Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Issue 41
Stories
The Two Kingdoms Woman
by James Beamon
The Time Mechanic
by Marie Vibbert
The Temptation of Father Francis
by Nick T. Chan and Jennifer Campbell-Hicks
The Fiddle Game
by Alex Shvartsman
IGMS Audio
InterGalactic Medicine Show Interviews
At the Picture Show: Extended Cut
Vintage Fiction
Voice of the Martyrs
by Maurice Broaddus

The Far Side of Extinction
    by K.C. Norton

The Far Side of Extinction
Artwork by Scott Altmann

Mosegi Steyn was tired of the Moa.

"It is all they come to see," he complained. "And why? Every museum has its Moa. They aren't even native."

The Moa itself was rather shabby, going bald in places; its lush chocolate-colored feathers were knotted and ratty. It had been stuffed quite haphazardly, as if the taxidermist responsible for the display had never seen a live specimen and resorted to guessing at the thing's shape based solely on the skull and the dimensions of the tanned flesh. The result was a bird lumpy in places, concave in others. Its glass eyes bulged. Even the fake beak, polished to a hardwood gleam, was succumbing to a combination of termites and rot.

"We can't throw it out," said Tale. She rubbed her hands across her face; she wasn't sleeping well, and was tired of Pharmacant Steyn's bottomless dissatisfaction. "What do you propose?"

He shook his head, tapped the polished glass of the display case disapprovingly. "We need new blood."

"A new display."

"That is what I said."

Tale nodded sagely, and thought about slapping him hard enough to make his eyes bulge like the Moa's. "A new display of what, precisely?"

"Something unique. Something impossible. Something that will put Transvaal on the map." He tapped the glass again.

A list of impossible things scrolled through Tale's mind: cryptids, myths, and local legends. The gemsbuck, the Cape bull, the ostrich - or a wildebeest, ha! As if anyone old enough to walk the Bush believed in them.

"Something phenomenal," Steyn was saying; he often spoke as though he were a classroom thesaurus and seemed to think it made him sound wise.

On any other day, Tale might have let it go. But there was a gleam in the Moa's glass eye that might have been a reflection of the incandescent bulbs, or might have been a call to action. She was still looking into that eye when she said, "A dog."

Steyn turned to her. "Pardon, Pharmacant de Kaant?"

"Just a thought." She smiled at the Moa.

"A ridiculous thought. I don't know why you brought it up."

"Because it would be phenomenal," she said.

Pharmacant Steyn shook his head. But she could tell that he was thinking about it.

"Since the discovery of the dodo in 1662, there has been a marked increase in the number of species known to science. True, some die out - the last okapi was seen in 1901 - but there are breeds that seem to appear from nowhere, such as the 1883 discovery of the quagga, now common in certain parts of the Bush; and, only a few decades ago, the American passenger pigeon. New species are met with scientific interest, of course, but nothing sparks popular imagination like the cryptids. Photos of species such as the mountain gorilla, the manatee, and the black rhinoceros have appeared in a number of publications. So far, all have proven to be hoaxes. The most elusive and unlikely of these is, of course, the dog. Every schoolchild has heard of it; but we know that dogs, like the fabled elephant, are to be found only in storybooks."

- from The Science of Cryptozoology, Ph. Mosegi Steyn, 1935

Pharmacant Steyn owned a black automobile; only the very poor or the very stubborn owned pterodactyl-drawn carriages anymore. Tale de Kaant owned neither, and was quite content.

She was out for a breather, between the grading of several essays as dry as the paper they were printed on, when she spotted Steyn's automobile. Its driver was several yards away, hunched over a small table at one of the French-style cafes, engaged in rather one-sided conversation with a man Tale did not recognize. Steyn's shoulders were drawn up towards his ears - he did not want to be seen.

Then he should not have sat in an open-air cafe, she thought smugly.

The temptation was too great. Whistling a rather jaunty version of N'Kosi Sikelel, she sauntered up to the two men and dipped her head toward the stranger. Then, as if in great surprise, she pretended to recognize the curator.

"Pharmacant Steyn!" she said. "Why, I hardly recognized you."

Steyn flinched away from her jovial greeting. "Ah, Miss de Kaant. What an unexpected pleasure. Allow me to introduce you to Dingani." He did not give the man's last name.

Dingani was shorter than Tale by at least a head - she could tell that even when he was sitting down - and his skin was much darker than Steyn's. Tale could see immediately that there was no Dutch blood in him, and she hesitated slightly before holding out her hand to him . . . as if, what? He might bite? She was not so far removed from the Bush as all that. She felt a little thrill of guilt, and looked him squarely in the face to banish it.

"I didn't mean to interrupt," she said, which was a complete lie.

Steyn looked as if he were ready to hurry her away, but Dingani kept hold of her hand a moment longer than was strictly polite. "I was just talking to your friend about dogs," he said. "I believe I know where to find one."

"Dogs?" she replied, shooting Steyn a sidelong glance. He did not meet her eye. "You might as well be talking about rabbits. Or do you and the Pharmacant share a love of children's stories?"

Dingani's mouth folded into a frown. "You do not believe in dogs, then, Miss de Kaant?"

"The Pharmacant is a woman of science," said Steyn. "She does not, of course, believe in rumor."

Tale drew up a third chair and sat down, her posture erect and her hands on the table. Dingani's gaze did not leave her face. "But you believe in what can be seen."

"I believe in what can be observed," said Tale, "which is not exactly the same thing."

"What you mean," said Dingani, "is that if I tell you I have seen a dog, you will not believe me until you have seen it, too."

Steyn scoffed. "Dogs! What nonsense!" He rubbed the palms of his hands against his trousers, as if to wipe away something that disgusted him.

Tale said, "What I can prove, I can believe."

Dingani smiled at her. His teeth were large and blunt and very white. "Then you should join us."

Steyn coughed.

"Join you?" Tale asked.

"The Pharmacant has hired me to take him on a little trip. I have seen something that interests him. Perhaps it would interest you as well."

"That was a private matter," hissed Steyn, his thin face knotting up with rage.

Dingani looked amused, but it was Tale who said, in her most reasonable voice, "More eyes find more proof, Pharmacant."

And even Mosegi Steyn could not argue with that.

"We will need to take a camera," grumbled Steyn. "And extra film. Can you be trusted to remember that?"

Tale had already packed two cameras and three spare rolls of film. She was also bringing a small hand-crank motion picture camera, but she had not told Steyn. He would only complain of the risk of the machine's being damaged, and of the tremendous expense.

"How did you happen across this Dingani fellow?" Tale asked.

"I heard rumors," snapped Steyn. "Bring iodine."

She had already packed emergency supplies. "Do you believe he has really seen . . . what he claims?" Tale could not quite bear to admit that Dingani might be a liar at worst, or a dreamer at best. "Could he really have seen - one?"

"Dogs are not real," said Steyn. But he was staring at the Moa when he said it, his face puckered with disdain. After a moment, he added, "Do not forget insect repellant."

It was in her bag, beside the rubbing alcohol and the miniature sewing kit. She stopped asking questions.

Dingani's boat was anchored in New London. Steyn's automobile could have gotten them there in about thirteen hours, but Dingani put his foot down. "It is a very fine car, Mr. Steyn," he said, "but pterodactyls are more efficient. The roads to the South are bad - better to fly overland than risk blowing a tire in the Bush."

"So old fashioned," mumbled Steyn, who took offense at any title that did not offer deference to his degrees. But Dingani did not answer him, and in the end Steyn suffered himself to be loaded into the pterodactyl-drawn carriage, along with a man he did not like, a woman he did not respect, and more luggage than the space was made to accommodate.

Tale did not sympathize in the slightest. For one thing, Steyn had gone through her carefully packed bags, taken everything out, sorted it, and repacked it so that the same things took up twice as much room. He had left the crank-camera off to the side, along with a heap of other things that Tale was sure would be useful. Even when she had everything back in its proper place, there were still two extra cases worth of Steyn's possessions which he had deemed necessary.

Refusing to so much as look at her colleague, Tale struck up a conversation with the only other person available.

"So, Mr. Dingani -"

"Just Dingani," he said. He leaned back into the plush seat facing hers and tilted his head to one side.

"Yes. Well. Have you made a study of dogs?"

Dingani shrugged. "From birth, we hear tales, Miss de Kaant. Stories told around a campfire. Legends. Almost nobody takes them seriously. Nobody aside from your esteemed friend."

Tale snorted very softly and shot Steyn a sidelong glare. Friend indeed!

Dingani's accent was very strange - very coarse and country, she had thought at first, but the longer she was near him the more she suspected that Afrikaans was not his first language, and that he had been raised on a Bush tongue. Rural people often believed strange things. It was not their fault, she told herself, they did not have good schools . . .

Dingani did not seem ignorant or poorly educated.

Outside, one of the dray-pterodactyl screamed, and the carriage lurched; the teetering pile of luggage slid toward Tale, crushing her against the wall. When the carriage righted, they had to shove the bags back into place.

"Do you have some background in biology?" asked Tale.

Dingani shook his head. Steyn coughed loudly into his fist.

"Then how can you be sure what you saw? That this trip is worth the trouble?"

Dingani pressed his face to the window and did not answer for a few moments. The silence stretched thin and began to fray. "You believe what you can observe," he said at last. "You are not the type to be convinced by words alone."

And oddly, that did more to convince her than anything else he might have said. Steyn, on the other hand, groaned, and settled back in his seat so that his eyes were on the roof. She would have liked to kick him, but a crate of formaldehyde-filled jars stood between them, and so she could not reach.

They arrived in New London shortly before midnight, cramped and short-tempered from the long flight. Steyn was in a fouler mood than anyone - as usual.

The pterodactyl-drawn carriage had been cramped, but Dingani's rented boat was even worse: it was cramped, it smelled strongly of fish, and it moved. The moment Tale set foot on board, her stomach began an uneasy heaving.

At first she insisted on helping stow their bags, but after a few minutes of stumbling back and forth - the deck was never quite where her feet expected it to be - she allowed Dingani to help her down the stairs into the cabin, where a small and rather grubby cot awaited. Under normal circumstances, Tale would have insisted on fresh sheets, or at least a clean blanket to lie on, but at the moment she would have gladly taken the upper deck, fish-gut stains and all.

Lying down offered minimal relief, and although she could close her eyes, she could not calm her stomach or stop her ears.

"Typical," Steyn was saying. His voice carried through the walls. "Just like a woman, to grow faint when there's work to be done." If I am sick, thought Tale, I will make sure to aim for his shoes.

"She'll be alright in a few hours," said Dingani. "She has never been on a boat before, that's all."

"Nor have I, but you don't hear me moaning about it!"

Dingani did not reply right away. At last he said, "No. I do not hear you moaning about that."

Even in her misery, Tale smiled at that.

Steyn spoke again, but Tale could not stand the sound of his voice another moment, and burrowed her head beneath the greying, cover-less pillow. The smell was ripe and unfamiliar, but the quiet was a relief.

At some point she must have slept, and when she woke the merciless roil of her innards was reduced to a mere sloshing in the lower regions. The pillow was no longer over her head; it now lay beside her, tucked tight against her body like a small affectionate animal. She felt a twinge of loss that made no sense to her at all, and tossed the pillow aside so that it flapped limply against the wall.

Her clothes were rumpled, but she did not know where to find her personal luggage - and after all, who was there to impress? Not Steyn, surely, who was never impressed by anything not born of his own brain, and Dingani did not strike her as the sort that would care.

Dingani was at the wheel, and Steyn had spread a huge quantity of their belongings out across the foredeck. "Where," he demanded upon seeing her, "have you put the damned binoculars? I know they were here."

Tale unearthed them momentarily, and Steyn glared at her. She smiled very sweetly back.

He shoved all their things back into the bags, not looking at what went where. "We have a dog to track, Miss de Kaant," he said. "This is serious work. I hope that you find yourself up to the task."

Steyn retreated, binoculars in hand, and Dingani gave a low whistle in his wake. "That man needs a wife," he said.

"I wouldn't wish him on any woman," Tale replied. "What he needs is a thrashing."

Dingani's lips quirked. "Do all Pharmacants get along as well as the two of you?"

Tale shook her head, standing over the mound of freshly trashed luggage. "Some of them respect each other."

The captain's laugh echoed around the little boat.

After a moment's weary contemplation, Tale decided to leave the bags as-is and let Steyn sort the mess out himself. "That's not entirely true," she said, circling around to where Dingani stood against the wheel. It was a bright day - hot, too, in spite of the sea breeze and the fine spray of mist that spumed up around the boat. The sun turned the water yellow-gold instead of blue, and where it struck the waves the sea became too bright to look on. "I respect his work. In print, anyway, he can make himself very easily understood. Most of us," she waved her hand vaguely in front of her to encompass Pharmacants as a species, "are too opaque. We spend so much time in our own heads that we forget how to interact with the real world."

Dingani's face wrinkled up with an expression Tale could not read. She found herself suddenly embarrassed, and did not quite understand why. "I love the work," she said. "He loves the work. We might butt heads, but we want the same things."

"He does not always remember that," suggested Dingani.

"Not always," she agreed. "He can be forgetful. He's also childish, jealous, petty, and rude."

"But a genius." There was a smile hiding in Dingani's words, and the corners of Tale's lips twitched upward in agreement.

"A genius? No. But a very savvy curator."

Some little distance away, a great bottle-green hump broke the surface; Tale steadied herself against the ship, recognizing the brindled back of a massive pliosaur. Dingani, however, glanced across at it with no great concern.

"They do not trouble the ships," he told her. "Not this time of year."

"I'm not afraid," she said.

Dingani's lips twitched. "You do not seem the type. May I tell you something, Miss . . . that is, Pharmacant de Kaant?"

"Of course." She stared at the circling pliosaur as if riveted. Please, do not let it be a confession of some romantic inclination! she prayed.

"I have not seen the dog."

She turned so fast she almost tumbled over the side. "Excuse me?"

"Not in the flesh. But I dreamed it." He laughed at her indignation. "Pharmacant, you are a very smart woman, but there are many kinds of knowing. Some of us . . . we know where to find new creatures, even before we have proof. Evidence, you would say. The thing I am going to show you, it looks just like the old stories. We will be the first to lay eyes on it. I promise you."

The undulating body of the pliosaur slid beneath the water as the creature dove. There were so many common, perfect creatures in the world to study. Why was she always chasing shadows?

Because something is alive to cast those shadows, she told herself. And she stood there for a long while, watching the ocean before her, but thinking of the dog.

"What will you do with it?" asked Dingani. "Once you have your evidence?"

Shoot it. Stuff it. Dust it on the weekends, thought Tale. What she said was, "Preserve it."

As the day went on, and the sky darkened with clouds, something like mist began to creep across the water. Little spits of rock rose up from that mist, like the back of the pliosaur - but Tale's mind snagged on fantasies, and every time she glimpsed one she thought, It is a whale, no matter how many islands they passed or how harshly she chided herself for her foolishness.

"There," said Dingani abruptly, pointing out across the water. "That's it."

The first drops of rain were falling, and Tale had to hold her hands above her eyes to see the shape that emerged from the coming storm. "It's very small," she observed, skeptical.

"This is one tip of the island," Dingani assured her. "It is large enough for one dog, I promise you." He was always promising things, this Bushman.

She did not hear Steyn come up behind them, but suddenly his hand was on Tale's shoulder, gripping it tight. "Our island," he breathed. "Can you imagine it, de Kaant? Such an ordinary place, and yet . . ." He seemed overcome with emotion, and did not go on.

She was almost fond of him in that moment; his expression was so much like hers must be, full of wonder and hope and the fear of disappointment.

Dingani held out one huge hand and let rainwater pool in the dark creases of his palm. "I hope you have brought something, Pharmacants, to keep the rain off," he said.

Tale had.

The third poncho was much too small for Steyn, although Tale's fit her perfectly and Dingani's was baggy on his skinny frame. Much of their luggage - most of it, really - would have to stay on the boat, but Tale snuck the motion-picture camera into her suitcase at the expense of a dry outfit.

They slid through wet sand, dragging tents and tarps and traps behind them. "We should sleep on the boat," suggested Steyn.

"All of us?" asked Tale.

Steyn had seen the size of the cabin. He pursed his lips.

"There will be no dogs on the boat," said Dingani.

"We cannot be sure," grumbled Steyn, who had abandoned his earlier optimism, "that there will be dogs on the island, either."

For the first time, Dingani looked truly angry. Tale stepped between them. "Steyn might deserve a thrashing," she whispered, "but not here, and not now."

Except for the beach, there was no flat place on the island, so they were forced to camp in wet sand; the tent pegs sunk deep but did not stay. While Tale and Dingani struggled with the canopy that would protect their gear, Steyn applied himself to his personal tent. Tale could not suppress a grim smile when it collapsed on him the moment he crawled inside.

The light was gone, and they were all three soaked to the bone. They did not say good night. Tale did not even bother with food. She was exhausted, and the moment she had set foot on land her stomach had begun to complain almost as much as it had in her first moments on the boat.

This life is hell, she thought grimly, bundled into her wet sleeping bag. Nothing is worth it.

She woke at midnight. The rain had stopped. Something on the far side of the island was screaming.

No. Not screaming. Barking.

In the old stories, Dog is the trickster who stole stories from Sky God and Earth Mother. She invented fire. She tricked Tyrannosaur out of his treats, she invented song, she taught humans how to sleep so that they would not always be working.

In the old stories, Dog was Man's best friend.

- from Bush Beasts in Folklore and Legend, Ph. Mosegi Steyn, 1924

Tale stumbled out of her tent, tugging on her poncho. The night was clear, and the sky was full of stars like silver coins, with a fat white-beetle moon just waning from the full. "Mosegi! Mosegi!" she cried, "can you hear it?"

But only Dingani met her on the beach; Steyn's tent was empty, the bedroll still warm.

"He's gone," she said, though it was obvious. "He left without me."

In the face of her fury, Dingani only shrugged. "He loves the work," he said.

The barking got louder - it was a sound she knew, a sound she'd dreamed. Dogs always sounded like that, in the old stories, in eyewitness accounts, a buff-chuff like a gunshot, with a high whine laced beneath it.

Tale snatched the camera up from beside her bedroll, and began an ungainly sprint up the slope, a shrub-pocked scree that shifted damply beneath her feet. The wind off the water was unseasonably cold, saltier now that the rain was over, and it dulled all other sounds in her ears: Dingani's steps behind her, the roll of the surf, and bark of the dog across the island.

It must be a dog. It had to be. She knew it even before seeing it, the same way she knew that her heart was still beating.

But still, she had to see.

She slipped on the scree, and when she stood she felt blood run down her calf to pool warmly in her sock. The salt and iron smell of blood mixed with sea salt pricked at her nose. "Slow down," called Dingani, but she would not. Instead she began to crank the camera furiously, even though it was only capturing images of her boots as she ran.

Tale did not stop until she crested the hill, until she could see across the island to the other ridge. Not until she could see . . .

At once she raised the camera to her eye, hoping the film could make out what her eyes saw even in the dim light.

The dog was big - bigger than she'd expected, somehow. The reports described them in so many ways: bulky, petite, short-haired, long-haired; big as a quagga, small as a newborn pygmy wolf; black or white or brown or even gold.

This one was brown and red, streaked with black along its back half, with lean graceful limbs and a sturdy body, and an expressive sliver of tail like a crescent moon. It seemed to smile at her, to say, "Yes! Tale, I'm real!"

She took one step toward it, and the dog took a step too, as if they were magnets being drawn toward each other by every natural law. It was irrational, and yet, she loved that dog already, that foreign creature who could almost not be real.

And then: a sound like a faulty automobile engine, or the dog's bark, and the firm body toppled and curled in on itself. Halfway down the slope, a shadow that was Mosegi Steyn came into focus, and the moonlight glinted off the gun in his hand.

It was as though her arm had taken on a life of its own, and could not stop cranking.

"It's not dead," said Steyn, almost angry, when Tale reached him. He was bent over the dog, who was whining like a baby.

"My supplies are back at camp," Steyn continued. "We'll have to carry it."

He seemed reluctant to touch the beast he'd shot, so Tale shoved the camera into his hands and lifted the dog in her arms. She held it close, petting its head. She could feel the shape of its skull beneath her fingers; a strong skull, a strong body, losing strength.

In silence they slid back toward the beach. Dingani waited on the hilltop, his face tight, the skin around his eyes an angry red. He met Tale's gaze, but he would not look at what she carried.

Beneath their canopy, she sat down and held the panting creature in her lap, a slumping brown-and-black-and-red body. It could barely move.

Steyn, meanwhile, hauled out his traveling taxidermy kit. Tale thought of the Moa, mouldering away in its glass cage. She pet the dog's short, thick fur, and it whimpered. Her wandering fingers found a strange lump on its belly, and she prodded gently at it in the darkness.

"Is it dead yet?" Steyn asked. He sounded shy, almost apologetic. "It's in pain."

"She's not a dog," Tale breathed.

"What?" demanded Steyn, abandoning his work station. "No, look at it. The jaw, the eyes, the . . . the tail, that's what all the reports describe . . ." Even Dingani shuffled closer, though he still did not speak.

Tale's fingers, however, were now tucked into the soft fold of skin on the creature's belly. "She's a marsupial. She has a pouch." Her voice came out clear and cold, as if she were addressing a class whose term papers had not impressed her. "Every description of dogs - if there even is such a creature, places them in the family of canids."

Whether Steyn flinched away from her arctic tone or her blunt disdain, she did not know.

"Canids," she added, "do not have pouches."

The creature lay curled against her, like a child - she could tell from the size of the paws that it was not full grown. Gently, kindly, Tale ran her fingers along its muzzle, and it opened its jaws in response, much wider than she would have thought possible. One black eye winked dimly up at her.

She could picture it, propped up stiffly behind glass, with realistic bead-black eyes and a polished hardwood nose. Plaster shrubs and papier-mâché boulders would imitate the creature's natural environment - almost as if she were alive.

"Get me a needle," Tale said. "And thread."

"What -" began Steyn.

"Pharmacant," hissed Tale, "you will have your paper. You may have my film of this animal, whatever it is. You may take notes on its behavior, if it survives. But if she dies now, you have my word, Steyn, that I will stuff you too and make you part of the display. So I think you had better get me a needle, and you had better do it now."

Steyn jumped to obey her.

Although we were unable to produce material evidence of the creature's existence aside from a few scats gathered in the immediate vicinity, the length of the film clip and clarity of the picture should be sufficient to assure even the most devout skeptic that this is no hoax. To the critic I say: see with your own eyes. To the believer I say also: see with your own eyes. There is no other way to assure yourself of what I have been, at last, fortunate enough to witness. A creature of myth, a phantom from our collective childhood, indeed walks the surface of our fortunate planet. This is no mere velociraptor, no common dodo. This, friends and colleagues and staunch unbelievers, is legend come to life.

- from Letter on the Discovery of the Dog, Ph. Mosegi Steyn, 1936

Within three weeks of their return to Transvaal, Steyn published his paper, complete with photographs. "It will have only my name on it," he told her. "You owe me this."

Tale didn't argue.

One wall of the Transvaal Museum was cleared, and the film of the creature that was not a dog was projected upon it, endlessly. The Moa was shifted to a less prominent case, although in the end Steyn could not quite bear to throw it away.

Pharmacants came by the dozen to view the evidence. They demanded that the dog be produced, demanded hair samples and skin samples and shavings of its teeth.

"Alas," said Tale gravely, "the specimen could not be retrieved, to my great regret." The film stopped short - it ended abruptly, seconds before the gunshot.

The Pharmacants muttered; they watched the film closely and took copious notes; they shook Steyn's hand and bowed to Tale, and went away.

At night, when the museum was locked up safely, and all her lecture notes were organized, and all her papers graded, Tale de Kaant walked home to her empty two-room apartment, the same as she had always done; but now on the weekends she took a dray-pterodactyl coach into the Bush to a lean clay-dusted house. Dingani lived within, and the not-dog lived without, like shadows of each other, converging only when Tale arrived.

Each time she saw Tale the not-dog drew closer, regarding her with curious black eyes, edging nearer and nearer but unwilling to close the gap between them. The scar from the bullet wound was healing over; soon the ugly stitches could be removed.

Dingani had taken to calling the creature Thylacine. Tale called her Hondi.

"She loves you," claimed Dingani.

She forgives me, thought Tale, and sat still while Hondi wavered between curiosity and caution.

The expression Dingani wore when Tale visited was a mirror of Hondi's. Perhaps he too was learning to forgive her.

"Why did you give her such a silly name?" asked Tale.

Dingani, who was wrestling Hondi in the yard, grunted - the creature was always at ease with him. "You would not believe me."

Tale sat back on the spindly porch chair and sipped her coffee.

"I have no evidence for it."

She did not speak.

At last, Dingani rose to his feet; Hondi grumbled at his knees. "The more time I spend with her, the more I believe that was what they were called, in the other world."

"The other world." Tale put her coffee aside.

Dingani sat down in the chair next to hers. Hondi slid up at once to take her place between them, her body leaning toward Dingani, her eyes on Tale.

"Somewhere," said Dingani, "somewhere, there is a world full of things like dogs, and elephants, and . . . sometimes, things like Hondi. And sometimes creatures die. Species go extinct. That's when we find them here."

"Hm," said Tale, who did not believe in alternate worlds, only the natural world in front of her. The silence lingered between them until she felt the need to fill it up with words, and questions always came most naturally to her. "And what happens when things go extinct here?"

Dingani shook his head. He did not answer. After an even longer silence, Hondi licked him with her wide pink tongue until he smiled again.

Tale got up to boil another pot of coffee - but she was just reaching for the doorknob when another question came to her. "Are there people in your other world, Dingani?"

He was patting Hondi's head; her eyes squeezed with pleasure, and she yawned hugely, her jaws spread almost impossibly wide. "There are people everywhere."

"They don't go extinct?"

Hondi laid her head on Dingani's lap and snuffled sleepily, and Tale felt a pinprick of jealousy.

"Everything dies," said Dingani. "But lost things know many ways of being found."

That was his Bush-dreamer's nonsense, of course, along with the rest of it. Dogs, elephants, earwigs, squid, mosquitoes, gemsbuck, starlings, all together alongside their otherworldly human counterparts - it was a fantasy story for dreamers and unschooled Bushmen and children still young enough to believe in folktales. Tale set the coffee on to boil and wondered if it was possible for a woman of science to love a man foolish enough to believe in such a place.


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