Cast of Wonders 472: AP Practical Literary Theory Suggests This Is A Quest (Or: What Danny Did Over Spring Break)
The Annual Migration of Clouds is a “cli-fi” post-apocalyptic novella by author Premee Mohamed. It takes place in the distant future, after the climate crisis has entirely disrupted life as we know it, and a mysterious mind-controlling fungus has wormed its way through the scattered population. The story focuses on a choice: Reid, a young woman who carries this parasite, has been given a chance to move far away, to study in one of the few communities sustained by pre-disaster technology, but her mother is ill, and in a world where the planting season is planned down to the minute, every body counts. It’s not easy for her to leave her loved ones behind. To set her family up for life, Reid decides to take part in a foolhardy and dangerous mission. To accomplish this task, she must ask others to put great trust in her, but she can’t easily separate her own thoughts from the parasite’s will, making it difficult for her to even trust herself.
If you’re not yet familiar with Premee Mohamed, you’re sure to hear of her soon. She’s an Indo-Caribbean scientist and author based in Edmonton, Alberta, where this book is set, and a rising star in speculative fiction. Premee is a biologist and works in the field of climate science, so the depiction of Reid’s parasitic passengers is eerily plausible, and the climate disaster scenarios in the book are grounded in modern-day research predicting an all-too-likely future.
Yet there’s still hope to be found here: rather than doubling down on the hardships of life-after-technology as so many gritty apocalyptic novels do, this book’s focus is on connection and friendship, the things that bind us together. It shows the world moving forward after terrible hardships — including natural disaster and plague — and reflects upon the importance of community, our duty to take care of one another, and our collective ability to get through difficult times. In other words, it is exactly the sort of book we need right now.
AP Practical Literary Theory Suggests This Is A Quest
(Or: What Danny Did Over Spring Break)
by Isabel J. Kim
Danny died on a Tuesday which was a real bummer because he was supposed to go on a road trip on Wednesday with the gang, and if he was dead then there was no way his mom was going to be cool with him going. Instead, Danny would have to spend the next three weeks on a mythic journey to regain his life from the demons that dwell below, play dice against a three-headed chthonic judge sitting on an opalescent throne, or ask his mom for one of the GET OUT OF DEATH FREE cards she got comped from work.
And then he’d be grounded for, like, six months.
Danny spent ten minutes lying on the asphalt feeling sorry for himself. Then he sighed and picked his broken body up off of the street. He took out his phone and called the gang.
The dead don’t text. They lack the fine motor skills. Fumbling, he poked his way to a group call.
“Bad news, gang,” Danny said when his friends answered. “I’m dead.”
“You dipshit,” Asher said. “We’re supposed to be driving to Niagara Falls.”
They had told their parents they were going to sightsee. This was not a lie. They would be sightseeing on the Canadian side of Niagara, all the way down to a bar. In Canada, temporary age-changing charms weren’t illegal. The physical distance meant nothing to them—twenty-one still seemed so far away as to be a dream.
“You’re the only one with a non-probationary license,” Rilla said. “Good going, Dan.”
“It’s not like I planned it!” Danny protested. “I’m sorry, all right?”
“Can’t believe you died,” said Georgianna. “What’d your mom say?”
“She doesn’t know,” Danny said mournfully. “She’s gonna flip when she finds out.”
“Hm,” Rilla said.
Everyone held their breath. Rilla was known for her plans and was widely respected as of two months ago for organizing the greatest senior prank of all time, involving a self-replicating goat and the principal’s office.
Danny didn’t hold his breath. He was dead, so he didn’t have to breathe.
“Niagara is sort of near the Eastern Seaboard Immortality Pool, right?”
“Yeah, but the Immortality Pool’s one of those ‘alternate dimensions circumscribed by laws beyond human knowing’ things, and also, I think it’s actually in Rhode Island?”
“Rhode Island’s tiny,” Rilla said. “That’s no big deal. It’s probably on the way. Here’s what we’re going to do: Asher, you’re taking the van to wherever Danny is and picking him up. Danny, you’re gonna to call your mom and tell her that you’re leaving a day early. Tomorrow we’re gonna start our road trip and we’re going to make a detour to make Danny alive again and then we’re gonna go to Niagara.”
“I don’t want to be immortal, though,” Danny whined. “And this sounds like a quest. I don’t wanna go on a quest.”
“This isn’t a quest, it’s a detour,” Rilla said. “Unless Georgianna’s sister is home from college, this is the best lead we’ve got.”
“She’s still at Stanford,” Georgie said. “And she took her summoning candles with her.”
“We can fix the immortality thing later,” said Asher. “After the road trip. But you can’t drink if you’re dead and that’s the whole point.”
Danny sighed. “Fine.”
“How’d you die, anyway?” Georgie asked. “Where are you?”
“The park,” Danny said. “I was trying to do a skate trick.”
Danny was poking a bug with a stick when Asher arrived in his mom’s minivan. She’d agreed to lend it to them for the trip because it had fantastic safety ratings against the crawling horrors of the deeps and there were tons of those on the non-toll roads.
Asher cut the engine and rolled down the window. “You look awful. You look like you’re dead.” He laughed at his own joke.
Danny rolled his eyes. They rolled too far back and he had to smack himself to reorient the pupils. “Real funny, Ash.”
“I’m hilarious,” Asher said. “Get in, zombo.”
Danny eyed the van. It was enchanted with wards one-hundred percent guaranteed to prevent evil spirits and the malcontent dead from breaching its exterior “Will it let me in?”
“Huh,” Asher paused. “I dunno. You feeling hungry? Hangry?”
“Not really,” Danny said, shambling around to try the shotgun door, which swung open at his touch. “Cool.”
“Thanks for not being evil,” Asher said, turning the engine back on and pulling out. “Just sit tight and we’ll have you back to normal soon.”
The dead don’t sleep. To keep Asher’s mom from knowing what happened, Danny spent the night in the van rather than bunking in Asher’s bedroom.
This wasn’t the first time Danny had died. The first time was when he was five and fell off the monkey bars—a freak accident. His dad carried his little-kid body to the top of the highest mountain in the tri-state-area and screamed at the gods to resurrect his little boy, swearing he would bring wrath and ruin upon their great land if his one wish was not fulfilled. Danny’s dad was a forest ranger, so the gods got spooked and brought him back.
Then when he was eleven, Cynthia Dalloway accidentally summoned fifteen hellhounds in sixth grade Latin when she poorly declined her verbs. Since he died on school property, he was entitled to a resurrection courtesy of the school board, and he mostly came out of that one excited to tell his parents about his adventure.
This was the first time the whole being dead thing was his fault. He hoped the Immortality Pool could fix the whole thing. And that he wouldn’t have to stay immortal. Trevor, his cousin, had become immortal after an accident with ambrosia and it had made him completely insufferable.
The girls arrived at Asher’s house early in the morning, still yawning. They honked the horn without any regard for human slumber, and then came tumbling out of Georgianna’s sister’s old car, carrying duffel bags.
Danny watched as they knocked on the door and said hello to Asher’s mom and then as Asher came running out, got snagged by his mom, hugged his mom, wriggled out of the hug, and greeted the girls. They waited for Asher’s mom to go back inside, then the doors to the minivan opened, and Georgie whispered, “Hi Dan, how’re you feeling?” as she climbed into the back seat.
Danny thought about it for a second. It took longer than it should for the words to come out his mouth. “Bored. Mostly bored.”
“We’ll let you out when we stop to get gas,” Rilla said quietly, settling into shotgun.
“You hungry or anything?” Georgie asked. “We’ve got jerky.”
“Don’t offer him jerky!” Rilla said, slapping the bag out of her hand. “He’ll get a taste for flesh if he eats it!”
“Danny’s had jerky before!”
“Danny’s dead now,” Rilla said. “No jerky for zombie Danny.”
“I’m not a zombie,” Danny protested. “But it’s fine. I’m not hungry.”
“Why are we talking about being hungry?” Asher asked. “Let’s stop at Dunkin on the way up, m’hungry.”
Danny lay back down. “Do you think caffeine affects dead people?”
“We’ll buy you a coffee,” Rilla said. “Let’s find out.”
The drive to the gas station off the side of the highway was quiet, marked only by the occasional rolling eldritch scream somewhere off road that they all ignored because as they all learned in grade school: nothing attracts Cthulhu’s attention like paying attention to Cthulhu.
“I can’t wait to hit the toll road,” Asher complained. “Reality keeps warping and it’s hard to stay in the lane.”
“Oh my god, Asher,” Rilla said. “That’s literally on the driving test. How do you have a license?”
“I’m great at staying in the lines,” Danny offered.
“You can’t drive—you’re dead,” Rilla said. “What if a cop pulls us over? Driving when you’re dead is a three point offense.”
“I told you,” Danny said, feeling very injured. “I didn’t mean to die.”
“I can’t believe my dad drives this road every day for his commute,” Asher said, loudly. “It must be easier for him with some PEACE and QUIET.” He turned up the radio, which was playing loud 90’s rock. Danny usually hated 90’s rock, but he felt nothing, and marveled at the feeling. Being dead was dulling his emotional senses, he realized.
“I don’t hate this anymore,” he announced to the van.
“Great,” Asher said. “Maybe being dead will give you some taste.”
Some hours later, they stopped in the corner of the rest area and sent Asher to buy coffee and donuts from the attached Dunkin while Danny and the girls planned—or rather, while the girls planned around Danny. Danny sat on the curb and the girls sat in the open van door, holding a large paper map. Paper was sometimes more reliable than electricity, especially on the highway.
“Getting to the entrance to the Immortality Pool will be a two hour detour—you were right about Rhode Island being teeny,” Georgie said, tracing the line of the freeways across the states. “But the Immortality Pool itself is a big blank. Try googling it?”
Rilla tapped at her phone furiously. Rilla always did things furiously—it made her a terror to be partnered with on group projects.
“Is there anything I can do to help?” Danny said.
“Not right now,” Georgie said. “How’re you feeling?”
Danny thought about it for a moment. “I’m not,” he said, because when he paused to think about it, it was like all the caring had been drained out of him. He remembered wanting to nail his skate trick. He remembered being excited about the trip, eager to get on the road. He was looking forward to having some uninterrupted time with his friends outside of school. They were going off to college in a few months, and he remembered being scared of being left behind, but that fear felt like something from a dream.
Right now, he didn’t feel anything at all.
“Well, that’s no good,” Georgie said. “Do you feel hungry? Or evil? The van’s not spitting you out yet, right?”
Danny thought about it for a moment. “No.”
“Hm,” Georgie said. “Rilla, do you remember how long it usually takes for souls to detach themselves from the flesh they’re pinned to?”
“Between a couple of days to a week,” Rilla said, not looking up from her phone. “He’s ahead of schedule. Way to be an overachiever, Dan.”
“Thanks,” said Danny.
“We’ll be at the Immortality Pool in the next eight hours, probably, if we switch off driving,” Rilla said, wiping her hand on her jeans. “My phone started leaking ichor when I tried their website, so we’ll just have to wing the rest.”
“I hate it when that happens,” said Georgie. “This is starting to feel like a quest.”
She said the word quest with audible disgust. Quests were for people who made mistakes, and high schoolers would rather die than ever admit they made a mistake.
“It’s not a quest, it’s a detour,” Rilla said. “Plato’s theory of quest construction requires—Asher! Over here!” She waved as Asher exited the rest stop, arms laden with coffee and snacks.
As soon as they were back on the road, Danny’s friends started bickering about how they were going to pay the toll.
Asher’s dad always used ‘the memory of the coffee he drank in the morning,’ but Asher wanted to remember his coffee, having gone to great lengths to procure it. Georgie offered to give up the memory of reading The Scarlet Letter, because she hated The Scarlet Letter, but none of them could figure out what that was actually worth.
“Let’s just give them fifteen dollars and The Scarlet Letter,” Rilla said, exasperated. “We’re probably overpaying, but whatever.”
“If it’s not enough, let’s give them Danny,” Asher joked, rolling slowly into the toll booth lane.
The toll lady grimaced as she accepted fifteen dollars and The Scarlet Letter, but she still accepted it. Danny’s friends cheered as they left the toll behind them. Danny didn’t cheer.
The rest of the drive was uneventful, or at least, Danny was incapable of finding it eventful. Usually, he would have been laughing with his friends, talking about nothing, considering them privately with a carefully guarded affection, a soft thing never to be spoken to their faces. It was an affection built from lazy afternoons exploring the woods behind the school, long nights texting memes at each other. It was affection constructed from the plans they made to visit each other after they all went to their respective colleges, all the implicit promises they hoped not to break.
Any other day, Danny would have felt very lucky to have friends who wanted to go on a road trip with him, but right now, he watched them talk and didn’t feel anything at all.
The backwards crack in the universe which contained the Immortality Pool was nestled in a charming tourist town that announced it was THE HOME OF THE EASTERN SEABOARD IMMORTALITY POOL on a big wooden sign. Danny and his friends drove slowly through the town, looking for something that made the exact location of the Immortality Pool more explicit.
“I’m stopping here,” Rilla said, slowing to a crawl and carefully parallel parking outside a series of storefronts that sold, respectively, beach gear, tchotchkes, and homemade ice cream. “Let’s ask for directions.”
There was a lone cashier standing behind the ice cream counter, playing with her phone. She looked up when Danny’s friends walked in. Danny watched them from the car, dead-eyed. The van window was cracked and he could hear the conversation through the open door.
“Welcome to Sandy’s,” the cashier said. “Seventeen flavors, all made in-house.”
Danny watched his friends look at the ice cream. He had no attachment to the view.
“Hey, do you know where the entrance to the Immortality Pool is?” Asher asked. “Can I try the mint marshmallow chip?”
“It’s behind the tourism center, on Oak Street. There’s usually a big sign, but we’re in the off season.” The cashier handed Asher a little plastic spoon with a dab of ice cream on it.
“Do they get many visitors?” Rilla asked as she received her cup of strawberry-lemon sorbet.
The cashier shrugged. “Sort of. More people like going to the beach, but sometimes people like to look at the entrance and take pictures—it makes for really good profile pics—but not many go inside. Only questors, and you know how they are. Kids, you know?”
“Ha, yeah,” Georgie said, paying with a credit card.
Danny watched his friends exit the shop with cups and cones of ice cream, and he was utterly unmoved. Just days ago, Danny loved ice cream, just like every other red-blooded American boy, but loving ice cream now felt like a memory belonging to someone else.
“Hope the tourism center has parking,” Rilla said, climbing into the driver’s seat and glancing back at Danny. “You doing okay?”
“I don’t care,” Danny said.
“Cool and normal behavior from Danny!” Asher said. “Let’s hurry.”
The entrance to the Immortality Pool was behind the tourism center, just like the cashier said. It was a great purple cosmic fold in the universe, a strange warping of the air in a twelve-foot high metaphysical twist, bracketed by a sign that said ALL RISK ASSUMED BY THOSE WHO ENTER on a metal pole. There was a second sign that said ONE QUESTOR AT A TIME. And a third sign that said OPEN FROM ELEVEN AM TO FIVE PM. Danny and his friends stood before the affront to physics, studying all its innumerable angles.
“I can’t believe we’re actually on a quest,” Georgie said, sounding like she was about to laugh. “Seriously. We can’t tell people at school about this.”
“We’re not on a quest; we’re on a road trip that happens to include a detour,” Rilla said. “C’mon, faster we enter, the faster we’re back on the road.”
She stepped forward, disappearing into the purple fold. They followed her because it was true—they were burning daylight and none of them were experienced night drivers. Danny stumbled in behind his friends, dragged by Asher’s hand around his cold wrist.
The interior of the entrance was a great purple path, or something perceived by the human mind as purple—a purple-ish energy, a purple vibe, a sequence of purple steps that disappeared when you didn’t look at them. Danny and his friends continued moving forward, the space coalescing around them into a purple cavern, a violet great hall, a large casino bathed in aubergine light. No matter its appearance, there was a brilliant water feature in the center of the space—a towering waterfall, a beautiful fountain, a bar with a zillion soda nozzles.
“Shit, it’s perceptual,” Asher said. “We shouldn’t have all come in.”
“We couldn’t have sent Danny in alone,” Rilla said firmly. “It’s only flipping between three things, not four. He’s probably too dead for it to work on him alone.”
“Ugh. This is making me nauseous. Everyone think really hard about one place. Like… everyone think about the river behind school,” Georgie said.
Danny couldn’t remember the river behind school, but apparently his friends could. The space morphed into a lilac riverbank with a smudge in the distance indicating the school, the river itself the color of purple Gatorade, burbling merrily.
“All right, jump in, Danny,” Rilla said, gesturing at the water. “That’s probably the right thing to do, unless anyone has any better ideas?”
Danny stepped forward.
“I was hoping you’d end up at the casino,” someone said, sounding disappointed. “I like wearing casino uniforms best.”
Danny blinked, and between closing his eyes and opening them again, there was another person standing on the bank, blocking his access to the water. The person was handsome—dark purple skin with black hair and fully black eyes, all the way across his sclera. He looked about their age, dressed in jeans and a hoodie, all a washed-out eggplant.
“Hello,” said the newcomer. “Well, this is interesting. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do here. You’re a rather strange questing party. And I don’t usually get groups.”
“We’re not on a quest,” Rilla said. “This is just a detour.”
“This looks a lot like a quest,” the stranger said. “You’re young adults looking to resurrect your dead friend, facing challenges along the way as you circle closer to your goal, hiding the truth of your journey from your family and loved ones.”
“Man, we’re literally just trying to get to Niagara,” Asher said. As he spoke, the space around them changed, amalgamating into a great crash of violet-indigo water surrounding them in a waterfall semicircle. The rock became a tour boat and the stranger was now wearing a purple plastic poncho, which he glanced down at with obvious disgust.
“Whatever you call it,” he said, shaking out his poncho. “I really wish you’d collectively dream up more civilized locations.”
“You’re really judgmental,” Georgie said.
The stranger turned to her, and the space around him grew dark and non-Euclidean, the black of his eyes spreading into the air around them. He looked nothing like a boy and everything like something squeezed and massaged and pressed into the shape of a boy.
“I’ve guarded this immortality pool against the black-of-heart for millennia. I read their souls and minds and tear the self from those who do not deserve the divine prize-punishment of time going static. I render judgment on all who pass through the fold in the world that leads to eternity’s kiss. I’m so tired of water features.”
Danny’s friends stared at the guardian. He smiled—a smile that would have been beautiful and horrible, except Danny was unable to remember what either of those concepts meant. The guardian shook some water off his poncho, and suddenly he was just a guy again.
“So can Danny jump in or what?” Rilla said. “We’re not evil, and Danny’s probably not evil, he’s just dead.”
The guardian squinted at all of them in turn, frowning when his gaze landed on Danny, frowning. “Do you want to jump in?” he asked, kindly.
Danny stared back at the guardian, then looked down at the swirling waters around the boat they were all standing on. Danny could no longer remember the idea of want. “I don’t know,” he said.
The guardian nodded, turning back to Danny’s friends. “He’s not allowed to jump in,” the guardian said firmly. “Consent is important and he’s too dead to give it.”
“But the whole point of bringing him here is to make him alive again!” Georgie said. “He can’t be alive enough to consent to jump in until he jumps in!”
The guardian shook his head. “Doesn’t matter.” The space around him grew dark again. It was less impressive the second time, so Danny’s friends pressed forward.
“We’re on a time limit!” Asher said, pleading. “Danny’s a good dude. He’s gotta be alive before this trip is over. That’s the whole point!”
As Asher spoke, their surroundings shifted again. Now they were in a bar—or rather, a simulacrum of what Danny’s friends collectively assumed a bar looked like, bathed in purple light.
The guardian startled, but seemed pleased as he looked down at his clothing, now a nice collared shirt and jeans. He still shook his head. “Doesn’t matter,” he repeated. “Now, I’d suggest that you leave.” His words echoed in a way that indicated that the bar was much larger than it appeared to be.
“We’re not leaving until you let Danny jump in,” Georgie said, sitting at one of the tall bar stools that had just appeared.
“Fine. Take your time.” The guardian smiled pleasantly, patting Danny’s shoulder. “Time doesn’t technically exist here, so you have all the not-time in the world to decide to get out.”
They sat in the bar simulation for what felt like a long while. They discussed their options: they could return home and fess up; they could try and steal one of Danny’s mom’s GET OUT OF DEATH FREE CARDS; they could try and find an entrance to the underworld nearby. There was a guaranteed resurrection pit three states over; they could cut a deal with the howling terrors that usually ate souls; they could trade someone else’s life for Danny’s. But all of them would take too much time if they still wanted to make it to Niagara.
“Well, there’s one thing we could still try,” Rilla said, looking at the guardian, who was quietly listening in on the conversation from behind the bar.
“Yes?” he said pleasantly, walking over to where they were sitting. “Are you heading out?”
“No,” Rilla said. “There’s one thing we still haven’t tried—accepting the fact that this is… a quest. So let’s suppose this is a quest. Going by what I remember from AP Practical Literary Theory, we’re probably at the part of the quest where we’ve faced all our trials, found our destination and have subsequently been rebuffed, which means that there’s either going to be an eleventh-hour deus-ex-machina that saves Danny, there’s some way to convince you—”
“Oh, you can’t convince me,” the guardian interjected. “I’m millennia old and you’re a teenager.”
“—Or there’s a way to convince Danny,” Rilla finished. “Even if Danny is too dead to want to be alive. Dan, are you still too dead to want to be alive?”
Danny shrugged apathetically. Asher clapped his shoulder. “Good effort.” The sarcasm was lost on Danny, because he was too dead to understand it.
“No, okay, this definitely isn’t a quest,” Georgie said with audible disgust. “It doesn’t have any of the traditional markers. We’re teenagers. Young adults. Which means our quests are always marked by some sort of romance. Love triangles. Misunderstandings.” She glanced at Danny. “I’m going to assume no one wants to kiss Danny, which means this can’t be a quest.”
“Doesn’t have to be Danny,” Asher said. “You’re assuming he’s the nexus. This would be a great time for anyone to announce they have a crush on me.”
“No one has a crush on you,” Georgie said, kicking Asher’s leg.
Asher clutched his chest. “You’re breaking my heart. Maybe I’m in absolute love with you, and now I’m going to die of a broken heart.”
“This would be easier to solve if it were true love,” Rilla said wistfully. One of the essays on the AP Practical Literary Theory exam was always about true love, it being one of the top three most tested literary tropes. Everyone had compared answers after the exam, even though they weren’t supposed to, sitting on the edge of the stream behind the school that they’d imagined earlier. Because Danny was dead, the scenery didn’t morph to his memories and remained a bar.
Rilla’s essay had argued that true love was outdated. It had no practical value, because romantic love as a whole was incomprehensible and unreliable. There were better tropes to hinge your quest on.
Georgie argued that true love was the most powerful force in the universe, and therefore arranging scenarios in which true love could be inserted was a crucial part of any quest. Love could become the motivator for any story.
Asher wrote about true love’s practical aspects: whether it was a particle or wave, a force like gravity, whether it needed to be platonic or romantic—before deciding he didn’t actually need to send his AP Practical Literary Theory score on his college applications and had drawn a tree across the essay answer section instead.
Here in the guardian’s bar, Danny stared at his friends, who were bickering about crushes and quests and test scores as compared to practical experience. They argued with easy familiarity, flashing grins and scowls, little bursts of emotions that now seemed totally foreign to Danny. He didn’t remember how any of it felt.
“You’re terribly loud,” the guardian said. “Just how long are you planning on staying? Outside clock’s ticking.”
“I thought you said time didn’t exist—” Rilla began, then her eyes narrowed. She looked from the bartender to Danny. “Oh. Duh.”
Rilla leaned forward and put her hand on Danny’s shoulder, looking straight into his vacant eyes. Danny wasn’t curious about what she was doing, because he was no longer capable of curiosity.
“Danny. We’re staying here until you decide to be alive again. I’m serious. We’re going to stay here forever if you don’t decide to be alive again. And then we’re going to miss graduation, and prom, and summer vacation. And we’re going to miss college in the fall, and we’re going to miss coming home over breaks, and we’re going to miss going on more stupid trips together. And we’ll miss the rest of our lives, and we’ll sit here in this bar forever, Dan, unless you decide to be alive again, okay? We’ll sit in this room forever, and you’ll be dead, and we’ll be in stasis for the rest of our lives.”
Back on that streambank behind the school, Danny had told his friends his AP Practical Literary Theory exam had been a comparative analysis between platonic and romantic love. He’d argued there was no meaningful distinction between the two in quests. He talked about love technically, without any referent to his life.
“No referent to your life?” Rilla had exclaimed, laughing. “Aw, Danny, you do care about us.” A few feet away, Asher was showing Georgie how to skip stones. “You love us,” Asher said over his shoulder, sending a stone skating across a calm portion of water.
“Go die in a fire,” Danny had said, splashing water at Rilla, and she had splashed water back.
Scraping together the last few neurochemical molecules left in his brain, Danny remembered how that felt, the cool water on the hot day, the laughter, how this had meant something to him once. He didn’t want it anymore. He wasn’t capable of wanting it for himself. But he wanted Asher and Georgie to skip stones. He wanted Rilla to laugh.
“Okay,” Danny said.
Danny’s friends turned to the guardian. The guardian nodded.
“Barkeep,” Asher said. “Make the man a drink.”
The guardian rolled his eyes but snagged a soda gun, filling a cup up with sparkling purple Immortality Pool water. He pushed it across the counter. “Nice job figuring it out.”
“Chug, chug, chug,” Georgie whispered.
Danny drank the cup in one long swallow.
As soon as the water entered Danny’s mouth, he felt all feeling returning to his skin, all emotion blooming awake in his brain. The electrochemistry that stitched his soul to his meat sparked again—he had technicolor memory, thought, feeling, and he was now acutely, horribly aware that he was very close to something that took the form of a handsome man around his age. Danny felt his face burn, his heart start beating, and yes, he was alive, but now his friends knew he cared about them, and that was just completely untenable.
“You should leave now,” the guardian said pleasantly. “It’s going to start getting extremely strange in here, now that there are four of you scrambling the psychic landscape.”
True to the guardian’s words, the bottles on the shelves were starting to rattle. The chairs started glitching, sparks of lavender light springing from the seams of the floor tiles.
“Right, thank you, we’re going!” Rilla said. She grabbed Danny’s wrist, and started running, dragging Danny after her, Asher and Georgie hot on her heels.
As they ran, the bar around them collapsed into a purple void, a purple line, closing in on them, squeezing close—and then they were running out into the afternoon light behind the tourism center, trying to catch their breath. They all took a moment to appreciate Euclidean geometry.
“How alive are you feeling, Dan?” Asher asked, between gasps of air.
Danny took a deep breath. It smelled like grass and pollen and he sneezed immediately. It was the best, sneeziest sneeze he’d ever sneezed. He felt better than alive. Alive two-point-oh. Now he understood why his cousin had become insufferable after his ambrosia accident.
Danny grinned. “Super alive. Can we go back to the ice cream place? Being resurrected made me really hungry.”
“Let’s get real dinner first,” Georgie suggested. “I’m also hungry.”
“You’ve been eating snacks all day!” Rilla said “And, uh.” She sheepishly turned to Danny. “Sorry about the ultimatum. But I’m glad it worked.”
“It’s cool,” Danny said, scratching the back of his neck. His neck itched! What a marvel, he was never going to take neck itches for granted again. He bit his lip.
“Hey, uh, actually. Um. One sec.” Danny turned and jogged back into the Immortality Pool entrance, ignoring his friends protesting. “I’m gonna get the guy’s number real quick!” he called as he disappeared into the fold in the universe.
“Oh my god,” he heard Georgie say, as he walked forward and her voice became fainter. “We should just leave him!”
Danny grinned. He knew they wouldn’t.
About the Author
Isabel J. Kim
Isabel J. Kim is a Korean-American science fiction and fantasy writer based in New York City. When she’s not writing, she’s mostly a lawyer, partially a podcaster. Her fiction has been published in Clarkesworld and Sub-Q Magazine, and she hosts Wow If True, a podcast about internet culture. Find her online at isabel.kim or on twitter as @isabeljkim.
About the Narrator
Andrew K. Hoe
Andrew K. Hoe practices Choy Li Fut Kung Fu and Tai Chi in Southern California, where he also writes speculative YA fiction. He has been a high school English teacher, an Assistant Language Teacher in Japan, and is now a college professor. His stories appear or are forthcoming in Cast of Wonders, Diabolical Plots, Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide, Highlights for Children, and elsewhere. Follow him online or on Twitter.
About the Artist
Alexis is a multiclass disaster-human living with her husband in Cincinnati. When she isn’t prepping art for Cast of Wonders, designing pins for pin-y.com, or yelling about TV into a mic for Bald Move, she dabbles in a revolving menu of hobbies and art projects. To list them all would be sheer madness. Like any good bisexual, she has a lot of jackets. You can find her on Twitter @alexisonpaper.