Writers (in order): Emily Hwang, Romola Cavet, Rayne Carr, kaylee n, Alison Watson, Sadie Hicks, Andria L, Ananya Hooda, CL, Remington in Bb*, Maggie Zhang*, Raisa T*, Veronica Morris*, Ben Berg, Alyssa Tang*. Editor: Irene Tsen.

*Wrote more than once.

In my haste to investigate my favorite city, I had failed to remember one important fact: deserts were, and always would be, unbearably hot. I could never stand the heat. Unyielding rays scorched the skin on my arms and legs as I trudged across the barren dunes, scanning the sand for any irregularities. After an untimely Gila monster scare, it had been time to leave my current camp to find a new one.

To the untrained eye, the desert would have looked the same as any other—an undulating expanse of sandy hills that seemed to stretch forever in all directions. But I knew that just a few inches underneath the surface, there lay the ruins of humanity’s most recent cycle of existence. This time, they had lasted over one million years after having discovered fire—one of the most impressive cycles yet. The city underneath my feet had been the last bastion of that civilization, having survived for nearly a hundred years before being swallowed by the sea.

It was the unfortunate but inevitable truth: everything would be swallowed by the sea at one point or another. This was unfortunate for the humans, of course, but also for me. I was the champion of humanity, of all their magnificent creations, of all their fickle and selfish desires. It so followed that I was an avid collector of human things.

“Ah!” I gasped in delight as I caught sight of a metal pole gleaming in the sun just several yards in the distance. I ran towards it like a human towards an oasis, only for a brown object to drop out of the empty sky.

I bit back a yelp and stepped to the side. Instead of dropping onto my head, it skidded across the sand, landing at my feet. Upon closer examination, I identified it as a brown boot and let out a mildly annoyed huff. There was only one person to whom this shoe could belong.

He did it again. A tattered piece of parchment clung to the leather and, despite knowing it would read the same as it always did, I peeled it off to read the messy scrawl: Dodged my shoe, have you? You’re still the same bloody man as always. I’m coming for you and I’m going to want that shoe back. You know what they say, it takes two to make a pair. Yours Truly, Brother.

Of course. If you didn’t already know, my brother is quite the psycho. We used to be very close. We did everything together. Then one day he just snapped. He couldn’t do it anymore. He lost the one thing he cared about, which apparently wasn’t me. I guess he wasn’t the happy kid I used to think he was. But we won’t get into that right now.

I had to figure out how to get the hell out of here without being seen. Which was just about impossible because I was out in the open desert. My eyes locked on an open hole in the ground. I bolted, while also making sure no one was following me.

As I ran, I saw a cloud of dust rise from the sand before me and heard a grating sound. I jumped backward, afraid that my brother might have come to collect it already, but when the dust settled, it became clear to me that it was just an ordinary snake, as mundane as the sand around me. Perturbed, I continued my travel, jogging under the midday sun, until the ground gave way below me. A brief smile passed over my face as I fell.

For only a second, I was lost in the familiar embrace of nothing. Time and space fell away, the wear and tear of eternity falling from my shoulders. I was separated. I was whole. I felt like I could breathe again.

The air was promptly knocked from my lungs as my back met the ground. I allowed myself a moment to wallow in existential dread before struggling to my feet. With a sigh and silent curse to the heavens, I got moving.

I ran until I stopped at a familiar desert town. A sign read “Welcome to Warling Village,” though the sign is so old, I could only make out the  letters “elc om  t  W rli ng  il ag .” I walked into a small building where I used to go whenever I felt like I needed some space to think—usually about my brother. I recognized a set of distinct footsteps. Step. Step, step. Step, step. A slight limp. After a few more steps, I emerged from my hiding spot with open arms and yelled out.

“Uncle Duggie!”

The weathered face of the man before me formed a stiff smile as he turned to me. He looked at the boot still clasped in my hand and his face lost all emotion.

“He’s done it again, hasn’t he?” Indeed, he had. My brother tends to believe that once he does something, it’s good enough and he just keeps doing it. This was the seventh time I found a shoe falling out of the sky. Each time with the same note. Each time ending the same way. But maybe, this time would be different.

We made our way to a small, dilapidated bar hidden away in the corner of the town. The windows were boarded up and most of the countertops were covered in a thick layer of dust, but everything else was just as I remembered it. Like Uncle Duggie, not much had changed in this town since I last visited three years ago.

He ducked behind one of the few clean counters for a quick second, pulled out two glasses, and filled them up with water. I downed mine in two gulps.

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