They were watching Catia’s fangs again as she spoke. Their gazes drifted down when she opened her mouth, and they met her eyes again on a pause, a little too purposefully. Over and over again. Catia touched one tooth with her tongue and glanced uselessly at the mirror behind their little table. She could guess at how each fang must cut her smile, twist her expression. But she had never seen them.
Before they had sunk in below her other teeth, her reflection had started to smear. In low light, she was nothing but an annoying smudge. The sort of thing that made her want to spit on the glass and scrub it with her cuff. In brighter lights she was a shadow that should not exist. Disconcerting. Stomach-turning, and impossible.
She had avoided daylight for months, just to keep herself believing that she was more than that shade in the glass. And to keep the others from seeing the strange way her skin bent the light even under their eyes.
And yet, the most irritating aspect of coming back from the dead was that no one believed she hadn’t gone evil.
The carnival rolled into the fields at dusk, its spirited music carried into town by the wind. Every window had been open, desperate for the night chill and we listened to the swell of the whistle and drums as they arrived, far from sleep. There had been no wind before it came.
In the morning, the field was crowded with show tents. It was a tangle of brilliant stripes and pennants, painted wagons, clapping flags, a wild thing that had crept up out of the woods while we slept. I watched it out of the corner of my eye while I wandered through my morning chores.
Terea ran up the hill to meet it just as soon as she could. Ardin and Sida and Kol and Demi paraded in a tight knot, straight to the center. Rhinda and Nolke swung by my house and I waved them on ahead. I dragged my feet up the hill an hour later.
“You look tired,” a clown said, painted from head to waist in blue paint. His face was drawn in an absurd white smile. The glittering chain in his hands rattled as the lion he held turned its head.
No one had to tell her that everything was about to change. She had seen the doors slam open, the same as the rest of them. She had heard the shouting, when no one in that room should have lacked the grace or tact it took to keep their voices down. She had watched the negotiations fall apart from the hallway, the knowledge of it crawling up inside her marrow when she should have been blind behind the walls, unaware and quietly anxious over everything until the official statements were made.
No one had to tell her anything, and she didn’t have the time to wait anyway.
She reached for Alcide’s hand and pulled time to a stuttering stop.
He stared at her instantly, but she had to shut her eyes, focusing on smoothing the repeating moment. It was always so hard, yanking them back a fraction of a second and letting it play, them yanking them through the same fraction again. Too long a fragment, and she would make herself sick, watching the people around her shudder in the same motion, over and over. Sounds repeated, hitched, and stuck in tones that didn’t belong to anything or anyone. If she could shorten the repeating moment enough, it would be hard to hold, but people would just freeze and the air would just hum in uncertain harmonies.
Galen was not home when Tarra came back at the end of her work day. He was supposed to be at the table, bread and cheese and yesterday’s happy find of fresh carrots and zuchinni spread on the table for dinner. Instead, the house was dark as Tarra approached, and she spent ten minutes lighting the lamps and calling his name in every room upstairs and down, looking for him.
She exhausted every cranny that a seven-year-old could stuff himself into. Then she stood at the base of the stairs, listening for him. All she heard was her heart beat.
He was not home.
And the house was too empty.
Wrapping herself back into her coat, she snuffed the lamp, and ran outside. She knocked on one neighbor’s door, then the others. Neither Arri nor Ceddir had seen him. Ceddir who usually sat at his front window all afternoon putting in hems and patches, hadn’t even seen him come home.
Answers served with the full knowledge that I’m out of town and all the insanity here was baked weeks ago
Kate Kearney searched: Why is money complicated?
Because it’s a giant bucket in the middle of your life, and everything you do has a hand in it, grabbing what it needs. And there’s only one or two hands dropping money back in.
Because it’s a bed sheet, and unless you’re careful to remain content on the bed that fits under it, you’ll spend most of your time pulling the sheet back and forth to cover wherever you are at the moment.
Because it’s the one thing that everyone on the block agrees you need, which means we’re all trying to spend as little as possible, and earn as much as possible. It’s a tug of war, not a merry-go-round, and we’ve all got a competitive edge.
There was no difference between the air on this side of the door or that. There was nothing powerful about the slatted wood that made the door, or the dozen other panels that made the wall it was set in. There was no slice in the universe that divided one from the other.
But one side was home, and the other was not.
One side, the air seemed lighter. And so did bone and breath and body.
One side, the wall looked like a standing guard and guardian instead of another of a dozen rugged outward faces on the row.
One side, the universe disappeared into a pocket, while the square living room that backed into a narrow kitchen, and the twisted stairs, and the bedrooms overhead, burst open into mansion spaces.
It took Alasdair a long time to realize Jig wasn’t her real name. Parents had handed out stranger names, and she answered to it every time, without hesitation. Sometimes she even turned at similar words – jib, jug, jog – the way people do when they’ve answered to the sound all their lives.
But overhearing the men at early market describe her – the little girl, only so tall, with the dark hair, who moved too fast, settled too fast, and smiled too fast – he knew they were looking for her. They avoided giving her name. They knew her, but they didn’t know what she was calling herself now. Alasdair finished his business, and left market quickly, before they could stop him to ask if he’d seen her.
That night, Jig was at Alasdair’s back porch, perched on the edge of it, with her feet dangling into the air, eating her dinner clasped in both hands. She had some sort of bread, stuffed up with meat and sauce that ran down her fingers. It was still warm. He could smell the sweetness of it as he sat down next to her.
After his first year aboard the Faithful, Zev saw the house differently. Beams were cracked between the grain. Carpets in every room had been worn thin, hard as the floors beneath them. Doors were swollen with age and squeaking in their frames. Even the walls seemed to have thinned out and leaned forward into smaller rooms, aged more than the last year could account for. Following Iliana to the room he’d always lived in, he tried not to stare. Gaunt stairs groaned under his feet. He moved slow, easing onto each one, knowing there was nothing alien in this house, wondering how he’d overlooked it for so long.
Iliana pushed open the door to his room and it stopped after half a foot. Just inside the door, something heavy had fallen over. Keeping in an irritated breath, she grimaced. “Lovely,” she muttered.
Moving aside, Iliana pointed him toward the door with a resigned expression that could only be interpreted as, You deal with the troublesome idiot.
The house slouched between its neighbors, too old to lean out on its walls or keep its eaves straight. The siding had been replaced recently, the windows cleaned up and cared for. The flowers in the front box bloomed brightly and threw thick leaves over the sides. Still, the house looked empty, like it had exhaled whatever air it had a long time ago and never found the strength to take the next breath. There was no hard edge to the place, no severe straight lines, but the curves all bowed inward, gaunt.
Tarra sat across the street, bag slung over her shoulder and watched the front of the house. She fingered the strap of her bag, absently tucked the collar of her jacket tighter around her neck. There was no sound inside. The curtains hung limply in the upper windows. It was empty now, she supposed.
It was almost half an hour before she spotted Deidei making her way down the street toward her. The older woman walked slowly, carrying a large carpet bag in front of her in both hands. Her gray hair was combed back from her face and braided, neat, like always. She approached Tarra with a smile.
“You could have waited inside,” Deidei said. “Unless you’re that eager to leave us and get to your new ship.”
Tarra glared at her in a friendly way, knowing it was an attempt at a good ribbing. “I could have,” she agreed. “But Momma always used to say that it was hard for a house to change owners. It’s easier if one person leaves before the next one tries to call it hers, otherwise the house gets confused and no one really owns it.”
Answering questions in the only socially acceptable form of schizophrenia
Every fiction writer has a different way of managing their characters. I keep them housed in a large room, and occasionally fling the doors open to let them play. Here is some of the craziness that ensues:
Tybalt searched: Would any of your characters care to learn the words to “She Burned the Gallows Down”?
Terius: [watches me frantically searching the internet] Something’s wrong…
Zain: [watching as well] Very. She should know better than to click on bands with names like Leeches and Through the Dark Veil. Nothing good can come of reading their lyrics.
Terius: You’d better teach us quickly, Tybalt. There’s nothing more frustrating to her than searching the internet, not being able to find what she wants, and tripping over depressing, unpoetic things.
Me: [muttering] I will NOT forget myself. I am NOT going to burn in hell. I DO have redeeming features. I am NOT cold blooded, and you have no right to call me a love leech. You don’t even rhyme!
Zain: Quick, man!