Sunday, October 25, 2020

Stillman's Dog

 I've gotten into the habit each year around this time of trying to conjure up an appropriate story for Halloween. This particular one was written a year or two back. While the connection between felines and witchcraft has a long history, Tinker Bell thought it was a little insulting that canines (excepting, of course, wolves) have been largely excluded from tales of the supernatural. At which point it dawned on me that I'd never really read a story specifically about a Hell Hound. So, with the help and inspiration of my own miniature hell hound, who is this moment ferociously licking my toes under the desk, I give you Stillman's Dog. Enjoy and have a happy and safe Halloween.

Stillman’s Dog

When I’ve got time to wait here, sitting on the old log carved up with more initials, prayers, promises and foul language than could fill a volume, I think back to my grandpa. If I had the inclination I bet could find his initials somewhere on this log. Or maybe his first wife’s name, which I only ever heard him speak aloud but once.

Growing up my sisters and I thought he was a bit funny, quirky rather, but it wasn’t until I was much older that I added up all those pieces to see a very different picture. Like the bandage he always wore around the palm of his right hand. Over the summers when we would visit from out east, my sisters would spend more time with their grandmother, baking and doing whatever else it is that girls do when visiting grandmothers. Grandpa Stillman would take me fishing, or tell me stories about the Native Americans that lived in these parts centuries before. He claimed it was one of their old trails that led him to the very goldmine which would make our family a fortune, and later make him the first Mayor of Stillman, Montana.

I remember one time, I must have been about seven, and my sisters and I had just been to Disney World, so we brought all of our treasures and trinkets with us when we came to visit. I had one of those leashes for an invisible dog, and I must have walked the thing over every inch of every acre of the land around the estate. Grandpa pulled me aside one afternoon and confided to me that he had an invisible dog too. I can still taste the pipe tobacco from his mouth like a translucent wrapper around each word he spoke.

“Dogs can be a great friend to you or a vicious and terrifying beast, but all of em are loyal as hell, and I do mean that literally. But no matter what. You must always, always feed your dog. No. Matter. What.” That last part he highlighted with a swish of his long, bony and liver-spot speckled finger.

I’d never seen him with a dog, or with any animal for that matter, so I thought he was just being strange. I filed that information away in my head along some of the other peculiar things he did, like filling a watering can each night with earth from the large glass jars he kept in the shed, and pouring out a fine line under each windowsill and doorway. Always it was gone by the time I woke up, well after sunrise, but I saw him come creep into my room at night and pour out that dirt. I pretended to be asleep, but if, as I pretty well suspect, he knew I was awake, it didn’t bother him a lick. One time I could have sworn he looked back at me over his shoulder and gave me a funny little grin that parted his mustache like a white curtain and made his dark eyes twinkle under his bushy white brows.

Still got another twenty minutes, so sayeth the old silver pocket watch he left for me. Kronos, he called it. Doesn’t need any winding, any maintenance at all he said. Had some special jeweler in New York make it for him, and just to be extra sure he would keep his weekly appointment, he had it inscribed with a phrase in his inimitable script. “You must always feed your dog.”

Always on Thursday nights, around ten at night, while my sisters and I were supposed to be sleeping, I would see from my window as light from the house spilled out onto the back porch and path, and then vanished as the door shut. And grandpa would walk out a few steps, flip open his silver pocket watch, and then stride off into the darkness, moving quietly but with purpose. He was always back in the morning as if nothing had happened. The only difference was on Friday mornings, he always had a fresh bandage around his right hand. I asked him a dozen times where he went and each time he would respond with something vague – that he had been to a place that was betwixt and between, or that he had to go feed his dog, or sure up his investments for the future.

It was the summer I was eleven that I finally mustered the courage to follow him. While he’d never strictly forbidden me or my sisters from doing so, the look that came across his face when he asked if we could go with him always made us think twice about asking again. It wasn’t that he was angry about it, which would have probably been less odd. It was an expression we only ever saw on those few occasions when we asked. I can’t speak for my sisters, but for me, it was like suddenly a mask had slid off of his face and beneath was someone I’d never seen before.

I know now, of course, that it was fear.

Ten minutes left, so it’s time to prepare for my weekly rendezvous. Give me just a moment, while I unwrap the bandage around my right hand and remove the wickedly curved blade from the sheath hanging from my belt. Moon’s out tonight and I catch a near perfect reflection of it on the cool metal, pocked with little tick marks that a professor once told me was a long dead language called cuneiform. I could tell he was impressed because he’d whispered the words like he was nervous that the blade might hear him talking about it.

But I want to finish up before my friend arrives. Where was I… Eleven. It was the summer I was eleven that I decided to sneak out after my grandpa and see what he was up to. It was the last night that my sisters and I were staying there before returning home to our folks to start the school year. I gave him a good ten minute head start on me and wore all black, with bootblack smeared all over my face. Thought I was all smart and stealthy like a ninja. I trailed him up about three quarters of a mile to the intersection where, for reasons I have never understood, Road Street becomes Street Road (although both are no more than glorified dirt paths). I ducked into the woods and the shadows the few times grandpa Stillman stopped and made as if to turn around. But he didn’t.

So I hid there. And I waited. And I watched. Grandpa Stillman, he just sat there on this same log I’m sitting on now, staring out into the dark. It felt like I waited there for an eternity with every manner of insect buzzing in my ears and biting me, and my legs starting to cramp up from being in an awkward crouch, but just as I was about to leave, everything got quiet. The crickets and birds and who all knows what else all went dead silent. Grandpa noticed it too – he stood up, dusted off his pants and went out to the center of the intersection. With his hands out in an “I mean you no harm” sort of position.

I heard a sound like the rumble of a low engine and what sounded like two sets of footfalls, one right behind the other, crunching on the dirt and gravel road. But no one was there. I peered closer, and watched Grandpa unwind the bandage from his hand, and then raise the blade, the one I hold now, up over his head. The crunching sound got closer, right up next to me, and I smelled something foul, but I stayed put. Then the crunching stopped – I could feel every nerve in my body screaming, the hair on my neck stood up and I watched as two puffs of steam hit me square in the face from the nostrils of an animal that wasn’t there. I was looking right at, right through it, and I knew it was there. I could feel its menace. The smell of its breath, like the very worst kind of rot, made me gag, but still I remained frozen. And then the foot falls resumed.

“Well, let’s get on with it then,” Grandpa said as he drew the blade across his palm, reopening the gash that his bandages concealed. He held out his hand and it seemed to disappear into the creature’s invisible maw, accompanied by a sickening slurping sound.

This went on for some minutes, grandpa going white as a sheet, until finally the sounds died out and he withdrew his hand. He wrapped back up his hand and things would have been fine, except that a twig snapped under me and I shifted my weight, rattling a branch. Grandpa turned towards me and so did the beast, which let out a terrifying growl.

“Stay, boy. Let it go.” Grandpa commanded.

It turned it’s eyes on me, two hot coals, glowing red in the center, emanating heat, and darkening towards the edges. Like looking into two twin pits to the burning core of the earth.

Another minute passed and it slunk off in the other direction, it’s invisible paws crunching the dirt and gravel, and Grandpa turned and made his way home, walking right past my hiding place. I sat there for a good long while, until the critters all started back up with their night time noises. And then I waited a bit longer for my pants to dry. It was well after midnight when I got back to find the door unlocked. I beat it up to my bed and hid under the covers, shaking the whole rest of the night.

When I came down to breakfast the next morning, there was Grandpa, all smiles as he wolfed down his pancake and sausage links. He looked over at me and smiled, “you look like you seen a ghost, boy.”

I shrugged it off and told him I’d had a bad dream.

“Did you now?” he inquired. “Why, I used to have one myself. I’d wake up thinkin I’d been face to face with some terrible beast that wanted my blood.”

“What, what did it look like?” I stammered.

“Funny thing, that” he said. “It didn’t look like anything at all. Completely invisible to the human eye.” He winked at me, and if I didn’t before, at that moment I knew he knew that I’d been out there watching.

I didn’t come back the next summer – joined a friend at an overnight camp. And the summer after that I played possum, prolonging my flu for months. Grandpa never traveled far, so I didn’t have to face up to him. But the summer I was fourteen, my parents were dead set on sending me. And it was fine – Grandpa and I didn’t talk about the beast. We took back up our fishing and hiking and I didn’t dare follow him out to the crossroads on Thursday nights. At the end of that Summer though, he took me for a long hike to a part of the property I’d never been to, where alongside a stream was a stone bench and a statue of a young woman. Over the years, the elements had worn down and chipped her long hair and dark pools under her eyes made it look like she was forever crying. 

“Know why I’ve taken you here?” he asked me.

I shook my head no, even though I did.

“This is where I laid to rest my first wife, Lizbeth.”

And there in the shadow of the monument to his lost love, he told it to me straight, that what I’d seen him do that one night was real and that one day, hopefully not for a long time yet, but one day I’d have to do as he did. That it was a deal he made that we needed to keep and so long as we fed the dog once a week our family would prosper.

“And if I don’t?” I asked.

He just pointed to the statue, his eyes shining and wet, and he shook his head. “Once we thought as you do, that maybe we could outrun it or escape it. But that thing, I suspect, is a lot older and a lot smarter than any of us. It’s bound to us by our own blood now, and there’s no getting away from that. When I didn’t show up that once, I could feel it watching me every night, just waiting to get at me. And when my darling stepped out for a minute, just one minute, after sunset, she never came back. Snatched right off the porch. Took me more the better part of a week to gather up enough of her to bury.” He didn’t have to say anything else. It was the only time I ever saw him cry.

On the way back to the house he told me to go and enjoy my life. Go to college somewhere nice. Travel the world, as far and wide as I could, for one day I’d be bound to this land as he was.

And I did. I worked at all manner of jobs and lived in more places than I can almost recall. I got a degree in business, but also studied plenty of literature and history, always looking to understand the terms and nature of the bargain my grandpa had struck, looking for some way to escape what I knew was inescapable. My research into the occult just left me with more questions than answers. Churchill’s black dog, for instance. That one always intrigued me. Maybe he was talking about something more literal than depression. I wonder about that, I wonder what you’d have to offer up to win a world war.

I still came to see Grandpa for the summers. My sisters were older – two were in college and one was already married, so it was just me the summer I turned eighteen. That summer took me back with him to feed the dog again. He showed me how to sharpen the blade till its edge is so keen you don’t even feel it slice your hand. He taught me to tell when the beast was done feeding, and to keep your hand steady before it for just a moment afterward so that its fiery hot breath would cauterize the wound.

You hear that? Nothing, right? All of a sudden, all the buzzing and humming and rustling in the woods has ceased, which means it will be here in just a few moments. I can just about hear it now.

That’s fine, my story’s mostly come to an end. There isn’t much more to tell – my Grandpa passed, ten years ago this month, and left me the house, the business, the blade and the beast. And the past ten years have seen my family and our business prosper. The same land that yielded veins of pure gold for my grandpa offered up to me a pool of rich, dark oil. So much good luck as to be nearly impossible. And we’ve expanded our operations, preparing for a public offering some time next year if the market’s right for it.

Of course, I run things mostly from right here these days. Skype, zoom, twitter, email, they bring the world to me. I drive the two hours to Bozeman once or twice a week, but mostly I prefer to stay close by. Call it risk management if you like.

For my part I just try to stay focused on making smart deals. 

And paying off the old ones.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Signed by the Author

It's such a small, trifling thing - that reflective circular gold sticker on the front of the book you got signed. But to bibliophiles, collectors and aspiring writers, it means something much more. It means that your copy has been marked (in a good way), and set apart from all the other copies ever printed in that it contains a message written specifically for you. Words of gratitude, a reference to some snippet of conversation that took place between you and the writer, a message of encouragement, perhaps. It means that this particular book is every bit as unique to you as your own fingerprints. 

It's the reason that drives many of us stand in lines at ComiCons for hours on end to have an actor or icon like Stan Lee, lock eyes with us and affix their signature to our personal item. It documents our encounter with them, it's proof of an experience, an interaction, we had with someone we admire.

Having had the good fortune and privilege of knowing more than a few other published authors, you might think that when I receive a copy of their newest work with a personal message or a note in the acknowledgements, my giddiness would diminish over time. But it never does. It hasn't yet, anyhow, and seeing as I'm now smack in the middle of middle age, I'm not expecting it to change much in the second half of my journey.

I was already becoming an Atlas Obscura superfan, but this made it inevitable. 

Now I find myself on the other side of the table, and I get to be the one placing that magical seal on the cover of a signed book for someone else. I get to come up with some potentially meaningful or clever personalized message. As I do so, I think about that stack of autographed books on my own shelf, and it reminds me to take care with my words as the message I scribble in my marginally legible handwriting may very well mean more to the reader than any carefully planned, edited and properly typeset line in the book. Maybe I'm writing for a kindred spirit looking to uncover the secret face of their own hometown. Maybe it's a future creator, for whom just a little bit of support can be enough to change their trajectory towards the pursuit of their own visions.

Look, I'm not trying to overstate my own importance or impact. I'm just the latest guppy in a vast and unfathomable ocean. Every day before me and every day that comes after there have been and will continue to be others, trying to provide readers with the unique fulfillment that comes from gifting them with the right words at the right time. Peeling off those stickers and placing them on the glossy covers of their own books. 

A small selection of books written and signed by authors I've known or met.

I know, I know, it's maybe the silliest, tiniest little thing that comes with being a published author. But as long as waiting in line or at the mailbox to receive a book with that little sticker on the cover matters to others, putting it there will matter to me.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Secret Tampa Bay Bonus Content: Gardens, Ghosts and Gator Guardians

This is another chapter from Secret Tampa Bay that didn't make it into the final draft. It was right on the far southern edge of what I could legitimately consider the Tampa Bay Area. But it's well worth visiting for the amazing gardens, the native american burial mounds, and, for me at least, its unexpected connection to Chicago.

Gardens, Ghosts and Gator Guardians

Where in Florida can you enjoy a cup of tea among ancient earthworks and formal gardens?

There is truly an abundance to discover at the thirty-acre nature complex and museum situated at the southern end of Sarasota. Its history stretches back nearly six thousand years in the form of the Hill Cottage Midden, which is exceptionally well preserved and possibly one of the oldest in Florida. There are two more burial mounds created between 3,200 – 1,000 years ago. Atop each of these burial mounds, gator skeletons were discovered. Presumably they were placed there as guardians, but whether their function was to protect the dead from the living, or the living from the dead, remains a subject of speculation.

The prehistoric inhabitants were long gone by 1867, when John Greene Webb and his family settled on what he named Spanish Point. They set up a home; cultivated citrus, sugar cane, and vegetables; and built a packing house along with a ten-ton schooner called Vision. They invited friends and family to visit, thus establishing the area’s first tourist resort. In the early 1900's the family began selling off some of the land, which by this time also included a small pioneer cemetery and Mary’s Chapel.

One of those new landowners was none other than wealthy Chicago hotel heiress Bertha Palmer. In 1910 she purchased thousands of acres in Sarasota, including the Webb homestead, as part of her estate, Osprey Point. She preserved and connected the pioneer buildings with lavish formal gardens. The classical columns sprouting from the bougainvillea and the aqueduct, which winds through the tropical foliage, remain there today.

While the site is popular for private events and weddings, it also hosts a variety of other interesting activities, including a regular Tea with Bertha series, a moonlight ghost tour, a Victorian funeral reenactment, and the annual Fairy and Gnome House Festival.

In 1976 Historic Spanish Point became the first site in Sarasota County listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Deep Roots
What: Historic Spanish Point
Where: 337 N. Tamiami Tr., Osprey
Cost: Adults, $15; seniors, $12; children ages 5–12, $7; children ages 4 and under, free
Pro Tip: If you enjoy ghost tours and want a change of pace from the typical urban settings, give this one a try.


Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Tupperware Confidence Center

(The piece below was previously published on Atlas Obscura. You can see it here.)

A museum preserving one company's history of preserving food.

In 1946, grocery stores began stocking the patented “burping” plasticware that would come to revolutionize the world of leftovers. A polyethylene brainchild of Earl Tupper, the Tupperware Seal of Freshness has also become a seal of American ingenuity—and at the Tupperware Confidence Center, a statue of an actual seal.

“Tuppy” the Tupperware seal is just one of the many wonders of the museum housed at the company’s headquarters in Kissimmee, Florida. Keen observers will note that the stone personification is, in fact, a sea lion and not a seal, but reality has never stood in the way of a good marketing campaign.

Under Tuppy’s watchful gaze, visitors can unlid the vast history of the durable container brand by perusing plastic porringers, vintage dining sets, an early molding machine, and even the company’s breakthrough product, the Wonderbowl. Alongside vintage machinery and products, there’s also a wide array of colorful, touchscreen displays, some of which demonstrate how lightweight, airtight storage has shaped dining, leftovers, and beyond.

Visitors might wonder why the space is called is called a “confidence center.” This is tied to the company’s “chain of confidence” campaign of empowering women, which is also celebrated in the museum. The entrance features a tribute to Brownie Wise, the woman behind the “Tupperware Party,” an event by and for women focused on selling the product. She eventually became Tupperware’s vice president of marketing, and the first woman to be featured on the cover of Businessweek. While Wise was essential to Tupperware’s success, she often clashed with Earl Tupper, and he forced her out of the company in 1958. Still, she left an indelible mark and inspired generations of businesswomen.

If, by the end of your journey through the museum, you’d like to find some functional containers of your own, swing by the Tupperware Gallery, connected to the museum. And if you’re feeling brave, the museum allegedly harbors a Tupperware casket, but you’ll have to request to see it, as they tend to keep a tight lid on it.

The museum is free and open to the public, Monday to Friday, from 10 am to 4 pm. They close at noon on Fridays during the summer, but the statue of Tuppy is behind the headquarters building and can be viewed anytime.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Secret Tampa Bay Bonus Content: The Scales of Justice

I wanted so badly to include this chapter in my book, Secret Tampa Bay, but it's more than two hours from downtown Tampa, which puts it well outside of the range I set. It's a great story though - one of my favorites of the many I've uncovered in my travels thus far. I will likely submit it to some of my favorite offbeat travel sites, but for now, you can find it here.

The Scales of Justice

Who was “Old Joe” and how did he lead the FBI to Ma Barker’s hideout?

Around the lake town of Ocklawaha in the 1930s, Old Joe had acquired a reputation for being vicious and fearless. The locals steered clear of him, but apparently no one told the family that rented a nearby two-story vacation home around January of 1935. That family was actually the notorious Barker–Karpis gang, which needed a place to lay low after their criminal activities in the Midwest had put them at the top of the most-wanted list. Arizona “Ma” Barker and her son Fred happened to run afoul of Old Joe and, not to be outdone in the meanness category, Fred shot at Old Joe with his Tommy gun. Old Joe was wounded but survived the encounter—and he’d have his revenge soon enough.

When Arthur Barker was arrested in Chicago that same month, the FBI discovered a letter describing the place that Ma and Fred had rented along with a map that wasn’t specific enough to give away their exact location … until they read the part detailing Fred’s encounter with Old Joe. That was just the sort of detail that the feds needed to narrow down their search.

On January 16 agents surrounded the lake house and demanded that the gang surrender. Fred replied with gunfire, and what ensued was the longest gunfight in FBI history, lasting over four hours. Curious neighbors are alleged to have set up lawn chairs and picnic blankets to watch.

Following the shootout, both Fred and Ma were found dead inside the bullet-riddled second-floor bedroom. The shootout also strengthened FBI director J. Edgar Hoover’s resolve to legitimize and empower the nascent FBI.

The story doesn’t end there though. There’s still one final twist that makes this story bizarrely and uniquely Floridian: Old Joe, if you haven’t already guessed it, was a fifteen-foot-long alligator.

Just a few minutes from the house where Ma and Fred Barker made their last stand is the eponymous Gator Joe’s Beach Bar and Grill, which proudly displays one of Old Joe’s massive reptilian feet.

The Barker Gang’s Last Stand
What: Ma Barker House Museum
Where: 13279 SE 115th Ave., Ocklawaha
Cost: There is a $7 fee per vehicle to enter the Carney Island Conservation & Recreation Area.
Pro Tip: Tours of the house are available, but due to the popularity of the site, you’ll want to book it in advance at

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

The Metaphysics of Storytelling, Part 2

“We become what we behold.” – William Blake, Jerusalem: The Emanation of the Giant Albion

The nearer I get to the publication of “Secret Tampa Bay: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful and Obscure,” the less certain, in some ways, I am of exactly what it is that I’ve created. Before I delve deeper into what I mean by that, I first need to explain the sort of storyteller I’ve become. As a professional writer, I have focused on telling a certain type of niche story over the past decade – specifically those stories which effect change in the world. This falls into two primary categories: business proposals and resumes.

Regarding the former, I craft and assemble cohesive and (ideally) compelling stories from data, from bios, from case studies, and weave a tale of why the particular firm I’m writing for is best suited to conduct the type of work being sought. In my experience this has ranged from performing Phase I – IV clinical research studies to uncovering and increasing operational efficiency to conducting audits and tax compliance and financial advisory work. The desired outcome of these stories is that whatever company I’m writing on behalf of is selected for the next competitive round, typically a presentation or “bid defense” if you like. From this round usually a winner is selected. The story I craft is unlikely to close the deal on its own, but it is an essential step in reaching that eventual goal.  

Regarding the latter, in developing a resume for a client, I am similarly taking their experience and shaping it towards where they wish to be next, in terms of their career. As with the proposals I create, the resume usually represents just the first of several hoops or gates that an applicant or job seeker must pass through. Typically the next step is an interview, or series of interviews, in which the final determination of suitability will be made. I like to think that this makes me something of a “populist spin doctor,” accessible to all and using the same language I’ve learned in the corporate world to the benefit of single parents, veterans, recent graduates and others.

In both of these examples though, my stories become a step toward making tangible change. They escape the confines of their word documents or PowerPoint slide decks and drive decision-making among corporate executives and hiring managers. And they influence the fate of companies and individuals seeking to obtain new work.

With the book, I’ve now added a third type of non-traditional storytelling style to my bag of tricks. Strange, unusual and offbeat travel. But having over the last few years gathered a book’s worth of such content, I’m finding that what I’ve created has more layers to it than I first suspected. At the highest and most simple, obvious level, it’s a collection of detailed descriptions of odd, wondrous, memorable and sometimes hidden places that I’ve sought out so as to give residents and visitors to the area something to experience beyond the standard, manufactured vacation memories of the big theme parks and beaches (which is not to say that there’s anything wrong with that type of travel or experience, only that some may find themselves seeking something more substantive and less predictable).

Peeling back the metaphorical onion skin reveals another level though. One that is much more personal. Even though I was careful to use the “business style of writing” in which everything is presented in third person, there’s no escaping that the collection of vignettes I’ve assembled is very much autobiographical. These are the places that I have sought out and visited and researched. These are the ones I chose to include over a great many others. And the underlying reason as to why I have chosen some in favor of others, is also deeply subjective. Namely, I searched for and wrote about and selected those places that seemed most infused with the sort of awe and childhood magic that I shared with my dear departed friend to whom the work is dedicated.

And now I find myself wondering if there isn’t, perhaps, a deeper layer still. Just as the other forms of storytelling have a tangible impact (however great or minuscule) on the world, is it possible that my work in chasing, documenting, capturing and preserving the otherworldly and magical in a lingual display case also alters, if not the world itself than at least our perception of it? Consider this – let’s say there is a certain manhole cover in the road that you pass as you go on a walk each day. Now, a manhole cover for most of us isn’t interesting in the least, just a circular disk of metal that, quite sensibly, prevents one from plummeting into the darkness and injuring themselves. But suppose I revealed to you that the manhole cover you scarcely notice as you walk past or over it, has a unique and amazing history. Maybe it was made of metal melted down from one of the cannons aboard a ship belonging to none other than Edward Teach. Suddenly that rather boring disk of metal is infused with meaning and history – connecting you directly to one of the most infamous pirate captains of all time. And when you pass by, you now take notice. Even though nothing about the physical object has changed in any discernible way, what you now see when you look at it has been forever altered by this new information you have become privy to… by a story.

If that is the case, than is this book I’ve been working to bring forth really just a collection of travel suggestions for curiosity seekers, or can it be viewed as something else entirely? There’s a term for stories or phrases that change the world around us (or our relationship to it). We call these invocations, incantations, spells. And so, a compendium of such arcane and esoteric tidbits, can that really be called merely a quirky local travel guide?

Or would it be just as accurate to call it a grimoire?

Friday, July 17, 2020

Exploring the Future: South by Southwaste

South by Southwaste

“Raiders again,” Amoz said as he put down the long-range monocular and quickly slid back down his dual-layered prosthetic eyelids to shield from the wind and sand that had joined forces to become a storm of stinging nettles. “Fifth one today – probably a big storm coming soon.”

Jeth nodded from his seat inside the mobile bunker. He’d been with Amoz’s team in the Southern part of the Great Southwaste for the better part of a week as they excavated the Peachtree Oasis sites number 5, 6 and 8. Desert storms and occasional raids by local nomadic tribesmen had slowed the team’s progress, but they were getting closer, layer by layer, to uncovering something that would be big news. An earlier team at a nearby site had recently uncovered skeletal remains of extinct animals including giraffes and elephants, none of which had ever been known to be indigenous to the region, so experts were speculating that these creatures had been imported from elsewhere.

“Could you make out which tribe?” Jeth asked as he scratched at what he hoped was just a badly sunburned patch on his elbow.

“Yallkumbak, maybe,” Amoz said. “Hard to tell them apart under the radiation suits. As long as they keep their distance from the supplies I can’t say that I really care.”

Two days ago they had uncovered some encrypted materials from a band of Neo Mormons or recolonists who had discovered only too late that what the heavens were showering them with was something far more malign than manna.

The news came in towards the end of the sixth afternoon as they all gathered around the most promising excavation site. A rusted metal sign was being hoisted from the depths – below almost 80 feet of sand. The wind and elements had faded most of the paint but the impression of some of the letters were still clear. 

“ATL N A   Z O”

“Welcome,” Amoz said as a triumphant smile spread across his face, “to the lost city of Atlanta.”