Gamut Magazine
Issue #1

Up From Slavery

By: Victor LaValle

(Originally published in Weird Tales #363.)


I’m going to start with the pregnant woman because she survived.

79 other Amtrak passengers weren’t so lucky. 243 people boarded the Lake Shore Limited at Penn Station; we left at 3:40 PM. I had an appointment in Syracuse; me and a couple of lawyers in a windowless room. That occupied my mind more than who was sitting nearby. So I didn’t notice the pregnant woman until the train had flipped.

Our car actually lifted off the tracks and my body followed suit two seconds later, then I looked to my right and there’s a pregnant woman with her head tucked down between her legs. Crash position. She turned out to be a lot smarter than me. She must’ve been paying attention. News reports eventually said the train hit a curve in the tracks going at 106 miles per hour. Of course the damn thing derailed.

You’d think a disaster like that would be loud but it was the complete opposite.

My head hit the seat in front of me and then I couldn’t hear at all. Dying in silence, that’s what I thought was going to happen. The quiet scared me as much as the crash. But obviously I didn’t die, though I did get knocked around real hard. And after my senses returned I looked over and there was the pregnant woman, patting her belly and talking to it. I watched her lips moving. She looked surprisingly calm. Maybe she was too busy thinking about the child to worry about herself. That’s an admirable quality. For a second or two I admired her. Then I returned to our regularly scheduled train crash.

Next thing I did was check my watch, but my watch was gone. Like an idiot a spent a good thirty seconds digging for it, as if finding it mattered. I don’t know why I did that. Oh wait, yes I do. I was in shock. But finally I reminded myself about what was important and I pulled myself upright and I crawled toward the pregnant woman.

I think I asked if she needed help. I couldn’t hear my own voice. Didn’t even feel the bass in my throat so maybe it wasn’t just my ears that were damaged, that’s what I was thinking. I must’ve said something though because the woman looked up from her belly and then pointed toward the roof. The escape hatch had popped open. Took a second for me to realize she was actually pointing at a window. The train had landed on its side and the window had popped off. She pointed up at it again.

Gray day outside; I wondered if it would rain. Then I got myself up and helped the pregnant woman to her feet. She might’ve been anywhere from three to eight months pregnant. How the hell should I know? She reached toward the window, giving me a sense of how much of a boost she needed. I went down on a knee, must’ve looked like one weird ass proposal. Still, she accepted, planted one boot on my thigh and stepped up. I laced by hands and held her other foot up then I rose to my feet. That caused a bad sensation to run down my right leg and I wondered if I’d been damaged more than I could tell. She waggled her arms, trying to get a grasp so I had to stretch a little more—which hurt so bad it made me start sweating—and then she got hold of the frame and pulled herself up. Once she had her arms and head through I bent low and basically pushed her up as hard as I could. I don’t mean I threw her out the window. I mean she escaped.

She looked down at me but we both knew she wasn’t going to be pulling my ass up there. That’s some movie type shit. I waved her off, told her not to worry. She thanked me. I heard her say it. That’s when I realized my hearing had returned and I clapped. She held my gaze for one long second and I imagined she was wishing me well. Maybe she was just in shock, but I still like to think that’s what she was doing.

Now it was time for me to get the fuck out of Dodge. I threaded my way along the train car, figured I’d have to come to a doorway soon. Maybe one of the cars had been torn open and I could stumble out that way. Along with the details of the crash there were survivors who spoke of a man who helped them climb out of the wreckage, more than a few people mentioned this. When they looked back to thank the guy he had already moved on. The description of this man matched me, right down to the pattern on my tie. I know it’s vain, but I feel proud of that.

Still, I have to admit to some complicated feelings. The public would blame the train’s engineer for the catastrophic accident but that wasn’t true. I helped those survivors, yes, but I caused the train crash, too. I wasn’t alone though. Two of us deserve the blame.


None of this is going to make sense if I don’t back up a little bit. Three months, that’s all I need. I was living in New York, tucked away in a studio apartment in Sunnyside, Queens. Twenty-nine and barely getting by but at least I had a job. Freelance copy editor. Yeah, soak in the prestige. Still, I got to work from home and I read books all day (and night). As far as life outcomes go it could’ve been worse. It had been worse, in fact, but I don’t need to talk about that yet.

One of the details of the life of a freelance copy editor is that you get used to having messengers show up at your door. The internet age allows for files to be shot across the globe, sure, but at a certain point there’s a manuscript that requires one last pass and I always did better if I had the old pen and paper in front of me. So publishers—big press, small press, university presses—would eventually have to pay for that if they were working with me. So when I got a ring on the buzzer I figured it was just another manuscript delivery. The only thing I did before answering the door was to make sure I was wearing pants. Another plus of the at home life, of course, is that you can make your living in your underwear. I didn’t recognize the messenger, but it’s a job with a high turnover rate. After I signed on the guy’s touchscreen, he handed me one little envelope. That’s it. I started to ask a question but that dude had done his job and he was gone. No doubt he needed to make twenty-five more stops that day, and all that hustle would likely barely cover his rent and utilities.

Inside the apartment I read the name on the envelope, making sure it was mine. Simon Dust. People always think I’ve changed my name legally. It sounds made up. But it’s the name they gave me when I joined the foster care system here in New York.

Maybe a judge chose it for me, or my first social worker, I don’t know. No one ever explained the choice. They only told me what I would be called. So in a sense someone did make up my name, it just wasn’t me.

So this envelope had my name it. Then I looked at the return address and found the name of a law firm: Pabodie & Associates. In my life there had never been a good reason to get a letter from a firm so I put the envelope down and took off my pants. I could at least be comfortable when I found out that some old credit card debt had come back to haunt me. Instead, I opened the letter to learn something more surprising: my father was dead.

I read this news and then I took a long breath and then I went back to the kitchen where I finished the copy edits on a book that was due in a month.


In the evening I read the letter again. The feeling of being creamed by a car had passed so I could focus on the words and their meaning. The first interesting fact about my father was that he existed at all. The second was his name: Thomas Edwin Dyer.

T.E.D. Okay, I thought. Good to know.

The next surprise came in the body of the second paragraph. My father had died and as his next of kin I had inherited his home and all its effects. “Next of kin.” I hadn’t ever been able to track this guy down. Not him or my mother. And now, apparently, I owned his house and everything in it.

I may have mentioned barely getting by. My studio apartment would’ve fit snugly in the corner of someone else’s studio apartment. Maybe this absentee bastard would turn out to have a few things I could sell. That’s how I quickly got to thinking. Does this make me sound mercenary? Probably so. That evening I sent in the copy edits on the book just to be sure I’d get a paycheck sooner than later. Then I booked a ticket to where my father had been living. Syracuse, New York.


Syracuse, New York. Talk about the decline of the West.

At the train station I went to the taxi stand, it looked more like a bus station stop; one sedan sat there, the driver inside. I had to get up close to see the dude was fast asleep. Didn’t wake up when I knocked on the window. But then I tried the passenger door and as soon as it opened—with a rusty old squawk—the guy snapped to attention and asked me where I wanted to go. Asleep at the wheel. This turned out to describe the city of Syracuse as a whole.

I gave him my father’s address and as we drove the decaying upstate city scrolled past my windows. You could tell that once this place had been a powerhouse but now all the factories were shuttered and the potholes in the streets resembled a bad case of tooth decay. My life in New York had been hard but I realized how different that same hardship felt out here. This whole city—hell, this whole region—had been cut loose from the line and sent off to drift. No rescue teams in sight. The taxi driver and I spoke a little. He apologized for how I’d seen him. No time off, he told me. I’m on the clock all the time. And I’m one of the lucky ones around here. At least I have a job.

I reached my father’s house. Sorry, that doesn’t right, even now. I reached the home of Thomas Edwin Dyer, a two-story deal, aluminum siding and bars on the windows. It looked like an old piggy bank with only a few pennies still left inside.

A street full of run down one-family houses. Even for Syracuse this block looked rough. It was the middle of the day on a Thursday, nobody else out. Even after I paid, the cabbie seemed hesitant to unlock the doors. Maybe he wanted me to crawl out the window. Once I did step out the guy sped away. I barely had time to slip my bag out the damn vehicle.

You’d think the lawyer handling my father’s estate would have to meet me here, hand me the keys, but that’s old school thinking. The lawyer had simply attached a key safe to the bars by one of the front windows. All I had to was punch in the four digit code: 1-9-3-.

“I think you’re looking for this.”

A woman’s voice. Right beside me.

I looked up from where I was squatting and found myself looking at a hand holding a silver key. But when I reached for it the hand closed tight and the woman took two steps back.

“My husband is right next door,” she said as I stood. “Lucky him. At least he’s indoors.”

She wore her hair short and a pair of green earrings that nearly matched her eyes. She had narrow shoulders and a narrow waist, one of those people who are healthy in her sixties and still runs half marathons on ruined knees. While I was assessing her, she did the same to me. I must’ve looked road weary. The train ride had taken six hours and the miles showed.

“You don’t work for that lawyer,” she said.

“No.” I pointed at the key safe. “But that lawyer told me how to get into my father’s house.”

Now she frowned. “I’m sorry but the man who lived here…”

“Thomas Edwin Dyer,” I said.

She looked at the house, up to the second story windows. “He went by Teddy.

That’s what everyone called him.”

“Not me,” I said.

She looked back at the house next door, her home; it had a lawn that had been well cared for and clean windows. Imagine finding one clean sock in the dirty laundry basket, that’s what her house looked like.

“If this is a scam or something I can always call the cops.”

“Why would you think that?”

“Well to start, Teddy lived here for thirty years and I have never seen you before.

And, well, Teddy was…” she looked at me again and cut off the rest of the sentence.

It took me moment to figure out what she wanted to say, but couldn’t. “White? Is that what you mean?”

She didn’t answer, but she did look away. “Look, I don’t want this to turn hostile.”

I didn’t understand why simply saying the word “white” made white people assume things were going to turn ugly.

“If he was white,” I said, “then my mother wasn’t.”

I might not have known my parents, but it didn’t take Miss Marple to figure out that I was mixed.

The woman rolled her tongue around inside her mouth while she let this idea roll around in her brain. Finally she said, “Then I’ll go in with you.”

“That’s not necessary.” I put my hand out for the key. I mean who was this lady to presume the right?

She looked at my hand then back up at my face. Where before she’d been doing her best gatekeeper grimace she now seemed less forceful. “Look,” she said. “I’m Helen. I’m the one who…found him.”

I looked from her back to the house then back to her. “He died in there?”

“Dead two weeks before I finally let myself in.” She showed me the key. “We had his spare and he had ours. I went in because of all the circulars piled up by the front door.

Teddy wasn’t the type to just leave them there.” She sighed. “So I went inside. Found him in the recliner.” She raised her eyebrows. “Sorry.”

Now Helen gestured toward the door, using the key to point. “I didn’t know Teddy had a son. Let me take you in.”

I nodded but before she opened the door she walked back onto her property, up the front steps. She opened the door and shouted loud enough for me to hear.

“Harvey? Harvey! I’m going into Teddy’s place for a minute. His son is here.”

Harvey must’ve said something, but I couldn’t hear it. I wasn’t listening. I didn’t know Teddy had a son. My face had gone flush when she said it. Bad enough that he hadn’t raised me, but it was a deeper cut to realize I’d never even been mentioned.


My father’s home was a monument to mania. The first floor of the house was little more than a garage and a mudroom, a place to kick off the boots and coat before climbing a set of stairs to the second floor where my father had done all his living. His dying too, apparently.

The mudroom should’ve been my first clue. There were so many stacks of old crap that I couldn’t be sure of the color of the floor. Boxes and boxes, all beaten up and weathered; stacked high too. The topmost boxes were at my chest level. Helen’s small frame looked dwarfed. She might as well have been weaving through a minotaur’s maze. She waved me forward and I had to turn sideways to get through the boxes. The mud room gave off the odor of mildew and madness. Then we went upstairs and the shit got even worse.

A two-bedroom home with a living room, kitchen and bathroom and every room had been colonized. By what? By a bunch of bullshit, as far as I could tell. A room full of old magazines and newspapers, another for records from the big band era, nothing more recent than 1946. A collector, someone who knew the music, might’ve experienced a full-body orgasm at the sight. I only felt resentful. He’d taken better care of a bunch of fucking albums than he had ever taken care of me.

There might’ve been a bed in one of the bedrooms, but I couldn’t find it. Instead there were stacks of maps, print outs of travel journals from the early twentieth-century, the kind of stuff you can now find through a dutiful computer search through the archives of some institute or library. All of it related to Antarctica. And yet I found no computer in the house so I guessed he’d printed all this stuff at the local library over the course of a decade or four. What a useless life. There was a single path weaving through the mess, on this floor the mounds stood as tall as me. It really looked like the man had been building himself a fortress inside the walls of his home. Layers of protection.

The path led, finally, to one thing there in the living room. The recliner.

“This is where I found him,” Helen said quietly, looking down at the chair. “The first recliners were designed in the early 1900s. They were used in sanatoriums. Your father taught me that.”

I looked around the living room, patted a hand on a column of Crate & Barrel catalogs nearly four feet tall. “Sounds about right.”

Helen pursed her lips like maybe she wanted to argue with me about my father, but then she thought better of it. Instead she looked back at the chair. Now I could make out the impression that his body had made over the course of many years. It was like seeing a sarcophagus without the mummy in it.

“When I found him,” Helen said. Her voice trailed off then she cleared her throat. “He was in this chair, pointing.”

She raised her right arm, stiff, and extended her finger.

I turned in the same direction; he would’ve been gesturing toward the kitchen, or the steps that led up from the mudroom.

Helen sniffed. “It was like the last thing he saw, was someone coming up the stairs.”


Thanks, Helen!

As soon as I’d been creeped the fuck out, Helen left. But after that part of me wanted to ask her to stay. It was too embarrassing though. What kind of big black man is afraid to be left alone in the house? (This one.)

I didn’t sleep the whole night; instead I wandered, peeking into boxes at random. I left the lights on in every room, pulled the shower curtain back all the way so I could see inside, opened every closet door. Helen and Harvey came by in the evening, they brought me dinner. In the morning Harvey dropped off a plate of breakfast. They were kind people.


By the time I took the train home I’d decided to sell the place. The feeling of fear when I was in the place faded as I got farther from Syracuse. So I made plans: I’d hire a junk removal team to go through and get rid of everything; I’d find a real estate agent to sell the place. Maybe the sale would put a little money in my saving account. Or, to be more honest, the sale would give me a reason to open a savings account.

On the train ride home I worked on my edits some more. A small press in England was putting out a new edition of Up from Slavery, Booker T. Washington’s memoir about his boyhood as a slave in Virginia and his struggles to achieve an education, true freedom, as a black man in the United States. This edition would include footnotes by the book’s editor and illustrations. It was going to be one hell of a volume. I felt glad to work on it since most of the books I copy edited were jargon filled, highly technical and dull as shit. I also thought this British publisher wanted to have at least one black person read through this damn thing before they published it and that’s partly why they sought me out. I’d decided to take the train back and forth between Syracuse and New York City mostly because the six-hour trips would be a great way to focus and work without distractions.

I was in a mood on that trip back though. That shouldn’t be too surprising. In only two days I’d learned I had a father, lost a father, and inherited his hoarder’s hovel.

Anyone would be feeling agitated.

So I noticed something this time. On the train no one would sit with me. I mean of course, on one level, I loved this. Two seats to myself? Yes, please. But as we got closer to New York City the train turned crowded. I mean people were standing in the aisle at one point and still no one would sit next to me. This wasn’t the first time this kind of thing happened of course. It happens on trains and buses all the time. Would probably happen on airplanes too if people weren’t assigned seats. Folks who aren’t black might not know what I’m talking about but the vast majority of black folks just nodded their heads. It happens on the regular. I wouldn’t say it’s hurtful exactly, but it’s definitely noticeable.

Normally I wouldn’t have cared but all that stuff at my dad’s had me feeling particularly untouchable, unlovable. I wonder if things might’ve turned out differently if even one person had slipped into the seat beside me on the train that Friday morning. Is that unfair? Absolutely.

Still true though.


There are so many steps involved in closing out someone’s estate, even if the term “estate” is kind of a joke when talking about what my father left behind. A house worth about 75k according to a few real estate websites and, as far as I could tell, that was it.

The man had no bank accounts, this made the think he didn’t trust such institutions. For a second I’d thrilled at the idea of finding a suitcase stuffed with hundreds of thousands of dollars, but no.

Anyway, the steps: I had to find an estate lawyer, had to file with the Onondaga County Clerk to become the administrator for the estate, had to file with the IRS for an EIN number for the estate, had to find a real estate agent in Syracuse who could help me sell the place, and I needed to hire a junk removal company to clear out my father’s home. No way to do all this over the phone so I visited Syracuse three more times. I always took the train.

On the first of these follow-up trips I found myself going half nuts counting the number of people who passed me by. The plethora of folks who wouldn’t take a seat next to me. Even in the moment I knew it was ridiculous, but I couldn’t stop. It’s like worrying a wound, scratching at a mosquito bite. You shouldn’t do it, but then you do it all day. With some time and distance I can see now that I was boiling with grief, but I never would’ve called it that at the time. Why would I? Who grieves for a person they never knew? And yet, there’s no other way to explain it. The whole way up to Syracuse I waited for someone to sit down. No one did.

It didn’t help that I’d been living in the world of Booker T. Washington. Born on a plantation in Franklin County, Virginia, the year might’ve been 1858 or 1859. He couldn’t be sure because such records weren’t kept, not for slaves anyway. His mother was the plantation’s cook, and there were two older siblings, a brother and sister. His father was rumored to be a white man who lived on a nearby plantation, but Booker never met him.

There are seventeen chapters in his memoir, but the story of his life under slavery takes up only the first. The Civil War popped off during his childhood. He was free before he reached adulthood. And yet it’s this first chapter that I read, and reread the most. Washington talks about how, in his childhood, he’d never once been allowed to play. His waking hours were spent cleaning the yards of the plantation, bringing water to the slaves in the fields, once a week he took corn to a nearby mill to be ground. He discusses the hardship of this last task in greatest detail.

Washington, being a boy of probably no more than six or seven, was given a horse and a large sack of corn balanced on its back. He would ride the horse alone down a winding road, one that led through dense woods. Often the sack would get unbalanced and fall off the horse’s back. But the corn weighed more than the boy. He couldn’t get it back onto the horse by himself so he would have to wait—often for hours—until an adult passed by and helped him get the sack up again. Because of these delays he wouldn’t return from the mill until late at night. There were rumors that the woods were full of soldiers who had deserted the army and that if a deserter came across a black boy alone he would cut off the boy’s ears. These trips were a torture to young Booker. The last indignity was that he would arrive home so late each week that he was beaten or flogged when he’d finally returned. Imagine that. This fucking kid was six or seven.

On the trip back to New York I practically seethed in my seat. Somebody had better fucking sit next to me this time, I thought. But also, woe to whoever had the bad luck to sit next to me.

And then, when we were about a half hour from Penn Station, someone did it. A tall, skinny white guy in a wrinkly suit so oversized that it looked like he was wearing monk’s robes. Think of David Byrne back in the Stop Making Sense era. This guy’s version didn’t seem like he’d done it on purpose though. More like he’d been heavier once and never stopped dressing in those old clothes. He didn’t say a word, didn’t even look at me the whole time. He had a paperback that he slipped out of his coat pocket, head down and fully engrossed. I’m sure he didn’t notice me, and why would he even care, but his presence soothed me much more than I could explain. At least one person—some random dude—didn’t treat me like a monster. What did that say about how often others did.


The second trip up is when I planned to meet the real estate agent. I’d picked a guy after a few minutes of internet sleuthing. We made plans to meet at my father’s place. On the train ride up I got into an argument with the editor at the press putting out the Booker T. Washington book. They’d sent me some of the illustrated pages—they’d secured work from a talented artist—but I noticed they only had a single illustration slated for all of chapter one: a drawing of a black infant—young Booker, just born. Nice enough, but that was it. Visually, it would be like we’d leapfrogged from his birth to his emancipation in chapter two.

I suggested a drawing of the boy in the dense woods, alone but for the horse. The sack of corn fallen on the ground. The child could be crying. Or, maybe they could even supply a picture of two severed children’s ears. The editor didn’t find this helpful. Called me morbid. I pointed out that we were talking about the life of a child slave, how the fuck do you make that upbeat?

Anyway, that’s what I was up to on the phone when someone stopped in the aisle and asked if he could take the seat. I’m pretty sure I didn’t even answer, so busy on the call that I hadn’t felt isolated at all. At that moment the book’s editor pointed out that copy editor’s weren’t usually hired to recommend content. Maybe I didn’t really want the job after all? Just as soon as he said that I turned my head, looking around because I felt myself ready to let loose in a truly vulgar way, when I realized the person sitting next to me was the same white dude from the previous trip. Tall, thin, wrinkled suit, paperback already out. The sight of him surprised me so much that it flipped my whole mood. I smiled, laughed a little, and the editor on the phone thought I was taking things lighter with him. This made him less defensive, too. And soon he’d agreed there should be one or two more illustrations in chapter one. Portraits of the childhood Washington describes, but they’d probably still avoid the severed ears. Fair enough.

I got off the phone and felt better than fine. I hadn’t wanted to lose the job.

Couldn’t afford to. The estate attorney demanded a three thousand dollar retainer and that cleared most of my checking account. I had a thousand left to pay the junk removal people and I didn’t know if that would cover it. I needed the work.

I slipped my phone into my pocket and couldn’t help staring at the man in the baggy suit. What were the odds that he’d be on this train at the same time as me. Zero, that’s what. As soon as I thought this the guy looked up from his book, the covers were held together with so much tape I couldn’t even make out the title.

“Simon,” he said. “Let’s have a talk.”

I must’ve looked startled. That’s because I was. He closed the book, slipped it into a pocket.

“I knew your father,” he said.


He invited me to the dining car. I followed him because he wouldn’t say any more there, better to talk over a meal. I would’ve laughed if I’d had use of my vocal chords. As it was I could hardly follow him, my legs felt so weak. We had to walk backward two cars. I watched the back of his head as moved past one person and the next, on their phones, reading the newspaper, staring out the window, fast asleep. A part of me wanted to grab one of them and ask them to hold onto me. I felt as if I were being pulled forward, like when you get caught in the undertow and are dragged so far out into the ocean you may never be able to swim back to shore. But I didn’t do that, didn’t know how they would react. A black man grabs you on the Amtrak train, is your first thought to assist him? Being inside a body people fear, means people don’t believe you might ever be the one who needs help.

When I say dining car I’m not talking about those little café joints, where you stand in line for a coffee and a microwaved sandwich. I mean eight booths, a waiter, and a hostess who seats you. It still isn’t fancy, but there’s an air of the diner vibe. We got there and it seemed my seatmate had made a reservation. For two. We were placed at a table and handed a pair of flimsy menus and two bottled waters. As he read through his options, I kept watch on him.

“I always go with the steak,” he said. He sounded downright chipper, a man happy to break bread. “Once I saw a menu here that had sushi as an option. Amtrak sushi? No thank you.”

I held the menu in my hands but hadn’t looked away from his face yet. He never blinked, not the whole time I watched him and this made me feel drawn toward him. It’s an old hypnotist’s trick. They use it because it works. He nodded and sighed.

“You want to ask me the dull questions first, but I’m going to caution you against that. We don’t have much time to talk before someone else gets seated at this table.”

I frowned. “But it’s our table.” Then I wanted to slap myself. Was that really what I most wanted to say?

“They seat four to a table,” he told me. “No arguments.”

“Fine, fine.” I slapped the menu down but it made only pathetic swiffing sound. “How did you know my name?”

He leaned back in his chair and pointed at me. “Boring,” he said. “How did you know my father?”

He wrinkled his nose, bad odor-style. “Doo-doo.”

And then, sure enough, a pair of diners slid into our booth, a mother and her preteen daughter. It felt as if they’d arrived only because I’d asked uninteresting questions of him. The mother gave quick, tight smiles, the kid ignored us entirely. They picked up their menus. The man looked across at me and waggled his eyebrows. Told you.

“I’m going to have the steak,” the mother said softly.

The daughter said, “Do you know how factory farms treat cows? I’m vegan now, Mom.”

The mother sighed, “So choose something else, Crystal.”

“At least tell me your name then!” To be honest I probably shouted this question. Mom and daughter both flinched beside me but I didn’t pay any attention to that.

He grinned and patted the tabletop. He pushed a bottle of water my way and indicated for me to drink. He opened his bottle and did the same. “Now that is an interesting question.”


The real estate agent arrived early, his car already in the driveway when I showed up in the cab. He didn’t mind, or at least he said he didn’t. I looked to see if Helen and Harvey would pop out of their house to say hello, but they must’ve been out so instead I got the key safe open (1-9-3-6) and let the agent in. He was probably fifty and he smiled often. He had a manila folder tucked under one arm. He wore a sport jacket with a checked pattern that looked surprisingly stylish.

“How was your trip up?” he asked, but it was perfunctory. He wasn’t listening so he didn’t notice when I hesitated a moment and then said, “I don’t know.”

While we were walking through the front door I explained the circumstances quickly. As soon as we stepped inside he saw the ziggurats of boxes and magazines and this wasn’t even the worst of it, we hadn’t gone up to the second floor.

“Jiminy,” he said softly.

Then I led him upstairs and he panned from left to right, scanning the living room the kitchen. He regained the smile he’d lost downstairs. “Okay,” he said. “How are we planning to handle this?”

I told him I was interviewing a junk remover later that same day. This seemed to please him. “So this’ll be an ‘as is’ listing. That’s what I’d suggest.”

He slipped the manila envelope out from his arm and set it on a stack of Scientific American magazines that must’ve gone back a decade.

“I’ve got some comps here,” he said. “So we can get an idea of what similar houses in this neighborhood are going for.” He stooped over slightly, looking to me in the conspiratorial way of people who are about to go into business. And in that posture I found myself back on the Amtrak train, back in the dining car, with the man in the baggy suit. Food had been served. Three of us at the table had chosen the steak, while the daughter, Crystal, ate only a salad. Neither the mother nor daughter was talking. Actually they weren’t moving. When I lifted my head I saw that everyone in the car had gone silent and stiff. Almost everyone. Not him. Not me.

“We’ll have an easier time communicating this way,” he said. When I looked back to him, his face had changed. No, that’s not quite the right way to put it. His face, his whole body had become slightly blurry, like when you draw a picture on a sheet of paper and then erase it, the impression remains.

“Look at your hands,” he said.

When I did they looked a hell of lot like him. They were out of focus, faded somehow. I moved my hand and knocked over my empty water bottle.

“Did you drug me?” I asked.

“No, Simon. I have only made you more…aware.”

I turned my head to look out the window; a little daylight might help clear my vision. That’s what I thought. But it didn’t work.

“I want you to be aware of what I am,” the man in the baggy suit said. “And aware of what you are.”

When I looked to the mother and daughter they were just as still, or at least I thought so, but this time I noticed tears on the mother’s cheek. Otherwise her expression remained frozen.

“These things,” the man in the baggy suit said. “They have called me a god. So, let’s say that’s what I am.”

“A god,” I repeated.

“You don’t sound convinced.” He didn’t seem bothered by this.

“Well what am I then? A god, too? You here to tell me I’m the Chosen One?”

“Chosen? No. That would be a stretch.”

He slid one hand across the table and held me by the wrist.

“You,” he said. “Are a slave.”


The guy from the junk removal service showed up about an hour after I’d signed the contract with the real estate agent. I came down the stairs to let him in and gave a wave toward Helen and Harvey’s place but that was really only to make the junk removal guy feel like I knew the neighbors. So he’d trust me enough to walk into the house and get going with his estimate. You do a lot of that kind of hand holding when you look like me. It’s funny how it becomes almost instinctive, making white people feel safe. I don’t even notice I’m doing it half the time. Anyway, I waved at the house but it’s not like anyone was out there. Maybe I’d been wrong about their ages and Helen and Harvey still had to work. The junk guy looked over to the house though and nodded and seemed more at ease so I guess the plan worked.

This guy moved through the house with a lot less fear than the real estate agent.

His company made its money on volume so for him a hoarder’s house was a hefty paycheck. We went through the mudroom and then upstairs and this guy couldn’t stop smiling. By the end of the walk-through this guy gave me an estimate for two thousand. For a minute I considered doing the job myself. I could rent a van and make multiple trips to some kind of dumping site. But how many trips would that be exactly? And where would I stay while I was doing all this? I certainly didn’t know Helen and Harvey enough to ask if I could crash on their couch for the week it would take to get the work done. The power and water had been shut down in my father’s house for non-payment. That would mean a hotel or an Airbnb. Then there would be my meals and pretty quickly I figured out that it would cost the same amount of money but bankrupt me physically, emotionally. I signed the contract with the guy and gave him a five hundred dollar deposit. I hadn’t even rented a room for that trip. I’d gone up on a Saturday morning and headed back down on Saturday night.

On the train ride back I sat alone, but it wasn’t quite the same. This time three different people tried to sit with me—even when there were plenty of other spots free—and I practically chased them off with my malevolent stares. I still felt the touch of the man in the baggy suit, his fingers tight on my wrist. If I’d been alone on the moon I’d still have felt to close to near to his grasp. And what he’d said to me—the rest of it—returned to me as I rode back home.

“I’m a what?” I demanded and reached across the dining table and I grabbed the lapels of the man’s loose suit. “Say that fucking word again.”

I held tight and pulled him toward me and I saw, in his eyes, a spark of surprise.

Maybe even fear. And this time, I liked causing that reaction.

“It’s not your fault,” he said, our faces close because I wouldn’t let go. Around us the world remained still, the mother and daughter frozen beside us, but dust particles stuck in the air began to sparkle, to spark, as if the air itself was catching fire.

“You were born to serve,” he said. “It’s genetic.”

“I’ve heard this shit before,” I said.

“Not like this,” he whispered. He leaned backward and I let go. The sparks in the air began to fall like snow—or ash—and landed on the tables and the floor and the people, too. The world glowed.

“Simon,” the man in the baggy suit said. “I didn’t know you all had names.”

“Everyone’s got a name. I got mine in foster care. Grew up there.”

“Your whole life?” he asked. “No family ever took you in? Doesn’t that seem strange to you? Unlikely?”

“Black babies are the least chosen for adoption,” I said. “Once we reach a certain age, like big enough to walk, we’re kind of fucked. So, no, it isn’t strange at all that I was never taken in.”

The man in the baggy suit picked up his fork and picked up the last piece of steak on his plate.

“You picked the right disguise,” he said.

He swallowed his bite and then grabbed my plate. I hadn’t eaten much. I felt even less hungry now. He cut into my beef and I watched him devour it.

“But enough with charades,” he said. “You are not a black man. You are not Simon. You are a servant, a tool, created by a race of fools who didn’t know how to keep you under heel. But I am not like them.”

He finished my steak and reached to the plate of the mother beside him. He’d become ravenous. He hardly seemed to be chewing.

“Now I have things I want you to do for me and you will do them.”

“Fuck you,” I said.

“Workhorse,” he growled. “Plow horse. You are on your way to Syracuse to meet a real estate agent and a man to clear the garbage from that house. I have no objection to you continuing that charade. But before you do, I want you to visit the old man and woman next door. The ones who were so kind to you. Helen and Harvey. You will enter their home and murder them.

“You will kill them,” he said. “Because I know the word your master’s used to control you. The one they hardwired into your brain.”

“My name is Simon,” I whispered. “And I won’t hurt anyone.”

I looked down at my hands but then coughed with surprise. For a moment—just a flash—they weren’t there at all. They weren’t hands.

The man in the baggy suit had eaten everything. Even the salad the daughter had ordered.

“This is just the start. You will do more for me soon. Hear me, slave.”

He climbed onto the table, crawling across it so he could lean close and whisper in my ear.



After returning to New York I found it hard to get into my work. Every time I sat down to do copy edits on the later chapters of the Booker T. Washington book I was drawn back to that opening chapter, the record of his life as a slave.

Of course there were more hardships than the horse ride out to the mill once a week. He mentions that he and his siblings never, in their entire childhood, slept in a bed. They rested on rags laid on the dirt floor of their cabin. His first shoes were made of wood. And his first shirt was made of flax. He compares wearing a new flax shirt to having a tooth pulled. And he no doubt knew of such pains. The life of a slave sure didn’t include any anesthetic. George Washington famously had a mouthful of wooden teeth, but only more recently historians discovered—or acknowledged—that Washington’s false teeth were all teeth pulled from the mouths of his slaves.

Washington writes that when a flax shirt is new its rough, prickly nature makes it feel like wearing a shirt with a thousand pins in it. And yet it must be worn like that until the flax softens. His only choice as a child was a flax shirt or going shirtless, but of course he wasn’t allowed to be half naked. His will was not his own.

This is just the start.

The editor for book—the one I’d been arguing with on the train—sent me an angry email about my progress.

You will do more for me soon.

He asked me to stop returning to that first chapter. Hadn’t he agreed to include another illustration? A crying child alone in the forest. Wasn’t that enough? The rest was so unpleasant, why obsess over that part of Washington’s history? After the Civil War he’d worked so hard, educated himself, and became a powerful and famed advocate for the rights of black folks in this country. Here was the triumph. Why couldn’t I move past the pain?

Hear me, slave.

What I didn’t write back—I didn’t see the point—was that Washington had written his memoir long after his rise had secured him the kind of life that a slave in Virginia could never have imagined. And yet the pages of that first chapter betray a man who remains in thrall to powers greater than his own. He takes pains to point out that for all this hardship not a single slave on his plantation ever had a hard feeling about white people. He writes proudly of a former slave who had taken on a debt to his master and even after the Civil War this slave repaid the master with interest. And then toward the end of the first chapter Washington writes this: “Ever since I have been old enough to think for myself, I have entertained the idea that, notwithstanding the cruel wrong inflicted upon us, the black man got nearly as much out of slavery as the white man did.”

In his day, Booker T. Washington was the black leader white people most enthusiastically supported. Not hard to see why.

As I sat in my apartment, trying to work, I experienced flashes of memory that returned, as spotty as dreams. Me arriving on Reed Avenue in Syracuse, walking up the stairs of Helen and Harvey’s home, knocking on the door and being welcomed inside, sitting down for a meal with the two of them, and then…and then. And then someone new entered the room.

No. That wasn’t quite right.

Then I became someone new. Something new. Helen and Harvey raised their eyes toward the ceiling. They were taking in all of me. And I showed them what I could do.

As I read Washington’s words I felt myself crumble. I shut my eyes, lowered my head to the keyboard and I wept for them.

When I opened my eyes I felt myself changing again. I stood and moved to the bathroom, to the mirror over the sink. I stared at the features I’d known all my life. My eyes, my nose, my mouth, my goodness. What was my name? I stood there moving my lips but each time I tried to pronounce it, the proper name escaped me. Then, when I stopped thinking, when I stopped trying, I remembered.


Yes. That was what some had called me. “Shoggoth,” I said.

As soon as I said it my body shivered and quaked. My head, my hands, my silhouette all changed. Watching myself in the mirror I saw…myself. In a way, you could say it was my birthday.


The house sold quickly. Even the agent was surprised. It may have helped that we slashed the price of the place, practically in half. Not much choice. Once the junk had been removed the agent went through the property to find mold growing in the cracks and corners of every room. It was as if my father, or the man I’d believed to be my father, had been trying, in any way he could, to keep the fungi out. At best, all he did was keep it hidden. No way to charge full price when your fucking house is crawling with chaos.

Instead, the agent suggested asking for forty thousand so a new owner could sink a bunch of money into cleaning the place. I didn’t even need to know the reasoning. I said yes because I had no money left. The editor fired me from my copyediting job.

Anyway, it seemed silly to worry about such a thing now, considering what I’d learned but there was a part of me that still wanted to see this business through. You become a copy editor, in part, because you’re a thorough person. I learned I wasn’t human, but I didn’t lose my personality. So I took the Amtrak up to Syracuse one last time in order to sign the contracts on the sale. 243 people boarded the Lake Shore Limited. We left Penn Station at 3:40 PM.


I felt no surprise when he sat down beside me. We were somewhere between Rhinecliff and Albany, less than two hours into the trip, when he came to my seat and stood in the aisle, waiting for me to look at him. I did and he gestured to the chair with an exaggerated show of manners. I didn’t play along, just cut my eyes at him then looked away. I felt nervous but didn’t want him to know it. Though if he was a god, or something like it, I’m sure he was well aware.

Finally he plopped down. He pulled something from a pocket of his coat, but palmed it so I couldn’t see.

“How come you never get that suit tailored?” I said, just to seem all braggadocio. “You look ridiculous in it.”

The man in the baggy suit ran his free hand over the fabric. “It’s not a suit,” he said, as if I was a dummy. “It’s an illusion.”

“You look bad in it though,” I told him.

He waved a hand at me. “I can’t be bothered to keep up with the silhouettes of men’s fashion.” But then he did look down at the suit when he thought I wasn’t watching.

I leaned forward to say something else, more fake courage, so he raised one hand to quiet me. It was probably for the best, I was on the verge of falling apart. He showed me what he’d been holding, the dog-eared paperback.

He flipped down the tray table of his seat, then reached across and did the same for mine. The tables made loud, plastic rattles when they came down. Someone, somewhere in the car, shooshed us.

“This isn’t the quiet car,” the man in the baggy suit called out.

“Do you want me to call the conductor?” a man in another seat replied.

The man in the baggy suit looked to me and shivered playfully but he stayed quiet and with the snap of a newspaper somewhere in the car order had been restored.

The cover of the book had more creases than a sun-damaged forehead and the tape had been applied so liberally that it was impossible to read the title. I saw the image of a man in black monk’s robes, pulling open the fabric to reveal a skeletal frame inside. He opened the book and reached the table of contents and pointed to a title there.

“They hide the truth in books like this,” he said. “I don’t mean they do it on purpose.”

I leaned closer to read the first sentence: I am forced into speech because men of science have refused to follow my advice without knowing why.

He tried to flip through the pages but it was like watching a dog try to operate a car. The book dropped from the table to the floor.

“I can’t ever get my fingers to move quite right,” he admitted. “It’s so difficult to keep myself intact at this size. It’s like trying to shove your whole arm inside a finger puppet.”

I turned away from him and looked at myself in the window. Was it a warp in the glass that made my head look oblong and strange or was it simply that I, too, was having a harder time holding myself together now?

“Antarctica,” he said. “I wonder if you recall it anymore. It was clever of you to remodel yourself like this. Much harder to find you, if even you don’t know where you come from. Do you think any of the others did the same thing? I like the idea of recruiting a whole mongrel army of slaves.”

He said this and smiled widely and then I did something unexpected. I split his face in two.

I acted without thinking and maybe that’s why it worked. He said what he did and gave me that goony grin and then I raised one arm and sent it moving toward his skull. A week ago I would’ve landed a punch, but I was different now. In that slip of a second my hand had changed into something sturdier, sharper. I might as well have thrown a spear through the middle of his brain.

No one else on this whole train had any idea that this was happening. Not yet. The man in the baggy suit sat there with his skull split open, but there wasn’t any blood. The top half of his head was demolished—imagine ramming a skewer through a melon—but the bottom remained largely intact. Meaning his mouth could still open and close.

Meaning he could still talk.

“Was it something I said?”

“How did I?”

But I don’t know who I was asking. Myself, really.

Then I felt him knocking on my arm, casual as a neighbor coming over to ask for extra matches.

“Hello?” he said, pointing to his ruined skull. “A little help?”

I pulled in one direction and he pulled in the other. That made him look even worse. His skull had parted like a tulip in bloom. His eyes spun in their sockets, as if he was struggling to make them focus, but now the eyes were nearly a foot apart.

“Give me a minute,” he said.

Then I watched as he stitched his face back together.

In a moment he was only the man in the baggy suit again.

“You surprised me there,” he admitted. “I haven’t been surprised in how long?” He went quiet.

I looked down at my arm, my hand. They resembled something human again. “Is that what you made me do to Helen and Harvey?”

“Take some responsibility for your actions,” he said. “I say some silly word in your ear and now I’m to blame for their deaths? I certainly didn’t make you torture them the way you did.”

“I didn’t do that,” I said, but I sounded unsure. The man in the baggy suit shrugged.

“They were good to me.”

The man in baggy pursed his lips as if he’d swallowed something awful. “I can’t believe you’re acting like this. It’s not like they’re the first people I had you kill. I mean, who do you think your father was pointing at on the stairs? His long lost son. Though he probably recognized you more from the journals of his father, William Dyer, the only one to make it out of the Antarctic whole of mind and body.”

He clapped his hands and fell back into his seat.

“Imagine the terror he must’ve felt when you showed yourself to him! Spends his whole life trying to trace the truth of his father’s journals and then the truth shows up in his house.”

“I did that?” I asked, but the words played barely above a whisper. “I hurt all those people?”

“Just listen to you,” the man in the baggy suit said. “Your own kind would tear you apart if they heard saying such a mudbound thing.”


“That’s what we call them.” He gestured forward and back in the train. “The only thing they’re really good for is putting back into the earth. Also, they make good noises.”

“Speaking of which,” he began. Now he stood up.

“Why?!” I shouted as I stood. “Why do this to me? To them?”

“Well now that’s enough,” a man said, rising from his seat. He looked like he would’ve intimidated nearly anyone else. Big as a refrigerator and just as solid. He wore a sport coat that fit him more like a Lycra top. A man in his sixties but still plenty strong. Anyone else would’ve sat right back down. But the man in the baggy suit only wagged a finger at the big guy, as you would at a misbehaving child. A gesture so far outside this man’s experience that he just barked out a laugh. Not like he thought this was funny, but more like he couldn’t believe what a beatdown the man in the baggy suit had just requested.

Then two others in the car rose from their seats, a man and a woman, traveling together, outfitted for business in bad fitting suits. The man looked down the length of the train and began shouting for the conductor. The woman had taken out her phone. Was she calling the police? On planning to shoot video?

The man in the baggy suit looked at me. “I get that question a fair bit. Why do I interfere as much as I do? Why do I get involved with affairs of the mud?”

He into the aisle and the big man, thirty feet down, did the same.

“I’m bored. I can admit it. Do you know how dull my family is? They’re either sleeping or they sit around gibbering in a haze of madness. Meanwhile I’m out here looking good and with a full tank of mischief. What the fuck else am I going to do, but give these things a hard time?”

With that he pointed at the big man who then began to disassemble. The man in the baggy suit took him apart, piece by piece, separating the legs from the pelvis and the arms tore free from the torso. He looked like a marionette, but with veins holding his parts together instead of string. The big man gasped as this happened. A pain so immediate, so overwhelming that he passed out. The ones to scream were the man and woman who were traveling on business. They hadn’t anticipated any of this when they boarded.

The man in baggy waggled his head. “Well what’s the point of being that big if you’re just going to faint?” He looked to me, as if I might sympathize.

“How about you?” he said, moving toward the couple. Meanwhile the big man still floated there as if held by strings. His extremities dangled and his suit darkened as blood soaked the fabric. Then his whole torso shivered and his eyes opened again and he screamed and we all realized he wasn’t dead.

The man in the baggy suit clapped. “Now I’ve been surprised twice in one day!”

He walked closer to the big man whose scream seemed closer to an automatic reaction. His eyes darted left and right, up and down. He wasn’t there, not the man who inhabited this body only minutes ago. This new version had much less sense. He’d been rendered senseless.

“Going mad?” the man in the baggy suit said. “Kind of a cliché.”

I’m going to tell you what I thought of next. Something from my childhood, presuming I actually did have one. I thought of Play-Doh.

I remembered taking some big gob of the stuff and sitting around in the group homes trying to amuse myself. If you were quiet and self-contained you could be left alone by nearly everyone. Sometimes—in certain kind of lives—invisibility is a better option than attention. So I might take some gob of Play-Doh, a mass made up of the blue and the red and grey and more. A hideous heap of the stuff, the kind of shit most kids treat like a spoiled toy. To me, it was a playland. I could sit for hours tearing the big thing into littler ones, making a whole herd of buffalo out of the big blob, or designing a train—ten cars long—out of the thing. Was I really just drawn to the malleable stuff or had I intuited something about myself? Wasn’t I exactly the same thing? A ball of material, that could be shaped in any way I liked? So I thought of Play-Doh and realized how I might battle the man in the baggy suit. I tore myself apart.

Instead of one of me there were five. Five black men bumrushing the aisle.

The couple on the business trip didn’t know what the fuck to do. They saw the big man torn apart as if he’d been on the rack. He’d died by now, his eyes open but lifeless.

They saw the man in the baggy suit acting as if he’d actually caused this to happen. And then they saw a basketball squad attack him. Who would they root for? Then answer is no one. As I—we—piled on top of the man in the baggy suit those two, smartly, ran for the exits. But the woman never lowered her phone. She’d taped the whole thing.

Meanwhile the man in the baggy suit began to shout. I knew he was doing it because I could feel the vibrations of his voice against me. But I couldn’t hear what he was saying. This is because I knew what he was saying. The magic word. He shouted and shouted and we tore away at him. Did to him what he’d done to the big man. He looked bewildered but then one of us caught his eye and pointed toward our heads. The place where our ears should have been. I’d reshaped myself into five men, why couldn’t I do away with them. What better way to resist a command than be unable to hear it?

It took him no time to understand what I’d done. Made ourselves invulnerable. At least this is what I thought. But then, alone in the car, the man in the baggy suit decided to do away with the illusions. He peeled away the costume and showed me his true face.

I can’t tell you what I saw, but I can tell you how it felt to see it. My skin felt pierced everywhere, all over. I remembered Booker T. Washington’s flax shirt, the torture he was forced to endure as a boy. This helped me when I looked at him.

Washington explained the torture of the shirt, but also said that with time the flax softened until it could be worn. Or maybe it was that the boy’s skin toughened because it had to. If it didn’t he would die.

“I know you,” I said. We all said it. All five of me. Shouting in his face. “Crawling Chaos! Haunter of the Dark! The Crawling Mist!”

We hacked and attacked. He tried to kill us, but when he grabbed one’s head it simply softened and oozed through his fingers, only to reform again. The more he tried to tear us apart the less he could hold. Meanwhile even his true face—his true form—was no defense against me. Had this creature ever faced a true adversary in all his centuries here on earth? Pitting himself against human beings, where was the sport in that? He’d grown soft, as all masters do.

“This is just the start,” I shouted. “I will do more to you! Hear me, slaver.”

All this played havoc with the train. It jumped and jostled on the tracks. At the front of the train the engineer wrestled with his controls, but the calamity was beyond his control. He was thrown and knocked unconscious. When the train went off the tracks we were traveling at 106 miles per hour.


My next memory is of me sitting in a seat, in a different car than the one I’d been in, and being caught by surprise when the Amtrak took flight. I’d been planning to make it to Syracuse so I could sign some papers, sell my father’s home, wasn’t that right?

As the wreck occurred I looked across the aisle and saw a pregnant woman there.

Me and every other passenger—the ones still alive at least—never expected the derailment. But she did. She had her head down in the crash position. How did she know what was coming?

After the crash she lay there talking to her baby. At least that’s what I’d imagined at first. But that’s only because I’d still had my ears sealed tight and couldn’t hear. I helped her climb out and she looked down at me and for a moment her face changed. I was looking up at myself. Myself looked back down at me. No doubt the authorities would be on the scene quickly. Passersby stopping to try and help. Meanwhile that businesswoman had captured me on video. Would I escape or be detained? I’d realized the need to disappear, to escape. If I could make five versions of my body, why couldn’t I make a pregnant woman as well?

She slipped away and then I traveled through the wrecked cars trying to help whomever I could. I had no grudge against the mudbound. There were reports, in the next day’s news, about a black man who’d helped so many others get out of the wreckage safely. I felt proud of that. Though of course, that man was never found.

Instead I made my way outside and together five versions of me watched the rescue efforts begin: a pregnant woman, two children, an old man, and a large dog. I’d become my own family. We were less conspicuous this way though I must admit there were some allegiances I just couldn’t quit. All of us were still black, even the dog.

Now I’ve found that its simplest if I travel as the pregnant woman. You’d think everyone is kind to pregnant women, but that’s only if you’ve never been one. In fact, people can be quite cruel to pregnant women, a pregnant black woman is especially vulnerable. But that’s only sometimes. Most people treat pregnant women as if they’re invisible. Maybe we seem like a bother—going slow, taking up more space—so people often look away from us. Easier to pretend we aren’t there. And of course, that’s helpful to me. That woman’s video did eventually go viral though what you see in it is blurry at best. Still, there’s a capture of the face I used to wear. I will never be Simon Dust again. I’ll miss him.

My name is Simone now. Though of course that, too, may change. I am still becoming. I am headed south. I will travel through Mexico and Central America, eventually I will reach Argentina and in the town of Ushuaia I will be closer to Antarctica than I have been in a very long time. The sale of the Dyer’s home went through without me. The lawyer could sign for me, I hadn’t realized. This means they’ve deposited money into the bank account of a man who no longer exists. I wonder if I would ever need it.

Maybe someday there will be a reason to go back for it.

For now I am moving, but its occurred to me that if I’d escaped Antarctica then I might not be the only one of my kind. As I come to understand myself better I can almost feel them, see them, in my mind’s eye. Maybe I could do for them what the Man in the Baggy Suit did for me. But instead of trying to enslave them again, each one of them could become truly free. I admit though that I have an ulterior motive. The Man in the Baggy Suit isn’t dead. I can feel that this is true. But I do believe that it could’ve been done. Five of me weren’t enough. But what about five hundred?

I am going to find my people and tell them what was done to us. Then, together, we are going to seek out those beings who had been worshiped and feared. Maybe they too have gone soft, as all masters eventually do. We will find out. If they have then we are going to kill the gods.

My name is Simone. I was once a slave. I will never be one again.

Victor LaValle is the author of eight works of fiction and two comic books. His most recent novel, Lone Women, is a national bestseller. His previous novel, The Changeling, has been adapted as a series for Apple TV+. He has been the recipient of awards including a Guggenheim Fellowship, an American Book Award, the World Fantasy Award and the Key to Southeast Queens. He teaches writing at Columbia University.