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Overheard in a Countryside Inn

by Alex Dally MacFarlane

"The moon," said the man with carrot-orange hair, "is the toenail of a god."


"Look at it. Thin and curved, pale off-white, grows broader and longer until it must be trimmed back again. It's a nail."

His drinking partner, a fellow local man of middle age, swigged from his pint of dirt-dark bitter and said, "Nah, it's more likely to be a pie."

"Made by the cloud-dwellers, I assume?" asked a peculiarly dressed stranger, who stood so close that they could smell the dust on him. He wore tanned cowhide over his body and, atop his head, a string-fastened cap and goggles.

When he received a murmured "Well, yes" in reply, he sighed and shook his head.

"It is neither of your assertions. It is a mystery. Which I intend to solve, by flying there in my latest invention."

"Ah," the local men said, looking at one another with bemused expressions.

"The cloud-dwellers died out long ago, before either of you were scrabbling around the marketplace. And they did not possess the technology for creating a permanent light fixture so high up."

"Aye," the bartender butted in, "a light fixture, like the candles on my wall. The sky is an upturned bowl, aviator-historian, and you'll smash into it with your flying contraption and create a great mess all over our fields."

"So you say."

The men looked at one another, across beer mugs and the sticky, stained counter. Fights had come of smaller disagreements. But they shared shrugs rather than fists -- the moon was too far away to be of consequence while there was still beer coming from the taps, and each privately felt the truth of his own judgement without any great need for validation through violence.

"A drink for you, sir?" the bartender asked the aviator-historian, and by the time he had made up his mind which bottled beverage he would like, the other two men were discussing the particulars of sheep-raising.

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