65.

Winter months saw the train pass through town in a bedlam of whistles and spilled inkwells of smoke. Children, starved not least for entertainment, took to standing parallel to the station tracks, their game over whenever the weakest lunged among them coughed through the locomotive’s asphyxiating soot. “Over here!” shouted the lad who found them first: boot tracks zigzagging away from the depot, alone, preserved in the train’s dim snow, not a stride indented through the powder. That long season, that juggernaut train, continued, its every flight beside the shanties claiming yet another boy.

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59.

The Happiness Machine will run on happiness — that goes without saying. It will tour the world with its creator, and bring joy to a million suffering souls, and remind a million others that their heaviest problems are graciously, inconsequentially toothless. Half a decade on and the Happiness Machine joins the echelons of a la mode pocket gadgets depreciating in spiritual value by the quarter. Every so often, the magazines and newscasters will titillate us with rumors of a Sadness Machine, but the evidence always surfaces as a hoax, and you watch our smiling faces shrivel and dry and crack from the dream of it, don’t you, the sodding grinning git you’ve become.

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22.

“The candle Sasha, quickly!” Footsteps like wing beats brisked the length of the dark hall, then Nora, on her knees, felt a length of wax press her palm. Rather than light it, she bit and swallowed two-inch pieces at a time, chasing the hidden torch with a still-burning match. “Will it see the beacon?” Sasha asked, splaying a quivering hand across Nora’s stomach — a stomach which kicked in reply.

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12.

The wind-bitten flyer read “Lost Dog” and profiled a large, mixed breed he’d never seen before. He brainstormed some possibilities–St. Dane? Huskeranian?–then ripped off a callback ribbon to feel better about himself. As he turned the corner his phone erupted; the incoming string of digits matched the one now floating inside his pocket. Haltingly, he swiped to receive, but no voice answered–just the wet, tortured panting of a hope-forgotten animal, racing full-bore through the unnamed dark.

grh