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From the pages of The History of Soul 2065 • Mythic Delirium Books

From the pages of The History of Soul 2065


Cover art and design by Paula Arwen Owen

Cover art and design by Paula Arwen Owen


An Awfully Big Adventure


Barbara Krasnoff



“Is there going to be a war?”

Ben was seated crossed-legged on the living room rug, staring into the gray glowing universe of the TV screen, made even brighter because the lights were turned down. Behind him, his mother and father sat on the couch. They were very quiet.

The man on the screen was President Kennedy—Ben knew that for sure. The President stared slightly to the right of the TV screen and spoke for a long time about a lot of things that Ben didn’t understand. The word “missile” was mentioned several times; Ben knew what missiles were. And the word “nuclear” was there as well, and that was also a dangerous word.

The President wasn’t smiling, as he sometimes did when Ben saw him on television. But what was even scarier was the silence in the living room—his parents weren’t arguing about what the President was saying, or talking back to the screen, like they always did. So despite the flood of unfamiliar words, Ben understood that something very bad was about to happen.

“Papa, is there going to be a war?” he asked again, needing reassurance. Ben was quite ready to keep asking—he knew how to be persistent with his questions. But he didn’t have to wait long.

“I don’t know,” his father said. “Now be quiet, Ben. Mama and Papa need to hear this.”

And with those words, the bottom dropped out of Ben’s world. A simple fact of his life had been that his father knew everything, could explain everything, and could make everything better.

But not this.

* * *

That night, Ben dreamed.

He was walking in the playground that was next to his apartment house. It was usually filled with kids playing and mothers talking together (and yelling at the kids), but for some reason there was nobody there; it was deserted. He was alone. A siren screamed; a siren like the ones that were sometimes tested in his neighborhood.

And suddenly he wasn’t alone anymore; the playground and the street were filled with people, but they weren’t playing and chatting and arguing; instead, they were crying and moaning. Some were lying still, as though they had decided to go to sleep on the pavement; some were twitching and making low, unhappy sounds. There was snow falling from the sky, even though it wasn’t cold at all, and it covered the crying people.

A woman ran up to Ben and then stopped, as though she was disappointed. “Have you seen my little girl?” she asked. “Have you seen Susan?” But she didn’t wait for an answer and ran on.

It was very scary. Ben looked around, and then suddenly, right in front of their apartment house, he saw his father. He was facing away from Ben, but Ben knew, with the assurance that came in dreams, that it was him. He ran over, calling as loud as he could, “Papa! Papa, I’m scared!”

His Papa turned around, but instead of picking Ben up and comforting him, as he usually did, he just stared at him. And suddenly Ben realized that his Papa’s clothes were torn and bloody. He looked at Ben with wide, blank eyes, as though he had gone somewhere inside himself and didn’t know his own son. It was as if he were turning into a monster. The one that had scared Ben so much on TV.

“Papa!” he called, and put out his arms. But his father still didn’t recognize him. And then the skin started to peel off his face like the skin of a banana.

Ben screamed and woke up.

He climbed out of bed and ran into the living room. His father was still watching the TV, smoking a cigarette, his long legs stretched out in front of him. His mother was sitting at the kitchen table, looking at a newspaper.

Ben jumped into his father’s lap, wrapped his arms around his chest and breathed in the familiar smoky scent. “Ben, what’s wrong?” his father asked. He put out his cigarette in a nearby ashtray and settled Ben more firmly on his lap. “Did you have a nightmare?”

Ben nodded, still seeing the vision of his father with cold, uncaring eyes and peeling cheeks, still needing reassurance that it was unreal, that it didn’t, couldn’t happen.

“What did you dream?” his father asked.

“There was a war,” Ben said, suddenly realizing that this was what had been happening, why all the people had been so sad and frightened. “There was a war, and you turned into a Frankenstein monster.”

“I knew that we shouldn’t have let him watch the speech,” his mother said nervously. She stood, walked over, took the cigarette from Ben’s father and took a long pull on it, which was funny, because she hardly ever smoked. “I said so, Willy. A child his age shouldn’t have to think about such things.”

His father was silent for a moment as his mother sat down on the couch next to them.

“Now, listen to me, Ben,” he finally said. His tone was serious, so Ben sat a little straighter and paid attention. “You know that sometimes grown-ups have disagreements, right? And sometimes those disagreements are serious.”

“Like you and Uncle Harry?” asked Ben. He remembered when his father and Uncle Harry had yelled at each other about Communists and blacklists and other things until his mother pulled him out of the room. Soon after that, Uncle Harry went home, and he hadn’t seen him since, although Aunt Isabeau, who was married to Uncle Harry and was Papa’s sister, still came to visit sometimes.

“Yes, like that,” his father said. “Well, sometimes countries have disagreements, too. And sometimes, when they can’t resolve those disagreements, they start a war.”

“Like the one you fought in,” Ben said. He had once found, in the bottom drawer of his father’s bureau, a medal in a box and a photo of a thin young woman with very short hair and wearing clothes too big for her who looked a little like his mother—and a little not. But Ben had never told either of his parents that he’d found the box and the picture. Somehow, he knew they wouldn’t like it.

“Yes, like the one I fought in. Well, our country is having a disagreement with another country, and there’s the possibility that it may lead to another war. But whatever happens, you know that your mother and I will always take care of you, and keep you safe.”

Ben nodded.

“Now, do you have any questions?”

Ben thought a moment, and then said, “Can I see the magic numbers?”

His mama and papa looked at each other for a moment. Then his mama reached over and pulled him over to her lap. “Will that make you feel better?” she asked.

He nodded.

She smiled slightly and said. “Very well. I think this is a good time for the magic numbers.”

She reached around him and pushed up the sleeve on her left arm, and then turned her forearm up in front of his face so he could see the writing, light blue against the pale brown of her skin. He reached out with his forefinger and touched each, one right after the other, reciting the one letter and each number to himself in a soft whisper as his finger moved from left to right: A15384. He did it as slowly as he could, to make sure the magic would work and the moment last as long as possible.

“Better?” asked his mama as he touched the final number. He looked up at her and smiled.

“Good,” she said. “Now, you go back to bed. And don’t worry—the magic numbers will protect you.”

She lifted him down from her lap and gently kissed his forehead. “Good night, Benjamin.”

“Good night, Mama. Good night, Papa.”

“Good night,” his papa said.

Ben walked out of the living room and into the hallway that connected it with the bedroom. He paused then, listening.

“We should take a vacation, Willy,” said his mama. “Tomorrow. We could take money out of the bank and go somewhere. Somewhere in the center of the country, away from the cities. Find a motel and wait there until—well, until we find out what happens.”

The couch creaked. “Where would we go, Gretl?” his papa asked. “Cities all over the United States are targeted.”

Ben’s mama spoke in a fierce whisper. “At least we should send the boy away. Somewhere he’ll be safe. There must be someplace. We need to make sure he gets away in time; we cannot wait until it is too late, the way my parents did…” She began to cry quietly.

Ben peeked around the corner. His papa’s arm was around his mama’s shoulders. “If there’s another war,” he said, “there won’t be anywhere that’s safe. And this time it will be everybody who is in danger.”

Ben turned and went back to his room, closed the door very quietly, scrambled onto his bed, stood on his pillow, and pushed aside the curtains of the window that was just behind the head of his bed.

Their apartment was three stories up. Ben loved looking down at the street after bedtime—at night, the gently glowing street lamps made it look foreign and magical. Ben would usually watch the people pass by and make up stories about who they were and where they were going. But now, all he wanted was reassurance that the street was still there, just the way it had always been: the shuttered stores, the bump in the middle of the street that made the trucks bounce loudly, the pigeons pulling pieces of uneaten bagels out of the trash cans and the deli on the corner with the neon Coca-Cola sign that was never turned off.

It was all still there. And, he reminded himself, he had touched and recited the magic numbers. They would keep him, and his family, safe.

“Can we make a deal?”

Ben turned, and stared.

There was something wrong. While the lights from outside still illuminated the walls, there was smoke in his room, so thick and dark that he couldn’t see his nightlight where it was always on, next to the door. Ben’s mama had been in a fire once, and she told him how she had run out of the house and closed the door so that the fire wouldn’t spread. Ben wondered if there was a fire in his room and if he should run out and close the door. But that would mean running through the smoke which was now thick and rolling and reaching up to the ceiling.

“What do you want? Can we make a deal?”

The voice came from the center of the smoke. This couldn’t be any normal fire—fires, as far as Ben knew, didn’t talk—and so he stood on his bed and said loudly (because he wasn’t sure how well smoke could hear), “My name is Ben! Who are you?”

There was a moment of silence. Then suddenly, like water going down a drain, the smoke swirled down and away, until none of it was left. Instead, a woman stood in the middle of Ben’s room, among his trains and books and sneakers.

Ben squinted at her suspiciously. She was obviously a grown-up, but she wasn’t dressed like his mama, or any of her friends, or even any of the ladies he had seen on TV shows. Instead, she was dressed in a white tuxedo (Ben knew it was called a tuxedo because he had seen a man wear one on TV), red high heels, and very bright red lipstick. Her hair was black and long and covered one eye.

“You really are a baby, aren’t you?” she said. “Or is this just a clever disguise?”

“I’m not a baby. I’ll be six in 11 weeks and three days,” said Ben, hurt.

“I see.” The woman smiled widely, as though she were enjoying some private joke. She put one hand on her hip and another at the back of her head, and posed like the fashion models that Ben saw in his mama’s magazines.

“Do you like the outfit?” the woman asked, as though she were continuing an everyday conversation. “It’s a Marlene Dietrich look, with a touch of Veronica Lake. Except for the hair color, of course. What do you think?”

“I don’t know who they are,” said Ben, honestly. “But I think your clothes are pretty. How can you see if your hair is in your eyes?”

“It is inconvenient,” said the woman. She put her hand in the air and pulled out a bright, silvery band, which she used to fasten her hair back in a ponytail.

Ben sat down on his bed, his legs folded in front of him, and considered the situation. His mother had read to him from books in which ordinary children had magical adventures, books like Peter Pan, Half Magic, and Mary Poppins. Ben had secretly hoped—even expected—something of the sort would happen to him, so he was prepared. He knew, for example, that magical beings could be very tricky to deal with. You had to be polite.

“How do you do?” Ben said. “Are you a fairy?”

The woman finished fussing with her hair, stared at him for a moment, and then snorted disdainfully through her nose. “Not even close, baby doll.”

She extended one leg and seemed to be examining one of the red shoes critically. It turned black.

“My name is Ben,” he repeated, and waited for her to introduce herself. But the women didn’t reply; she just rotated her foot for a moment and then shook her head. The shoe turned red again.

Ben wasn’t going to give up. “Are you hungry? Do you want some tea and cookies?” That was what his friend Marjorie always served her dolls, so he thought that might be safe.

The woman sighed. “Either I’ve made a very bad mistake, or you are playing some kind of weird game with me. My name is Azazel. Do you know me?”

Ben thought for a moment, then shook his head. “Is Azazel your whole name?”

The woman grinned, rather nastily, Ben thought. “It’s enough for me. Is Ben your whole name?”

“No,” he said, rather proudly. “I’ve got two names. My American name is Benjamin Solomon Weissbaum. My Hebrew name is Binyamin Sholem ben Ze’ev.”

But the woman didn’t seem very interested. She raised her arms and stretched; and then put her hands in her pockets and just stood there, staring off at something in the distance. Ben turned around to see where she was looking, but all he could see was the night sky outside his window.

“What are you looking at?” he finally asked.

The woman smiled. “The ending of a civilization.”

She turned slightly and looked at him. “Does that frighten you?” Ben didn’t know what to say, so he just continued to look at her.

Azazel smiled slightly, reached into her pocket and brought out a cigarette and a lighter. She put the cigarette in a long silver holder, placed it in her mouth and lit it with the kind of knowing flair that Ben had seen and admired in old movies. “Ben, you seem like a nice boy,” she said, and blew out some smoke. “So I’ll tell you why I’m here. I was curious about your dream. Do you remember your dream?”

He nodded. “It was awful.”

“It was not really a dream,” Azazel said, balancing the cigarette holder between two fingers and watching the smoke curl toward the ceiling. “It was—let’s call it a window on a possible reality. I came here to find out why you opened that window. I thought I’d find an interfering old mage who was going to meddle with my plans. Not a small boy who hasn’t the least idea of what real power is.”

“What plans?” Ben asked. He didn’t completely understand what she was saying, but he knew that it was important that he find out. This Azazel reminded him of Eliot, the boy down the block who always threatened to beat Ben up when nobody else was around, and Ben had already learned that it was better to find out what a bully was up to ahead of time so you could stay out of his way, if at all possible.

“Well.” Azazel grinned at him and leaned against his dresser. “They’re not actually my plans. They are the plans of two of your leaders—human leaders—who are about to begin yet another war. A very short war, I might add.”

She took another pull on the cigarette and blew two perfect smoke rings.

“Why will there be a war?” Ben asked. “And if you know about it, why don’t you tell somebody who can stop it?”

Azazel laughed. “You stupid boy,” she said, and somehow, even though she didn’t grow any taller, she seemed larger and not a little menacing. “Because I’m bored out of my mind. Because my lover and I were exiled to your miserable little planet centuries ago, and we’ve had enough of it. If you manage to kill yourselves all off—and the chances are very good right now, as good as they’ve ever been—then perhaps, if you’re all gone, we can leave this wretched place. At the very least, we’ll have it to ourselves.”

Ben reached over to his pillow and picked up the stuffed panda that his mother had given him when he was little. He was getting a bit too old for stuffed animals, but right now, he felt in need of it. “That’s mean,” he murmured. Azazel grinned.

“You’re barely out of the shell. How could you possibly understand? Humans have been killing themselves for thousands of years, and lately, they’ve gotten a lot better at it. Haven’t you learned anything from your mother’s experience?”

“My mama?” Ben asked, puzzled.

The woman laughed. “She hasn’t told you, has she? Probably thought it would warp your tender little brain. Well, ask her sometime about how she survived her adolescence. If you ever get old enough to understand.”

He had been completely wrong. The woman in the tuxedo wasn’t a crotchety-but-wonderful magical person, like Mary Poppins. She was a bad person, like the witch in Sleeping Beauty. Ben glared at her. “Maybe you’re wrong!” he said. “Maybe there won’t be a war! The President will stop it and you’ll have to go away!”

The woman didn’t seem at all fazed by his anger. “There are some very powerful humans who want this war,” she said calmly. “They think they can conquer their enemy with only an acceptable number—what an interesting phrase that is!—of casualties on their side. They don’t have the imagination to conceive of what they will start. All it will take will be a small push and your dream will be a reality.”

She stretched her arms lazily over her head and smiled at him. It was a terrible smile. “It’s been interesting talking to you, Binyamin Sholem ben Ze’ev. You appear to be a rather bright little boy, after all. However, it’s time to nudge reality to where I want it. And you know,” the smiled broadened, “I’m going to start right here. And I’ll let you watch. Isn’t that nice of me?”

She didn’t move, but Ben could see a grayness floating around her, like a dark impenetrable fog, that was slowly obscuring his rocking chair and his books. It curled and thickened, filling his room and moving upwards and outwards, toward his windows. It was the same black smoke that he had seen when Azazel had first appeared, but it looked nastier and more dangerous. And it wasn’t stopping. He looked around for a weapon, something that might halt its progress, something like a sword or a gun, but there was nothing there.

Closer. Darker. Larger. Blocking out everything around it. Wisps of the darkness expanded toward him, and Ben backed away, his bed soft under his feet, clutching his panda. His back hit the wall, and there was no place else to go.

And then Ben suddenly remembered that he did have a weapon.

His mother’s magic number.

He stared at the tendrils of darkness reaching for him and whispered, “A15384.”

The darkness seemed to pause, just a little. He took a breath and said it again, louder, more firmly, “A15384.”

And then louder, in a wild shout, “A15384!”

“Hello, Benjamin. How nice to see you.”

The darkness had stopped, as though contained by invisible glass. Stranger still, the walls of his room were gone. Instead, all around him, there were people—men, women and children. Some were dressed up in suits and ties and fancy-looking dresses, others in badly-fitting old clothes, and a few in ugly striped suits and wooden shoes.

The one who had spoken was a tall, elegant lady wearing a white blouse with long sleeves and frills at the neck that came right up to her chin, and a dark skirt that went right down to her ankles. She wore a funny-looking pair of glasses that didn’t have any earpieces; instead, they just sort of balanced on her nose. They had a small chain that led to a large brooch pinned to her blouse; Ben longed to see her take off the glasses so he could watch them dangle.

Azazel looked surprised and rather annoyed. She tossed her head back and regarded the tall woman contemptuously. “How dare you interrupt?”

The woman ignored her. She walked through where the wall was supposed to be and sat on Ben’s bed. “Hello, Benjamin,” she repeated calmly. “I am your Grandmama Sophia—your papa’s mama.”

She examined him through her funny glasses and smiled. “My, what a good-looking little boy you are! Every inch your grandfather. Except for your eyes—those must come from your mother’s side of the family.”

Ben decided that he liked her, especially because she appeared to be on his side. He pointed shakily at Azazel. “She said she was going to make a war and kill everybody!” he said.

The crowd murmured, and a thin man just behind Ben whispered something that made Azazel snarl. Ben’s Grandmama Sophia turned her head. “Motl Fedke, not in front of the child!” she said sharply. The man shrugged, but said nothing more.

“Come sit by me, Benjamin,” she continued. Ben stepped across the bed and sat next to her; she put an arm around his shoulders, but so lightly that he didn’t feel it.

“I didn’t know I had a Grandmama Sophia,” he said.

“You have many relatives you don’t know about, child,” said the woman, rather sadly. “When you get a little older, ask your papa and mama about their families. Maybe by then, they’ll be able to tell you.”

“If they are still alive,” Azazel sneered. The crowd murmured again, a little louder; a little girl wearing a funny long dress called, “You be quiet!” in a clear, high voice.

Grandmama Sophia stared at Azazel with an intensity that reminded Ben a little like how the President looked on the TV: serious and sad at the same time.

“You have no reason to push humanity into its own destruction,” said Grandmama Sophia quietly. “Millions of people have died in the first half of this century; millions will die in the second. That’s enough for the Angel of Death; why isn’t it enough for you? You and your partner Shemhazhai are already disgraced in the eyes of heaven; why make things worse?”

Azazel raised her hands. “You know why. We are tired of exile; we want the world for ourselves.”

“But why this boy?”

Ben tugged on his Grandmama’s sleeve to get her attention; it was a strange sensation, as though he were pulling on woven ice. She bent her face down to him. “Yes, darling?” she asked.

“It’s because of what happened in my dream,” he told her. “There were all these people, and I thought they were asleep, but they were dead.”

“The boy dreamed,” Azazel said. “In that dream, he envisioned a possible future reality. There was power in that vision and I thought he could endanger our plans, were he strong enough and determined enough. But it turns out he is a mere human child.”

Azazel laughed. Grandmama Sophia shook her head, took the glasses from her nose and let them drop; the thin chain they were attached to snapped into the brooch pinned to her blouse in a very satisfactory manner. She looked at Ben affectionately.

“First, let me explain exactly who Azazel is,” she said. “She is nobody important, although she likes to believe she is. She is simply a minor angel who got into trouble a long time ago and has been making mischief ever since.”

Ben stared at his Grandmama’s face. She wasn’t as pretty as Azazel—she was older, and her nose was a bit crooked, and there was a mole just above her left eyebrow. “And all these,” he asked, pointing at the people gathered behind her. “Are they angels, too?”

“Definitely not,” said a man, who stepped out of the crowd. He had short gray hair and a short beard, and was wearing a blue suit and dark red tie. He came over and sat on the other side of Ben, a rather strange expression on his face.

Ben looked at the man. “Are you also a relative?”

“Well, yes and no,” said the man. “I’m just…” He paused and smiled, a bit sadly, Ben thought. “My name is Carlos. I’m a really good friend. From when—from when you’re grown up.”

The idea of Ben being grown up was interesting, and Ben wanted to ask the man more, but there were important things that had to be dealt with first.

“Azazel says my dream is going to come true,” he said. “She tried to make everything dark. Can she do that?”

“I’m afraid she can,” Grandmama Sophia said.

“Can’t you stop her?” he asked.

She shook her head and exchanged glances with Carlos. “She knows there is little that I or the rest of us can do,” she said. “Because we are no longer of this world—or not yet of this time—we have no power to affect events.”

“That’s right,” Azazel grinned, fluffing her hair with one hand. “I don’t have to listen to you or this crowd of has-beens and never-bes that you’ve got behind you. Shemhazhai and I have decided we’ve had it with watching humanity bumble along, making trouble for themselves and for us.”

She laughed again. “Let them destroy themselves,” she jeered. The darkness around began to swirl once again.

“I want her to stop!” Ben said, his lip trembling.

“Then make her stop,” said his Grandmama Sophia. She looked up at Azazel. “This boy does have power,” she said firmly. “Undisciplined and unconscious, but with a child’s complete belief. And I, and all those who lived before him and will live after him, and those who died before him and will die after him, we all stand with him.”

Azazel stared at Ben. “Yes,” she said after a moment. “The power is there. But there is a price.”

She walked over to Ben, wisps of black fog trailing behind her, and knelt so that her face was close to his. “Ben, darling,” she said in a falsely sweet tone that made Ben shrink back, “has your dear Grandmama Sophia told you that using power has a cost? That the more power you use, the more days of your life will be pulled away, bit by bit, year by year?”

She turned her head and stared coldly at Carlos. “You know. Tell him!”

The man bit his lip, and looked down at Ben.

“Don’t pay attention to her,” said Ben’s Grandmama sharply. “She’s playing her usual games.” She reached over Ben’s head and touched Carlos’ cheek gently. “Think. If this is not done, if there is a war, will he live any longer? Will he live any happier? And you and he will lose your time together. Would that be better for Benjamin?”

“Grandmama?” Ben asked uncertainly, not sure what they were talking about. Carlos nodded, put his hands on Ben’s shoulders, and turned the boy slightly so that they faced each other.

“You are such a very good boy,” he said. “And you will be a good man. Yes, what she says is right—if you stop Azazel from doing this bad thing, you may need to pay for it someday. But that won’t be for a long time yet, not until you’re grown up. For now, you do what you think is right, and everything will be fine.”

He smiled at Ben. It was a nice smile, much nicer than Azazel’s, and Ben smiled back. “Okay,” he said.

Ben looked back at Azazel, who stood up and stared down at him. He climbed back to his feet, so that, standing on the bed, he was almost eye-level with her. He reached down and took the hands of Carlos and his Grandmama Sophia. Their hands were cool but comforting.

“You’re a bully,” he said to Azazel. “You want to hurt a lot of people just because you can.”

“Remember your dream?” asked his Grandmama Sophia. “Remember all the people who were hurt and crying? This is what she wants. This is what will happen if she gets her way.”

“My Daddy was hurt. I wanted him to pick me up, but he didn’t see me,” said Ben. His breath started to come faster; tears began to gather in his eyes.

Azazel back away and opened her arms wide. The darkness began to grow again; the tendrils of fog twisting and turning and reaching. Azazel’s fingers worked, molding the oncoming darkness into something palpable and infinitely threatening.

“Look at him,” she jeered. “Look at the great, powerful child. Sniveling and terrified.”

“I’m not scared,” Ben told her, his voice rising. “I’m mad.”

And he was. Something was happening in Ben’s head, something that was starting to hurt, but strangely enough, in a good way.

He took great gulps of air, watching as Azazel began to laugh, her eyes closed, her arms out to the heavens. Clouds around her blotted out his toys, the pictures on his walls, and rolled to the ceiling, toward his windows and to the door of his room. Beyond that door, Ben knew, was his apartment, and his mama and papa.

“Stop that!” Ben shouted furiously. He scrambled off the bed onto the floor. “You’re mean!” he yelled. “You want to hurt people! I hate you!” His whole body felt hot and cold at the same time. “I hate you!” he said again, pointing to the angel.

Carlos and his Grandmama stood up as well. “Now you’ve gotten him angry,” Carlos said, a new note in his voice. “That was a mistake. He can be a real pain in the butt when he’s angry.”

For a moment, Azazel was absolutely still. Something stirred in her eyes, and she flickered like the TV picture did when there was a storm. The woman in red shoes and wavy hair and shiny dress shifted and moved, becoming something large and bright and hard to look at.

“Don’t stop,” said Carlos. “Be mad. Be really mad.”

“But what should I do?” Ben asked tearfully. “She’s making all that smoke, and she’s going to hurt my mama and papa. And everybody else! What should I do?”

“What do you do when you get really, really mad?” Carlos asked him. “What did you do when Eliot pushed you off the swing and made you skin your knee? You told me all about it. Did you just stand there and cry?”

“I yelled,” Ben said.

“You yelled really, really loud.”

Ben took a deep breath. “Stop!” he shrieked. “You stop! You’re mean and I hate you, and they hate you, and we all hate you!”

Azazel stopped looking amused. Small flames licked her skin while the darkness seethed and rolled around her. “Idiots!” she cried out. “You who are dead and who shall soon be dead, do you think to challenge us and win?”

Ben stared at the huge, dark, awful thing that threatened his parents and his world.

“It is up to you, child,” said his Grandmama. “We’re all here. We’re your family. We won’t leave you. Ever.”

Carlos leaned over, and lightly kissed Ben’s forehead. “I love you,” he said. “Whatever happens, I always will. Now go ahead—yell the house down.” He smiled.

Ben smiled back at Carlos, and at his Grandmama. He squeezed his eyes shut, clenched his hands into fists, took a deep breath, lifted his head and screamed.

It was the high, piercing wail of a furious young child—a child who had never before experienced true injustice. His shrill cry filled the room and was amplified by the voices of the past and future souls who surrounded him, those who had and would witness the hate that would be used against them and others. His voice and theirs joined into creating a tapestry of sound that flowed over and into the dark reality that Azazel had been building—and suddenly there was a tiny crack, a thin spill of sunlight within the roiling gloom.

Azazel growled and extended her arms further. She opened her mouth and began to howl, a frightening sound like a cage full of angry dogs. For a moment, Ben hesitated. The crack began to close.

“Louder!” Grandmama Sophia urged. “Hurry, child!”

Ben squeezed his eyes tightly shut, turned his face up to the ceiling and to the sky above that, and screamed, louder and higher, until his body burned and he was aware of nothing but his own voice, filling his room and his universe.

Somewhere in his head, Ben watched as the crack widened, pushing a steadily brighter stream of light through Azazel’s carefully built reality. There was a shattering crash and the darkness split apart with an intense, blinding flash.

And then, just as suddenly, everything was quiet. Ben breathed deeply, tears streaming down his face. He gulped.

“Shh, kindele,” said Grandmama Sophia quietly. “Be still. All is well.”

“Hush, querido,” Carlos whispered, stroking his hair gently. “You did it. I knew you could. Everything will be fine now.”

Ben, shaken and still a little tearful, took a slow, careful breath. “My head hurts,” he complained.

The boy opened his eyes and looked around. His room was there again, the way it always was, the walls all back in place. The streetlights shone through the window. His nightlight glowed in its place next to the door.

But his Grandmama, Carlos, all the people had who been there, were gone.

“Where did you go?” Ben said, looking around.

“I’m right here.”

Azazel still stood in the center of his room. She had regained her long hair, tuxedo and red shoes, and was looking at herself critically in a small mirror, arranging her hair and pouting her lips.

“Perhaps,” she said, “This look is a little old-fashioned, after all. Perhaps next time, Marilyn Monroe with a touch of Tony Curtis thrown in?”

She threw the mirror away and stared coldly at Ben.

“You realize,” she said, “that this doesn’t change things. Not really. Humanity will continue to kill its own kind continually, stupidly and unnecessarily—just not as quickly. And as far as you’re concerned, remember, there will be a price to pay. There always is.”

Ben looked back at her, unafraid. “Go away,” he said. “This is my room.”

Azazel grinned. “No hard feelings. See you later, alligator,” she said. And then, she was gone as well.

The boy sat on his bed and pulled his stuffed panda to him. He was sorry that his Grandmama Sophia and his friend Carlos had to go away. He wondered who the little girl was who had spoken up and if they could have played together if she stayed. And he felt tired and a little strange, as though he were a glass of water that somebody had drank all up.

“Benjamin Solomon, what are you doing awake at this time of night?” It was his mama’s voice, the tone she used when she suspected he was thinking of doing something she didn’t approve of. She had opened the door; the light from the hallway outside spilled into his room.

“Get back into bed, young man,” she said sternly. Ben climbed back under his covers while she walked over, tucked him in and then sat next to him on the bed. She reached out and stroked his head.

“Are you still frightened?” his mama asked gently.

“No,” he said. “You know what, mama?”

“What, mein Kind?”

Ben smiled. “The numbers really are magic.”

For a moment, her hand on his head was still. Then she pulled him to her and rocked him gently, back and forth. “For you, yes, they are magic,” she whispered. “Just for you, my baby.”

Ben closed his eyes and let her carry him to dreams of an enchanted future.



Barbara Krasnoff was born and bred in Brooklyn, and has the accent to prove it. She has sold over 35 short stories to a variety of publications; “Sabbath Wine,” which appeared in Clockwork Phoenix 5, was a finalist for the 2016 Nebula Award. When not producing weird fiction, she works as Reviews Editor for The Verge and investigates what animals and objects are really thinking in her Backstories series on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (#theirbackstories). You can find her at BrooklynWriter.com or on Twitter as @BarbK.

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“Powerful and dreamlike, this intergenerational meditation on family, mortality, and hope is far more than the sum of its parts.”Publishers Weekly, starred review


“This epic mosaic novel, made up of 20 connected short stories, is a literary gem, both profoundly moving and deeply human as it delves into the supernatural, fantasy, the real historical horrors of the Holocaust, and even science fiction.”Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

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