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By Douglas Smith



The man known only as Stranger lived and died in a town with no name.

Each day he lived.

And each night he died.

One morning, Stranger might wake on silk sheets in a fine villa in the town. Rising, he would walk out onto a broad stone patio and look down over cobbled streets twisting between the red-clay buildings below. Out on the Medicean, ship sails billowed like clouds on an inverted sky. Ships he owned. He was rich. He was powerful.

The next morning, he might wake naked and shivering in a dark forest, his skin painted with dew etched by the tracks of insects that had explored him in the night. He had nothing. He was nothing.

Yet another morning, he would find himself before the altar of the town's only church.

Or on a ship. Or in the governor's palace.

A ditch. A general's tent. A brothel.

Sometimes rich, sometimes poor. Sometimes male, sometimes female. Old, young. Strong, weak. Sometimes known to all, and other times as he ever was to himself—a stranger.

But always, he awoke in the town that huddled under the gaze of the mountain shaped like a skull. And always, before the day had passed into the next, he had died at the hands of another.

He could not remember his life before the town. Sometimes, in that space that lay between sleep and a morning's new life, he tasted it. Not a sight or a sound or a touch.

But a taste, sweet and salty, like the memory of a lover's skin on his tongue. Then it slipped away, swallowed as this town swallowed him each night.

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