DESTROYING A TOWN
Quibble piled all the magic into one stack in the town square. People came at random times to hack out a section of magic and haul it home. Some claimed the ability to raise the dead. Some the talent to spin gold out of flax. Others expect to cast love spells over whole squads of any sex. No one asked where Quibble found the magic, or why he took days to collect it in the town square. Nor did anyone ask if the magic was free for the taking. Quibble said nothing either way. So, townsfolk hacked pieces of magic and dragged them home quietly, to find only in the stealth of their kitchens what power they had acquired. On Illustrious Mountain, the Cyclops was just waking up to discover someone had broken into his pantry and pinched his magic. He could see where it had landed from the brief flashes of incoherent brilliance below.
When he answered the door, there was a boy standing nervously there. Not much of a boy, but at least the beginnings of a boy. He asked to come in. Quibble had his suspicions. The boy explained that it was natural selection night. All the town's boys had been turned out and encouraged to roam aimlessly. Later, a hundred hungry tigers would be released. The boys who escaped them could go on to strive and struggle with their lives. The ones who could not evade the beasts – well, tiger food. The boy admitted that while wandering loosely before the tigers were going to be set loose, he had thought of seeking refuge in someone's home. Quibble thought about it, then told the boy he, Quibble, could not interfere in the science of natural selection. He was sorry, but he could not enter the process as an active agent. Quibble closed the door before the boy could understand his rejection and possibly attempt to lunge in. Quibble would not be a usurper of the natural order. The remainder of the night he sat attentively by the window, but he saw no tigers. He thought once he heard one, but it could have been a car sputtering, or a boy being as fierce as boys sometimes can be, or a pack of boys singling out one prey boy.
Once a week they auction the nations the cartographers have left off the maps. There is quite a pile of them. You would think that after a few auctions, all these unremembered nations would be in private hands, that the stash would be no more. But week after week the pile seems only to grow. I think some bidders come just to see what the fashion is this week in new, uncharted nations. Styles change. Shapes evolve. Being uncharted, the nations can be presented in raw participles of enthronement. Everyone wants to capture the newly fashionable, or what they think is going to be next week's fashion. Only the cartographers actually know. They gather in committee after each auction, struggle to a brittle agreement, and begin to plot the next collection of lost nations.
Rumor is the volcano is just a pile of surplus cinderblock, roughed up and with a little asphalt and sod added. I've heard it said that Ned has an entry on the hidden side, lights trash and reeds the day of the sacrifice. It is odd that no one before has asked why the volcano smokes only one day of the year. Everyone presumed the smoke was our signal the volcano wanted someone tossed in. No one thought anything beyond supernatural forces were at play. When one believes a process is divine providence, one can miss a lot of chemistry and mathematics, physics and geology. With word getting around that the whole thing is a sham, I wonder if we are still going to be tossing Linda in. She was selected just last week, and we have held her beatification party already. It would be a shame to give up a happily functioning custom.
The game is not to name who the monster this week will cull. That would be too specific. The permutations would keep the administration of the game too time consuming, too prone to personal prejudices and enmities. Instead, we game in sections of town – this week, the victim will come from this or that neighborhood, be taken between the railroad tracks and the foundry fence, or just outside the brick wall at town-green.. The proceeds not paid to any winners are supposed to be used to hire a professional monster hunter to rid us of the beast, but to date the money has gone into promotions and the Founders' Day party. That event has grown so large as to draw tourists, and we have a stall to sell them victim prediction chances as well. Tourist do not know our neighborhoods and make easy marks. On balance, we have come to appreciate the economic impact as well as the elemental thrill of our game of mortal prediction. Even the monster has been seen buying a ticket now and again.
Ken Poyner offers currently four collections of poetry, and four collections of flash fiction. The two newest collections of poetry, Stone the Monsters, or Dance and Lessons From Lingering Houses emerged July/August 2021. He spent 33 years working in the information arts, and lives with his power lifting wife, several rescue cats, and multiple betta fish in the lower right-hand corner of Virginia. His stories have appeared in The Cafe Irreal eleven times previously, most recently "Six Drabbles" in Issue #86.