"Hunter-gatherers?" said Maria Dillard, her fingers raking long blonde hair out of her eyes. She quickly returned her hand to the tablet she had set up on the table in front of her, stabbing at the flexible keyboard laid out beneath the screen.
"An analogy only, but it's appropriate," he said. "The scavenger cells are programmed with that behavioral model in mind. They transit the circulatory system hunting for cancerous cells, and when they find them, they devour them, using the targeted cells as fuel." Robert did not expect the sea-witch to live in a house, not one with a blue door and small hedges that lined the walkway.
He thought that the seagulls overhead probably worked for her, watched for her. He knocked on the door, though the arthritis made his hands hurt every day. Three knocks and the door opened. Cavanaugh reached up the rock face and felt smooth concrete. At last. It stung his raw fingers under the afternoon sun, but he held on and savored the dry, gritty texture. He pulled himself up and sat on the lip of a broken sidewalk to gaze back into the rift.
It roared at him. Waves of heat and noise blasted up the blackened walls from a surging lava flow in the bottom of the chasm. He scowled at the thing, etched in the Earth in defiance of nature, in a perfectly straight line, exactly a hundred feet wide and a hundred feet deep. It pushed everything apart. The house on Cavanaugh's right had been split to reveal street after street of interrupted roads, sidewalks, and lawns, all the way to a gap in the distant hills. Later she changes the tale, calling her husband a giant who liked to crunch on human bones, the intruder a fool willing to trade a cow for beans. She builds up everything: their manor becomes a castle, the hill a cloud, the earthen walls thick bulwarks of marble and granite, the copper coins bags of gold, the battered instrument with its broken strings an enchanted harp that can sing. The beanstalks in their garden reach the sky. She adds in jokes, references to proverbs, nursery rhymes, other legends. Her hands creep out from their pinched position at her side, gesturing, flaring, as she laughs.
She does not mention just how heavy the earth had been beneath her shovel.
by Nicky Drayden
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***Editor's Note: Adult language and situations in the tale that follows*** "So when I take this, I'll be able to kill him?" asks the hooded man.
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