, not really.

inexplicably, older boys hung around the school during off-hours. one evening as vidya was making his rounds a group approached him, challenging his presence.

"why are you even here, queer?"

it began.

this part was always a source of confusion. the ostensible reason for the harassment was, while he realized accuracy was much beside the point, not even true. in later years it would dawn on him that the constant questioning was in many cases a masked invitation. but tonight it just seemed dumb.

"getting that money," vidya said, rubbing thumb and forefinger together. as the older boys tried on their dumbfounded looks, vidya adjusted his uniform cap several times. the stalemate seemed absolute, but wasn’t, really.

when vidya finally came to someone had already called the police. he later found out that the call had been placed by the same boys who assaulted him. next, vidya was arrested for soliciting minors (minors were sometimes charged thusly, when their group activities were otherwise difficult to pin down), child endangerment (likewise), and public indecency (his uniform having gone missing).

at the police station vidya was locked in an empty cell. provided with a small bowl of water and an abrasive washcloth, he was told he would not be released until he succeeded in wiping the ungrammatical phrase "i’m fag," that had been written across his forehead in magic marker, off of his face.

it took the better part of two days to satisfy the sheriff.

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thrice great hermes #34 (2018/01/17)

thrice great hermes

#34

by stanley lieber

the next day vidya learned that if mom declined to withdraw him from school, the administration intended to initiate due process. complaints had been filed by the parents of female students alleging that vidya had been snooping around the back stage of drama club rehearsals, staring at girls as they changed. the complaints were serious, with the implied threat of legal action against the school.

vidya considered the charges farcical, and replied to the school administration, and to anyone else who would listen, that none of this made any sense. surveillance of the nature all his fellow students had been subjected to on a daily basis accomplished the same thing he was now being accused of. to state the obvious: there were cameras in the dressing room. how do you know that, if you’ve never been in there, came the braindead response.

vidya had countered that he never said he had never been in the dressing room. in fact, he often ate his lunch there when he didn’t feel like dealing with the cafeteria. anyway, what was the difference between him eating his lunch, when the place was deserted, and the administration recording video of teenage girls changing their clothes? the difference, the administration had said, as if he should need to be told, was the question of consent.

mom had offered no resistance that he could see. vidya was pulled immediately out of school.

"and don’t think you’re going to just sit around here all day," she had said. "if you’re not in school then you’re going to get a job."

vidya wondered if the surveillance vendor was hiring.

it turned out they were.

the application had to be filled out in the vendor’s office. vidya got up early on his first day off from school and walked into town. when he found the office, he realized that it occupied the building where his mom used to pay the phone bill. the old phone company logo was still visible, a ghost image fading on the side of the building, its surroundings bleached by decades of bright sunlight. vidya thought, "it could be worse," and entered the office.

beyond the green door he was greeted by his cousin brandon’s mom. not his aunt, exactly. they were cousins in some nominal sense he would never understand. she smiled, sincere enough, and extended to him a clipboard with his application already attached. she seemed to know why he was there.

the hiring process proceeded smoothly, and soon vidya found himself back at the school, this time wearing a uniform. today’s otjt included the installation of a new external camera over the front entrance of the building.

vidya knew just where to look.

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ls mailing list (2018/01/17)

a new mailing list has been created for the purpose of posting notice of, and discussing, works of art created by list members. only list members are allowed to post. for the time being registration will be left open to the public. list messages will not be archived or posted publicly.

to subscribe, send a message body

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to post to the list, send a message to

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to unsubscribe, send a message body

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if you have trouble with any of these steps please contact me and i will attempt to help.

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thrice great hermes #33 (2018/01/16)

thrice great hermes

#33

by stanley lieber

raymond was concerned for the boy, and decided to keep an eye on him.

what form this observation could ultimately take, with his responsibilities, and with their limited interaction, he didn’t yet know. but somebody had to look out for him. it wasn’t right he had to fend for himself.

raymond heard the sirens, and managed to pull over his delivery truck before the rush of police cars, speeding recklessly, ran him off the road. wherever they were going it must have been important. raymond was glad he wasn’t a cop because he hated to get in people’s way. ironic, he guessed, that he’d ended up driving this big, slow truck for a living. whatever, he preferred to drive slow.

the boy was usually at the water tower, unless he was at home or at school. today he was nowhere. raymond had not been able to locate him, and he was not responding to delivery notifications.

an update appeared, directing him to a new delivery location. the instructions were imprecise, but it seemed vidya’s package was bound for a spot somewhere in the middle of the woods. raymond sent up the drone. leaned back in his seat to start on his lunch. figured he would kill two stones with one bird.

five or six minutes later the drone found him.

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thrice great hermes #32 (2018/01/16)

thrice great hermes

#32

by stanley lieber

THE GATELESS GATE

Ice and snow on the fence. Layers of beige brick. This photo is no longer available. This photo is no longer available. Mist covers hill. This photo is no longer available. Mark the puzzle path. Gray, blank. Beige wall. Stripes as shadow.

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thrice great hermes #31 (2018/01/16)

thrice great hermes

#31

by stanley lieber

sl was gone.

vidya went to school. some of the books he had hidden in empty lockers had grown legs. he knew no one would be reading them, and he guessed, correctly, that most of them could be retrieved from the big trash can at the end of the hallway. the problem was that in the process of moving from locker to trash can, some of them had picked up moisture and debris. he exfiltrated them all to new empty lockers, farther away from his own. he’d see about bringing in a padlock (was that allowed?).

the yellow magic orchestra sticker on his own locker had been roughly torn off, defaced with a magic marker, and then stuck back on, upside-down. the vintage sticker had cost him thirty dollars. it was his own fault. he knew this was a school.

down the hallway. he tried to avoid teachers, janitors, the future farmers of america, special ed, members of the high school marching band, football players and benchwarmers, substitute teachers and teaching assistants, the librarian, bus drivers, visiting representatives of various education-related concerns, underclassmen, people who were both older and younger than himself. that left an empty drama club dressing room, off the back end of the auditorium stage. vidya pulled out his book and began to read.

five or six minutes later they found him. they came in, and he didn’t react. one of them sat down on the table, right in front of him, right on top of his book, and he didn’t react. the same asshole reached over and drove the unwound end of a paper clip deep into the meat of vidya’s forearm. he didn’t react.

"you’re gay," aaron said, and withdrew the paper clip. they all left.

vidya went back to reading. he scratched absentmindedly at the superficial wound on his arm, ignoring the blood. frequency was slowing, but incidents of this nature were still occurring. at least they hadn’t called him by his name.

he wasn’t yet invisible enough.

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thrice great hermes #30 (2018/01/15)

thrice great hermes

#30

by stanley lieber

there were other places.

bedford, with its stoplights. bloomington, with its books. jasper, home away from home for what must have been pre-war german immigrants. there were a lot of these little places spread out across the southern part of the state. most where more populace, almost all were more commercially developed than vidya’s own black lick.

he’d wander between them all, in later years, but for now he was stuck. at least, when no one was willing or able to drive him.

sl was back. back from where? why didn’t you try asking him. you’d come away with a story, but still not know the definitive answer to your question. vidya could make a certain kind of sense out of that.

in his book of lies sl had (or rather, vidya had, since he was the one actually writing it all down) recorded what he had said were the essential ingredients needed to create the world. the world, of course, that they planned to sell to the rubes.

sl’s mom, or other people that either he was related to, or intertwined somehow with people that he was related to, always seemed willing to drive them places. vidya would climb into whoever’s vehicle and strap himself in, usually noticing that he was the only passenger who bothered with a seat belt. if at one time this had concerned him he had long ago stopped worrying about it.

they would drive differently than mom. vidya was often uncomfortable with the speeding, or with the open containers of alcohol inside the vehicle. one time he rode in the back of a pickup while the driver cursed young people (vidya included) and sipped hard liquor from a paper cup. there hadn’t been room for both him and sl in the cab of the truck.

any of vidya’s concerns would have seemed irrelevant to any of these people, and, in fact, on the rare occasion when he would speak up, it was not uncommon for the adult in question to stare at him as if he were something they had just scraped off the bottom of their shoe. vidya could relate. he took good care of his own shoes.

through an obscure process that remained hidden from him, vidya had begun to adapt to sl’s method of living. the peculiar, often maddening transit between blatant falsehoods and just as blatant plagiarism, twisted just so, that seemed to comprise the totality of his personality. adapt, but not without reservations. questions, really. the transformation was as yet incomplete.

in jasper, the environment seemed different, somehow. an altered psychic resistance. vidya couldn’t say just what the difference might be. more an instinctive suspicion than anything he could put into words. however he explained it, mom was going to be pissed when she found out he had ditched school and traveled here.

and now he needed a ride home.

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thrice great hermes #29 (2018/01/14)

thrice great hermes

#29

by stanley lieber

psychic interference. or anyway, he couldn’t think. too many variables exchanging places at once. no one was ever here; now, there were two of them.

vidya wanted to leave. no sooner than he realized this it was accomplished. mom stared straight ahead and finally resumed yelling. not exactly what he had in mind, but vidya wasn’t going to complain. he listened to what she had to say. soon, he had a headache.

mom pulled into the driveway and vidya climbed down from the truck. she had finished yelling so he went straight to his room and locked the door. she wouldn’t like that, but she probably wouldn’t come by and try the handle. probably.

he pulled out his phone and checked the weather. very little of what she said would make it into his notebook. after a while, he probably wouldn’t even remember.

he didn’t know what would happen to the abandoned structure. most likely his books were permanently lost. even if raymond, the detective, and his mom all just left it all alone, the spread of mold was definitely going to be a problem. but he had nowhere else to take the books. for a moment he even considered stowing (some of) them in empty lockers at school, but that notion was too absurd even for him.

he thought perhaps he could simply isolate the most important examples and put them in the mail, addressed to himself. when he needed one, he could hold on to it for a while before mailing it back out, and carry it in his bag until he was finished re-reading it. the rest would stay safe on raymond’s truck.

but how would he pay for that.

he’d need to make one last trip to the abandoned structure, to make sure he hadn’t left behind any personally identifying information.

then he’d block the place and its contents from his memory.

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thrice great hermes #28 (2018/01/13)

thrice great hermes

#28

by stanley lieber

whatever, he thought he could hear the ups truck.

out here?

raymond got out of his truck and wandered into the woods, not really sure what he was looking for. delivery instructions were vague on this point. the message had simply said to find him in the trees. well, here he was, in the trees.

and here was a house. not on any road, not anywhere near a road. place looked abandoned. raymond was about to set down the package when he noticed a man with long scraggily hair and sports glasses standing outside the house. this could not be the package’s recipient because vidya was a teenage boy, who he knew quite well.

the detective noticed him, noticing him.

raymond averted his eyes and pretended to be looking at his clipboard. who was this guy and where was vidya?

inside the abandoned structure, vidya was sure he had heard the ups truck. he crawled out of the panty and, on his belly, over to the boarded-up window. he could definitely hear two voices, two men talking.

"special delivery," raymond said.

after some further discussion raymond turned over the package and the detective signed for it. raymond shrugged, not sure if there was anything else he should say or do, and walked back to his truck. he’d tally this in the measuring system and then get on with his other deliveries. but something wasn’t right. the address had been ambiguous, and that man definitely wasn’t vidya. had he delivered the package to the wrong person? raymond didn’t like this at all. he locked the truck and turned around, headed back into the woods. to the house, to make sure vidya was all right. it would mean another manual tally in the measuring system, but his manager was just going to have to understand: a boy was in trouble.

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thrice great hermes #27 (2018/01/12)

thrice great hermes

#27

by stanley lieber

no radio in the truck was a blessing, and she never talked, so things were going well.

mom would just run over whatever happened to run out in front of her. in the big truck you could feel everything, but it didn’t matter because the truck just kept going. sometimes vidya would turn around and try to look for whatever it was they had just run over, but usually it was useless because they were moving so fast, and the road had too many curves.

since the accident things had changed. mom gripped the steering wheel with both hands, always facing straight ahead. sometimes she would ask him questions, and, absentmindedly, foolishly, he would answer.

today it had been about the woods. where it was he went, what it was he did when he got there. vidya thoughtlessly told her the truth about everything. he realized it was a mistake even as he began. today he wished for a radio in the truck.

she was yelling. the abandoned structure would be off-limits from now on. he was yelling. she wouldn’t even know about these things if he hadn’t told her. (he realized, now, this might be a key.) he couldn’t get her to understand. she didn’t care.

the truck had steadily continued to accelerate. the angrier she got, the faster it went. she was angry at him for glancing nervously at the road, which fed directly into the circumstance that had aggravated his anxiety in the first place. she didn’t seem to notice what she was doing, or how it contributed to exacerbate the situation. vidya was concerned now they were about to have another accident, which of course, they were. it was all so predictable, like something he’d written.

saved by the flashing lights. mom was now angry that vidya had cost her a traffic citation. she hadn’t started yelling, yet (the policeman had not yet made it back to his cruiser), but vidya could tell she was about to start. it was how this worked.

he waited.

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thrice great hermes #26 (2018/01/11)

thrice great hermes

#26

by stanley lieber

S.O.M.L.

pt. i:

This photo is no longer available. Pixel mirror; rainbows. Confectioner’s table. Pink galley. Beads on mirrored glass. Snow hangs from the awning.

pt. ii:

Honey wine, lace. Gingham apron. This photo is no longer available. Striated plaster. Polka dot textile; red, white, blue.

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thrice great hermes #25 (2018/01/11)

thrice great hermes

#25

by stanley lieber

mother had been born here.

grandmother had been born here.

great grandfather had been born in these woods. dad claimed that mom’s family had arrived in the area from ireland in 1735. why here, of all places? and how had they even found it?

the little town connected via narrow roads to other little towns, twisting through the forest over hundreds of miles to eventually intersect with a small city. mom had visited such places, but only with the car doors locked. here, things were quieter.

further from the roads the forest was quieter still. inside the abandoned structure sound seemed to stand still. the detective could follow him here, but seemed, for whatever reason, unable to enter. vidya breathed in the moldy air and waited for the man to lose interest.

perversely, the man never lost interest. beyond the walls of the abandoned structure sounds of the forest suggested that he was, whoever he was, still out there. for his part, the detective peered into the holes where windows should have been, straining to confirm the boy was still inside. vidya could see brief flashes of reflections cast by the mirrored lenses of his sports glasses. what did he even want?

no, this wouldn’t do. vidya ripped the page out of his notebook and tore it to pieces, then stuffed the remains into a crack in the mantle. he was embarrassed that he’d written it. dumb, boring, childish work.

ignoring the gesture, the detective circled the perimeter of the abandoned structure, searching for a way in. based on the condition of its exterior, this hardly seemed an impenetrable fortress. still, no easy access points were apparent. he decided to document his lack of progress, perhaps post-scenario analysis would provide a clue, but it dawned on him he had forgotten to bring his camera.

vidya crouched in the pantry and wondered when the man would leave. time seemed to crawl. vidya wondered aloud what the man could possibly hope to find, all the way out here in the middle of nowhere, who he was and why was he here, how had he managed to follow him through the woods, what was the meaning of any of this, and why he had written it all down.

nothing was working.

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thrice great hermes #24 (2018/01/10)

thrice great hermes

#24

by stanley lieber

"if you have the opportunity, do it," he said.

vidya closed the moldy old book and scanned the room. he was alone. outside it had grown dark. from whence, then, the voice?

vidya packed up his gear and left. the walk home seemed to take longer than usual. much longer. in fact, he had made no progress. he went ahead and sat down.

when he woke up it took several long moments to remember where he was. the sensation disagreed with him.

"i don’t like being out of control," he said.

vidya somehow made it the rest of the way home. his mom was just climbing into bed. "don’t leave your clothes on the floor," she reminded him. he laid down on his bed without even bothering to take off his shoes. when sleep eluded him, he remembered the book. continued to read. by morning he had finished the last chapter.

mom was going nowhere. vidya decided to check in on critter. at the border of the trailer court he paused to consult his watch. not sure what difference the time would make, he went ahead and knocked on critter’s door.

"go the fuck away." critter’s nose barely penetrated the morning air. when vidya failed to respond he shut the door without elaborating further. cowed, vidya turned and walked away.

onward, he guessed, to school. they had replaced the external cameras. so soon? he wondered if the contract had gone to a new vendor. he made a deliberate face at the camera as he passed beneath its gaze. controlling the narrative.

inside the building he faced the usual dilemma: motion or stasis. mental motion incurred immediate penalties, while mental stasis most often yielded plaudits. the dichotomy was false and he never cared for awards anyway.

on the second floor he stopped in his tracks.

the detective had followed him to school. long scraggily hair, unshaven jowl, sports glasses. a man out of time. vidya ducked into the restroom and locked himself in a stall.

predictably, the detective had followed. he could hear the man speaking aloud to himself as he peeked into each stall, seemingly confident he was about to spot his quarry.

"the kid thinks i don’t know."

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thrice great hermes #23 (2018/01/10)

thrice great hermes

#23

by stanley lieber

into the woods.

even the small sounds of the tiny town could sometimes be too much. vidya would take his bag and spend the whole day wandering in the forest that opened up next to his house. he could walk for hours without encountering civilization, though sometimes he would meet another person coming or going.

perhaps a mile from his house, further into the woods, stood a small abandoned structure. he supposed it had once been a residence, though all of its furniture and fixtures had long since been stripped. he assumed, by visitors such as himself.

into this structure he had, over time, drug various items from various other locations. the bench seat from an old car he found amongst other such old cars at an abandoned car lot elsewhere in the woods. a small battery powered television that did not work. the latest addition was a portable charcoal grill, on which he planned to cook meals. from time to time he had considered rebasing his operations (in general) to this relatively remote location. the lack of insulation, and for that matter, the almost total lack of windows, dissuaded him from entertaining that notion seriously.

in the meantime he hung posters.

unlike on top of the water tower, there was no signal in the woods. consequently he had deposited his collection of hardcopy books inside the abandoned structure. makeshift shelves lined the walls. he had found the deep woods to be a suitable spot for reading. the only problem was moisture. since the abandoned structure was hardly shipshape, his books were probably, even if slowly, being ruined. still, he judged them to be safer here than at home. he’d just have to work his way through the remainder of unread volumes before time ran out.

for this one, it was too late. black mold.

deep in the forest sunlight seemed to emanate from nowhere. already an overcast, misty day, the tree cover concealed the ostensible source of the light. by all rights it should be completely dark inside the abandoned structure but somehow he was still able to read.

he smelled mildew.

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thrice great hermes #22 (2018/01/09)

thrice great hermes

#22

by stanley lieber

thwack.

critter steadied his aim and placed another projectile square in the center of the camera eye mounted outside the entrance of the school. so long as the perimeter surveillance was kept out of commission, passage to and from the school could be accomplished more or less without interference. critter repeated this percussive maintenance routine every other week.

vidya walked up just as critter was stowing his rifle. "thanks," he said. critter nodded and vidya headed into the school.

for ninety minutes he sat, apparently listening to the objectionable content. at the sound of the first bell he left the school, headed for the water tower.

no signal.

nothing saved to internal storage. back down the tower, then. he passed critter on the street, who had also taken advantage of the renewed lack of surveillance. the other boy nodded silently and continued on his way. vidya decided to follow him.

winding through the trailer court vidya was sure critter had spotted him. but maybe not. the boy was a year older than him, which counted for something at this age. hard to tell. critter answered the door when he knocked.

his real name was chris. the nickname reportedly stemmed from an incident in which chris had been observed inserting his questionably pubescent penis into a stray cat. the nickname had stuck after his own mom (hopefully ignorant of the legend) had begun using it herself. by now chris didn’t even mind. vidya knew all of this and thinking about it made him smile.

critter frequently exploited his greater physical size and strength, often to preposterously exaggerated effect. he liked to put vidya in a headlock. when vidya inevitably resisted, critter would push him down and step on his neck. critter would say, "if you don’t like it, why don’t you get the fuck out of here and go home?" vidya’s mom would offer a variation of this same response when he complained about the situation at home. vidya resolved to stop complaining.

critter’s parents provided him with an ample supply of junk. vidya could only marvel at the quantity of video games, comic books, toys, clothing, sporting equipment, candy, record albums, movie tickets, jewelry, and various and sundry other items critter always seemed to possess. for critter, too much was never quite enough. he loved to point this out to anyone who would listen.

"i can’t feel pain," he would also say. "i was born with a condition, my nervous system doesn’t transmit pain." he would pull up his sleeve to reveal a long scar running down his arm that had been carved out by the tire swing on the playground, wrapping around him like so, while the rest of his body was flung from the tire. "i didn’t feel it," he would continue. "it didn’t hurt at all." he derived obvious pleasure from relating this tale to smaller, younger boys. vidya didn’t care if it was true or not. critter was stronger than him, tougher than him, and so far vidya had proven incapable of inflicting upon him injury of any kind. the ultimate explanation for his failure was utterly beside the point.

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thrice great hermes #21 (2018/01/09)

thrice great hermes

#21

by stanley lieber

vidya remembered grade school. at once a sense of liberation and disappointment. finally, at least, something slightly different than the usual routine. that is to say, a new usual routine.

he remembered the dull scissors, the dull people. fat crayons, flat on one side so they wouldn’t roll away. "seriously?" he had wondered, to no one. the other children seemed content with the condescension. he had immediately set to work harnessing their credulity for his own ends.

he remembered being instructed to cease operations drawing pictures of airplanes for his best friend, whose parents had threatened to sue the school. a year in his future he would accidentally stab the boy with the sharp end of a pencil. the boy’s parents dutifully threatened, again, to sue. the school administration, and the boy’s parents, had seemed to interpret both offenses as roughly equivalent.

those had been the good years. as his schooling progressed, and his estimation of it degenerated, vidya had moved on to such mischief as organized study strikes against the historicist curriculum and smuggling banned reading material. he had shared with his classmates the gutter dialect of cable television and contemporary adult fiction.

today, he had brought his phone.

the adults had seemed relieved when he stopped lugging around all the books. of course, none of them had guessed what had replaced them. boasting limited functionality, the device had been a gift from his dad. vidya had modified its capabilities to include the display of arbitrary byte streams, fed from internal storage or the network. he didn’t need paper, anymore.

today he opened a new chapter of the logic of scientific discovery. this one was not even in the public library—he had found it on the network. due to the device’s small size, it could only display a few lines at a time, but he found that he relished the precise navigation, back and forth, over individual lines of text. he directed his concentration on the rectangle in the palm of his hand, forgetting temporarily about the incongruous relationships between discreet entities irl that continued to elude his grasp.

some unknown period had elapsed when he noticed the light had changed. he tucked his phone into its usual pocket in his bag and headed back to the school, to make an appearance in front of hallway surveillance cameras before he set out on the long walk home.

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thrice great hermes #20 (2018/01/08)

thrice great hermes

#20

by stanley lieber

clothes hangers. vidya paged through the assortment of t-shirts hung haphazardly in his closet. there didn’t seem to be much point in actually choosing one, so he devised a system to select a shirt at random.

random. the notion relied upon trust in an assortment of factors he knew he barely understood. low confidence his method had attained to any sort of rigor, but he figured the exercise had at least broken him out of the usual cycle of intentionality, followed by immediate disappointment, and, inevitably, humiliation. for what it was worth, the final choice still belonged to him.

at least he hadn’t used a damned computer. he knew that the devices in his home would inject unwanted predictability. his method was based instead upon scattering a handful of grass on the table and performing a quick bit of mental math that he likewise could muster little confidence would hold up under scrutiny. none of this bothered him to any significant degree. at the end of it all he was wearing a clean t-shirt, and thus could leave the house secure that no one would question his basic hygiene.

portions of this he had attempted to relate to the ups driver, who had humored him politely, but who hadn’t really seemed to understand why vidya required so complex a mechanism to choose between what, to him, seemed to be mostly identical pieces of clothing. vidya gave up trying to explain, but he filed away the experience for later review.

along with the others.

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thrice great hermes #19 (2018/01/07)

thrice great hermes

#19

by stanley lieber

no, vidya wouldn’t abide being investigated. he climbed down to the ground and waved at raymond, the ups man.

"i don’t know, man," raymond said. "sounds like she’s got your nuts in a vice."

i had to admit he was right. the kid wasn’t going to shake me. i might not have stated it so bluntly, but hey, it wasn’t my future on the line. this kid was probably the most interesting thing on raymond’s route. i made a note for myself to pull him aside and explain the situation, when it all came down. hopefully he’d understand. nothing personal, it was just business.

vidya didn’t have any business. from what i’d gathered he had few possessions, no friends, no prospects. he carried it all in his head. for a teenager that hardly distinguished him, especially in this town, but he’d twisted simply being boring into some sort of art form. his mother was right about one thing. he had to be stopped before he did something he couldn’t take back.

this was so far out of my wheelhouse i didn’t know the zip code. i had already decided to qui—

vidya didn’t even like this train of thought. he ripped the page out of his notebook and sent it sailing off the top of the water tower. it bounced off the windshield of raymond’s ups truck just as he pulled up and skidded to a stop in the mud below.

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thrice great hermes #18 (2018/01/06)

thrice great hermes

#18

by stanley lieber

whatever happened to just wearing the mask.

it’s not clear at all what the woman wants me to do. her teenage son exhibits some kind of behavioral problem. she posits there must be a root cause. i know, right? not my usual gig. but the money’s right and the fringe benefits (again, the mother) are sufficient.

alice cleared my schedule for the foreseeable. i drive all the way out to this tiny, shit town (there is no airport) and find a place to stay. then the mother tells me about the father.

this part i’ll elide owing to space considerations. suffice to say, it’s no surprise the kid has problems.

five hundred a day, plus expenses.

you’d think no one in town had ever seen a mercedes.

local diner. i pretend to enjoy the meal and the waitress slips me her number. i pull out my phone to make a call and the place comes to a halt, dead silent. what did i say? as if in response, the toothpick snaps in my mouth.

the mother is financing this charade, somehow, but i still don’t know what she hopes i’ll uncover that she doesn’t already know.

"ma’am, your son is acting out because you’re a total bitch."

that’ll go over well.

i’ve jotted down some preliminary notes but really this is an open and shut case.

the boy needs to grow up, as soon as possible.

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thrice great hermes (2018/01/06)

thrice great hermes

#17

by stanley lieber

WELTSTADT

Bifurcated, black and white stripes; moire. This photo is no longer available. Form under sheets. A rainbow of bubbles in a plain, dark room. Architecture of stripes crossed by wires.

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thrice great hermes #16 (2018/01/05)

thrice great hermes

#16

by stanley lieber

vidya tore the page out of his notebook and wadded it into a tight ball, which he sent curving in a long arc from the top of the water tower. owing to a slight breeze its progress dwindled into a slow meander towards the snow covered ground, where it was immediately run over by a passing police car. compacted into the snow, it evinced no further signs of life.

vidya was hungry. he considered walking home for lunch but caught himself before doing anything so stupid. that left whatever was packed into his backpack, which was nothing.

he trudged the rest of the way back to school. lunch was over.

this regular rhythm had become both familiar and disspiriting. something lay just beyond the reach of his understanding, but he couldn’t say what it was.

weary of repeating the cycle, vidya checked all the way out. after school he went straight home and did nothing at all for the rest of the evening. no books, no games, no nothing.

no nothing.

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thrice great hermes #15 (2018/01/05)

thrice great hermes

#15

by stanley lieber

sl filled in the blanks. the premise of each title was not always apparent from the cover art. sometimes sl wondered if the cover would end up being the best part of the book. academic, in any case, as he was, as usual, broke. he closed the magazine and tossed it on the floor.

there was no food in the house. his mom would be out until who knew when. he picked up the phone and the phone had been disconnected. probably owing to his recent habit of intercepting mom’s paychecks before she could pay the bills. she never seemed to notice.

five mile walk into town. he supposed he’d better get started if he expected to hustle any dinner.

someone was going to pay.

"i could do anything for five hours," vidya said. he realized now that the five mile walk was going to take considerably longer than he had planned. but, five hours? well, it made for a good story.

he whistled to himself tunelessly as he walked. halfway through his journey he sat down on the side of the road and rummaged through his bag in search of a snack. no phone, either. he got himself back to his feet and started to walk. he guessed he really was doing this alone.

no one would complain. no one was there to complain. walk, walk, walk, walk, walk, walk, walk.

it wasn’t much of a town.

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thrice great hermes #14 (2018/01/03)

thrice great hermes

#14

by stanley lieber

no school.

vidya said, "okay, mom," and rolled over and went back to sleep. for a few minutes he thought that this was how it was going to work. then she came back.

mike was coming over. vidya was to go and play outside. play with mike’s two boys, who were a year, and two years older than him, respectively.

"no thanks," vidya said, and prepared to go on with his day.

mike was a deputy sheriff. whatever that meant in a town this size. his sons were awful, and would probably also become deputy sheriffs, once they were old enough to drink. mike seemed sober enough, though he was very, very sarcastic.

but none of this was vidya’s problem. he left the house before any of them arrived, and didn’t return until late evening.

in the meantime he wandered the borders between properties, deep in the woods that opened up near his house. in a way quite different from the water tower, this place was separate from the deadening nothing of the town, and of home. he had brought a book.

vidya fell asleep in the woods.

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thrice great hermes #13 (2017/12/29)

thrice great hermes

#13

by stanley lieber

it was unusual for him to climb the water tower this late at night. but here he was. vidya never noticed any workers at the tower, in fact, he rarely encountered anyone at all, but he knew someone must perform the site’s routine maintenance. he supposed that someday someone would ask him what he was doing up here.

tonight broke the usual pattern of silence, as two, then three, then five police cars streaked by below, lights and sirens engrossed in their (to his mind) inscrutable dialogue. he tried to imagine what vocabulary they must employ that negotiated the ordered pattern of their flight, preventing each cruiser from colliding with the next, but he faltered on the strained analogy. words had strangled his notional curiosity in its crib.

his phone battery had already died. he had remembered to double-check the weather, but hadn’t gotten to today’s delivery schedule before it ran out of juice. today’s weather was the usual tornado watch, nothing to ponder, and the ups man never showed up this late, anyway.

climbing down the tower he flinched as several more police cars whipped past, sirens blaring. at the foot of the ladder he discovered the package he had given up on. attached was a short note from the ups man explaining that he figured it would be okay to leave the parcel unattended since it was unlikely anyone else would happen along this late at night. vidya folded the note carefully and filed it in the back room with all his other day-to-day ephemera. the ups man’s handwriting was by now a fixture of the archive.

he opened up the package, cutting the brown tape with his pocket knife, and removed each perishable item. satisfied that the foodstuffs had arrived intact, he began to eat his snack.

vidya walked all the way home, still thinking about what he would wear to school the next day.

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thrice great hermes #12 (2017/12/28)

thrice great hermes

#12

by stanley lieber

well, he had seen better mornings.

vidya counted the steps between his front door and the street. he filed the useless information in the filing cabinet in the back room and continued on foot to his destination. at the library he claimed his usual table. unzipped his bag and found his book. carefully, he slid his finger to the bookmark, which he deftly removed, and picked up where he had left off the night before.

the librarian startled him. this is not a library, she seemed to be saying. he was confused at first but gradually he realized that she objected to him bringing in his own book from outside the library. he stuffed the contraband volume back into his bag and nodded agreement. the basis of her complaint was not at all clear, but, satisfied, she disappeared back to wherever it was she had surveilled his infraction.

vidya’s head hurt. he wandered the isles for several minutes in search of an approved diversion before surrendering the charade. there was nothing left in this place that he hadn’t already read.

he was pretty sure.

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