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A single cloud appeared in the south, drifting silently north-northeast.


The leviathan had cruised the sky in silence because it had no engines nor any need of them; it was not a mother ship but a father ship, and not a ship at all. It was a thing of godlike power, the master of a universe beyond this one, a spirit of dark design having grown vast and hideous with the consumption of that one delicacy that it favored.


Who is the ultimate agent of despair, the master of deception, the emperor of lies?


Molly returned to the soft warm sand and searched along the border between beach and wild grass until she found a small stick. She returned to the sand that had recently slipped out of reach of the ebbing tide but that was still wet. She dropped to her knees.


An extraterrestrial species, hundreds or thousands of years more advanced than we are, would possess technology that would appear to us to be not the result of applied science but entirely supernatural, pure magic.


With the stick, Molly began to print words in the sand, calling them from memory.


New thought: A supernatural event of world-shaking proportions, occurring in a faithless time when only science is believed to have the power to work miracles, might appear to be the work of an extraterrestrial species hundreds or even thousands of years more advanced than we are.


Her hands shook so that she had to pause from time to time in her printing. The words in an alien language, heard on the radio, transmitted from the space station after all the astronauts aboard had been killed, were engraved now in the sand before her. Her love of words, her passion for poetry, her ability to memorize verse with ease, had served her well.


Yimaman see noygel, see refacull, see nod a bah, see naytoss, retee fo sellos.


She had no way of knowing that these spellings were correct. She had rendered them phonetically, as they had sounded to her.


Expect deception. These are the words of a consciousness that sees right as wrong, wrong as right, that finds joy in pain, pain in truth, truth in lies, that looks at all things upside down and backwards.


The slowly drifting cloud shadowed the words on the sand.


In a while, the sun found them again.


The surf murmured, murmured, and ebbed away from her makeshift tablet.


She saw soles first. Sellos, minus one l and spelled backwards. And she knew the correct spelling must be souls.


The word is, when spelled backwards, may be pronounced see.


With the stick, she worked a translation under the first line that she had engraved: My name is legion, is Lucifer, is Abbadon, is Satan, eater of souls.


She tossed the stick into the surf.


With one hand, she smoothed away both lines of words. In the last sluice of a breaking wave, she washed her hand.


She considered the luminous craft that had hovered over them more than once in Black Lake. In its light, she’d felt so profoundly analyzed and so intimately known that she had been ashamed, as if she had been na*ed before strangers. Not a craft. A benign spirit. Her guardian.


Of the countless millions who had been taken, floated through ceilings, drawn through floors: Some screamed in the transit but some laughed. Different destinations.


She retraced her path along the beach, to the stairs in the bluff, and climbed to the patio.


Neil was still occupied with the life of Yeats. He looked up. “Nice walk?”


“Incredible,” she said. “I’ve decided to write another book.”


“Might not be book publishers for a few years.”


“Doesn’t matter,” Molly said. “Ambition has nothing to do with this. I’m writing it for an audience of one.”


“Me?”


She took the biography from his hands, put it aside, and sat on his lap. “Maybe I’ll let you read it, too.”


“If not for me, then who?”


She patted her belly, in which the baby grew. “I’m writing it for her—or him. I have a story I want to tell her, and if anything happens to me before she’s old enough to hear it, I want the story written down for her to read.”


“Sounds important,” Neil said.


“Oh, it is.”


“What’s it about?”


She put her head upon his shoulder, and with her face against his throat, she whispered, “Hope.”


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