The Unconquerable (28)

By: Helen MacInnes
January 10, 2015

macinnes

HiLoBooks is pleased to serialize Helen MacInnes’s 1944 novel The Unconquerable (later reissued as While We Still Live), an espionage adventure that pits an innocent English woman against both Nazis and resistance fighters in occupied Poland. MacInnes, it’s worth noting, was married to a British intelligence agent, which may explain what one hears is the amazing accuracy of her story’s details. Under the editorship of HILOBROW’s Joshua Glenn, the Save the Adventure book club will reissue The Unconquerable as an e-book for the first time ever. Enjoy!

ALL INSTALLMENTS SO FAR

***

Chapter 28: To the Forest

At Rogów they left the horse and cart. They also left Jan’s revolver — after a short, bitter argument.

“It’s a good gun,” Jan said. “It’s fought bravely.”

“You’ll get as good a gun where you’re going,” Sheila replied obstinately. (She still broke into a cold sweat when she thought of the casual way Jan had hidden it in the cart.) And Stefan, rather unexpectedly, supported her mutiny, perhaps because Jan had made him discard his penknife before they started the journey.

“All right, my lady,” Jan said at last, and pointed out the revolver’s hiding-place to the man who had taken charge of the horse and cart. “Five good bullets,” he added slowly. And these were the last words he spoke for the next three hours. Even after they were stopped and searched to the south of the village he still conveyed by his gloomy silence that he would have hidden the gun, that he could have fooled a German any day.

But, apart from the revolver incident, he was as cunning and careful as Sheila could have wished. They avoided any village where, as the peasants warned them, a German garrison was quartered. Jan had no desire to test his story, of travelling to the nearest town to register for work, before a group of officers. And he also avoided any repetition of the cart incident when the soldiers had shown signs of interest in Sheila. For as soon as they left the village of Rogów he shouldered her into a ditch. When she struggled out of it not only were her legs and hands covered with its filth, but her clothes were liberally clotted. Even her face was streaked, and her hair at the temples was splashed with its nauseating mud. She tried to brush it off. That only made matters worse: it would have to dry first. She looked at Jan angrily: “You would choose the filthiest part of that ditch,” she said bitterly, but he merely stared stolidly back at her. “I gave up my gun,” his eyes were saying. “You can give up looking pretty.” Stefan was no consolation. But at least, Sheila thought, we’ve made him laugh; that’s something. He’s a boy again. Her anger changed to self-pity, and the journey continued in silence.

But Jan had been clever enough in his own peculiar way. Certainly, the German soldiers who stopped them after that seemed to take little pleasure in searching a disreputable peasant girl.

“Careful of lice there,” one of them even warned his comrade, watching her from a safe distance, in disgust. “God in heaven, what a race of filthy pigs!”

*

For a day, a night, and a day they travelled. Travelled like three restless ghosts, without proper food or sleep or warmth. Jan was determined. He refused low-voiced invitations to rest overnight in the little villages they passed; and the food which was offered them — a piece of hard black bread, a slab of cold sausage — he would thrust in his pocket. Later, when he allowed them one of their brief ten-minute rests in some small cluster of trees, they would swallow the cold hard lumps of food and wash them down with water from a stream. Sheila’s mouth seemed to taste permanently of the leaves which floated on the water: an earthy taste, bitter, sharp, neither sweet nor sour.

Jan wouldn’t let her try to wash off the mud. It had dried, but it still stained her clothes and skin. Its smell still clung to her. She seemed to be living in a state of permanent nausea. “No,” he said sharply, towards the end of the first day, when she tried to scrub her face and hair. “That is why we don’t stop with the villagers. They’ll be cleaning us up, making us look respectable. They’ll start talking. They’ll be wanting news. They’ll keep us late.”

Sheila looked at Stefan, propped wearily against a tree. He never complained. If a boy could do it, so could she. She had to content herself with a mild “Must we hurry quite like this?”

Jan nodded.

She looked at him accusingly. “You are trying to win that bet, Jan. That’s the reason.” Later, when and if they reached safety, she would perhaps be able to smile at the expression on Jan’s face at that moment.

“I’ll win it all right,” he said. “I’ll get you there before the others arrive….

“It’s safer anyway,” he went on after a pause, as if to excuse his determination. “If we stay in one place the Germans will start asking questions about us. If we are going to town to look for work, as we say, we shouldn’t be sitting beside some one’s fire. We’d be going to the town.”

Jan was already on his feet. “Come. The time for resting is over,” he said. “We’ve twenty miles to cover before day breaks.” And they covered the twenty miles or more before dawn. As a reward, in the bitter hours before sunrise, when a rising wind cut through their thin clothes, Jan let them have an hour’s sleep under a neatly thatched haystack in a field of harsh stubble. They slept huddled together for warmth, Jan sheltering the two smaller bodies from the wind with his broad back. But before dawn came with its cock-crow from the near-by village Sheila and Stefan were shaken awake. Looking at Jan’s haggard face, Sheila knew he hadn’t slept. He had been their guard as well as their shelter. Her annoyance faded; she forced herself wide awake, and they walked on.

That was the last sleep they were allowed. The occasional ten minutes of rest were granted more sparingly, and only whenever they reached a fringe of thin wood. But in the open country they kept their steady pace. Except, of course, when they came to a wayside cross or a little shrine. Then Jan would take off his cap and kneel. So did Stefan. Sheila forgot her Presbyterian conscience. Religious differences didn’t matter now. At first she had welcomed the kneeling in the soft mud of the road as a chance to rest. And then she found she was praying, and she felt better. She felt stronger and better. There is no evil in man’s mind when he prays; and it seemed as if the shrine before which they knelt had kept something of the goodwill and hope which had flowed into it from the hearts of the simple peasants who had prayed mere. It seemed as if the shrine’s symbol had been given, by their honest faith, the power to encourage all those who knelt there.
As they managed to pass two more German patrols Sheila’s confidence revived. But she still had one fear. She mentioned it, at last, as they rested (ten minutes by Jan’s idea of time: he owned no watch, but he seemed to have been born with a clock in his brain) towards the evening of the second day.

“Jan, what if we were ever to meet the same patrol twice? What if they heard we were going to look for work in a town which had changed its name since they last questioned us?”

“What’s to be, will be. If we meet the same Germans twice, moving at the rate we move, then God never meant us to reach the Reapers’ camp.”

Sheila couldn’t be quite as philosophical as that. But she comforted herself with the thought that it would be a rare chance if a patrol left its appointed district. Patrols were like sentries, with their own beats to watch. The Germans were methodical, thank heaven. Looking at Jan and Stefan and what she could see of herself, she could believe the story which the German road-patrols accepted. They really looked as though they were a family who had lost everything in the war and now, hearing that people were being registered in the town for work, were trying to reach it.

“What papers do you keep showing them, Jan?” she asked curiously. They couldn’t be German documents and permits, for the countryside hadn’t been fully registered yet. It was only in the larger cities that the Germans had been able to satisfy their bureaucratic instincts so far. In a few weeks, no doubt, the villages would be under card-index control. Then Jan, if ever he made another journey like this one, would have to change his story.

Jan took his papers out of an inside pocket of his ragged jacket. That was where he kept his blunt stub of pencil, a piece of string, two small coins. Sheila could see them all spread out on a broad German palm, could see them thrown on the road, could hear the soldiers laugh as the Polish pig rooted in the mud for his possessions.

She took the papers silently. They were much folded, stained and thin at the edges. They almost tore as she opened them.

“Have a care,” Jan said anxiously.

The writing was faint, sharply angled, brown. The seals and flamboyant signatures still looked imposing.

“What are they?” she had to ask.

Jan said very seriously, “Communion certificates. Certificate of merit for the cow I showed at the autumn county fair. Birth certificate.” He folded them carefully and replaced them in the inner pocket. Sheila was reminded of the reverent way in which he offered his papers for the Germans to see. The Germans were never interested; as often as not the papers followed the pencil stub and string and coins into the mud of the road. But the papers had an effect all the same. Together with Jan’s emphasis on the word “work,” they stamped him as a harmless serf willing to accept authority. When the inevitable search, thorough and methodical, revealed neither weapons nor possible loot, then Jan was classed as a negligible indeed. Let him go to the town and be shipped into Germany for work. If he went without having to be driven, so much the easier for the Germans. They had plenty to do rounding up the ones who wouldn’t go even with a bayonet behind them.

“Well be moving,” Jan said. “There’s a storm coming.”

“What town are we supposed to be going to now? We’ve left Lodz to the north of us,” Sheila said.

“What town now?” Jan asked Stefan. “Where’s that geography of yours?”

Stefan’s brow wrinkled. “Let’s say Radom. It’s in the next province, but that’s the direction we’re travelling in now. Or if you want a town farther west there’s Piotrków. That’s almost due south of Lodz, as far as I can remember.”

“Better keep to the one province. Piotrków it is,” said Jan.

“I feel like one of the Three Sisters,” Sheila said, and Stefan laughed.

“What’s that?” asked Jan.

“They kept saying they were going to Moscow, but they never did get there.”

“Keep moving,” Jan said. “God preserve us from reaching any of the towns we’ve been travelling to. But if we don’t keep moving we’ll never reach that forest.”

As Sheila stumbled after him she thought, the first twenty miles were painful, the second twenty miles were hell, but the third twenty miles are such agony that I’ve stopped even feeling them.

“We’ll be there before dawn,” Jan said cheerily. “If we keep moving with no more asking for rests,” he added, looking pointedly over his shoulder at Sheila.

*

Jan was right. Well before dawn they came to a small village, and in the distance, stretching along the whole horizon, as far as they could see, was a heavy blot of darkness. Under the clouded moonlight it was like a ribbon of black velvet joining flat grey fields to a threatening night sky. “Yon’s the forest,” Jan said.

Sheila, too tired to be able to say “I hope so,” just looked. Trees, many of them, stretching for miles, so dense that they formed one wall, one unit, almost a world. Plenty of them, too, she thought thankfully.

Jan left her and Stefan under a hazel-tree. He was going to the cluster of houses by himself. “That storm’s been threatening all night. It’s following us,” he said. “You’ll be safer here if it breaks. Lightning never struck a hazel-tree.”

When he was gone Sheila, crouching close to Stefan, tried to follow him with her eyes. But after the first few minutes she couldn’t see him.

He was gone far longer than she liked. Even Stefan had become impatient. The storm had something to do with their nervousness. It struck cruelly at the cowering houses and the moaning trees. Sheila glanced uncertainly at the branches overhead.

She said, “Let’s get into the open.”

Stefan whispered, “But this is a hazel-tree. Jan chose it specially. All you have to do is to pray to Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. The hazel-tree sheltered them on their flight to Egypt. It will never be struck by lightning.”

“Do you believe that, Stefan?”

“All the country people do.”

Sheila hesitated, and then started to edge her way into the open. But a white flash lit the earth in front of them as clearly as any searchlight, and she stopped, lowering herself on to her elbows and then flat on to the ground. On the road beyond the field she saw two cars. The angry voice of the storm had hidden the roar of their engines. They were rushing towards the village. Then the flash was gone, and the cars vanished into the stormy dark.

She pulled herself back under the shelter of the long grasses round the hazel-tree’s roots. She would have to trust the peasants. In any case, she’d rather face a bolt of lightning than a car full of Nazis.

Jan came when the sheets of white light no longer played over the fields. The thunder rolled away farther to the south. The rain alone remained. Cold and heavy, it lashed their shoulders and whipped their legs as they followed Jan along the windbreak of trees.

“Germans in the village,” Sheila whispered, as Jan paused to steady her over the treacherous roots.

“Aye. The storm brought them. They’ve stopped for shelter. I had just found our Jadwiga. She keeps the inn. She’s serving them with drinks now. She had to send her son to guide us, instead.”

“Were you in the inn when they came?”

“I got out through the back window. It was a near thing. I could do with one of those warm drinks they are swilling.”

“So could I,” Sheila said feelingly, and brushed the rain from her eyes.

Jadwiga’s son was waiting for them at the last tree. They joined him silently, without pausing, and silently they followed the thin small figure, slowly crawled with him across the open field, crouched as he did while they hurried through thin fringes of bush or tree. And the rain slashed at their brows and blinded their eyes, cut their hands and legs, flailed their hunched shoulders. There is a time in the state of human discomfort when additional miseries suddenly cease to be counted. After two miles Sheila went numb. At first she kept saying to herself, “This is not me. This can’t be me.” Now her body moved and stopped in obedience to the shadow ahead of her, but she had passed the stage of amazement, of useless anger, of self-pity. She didn’t even try to protect herself any more. When her feet sank into deeper mud she let them sink. When a branch whipped towards her face she didn’t even turn her head aside.

Suddenly it was darker — so dark that they had to walk, each holding the jacket of the man in front, like a file of blind men. The air was still and smelled sweet; the wind had ceased with the rain. High above them there was a drumming noise, a hollow rhythmical music. Cold drops fell in unexpected showers. Sheila began to realize they had entered the forest. The ground was firmer. Leaves rustled underfoot. A twig cracked. There was a feeling of deep silence, of brooding peace, broken only by the sudden scurry of a startled animal. Dawn must have come, for the forest was no longer a series of black depths stabbing at her eyes; it was a misted grey with unending ranks of ghostlike trees.

The boy leading them paused, and gave a bird’s shrill cry. When the answering cry came he moved on. Suddenly he halted again. Sheila, still clutching Jan’s torn jacket, leaned her head on his broad arm. Her neck seemed to be loose. Her head wouldn’t stay up. She needed Jan’s arm to prop it into position. I’m a doll with the sawdust running out, she thought, and stared dully at the boy’s raised arm. “He wants silence,” she told herself. “He is whispering. What can be wrong now? Dear God, what can be wrong now?” But the boy didn’t seem frightened — he was excited, but not frightened.

“Old Single himself,” he whispered. His eyes were shining. “Keep still, and he won’t attack us.”

Sheila’s eyes followed the pointing arm. At the roots of an oak-tree there was a black bulk, all shoulder, bulging brow, and mean snout. The two powerful tusks pointed towards them. The boar’s eyes glowered at the trees behind which they sheltered. Its enormous head and shoulders turned away, and it was staring in another direction. Then, without warning, and moving with a quickness which made Sheila flinch, it was lost in a maze of bushes.

“He heard the others. They must be coming near,” the boy explained. But his eyes, still shining with excitement, stared in the direction which the boar had taken. “Isn’t he a beauty?” he kept saying. “We saw him, didn’t we? That’s Old Single, and we saw him.”

Altogether too much of him, Sheila thought. She found she was clutching Stefan’s hand in a paralysing grip.

Old Single had been right after all. Sheila hadn’t heard
them approach, but they were there. Two men carrying rifles, with pheasant feathers in their caps, stepped out of cover. They looked well fed and clean; and their clothes weren’t in rags. It wasn’t this so much that made Sheila stare. It was the way they walked and held their heads. Free men live in this forest, she thought, as she watched them advancing towards the boy.

She looked at Jan and Stefan and smiled.

The boy had left them. He had gone, imitating the soldiers, with a careless wave of his hand and a proud smile. His shoulders had broadened as one of the men slapped him on the back. That was the reward he wanted. He was one of them, even if he was not yet ten years old. Back in the village his mother would be waiting anxiously, would make him change his sodden clothes, would force him to drink that cabbage soup, would bother him with low-voiced questions. He would tell her of Old Single, but the soldier’s greeting he would keep for himself.

*

Five miles ago Sheila had determined she was going to walk into the camp on her own feet. No one was going to carry her. If she had come as far as this without needing help she would finish the journey by herself. Perhaps, subconsciously, she knew there was no chance of staying at the camp unless she seemed strong enough. And she wanted to stay. She was tired of being hunted, of pretence, of uncertainty. She would cook, she would carry water and wash clothes, she would nurse, she would do all the jobs she had once hated and shunned, if only they would let her stay. When she saw the two soldiers, their heads held high, their movements bold and free, she knew she was right. Here she would find men who believed in attack. That was what she wanted now. As the men led them through the trees her excitement grew. She drew strength from it. She forgot how miserable she had been only half an hour before. Stefan was looking happier. So was Jan. A weight had slipped from all their hearts. It didn’t matter if their bodies were stiff and slow-moving.

One of the men went ahead, setting the pace. The other brought up the rear. The man talked naturally as they strode with their steady confident step along the bewildering path. No longer was there need of whispers or silent gestures. Deer started before them. Grey hares cocked long ears, vanished longer legs. Pheasants walked jauntily across the path. From the dense bushes and undergrowth a flurried wood-grouse would rise.

They came to a small hut, almost hidden in the undergrowth. Four men came out to watch them pass.

“Much farther?” Sheila asked in desperation, when they didn’t stop.

“Not so far now,” the man following Stefan said. He looked at her face. “Need help? Hey, Tomasz, we’ll give her a carry.”

“No,” Sheila said, and walked on.

There was a second hut, a third hut, each with its watching men. “Wood-grouse,” the leader explained as they passed the huts. “This is where they used to shoot them; the wood-grouse sing here at dawn.”

“No shooting now,” Jan said.

“Bigger game now,” the man agreed, and laughed. “But we can shoot here. The centre of the forest is ten miles from anywhere. A shot doesn’t carry so far. We have to be careful near the forest’s edge — that’s all.”

“We could use bows and arrows,” Stefan said excitedly. “On the birds, I mean.”

The man said, “We’ve got a lot of things planned ——” His smiling confidence was infectious. Jan nodded with interest. Stefan’s questions multiplied in spite of his tiredness. And Sheila, seeing the trees thin out ahead of them, seeing the bright colour of their leaves blotted out by the weathered logs of a long, low house, knew she had managed it. She had won not only against the German patrols; she had won against herself. She was walking into the camp on her own two feet.

*

The room was long and dim. The small windows, far-spaced, didn’t allow much of the early morning light to enter. At one end of the room was a large open fireplace; at the other, under three small windows, a table. High on the brown pine walls heads of animals looked glassily down on the three strangers. Open rafters stretched across the room’s breadth, showing a dark triangle of roof above them. There was a smell of tobacco, of coffee, of roasted food. Sheila didn’t know whether it was staring up through the rafters at the pointed shadow of the roof or the feeling of sudden warmth and civilized life which made her feel so dizzy. She had walked in unhelped; it looked as if she would never get out that way. She swayed, and Jan’s strong arm helped her to steady herself. Stefan, his eyes fixed excitedly on the large wall-map, on the uniformed men, noticed nothing else.

The officers grouped round the table had raised their heads as the two soldiers shepherded the newcomers through the doorway. They looked with an annoyance at this interruption, which gave way to silent pity. Adam Wisniewski was there, two other officers, and the white-haired man. One of them said brusquely to the soldiers, “Three more of them? Well, give them something to eat. We’ll question them later. And, for God’s sake, scrub them.” Adam Wisniewski didn’t even look at them any more. He was too. busy explaining something. The white-haired man was the only one who still stared.

Sheila’s sustaining excitement ebbed. She looked at Jan, holding her up so determinedly. He had more sense than to expect anyone to be excited over what they had done. Nowadays a journey such as theirs was mere routine. Most of the men here would have wilder, grimmer tales to tell. The roof’s pointed height, the soaring antlers on the stags’ heads, made Sheila feel still smaller. She made as if to turn round to the doorway, but it was as if she were standing on ice: her feet were afraid to turn.

The white-haired man’s voice was coming nearer. “…recognize that man,” he was saying, “and the boy.”

Jan let Sheila go, straightened his shoulders, and saluted. “Jan Pietka from Captain Reymont’s camp, sir,” he said with natural pride.

“You’ve travelled quickly. I arrived here only two hours ago, and I was alone. You’ve done well.” He looked as if he needed sleep, too, but he had bathed and shaved and discarded his peasant dress for his cavalry uniform. Every one looked so clean, Sheila thought. Clean, clean. She suddenly realized how filmy she was. Even the white-haired man hadn’t recognized her like this.

“Any of the others here yet?” Jan asked quickly.

“No, you are the first. Better get washed, find some dry clothes, something to eat, and rest. We’ll question you after that.” And then, as if he had just remembered, “You were in charge of the English girl, weren’t you?” He stared at Sheila, then suddenly reached forward to pull the kerchief back off her hair.

“We’ll question them later, Colonel Sierakowski,” Wisniewski said impatiently, and moved some papers aside to make room for a map. “Now, if you come here I’ll explain what we…”

Sheila saw in Sierakowski’s eyes unexpected sympathy. She turned shakily to take a step out of the room. She wanted to get away. She had perhaps wanted praise, but she couldn’t bear pity.

Sierakowski was speaking quickly. Chairs scraped at the table. Footsteps hurried across the room. Adam Wisniewski was beside her. He was saying something. He had caught her arm. She kept her face turned away from him. And then, suddenly, her feet were lifted off the treacherous ground, her body relaxed in a firm grip, and Adam was carrying her into the sunlight streaming sideways through the trees.

NEXT INSTALLMENT | ALL INSTALLMENTS SO FAR

***

RADIUM AGE SCIENCE FICTION: “Radium Age” is HILOBROW’s name for the 1904–33 era, which saw the discovery of radioactivity, the revelation that matter itself is constantly in movement — a fitting metaphor for the first decades of the 20th century, during which old scientific, religious, political, and social certainties were shattered. This era also saw the publication of genre-shattering writing by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Sax Rohmer, E.E. “Doc” Smith, Jack London, Arthur Conan Doyle, Aldous Huxley, Olaf Stapledon, Karel Čapek, H.P. Lovecraft, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Yevgeny Zamyatin, Philip Gordon Wylie, and other pioneers of post-Verne/Wells, pre-Golden Age “science fiction.” More info here.

READ GORGEOUS PAPERBACKS: HiLoBooks has reissued the following 10 obscure but amazing Radium Age science fiction novels in beautiful print editions: Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague, Rudyard Kipling’s With the Night Mail (and “As Easy as A.B.C.”), Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Poison Belt, H. Rider Haggard’s When the World Shook, Edward Shanks’ The People of the Ruins, William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land, J.D. Beresford’s Goslings, E.V. Odle’s The Clockwork Man, Cicely Hamilton’s Theodore Savage, and Muriel Jaeger’s The Man with Six Senses. For more information, visit the HiLoBooks homepage.

SERIALIZED BY HILOBOOKS: Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague | Rudyard Kipling’s With the Night Mail (and “As Easy as A.B.C.”) | Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Poison Belt | H. Rider Haggard’s When the World Shook | Edward Shanks’ The People of the Ruins | William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land | J.D. Beresford’s Goslings | E.V. Odle’s The Clockwork Man | Cicely Hamilton’s Theodore Savage | Muriel Jaeger’s The Man With Six Senses | Jack London’s “The Red One” | Philip Francis Nowlan’s Armageddon 2419 A.D. | Homer Eon Flint’s The Devolutionist | W.E.B. DuBois’s “The Comet” | Edgar Rice Burroughs’s The Moon Men | Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland | Sax Rohmer’s “The Zayat Kiss” | Eimar O’Duffy’s King Goshawk and the Birds | Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Lost Prince | Morley Roberts’s The Fugitives | Helen MacInnes’s The Unconquerable | Geoffrey Household’s Watcher in the Shadows | William Haggard’s The High Wire | Hammond Innes’s Air Bridge | James Branch Cabell’s Jurgen | John Buchan’s “No Man’s Land” | John Russell’s “The Fourth Man” | E.M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops” | John Buchan’s Huntingtower | Arthur Conan Doyle’s When the World Screamed | Victor Bridges’ A Rogue By Compulsion | Jack London’s The Iron Heel | H. De Vere Stacpoole’s The Man Who Lost Himself | P.G. Wodehouse’s Leave It to Psmith | Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game” | Houdini and Lovecraft’s “Imprisoned with the Pharaohs” | Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Sussex Vampire”.

ORIGINAL FICTION: HILOBROW has serialized three novels: James Parker’s The Ballad of Cocky The Fox (“a proof-of-concept that serialization can work on the Internet” — The Atlantic); Karinne Keithley Syers’s Linda Linda Linda (which includes original music); and Robert Waldron’s roman à clef The School on the Fens. We also publish original stories and comics. These include: Matthew Battles’s stories “Gita Nova“, “Makes the Man,” “Imago,” “Camera Lucida,” “A Simple Message”, “Children of the Volcano”, “The Gnomon”, “Billable Memories”, “For Provisional Description of Superficial Features”, “The Dogs in the Trees”, “The Sovereignties of Invention”, and “Survivor: The Island of Dr. Moreau”; several of these later appeared in the collection The Sovereignties of Invention | Peggy Nelson’s “Mood Indigo“, “Top Kill Fail“, and “Mercerism” | Annalee Newitz’s “The Great Oxygen Race” | Flourish Klink’s Star Trek fanfic “Conference Comms” | Charlie Mitchell’s “A Fantasy Land” | Charlie Mitchell’s “Sentinels” | Joshua Glenn’s “The Lawless One”, and the mashup story “Zarathustra vs. Swamp Thing” | Adam McGovern and Paolo Leandri’s Idoru Jones comics | John Holbo’s “Sugarplum Squeampunk” | “Another Corporate Death” (1) and “Another Corporate Death” (2) by Mike Fleisch | Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer and Frank Fiorentino’s graphic novel “The Song of Otto” (excerpt) | John Holbo’s graphic novel On Beyond Zarathustra (excerpt) | “Manoj” and “Josh” by Vijay Balakrishnan | “Verge” by Chris Rossi, and his audio novel Low Priority Hero | EPIC WINS: THE ILIAD (1.408-415) by Flourish Klink | EPIC WINS: THE KALEVALA (3.1-278) by James Parker | EPIC WINS: THE ARGONAUTICA (2.815-834) by Joshua Glenn | EPIC WINS: THE MYTH OF THE ELK by Matthew Battles | TROUBLED SUPERHUMAN CONTEST: Charles Pappas, “The Law” | CATASTROPHE CONTEST: Timothy Raymond, “Hem and the Flood” | TELEPATHY CONTEST: Rachel Ellis Adams, “Fatima, Can You Hear Me?” | OIL SPILL CONTEST: A.E. Smith, “Sound Thinking | LITTLE NEMO CAPTION CONTEST: Joe Lyons, “Necronomicon” | SPOOKY-KOOKY CONTEST: Tucker Cummings, “Well Marbled” | INVENT-A-HERO CONTEST: TG Gibbon, “The Firefly” | FANFICTION CONTEST: Lyette Mercier’s “Sex and the Single Superhero”

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