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.
When I was younger than I am now, I was a traveler: a woman with short calves and bones too close to the soles of my feet. In my country, we all are, for a time. We are sent out with joy in our adolescence, and our parents hope we return with respect, calluses, and perhaps a child of our own, or someone to make one with. Perhaps one in ten does not return. Much to my parents’ dismay, I am one of these.
The rules are thus: you must go until not a single person knows your name, and you may only return once you have obtained one of their songs, one of their meals, and one of their hearts.
While Lorelai’s guests wait on dinner, a grim reaper automaton emerges from the clockworks above the fireplace. With staccato movements, it smites the bell three times with a scythe.
No one pays attention. Lorelai frowns. She spent all year planning the décor, the food and entertainment, hoping to give herself and the others a memorable reprieve. No one had expected the decline to advance so fast.
Shadows from the candle-lit chandelier flicker across the slumped figures gathered around the mahogany banquet table. None look at each other.
The tolling foretells an afterlife filled with either comfort or torment. A human concept, and an attempt to cleverly foreshadow the evening’s program. It’s not working.
After I retired I wrapped up my affairs as best I could and headed back to the section of woodland in the mountains that had caused me so much trouble years before.
I’m not going to say it “haunted” me — I wasn’t the kind of person to let a snafu like that ruin my life. But I thought about it often, how it had confounded all our efforts, how the old woman had guarded access to that forested patch with cunning and ferocity. Her opponents were young, smart, money-hungry. Developers, investors, politicians, people with expensive degrees and technology at their disposal. The modern world, in fact.
The angel falls in flames. I watch its descent through the smoked glass slits in my sun shield. Even then the brightness is too much, and I have to turn away or go blind. I take cover with the rest and hope this time the casualties will be minimal.
When it hits, it is like the end of the world all over again. Clouds of choking ash and smoke. Boulders raining like hail through the roiling miasma. Trees flung like spears. I take shallow breaths through my mask, crouched behind the flimsy protection of a bomb shelter, until the tempest passes.
After, we take a headcount of the survivors. We treat the injured as best we can. We lay the dead aside and mutter a hasty prayer over each body to bring them peace while they wait. It is all we have time for. Proper burial rites will be observed later.
I was nineteen when the first holes appeared, just on the cusp between thinking I knew everything and realising I knew nothing. Walking home from work with Mellie, we turned onto Chestnut Street and found our path blocked by a crowd of people.
“Sinkholes,” a woman was saying. “Like the ones in Guatemala.”
“Nah.” This from a man with a small child at his side, gripping his hand tightly. “Burrows. We used to see this kinda thing when I worked out west. Them critters’ll burrow the ground right out from under you.”
“It’s the damn city, that’s what,” said an older man. Permanent frown lines creased his forehead. “Tearing up roads with construction and digging gas lines and never telling anyone when or where. Irresponsible is what it is.”
We were finally able to push our way through the gathered ring of people to see what they were all looking at.