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    Alex Burrett

    29. The Burners

    By Alex Burrett

    There’s a village of slaves up in the mountains who struggle to stay warm in the winter. Throughout the dark season, their owner sends them just enough wood to keep the pervading cold at bay. The serfs get a delivery of logs every fortnight, with each household receiving an equal amount; which is fair as all the families live in identical one-room lodges. There’s enough calorific energy in each bundle to keep a small fire smoldering for three hundred and thirty-six hours. It takes careful maintenance to ensure that the fire doesn’t burn too quickly and exhaust the stock. Kept ticking over at that rate, the temperature in their homes during the coldest months rises from dangerously cold to bearably chilly. Their overlord has no humane interest in helping them stave off hypothermia. He’s not bothered about their welfare. He’s happy for them to be universally miserable. He doesn’t care about them in the slightest. But it wouldn’t be in his interest for them to die. He makes most of his money from the cassiterite they hack and scrape out of the pitted mountainsides. If they get sick, he lets The Fates act as nurse, doctor and undertaker. Since rutting is their major source of entertainment, there are usually enough natural new ones to replace those that expire. And if new arrivals don’t quite keep the population stable, it’s relatively inexpensive to top the numbers up with outsiders. . . . Read More.


    25. Immortal

    By Alex Burrett

    If you’re lucky enough to own a piece of land, whether it’s just enough for two folding chairs and a wine bottle, or expansive enough for herds of buffalo, there’s one thing I can guarantee you: things will happen in your corner of the Earth about which you’ll never know anything. Land is like time—it holds many secrets.

    Our land comprised twelve acres of mainly pasture—that’s enough real estate to keep a dozen or so cattle, a couple of ponies, a dog and a handful of cats. Which is what we kept. At the center, the heart of the territory, was our home: a centuries-old stone cottage. It had grown, like a hollow granite cancer, in spits and spats, since the foundation rock was laid. When it was still small, it was one of several stone cottages that once formed a thriving hamlet. For a reason I’ll reveal later, although the rest withered, ours grew. Evidence of the hamlet’s former glory was easy to find. The remains of two other dwellings, ravaged by neglect, stood in our fields. Further multi-cell stone outlines could be found under leaf mold in the woods beyond the pasture. All were remnants of once-cherished manmade growths, rendered useless by the neutralization of their human nuclei. In themselves, these earth-covered granite floor plans are nothing particularly special—the world is tattooed all over with the markings of lost micro and macro civilizations. But there’s more to this tale than archaeology.

    Every hundred years or so, someone on this planet doesn’t die when they should. They get to a certain age, then stop aging. Our immortal is one of them. He lives under the remains of the cottage in the North Field. That ruin is distinctively, noticeably, different from all the rest. It stands out. There is a lot more left of it than the cottages in the East Field, the West Field, or among the trees beyond. . . . Read More.


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