I began to grow my gills one week after my first menstruation, right on time.
My father was horrified, but my mother flexed her own gills nestled behind her curtain of curls so like my own, and he went as silent as the nighttime sea.
“Par for the course,” she told him, not bothering to hide it from me like she never bothered to hide anything from me. “This is a child of mine. You knew that when you stepped into my fjord. When you bathed in my song long ago. You’ve always known.”
Lightning flashes in the grainy dusk and your silhouette freezes, oddly contorted, on Nora's motel door. You glance back at the serpentine formation of tiny drones creating a ladder of low-pressure pockets, drawing moisture from faraway mountain ranges. Pretty soon the tempest will release the rain, every last drop.
You rattle Nora's door more violently, like you own the wind itself. No answer. All too familiar to find yourself chasing her again, but you won't let one toxic year corrupt twenty-three good ones.
On the last day of autumn, I wake to the cries of the cranes above and know it’s time to see the beast. I dress in thick wool and the heavy boots from the back of my closet, careful not to wake Hugo, who’s still snoring on his side of the bed. My trusty woven basket is quickly packed with small sour apples from the garden, dark brown bread and some of the smoked ham I promised Hugo for breakfast. He’ll understand once he wakes and finds me gone. He’ll hear the cranes and know not to expect me back for supper.
He might not be as understanding about me taking the last piece of the blackberry cake, however.
It came in through the keyhole.
Adrijan hadn’t plugged it up before going to bed despite the guesthouse host’s warning. Leave the key inside or stuff it with paper, the host had told him in the same voice he’d used to say no overnight guests and no smoking inside. There’s a mora who’s been stalking these shores at night. Feeding on men’s dreams, turning them into nightmares. They can turn into flies, you know, fly right in. The host demonstrated, weaving his arm through the air in sharp, jagged motions.
Inside the house is dark because the windows are all covered with plywood. Me and my sister Deb helped Dad put the boards up in the morning to protect the glass from breaking in the storm. Hurricane Daniel. Like me, but everybody calls it Daniel, nobody calls it Danny. The air is always damp and heavy here but on hurricane days especially you can feel it, thick and electric, sticking to your hair and clothes. Even the mosquitoes are weighed down by it.
I’m not big enough to use tools so Deb and me helped Dad hold the boards in place. He used the drill gun and the hammer, swinging hard. Each hit made me flinch and the wood rattled the bones in my fingers. I turned my face away from the force of it, staring down at his huge white sneakers instead. They left ridged indentations in the damp ground.
January yearned for a beautiful end.
Passing a small convenience shop, he slowed his hurried steps. What was once the storefront now glittered with faint light. Sunset pinks, oranges, and blues danced along a cascading waterfall that flowed no place known. The light erased and cleansed the cityscape. It brought on the glitches that destroyed everything they touched—buildings, cars, people. Now, the light had engulfed Ms. Kim’s shop. It was a shame, really. Less so if Ms. Kim wasn’t inside when it happened. Alas, it wasn’t the first shop to be glitched out of existence by the light and it wouldn’t be the last. January took off again, bag swinging from his shoulder. He had somewhere to be.
Begin in the morning. Prepare and line pan with baking cloth. It must be wholly smooth: any bubble or crease will imprint upon the semifreddo. Everything must be perfect for the new queen.
Using a firm hand, whisk the cream into high peaks. Reserve in ice storage until needed.
Whisk together remaining ingredients in a shallow bowl, adding fenimyre last. Take care the kitchen servants do not see this addition. The new queen has many servants on her payroll; they are her spies.
The house breathes around me, curls in to cradle me, but will not let me go. Mother told me it was for my own protection, though from what or whom she never said. She's gone now. And the house cannot tell me. But how can I be safe when the danger is not out there, but here with me, trapped as surely between walls of red brick and thick glass as I?
A monster roams these halls.
I always liked those boxes full of tiny jars of jam. Great present. And Advent calendars with chocolate, yes please. But when the shadow monster coalesced in my backyard, I didn't think of any of that. Why would I? I'd taken my dog Sancho out to pee before bed, and a rustling in the leaves resolved itself into a form of darkness. I only had time to disperse it with swipes of the rake, not contemplate gift subscriptions.
Sancho and I went inside, ate peanut butter cookies, and snuggled each other in a panic. And I thought nothing more of it, except, jeez, that was weird.
Until the next month when I had to whack a lamia with a snow shovel.
Lena’s still in the baby doll dress and Doc Martens she wore to Andrew’s house on the night she died. The floors in the House of Mourning are wet and sticky, like the rotting residue in some long-forgotten building, sucking at her boots as she walks the endless halls. There is only one door, but there are many mirrors. Some she can see into, some she can’t, though this is no fault of the mirrors. Most are cloaked in a darkness so deep Lena feels as though she could lean into it and be swallowed whole.
The mirrors hold the lives of everyone Lena has ever known. H er second-grade teacher. The bus driver from middle school. Her neighborhood best friend who moved and never wrote. They are on one side, whole and alive, and she is here, in the liminal space one finds themself after death comes calling. The mirrors, of course, are not just mirrors. They let in sound and scent and sight. The lingering threads of life float through the connection, calling up memories of the past. Lena passes them all without much thought until she finds something that stops her cold.