Alexander wasn’t sure when he became aware of the ephemeralist. At first, he’d only heard the name, thought it was maybe an email discussion group (the ephemera list). But he noticed more and more mentions and eventually found it.

The trick was leaving all the vowels out after the first “e” as if the word were already going away. Whoever Twittered and retweeted under the name covered all kinds of transitory happenings–locations and specials of the newest food trucks, gps coordinates of pop-up restaurants, schedules of subway flash mob dance troops, Saturday night invitation-only book auctions in the empty apartments, street corner moment-museums…

For a while, it was enough to read about them, but actually tracking one down seemed intimidatingly hip for Alexander. His job involved turning weekly statistics into multi-color charts for a multinational more or less in the financial services industry and he coveted the trendier existence in the marketing and advertising departments two floors up.

Then he stumbled across a food truck that had been mentioned the day before, and he was hooked. It was as if that Chinese steamed bun filled with spicy Ethiopian stew was something he’d always craved but never imagined existed. His still devoted his days to surrounding pie charts with haloes of callout lines, but evenings and weekends he explored cuisines, places, events, micro-societies that wouldn’t exist in a week, in a day, in an hour, that might have already ended.

On the subway, after watching midnight PechaKucha projected 50-feet tall on an abandoned building, he dozed for a moment, and woke to find his iPhone displaying ephemeralist’s Twitter page. He looked again–he wasn’t viewing, he was logged in with a new tweet just started. It read “The next.”

He looked around–the ephemeralist must be here, pranking him. The girl in the hoodie and earbuds not meeting anyone’s eyes? The middle-aged hospital scrub-wearer with spiky frosted hair? The ponytail guy reading Stieg Larsson?

He had a quest, and began scanning his fellow attendees for any repeat visitors. Easy enough–she always wore the same sweatshirt.

“You’re him!” he said, plunking down in the next seat on the train.

Beside him sat Mr. frosted hair, eyes closed, snoring lightly.

“Sure,” she said. “I’m infected, same as you.”

Out the corner of his eye, he saw the man in scrubs was texting in his sleep–something about a moment-museum…

Towering colonnades, thickets of spires, mountainesque domes, quarter-mile-high statues — the best way to see the city of Eavoa was from the air. And the best person to show it to you was Zaglevall Nunnin.

That was the gist of the posters Captain Nunnin had posted all over the dock district. He was behind the broadsheets that documented the troops of zombie macaques in the city’s upper reaches. Argive Flell — who ran the observation towers which Nunnin’s broadsheets happened to mention were not entirely secure against zombie monkeys — distributed his own broadsheets pointing out the sharpness of the beaks of pterodactyls and puncturability of zeppelins of Captain Nunnin’s fleet.

They tolerated each other’s excursions into the popular press, and wrote off their competing staffs of writers, typesetters and printers as the cost of doing business until a particularly lurid etching of a woman trying to wrest her baby from a foaming-mouthed macaque had tourists shuddering at the thought of the observation towers.

“This is outrageous!” bellowed Flell, after he’d burst into Nunnin’s office. “You know the zombie virus suppresses symptoms of all other diseases! A rabid zombie monkey is a medical impossibility!”

Nunnin shrugged. “The engraver’s hand slipped — cramps from all that atmospheric cross-hatching.”

“Irresponsible!” shouted Flell, still winded after the ladder climb up to the aerostat that housed his rival’s office. “Libelous!”

“Your viewing platforms are still open-air?” said the captain.

“So? No monkey’s going to scale a thousand meters of electrified fencing to reach them.”

“But — theoretically — they could,” said Nunnin, tilting his chair back.

“And — theoretically — flocks of giant Quetzalcoatlus could start migrating from the plains,” said Argive. “A pterosaur bigger than one of your balloons — that’ll make a lovely illustration…”

Nunnin was out of his seat. “They’d snap their wings in the outer colonnades! Anyway, our engines would scare them off, just like the small ones…”

Outside the window, a pterodactyl flew by with a macaque on its back. The monkey prodded the flying reptile with a gnawed shinbone.

“Isn’t one of your towers in that direction?” said Nunnin.

Argive nodded. “Did you see that monkey steer that ‘dactyl right over the engine end of one of your zeps?”

Nunnin was busy emptying his safe. “Need a lift out of town?”

“I believe I do,” said Argive.

Another pterodactyl flapped by with another macaque.

“I believe I do.”

In terms of continuity, this is the first of the Pandora series. It is followed by 2) “The Bug-a-Boo Bear,” 3) “Chop Chop,” 4) “Byzantine,” and 5) “Long Live the Dead“.

She was just like us, but she was less than us, and she was more.

Pandora left the pantry door unlatched, the mead-stained beer steins in the sink, her clocks unwound.

She read the stars, some side-stitched journals stained by meadow grass, the minds of mortals (unreliably, it’s true).

Pandora had boxes–lots of them. She opened some and closed the rest. A magpie queen of hollow cubes, she mountained box on box, secreted box in box. She even slept in one. The boys perked up to hear how well she worked with boxes though she labored blithely blind to such potential perks.

She lived for untold years, for who knows what? She died, for who knows why (none cared to ask)? She altered lives, for good and ill.

So why are you, dear reader, unaware of her but for her famed faux pas?

The acolyte knocked before going in. He didn’t hear a response, but he knew she’d heard him.
The air inside was thick with the reek of rotting fabric and rich with the sound of hundreds of crickets. The Grand Metropolitan Sorceress hadn’t left this small room in over a decade, but still she kept the peace throughout the city and the suburbs beyond.
“Mistress?” said the acolyte. “Your dinner?”
“Keep it,” said a husky voice from the darkness.
The acolyte hadn’t heard her speak more than a murmured “leave it on the table” or “less pepper next time, please” in months.
“I’m doing a great working tonight,” said the sorceress. “My last, if it works.”
“You need to keep up your strength madam.” The acolyte felt around until he found an empty chair, and set the tray on the seat. “When you skip meals, you always feel it the next day…”
“If this works,” said the sorceress. “Tomorrow won’t happen.”
The acolyte stumbled back into something that jingled like crystal.
“That was too dramatic,” said the voice from the darkness. “There will be a tomorrow; it just won’t happen for many years. I’m turning back time.”
“What? You can’t.”
“I have to.” The sorceress’s voice had dropped its usual commanding tone. “I can’t hold back the hungry realms more than another few weeks. We can’t win against them.”
The acolyte swallowed twice. “But everything might change. And we still won’t be able to stop them.”
“We would have been safe, if I’d never done the Spell of Cold Knife.” Her voice was right in front of him. “It’s my fault.”
“But,” said the acolyte, “without that spell, you couldn’t have stopped the apocalypse meme. Thousands would have died.”
“I’ll find another way.”
“My parents,” said the acolyte,” they met in one of the refuges, while the knife spell ran.”
“They might still meet,” said the sorceress.
The acolyte swung at the voice, felt his nails scratching her cheek.
“Mistress! I’m sorry…”
“Blood,” said the sorceress. “The final ingredient, and I couldn’t shed it myself.”
The acolyte tripped as he stumbled back. The darkness was going out.
“Thank you,” said the Grand Metropolitan Sorceress. “I hope we meet again.”
Then the room was gone and Eyve Ariel was a girl again, neither a sorceress nor grand, standing in a vacant lot with mud on her journeywoman’s gown, no one to see or hear her as she shivered in spite of the heat.

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