1.07

Posted by cameron - 2022-01-26 09:03:34

Dawn came to Obobo in much the same way that a calendar rolls over from one month to the next; it happened, technically, in that on-paper momentous way, but it made next to no difference, and simply caused everyone around to collectively look up from their tasks and say “Wow, that time already?”

Root laid in bed for several minutes after she woke with no clue whether it was morning or night or late in the afternoon, no clue whether to shut her eyes and try for another hour of sleep or leap out of bed in a rush to get on the road. The same silver light came in through the sole window, which was dusted with a tint of sand and covered haphazardly by a curtain that wouldn’t quite pull across the whole opening. Muffled sounds came from the street down below; they’d hardly eased up all night. Calls of “How do you do?” and “That’ll be twelve radulas, please” and “Hey, watch whereyer walkin’!” made their way up to Root’s window, followed by answers of “Positively wonderful!” and “Here you are, then” and “Fuck you and fuck yer mum’s left tit!” not always in that respective sequence, and more often than not the last one.

Root might’ve hoped to know when morning came by the activity outside the window, but the constant drone offered no clues. It seemed the denizens of Obobo kept whatever schedule they pleased, and whether day or night or dawn or dusk their greetings never changed from “Good morning!” Always good morning. It might’ve fooled Root if she hadn’t caught on when the innkeeper who showed them to their rooms greeted them so at (according to Vit, as Root would never know) ten o’clock at night. “Good morning,” it seemed, worked fine round the clock when it was always somebody’s morning.

And now it was Root’s morning, probably.

She dressed and left her room in a groggy haze. Downstairs, Vit and Azriah were seated at the tavern counter eating their breakfast.

“Good afternoon,” said Vit as Root pulled out the seat next to them. She blinked hard at the sleep in her eyes and mind.

“What?”

“Oh. It was just a joke. Good morning.”

“Huh?”

“Never mind.”

After a few minutes of rubbing at her eyes with the heels of her hands and picking at a splintered bit of the countertop, the cook appeared and drummed her talons on the wood in front of Root. “What will it be this morning—boiled or jellied?”

“…?”

“Listen girly, I haven’t got all day. Boiled or jellied?”

“Um. Boiled?”

“One boiled!” screeched the cook back through an opening from which wafted a perplexing assortment of smells. Root winced at the pitch. Just as soon as the shriek left the cook’s beak, she darted back through the doorway into the kitchen.

“Why shout if she’s just going to go back there anyway?” asked Root.

“You don’t know the half of it,” said Azriah.

“Oh?”

“She’s the only one working.”

“Oh.”

“Where’s Beel?” asked Vit.

“Still asleep.”

“Well he’d better hurry up. Azriah is impatient to start moving.”

“I’m not impatient. I just think it’d be good to get on the road as soon as possible, that’s all.”

“We think we should hurry,” said Vit.

“We don’t need to…” Azriah sighed. “Listen, we should be swift with our movements. I don’t want us to draw too much attention to ourselves, and we have already turned a few heads with our fumble at the archives. We need to be calculating. We don’t need to hurry.”

“So you’ve calculated that we should hurry?” asked Root.

“I—”

“Yeah, we were talking about the historian. Archin,” said Vit, cutting him off. “His reaction was weird, for sure. Two possible reasons for that.”

“One: he just wanted to keep us away from the crypt because he thinks we are going to ‘disrespect it,’” offered Root. “Which isn’t true. Or maybe it’s slightly true. Depends on how important the mirror is. If it’s, like, mounted on a wall or something, we may have to do some minor disrespecting. Slash remodeling. With a hammer.”

“It’s a handheld one, at least according to the sketch,” said Azriah.

Root gestured to the words where they still hung in the air as if to emphasize them. “So very minor disrespecting, then. Point is, he’s a historian—of course he is going to discourage a bunch of amateurs from digging up some crumbling historical site. He doesn’t want it tainted. Now that is something we will definitely be doing. I don’t care if future tour guides can’t point and say ‘And this is Affodell’s massive pile of untouched wealth’; that shit’s coming home with me.”

“Sure, sure,” said Vit. “Or two: the mirror is a powerful magic artifact. And Archin knew that.”

Root couldn’t deny that the thought had crossed her mind—it had, very briefly, and was followed closely by a second thought in the same way a scab follows a fresh wound. Who bothers to make, of all things, a mirror magical?

“Right, very powerful,” said Root, nodding. “Now whenever someone gazes into it they will see themself blemish-free!”

Vit furrowed their brow. Following the gaze of their four spider eyes was impossible, given that they were pupilless, empty green, but their sole human eye was familiar, despite the matching green iris a shade too vibrant to be natural, and that one lingered for just a moment too long on the smattering of scars across Root’s cheeks. Fortunately it was only the moment; they looked away just in time to miss her cheeks burning pink.

“I just mean—well, who would make a magic mirror? What’s the point of it?” she said, shaking out the flush in her face and chest and waving away the faint smell of smoke. “I can see the point of, I don’t know, a magic ring that spritzes you with cold water on a hot day or a pair of pants that walk all on their own. But a mirror?”

Vit shrugged. “Maybe the magic is that it shows everything the right way round. You know? Because mirrors flip the perspective.”

“Hardly sounds like a ‘powerful magic item.’”

“I don’t know, I’ve never seen a mirror that can do that.”

The door to the kitchen opened briskly. “One boiled!” cried the cook as she slid the plate across the counter to Root, whirled, and disappeared back into the kitchen. The contents steamed. What the contents were, exactly, remained unclear. Whatever it was, it’d been boiled.

Root prodded it with her knife. “Are those… legs?”

“It’s a grub,” said Vit.

Root closed her eyes. She clenched her jaw—a warning to her throat, which was getting ideas. How was the only option on the menu a grub—and why were there only two options for preparation? What kind of culinary disaster had they stumbled into?

The answer is one that, as she would notice on her way out later on, is advertised by a sign reading “Helda’s Grub Grub,” and then in smaller letters: “Grubs two ways: boiled or jellied!” and then in even smaller letters: “Worlds famous!” The final line was the smallest because it was a lie. You can get away with any lie if you say it small enough. Or loud enough, in many cases. Politicians are especially practiced in this method.

But Root had grown up in a jungle with meals made from whatever was available, and she had eaten worse. She didn’t like to think about it, but yes. She’d definitely eaten worse. And so she cut off a bit from the surprisingly rotund and oversized hull of the boiled critter and chewed it while looking anywhere but down.

“What do you think Ophylla wants a magic mirror for, then?” she asked through a mouthful and a slowly constricting esophagus.

“I guess that depends on what the thing actually does, if anything,” said Vit. “But maybe—”

“Doesn’t matter,” said Azriah with finality that could’ve halted a screech in the cook’s beak. Root and Vit both turned to look at him.

“You don’t want to know?” asked Vit.

“It’s just speculation,” said Root. “We don’t even know that it’s magic at all. Maybe she just likes the metalwork.”

“Either way, it’s not our business.”

“I mean…”

“It’s not,” said Azriah. “We aren’t on this job as business partners—we aren’t associates of Ophylla’s. We sold her our bodies. We do what she paid us to do and that’s that.”

“You definitely didn’t have to put it like that.”

“Listen,” Azriah’s voice got low and sharp with an edge that gave the two of them pause, like a blade aimed for the ankles. “In this sort of work, you have to just do what’s asked. No questions. I’ve taken work that was much more… suspicious than this gig, and from considerably more suspicious characters. I’ve stuck my blade between ribs without knowing why. I’ve marched alongside wagons under orders never to lift the tarps or look inside under any circumstances. I’ve stood guard outside doors and ignored… truly terrible sounds coming from the other side. If I’d stuck my nose where it wasn’t wanted, I’d have been next. Not asking questions is how you make money in this life. It’s how you keep your head on your shoulders.”

Vit looked down at their empty plate. “But… I mean, it’s just a mirror, magic or not. Right?”

“As far as we know. And that’s the point. We don’t need to know anything more. We don’t want to. That’s how this works. You learn that fast, or it’s too late.”

“So you don’t even bother to find out what you’re aiding in?” asked Root with some incredulous defiance.

“No. It’s easier that way. As long I get my payment in the end—and as long as it’s a large enough sum—it’s not my problem.”

“But what if it’s… what if you’re part of something terrible?”

“How terrible would something have to be for you to turn down a hundred mantles? Two?” Azriah raised one eyebrow over his steel-coated glare. “Is there anything you wouldn’t put a price on, when it comes down to it?”

“It would be a high price.”

“And many of these people can pay it. And will. The wealthy will always buy their way to whatever ends they desire, within the law or without. So make a buck and move on. And don’t get in their way. Or it’ll be someone else’s turn to make money at your expense.”

 

The town of Sundraw was quite aptly named, if irony was the goal. It was a misnomer, and the type that gets your hopes up and then slams them against a coast of spiky rocks. Approaching the town in ignorance was like ordering a plate of raviolis, waiting patiently as a proper geographical landmark pools inside your mouth, and then receiving your supper only to find that the delightful little pockets are packed with mashed pea. The town of Sundraw was, all things considered, one of the gloomiest places in all of Atnaterra.

Now, you might be quick to assume you know where this is going; “But everywhere is dim all the time, that’s the nature of Atnaterra!” That’s true, but please be patient. That joke has been talked halfway to death and then dragged the remainder. It’s dimly lit all the time, sure, but the gloom of Sundraw was more than shadow and haze. It had leaked into the very atmosphere.

Nearly one out of every three houses stood empty—windows dark, doors boarded up, grass and microecosystems thriving in the cracks between the sidewalk pavers while macroecosystems thrived on the rooftops. Even the breezes didn’t bother to stick around town for long, rustling the leaves in the streets on their way through and then gone before the debris settled. Only a few people ambled about the streets, all of them looking as though somehow the only thing that surprised them more than the sight of newcomers was the realization that they themselves were also in attendance.

So it wasn’t all about light level, see? Plenty of gloomy vibes in the town. Of course, the town did also have a permanent shadow in the form of a dark cloud that hung over it like, well, like a dark cloud, with edges that lined up precisely with its borders. No one knew what it was or why it was there or what had caused it, only that it had shown up shortly after the founding of the town and that it looked like a dark mass of smoke or perhaps a swarm of tiny insects. Whether the town had been named in hopes of dispelling the shadow or whether some prankster force had placed it there as a response to the name was a mystery that, quite frankly, the townsfolk didn’t have the energy to get to the bottom of.

Root and the others stopped in at a local tavern for a much-anticipated meal after a long day on the road before making their way to the edge of town where a familiar building stood. Looking at the manor from across the overgrown lawn, Root couldn’t help but wonder what Affodell herself would think of the old house now. Her paintings depicted it as a beautiful structure amidst a lush garden. But in her absence, it appeared the garden had moved in.

The manor looked like something that was meant to be haunted, as if, while laying out the plans for the project, the builders had planned ahead with the key vision being a crumbling estate in a few hundred years’ time, ready to be the focal point of half a dozen local superstitions. It was a construct of hefty grey bricks and angles. Two stories sat like an enormous L-shaped corpse in the mud broken up by windows, which in turn had been broken up by storms, rocks thrown by the town troublemakers, and the occasional half-blind bird soaring headlong into a quick cure for their blindness. A third-story attic hid beneath a sharply sloped roof with an even sharper point, and a basement peeked out from narrow windows down in the untamed shrubbery. Chimneys and gables and a lone, short tower broke up the broken building, crumbling in their own right and scattering rubble down the shingled roof like seed for unpicky birds with reinforced beaks and stomachs.

Vines wrapped the walls like snakes squeezing the life out of their prey. Foliage poked out of broken upper-story windowpanes—smaller plants and even a few saplings that had taken root somewhere in the decaying interior. Moss blanketed the roof in bright green patches reminiscent of a loaf of bread that had lived to see its expiration date twice over.

Warped wooden slats covered most of the first-story windows alongside many of those on the second story and basement, as well as the odd hole in the side of the house where the wall had fallen away entirely. The front door had such a thick mass of boards layered over it that it looked as though one would have an easier time kicking through the brick walls than trying to batter down the door.

Root couldn’t help but picture the whole building burning.

A wrought iron fence encircled the grounds, tall and imposing and, though weathered, looking distinctly newer than much of the building itself. Root couldn’t recall seeing it in many of Affodell’s earlier paintings, but faintly remembered its appearance in a few of the late ones.

Finding a way past the fence gave them no difficulty; Azriah quickly located a spot near one corner where one of the bars had been bent conveniently out of place, no doubt by a fellow trespasser. They made their way across the grounds and around a fish pond that had since been turned into a breeding ground for many, many other things until they came to the rear entrance.

If the front door had been boarded up with half the town’s lumber supply, the back door was where they’d stuck the other half. Azriah pried at the boards covering one of the windows, but they held with surprising strength.

“Hang on,” said Vit. Their eyes glowed green—spider eyes and human eye alike—and suddenly they began to shrink. Their body folded in on itself in a way that Root was at the same time surprised and relieved didn’t come with a series of crunches that would’ve made her noticeably less thrilled about the meal she had just eaten, and twice as acquainted with it. When Vit’s form settled, they stood before Root as a spider—teal and green and black in color, a foot and a half in length, and bristling with wiry hair. Eight eyes looked up at her as eight legs pivoted in place and scuttled up the manor wall.

“Where did your clothes go?” asked Root. “And your bag. Does that thing have pockets?”

“Would have to be some pretty big pockets,” said Azriah, watching Vit climb.

“They can’t answer you,” said Beel. “That’s a lesser spirit. Lesser spirits can’t talk.”

“Can they understand us?”

“Probably.”

Spider Vit gave a little nod. They raised two legs to wave.

Once they’d reached one of the unboarded second-story windowsills, spider Vit settled onto the ledge. A moment later, mostly-human Vit had reformed. They lodged themself in the window recess with one leg and then, with a hard upwards shove, opened the window. Something snapped as the panel lifted. Vit propped it open and climbed inside.

“They definitely know we can’t just follow, right?” said Root aloud to the others.

“Unclear,” answered Azriah.

A second passed. Another crawled by. Then Vit stuck their head out the window. “Catch!”

A ladder woven from spider silk unfurled out the window and hit the ground with a fwump. The excess sat in a heap in the dust, twice as long as it needed to be for the short one-story climb.

“Oops. Guess I got excited.”

Azriah waved Root ahead. Beel followed her up, and then Azriah clambered through the window last. Vit hauled up the ladder and deposited it on the floor.

“All right, then,” they said. “Let’s have a look around.”

They stood in a room long gutted of anything even remotely worth describing. A few scratches marred the groaning floorboards, telling stories of furniture that had been sold, sold again, ended up in an antique shop, been flipped by someone young and in search of a fulfilling, monetizable hobby that would save them from the slog of a nine-to-five or by someone in the throes of a midlife crisis, been flipped a second time by someone who actually knew what they were doing, and probably now took up the corner of someone’s front room as a place to put plants. In fact, the only piece of furniture that hadn’t been unceremoniously hauled out the now-barricaded doors of the manor was an armoire saved only by the fact that it had been built into the wall. Even that nearly hadn’t been enough, judging by the faded marks of considerable prying left all around its edges.

Root pulled open the armoire’s doors. A heap of chains sagged forward and fell to the floor in a perfect, snaking, one-link-at-a-time manner that made sure each individual link got its moment to shriek against its brothers before thudding to the floor with a sound that ripped apart the silence of the abandoned building and continued for far, far longer than it logically should have. The last length of chain hit the floor with the conclusive note of a completed orgasm and an orange cloud of dust and rust. The four of them stared at it for several long moments.

“So, you think this is an old bedroom or something?” asked Vit.

Azriah scoffed. “Where she kept her chains?” Root and Vit shared a look.

“Hey, we don’t know what she got up to.”

They moved on.

The next few rooms were much the same as the first. At the end of the hall, near the landing before a set of descending wooden stairs that were draped in moth-eaten carpeting which failed to conceal about a hundred different structural issues that would send a home inspector into a frenzy, was a set of double doors that opened into what they guessed must have once been a study but was now just another item on an ever-growing list of fire hazards. Trash littered the floor, mostly in the shape of papers that crumbled to dust if they picked them up with too much enthusiasm. Vit was especially bad at handling these; Beel showed remarkable prowess. They spent some time picking through what lay about, but turned up little that had even been written on, much less was still legible.

A desk, a broken easel, and a row of cupboards built along one wall were the only other features of the room, besides some discarded scraps of canvas that no longer stretched across frames. Each of these they opened and searched as well, looking for any sign of a clue. But the unfortunate thing about clues is that they’re traditionally a terrible pain to find.

They moved downstairs, cautiously, sending Beel first despite the fifteen minutes of convincing that preceded the move. They all insisted it was because he was the lightest, and that way if the stairs were going to break it would be behind him, and he would be safe. This, they all knew, was a lie, and a series of knowing glances passed over his squat form made that clear. If the stairs gave out and he died, at least he would come back. Traumatized, but alive. It was only sensible.

The stairs did not collapse, but made it abundantly clear that they certainly would have liked to. Root stepped onto the lower floor and released her grip on the railing with a breath of relief. Curious that she placed her faith in the railing but not the floorboards; now that they’ve put the stairs behind them, I’m sure it’s no great spoiler to say that if anything had broken, the railing would’ve been the first to go. A colony of termites had regarded the old thing as a site of pilgrimage for over seventy years, and what remained was more hollow space and dung than wood.

At the foot of the stairs, they fanned out. Root soon found herself in the manor’s kitchen. There was a narrower door across the room, and this she opened with an unsuspecting tug.

A number of things happened then. The most immediate and startling was that the door fell off its hinges with a sound like reee!ck!ckunkunk. Root jumped back in surprise, heart pounding. The newly free-range door teetered forward, excited to make yet another loud noise, but Root came to her senses and caught it before it hit the floor.

Something darted by in her peripherals. Again, she jumped, craning her neck and nearly sending the door on a course for the floor once more. A small spirit scampered across the floor, indigo in color and built like a small monkey with a bushier tail and wider face to accommodate a jaw that wrapped its face like a necklace that wouldn’t fit past its pointed chin. It vanished under a countertop.

The smell was the next thing to come rushing out of the small room. Root pulled her shirt up over her nose and mouth and looked inside. Shelves lined the walls, littered with debris, and the floor looked like one massive nest. Movement still stirred the papers, dead grass, and other things. Bones, bloodstains, and a frightening amount of shit laced the rest of the room’s contents.

Must’ve been Affodell’s pantry, once—no doubt infiltrated by pests in the early days of the manor’s abandonment who made it their own pantry and took up residence there, and then later a pantry for the spirit that came to feast on them. A pantry three times over, always replenishing its stores in the magnificent ways of the food chain.

Nature, when you stop and think about it this way, is really just one big pantry.

She left the door, deciding it was too big to be a good souvenir and too niche to pawn for a worthwhile chunk of change. There’s a reason you never see museum placards reading: “The pantry door of the esteemed painter so-and-so.” Root gave a wide berth to the place where last she’d seen the wild spirit, deciding she was quite attached to her toes and wanted to keep it that way, and then moved on down the hall.

“Hey, you guys—over here.” Vit’s voice came from somewhere deeper in the manor.

Root found them in a room that looked nearly untouched—nearly, that is, except for time, which had done more touching than a whole crew of sailors after their third round of soup in Low Fishdrum’s neighboring venue. The room was a cocktail of time’s fingerprints: dust, mold, extensive fungi growth, and horribly outdated decoration. It was a sitting room, complete with couches that had frayed and sagged, drapes drawn back to welcome in the light that might’ve brought the space alive if not for half an inch of lumber that served as an incredibly effective bouncer, and even a few frames still on the walls, though emptied of their contents. In the back corner was a door, nailed shut and dressed with several mismatched deadbolts and padlocks.

Azriah and Beel entered the room a moment later. “Think this is anything important?” asked Vit, sizing up the door.

“People don’t usually nail their pantries shut,” said Azriah. “Makes for a bit of a ruckus at midnight.”

“Already found the pantry, actually,” said Root.

“Any good snacks?” asked Vit.

“Depends on how picky you are.”

Azriah stepped up to the door and drew his sword.

“Don’t even think about it,” said Orne Tyn.

“I’m past the ‘thinking about it’ stage,” said Azriah. “I’m at the ‘doing’ part.” He jammed the tip of the sword into the crack and wrenched.

A few nails broke, giving in to what decades of rust had already started. The crack widened a fraction. Azriah shoved his sword in deeper.

A considerable job of wiggling and levering loosened several more, and the rest Azriah managed to pry out with a knife. The deadbolts were an easy job of sliding them out of the way, which made the group feel, for at least a moment, much more civilized and less like trespassers, which of course they were. That left only the two padlocks.

Azriah kicked at the door as their first solution, which did little, it being a door that opened into the room where they stood and all. Root pushed her way in to try.

“Let me,” she said, and grabbed hold of one of the locks.

She pressed her palm to the keyhole and concentrated. Smoke seeped from her hand; she focused it into the lock, condensing it into something solid. She had never tried anything quite like this, but in theory if she pushed enough smoke inside and wiggled it around just so—

With a loud ka-pop, the metal burst apart. Root threw an arm over her face as bits of metal peppered her like a torrent of rain. They bounced around the room, coming down in all corners. The mangled remains dropped, smoking, from the door.

“Well that… wasn’t what I meant to do…” said Root. She’d meant to simply pick the thing. But what works, works. She did the same to the second but provided—to the thanks of her companions—a moment more of warning before it burst.

The door swung open revealing a dark stairwell leading down.

“This time I am not going first,” said Beel. “I don’t care what you say. In fact, perhaps it’s best no one goes first.”

“Someone has to,” said Vit. Their eyes came alight and translucent spider limbs sprouted from their shoulder blades, casting an eerie green glow into the darkness. Without pause, they started down the stairs.

“I don’t think you quite caught my meaning…” started Beel, but Azriah and Root were already in tow. He sighed and followed along.

At the bottom, the cellar opened up into a wide, low room big enough to facilitate a reunion for a family of up to thirty-five or two of the whale-hauler ships Root had seen in the Unn city harbor lined up side-by-side (masts removed, of course). Upturned, broken, and emptied crates lined one wall, and several odd pieces of furniture scattered the rest of the room like carcasses on a battlefield. A carpet of loose papers and leaves covered the floor. Light filtered in through one small, unboarded window.

The immediate instinct of any hobbyist trespasser is the same as that of the frequent bathroom visitor, and that is to write on the walls. Clearly, Affodell’s cellar had been a favorite haunt of the local hooligans for many years. Carved and painted messages of “Fuck ward 2 town councilman Rejjun” and “WPYC” and “Exploit your boss back!” and “AGAB” covered the stone walls and battered bits of furniture. On the opposite wall, a narrow hallway led deeper into the darkness.

They passed through the room and into the hallway. It led them through twists and turns and two more smaller rooms until finally it reached a dead end. It was an unfortunate bit of symbolism in their search.

“Looks like that’s it,” said Vit. “That’s the whole house. Maybe we could try the attic? There’s gotta be a way up there somewhere upstairs.”

“Maybe.” Azriah tugged at his scruff. “We should check the papers back in the big room down here. Might be something there.”

Root sighed and voiced the unsaid fear. “And if not?”

“We knew this was kind of a long shot. It looks like it didn’t pay off. Maybe—”

The noise didn’t sound like much—it could’ve been a creature shuffling about in the ceiling. But rodents and rodent-adjacent critters didn’t usually sound like they were wearing boots.

“What was—” started Vit.

Sh.” Azriah threw up a hand. The other gripped his sheathed sword.

The noise continued, and then a muffled muttering. A voice.

They were no longer alone.

 

There was a bit a little while back about midlife crises. Let’s revisit that for a moment.

Now, midlife crises are sort of a human construct as opposed to one of spirits. You see why, right?

Human lives are fleeting—any spirit will tell you that. Fewer than a dozen decades and then nothing. What’s worse, they get one death—one, and they don’t even get to enjoy it properly. No reflection, no workshopping the finer details to do it better the next time. It happens and then, quite abruptly, it may or may not have, at least from the deceased’s perspective.

In any case, these ‘midlife crises’ crop up as a symptom of this staring-oblivion-in-the-face. It can be understandably frightening, and spirits don’t appreciate that fully, because it’s simply not a reality they know.

It may seem like the logical conclusion here is that spirits don’t have midlife crises—they have no midlife! Can’t have a proper midlife crisis when you’re an eternal arcanomaterial entity. Just takes the fun out of it, you know? But this is not exactly the case. Spirits don’t have midlife crises; instead, they just sort of have… crises. Regularly. It’s an ongoing thing. There’s little that’s more daunting than staring down full-blown annihilation, but one thing that may be capable of rivaling it is facing the reality of an eternity spent buying toilet paper and voting for excruciatingly minor political change.

There is a not so uncommon theory that the larger of these crises may occur at the middle of spirits’ individual ‘lives’—that is to say, the period of time between each individual reforming and subsequent death. Those who subscribe to this theory use it to anticipate when they may meet an unpleasant life milestone (or, death milestone). The faintest hint of a desire to learn to play the lute or buy a sporty new horse and buggy is regarded as an ill omen, and followed by a prompt calculation of when, approximately, this means certain (but temporary) doom.

Of course, as you may be beginning to sense, this leads to a crisis in and of itself. Death is unpleasant, even if it’s more of a minor inconvenience of geographic relocation, and travel plans for the journey back from the lake Yg Balta can be a headache—putting in for time off from work, booking tickets, packing an overnight bag and having it shipped out to the lakeshore. What if it gets lost? A classic concern of the anxious traveler.

Anyway, all of that is just to say that, while the midlife crisis is a distinctly human privilege, crisis is and always will be a universal.

 

 

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